Klon Klone Shootout

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Klon Centaur. In 1994 Bill Finnegan, following years of painstaking research and development, released on an unsuspecting world what would become the first "transparent" overdrive pedal. The Centaur, an elegant and deceptively simple looking pedal, was notable for the way it worked with whatever amp it was put in front of, giving the user more from the tone they already had, rather than imposing its own quirks and unnatural equalization curves on the amp in question. In those days, this was a positively revolutionary concept. Prior to the Klon's invention, the only pedal that came close to having similar capabilities was the Ibanez Tube Screamer, which exhibited a relatively natural sounding overdrive tone, but was hampered by unpleasant compression, meager low-end, and a distinct, honky protuberance in the midrange. Finnegan's design solved all of these problems, and word of mouth about his remarkable pedal spread quickly.

Unfortunately, due to the custom nature of the Centaur's enclosure and components, and the fact that Mr. Finnegan was building and testing each one by hand in his tiny Boston apartment, the price for the first Centaurs was 225 dollars (an absurd amount of money for a guitar pedal in 1994) and the waiting list was several months or more. Despite this, the profit margins were slim, and Finnegan was beginning to crack under the pressure of rabid consumer demand for his labor-intensive masterpiece, and thusly the Klon Centaur, in its original form, was discontinued in 2009.

Of course, these days, there is no shortage of "transparent" overdrives on the market, many of them directly or indirectly inspired by the pioneering example of the Klon Centaur. And, since the end of its manufacturing run, the Centaur, despite its notoriously gooped circuit board, has been thoroughly reverse engineered, with a healthy micro industry developing around building so-called "klones." This little industry has been bolstered not only by the finite number of original Centaurs, but also by their outrageous value on the used market, with early, desirable "gold horsey" versions selling for over 2000 dollars. Some of the lesser klones bear questionable sonic resemblance to the original, but many are quite well done and require neither a lengthy wait time, nor parting with any valuable internal organs, to purchase. What follows is a fistful of the more reputable klones on the market today, for those guitarists who wish to taste a little of the Klon magic, but without taking out a fourth mortgage on their manufactured home:

JHS Klon Replica

The JHS Klon Replica is, perhaps, the best known of the klones, and the most controversial. It does an excellent job of replicating the Centaur's characteristics, and in a blind A-B test would be indistinguishable to most listeners. It is also one of the few that have attracted the attention of Bill Finnegan himself, with Finnegan contacting JHS directly regarding their pedal, and releasing several statements on popular forums regarding his opinion of JHS and their work. Reportedly, an agreement was reached that JHS would discontinue their klone once Klon released their new Centaur reboot, the Klon KTR. JHS has adhered to this agreement and discontinued the Klon Replica in 2012. Used JHS Klones can be had on eBay for 300–400 dollars.

ARC Effects Klone V2

The Klone V2, from ARC Effects, claims to recreate the Centaur magic by using "exact, part for part, values as the original, premium components, and attentive wiring," and anyone who's plugged into one can probably attest that this assertion rings true. A couple of things this pedal really gets right are the thick lower-midrange that is so characteristic of the original Centaurs, and the high quality buffered bypass. As icing on the cake, the ARC Klone V2 offers an internal DIP switch for boosting the bass, which, apparently, was a very popular requested feature on their V1 Klone. The Klone V2 is readily available directly from ARC Effects for between 190 and 215 dollars, depending on chosen options.

Monsterpiece Stud

Besides having a bitchin' name and being made in my hometown of St. Charles, Missouri, the Monsterpiece Stud is a very highly regarded pedal amongst klone enthusiasts. Monsterpiece is, understandably, a bit cagey about this pedal being a klone, with their website product description saying "if you are looking, chances are you know what it is", but the Stud is widely known for its dead-on Klonliness, extremely low-noise operation, and impeccable build quality. They are hand-built to order, but reportedly the wait time from order to delivery is minimal. Monsterpiece doesn't put prices on their website, so there's no official word on what the going rate for a Stud is, but word on the street indicates that it's around 200 bucks.

Pedalmonsters Klone

Unlike the other "monster" pedal company that makes a klone, Pedalmonsters could not be less cagey about the origins of this pedal design; firstly, they've named it Klone, secondly, they openly state on their website that it is a Centaur copy, and thirdly, they have no qualms about putting a Klon-style "horsey man" on the front. Nevertheless, the Pedalmonsters Klone has been the subject of numerous direct comparisons with original Klon Centaurs, and it fares very well indeed, evoking a strikingly similar sweetness and transparency. One potentially important area where it does differ is the bypass, which is buffered in the original Centaur, while the Klone features true bypass. The Pedalmonsters Klone is amongst the least expensive of the Centaur clones at 150 bucks.

Electro-Harmonix Soul Food

The Soul Food is Mike Matthews' deliberate, and very funny, attempt to put a nail in the coffin of Klon hype (while also making a bunch of money, of course). Selling for less than 70 bucks, it wouldn't even have to sound terribly accurate to still be a crazy bargain, but the fact is that the Soul Food does an amazing, and very convincing, Centaur impression for a comically small amount of money. There are minor differences at certain settings, of course, but the overall Klon magic is present and accounted for. It even boasts a switchable buffered or true bypass. Side note: Though JHS is no longer making their own Klon Replica, they do offer an EHX Soul Food modification service for 45 dollars, adding a three-way clipping toggle and a bass contour knob for tone shaping.

I think we can all agree that the Klon Centaur is a unique, excellent sounding overdrive pedal, and that its groundbreaking design unquestionably sparked the modern "transparent" overdrive revolution. I think we can also all agree that the cost of an overdrive pedal should never approach that of a used car. So, with that in mind, let us show respect to Mr. Finnegan and his mighty Centaur, while simultaneously disregarding all hype and enjoying the fruits of this Golden Age of Tone in which we live.

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