Back in 2000, a certain Swedish gentleman by the name of Björn began offering handmade stomp boxes to the wide world; his fabulous designs caught the attention of the fastidious boutique market almost instantly & he quickly cemented himself as one of the world's premier effects builders. Björn's handiwork was originally released under the moniker of BJFE (an abbreviation for Björn Juhl Forstarker Elektronik) & the units bearing this name are rare as hen's teeth (not to mention the simply eye-watering prices they command); however, the Mad Professor brand was launched shortly thereafter...
Mad Professor Amplification began life when Björn was asked by his distributor if he'd consider building amplifiers as well as pedals. Björn felt that he was too busy hand-wiring pedals to be able to do the same with amplifiers, so the decision was made to setup a new company offering amps & pedals designed by Björn & built to his exacting specification (just not handmade by the man himself).
Mad Professor's amps to date are all extremely high-end, hand-wired beasts; however, with their pedals they offer both printed circuit board & hand-wired variants. Both versions feature the exact same components, specification & sound (save for where Björn chose to purposefully tweak the design, thus resulting in the more budget-friendly PCB versions actually being slightly better in some cases!) & Björn's masterful designs are now finally available without the need to remortgage your home!
Now that Absolute Music have become Mad Professor dealers, I've finally had a chance to get my hands on some of these little beauties & they certainly don't disappoint! So, without further ado, let's get to the reviews...
The Sweet Honey Overdrive is of a similar nature to the BJF Honey Bee (just to provide a point of reference for all you boutique pedal enthusiasts out there) &, like all of Björn's designs, it's known for its touch-sensitivity & dynamics.
Tonally, it's got an old-skool thing going on; it sports a fairly mild amount of drive (that's noticeably responsive to pick attack) & a slight cut in bottom end. It almost feels like running a treble booster in front of a cranked tube amp, yet without hyping the high-end quite so much. The beauty of this pedal is in how it responds to playing dynamics though: the more you dig in, the more drive you will get, yet back off your guitar's volume knob & it cleans up wonderfully. It's articulate, yet warm & responds real well when used in conjunction with other drive pedals (pushing it with the Little Green Wonder works a treat!).
The controls on offer are 'Volume', 'Drive' & 'Focus'. 'Volume' & 'Drive' both operate as one would expect; however, the 'Focus' knob is where things get interesting! This is because, in addition to having a fairly subtle effect on the tone, it also has the added feature of controlling the pedal's dynamics. By turning said knob counter-clockwise you essentially increase the threshold for the overdrive (meaning you have to pick harder to get the same amount of drive) & likewise, if you turn it clockwise things are more inclined to break up earlier. This is a handy little feature that enables you to sculpt the response of the Sweet Honey to suit your particular guitar &/or playing style... clever stuff!
The Little Green Wonder has been described by Björn as the 'Tube Screamer for people who don't like Tube Screamers'... & that pretty much sums it up. It's basically a TS style pedal that's designed to push a tube amp much like you'd expect from that type of circuit; however, it doesn't feature any of the shortcomings associated with these sorts of pedals & is also a good deal more flexible.
The first thing to address is the well known perceived loss in bottom end when engaging usual TS-style pedals. This is because TS pedals boost the upper-midrange & as a result the lower frequencies in your guitar's tone end up being completely over-shadowed. This most certainly isn't the case with the Little Green Wonder though & in this case, you can actually boost the lower-midrange should you wish!
The Little Green Wonder also has a significantly higher headroom than other TS-style pedals & this means that it responds far better should you wish to use it after another drive pedal. This works great for either gain-stacking with other overdrives, or for softening up the response of higher-gain distortion & fuzz pedals.
In comparison the the Sweet Honey, there's more gain on tap & the bottom-end is far more present. They're both tight & focused overdrives, but the Little Green Wonder is just fatter overall. The Little Green Wonder also responds nicely to playing dynamics & cleans up suitably when rolling back your guitar's volume knob (a feature that seems consistent across the Mad Professor range).
Control-wise, the Little Green Wonder features 'Volume', 'Drive' & 'Body' controls. 'Volume' & 'Drive' both do what one would expect & this time around it's the 'Body' knob that deviates from the norm. The 'Body' knob really is very different from the usual 'Tone' knob that we've come to expect on this type of pedal. It doesn't really alter the treble; however, by turning it counter-clockwise you shift the focus of the drive toward the lower-mids & bass while still keeping the treble in tact. This is great as it means that, as well as getting close to a standard TS sound by cranking the 'Body' knob all the way clockwise, you can also use the pedal to actually give a low-mid hump should you wish (perfect for fattening up bright amplifiers for example).
The Bluebird Overdrive is in fact both an overdrive & delay pedal all rolled up into one unit & in terms of application, I guess the idea is that you could use the Bluebird as a one-stop solution for your lead tone.
