Harry Howard initially asked me to make a pedal featuring the distortion side of the RSH-03, with a tone control added, but the development took on its own life, and I ended up with a pedal far beyond a modified Distortion+ clone. It's a unique design more than anything else.
In 2021 my new, Danish electronics engineer and I gave it a complete overhaul and added quite a few additional tricks and improvements to it.
At the heart of the Old Black Shoe sits a ‘holy grail’ metal can LM308H opamp IC, which is legendary for its wonderful sound and distortion texture in early 1980s RAT pedals.
Other features of the Old Black Shoe are an extremely flexible clipping arrangement that can be preset to silicon, germanium and MOSFET clipping - and combinations of these, including no clipping (boost) - and a subtle and tasteful tone control (only rolling off the most harsh highs and never muffling your signal completely). Inside the pedal there's a 'FAT' switch which lowers the frequency response one octave down, compared to the original Dist+ circuit.
The revised 2021 edition adds a recovery gain stage to the circuit, which makes the pedal very loud. This is great in the pure germanium clipping setting (vintage Dist+ / RSH clipping), which otherwise has a weak output by design. We also added an output buffer to ensure a uniform high quality output signal from the pedal. In the original MXR circuit, the output impedance would change with different volume settings. In the revised Old Black Shoe it is completely uniform, so you are always passing on a healthy signal to the next pedal in your chain (still the bypass sound is unbuffered, mechanical true bypass).
The Old Black Shoe is a very versatile pedal, offering a wide range of sonic possibilities. Depending on clipping settings, it can be used as a subtle, transparent crunch drive, a beautifully textured distortion and even an intense fuzz. The germanium clipping option with the distortion control dimed, gives an amazingly full and big fuzz sound. Very Bob Mouldish.
The pedal features artwork from Harry Howard’s own hand.
Mick Harvey used the Old Black Shoe live during the PJ Harvey 'The Hope Six Demolition Project' world tour.
Here's a youtube demo featuring Terry O'Tool giving the old version of the Old Black Shoe a go at my workshop (some clipping in the audio):
Reuss ‘Old Black Shoe’ features and specifications:
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