REVIEW: BBE Boosta Grande
The very nature of distortion makes it probably the most complex of all guitar effects. Whether it’s generated digitally or in the analog realm, with transistors or valves, there are dozens of distinctive ways to summon this most holy of guitar tones. The concept of a clean boost has been around for many years, but it seems to have taken off in a major way in recent times. The basic idea is that if you have a good valve amp, you’re probably already going to be happy with its basic tone, but if it’s not quite reaching your ideal level of gain or distortion, whack your guitar signal through a clean boost and it will amplify the signal before it hits the amp – nothing more, nothing less. A signal boosted in this way will make the preamp valves work harder, coaxing the amp into glorious overdrive without adding any colouration to the original tone. If you try that with a distortion pedal the results may be great, but the pedal will add its own tonal signature.
The BBE Boosta Grande gives up to 20dB of pure clean boost. This is enough to push any underpowered amp the edge of a toothy grind. The pedal is also true bypass, so when you turn it off it’s completely removed from the signal chain. It also comes with an AC adaptor and an included battery. Nice touch.
My first test, and the most important, really, was to evaluate just how much or how little the Boosta Grande coloured the original sound. Plugging an Ibanez Jem into my Marshall DSL50 all-valve head’s crunch channel, I turned the Boosta Grande’s gain control to zero – theoretically this setting should be identical to the unboosted, natural signal. Thankfully, closing my eyes and randomly stomping on the switch I was unable to tell when the pedal was on or off. Eeeeeeexcellent.
Edging up the gain, I found a sweet spot at around 3.5 or 4 on the dial where the overall sound was fattened up, but yet to approach actual distortion. This setting is ideal for adding chunk and fullness to otherwise weedy sounding single coil pickups, or turning up the heat a little for a melody line while still keeping the overall gain level within a socially acceptable range.
Turning the gain up past 5 smoothly increases the amount of distortion, to the point where the amp’s crunch channel took on a punchy gain level similar to that of Metallica’s “Black” album – certainly not an ‘un-distorted’ album, but far from the mega gain levels of modern amps. In this range the Boosta Grande/Marshall combination sounded particualarly kickass when combined with a Hagstrom Super Swede, a great Les Paul-style axe.
On the Marshall’s lead channel, the Boosta Grande added sustain and body to already-distorted tones without seriously increasing the noise levels. It really was just like turning the amp’s gain knob around a few more turns.
If you’re a player who likes to use more traditional valve amps but need to approach more modern gain levels, the Boosta Grande is a great way of thickening your sound without subtracting from the reasons you made it your sound in the first place. Anyone who plays a valve amp owes it to themselves to try this baby out.
Single op-amp design
20dB of clean boost
9v adaptor, 9v battery included