Hello Gearheads! Today's offering is from Tone Freak Effects, who make wonderful boutique guitar effects. Derek Tabata builds some great overdrive, boost and tremolo pedals, one of which I'm reviewing today -- Derek's newest offering, the Azalea Overdrive. The Azalea Overdrive is based on the venerable Nobels ODR-1 circuit, made famous (and also famously used) in the Nashville, TN studio scene. For those of you not inclined to the idea that there are 'studio scenes,' it comes down to two simple ideas: you're either in Los Angeles or Nashville. Now of course there are many cities, states, provinces, countries.... worlds (ok maybe we're not quite there yet... but ahem, we did just find 7 new planets... maybe at least one such planet would offer up some new orbital guitar tones!?) That said, it is a common reference with studio gear, ideology, and tones to be divided into those two geographic zones: LA or Nashville.
Getting back on track... see what I did there? The Nobels ODR-1 is a natural overdrive in that it retains the guitar's original voice rather than changing the feel or tactile element. That is simply one of the reasons it's quite revered. The ODR-1 does however have some limitations, which have spurned many DIY modifications and new iterations of this circuit to be made.
Which brings us to the Azalea! The Azalea keeps a lot of the feel and tone of the ODR-1 circuit but adds some very valuable alterations. Firstly, there is a tone control and a bass contour control. The ODR-1 can suffer from a bass heavy EQ in many rigs and depending upon your guitar, amp, and pedals following the circuit, it can be at times woofy or too cluttered in the low end spectrum. The Azalea's two handed punch of standard Tone and Bass contour allows you to fine tune the amount of thump and low end girth you need. This allows you to match the tone of the ODR-1, make it fit better in your rig or the situation you're working in. Having this control of course allows you to get a ton of other tones out of the Azalea than just an ODR-1 tone. Derek has also included a toggle to allow the pedal to be used in either Silicon Diode or L.E.D. gain stages. Basically, the Silicon is the original ODR-1 tone and the L.E.D. allows for louder, less compressed drive tones, which could work really well as a clean to full range boost.
I'm a big fan of this circuit for a few reasons. One of those reasons is how the pedal sounds recorded in a track. It has the 'right' amount of presence and push, mostly due to the fat low end that never gets mushy or clogged sounding. It literally is THE sound of any Country, Pop-Country, Alt-Country etc... rhythm and solo guitar tones. It's big and full yet still sounds like the guitar and amplifier you're using. Incredibly important and valuable as a recording tool. The second reason I love this circuit is how it interacts with other pedals after it. Using the Azalea as a boost for other overdrive and distortions yields some really wonderful results --- mainly just glorious added girth and gain but without any tonal shift. It's a mysterious adventure to enter into the world of stacking gain pedals, many times the result is a diminishing return, where you end up with more gain but 'cutting' less in the mix or sounding fizzy or less defined. Not with the Azalea! It works wonders on my live pedalboard with the Maxon SD-9 (one of my all time favorite live pedals) to get fatter sustaining liquid-esque lead tones. The Azalea truly works well as a 'stacker' - I recommend trying it before all your gain boxes to hear that sustain just leap out of your speakers!
I decided to offer up a short demonstration in song-form of the Azalea's tones. I really enjoy recording with the Azalea, it's intuitive and quick to dial in which I find makes it a great choice for the studio or stage. I highly recommend you check one out!
I'm using a Danocaster S Style with Rocketfire Total 60's pickups and a custom Montuoro koa hollowbody with Seymour Duncan Alnico Pro II humbuckers. The amplifier is a Blankenship Twinplex 120w head with 6550's and a Kerry Wright diagonal 2x12 cabinet with UK made Celestion Vintage 30's.