Evolution: The Tone King compares Maxon’s VOP9 and OD820

Evolution: The Tone King compares Maxon’s VOP9 and OD820

By Marc Johnson for TheToneKing.com

For the hardcore gear heads that frequent TheToneKing.com, the name Maxon is a name that’s been synonymous with many of the most popular pedals ever created. With mojo like that, we were totally stoked to hear that the OD820 and VOP9 Overdrive pedals were going to be included in The Tone King’s ’30 Pedals in 30 Days.

The history of the OD-820 and the VOP9 is an evolution of a circuit that was created over forty years ago.

In business since the mid 60’s, one of the pedals that Maxon is best known for was the Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer. A pedal of legend, Maxon quickly retooled the coveted circuit in the TS808 and put it into Maxon’s own OD-808.

While changing the value and position of two output resistors to reduce the noise created by static build-up, the OD-808 still retained the smooth, creamy, and dynamic qualities of the original. The OD-808 was a huge success and is one the most imitated overdrive circuit of all time.

Enter the OD-820 Overdrive Pro. The son of the OD-808 was created by Maxon to make a great pedal even better. The concept was to increase dynamic responses so that seasoned players could utilize their chops more effectively. Instead of hiding the player’s shortcomings under a blanket of compression, the OD-820 gives players more headroom so that, when put a little more muscle into their attack, it’ll come through instead of being squashed by the pedal. Maxon claims that such a pedal in the hands of a gifted player can be “dangerous.”

Keeping themselves apart from the pack, Maxon chose to integrate signal blending into the Drive knob. Instead of just adding gain, the Drive also controls the balance between one distorted and one non-distorted signal. Both signals are still processed through the tone section of the OD-820, so neither of the signals are dry. Besides for just making for a smoother blend, since there is a non-distorted signal moving through the tone section of the pedal, the OD-820 can also pull double duty as a clean boost.

Another facet of the OD-820 that many gear heads drool over is the incorporation of Klon Centaur influenced overdrive and boost circuits (Also known as ‘exciter’ circuits). Some of you may ask, “What the heck is a Klon Centaur?” Go on Ebay and look one up.

Go ahead… I’ll wait.

Yep. That thing that’s glaring at you menacingly with a $1,500 price tag is one of the most famous overdrive pedals that is no longer being produced. And the OD-820 has the distinct honor of being considered by many as the affordable alternative to the Centaur. Players can skip a mortgage payment or two and chase down the nearly extinct Klon Centaur, or they can check out the OD-820 and the VOP9 for about a ¼ of the price.

Evolution can’t be stopped, and Maxon pushed ahead with their coveted circuit and built the VOP9 Vintage Overdrive Pro. Keeping most of the recipe intact, the VOP9 utilizes the same circuit that had made the Tube Screamer so popular. In a shout out to its granddaddy, the metal chassis of the VOP9 is a call back to the classic slender ‘9-series’ style. The subtle differences between the VOP9 and the OD-820 are more than skin deep; they run to the bone.

While the VOP9 keeps those dynamic modifications that included minimal compression and zero tonal coloration intact, the tone pot curve on the VOP9 has a Linear curve instead of the log curve that was in the OD820. Basically, this changes the tonal spectrum between the min or max positions, making for a different pedal with different tones. And, let’s face it, when it comes to two pedals that give you two different tones, they’re two different rides.

Underneath the hood, the VOP9 can be regulated to either 9V or 18V via a DIP switch. At 18V, the pedal eliminates noise that can come through high-output pickups or electronics in the signal chain. Essentially, since the pedal works as both a distortion pedal and a clean boost, these two voltage modes makes the VOP9 a “4 in 1” pedal.

The Tone King knows history. And the story of Maxon pedals is History101. There are many Tube Screamer-style pedals out there, but, when you want a Tube Screamer-style pedal, why not check out the guys who built the damn thing in the first place? After a close look, it’s obvious that while the OD-820 and VOP9 share some genes with its granddaddy, they’re different animals. Watching the TS808 evolve into the OD820 and VOP9 has definitely caught our interest, and ’30 Pedals in 30 days’ gives us the chance to see how far they have come.

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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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