J. Rockett Audio Designs Archer by darkhorse
J. Rockett (JRAD) Archer Overdrive
If a guitarist has never heard of a Klon Centaur they must have been living in a secluded cave for decades. The mythical status Klon overdrive ended production years back and the original run now sells used for upwards of $1500.
Bill Finnegan (Klon) came out with a 2nd version called the KTR which has also ended its initial runs and may or may not return again. Used KTR’s going for double their list price.
The market is dispersed with various clones of the Klon Centaur even kits of DIY.
The overdrive gets accolades for its clean boost qualities and smooth overdrive.
So what makes a Klon a Klon?
A few specific things:
1.) An internal voltage charge pump that takes the 9v operating voltage to an internal 18v expanding its headroom.
2.) The Klon uses a buffer platform not true bypass which is outstanding and often copied.
3.) A dual circuit blend with the clean boost and diode clipping circuit which attain a “magical” mix at some point in the gain control adjust.
4.) The unit uses germanium diodes, which Finnegan claims can no longer be found, many argue this point.
5.) Unlike 98% of most overdrives these days, the Klon is not a modified Tubescreamer circuit, it is unique and as well copied.
6.) The profound difference in a real Klon and a quasi copy clone is not just the sound and the "ear" judgment but the how the unit feels and responds to the touch of the player. A much overlooked element in this overbearing time of thinking "ears" are a valid benchmark of measurement. You can hear things according to ones biologic and brain, and no two ears are the same even your own.
When Bill Finnegan tried to design a new Klon Centaur drive the result was the KTR, which also manifests a bypass and buffer option switch, designed by Paul Cochran of Timmy OD fame.
Bill labels on the side, buffer “almost always sounds better”. The Klon buffer is exceptional and craps on the notion that buffers are bad. Buffers are essential but it is for certain one can have too many cascading buffers while a large chain of true bypass pedals can be lifted from their capacitance loading, via a good single pre buffer. Long runs back to the amp back line can be lifted of cable capacitance loading via a good end chain buffer.
There are many Klon clones that do not use the internal 18v voltage pump, the germanium diodes or the Klon buffer and are entirely different in layout and component choices, that is not Klon circuit in my book, not close, but to each their own.
Now here is where things get interesting:
The KTR Klon is a different circuit that "sounds like" the original, it is as close as the original designer could attain to his taste. Bill claims the exact original circuit can no longer be copied due to unavailable older components. A much argued issue among builders and users, but in the harsh reality Bill is probably right.
Any honest pedal designer/builder (as stated by Brian Wampler) will admit "when one changes the layout the circuit is different", when one substitutes components, the circuit is different. Just physics, not baseless "ear" opinion.
I have always been suspect of various “clones” being set in much smaller boxes and always being claimed to be the real deal. Issue is, just can’t be. Doesn't mean they can't sound good, a lot of pedals sound good, hardly makes for a ludicrous argument to design and sell a pedal that does not sound good.
Now that being said, remember the KTR Klon is a different circuit which is intended to sound and behave as close as possible to the original, it is not the same circuit.
Another truth in the Klon circus arena, is that many overdrives can manifest Klon sounding timbers and voicing at some point in their adjustments, even units with entirely different circuits.
The most famous I recall, is the Lovepedal silver Kalamazoo, this is a heavily modified Tubescreamer circuit, twice removed from the design of the Klon circuit. In a blind A/B test done by ProGuitarShop set at a cleaner drive, most chose the Kalamazoo as being the original old Klon. So “sounds like” can go a long way. I think the "sounds like" issue is more about how the pedal makes the guitar feel and respond more so than just a blind tone, and that is where the "real" Klon circuits differ, they feel different when you play.
So where does the new JRAD Archer come into the picture?
J. Rockett’s (JRAD) manufacturing built the first run of the KTR Klon version for Klon. The Archer is their version of the KTR had they had any input on the design or component selections of the KTR. It is to their view playing as much homage and copy to the original as possible. It is claimed to be the best rendering of a clone circuit Klon that can be done.
The Archer has the internal 18v charge pump, and the original sounding buffer w no option bypass switch. It also uses quality germanium diodes and components.
