Big Knob Pedals
Price: Tube 808, $139; Echo Flex, $149; Vibe Tone, $159; Octavius, $129 (all list)
Gary Kibler started making pedals almost by accident. Originally from Los Angeles, Kibler moved to London when his wife was offered a terrific job. With a background in IT at Sony Studios, Kibler found work at the BBC, where he formed a band with some co-workers. Providing his bandmates with pedals helped them save money while Kibler made a small profit.
Kibler’s first pedal had just had one big knob, hence the name of the company. (That was before his bandmates pointed out the phrase’s colloquial meaning.) After Kibler reverse-engineered a Tube Screamer, British guitarist Ben Poole brought him a vintage Colorsound Power Boost that Poole got from his father and wanted cloned for gigs. Soon, requests were pouring in.
Since returning to SoCal, Kibler has made more than 4,000 pedals. It’s a job he enjoys because it allows him to be a stay-at-home dad. In addition, his pedals are an eBay success story, and he now has more than 20 in his line.
Kibler recently sent four for evaluation – the Tube 808, Echo Flex, Vibe Tone, and Octavius. After just a few minutes of playing, a number of common characteristics become apparent. The cases are all relatively lightweight hand-painted metal with true-bypass 3PDT footswitches, while the controls move smoothly but firmly, making it unlikely they’ll be bumped out of adjustment. Each has one input and one output jack, as well as a 9-volt power jack.
The current Big Knob Tube 808 with the requisite JRC 4558D op-amp chip fulfills Kibler’s objective of making it as close to the original as possible. The characteristic mid-boost of the original 808 is definitely present, but there’s a very uncommon richness in the Big Knob pedal that just isn’t present in the originals I’ve played. It probably has a lot to do with the point-to-point wiring and careful selection of individual components. There’s not a lot of clean boost in the pedal – it’s pretty much grit from the get-go. But it never crosses over into the overly-saturated singing quality of high-gain distortion pedals, which, for many, is good.
The Echo Flex nails the sound of a vintage Echoplex. Although not entirely analog, it has a very tape-like sound courtesy of a PT2399 chip. The great thing about this pedal is that it’s easy to lose the initial pick-attack “click” that makes digital delays sound so much unlike real echoes. At about 11 o’clock and lower on the Mix dial, the second attack click is gone, making for a very smooth sound. Additional controls for Delay and Feed(back) or repeats allow for a wide variety of sub-one-second echoes. Turn all the knobs all the way up and the Echo Flex takes off all by itself with increasingly intense and loud echoes that will have you either laughing or wondering if your amp’s speaker is still under warranty.
The third pedal in the group, the Vibe Tone, is Kibler’s take on the classic Uni-Vibe, and the tone is almost dead-on with an original. The Big Knob Vibe Tone uses four light-detecting resistors, just like the original, and covers a broad spectrum of effects, all the way from the gentle wash of an ebbing tide to hard throbbing and on to sounds from “The Jetsons.” An Amount knob controls the effect added to the dry signal, while Speed and Bias controls provide a wide sonic palette for re-creating classic sounds or exploring new audio horizons.
My personal favorite of the bunch, however, is the Octavius. Kibler wanted to avoid a classic Roger Mayer clone because, well, you can get those. Instead, he used a tweaked non-transformer-based version that makes it a lot less tricky to find the sweet spot. In fact, my experience is that the whole pedal is one big sweet spot, with Level and Fuzz controls making it easy to find that just-right sound. The tone is very Hendrix-like throughout the sweep of the dials – it works from the open bass E string to the top of the fretboard, and it works with single-coils, humbuckers, and P-90s equally well.
This article originally appeared in VG July 2015 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.