The MXR Custom Badass ’78 Distortion is the first product from the Custom Badass design team of Dunlop Director of New Products Jeorge Tripps (founder of Way Huge Electronics), Dunlop Senior Engineer Bob Cedro (who cut his teeth working with the legendary Tom Scholz of Boston) and Bryan Kehoe. The ’78 Distortion is described as a factory-modded pedal designed to give players the boutique vibe of an aftermarket-modded pedal without actually buying a pedal then paying for some dude to poke around in its innards.

Controls are your standard Output, Tone and Distortion knobs, along with a Crunch button (and accompanying blue LED which remains on when the button is depressed, whether the effect itself is on or not). There’s a red status LED, input and output jacks, and a 9v power supply jack. Battery access is via removing the bottom plate – kind of annoying and fiddly, especially if you keep your pedals attached to a pedalboard, but at least you don’t risk losing or breaking a battery door like some other pedals.

[geo-out country=”Australia” note=””]MXR M78 Custom Badass ’78 Distortion Guitar Effects Pedal Standard at Guitar Center.[/geo-out]

The Crunch button switches between two different combinations of diode and LED clipping. When it’s engaged it increases the pedal’s dynamic range and adds more third-order harmonic distortion upon attack and more second order harmonic distortion when releasing a note or chord.

Most of the good stuff seems to be lurking within the first third of the tone control range. Higher excursions bring out a really cutting treble that might come in handy in some situations (such as adding a bit more cut when using the pedal to increase the roar of an already overdriven amp), but if you’re using it through a clean amp it’ll probably slice your ears off. There seems to be a sweet spot at about 9 o’clock on the Tone control where the treble is rolled back enough to let through a smooth, creamy lead tone which reminds me of instrumental guitarist Rob Balducci – it’s rich in harmonics and sustain (especially with the Crunch button engaged), but soft enough to bring some smoothness to legato licks. Turn the Crunch button off and increase the Tone control to around 11 o’clock and you’ll get a great compressed rhythm tone that works super-well for hard rock or various metal styles (up to and including thrash and some death metal, but probably not enough for some more extreme styles).

You can get some lovely full-bodied sustain when using this pedal to drive an already angry-sounding amp, and the tone control can be used to shift the tone from either smooth and round to edgy and jagged. The Crunch button seems to add a bit of three-dimensionality to the tone in this configuration, making it especially great for solos or full-on instrumental rock, where the melody line really needs to speak.

Here’s some random noodling to give you an idea of the Custom Badass ’78 Distortion’s dynamics:

MXR Custom Badass 78 Distortion by I Heart Guitar

I know it’s already ‘factory modded’ but I’d like to see a modification made to this pedal: it’d be super-great if the Crunch button was footswitchable. (Technically it is, if you angle your foot just right and don’t stomp down on that poor little switch too heavily, but I wouldn’t recommend doing this too often!). The way the switch changes the character of the sound is so so much that it’s almost like having independent Lead and Rhythm channels of the same amp. Have Crunch switched off for a chunky, compressed rock rhythm tone, then hit the Crunch switch for a louder, more dynamic, more cutting version of the same tone. Perhaps a jack from an external footswitch to toggle the Crunch switch will become a popular mod.

The MXR Custom Badass ’78 Distortion should come with a caveat: like a DiMarzio Evolution humbucker or a Soldano SLO100, it’s one of those pieces of gear that makes great players sound great but can really highlight the deficiencies in bad technique. If you pick too hard, the pedals’ tone seems to become very trebly and pinched, losing all its dynamic range and becoming quite harsh. However, at the other end of the scale, if you play with a super-soft touch and then increase your picking strength from there you’ll begin to understand just how much of a range of expression is lurking within this pedal. It rewards good technique just as much as it punishes bad technique, and that gives it a real ‘pro gear’ feel.

Whether in regular or Crunch mode, there are plenty of tones lurking inside the ’78 Distortion. The dynamic range and harmonic boost contributed by the Crunch switch really adds to the amp-like feel, even on the solid state and modelling amps I tested it with, but it plays really well with actual tube amps too.


[geo-out country=”Australia” note=””]MXR M78 Custom Badass ’78 Distortion Guitar Effects Pedal Standard at Guitar Center.[/geo-out]

MXR M78 Custom Badass '78 Distortion Guitar Effects Pedal Standard