REVIEW: DVK Technologies Silvertop, Goldtop, Hairball, Mrs
DVK Technologies is a new Australian company dedicated to making dual-sound pedals that pack maximum tone into minimal space – and also look super-cool at the same time. Let’s take a look at the four current models, the Mrs, the Silvertop, the Goldtop and the Hairball. All are extremely pedalboard-friendly, both in terms of the amount of real estate they take up on your pedalboard and their ability to be clearly seen on stage, even if you’re rocking a double-tiered, six-foot-wide, three-foot-deep pedalboard of doom. All DVK pedals, and as they say in the very helpful manual, ‘we don’t want the landfills to be any fuller of little lead deposits than they already are.’
Part boost, part compressor, The Mrs is much more than the sum of its parts -and that includes the ability to sum the parts. Each of the two effects can be selected separately or combined. The Boost side of The Mrs pumps out 25dB of gain – that’s more than enough to push a ranging valve preamp into meltdown, but it’s also quite sufficient to get a little more sparkle and punch from a clean amp as well. The controls consist of Gain and Level pots as well as a Normal/Fat toggle switch. Over on the compressor side you’ll find Comp, Level and Attack controls as well as a Normal/Bright switch.
The Silvertop seems to occupy a unique place among its DVK siblings. The other three pedals in the range come across as specialised effects which will sound great for a song, solo or special effect, they’re not particularly designed to be ‘set and forget, use all night’ kinds of pedals. If anything, their sheer variety of sound will prompt you to set them differently for each song and experiment with various permutations of their two effects. The Silvertop seems like it’s trying to become number 1 on your pedalboard, and isn’t shy to admit it.
The Silvertop features vibe and overdrive effects which are selectable individually or together. You can also switch around their routing so either one can feed into the other. Controls include Rate, Depth and a Classic/Vibrato switch on the vibe side, and Drive, Level and Tone controls on the overdrive side. The vibe section also includes a tiny LED which flashes in time with the Rate control, a handy little visual reminder which will hopefully jog your memory onstage if you need to change it before the next song. You can also plug an expression pedal in to vary the vibrato rate.
The Goldtop is a neat little 2-in-1 unit which features classic fuzz and vibrato effects. Controls include Rate, Depth and Chorus/Vibe toggle for the vibe side, and Fuzz, Level, Tone and Shape on the fuzz side. The Alice In Wonderland graphics are a nice touch, especially since the Mad Hatter’s eye is an LED which pulses in time to the rate control. There are separate foot switches for each pedal so you can select them one at a time or both at once. ‘But dude, what if you want the fuzz to go after the vibrato,’ I hear you screech? Easy. There’s a toggle switch which lets you swap the order around. Now your fuzz never need go vibeless, nor you vibe be left fuzzless, ever again. There’s also an expression pedal jack for manually manipulating the rate control, which is great for simulating organ sounds in chorus mode.
The Hair Ball is a one-stop gain-generating machine. Part overdrive, part boost, part treble booster and all attitude, it’s designed to help you achieve the ultimate distortion tone, and it gives you plenty of options with which to do it. On the left side of the pedal you’ll find an overdrive unit with basic controls for Tone, Timbre and Level, along with a stomp switch. On the right side there’s a booster which provides up to 28dB of boost, with a Level control and a switch to select between Full Range and Treble Boost modes. The graphics are distinctive and cool, although if you’re like me and you share your house with a hairball-prone kittycat you might instinctively guide your foot away from the big hulking hairball in the middle of the unit. I guess that’s a good thing since the effect switches are either side of it…
The boost side is a little more flexible than the plethora of single-control boosters flooding the market at the moment. Sure, the Level control pumps out up to 25dB of juice, but there’s also an actual Gain control as well, which means you can add some dirt to your oomph. This is great for players who use the boost for extra gain but still aren’t able to get all the fire they want out of their amp. The Normal/Fat switch increases the flexibility even further, allowing you to make up for wimpy pickups or simply hammer your amp with a big bassy wallop. I liked setting a moderate Gain level, a high ‘Level’ level and engaging the Fat switch while playing low notes on a Telecaster – the single coil grunt was pure country, and not the pretty kind. The greasy, buffalo-lassoing, tumbleweed-kickin’, cattle-branding variety. Oooh yeah.
The compressor side goes way beyond a compressor’s typical brief of loudening quiet signals and quietening loud ones for the sake of dynamic vanilla. Nope, this compressor has loads of character and enough output to get downright dirty. If you want a polite compressor, set the Attack fast and the Compression knob at around 10 o’clock in the Normal mode. You’ll get a great Motown-ready rhythm tone that’s usable in a wide variety of situations. Kick on that Bright switch and max out the Compression and Attack knobs and you’ll get a snappy, lively sound that is great for commanding attention instead of sitting nicely in the background. If you want an absolutely killer lead sound, especially with single coils, turn both the Compressor and Boost on at the same time, and use the compressor side’s Level control to feed the boost. Set the boost to ‘Fat,’ the Gain to about 1/3 of the way up and the Level to whatever your amp tells you is right. You’ll get a glassy, vibrant, extremely tactile and reactive tone that responds great to pick attack, but even better to flicking the pick and rocking it fingerstyle like Jeff Beck. Beware though: as you pile on the gain you’ll pile on the noise, so don’t go nuts.