The Archer is very small in comparison to a lot of clones as well as the KTR and larger old style enclosure.
The build is rock solid with a metal enclosure, heavier than most other pedals by far, the “built like a brick or a tank” cliché’ more than applies. The control knobs are stiff and have the feel of quality pots. Unit has the usual stomp switch and external 9v neg pin jack. The buffed silver finish and purple knobs bare witness to the older sliver Klon and resist smudge and fingerprints. Breath of fresh air from the multicolored range of pedals one usually encounters.
If you have never used a Klon, your initial experience will be somewhat varied. It is all in the adjustment and mixture of the volume, tone and gain controls to your rig and its chemistry.
One would be lying is they claimed any overdrive sounded marvelous with any gear chain, they simply do not. All drives are not the same and your rig chain, amp, and guitar, not to mention your hands and style of playing are infinitely unique. What accounts for a grail pedal on one rig may not be the right one for another.
So one tries various pedals and goes through the magic forest in quest of ones that have the magic tone.
You may try a Klon and have a mmmhhhhhh reaction and be astounded old ones sell for so much or what the hype and lore is all about. My first experience with a Klon circuit was my PCE Aluminum Falcon II which really sounded good, having the above mentioned elements the real Klon must have.
So when I got the Archer I knew the ends and outs of what to expect.
I found the Archer to be a marvelous pedal and rendering of the Klon. There are somewhat 3 basic ways to use a Klon, gain down clean boost, w varying output levels to drive other pedals or an amp. This is the gold standard for the Klon, that clean boost quality which makes anything used with it sound better.
Second, is the mid gain control adjust spot where the magic mix of the clean circuit and the diode clipping merge. The Klon gradually reduces its clean boost circuit as the gain stage is turned up, they say when you find that special spot mixture that is the Klon magic.
Others like to crank the Klon to the gain side and dial in a smooth gainy drive. Be advised you will need to tweak around with the unit until you come to that setting which makes your rig sing.
Most set the tone control around 11:00-1:00, there are useful timbers in the full range and one might have a use at times to go brighter or darker.
Personally, I changed my rather copious pedalboard all around trying various spots and uses. I pulled several pedals off to make way for "royalty". At first, I had problems getting what I expected and wanted out of the unit. I have a shelf of all sorts of drives so I can swap out a million different combinations.
I finally decided I like the cleaner side of things with a little gain and in front of my other drives or gains. And indeed what the Archer hits, as with the Klon, it sounds better, so this is typically an always on pedal for me. The full range of adjustment works on this pedal so you just have to dial around to find some settings that do the deal for you.
Some like using the Klon pre or post other drives or gains. I am a lower gain into a higher gain chap myself. So I find the cleaner Klon a jewel as it combines in various stacking options. Of course the buffer after is a volume jump thing one can use for solos, but personally there are other pedals I would use for that option and keep the Klon goodness coming on down the line. Does not matter really, do what works for you and adjust things to your taste and use.
The cleaner settings on the Archer were just like a Klon, a special clean boost that is rather transparent to the tone of the guitar and amp but while still imparting something special to the tone in a subtle way. Makes everything just a little bit better,
Mid gain is a search for that magic spot where the clean boost circuit is rolling off and the germanium diode clipping starts working. Some say the 18v internal charge pump only works on the clipping stage, I really do not know if that is so. But the magic spot is where most seek the grail.
High gains are smooth and do not get too gainy or fizzy, again the interaction of the volume. tone and gain on this pedal are the ball game, one needs to tweak in the magic balance for your rig and use.
I made the initial mistake of removing my beloved Wampler Compressor from my chain while I was testing the pedal, as I did not want to hear external compressive qualities when testing. The Archer was good but not great for me, until I started configuring it more into my board integration than a guest. When I decided to bring back the Wampler Compressor, set at my usual low compressor blend setting, I found the Archer loved that up front and the unit came alive. I really am unable to turn these two pedals off and anything used with them also sounds better. Just FYI, my love for my Egnater pedals has not diminished and the Archer loves them.
So recommend from me on the Archer. It does not reinvent the wheel in regard to overdrives, but if you want to experience the great and powerful Klon it is one, if not the best, of the claimed clones. At $179 a very reasonable price for a quality made pedal.