Rick Gram Tone Zone Pedals

Lots of the promised tone, no noise
Lots of the promised tone, no noise

Rick Gram’s Woman Tone Overdrive, Franken Tone, and Catch-A-Buzz overdrive and distortion effects are designed and hand-built. And despite limited production, they carry a much lower pricetag than many other boutique pedals.

All three are enclosed in the same lightweight, rugged plastic casing and each is ornamented with specially-designed artwork. Each is also equipped with a soft-touch footswitch that engages easily and quietly, with no audible “click.”

The pedals use “virtual bypass” operation, so they’re essentially disconnected from the signal chain when not in use. A green LED at the top (labeled “Rock”) indicates the effect is on, and there are strategically-placed red LEDs that add fun visuals to the overall design.

Input and output jacks are on the sides, with level and effect level controls on top. The “level” control adjusts overall output, while the effect level adjust the amount of fuzz, buzz or gain delivered. Each uses a single nine-volt battery in a separate compartment in front of the control knobs. The battery door slides off easily. AC power is optional. And all have four rubber feet.

The pedals are voiced for use with humbucking pickups, but can be used with all types of pickups. Our experimentation used an early-’90s Les Paul Standard, a ’50s goldtop Les Paul with two P-90s, and a ’52 Telecaster reissue. We tested them all through an old 100-watt Marshall plexi stack with two 4 X 12 cabs loaded with Celestion greenbacks, and then through a Marshall Lead 12 solidstate combo with a single 10″ Celestion.

The Woman Tone TZ-1 Overdrive is the most recognizable, probably because it’s pictured in the company’s ad. Some may find the artwork objectionable, but please don’t write letters to the editor if you’re offended. The effect does its job very well, and a few strips of black electrical tape will cover things. And you’ll still see the green LED on top when the effect is engaged.

So, how does it sound? The Woman Tone generates a warm, fuzzy overdrive, but nothing that could be considered high-gain. It doesn’t add tons of sustain or harmonics, but does add more sizzle, a bit of fuzz, and a boost in volume, depending on the settings. It responds well to the nuances of your technique – the harder you hit the strings, the more dirt and sizzle you’ll hear. And you can clean up the sound by rolling off the guitar’s volume, so you can use it to get a volume boost without dramatically changing the guitar’s tone.

The Woman Tone was designed to mimic Eric Clapton’s fat, sustaining Cream-era tone, and particularly to work in conjunction humbuckers. It works especially well when combined with the neck pickup of the Les Paul Standard for soloing, like Clapton’s own “woman tone” recipe, and I also like the way it sounded with P-90s. In shines in conjunction with the full Marshall tube stack, enhancing the tone but not overpowering it. It also added warmth to the solidstate Marshall combo.

The Franken Tone TZ-2 Fuzz Box produces a very compressed and fuzzy-sounding distortion that generates overtones one octave higher than the notes or chords played. It also adds on a little bit of tremolo at the decay of each note, and the harder you attack the strings, the more you’ll hear the tremolo as the note decays. The notes decay with the same effect as when you turn off a tube amp while the volume is up. The Franken Tone produces a fuzzier tone with more sustain and more compression than the Woman Tone, regulated by adjusting the level of the Fuzz control.

I liked the sound of this one best with the Tele and the bridge pickups of the Les Pauls.

The pedal adds a nice effect in situations where you want a good amount of gain and compression, but you don’t want notes to sustain for a long time. I think it could be a choice for a heavy sound on a fusion solo.

The Catch-A-Buzz TZ-3 Buzz Box produces the fuzziest and buzziest effect of the three. The circuit was designed to replicate the sound of a paper speaker cone breaking up, and recalling the buzzier distortion characteristics of a ’60s-style fuzzbox. The LEDs are positioned in the eye of the peace-loving dude on the front, and at the tip of the cigarette he’s smoking (don’t worry, I don’t think he ever inhales!). The LED on the cigarette stays on even when the effect is off. When the effect is engaged, it glows brighter when you hit the strings harder.

The Catch-A-Buzz is great for getting that Yardbirds’ “Over Under Sideways Down” sound. You can fine-tune the garage band tone you’ve dreamed of (but you’ll have to add the visual ambience). You can set the Buzz level for a really dirty sound with heavy sustain, and the notes have a very even decay. This one works equally well with humbuckers, P-90s, and single-coils.

Of course, the Franken Tone and Catch-A-Buzz both sound better through the full stack. Bigger speakers do a better job of handling the fuzz and the buzz. The extra dirt seems a bit much for the 10″ speaker in the combo, although it does add a cool effect.

One thing that’s especially notable about all of the Tone Zone effects is how quiet they are. I didn’t hear any noise when the effect was on or if I took my hands off the strings. Further experimentation found they work really well with a bass. You can get some great Geezer Butler-type distortion sounds with the Franken Fuzz, and the Catch-A-Buzz does an excellent punk bass sound, while the Woman Tone works well for an extra volume boost with a bit of overdrive.

If you need a bit more dirt in your life, a Tone Zone pedal may have just the blend you’re looking for. All carry a one-year warranty.

Contact Rick Gram Studio, 11 Old Dodgingtown Road, Bethel, CT 06801, phone(203)744-8663,e-mail:pedalpusher @freewwweb.com.

Woman Tone TZ-1 Overdrive
Type Of Unit: Overdrive pedal
Features: Level and Gain controls, in and out jacks, LED indicators, virtual bypass on/off stomp switch, operates with nine-volt battery or optional AC adapter.
Price: $119.95 (AC Adapter $11.95)

Franken Tone TZ-2 Fuzz Box
Type Of Unit: Distortion pedal
Features: Level and Fuzz controls, in and out jacks, LED indicators, virtual bypass on/off stomp switch, operates with 9-volt battery or optional AC adapter.
Price: $119.95 (AC Adapter $11.95)

Catch-A-Buzz TZ-3 Buzz Box
Type Of Unit: Distortion pedal
Features: Level and Buzz controls, in and out jacks, LED indicators, virtual bypass on/off stomp switch, operates with 9-volt battery or optional AC adapter.
Price: $119.95 (AC Adapter $11.95)

This review originally appeared in VG‘s Jan. ’00 issue.

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