[review] T-Rex ToneBug Sustainer (by LordRiffenstein)

LordRiffenstein, all-around tone freak and purveyor of great tone.

Tonebug series

T-Rex Engineering has been around for a lot of time, making high quality pedals and accessories that can be found on pedalboards all over the world. Although they have a vast range of pedals from delays and modulation to overdrive and distortion, they decided to release a new range of pedals a couple of years ago: Tonebugs.

The Tonebug series of pedals is bringing the T-Rex quality in smaller packages, for less money. The range currently has 10 different pedals. All the pedals come in the same enclosure and have the same look: 2-3 dials and some little switches depending on the model. I also gotta give props to T-Rex for shipping the pedals in a nice box, it makes the pedals a bit more special.

Sustainer controls

All the Tonebug pedals come in a nice metal enclosure, with curved edges and it feels pretty sturdy. The controls are set on a brushed metal background and are easy to see on dim-lit stages. There’s the obvious input and output and an input for a power supply (9v DC). You can also use battery power, via the compartment that’s easily accessed in the bottom of the pedal. The Sustainer has “Comp” and “Sust” controls as well as a little switch with a tortoise and a rabbit.

The Comp control sets the amount of compression you want to have. There's a big range but as the pedal doesn't have a volume control, high comp settings will lower your general level. The Sustain control allows you to lengthen the sustain and also has a pretty big range. The little switch is to set the attack, either slow (turtle) or fast (rabbit). The rabbit-setting gives you a more radical effect.

The pedal in use

First of all, the Sustainer is NOT just a compressor pedal, it works slightly different. However, you can get very nice compression from the pedal by keeping the sustain control low. Then you can play around with the compression control to get everything from a very subtle comp to a very funky squashed tone. I didn't find the fixed attack settings to be limited.

Bringing the sustain control more into play, gets you another set of useful tones. One thing I should mention is that the Sustainer does not change your tone, changing dynamics will also change your tone a tiny bit but it's minimal and more noticeable with overdriven tones than with clean tones. Playing around with the sustain, I noticed that I kept it pretty low for clean chording except for doing volume swells or doing big chorused out chords. Then the pedal really shined on cleans.

Using it with gain tones, I discovered some very nice settings for lead lines, even with the gain relatively high, the Sustainer worked really nice and smooth. You can dial it in just right so the added sustain does not feel unnatural. It's also a nice way to get into musical feedback! With low gain, a tele and the comp and sustain just below 12:00, I got a really nice country-ish tone that had me finger-picking. I felt like Brad Paisley for about 5 seconds!

Finally, the Sustainer also got me an unexpected result when I had dialed my amp in for an old-school Marshall tone. You often have studio-tones that have this smooth edge, a nice, almost syrupy, character that comes from tubes, speakers, mics and preamps being driven by a hot signal and played HARD. Much to my surprise, I could get pretty much the same tone in the room without things having to be silly loud.

The Sustainer turned out to be versatile pedal, the controls have a good range to get you all sorts of compression/sustainer tones without it ever sounding like a pedal.

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