If you’re familiar with London‑based company Audio Kitchen, your mind probably wanders straight to their beautiful The Big Trees (aka TBT), a valve amplifier in a pedal that we reviewed back in SOS May 2013 (https://sosm.ag/audio-kitchen-tbt), and which is used by some very well‑respected musicians and producers, including Flood, Alan Moulder, Radiohead, and Arctic Monkeys. The Fake Plastic Trees, which is the latest creation from Audio Kitchen’s Steve Crow, is a solid state homage to the line output section of The Big Trees. For the uninitiated, this is an amplifier‑style preamp that can be set anywhere from a nicely rounded clean tone to convincing valve‑amp‑style break up. To avoid any confusion, though, to note straight away that The Fake Plastic Trees is not an amp and will not power a speaker cabinet — but what a pedal it is!
As with Audio Kitchen’s other pedals, The Fake Plastic Trees’ circuitry sits in an unpainted die‑cast aluminium enclosure adorned with minimal yet striking artwork. At 2.2 inches, it’s slightly taller than the average pedal, which one can only assume is to accommodate the plethora of components inside, including individually tested and graded JFETs, a discrete stage modelling the EL84 grid‑clipping profile, a custom Mu‑metal output transformer, the modelled speaker load from The Big Trees, and a Class‑A line driver.
There are four knobs on the top panel. To the left is a master volume control and on the opposite side is Gain, which controls the level of the preamp signal that’s sent to the output stage. This can be turned anti‑clockwise for a cleaner tone, which is dynamically responsive and added enough character to a dry amp that it really made me want to keep playing. Turning the control clockwise, you gradually enter the pedal’s ‘break up zone’. Set it at the noon position, and you’ll find a fuller, sweeter tone that’s still incredibly dynamic; this instantly felt like I’d unlocked another setting on my amplifier! Pushing further, to around the three o’clock position, delivers a beautifully broken‑up tone, as if you’ve cranked your valve amp right up. The Fake Plastic Trees always remains wonderfully responsive to your picking, though, and that fact alone should give you a decent idea of the range of tones you can access with this box.
The Fake Plastic Trees always remains wonderfully responsive to your picking.
Sitting between those two knobs, we have Root and Branch. These are low‑ and high‑band controls for a Baxandall‑based EQ. The EQ comes before the break up stages in the pedal’s internal signal chain, and therefore has a significant impact on the character of the break‑up distortion. Pushing Root while keeping Branch at noon adds an oomph to the signal but it is never overwhelming, and pushing the Branch control brightens the character of the drive — but I didn’t find myself reeling from unwanted ‘zingyness’ at any point.
The Fake Plastic Trees is, perhaps unsurprisingly, gloriously at home on guitar. Whether I was plugged into an amplifier or using it to feed an amp sim, it always seemed able to give me what I wanted. It also worked well on bass guitar, though, and the Branch EQ can really help an electric bass shine through a mix. I really can’t overstate just how much tonal variety there is, despite there being really only three controls that change the sound. There are already so many different characters to be found using just the EQ and Gain controls, but the Fake Plastic Trees is also nicely responsive to your performance dynamic and your guitar’s volume/tone settings.
Lots of companies promise that their pedals will feel like a pushed amplifier, and most of them ultimately disappoint — but Audio Kitchen really have delivered with this pedal. I highly recommend trying one out.
£375 including VAT.