“It feels like a tube amp” is a big claim. How does it stack up? By Peter Hodgson
For many, the holy grail is an analog stompbox that has the feel and response of an authentic tube amp. Many have tackled it over the years but the results have always been a little unsatisfying. Seymour Duncan’s approach is a little different, and it wraps up elements of the company’s past and future: SD was the first company to make a power-scaling amplifier back in the ‘80s, so their history with amplifier circuits runs deep. And Max Gutnik (Senior VP of New Products at Seymour Duncan) is the guy who brought Line 6 Helix to the market, and as VP of Products and Marketing at Avid he was integral to products like ProTools and ElevenRack. He’s also a heck of a shredder who takes analog tone very seriously. In the interests of transparency I should disclose that I happened to write the manual for this pedal. But this is still an objective review – I just happen to know the pedal really well.
NO PAIN, NO GAIN
The Palladium is a high-gain pedal with controls for Bass, Mid Level, Mid Frequency, Treble and Presence on the top row, and Level, Gain, Resonance and Boost on the bottom row. While Resonance is typically used to describe a “bass equivalent of a presence control” when found in amps, in the Palladium’s case it refers to the gain of the low end: lower settings give you a cleaner, tighter bass signal, while higher settings give you a more distorted, fat and thick low-end grind. One way to think of it is that the Gain control governs the overall distortion level, while Resonance handles the distortion of the low end. The Boost section is inspired by Seymour Duncan’s 805 Overdrive pedal, with a preset tonal curve but a controllable level of boost, and it’s engaged with its own separate footswitch when the pedal is on (you cannot use the Boost section when the pedal is in bypass mode).
LIGHT IT UP
The first time you fire up the Palladium, I highly recommend checking out the suggested settings in the manual. The controls are so versatile that it can take a while to dial in your sound, so the manual gives you some great places to start – including grunge and extreme metal sounds. Be aware that the Palladium doesn’t do ‘clean’ at all. If you’re hoping to use it to sculpt a ‘just on the edge of drive’ tone, you can do so by backing off your guitar’s volume knob like a real tube amp, but even at the lowest setting of the Gain control, you’re going to get a fair amount of grit when your guitar volume is wide open. One fun trick is to set the Gain at around six and the Resonance at zero for a really dynamic response, where softer notes seem super compressed but harder picking introduces a full-voiced roar. Or, if you’re into stoner and doom styles, max out the Resonance control for a huge low-end wallop. Personally, I like to use the Palladium with the Gain at about three and the Resonance around halfway for a versatile ‘hot-rodded Marshall’ kind of rhythm tone, then use the Boost to kick things up a notch for big riffs and solos. The right balance of Gain and Resonance gets me as close as I’ve ever gotten to one of my touchstone guitar sounds – Jerry Cantrell’s “Them Bones” tone.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It’s eerie how tube-like the Palladium is, and a quick look at the artists who use it is pretty telling of its versatility: Keith Merrow, Wes Hauch and Periphery’s Mark Holcomb on the metal side, with Robben Ford, Joe Bonamassa and Blur’s Graham Coxon among the non-metal folks finding great tones within it. Coxon even said that it inspired him to want to go out on the road again. But having said that, the Palladium can be a tricky pedal to come to grips with on your first try. If you get the chance to sit with one for a good chunk of time, you’ll find your sound lurking in there.
TOP 5 FEATURES
• Sweepable midrange
• Innovative resonance control
• Selectable boost
• Very low noise
• Available in black or white
• Very versatile
• Very low noise when you’re not playing
• Handy sweepable mids
• Can take time to find your sound
• Doesn’t do ‘clean’
• Boost not independently selectable