Runoffgroove English Channel

Monday, January 4, 2010| by Will Chen

I’ve been romanticizing about being able to pulls some classic Vox tones from a stompbox for quite some time. On a recent afternoon perusing the many offerings from some boutique builders I stumbled across runoffgroove.com(ROG), a site built by a collective of developers who have designed solid state pedals built around the concept of substituting a fet for a tube. I was intrigued to say the least and looked into building one of the designs. While I’ve had a bit of experience soldering, I must admit I was a tad intimidated trying to tackle this project as it ranks as one of their more complex projects. Fortunately, a link on their page led me to olcircuits.com offering ready to build kits of many of the ROG designs. For those less adventurous, prebuilt kits are also available.

My English Channel kit had about a two week lead time. Upon arrival, I laid out the parts per the very detailed instructions which were delivered via e-mail. To my dismay the kit was missing a few parts. Fortunately, my local Radio Shack had the parts I needed so a quick trip and I was back in business. The instructions guided me to solder up the resistors first so I got to work. I moved slowly double checking my work to ensure I didn’t make any mistakes and the initial build took me a little over five hours spread across 2 days. I biased (timed) the transistors and excitedly powered it up for the first time and I grew giddy as the led lit up. I stumed a chord and…silence. Damn!

Well I spent the better part of two days trouble shooting the pedal only to discover (after rebuilding the entire bypass circuit based on a simpler schematic) that the jacks which came with the pedal were Cliff jacks which have two sides, one of which is dead and I committed a newbie mistake in my wiring. Live and learn...

So now that I had all the kinks sorted out, I powered it up and it worked! Tonally, it’s a good sounding pedal which indeed captures some of that Vox shimmer at lower gain settings and snarl with the gain cranked. I’ve auditioned the pedal with every guitar I have and a multitude of amps including a Peavey Bandit and Bugera V22 and was able to dial in usable tones in any situation. I especially love it with single coils (man, I seem to be saying that in a bunch of the reviews) where it’s fabulously chimey. The control layout consisted of a treble, bass, cut, gain, and master volume which, with the exception of the bass, function exactly as you might expect. The bass knob is bit curious as it seems to have an almost bypass aspect to it at the lowest settings and then seems to jump up real quick making it a bit difficult to dial in. Of course, this could be due to my build. Additionally the knobs are extremely interactive with each other and the gain so sometimes unconventional settings yield fabulous results such as setting the bass to zero, cut set to full treble, and using the treble to tune the pedal for your rig which yielded the maximum gain.

After using it for a while, I grew tired of looking down at the bare metal enclosure so I decided to spray paint it white and designed some front panel art and printed it out on a sticker. Powder coating and a waterslide decal would’ve been way more professional, but I’m happy with the results though they probably won’t stand up to much scuffing without showing some significant battle scars.

All in all, this was an extremely fun build which was challenging and a great learning experience. I think I’m addicted as ever since I completed the pedal I’ve been daydreaming about my next build…

Price: $75 USD Direct
Pros: You get to build it yourself!
Cons: You have to build it yourself!