Friday, February 19

Gear Review: Keeley DS-1

So because I just can't stay away from gear (even when I have perfectly acceptable gear already and am certainly not overflowing with cash), I found something on Craigslist that was simply way too good to pass up: a Boss DS-1 with the standard Keeley mods applied. For $40.

Take that in for a minute. The DS-1 isn't my favorite distortion pedal of all time, but a new, stock DS-1 is right around $40. I know, I own one.

Come to find out, the reason why it's so cheap (or at least, the reason why the guy wasn't asking anywhere near the full-price of nearly $130) is because Keeley didn't touch it, but rather, the guy selling it did the mods. Pause for concern, but I went over to his house and inspected things and his soldering was actually pretty top-notch; no messy joints, no burned PCB board, looked clean and, well, professional. So that assuaged my fears a bit.

Since I am in possession of an un-modded DS-1, I get to do something that I've never done before: a shootout! I get to hear, first-hand, what the mods did and didn't do, and judge from there. Not that I have the means of recording any of this. I really need an SM57. But behold!

Keeley on left, stock pedal on right

First off, these two pedals are like night and day. The DS-1 has been my only distortion pedal (choosing to mostly use layers of OD and the natural tube break-up to get differing levels of tube distortion), and I've not gotten a better one simply because I don't really want to invest in anything else. I've gotten to know the DS-1 pretty well as a result, and there are some downsides.

Most glaringly, it's 100% un-usable if you work the tone knob clockwise past 12:00. Trebly would be putting it lightly. It's an ice-pick. In your ear. Any distortion tones I've gotten (and there is like one really good one in there) have involved setting the tone knob right around 9:00. Even then, when the "Distortion" knob (or the gain knob, as I'll call it) gets cranked, the treble really starts to re-emerge, meaning that for a good, crunchy, moderately-distorted sound, the DS-1 can do it, but not much else. Crank the gain, and it gets thin and buzzy, losing pretty much any authority it once had. Oh, and it's not a very clean pedal. Even when the gain is set all the way down, a lot of the distortion remains. I mean, it's a distortion pedal, so that's kind of what you're paying for, but a little bit more flexibility would be nice.

At this point, the Keeley mods have fixed those problems. Every one of them. And, most surprisingly, the pedal gets really, really tube-like. It actually cleans up really, really well, in that with the gain knob all the way off, it's almost a clean boost. The eq is still there, but pretty much no distortion. And this sucker is LOUD. It can add a lot more dB's than the stock pedal can, and does so with as much or as little of it's own distortion as you'd want.

I've yet to really, really play with it, but if nothing else, the Keeley mods really made this a much more flexible pedal. Gain all the way up, it's in-your-face and the buzziness is gone. Tone knob all the way up? Still way too trebly for me, but it's not nearly as hard on the ears; in a full-band setting, it's probably just the right amount to bite and cut through the mix, but that's something that needs some testing. Tone all the way down, you get a sweet wall-o-sound effect that is what I think of when I think heavy distortion.

There is also a switch. Keeley says it basically gives you different flavors of distortion. It seems to me that the "down" position is a bit more full, whereas the "up" position has more bite, but I need to play with it a lot. It seems like a very subtle difference to me, at least in the ways I've played it, so maybe it will become more clear with more use.

I'm not a big distortion guy, and I like to stay as far away from metal as I can, but I do love classic and alt. rock, and I love to be able to step on a pedal and get an instant rocking tone. I don't know if it's a tone I'd spend hundreds of dollars on, but there was no way I could pass up a pedal this good for this cheap. Every Christian guitarist I know has a "rock" pedal, and it does get used sometime (mostly in a Crowder sort of sense), so if you need a distortion pedal, and catch one of these cheap, it's got my two thumbs up.

1 comment:

  1. I had this for awhile! The actually Keeley. It really does change up the pedal into something different. Joe Satch uses/used one for soloing and stuff. I could quite find a place for my church rig as it was too much rocky/distorted... but the youth group events are fine :)