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The Honker Overdrive, by TL Pedals, certainly impresses and delivers. Engineered in Atlantic Canada, this soft-clipping style transparent overdrive is a take on the famous Tube Screamer, but with several differences. For example, the Honker has more low-end, more headroom, more transparency and more drive.
Now, the low end definitely is neither boomy nor muddy. In fact, you can crank the Tone knob all the way left, and it’s far from a heavy bass. Conversely, all the way right and the treble simply adds more clarity and cut, as opposed to shrill or an unpleasant high-end. As well, the Honker has less mid-hump than a TS pedal, which means a wider stereo range in guitar tone. As for headroom, the entire accompanying demo kept the Volume at only 9-o’clock… this pedal is loud (and yet, very quiet). The transparency of the Honker also is superior to so many TS pedals on the market, and Tim Lewis, the brains behind TL Pedals, lowered the minimum gain threshold five times, which means cleaner cleans. Moreover, when listening to the Drive of this pedal, it is slightly crunchy to thick and massive (particularly past 12-noon) and a typical TS’s full gain would reach only about 10-o’clock on the Honker.
The sound of the Drive is superb. When turned all the way down, it makes a clean amp sound fuller, richer and slightly broken up. As you turn up the Drive, the quality ranges from thick and robust to heavy (a cross between distortion and fuzz). However, the sound of the pedal does depend on which style or ‘voice’ you use. The stock clipping mod has the toggle switch all the way left, and the dirt sounds smooth and less ostentatious than flipped all the way to the right, which produces a fatter quality. I tend to like ‘in your face’ effects, and so the crunch style clipping is preferred with my amps and other pedals. The middle toggle position bypasses the clipping and it has a bigger amp-like result. I find myself flipping a lot between the crunch clipping and the bypass clipping voices. When using the pedal as a boost (whether full range or a treble booster via the Tone control), the bypass clipping voice sounds a bit better to my ears. It’s great to have choices and the Honker certainly provides that.
Another important point is that the Tube Screamer has an input/output buffer to level out various guitars and their pickups, which produces a very homogenous sound no matter the instrument. TL Pedals removed that aspect from the Honker’s guts to improve transparency and produce a more natural tone inherent in your guitar; good news for those of us who spend money on quality guitars.
What I appreciate about small builders is the boutique quality of their work, and TL Pedals is no exception. The company uses a Texas Instrument Burr Brown dual op-amp for quality ultra-low noise, Alpha brand pots, Neutrik jacks, Panasonic and Nichicon aluminum electrolytic caps, audio-grade polyester box film caps, 1% metal film resistors, multi-strand hookup wire, a high-cycle (30,000 cycle) rated stomp switch by eSwitches (with chrome trim washer, double check nuts and lockwasher), Japanese-made Lumberg 2.1mm Boss-style 9VDC jack (negative center), and custom PCB designed hand-soldered thru-hole audio grade components. The knobs are black anodized solid aluminum (the pots turn smoothly and feel solid), and the enclosure has a professional powder-coated silver sparkle finish.
As an added incentive, pricing ($199 Canadian) includes shipping to the USA and Canada. And for all those USA guitarists, that free shipping and difference on the dollar makes the Honker a no-brainer! However, no matter your country of origin, the Honker is a serious contender for the best overdrive pedal.