[review] Sola Sound Tone Bender Mk1.75 (D*A*M Reissue) El Diablo (by Bieke)

During my last visit to Bart's gear vault, he was putting pedals for me to try in a box and then said "I also got another one of these" and showed me a lovely looking old skool Tone Bender. I swiftly replied that I most certainly wanted to give it a try and do a review accordingly...

Couple of days later, during a chat with Bart, I mentioned that I was really digging it, and asked if it was a Mk1.5 by any chance. Bart replied by sending me a link of the El Diablo Mk1.75, with OC75 and OC84 transistors.

Well, close enough, I figured. Still left me puzzled. After playing it some more, I had a look inside … this one had two OC75 transistors. It sounded sort of like a mix between the Mk1.5 and MkII.

This Tone Bender is built by fuzz guru David Main of D*A*M. And for this particular fuzz, he was aiming at making the Mk1.5 a bit different, with OC75's. This is not obvious, as it would likely turn into a very unstable fuzz. I vividly recall playing Bart's vintage original Mk1.5, which was my personal favorite in a huge fuzz shootout we once held in my garage. The Mk1.5 is a very lively and unpredictable fuzz, still very musical sounding. Bart definitely got a good one, since the original Mk1.5's are also known to differ a lot soundwise.

David Main went with the OC75 circuit but with two slight mods. A first modification correctly biases the circuit for the OC75 transistor, this is also used in the MkII. The second modification is a pull-down capacitor on the input. Again same as used on some MkII's. The Mk1.5 Tone Benders that were made in 1966 also featured two OC75's, and the circuit that was used back then also used for the Italian made Vox Tone Benders.

A review nonetheless.

Sola Sound Tone Bender El DiabloTHE LOOKS

Looks dandy, this Limited Edition El Diablo Tone Bender. A faithful replica of the old Sola Sound Tone Benders, with the sand cast aluminum housing, thick hammerite finish, the 2 classic chickenhead knobs for Level and Attack, In- and Output. It is not really pedalboard friendly. It is a huge pedal, with rubber feet and it only takes batteries. As it is a vintage design, these pedals are meant to be on the floor or on top of your amp. You could still make room and fit it onto your pedalboard. It will take up about the same space as your standard size wah pedal.

THE SOUND

OC75's are typically high gain transistors, that are also known to have a lot of top end.

The tone is aggressive, but it's not nasty. It has plenty of gain, so it's more a singing fuzz tone with endless sustain, not rattling, gated or chainsaw or anything too extreme. It retains bottom end and midrange fairly well, and indeed adds a bit of treble. All in good taste though. The thing about fuzzes is that it can make the easiest and simplest riffs sound huge and spectacular, and this Tone Bender does a perfect job at that. My favorite fuzz setting is just with both controls cranked, this Tone Bender produces plenty of volume and tons of gain, not too compressed. When the Attack control is rolled back, the pedal gets into distortion mode. Rolling back the volume on guitar will even give a faithful cranked tube amp sound, it really cleans up nicely. I did not expect that. Very cool. The original Mk1.5 I tried, did not have that clean-up ability. After all, you expect a full blown fuzz sound in the first place, but the nice distortion sounds and the clean-up feature are as good as it gets.

THE VERDICT

The Sola Sound Tone Bender pedals are available through the fine folks at Macaris, but you will have to get on a waiting list. These are for the fuzz aficionado that wants to play safe, that can justify to spend a little more on a fuzz pedal and have peace of mind that it will be a great sounding fuzz. 

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