The Engine – Your Foundation Tone or Marshall in a Box?

Simply put – The Engine is both!

DryBell_TheEngine_Alberto Barrero
DryBell The Engine – Photo by: Alberto Barrero

Why do we refer to The Engine as a “Foundation Preamp” instead of just an Overdrive/Boost or “Marshall in a box” (MIAB) pedal?

 

There are several reasons. You probably know that in most cases your clean tone isn’t exactly pristine clean Hi-Fi tone. There’s always something that adds just a little bit of flavor to get it to sound just right. That missing ingredient in most amps could easily be The Engine.

Wondering why?

 

Playing your guitar connected directly to your amp can be fun, but what do you do when it’s not and when you feel it’s missing something? The main reason is probably lying in your Foundation tone.

Some tips for setting up the foundation tone in general

There are a few “golden rules” that need to be applied while playing with drive pedals in general to get the best results:

  • Ensure your clean tone has a flat EQ. That doesn’t mean that your potentiometer markings on the amp need to be on the same number, but on some amps they could easily be. You don’t want to hear too much Bass or Treble frequencies because you’ll lose all of your Middle tone, which is essential for a good guitar tone.
  • Once you have your clean tone adjusted, make sure that you can hear all 6 strings equally. Trust your ears; adjusting pickup heights may be necessary.
  • Keep in mind that drive pedals, in general (which includes different shades of Fuzz), simply don’t work well with overly bright amps. They tend to sound shrill and harsh. Another important thing to keep in mind is that new speakers tend to sound harsh/cold with a spiky treble tone. That will go away once the speaker “breaks in”.
  • The last important thing is the Volume. Everything sounds better at a higher volume. That doesn’t mean you need to crank everything up to 10 and blow your ears, but if you play it really quietly, most of the frequencies won’t come through and only the shrill/spikey tones will bleed through your speaker. That won’t work well with any distorted sound. And this is exactly what we wanted to fix with The Engine – To have the ability to play it at a reasonable volume on any amp you have, get everything to sound smooth and inspiring, and to have full control – from clean to mean just with the Volume pot on your guitar.

 

Now, when you’re satisfied with your clean sound and playing volume, turn on The Engine’s side A with gain at zero and adjust the Level. The Engine’s A side works best if you set the volume to a relatively equal level as your bypassed clean tone, preferably at unity gain. In most cases, players leave the side A turned always ON. In that case, The Engine becomes their Foundation tone, and they build everything up from that point.

 

DryBell_TheEngine_Marshall_amp
DryBell The Engine – Photo: DryBell archive

The importance of mids for guitar tone

Some amps don’t have a Middle control (which is essential for distorted sounds and guitar tone in general). That’s why we added the “Shape” control. Adjust it clockwise until you hear just the right amount of mids/treble. You can use the same “Shape” control if your amp/setup has too much mids. It’s an insanely useful control.

 

Now, compare The Engine’s tone with your bypassed tone. The goal is to have a bit more mids with just enough treble to hear all 6 strings, but not too crisp. After that, you can adjust the Gain. If it tends to sound too shrill, play with the Tone/Shape and Treble control on your amp.

 

Side B of The Engine has a pretty useful set of controls, lifted from our Unit67. It is designed to help you boost either the front of The Engine or the back. We’ll explain what we mean by that.

 

The beauty of The Engine is that you can also put it anywhere in the chain and get great results. One of the reasons for that is the “Order” button. If you put the “Boost” pedal in front of the Overdrive, the most noticeable thing you’ll get is more gain. But, if you put it after, you will get much more volume, gain, sparkle, and detail in your tone. That all depends on your amp’s clean headroom, of course. So, with the “Order” button, you don’t need to rearrange your pedals. You just need to push the button. It’s a very handy feature.

A plethora of sonic combinations

Dallas Rangemaster Treble Booster
Dallas Rangemaster Treble Booster – Photo © Reverb.com

 

There are lots of “Boost” pedals available today, but we decided to put an old-school type of boost based on a 60’s Rangemaster on the B side of The Engine.

You can get some really inspiring tones playing with both sides. Combining Gain and Range at the same time will get you right into the “Marshall” territory. Those types of tones could easily go from a late 60’s Plexi to early 80’s JCM era Marshalls. And not only that. By playing with the controls on both sides, you can easily tweak it all the way to the Vox AC30 territory.

 

We have spent a lot of time adjusting these frequencies in the pedal while trying to capture the exact response and tone of our favorite Marshall amps through vintage 4×12 cab. Some of those (early) amps had very pronounced low frequencies, and that was a part of the design. We wanted to capture slightly later instances, equipped with EL34 tubes and without a tube rectifier. They tend to sound much tighter and are a  bit more aggressive. In general, people like that low-freq chug you get while playing loud through a vintage 4×12 cab. Those old NMV amps paired with 4×12 speaker cabs emphasize those strumming frequencies even more, combining it with cabinet vibrations. It’s a very special feel.

 

That’s just one of the many things that we wanted to capture with The Engine.

 

The Engine transcends conventional pedal categories; it’s more than just an Overdrive, Boost, or MIAB pedal. The ultimate praise for a pedal is to serve as a dependable foundation in any setup, and we’re glad that we have achieved that with The Engine.