Distortion’s a serious game, and there are a million ways to get it. Active pickups. Inbuilt preamps. Clean boosts feeding raging high-gain superstacks. Power amp. Preamp. Speaker. Pre-gain EQ. Post-gain EQ. Such mythical alchemy is rarely distilled into a single unit, so MXR has some nerve trying to cram all that distortion-generating mayhem into a little box the size of a sardine tin. So how does the MXR Fullbore Metal stack up?
The first thing you will notice when you’re actually holding the Fullbore Metal is that it’s tiny. Somehow it looks bigger and much more imposing on the website, but when you actually step back and look at it, this little monster is the same size as the venerable-as-it-is-diminutive Phase 90. There are six knobs and two buttons all shoehorned into the same space where that singe rate control lives on a Phase 90. The pots are volume, frequency and gain along the top, then low, mid and high along the bottom. The two buttons kick in the noise gate and a midrange scoop (which cuts the mids while boosting the highs and bass – very intense), while the frequency knob alters the character of the midrange. Turn it up for higher mids, turn it down for lower ones, then use the mid control itself to control the amount of boost or cut. Easy. Whip off the back for battery access (with a screwdriver, unfortunately) and you’ll find a tiny gate trigger control adjustable by screwdriver. Use this to set the noise gate sensitivity. Happily, the gate seems to be ideally set for simple and functional noise reduction. If you have lower-output pickups you might want to reign it in a bit, or if you’re into the whole stop-start Dimebag thing you may like to clamp that sucker right down. Aside from the gate, the pedal features true hardwire bypass and has an all-analog signal path. None of this sneaking a big ‘ol DSP chip in there, oh no.
PEDAL, MEET METAL
MXR recommends turning the volume, gain and bass all the way down before turning on the Fullbore Metal, lest you surprise your amp with the demonic firestorm that lurketh within and wind up singeing all and sundry. Good advice too: this little beast has fatter bottom than a hippo convention. Even at the lowest gain settings the tone is thick and edgy – think Hetfield in the first 9 seconds of the title track to ‘St Anger’ (I know the drum sound sucked, just listen to the guitar tone on that track, okay?). You know, that kind of woody, dirty sound? No ‘just enough gain to add a bit of sparkle’ mojo going on here.
Increasing the gain further brought out all sorts of cool Rectifier and 5150-like metal tones, and I was able to scare up a few of my favourite Devin Townsend tones from SYL to Ziltoid. Continuing the Metallica theme I found some pretty passable ‘Black Album’ sounds waiting to tear my head off. Careful shaping of the midrange is the key here. Whether you need scooped death tones or thicker, middier hardcore sounds, they’re yours for the finding after a bit of tweaking. High mid settings bring out the vocal quality to shreddy lead work, while lower mids and highs bring out the chunk factor. In fact, for a good all-round multi purpose metal tone, just set everything to 4 and you can’t go far wrong.
By the way, Dethklok mastermind Brendan Small is a fan of the Fullbore Metal, and if it earns the approval of Skwisgaar Skwigelf you know it’s gots to be brutals.
HEAVY METAL THUNDER
The Fullbore Metal is not one of those ‘do everything’ distortion pedals. If you want musical overdrive, forget it. If you want subtlety, get outta here. If you want to add some jangle to your clean tone, you’ve got some nerve pokin’ round here, buddy. But if you need intense, full-bodied metal tones with that extra ‘oomph’ that you usually only get from inbuilt amp distortion, the Fullbore Metal is unmissable.