[review] Ghost Effects Silicon Pep Box (by Bieke)

Ghost Effects Silicon Pep Box

Aha! Finally I get to try out one of those yummy looking Ghost Effects pedals. The Silicon Pep Box. It's a faithful clone of one of those mega rare fuzzboxes from the sixties, the WEM Rush Pep Box.

Ghost Effects is based in Birmingham UK and was founded in 2004 by Ian Sherwen, a fine pedalbuilder who is really devoted to meticulously recreate all of those wonderful fuzz circuits from the roaring sixties.

The History

OK, most fuzz addicts will agree that the first commercial available fuzzbox was the "made in USA" Maestro Fuzztone as early as 1962. The Maestro was not really a huge success in the beginning, it did not take off until 1965, when the Stones used it for the classic Satisfaction intro riff. All of a sudden, the fuzz sound became very popular, and since the Maestro fuzz pedals were not available in stores in the UK or Europe, people started making fuzz pedals over here as well. Hurrah!

Pepe Rush was a London sound engineer who produced his first Pep Box in 1965.WEM Rush Pep Box

The original Pep Box was inspired on the Maestro Fuzztone, encased in a similar wedge enclosure, but using 3 germanium transistors.

Around 1966, Pepe Rush licensed his design to WEM. Little is known about this transition. There is a picture of John Lennon toying with a silver wedge WEM Pep box during the Revolver studio session. This was in 1966. Circuitwise, it was more leaning towards a Fuzz Face then, using 2 germanium transistors.

Anyway, the silicon WEM Rush Pep Box, made by "Watkins London England" was released around the end of 1967. Later on, also a bass version of this pedal became available.

WEM Rush Pep BoxThis WEM Rush Pep Box was a rectangular metal box (32 cm long, 8,7 cm wide, 4cm deep), painted in red with a black wooden top  covered with black rubber and with bare metal trim, the controls – one for volume, the other for "pep" - were recessed into the top panel and both controls could be dialed to a maximum output of 8.

Also, the pedal did not have the familiar in- and outputs, but instead it was fitted with its own output cable. This WEM Rush Pep Box used two BC107 Silicon NPN transistors.

Ian Sherwen of Ghost Effects obtained a vintage WEM pedal and his version is faithfully modeled after an original WEM Rush Pep Box.

The Looks

But hey, it's not a rectangular box with a dangling cable. From a design standpoint, Ian wisely decided to go for the more pedalboard friendly 1590 BB Hammond style casing, powdercoated in silver and with a red bottom panel and red silkscreened lettering in a similar typeface as the original WEM pedal. Of course it does have the same 2 controls for Volume and Pep.

In- and Outputs on the front, battery only, so no adapted plug. I believe there are 2 versions, one with status LED and one without, both true bypass. No battery lid. You have to unscrew the red bottom plate to gain access to the 9V battery.

Beautifully done inside, with an old school brown turret board, point to point wiring and with a trimpot to adjust the sustain. Pure eyecandy. Top notch craftsmanship.Ghost Effects Silicon Pep Box

The Sounds

Is what it is all about. In an ideal setting that is my garage. Indeed, the sound of the Pep Box typically fits in between the Fuzz Face, Tonebender and Fuzztone sounds of the era and is totally suited to get that garage tone. A really, really nasty, dirty, fizzy, raspy and somewhat thin sounding, trumpety fuzz that works especially well with single notes. It sounds very bright, a little harsh even, and yet, it is relatively silent. With a low setting on the Pep control, it produces a starving fuzz sound, with that typical sag effect. Tone will not sustain, it will cut out at an early stage. In fact, you have to pick your notes firmly to kick the fuzz into action. So it's not at all dynamic, if you pick too gently, you can easily get no sound at all, a little harder can get you just to the point that you get a note that drops dead immediately. Just strum hard enough to get a consistent sound, or dial in some more Pep.

If you dial in more volume, it also will be less picky to dynamics and it will always rip out the notes you play. And it can get very, very loud with unity volume already at around 20%. The Pep control adds more fuzz, fizziness and treble. So obviously, you just want to turn it all the way up to get the most out of it, or turn it down to get that starved voltage saggy fuzz sound. It does not really clean up at all if you roll back volume on guitar, it is just not designed for that. It just rips and cuts out, no sputtery sustain. More like a chainsaw through a beehive kind of sound. That stops all of a sudden. Because of that, the Pep Box works really well for those superfast riffs.

Also, I still need to try this, but if you install a fresh battery, the Pep Box can also make sharp clicking or low popping noises, crackles and broken sounds. Also, if you hold a metal object close to the guitar pick-up, it can do ripping Velcro sounds and glitches. Which can be useful.

If you want a more classic fuzz sound, you can add another dirt pedal, particularly works well with overdrive, especially if you do like to play fuzzy chords.

The Verdict

Well, it certainly is not a modern sounding fuzz. Quite the contrary. I for one am really pleased that Ghost Effects is making pedals that replicate that vintage sound without having to hassle with all the quirks of the old originals. It's the best choice for those looking to get as close as possible to that sixties garage fuzz tone.

Pure filth!

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