The Chorus/Vibrato side sounds great for faux organ sounds and swirly psychedelic stuff. Set it to Vibrato mode, crank up the Depth and keep the Rate at around 9 o’clock for a cool Pink Floyd “Breathe” type tone, or switch to Chorus mode, crank both controls all the way up, flip to your neck pickup and go into Stevie Ray Vaughan “Cold Shot” territory. Like the Goldtop, the chorus is more of your vintage, earthy variety than the overly shiny, synthetic type of chorus popular in the 80s, and it reacts spectacularly with the overdrive section.
The overdrive is a unique little beast. It’s based on the popular TS-type circuit but has been tweaked to offer a wider tonal pallet, ranging from almost clean boost to a chunky crunch that stops short of full-on distortion but still pushes out more than enough sustain for anyone whose tonal requirements don’t include terms like ‘brvtals’ (sic) and ‘necro.’ At low Gain control settings it gives everything a nice Stonesy sparkle, while higher levels sound full and thick with great dynamic range. You can really hear each little variation in picking intensity and legato trickery. If you’re running a valve amp, push the Level control up for some killer higher gain grind. I found that the Tone control remained musical even at the highest reaches of its travel, no mean feat considering how harsh some overdrive and distortion pedals become at this type of setting.
Step on both overdrive and vibe at the same time and the tone toughens up considerably, regardless of whether the chorus/vibe is set to an exaggerated or subtle sound. It’s quite surprising how aggressive the pedal becomes when you crank up the gain and stomp on the chorus mode. Switching the order of the two effects introduces a subtle difference which you’ll hear more distinctly at higher gain levels. Chorus before overdrive is a little looser and grittier, whereas chorus after overdrive sounds tougher and more defined. Ditto for the vibrato.
Let’s start with the vibrato side, because there’s some killer stuff going on here. First up, in pure Vibrato mode the tone is smooth and sonorous, rather than seasick and disorienting as some vibrato pedals can be. You can add a nice slow-motion blur to spacious chords or, without changing anything but how fast you strum, a propulsive sense of motion if you switch to a fast-paced jangle attack. Turn up the Rate and Depth and you have a tone approaching Powderfinger’s “My Happiness” wobble, but slightly more subtle and therefore probably a bit more useful too. The Depth control adds more bass as you turn it up, and this means you can also reduce the bass and thin out the tone to great effect at lower settings.
Switch to Chorus mode and you’ll get a nice Leslie-like chorus, rather than the hi-fi beer ad-type sounds of 80s chorus (as the manual takes great glee in pointing out). It’s a great swirly tone which adds a nice smear to chords, and some psychedelic gleam to single notes, especially those of the bluesy variety through a fat-sounding neck pickup.
DVK says the fuzz circuit is based on a ‘Big M’ type, but with a wider range of control. The fuzz side is nice and adaptable, from scooped out Pumpkin tone to midrangey Muse squeal. Low settings on the Fuzz control will give you a nice vintage bark, while higher settings will send you past the point of no return. Likewise, lower Shape control settings fatten up the sound considerably (working in tandem with the tone control for even greater effect), while higher Shape settings add some caramel chewiness to the pick attack. And you can use the Level control to push a tube amp a little harder to get even more gain.
Based on a ‘TS’ type circuit, the Hairball’s overdrive side can sound smooth and warm just like its little green inspiration, but it also offers more gain and a greater range of tone control, especially in the midrange and high end. You can get some flat-out raunchy tones from this baby, great for hard rock and Gary Moore-style hard blues, or you can scooch the Timbre and Tone down a bit for a more traditional SRV-type sound. The higher the Gain is, the more cutting the treble dished out by the tone control appears to be, and it’s all satisfyingly interactive.
The Boost side is really two pedals in one. The Full Range boost is great for adding extra oomph to your tube amp’s front end, and I quite enjoying finding the sweet spot on my Marshall where the pedal pushed the gain into EVH territory, but a quick stomp of the bypass switch brought everything back to earth. Kicking in the Treble Boost switch sucks out the bottom end and emphasises the treble and upper midrange for a killer chewy semi-fuzz tone, especially in combination with an already growly amp. Kick it on, switch to your neck pickup and play some power chords high on the neck on the E and A strings and you’re into early Tony Iommi territory, my friend.
Of course, some extra cool stuff happens when you turn both effects on together, including some utterly sick high gain sounds and some otherwise-unattainable moderate-gain voicings created by finely balancing the two sides and experimenting with divergent tone control settings.
The Mrs is not going to easily be lost among the sea of compressors out there, nor is the boost section simply tacked on as a value-added bonus. Both effects are good enough to stand alone in their own right, but their presentation in such a thoughtfully-voiced and flat-out toneful unit makes The Mrs utterly indispensable.
The Silvertop, in contrast to its DVK stablemates, is the kind of pedal that you could happily throw into a gig bag and base your whole live sound on. That’s a big call, and it doesn’t apply if your’e in a country or metal band, but for blues, rock and punk players, the Silvertop makes itself quite valuable.
This psychedelic little Goldtop sounds great, especially if your musical proclivities lean towards the late 70s, but it has a wealth of modern applications too. You’re really getting three pedals in one, and the fuzz is so versatile that the fuzz side alone qualifies as about three or four fuzzes. In fact, it’d be kinda fun to have a unit with two identical fuzz circuits like this one. Oh the possibilities!
The Hair Ball is a one-stop gain shop with plenty of tonal variety for those who really need to scream. I’m always excited when I stumble across a pedal that pays tribute to the treble boosters of yore, and the Hair Ball doesn’t disappoint on this front or its pure boost and overdrive offerings.
This is an alternate edit of an article which also appeared in Mixdown Magazine in January 2011.
LINK: DVK Technologies