Many years ago TC Electronic released the Booster + Line Driver & Distortion. This classic pedal did all sorts of things and was favoured by players from Allan Holdsworth to Anthrax’s Scott Ian to add some oomph to their tone. The Spark Booster is the next evolution of that pedal, and while on the surface it appears to offer some of the same features, inside it’s a different beast.
The Spark is several pedals in one – or at least it can be, depending on how you use it. It can be a line driver (similar to a buffer), adding back what long cable runs take out. It can be a clean boost (up to 26dB), giving extra kick to your amp’s input section so it generates additional gain via its preamp tubes. It can be a tone sculptor, giving you a mid-bump when needed. It can be an overdrive. It can fatten up single coils or take excess weight out of humbuckers. It can even do your dishes, put the dog out and read you a bedtime story. It does all this via only four knobs (Gain, Level, Bass and Treble) and a three-way switch (Fat/Clean/Mid).
It’s true bypass, it operates on 9v DC power supply or battery, and it has a small pedalboard footprint, especially compared to the Booster + Line Driver & Distortion.
I plugged my Gibson Les Paul Traditional into the Spark Booster and introduced it to my Marshall. First I dialled in an absolutely clean, unprocessed sound to give my ears a frame of reference – essentially using it as a line driver. No problems here! It’s perfectly transparent. Turning up the Level shifts the Spark into becoming a clean boost to drive the preamp tubes harder, and this really let my Les Paul scream despite its low-output vintage-style Seymour Duncan Seth Lover SH-55 humbuckers. In fact, those ‘buckers are pretty low on bass by design, so I added some wallop in via the Spark’s Bass control and it sounded big and crunchy.
Flipping the switch to Fat achieved a similar effect but with more body across the lower mids as well, and a case could certainly be made for using either method. The Fat setting was especially good for adding some “Texas Flood” tone to my Strat, especially with the Gain knob turned up, where it starts to add a little breakup and light compression.
The real superstar though is the Mid setting. This mode gooses this crucial range by just enough to create a vocal, expressive lead sound. Tailor it further by using the Gain knob for more dirt or the Level to make your amp work for it, then sculpt the top and bottom with the Bass and Treble controls, and very soon you’ll find a stockpile of fat lead sounds from Satriani to Fripp. It really is a deceptively flexible tone machine, a veritable mothership of tone and gain.
TC Electronic has given us all sorts of cool innovations in recent years, including the PolyTune series, which gives you a tuning readout of all six strings simultaneously, and the TonePrint pedals, which let you beam artist presets to it via your phone. The Spark Booster doesn’t claim to be a technological marvel like those two breakthroughs, but it’s just as impressive and extremely expressive.