Although the drive in this unit is certainly of a calibre that makes it more than adequate as a standalone drive pedal, I'd perhaps suggest that the best way to use it would be stacked alongside something like the Little Green Wonder or the Sweet Honey. That way you could have the other drive pedal set as your main rhythm/crunch tone & then kick the Bluebird into play to add that extra hair come solo time. This is where it suddenly makes sense having the delay built in, as you can have it set to add a bit of atmosphere to your lead tone, while alleviating the need of having to kick in multiple pedals in order to achieve the same result.
In terms of tone, the drive sits somewhere between that of the Little Green Wonder & the Sweet Honey. It has a similar amount of gain on tap as the Little Green Wonder, yet there's less in the 'beef' department (resulting in it feeling a bit closer to the Sweet Honey in terms of character). The only thing to bear in mind here is that the Bluebird has a particularly low input impedance &, much like a lot of fuzz pedals, it won't like being placed after any buffers that might be in your signal path (this means that you'd want to put the Bluebird early on in your effects chain & make sure that anything placed in front of it is strictly True Bypass). Fortunately though, unlike a lot of effects with low impedance inputs, the Bluebird itself is True Bypass & it won't load down your guitar signal when bypassed (phew).
There's also more than meets the eye when it comes to the controls of the Bluebird. Externally we have 'Volume', 'Distortion', 'Tone' & 'Delay'. 'Volume', 'Distortion' & 'Tone' all do what you'd expect on a gain pedal & 'Delay' allows you to set the output volume for the delay side of things independently. You're not stuck with one factory-set delay setting though; there's also a bunch of internal pots for your tweaking pleasure!
Now, some people find the idea of internal pots a hassle; however, it's a feature that I've always really liked. Firstly, a lot of settings on any pedal are 'set-and-forget' & if these are inside the chassis then you don't have to worry about knocking the knobs & accidentally changing them. Secondly, the majority of pedals that do this much are oversized behemoths that just aren't convenient for pedalboard mounting & by placing some of the controls on the inside it makes it possible to get it all into the standard MXR-style enclosure that we all know & love.
Anyway, that being said, internally we have 'Bass', 'Repeats', 'Delay Time 1' & 'Delay Time 2'. 'Bass' gives you extra tonal control by doing for the lower frequencies what the external 'Tone' knob does for the treble side of things (it actually focuses on the frequencies just above that of a standard 4x12 cabinet), 'Repeats' allows you to adjust the number of repeats heard before the delay fades out (often referred to as 'Feedback') & the 'Delay Time' controls allow you to set two independent delay times. Overall then, the Bluebird is a pretty tweakable pedal that allows you to sculpt things to your specific tastes, seal it back up, mount it to your board with minimal fuss & then forget about it!
With the Sweet Honey & Little Green Wonder taking care of our low to mid-gain needs, the Mighty Red Distortion carries us positively screaming into high-gain territory! This is the focused, compressed style of distortion that we've come to associate with the '80s & the shredders amongst us will feel right at home!
The Mighty Red possesses a relatively organic & full-bodied sound, plus, there's a clarity & focus present that's apparent regardless of how you dial in the settings. It's obviously not as touch-sensitive as the overdrives (being in the hard-clipping distortion camp & all) yet it's still pretty dynamic & responds well to variations in playing technique. Gain-wise, there's enough on tap to run it in front of a clean amp, but it's perfectly capable of respectable lower-gain sounds as well. Also, like all Mad Professor pedals, it plays nice with others & works real well should you wish to pair it with an overdrive of sorts (Mad Professor themselves suggest trying a Little Green Wonder in front of it & I can confirm that this works nicely for achieving that extra focus & push reminiscent of a Tubescreamer in front of a high-gain tube amp).
Another thing of note is just how quiet the noise-floor is for a pedal that generates this much gain. It isn't a gated affair (as is often the case with fuzzes etc.) & Mad Professor say that this is achieved by using 'extreme low-noise amplifier stages'; as a result, the Mighty Red remains nice & quiet while maintaining an unaffected decay... impressive!
In terms of controls, we have the usual suspects: 'Volume', 'Distortion' & 'Presence'. The 'Presence' control manages to deal with the top-end without affecting the upper midrange (this really allows you to dial in anything from a smooth, singing lead tone to a cutting, in-your-face bite) & 'Volume' & 'Distortion' both do what they say on the tin. The Mighty Red's layout is nice & simple & it manages to sound pretty great wherever you choose to put the knobs.
The Stone Grey contains the highest amount of gain in the Mad Professor lineup; an aggressive little beast that's squarely aimed at the Heavy Metal crowd! It's a clear contrast to their other pedals tonally, yet it still manages to maintain some of those tell-tale Mad Professor signs.
