I have been hearing about treble boost pedals for years. I can’t say that I’ve ever really embraced the purpose of them, though. In my experience, we guitar players are always trying to dial in more warmth and a pedal that adds more treble seems counter-productive to that goal.
Twice now I have purchased an HBE Germania, which is a germanium diode-based treble boost pedal. If I recall, they had a little mini-switch that allowed the user to choose between treble only or more of a full-range boost. Again, not one to embrace the idea of adding treble, I sold them fairly quickly.
At the end of 2011, however, my view on treble boost pedals changed when my friend loaned me his Naga Viper pedal, which is a treble boost pedal made by the Portland-based pedal company, Catalinbread. A few things have changed since I owned the Germania pedals, but the Naga Viper is more useable in its design as well.
For starters, I have a much better understanding of the difference between “showroom guitar tones” and “performance guitar tones” as time goes on. I spent some time trying to define the difference in this past article here at TheToneChef.com. What once might’ve bothered my ears sitting in front of my amps now tickles my ears in the context of a live or recorded mix. A treble booster excites all of the right frequencies of the electric guitar in a band mix. Secondly, I’m becoming more comfortable dialing in tones based on what I think sounds good- and much less comfortable dialing in tones based on what the collective brain of the internet guitar forum says I should purchase. Lastly, the Naga Viper boost is a pretty dang cool version of the treble boost model.
From the Catalinbread site:
The Naga Viper is a booster in the grand old tradition of the Dallas Rangemaster “Treble-Booster”. The Rangemaster has been used by many influential British guitarists including Tony Iommi, Brian May, Marc Bolan, and KK Downing and Glen Tipton of Judas Priest. These guitarists, while completely unique in their styles, share the Rangemaster secret of boosting their cranked tube amps into a juicy, harmonic-laden rock tone that always cuts through the mix.
The Naga Viper is our version of this famous circuit and it enhances the classic circuit with the addition of two extra controls – Range and Heat. The original Rangemaster had just one control – Boost. The Range knob is a continuous control allows you to go from classic treble-boost to a full-range boost and anywhere in-between. The original could only function as a “treble-booster”. The Heat knob gives you control over the gain level, unlike the original which was fixed at maximum gain.
Why a “treble-booster”? Well, it is not like merely turning up the treble control on an EQ pedal. Besides enhancing treble response, it adds its own subtle harmonic distortion and gives you a lot of “push” to really saturate the front-end of your tube amp. But remember, the Naga Viper has a Range control that allows you to dial in exactly what frequencies get boosted.
The traditional way to use a treble-booster is to plug it straight into an already cranked and overdriven tube amp like the Marshalls, Laneys, and Voxes the British guitarists used. Since the amps were already cranked up, a full-range boost would result in a muddy sound with no definition. That is why we want to boost “treble”!
But in this modern era of electric guitar, many guitarists use overdrive pedals that emulate the sounds of cranked big amps into their smaller combos. The Naga Viper is carefully voiced to allow you to boost your “amp-in-the-box” pedals too to get those famous juicy, saturated sounds at “reasonable” volume levels! In particular, the Naga Viper was made to go with our Dirty Little Secret MkII and CB30 overdrives.
As they point out, it’s way more than just rolling up the treble knob on your amplifier. It’s like adding a whole new ingredient to your tone.
NOW, The title of this article is “Why You Need a Naga Viper”, so I suppose I should go ahead and make a case for that. Well here it is: The Naga Viper adds a second channel to every overdrive, distortion and/or fuzz pedal you already own. Many of the best and most iconic dirtboxes in history are one-button effects. No sound when off (hopefully), and one sound when on. The Naga Viper is a way to add a second button to the dirt you already rely on to get your sound. Do you love the Hermida ZenDrive? Stick a Naga Viper in front and see how tasty you can get it when the band is raging. Do you love the Marshall whoomp of the Wampler Pinnacle (or the Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret, which I’m anxious to try) but would love to be able to get a hot-rodded, modded Marshall sound out of the same box? Naga‘ that bad boy! Fuzzes that have a tendency to get muddy or indistinct come to life when you stick a Naga Viper in front.
Here at TheToneChef.com, I’m no cork-sniffer and I’m all about getting great tones without 1) being a slave to the latest boutique gear fads or 2) having to spend a ton of money to sound good. Even if you buy brand new and pay full price, you’re gonna spend about $170. But that $170 essentially doubles the amount of dirtboxes on your pedalboard- and that says nothing about how great it sounds going into your already-driven amplifier.
As an example, here’s a video I shot of the Naga Viper going into a couple of amps at the same time. You’ll hear a variety of dirt alone, and then with the addition of the Naga Viper going into it. It’s all one continuous take, so there are plenty of blue notes and clams, but I think it effectively shows what the Naga Viper can do for your rig.
The other pedals in order are:
• Xotic AC Boost, which I liken to “your amp, louder”. I don’t hear any particular character in that pedal, it just excites your signal with some gain. I run it with the bass and treble knobs really high, the gain knob at noon for some grit, and the volume a little above unity so that it’s slightly louder than the clean amp alone. You don’t wanna be playing your polite, clean tone at one volume and then when the band kicks in for something more aggressive, you’re stuck at that same volume. However, add the Naga Viper and it makes a great alternative to the Ibanez TubeScreamer sound that has graced our ears for decades.
• Wampler Pinnacle, which I picked up in Cleveland, OH last year. It’s got a great chug-chug Marshall wallop and it cleans up beautifully. It’s surprising how close you can get to the original recording of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” once you kick in the Naga Viper pedal. Of course, you actually hafta be able to play it, which apparently I struggle with a bit on the video. haha
• Catalinbread Forumla No. 5, which is their version of an old Tweed Fender. Leans a little towards a ratty fuzz and has a really loose low end. I love how aggressive this sounds in the context of a band and when I want to jump out or play on the neck pickup with more clarity, I add the Naga Viper to tie up the loose bottom end. It’s heaven with a tele, in my opinion.
• JHS Bunrunner Fuzz, which is a very musical sounding dual fuzz. I have wanted to love fuzz for years and have yet to find one that is quite as user-friendly as the BunRunner. There are times in a performance where you want to make a bold statement and fuzz certainly does that. There are other times in a performance where you want to suck the breath from people’s lungs by making it feel like they’re rounding a corner on two wheels. Add the Naga Viper to your fuzz and it’s done.
• Line 6 M9. You can see in the video that I add a handful of effects for more of an ambient, shoegazer kind of tone. It’s American Special tele > (Naga Viper/ off at first) > Catalinbread Formula No. 5 > reverse delay set to a half-note repeat > Vibrato set to a slow rate and high depth > Digital Delay with Modulation set to a dotted-8th with high mix > Visual Sound Dual Tap Delay which magically warms everything up and glues it all together. Later I add the Naga Viper to boost the sweet frequencies. On the middle position on a tele, it’s world-class sweetness.
So, there you have it. All the time, guitar players email, tweet, text, and message me asking what they should buy next. I now have a new answer. If you’re looking for a way to expand the range of everything you already own, try the Naga Viper. It’s like doubling your rig for $170.