Tuesday, April 12, 2011

ProCo Rat (Keeley 3-Way Mod)

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My Go-To (for years)

I guess The Rat was the distortion I never knew I wanted... I had one when I was a kid, playing "real" bass, and the only thing I knew to do with it was turn the distortion all the way up and fuzz my signal into oblivion... I really didn't know distortion did anything else, and it wasn't something I needed, so I sold it.

And then it took over my world

One of this pedal's charms, I think, is that you can turn the distortion all the way up and get something that approximates a thick, Big Muff style fuzz lead, which is cool, but that's not what I use it for. With the distortion set at under 9:00, the Rat gives a slightly crunchy, "dirty clean" sort of sound. By 10:00, it's very chunky, but still articulate-- responsive to dynamic playing, letting the effects fed into it speak clearly, faithfully representing palm-muting... utterly fantastic. I read that these Rats were meant to give players who used Fender amps access to a Marshall sound; I don't know how true that is, but I know no one's going to mistake my tone for a Marshall stack.

Running a phaser into the Rat into an echo was where I first picked up on how magnificent the sound of this box actually is. I was playing alone, and just fell in love with the way the distortion highlighted the sweep of the phase. Play a simple line and listen to it roll out. Smack a chord (ord ord ord). Hit it harder. It occurred to me that I hadn't been exploring what a pedal like this could really do in my signal chain, and, since then, the Rat has been my main distortion.

Me and Robert Keeley

After trying and failing many times to "trade up" from the Rat, I decided to trick the pedal out and make it as good as it could be... so I sent it in to the Keeley shop, where they replace a lot of components, and provide you with a 3-mode selector. The first mode is the traditional Rat circuit, which has a slightly tighter character and better bass response due to the improved components. Another mode is a clean mode, which is very, very loud, and will still crunch like a Rat if you turn the gain up.

I leave mine set in the middle, to Fat Rat mode, which is still Rat-sounding, but with a little more complex bouquet to the flavor, even more dynamic response, and a little bit lower gain. The sound of it is gorgeous, and the gain is hardly an issue-- the Rat has so much gain on tap, how could it be? Instead of leaving the distortion at 9:00, I now leave it at 10:00, and there is still more gain available than I'll ever use.

The Quest

For a long time, I ran the Rat after the BJF Baby Pink booster. Because the Rat is so dynamic, it responds very well to a boosted signal, and slamming the input with the boost moved my sound from light drive to super heavy rhythm crunch without changing the nature or character of my tone (amazingly enough, even feeding the Rat 18dB of boost, it was still dynamic, and I could control the amount of distortion with my picking technique). The lighter side was always just about perfect, but the heavy drive was never quite up to snuff, either with the boost or with increased gain.

The final setup for the Rat had me running it into an amp-like drive for the toggle between light and heavy-- instead of running a boost into the Rat, I ran the Rat first, and feed it into the Catalinbread SFT... the cascading drives together let me keep my Rat tone and get the heavier, higher gain sound that a simple boost wasn't accomplishing. It's been a long, long experiment, but I finally got it where I want it.

I tried to replace the Rat for years.  Pedal after pedal completely failed to step up to the character, range, and definition I got from this stompbox, and once I had the Rat-->SFT setup, I was fairly content to keep that tone forever... until the Rat started to fail me.  Again.

I say "again" because my first, big box Rat would occasionally drop to about half volume and lose all it's high end for no apparent reason.  It didn't seem to be the switch, since I never touched the pedal (the Rat was always on; I used my Channel Switcher to control it), so I still don't know what caused the problem.  My second Rat was with me a long time before failing me in the same way (at a show, in the middle of a song)... this is obviously something that happens to Rats over time.  I've sworn by the ProCo Rat a long, long time, but I can't have my gear cutting out during shows.  Finally, the Rat had to go.

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