7 Pedals that Nail the Supro Sound

The Supro sound is having a moment. There are several strong pieces of evidence that point to this as a growing phenomenon. Besides the ever-increasing prices commanded by these vintage combos, built by Valco in Chicago from roughly the 1940s through the 1960s, the Supro amp lineup has been recently reborn in spectacular and very successful fashion by David Koltai's Absara Audio. For pedal-centric players who want some Supro tones of their own, but don't necessarily want to buy a new (or vintage) amp, there are also a number of companies releasing "amp-in-a-box" pedals based on the singularly ragged, gritty tones generated by these classic underdog amplifiers. In a world dominated by Tube Screamer clones, and more recently, by pedals that mimic popular Marshall and Fender circuits, the appeal of a stompbox overdrive that does something a little different should be obvious. The ratty, greasy, impolite characteristics of Supro-inspired circuits can bring a whole new dimension to a pedalboard dominated by more familiar tonal options. Here are a few great pedals for adding some of that Supro-esque bad attitude to your board.

Mojo Hand FX Superlative

Much of the fun of playing through a low-wattage combo like a Valco or Supro is that they sound best when pushed to the edge of their operating capabilities. The sweet spot is often just short of total meltdown. Few pedals capture the essence of this sweet chaos better than Mojo Hand's Superlative, which recreates a Valco preamp circuit in pedal form. It also captures the friendlier side of these amps with the rich, dynamic, lower-gain dirt that comes from running them at less than maximum saturation. The Superlative even features a Hi-Lo switch simulating the Hi and Lo inputs these vintage beauties typically had, offering an uncommonly broad palette of Supro sounds for any occasion.

JHS Superbolt

For those big, open, uncompressed Supro drive sounds, JHS's Superbolt is a top pick. It internally converts standard nine-volt power to 18 volts for abundant headroom, recreating that dynamic bark that Supro amps are known for. A Hi/Low toggle simulates the amp's Hi and Lo inputs, while the pedal's Vol[ume] knob functions like the master volume that these fine vintage combos never had, working in tandem with the Drive knob to get gnarly tones at any level. The Superbolt's Tone knob is tuned for utility, ranging from cutting, yet euphonic, treble tones at one end of its travel, to warm, but defined tones at the opposite end. In between lives a smorgasbord of harmonically pleasing grit and grunt.

Greer Amps Ghetto Stomp

Greer's Ghetto Stomp sets out not to recreate a specific amplifier, so much as to capture the overall feel and tone of small, vintage combo sag and grind. Fans of old Valco and Supro amps will be pleased, as will players looking for vintage Gibson and Fender tweed tones in pedal form. With its impressive touch sensitivity, the Ghetto Stomp really feels like an amp, and its wide range of beefy tones, from rich overdriven sheen to fuzz-like meltdown, make it sound like one too. As a testament to its authenticity, the Greer Ghetto Stomp is a favorite of Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, who owns a number of vintage Valco amps, using them almost exclusively in the studio.

Catalinbread Valcoder

Catalinbread's Valcoder is a sweet, Valco-flavored two-fer of a pedal that combines the gritty breakup of vintage Valco-built amplifiers with the wonderful tremolo circuit that was an equally exciting facet of their sound. The Valcoder can be used for anything from mellow undulations to staccato chop on the tremolo side, or, if you just want to use it as a boost or drive, simply roll off the Depth control. It features separate input and output controls for its JFET based preamp, and cranking the input will generate a convincing vintage combo grunge with gentle compression. The Valcoder can operate on nine- or 18-volt juice, with nine volts offering greater sag and softness, while 18 volts offers increased headroom and less compression.

Runoffgroove Supreaux Deux (via VFE Pedals)

Runoffgroove is a well-known website for DIY pedal nerds, with loads of schematics and projects for those who build their own noise boxes. One of the site's most beloved projects is the Supreaux Deux, which accurately recreates the single-ended, Class A, Supro 16T combo amp in pedal form. Those players that are handy with soldering and electronics can use Runoffgroove to build their own Supro overdrive, but everybody else should go for the pre-built, officially licensed Supreaux Deux from VFE pedals. It nails the rich upper harmonics, wide dynamic range, and raw tones of this circuit, and is available in a number of custom configurations via VFE's online pedal wizard, no soldering required.

BearFoot FX Honey Bee Overdrive

Bjorn Juhl's Honey Bee circuit was inspired by the sound of a small vintage amp on the verge of a breakdown, sweating and wheezing as its ragged speaker and nearly burned-out tubes muster their final charge. Rumor has it that the specific amp in question was an elderly Supro that had seen better days, but I cannot confirm this bit of conjecture. That being said, the BearFoot Honey Bee OD sure sounds like an old Supro, and its equalization curves can make even a Marshall stack assume the identity of a punchy little combo running at full-tilt. However, much like a small vintage combo, the Honey Bee doesn't have a tremendous amount of gain. It definitely falls into the low-to-medium-gain overdrive category, so unless you drive it with something else, you shouldn't expect loads of saturation out of it. The good news is that the Honey Bee is a natural at stacking, and will befriend a wide range of other drive, distortion, and fuzz boxes without much trouble.

PedalMonsters White Lightning Overdrive V2

Washington D.C.'s own PedalMonsters has a unique and very affordable take on the Supro amp-in-a-box phenomenon, with its White Lightning Overdrive. Now in its second incarnation, the White Lightning V2 jacks the voltage up to 18 volts, enhancing headroom and clarity. If headroom and clarity ain't your thang, though, it also provides a big red knob (easily distinguishable from the pedal's other knobs, which are all white) for adjusting the voltage downward, starving the pedal and adding some sag, fuzz, and vintage squish to the tone. Along with the White Lightning's other controls, this makes for one highly tweakable overdrive pedal with a-million-and-one variations of Supro grind lurking in its minimally adorned white box.

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