Judging by the names of some of their products, the designers at T‑Rex have got a thing about the less attractive elements of cooking, and nowhere is this more true than with their new Gristle range, which consists of three different overdrive and distortion pedals. On each, a mechanical footswitch provides a hard bypass, and there's a bright red status LED to show when the pedal is powered up. As with many pedals, they're switched off when the input jack is removed. The pedals are commendably quiet when switching, although the mechanical clunk of the switch might get picked up by an open mic in the studio.
The Gristle Luxury Drive (£135$199) is, in essence, a level booster box, adjusted by a single control. The gain circuit includes a very subtle treble boost, and has a tendency to compress the audio slightly, which suggests that FET circuity may be in use. Housed in a simple die‑cast box, this pedal can be powered from a 9V battery (you'll need to remove four screws on the base), or from a 9‑12V DC power supply. When I tried my Boss 9V supply, I was greeted by a loud background hum, but other T-Rex pedals I've tried were happy using this, so it's either a one‑off fault or a peculiarity of this particular pedal.
The minimum boost setting is a few decibels higher than when bypassed, but you can turn it up to push your amp's front end really quite hard. The tonality depends on how your amp responds to being overdriven, because the output is pretty clean, despite the mild top‑boost and compression. In the studio, the Luxury Drive provides a useful way to coax a bit more distortion out of a guitar-amp front end, and I detected no significant noise, so you won't compromise your recording quality by using it.
The Diabolical Gristle Tone Manipulator or DGTM costs £150$269 and features knobs labelled Gristle (gain), Tone and Gravy (volume). Tone is nominally flat in the centre, so it can be used to tame the high end or to emphasise it, and it has a really musical character. A little toggle switch, tucked away at the top of the panel, changes the voicing from mildly crunchy to a fatter, more compressed tone that reminded me of a Tube Screamer. Again, this is built into a simple die‑cast box, with a latching mechanical footswitch and laser‑bright blue LED. The DGTM can be powered from a 9 Volt battery or from a 9 Volt PSU (my Boss PSU worked perfectly).
I was pleasantly surprised to find that this pedal was neither diabolical nor gristly, but a really versatile and good‑sounding overdrive. With the toggle switch set the to left and using a low gain setting, you can get a lovely jangle without any obvious distortion, but there's enough gain range to get a raunchy rhythm sound or a nice blues overdrive. With the switch flipped to the right, there's little tonal difference at lower gain settings, but as you wind up the gain, the tone warms up considerably, sounding much fatter, as well as being slightly louder. The amount of drive available is roughly similar in both positions, getting you into blues or raunchy chords, but not going far enough for those seeking more overdriven modern tones. Think vintage rock, such as Free's 'Alright Now', Who‑style power chords, chugging Stones or ZZ Top, and you won't be far off. Both notes and chords really hold their integrity, even at higher drive settings, where with some pedals they'd just turn to fizzy mush. While there's a little circuit noise when all the gains are wound up, this seems pretty low in level compared with most pedals.
Even more diabolical is the Gristle King (£200$369), an enhanced version of the DGTM. It has the same three control knobs in the overdrive section, and the same toggle switch, this time called Flavor, but this is joined by another labelled Phat, which brings in even more low‑mid boost. Phat reacts differently depending on which Flavor switch position is in use, so you really get four possible tonal permutations, before you even touch the Tone control. The Phat control was particularly useful for coaxing humbucker‑like tones from my Strat's single‑coil pickups. On a practical note, the location of the Flavor and Phat switches below the control knobs means that a clumsily placed foot may damage them.
An additional section includes its own footswitch, a 'More' knob and Pre/Post switch for bringing in extra boost. This is based on the Luxury Drive concept, and has a separate red LED to let you know when it's engaged. What this means is that, in effect, you get two pedals in one, as you can still use the boost when the overdrive section is bypassed.
The clever part of this design is the pre/post switching for the boost, because if you select pre, you can use it to overdrive the existing overdrive circuit to get heavier distortion, whereas by selecting post, you can boost the overall level for solos without changing the amount of overdrive generated by the pedal. You might also get more distortion out of your amp by adding boost depending on the amp's input gain settings, so it provides a really easy way to kick the output up to '11' for solos, and you have the choice over more level or more distortion. Without the boost switched in, the performance is essentially the same as with the DGTM, but with the added flexibility provided by the Phat switch. With the boost switched to pre‑distortion, the amount of distortion available is noticeably more than from the DGTM pedal alone, but it still holds up well on chords and doesn't stray into metal excess.
The Gristle King is quite expensive — it's up there in FullTone territory, rather than slugging it out with the likes of Boss and Ibanez — but you might find that it's the only overdrive pedal you'll ever need.
These pedals are probably best suited to 'vintage tone hounds', and give a range from almost perfectly clean to a bluesy raunch, while covering a lot of tonal ground courtesy of the tone control and tonal switching. They all behaved beautifully (with the exception of the external powering issue on the Luxury Drive, which I suspect is a one‑off problem). Having to take off the bottom plate to change the battery is a minor irritation, but certainly not a deal‑breaker. Their musicality, quiet circuitry and silent hard‑bypass switching makes them all ideal for studio use, and while the cost may seem quite high, the build quality means that they should last indefinitely. Paul White