The 1st generation Valvebucker was launched in 2019. It gained a lot of publicity at the time, being the first and only vacuum tube powered active pickup system ever for electric guitars. The key Mk2 upgrades are:
• Available now for 4- and 5-stringed Ruokangas basses • Available now for 7-stringed Ruokangas guitars • Completely new visual design • The redesigned floor unit features now a balanced output (works as a DI box) as well • The floor unit is now always matched in colour with the instrument
And a quick recap of the Valvebucker key features:
• A sensitive magnetic pickup capsule, capturing the instrument sound in high fidelity • Tube powered proprietary preamp circuit • One pickup – but a wide variety of sounds • Military grade triode and pentode NOS tubes with lifetime warranty • A floor unit included, to connect the Valvebucker® -equipped included to the rest of your signal chain • A 12VAC power supply included • A 10-foot XLR cable included
The design architecture of the Valvebucker® circuit is noteworthy, making use of sweet spots found from outside the typical operational points of vacuum tubes, by using relatively low voltages. The power consumption of the Valvebucker® remains within the given values also during startup – an important feature when using commercially available pedal power units. Every Valvebucker® unit is handmade and finetuned individually in Finland. The Valvebucker® design team is: Lassi Ukkonen (the designer of the Simble Overdrive, etc), Jorma Kostamo, Jyrki Kostamo, Junnu Vuorela and Juha Ruokangas.
The Valvebucker® Mk2 is available as a custom option for Ruokangas guitars and basses, adding 2000€/US$2.200.00 to the basic cost of an ordered instrument. The Valvebucker is not available as an aftermarket/retrofit product.
This is what Sonny Landreth says about his Valvebucker guitar:
”I love the Valvebucker Mojo! This pickup/system is unique and doesn’t sound like anything else. If I had to sum it up with one word, it would be smooth as the Valvebucker is the smoothest sounding pickup I’ve ever experienced. It kind of reminds me of the difference between vintage Neve and SSL consoles of the day. I especially like it for dialing in a big, clean tone with the selector switch in the middle position for my solo songs. The range from top to bottom for moving parts of bass lines against chord melodies etc is balanced and nothing ”pokes out” too much – much easier to let multiple parts speak. Also, I love how complex, distorted chords with open tunings for slide sound.
Tech 21 NYC is known for its excellent analogue SansAmp amplifier- and speaker-simulations that have made playing guitar (or bass, for that matter) live without a physical amp possible, long before the advent of digital modellers or impulse response technology. Tech 21’s range of ultra-compact Fly Rig multi-effects builds on the company’s SansAmp technology to provide the gigging musician with a whole signal chain that fits in a gig bag’s side pocket.
Tech 21’s new Character Plus range approaches a very similar theme from a slightly different angle. Each of the four Character Plus pedals (current price in Finland 369 € each) offers the guitarist a timeless, classic amp and stomp box combination. The Character-knob, which is what gives the four pedals their name, lets you swipe through a wide variety of different permutations of the chosen amp, and the twin-channel layout makes it easy to dial in, say, a rhythm and a lead sound to switch between.
The EQ section is shared between both channels of each pedal, which may look a little limiting on paper, but proved to be pretty unproblematic in real-life use.
The Character Plus Series pedals each sport 1/4″ phone jacks for input and output, if you want to run the pedal as an effect in front of your physical amp, with a balanced XLR-output provided to connect the pedal to a mixing console or an audio interface.
The Tech 21 Screaming Blonde is the series’ Fender-flavoured offering. The Character-control in each channel sweeps through different Fender-style sounds – from ”Tweed” to ”Blackface” – and also has a bearing on the channel’s gain structure.
The Scream switch activates a Tube Screamer-style overdrive that has been optimised to work seamlessly with the Screaming Blonde’s amp channels, making this pedal a great choice for anything from function bands to Texas or Chicago Blues.
The Tech 21 Mop Top Liverpool references the Beatles in its name, and both the name as well as the diamond cloth pattern graphics hint at a Vox-style SansAmp-circuit. In contrast to the other three Character Plus pedals, the Mop Top Liverpool features two slightly differently voiced channels. This means that the pedal makes any typical AC30-sound available – from the Shadows all the way to Rory Gallagher or Queen – especially as the additional Boost-section is actually also two boosters in one.
Counterclockwise from 12 o’clock the booster adds a mid-range boost, while clockwise will add a treble booster to your circuit. A pair of frequency shift buttons makes the Liverpool Mop Top even more versatile.
The Tech 21 Fuzzy Brit takes proceedings well and truly into classic Hendrix territory by bringing two channels of Marshall-style goodness and a switchable Fuzzface-type fuzz effect to the table.
Again, the Character control gives you a whole range of different, but equally classic, versions of Marshall-thunder from ”Beano” all the way to ”Ladyland”, and beyond.
The Fuzz-circuit is based on a silicon Fuzzface, but with the added advantage of a Tone-control, which lets you tame any excessive top end response.
The Tech 21 English Muffy takes things firmly into 1970s Rock territory by featuring the classic combination of a Hiwatt-stack and a Big Muff Pi. Even though this combination is clearly aimed at David Gilmour fans, this hard rocking SansAmp also works a treat for Who-style power playing.
The Character-control takes you from clean tones (7-10 o’clock) to crunchy Rock tones (upwards of 11 o’clock) with the highest Character settings adding an upper-mid boost.
Different Big Muff iterations can vary quite considerably in sound, but the Tech 21 version sounds fat and creamy.
As a demo song for the Tech 21 English Muffy I played a short instrumental version of the Who’s classic track ”Won’t Get Fooled Again”:
Here’s my version of Paul McCartney’s raga-influenced guitar solo on the Beatles track ”Taxman”:
I opted for a Shuffle Blues to feature the Screaming Blonde’s sound:
Here’s a short instrumental version of ”All Along The Watchtower” in the style of Jimi Hendrix:
After spending some time with this quartet comprising Tech 21’s SansAmp Character Plus Series, I feel that the main point behind these pedals is how amazingly well they work. You get maximum useable sound with practically no fuss whatsoever. The Character Plus pedals put virtually no obstacles between hearing the sound in your head and committing this sound ”to tape”. A few little knob tweaks and you’re ready to roll.
Sure, if you want to experiment with different microphone types and placements, a physical amp or digital modelling software will let you do that, but there’s always the danger you might lose the ”creative spark” before everything is set up.
The Tech 21 SansAmp Character Plus Series is all about getting things done, smoothly and easily, without sacrificing your tone.