Rad Rat Clones

The ProCo RAT has always occupied a nebulous sort of gray area on the spectrum of dirt. It can sometimes exhibit the organic, amp-like warmth of a good overdrive, but it’s a bit too aggressive and hairy to be boxed in with the Tube Screamer family and its descendants. Some call it a distortion, but the RAT doesn’t really have the bottom end crunch and razor sharp attack that defines the modern understanding of that word. It’s much more loose and wooly when the gain is cranked. It definitely generates a stellar fuzz tone, but it’s a completely different animal than, say, a Big Muff or a Fuzz Face.

The RAT occupies a space of its own that encompasses all those things, but without letting itself be pigeonholed into any one category. To use a martial arts analogy, the RAT is the stompbox equivalent of Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do, a “style without style” that clings to no preconceived rules or definitions. Therein lies the power and beauty of the RAT, but it’s also that unique, enigmatic character that has likely prevented this pedal from attaining the same lofty status among tone snobs as the pervasive Tube Screamer and Fuzz Face variants. A lot of players probably think it just does one thing, or perhaps, because the RAT does so many things, they’re just not sure what to do with it. Who knows? Either way, it’s still a legendary, if somewhat cultish and underappreciated, dirt box, and ProCo has been steadily churning out RATs and RAT variants since 1979 at its Kalamazoo, Michigan factory. Of course there are some fine boutique variations on the circuit as well.

ProCo RAT2 Distortion (Original) | Reverb Demo Video

We are at the height of the boutique pedal boom, after all, and no circuit shall be left un-cloned! Some might question why one would even want a boutique RAT, though, when ProCo has so many great sounding, affordable, U.S.-made RATs in its lineup, but the fact is that some of the smaller companies have done very interesting things with the circuit that are well worth our time and dollars. Some are also hand-building RAT clones that are very faithful to the originals, including the holy LM308 chip that was so crucial to the sound of the early RATs. So let us take a moment and look at some of the more noteworthy RAT-inspired overdrive/distortion/fuzz boxes coming from smaller builders. Here are a handful of my favorites:

Mooer Black Secret

Mooer Audio is a Chinese company that makes a bewildering array of music products. Their most popular line is the extensive Micro Series of itty-bitty effects pedals, of which the Black Secret is a part. The Black Secret is a very convincing sounding RAT clone in a “very small and exquisite” (according to Mooer’s website) package. It uses the LM308 chip to deliver the goods, and features a mini-toggle for switching between Vintage mode, which is faithful to the original RAT, and Turbo mode, a much higher gain setting that I assume is based on ProCo’s Turbo RAT variant. It has mini level and filter controls and one big knob for gain. Besides being very wee and sounding righteous, the Black Secret is robustly constructed, features true bypass switching, and sells new for 88 simoleans. Buy seven of them and give some to your friends.

JAM Pedals Rattler

The dudes at Greece’s JAM Pedals have a reputation for building gorgeous, handmade effects with custom paint jobs and premium, and sometimes rare, components. Their take on the RAT, dubbed the Rattler, doesn’t stray far from the vintage RAT design, using an new-old-stock LM308 chip and featuring the standard trio of RAT controls. Where this pedal really stands out is in its amp-like responsiveness and superlative tone, which really nails the fuzzier characteristics of the original RAT circuit. The Rattler doesn’t have a bad sound in it, and the gain is addictively thick and creamy. JAM might just have built the best sounding RAT clone there is, but it comes at a price, more specifically a price of 200 American dollars, which seems like kind of a big chunk of change for a very basic pedal, but as I mentioned, it totally rules. Nels Cline uses one!

Fuzzrocious Rat King

The Rat King is a RAT for dudes that love the RAT so much that they need two of them, plus some other cool stuff. It’s basically two Fuzzrocious Rat Tails (their well-loved take on the LM308-based circuit) in one enclosure, with a momentary feedback loop added for bringing the noise in and out as one pleases. The player can use the Rat King’s middle footswitch to toggle between two independent settings. For instance, one lower gain, overdrive-type setting might be dialed in on one side, while a higher gain, saturated fuzz-bomb sort of setting might be dialed in on the other, for two contrasting, footswitchable RAT tones. The Rat King also features the Rat Tail’s unique set of tone and clipping controls for each channel, with knobs for blending between LED and silicon diodes, a toggle for bypassing the diodes, and Fuzzrocious’s “double resistor mod”, which allows the player to control the amount of clipping that happens in each band of the frequency range. These features make the Rat King a total beast on bass, as well as guitar. At $210 direct, it’s also a total bargain for such a versatile, feature-packed pedal.

VFE Alpha Dog

VFE’s Alpha Dog is for RAT enthusiasts that like a lot of options. The circuit, like most good RAT clones, is based on the LM308 chip, and the classic level, gain, and filter knobs are all where they should be. These standard RAT controls are then augmented by three mini-pots for more detailed tonal landscaping. There’s a “Fat” knob that adds extra dirt and low-end, a “Hard” knob that controls how the op amp distorts (from asymettrical germanium to velvety MOSFET, or no clipping at all with the knob at 12 o’clock), and a “Soft” knob for sculpting the voice of the post-gain stage. This control can be set for dual-silicon distortion on the left, compressed, vintage grind on the right, or no clipping at all with the control centered. The Alpha Dog lets the player dial up any shade of RAT tone imaginable, all for 169 smackers. VFE also makes a handful of variations on the Alpha Dog circuit, some with a different chip, and others with more basic controls and a lower price.

Blakemore R.O.U.S

Blakemore R.O.U.S

The R.O.U.S, or Rodent of Unusual Size (see what Blakemore did there?), is indeed like a supersized version of our old favorite scuzz box. The R.O.U.S. is built around the (wait for it...) LM308 chip, and like some other RAT spinoffs, it also has selectable clipping options in the form of a toggle that chooses between red LED’s, no clipping, or silicon diodes. In addition to volume and gain controls, it sports knobs for bass, treble, and texture. The texture control has governance over how the pedal clips, and has quite a bit of influence over the midrange content as well, whether you seek flatter mids or a more pronounced frequency hump for poking out in the mix a bit. The Blakemore R.O.U.S. really nails the overdrive and smooth distortion characteristics of the RAT, in my not-at-all-humble opinion. It sells for 169 dollars and has a cool rat maze graphic on the front.

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