In comparison to the Mighty Red, it's a harder-edged distortion with a significantly more aggressive character. You probably wouldn't want to play blues with this pedal; however, If you want something that will give you that extra bite & help you cut through a wall of noise like a proverbial chainsaw then this may well be your beast! The really impressive thing is how it maintains clarity & definition even at the most obscene of distortion settings. The Stone Grey never turns to mush regardless of gain levels & it even manages to retain your playing dynamics much like an overdrive when used at lower gain settings.
The control layout consists of 'Volume', 'Distortion, & 'Tone' & in this instance, all three do exactly what one would expect.
Compression is one of those effects that, in certain cases, can really add that extra bit of fairy dust to your tone. Unfortunately, a lot of guitar players are put off the idea of compression & this is usually for one of two reasons: the fear of reducing dynamics, or the experience of trying a compressor & finding an undesired tonal change. Both of these reasons, although understandable, are a little misplaced though so allow me to address them for a moment if you will...
Firstly, if you've ever used a tube amp then you have used compression! To understand this principle, first plug into a tube amp & play for a bit, then try plugging your guitar into a DI (leave the signal dry & do not add any plugins or simulation for the purposes of this demonstration) & you should immediately notice a significant difference in feel & responsiveness. This, in part, is due to the fact that tubes naturally compress when driven & this is what we refer to when we talk about 'tube sag' & such. One other thing to note is that the louder you turn your amplifier, the more it will compress (ever notice on a tube amp how things don't really get any louder past about one o'clock?). If you've ever experienced diming your amp with everything on ten then you'll most certainly be familiar with the joys of compression! So, dare I say it, if you like tube amps then you must like the dynamics that can come with compression.
When it comes to compressors altering your overall tone, well, it's down to the specific pedal (it's no different than with any other effect). A cheap compressor may result in a flat, undesirable tone, or you may even try one that purposefully adds brightness & treble when engaged (a popular thing for slap bass as players quite often want that extra bite in this instance). Moral of the story: just because you've tried one compressor, it doesn't mean you've tried them all!
Now, having said all of this, you may be thinking 'I use a tube amp so I don't need a compressor then!?' & you may well be right; however, it all depends on how you use your amp & what sound you're trying to achieve. If you're going for that all out rock thing & you're in a position to be able to run your amp flat out all of the time, then great, you don't need a compressor. Maybe you're not able to get your amp that loud though & if so, a compressor could help you get closer to that feel you so love when your amp is on ten. Another popular use would be for when you want to run your amp clean, yet you want a certain amount of compression as well (just without the distortion that incurs when turning up loud). This is an approach favoured by the likes of David Gilmour & can be instrumental in getting a good clean lead tone. You could also use compression as more of an extreme effect for that squashed, squelchy sound (think country chicken pickers & percussive funk rhythms). There's certainly plenty of applications for a compressor pedal in its own right & carefully sculpted compression can really help take your tone to that next level.
With all this in mind, let's get back to the Forest Green... Unlike a lot of compressors (which tend to excel at one type of compression more so than the other) the Forest Green really does nail every guitar-related compression application you could throw at it! With the 'Compression' knob set low you get subtle peak limiting; set it higher & you get all of the squelch & squish that a funk-master craves. There's also a choice of two settings: 'Compression' or 'Sustain'. 'Compression' gives a fast attack, which will catch those pesky peaks in their tracks & 'Sustain' gives a slow attack that leaves your dynamics largely unaltered (perfect for adding sustain to those clean bluesy leads). The Forest Green also has the addition of a 'Tone' knob; a mark of genius if you ask me, & this allows you to fine-tune the overall tone to suit your specific needs (at twelve o'clock the tone remains unaltered, turn it to the right & you can brighten things up, turn it to the left to add warmth). Finally, we also have a 'Level' knob at our disposal & this allows us to compensate for any loss of overall output as a result of the compression, plus, it can even be used for a level boost should you wish (very handy if you're using it to add sustain to your lead sound). It really is very easy to dial the Forest Green in for everything from uber-transparent sustain enhancer to squelchy, bright slap bass heaven. It works equally well on both guitar & bass & I can honestly say that it's taken my top-spot as far as compressors are concerned!
MAD PROFESSOR PEDALS - CONCLUSION
I must say, I'm pretty smitten with the Mad Professor range; all of the pedals I've tried seem to be up there among the best of the best. For me, the standout pedals were the Forest Green compressor (I think it's going to be the next pedal on my shopping list) & the Little Green Wonder overdrive (which I'd actually go as far as to say is the best Tube Screamer style pedal I've tried thus far). All of the pedals feature True Bypass switching & you can see that they've been designed by a fastidious perfectionist that really has gone to lengths to ensure that they are the best that they can possibly be. They stack beautifully with other pedals & with each other (the Sweet Honey stands out as an ideal unit for adding an extra dynamic & responsiveness to other gain pedals) &, if you haven’t done so already, I'd urge you to try these bad boys out ASAP!
For more information on any Mad Professor pedal, click the link below or give us a call on 01202 597180. We've got plenty more that haven't been reviewed in this article so feel free to browse our range...