J.P.'s Gear Review v2.0 - Ep. 10 - JHS and Electro-Harmonix collaboration: Lizard Queen
What do you get when two pedal nerds decide to LARP working for Electro-Harmonix under Mike Matthews in 1975, the heyday of the "big box" EHX pedals, and they come up with a new circuit? You get this: the Lizard Queen Octave/Distortion pedal. It's a simple but effective design that truly encompasses everything Electro-Harmonix was about in the mid-1970's.
The circuit is fairly simple: it's a fixed-gain fuzz (i.e., gain is always maxed out, as it should be) with a high-octave added to it. The fuzz circuit is based on one of the many versions of the Big Muff Pi (the Ram's Head version, I believe) and the octave up is based on the Green Ringer.
Although EHX's pedal names and enclosure designs are on the funky side, the control names remained very utilitarian. The Volume and Octave controls are pretty self-explanatory, but it features a Balance control, which is akin to the Tone control on a standard pedal. This darkens or brightens the sound (hence its "shadow" and "sun" sublabels) and it has a distinctive effect on the octave.
It's simple, it's effective, and octave fuzz was all the rage back then. Roger Mayer's Octavia and the Foxx Tone Machine Octave Fuzz were selling like crazy, and the Lizard Queen is definitely something the engineers at EHX would have come up with.
The box is a typical EHX box: simple graphics, simple text, with a serial number sticker slapped on the back. The pedal itself was tightly wrapped in a plastic bag with its manual and a registration card, and the bag was wrapped in bubble wrap.
The pedal is mounted in a custom enclosure that matches the standard Hammond Manufacturing 1590B dimensions. It has a nice silver powder coating, and high-quality printed graphics.
Since I had to open it to remove the battery, I checked the circuit and the components. Unsurprisingly, it is a surface-mounted PCB which is relatively large considering the type of circuit it is. I suppose it's easier to fit in the enclosure when the potentiometers and jacks are soldered directly on the PCB itself.
The jacks are all PCB-mounted, and the footswitch uses a nice 3PDT helper board that is linked to the main PCB with a six-strands wire. The circuit is designed with discrete components only; no integrated circuit is present on this board. It's all-analog transistor stuff going on.
The board is a bit greasy/flux-y, but nothing out of the ordinary. It does have a nice Easter egg marking on the top left corner. Everything is well soldered and looks tidy. Overall, it's typical EHX quality and it looks rock-solid.
- Volume: how loud the output of the pedal is.
- Octave: how much of the octave you want in the output.
- Balance: how dark/bright should the output be. This one has sublabels "shadow" for fully counter-clockwise, and "sun" for fully clockwise. It has a marked effect on the octave.
Fuzzes are fun. Octavers are... uh... temperamental. However, mixing both together is awesome!
Testing the basics
I expected it to sound thin on single coil pickups, but it has some good bite to it. You can easily get velcro-fuzz sound by just slightly dialing down the volume and playing around with the Balance knob. On my Stratocaster with noiseless single coil pickups, I get about 10% of play on the volume knob before it starts to not respond very well. The cut-off is fairly sharp as you'd expect it. Once the input voltage is too low, transistors don't turn on anymore... Most of my humbucker-equipped guitars give me maybe 20-25% of play, but it's really dependent on the pickups. Either way, it sound great on pretty much every instrument I tried it with.
The Octave knob controls how much of the octave will be blended in the output. The first ⅔ of the knob gives you very usable tones. Passed that point, the octave overpowers the signal and the input is drowned out, making the overall output of the pedal not as loud and punchy as it would otherwise be. Most of the low-end is lost to the octave and it sound a bit flat (but not in a bad way). It's not an issue of the pedal, but rather a side-effect of mixing in an octave that is typical of the Green Ringer circuit.
The Balance knob is a bit more complex. Its effect on the dry signal is very subtle, and its behaviour will change based on the octave level. The Shadow side gives you a smooth, Big Muff Pi-esque sustain fuzz, while the Sun side will be a more raspy and bitey gated fuzz.
So far, it's very good and versatile. There are no unusable settings on this pedal.
Of course, the next step is to test it on bass where it works and sounds awesome. I did have to get myself an EHX Switchblade Pro in order to blend the dry signal back in to mitigate the low-end loss that fuzzes, distortions, and overdrives that are not made for bass usually have.
The only negative point I have noted is that while it's very good for single notes, plucking multiple notes at once or playing chords can get very muddy the more octave you blend in. You lose a bit of clarity, but I think it's a limitation of the circuit rather than a design fault.
Does it stack?
I tested placing an overdrive before and after the Lizard Queen, as well as using the amplifier's overdrive channels.
As a clean-ish boost, my clone Klon sounds ok. It's not life-changing, but it's not terrible either. It gives that little extra push that some guitars might need when placed in front of the Lizard Queen the same way a boost would. When placed after, it adds an extra volume boost that's not really needed, but with enough gain the overdrive adds some texture. Substituting the clone Klon with an Ibanez TS9DX achieves similar results, except the Tube Screamer isn't as transparent as the Klon.
Using the amp's overdrive channels also adds some texture, but its effect will depend on your amp and the kind of overdrive it can produce. On my Fender Hot Rod DeVille IV 212, it sounds OK on low to medium overdrive level on the first drive channel only. The "More Drive" channel is a bit too muddy for my taste with a fuzz in front, but it's not entirely unusable.
It stacks OK, but not with everything
The All-Important Rating™
Header image "borrowed" from EHX.com