You Get What You Pay For: Maxon Keeps it Quality

ModKitsDIY

By Marc Johnson for TheToneKing.com

One thing that all of us at TheToneKing.com will always agree on: You get what you pay for. We’ve been around the block enough times to see hundreds of companies offering a guitar that’s built just like a PRS for $300 bucks. Well, guess what? That ain’t no PRS. It’s more like a POS. It’s a race to the bottom as companies struggle to find different ways to cut corners and shave that price just a little more, sacrificing quality in the process. The good news is that there are a few manufacturers out there who are choosing to compete with quality instead of price.

Maxon’s been around for a long time. TTK fans will know them from our October 2011 spotlight on the VOP9 and OD820 vintage distortion pedals.

Quick refresher: Maxon were the big brains behind two of the most popular pedals in history. They were the designers and builders of the original Ibanez Tube Screamers (TS808 and the TS9)

Not only were the Tube Screamers popular with players, but they quickly became a game changer with a design that used a signal-distorting diode in the amplifier stage’s negative feedback loop. For those of us without a PhD in badass pedal building, that meant a smoother and more natural sounding distortion. It was such a badass design that everybody and their mother has been using it since. Eventually, in 2002, Maxon introduced the TS9 under their own name, calling it the OD9.

If you compare the Maxon OD9 (MSRP: $210) with the Ibanez TS9 (MSRP: $169.95) there’s a difference of $40 bucks in price. And if you ask Maxon why their pedal costs more, the answer is simple: “It costs more to make.”

First, ask yourself a question: If a company sells a pedal for less, how many corners do you think they have cut to make any money out of it? Sure, there might be some places where a manufacturer can save a few cents that won’t affect the sound of the box. But when you start talking a $40 dollar difference in price, it’s like comparing a Mustang with a moped.

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Ok. So, the TS9 is far from a moped. But if you ask anyone on the forums on how the OD9 compares to the TS9, they’ll tell you that they don’t. The OD9 is almost universally regarded as the superior pedal. Although, the original circuitry of the OD9 was the same as the TS9, Maxon and Ibanez have taken two different routes with regards to keeping up on their classic pedals.

While the Ibanez has kept the same recipe with the Tube Screamer (TS9) Maxon has continued to refine their version of the pedal. Probably the most significant upgrade has been to the OD9 has been the change to true bypass switching. Maxon also simplified the signal path by no longer using the TS9’s FET switching. In short, your signal is going through less circuitry before it reaches your ears. And, as any audiophile will tell you, when it comes to your guitar signal, less is definitely more. For Maxon’s OD9, the result of these improvements is a cleaner and clearer tone than the original design with no noticeable signal loss when the pedal is off.

The original TS9’s also tended to be noisy little bastards. Maxon attributes this to a build up of static electricity. The values of the output resistors on the OD9 were increased to reduce the noise levels. But, because they kept their positions the same as in the original design, there was no audible affect on the tone.

Now, Ibanez’s TS9 is a classic, and it takes some serious balls to mess with a classic. But, with the OD9, Maxon found a way to do that without changing the tone that made that pedal famous in the first place. And, guess what? The improved pedal costs more to make. But, you have a choice. The original pedal, or an improved version of the original built by the same guys that brought it to you in the first place.

TheToneKing.com loves the original Ibanez TS9. But, let’s face it. The Maxon OD9 is a better pedal. The OD9 is just one example of Maxon’s interest in competing with quality. When it comes to gear, if you want quality, you’re gonna have to pay a few extra bucks.

Stay Tuned In for Maxon Month where we will show you what YOU voted on!

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Filed Under: FeaturedReviewsPedals

About the Author: Marc published his first novel Becoming in 2010. It’s a kick-ass book with monsters and dreams and stuff, and you should buy it. Since then, he’s written thousands of articles for TheToneKing.com, many of which have been picked up for circulation by manufacturers and other news outlets. His next book, Drugs and Pancakes, should be available early 2014 if his alcoholic editor can find time to work on it in-between destroying his liver and screaming about punctuation. He graduated from Roosevelt University with honors, which means that he’s not as dumb as he looks. He’s been playing guitar for over 25 years, which is almost twice as long as most of his students have been alive.

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