TOP SHELF: Ve­mu­ram Gui­tar Ped­als

Alex Wil­son casts his eye over this buf­fet of bou­tique over­drive.

Australian Guitar - - Contents -

An over­drive pedal is one of the fun­da­men­tals of a ped­al­board, with al­most ev­ery elec­tric gui­tarist need­ing a bit of crunch now and then. The 21st cen­tury’s ex­plo­sion of bou­tique gui­tar cul­ture has seen so many vari­a­tions on this hum­ble stomp­box that it’s hard for man­u­fac­tur­ers to stand out from the crowd. One tried-and-true method is to pitch your­self at the top of the heap – beau­ti­ful pre­sen­ta­tion and an ex­pen­sive ask­ing price will sig­nal to pun­ters that you’re a pre­mium prod­uct, and what’s in­side must be the goods.

Ve­mu­ram started in Tokyo, Ja­pan in 1998. They're on a self-de­scribed quest, seek­ing the “Gui­tar player’s Holy Grail of over­drive ped­als.” They have an in­ter­est­ing aes­thetic: classy, yet quite odd. Ve­mu­ram ped­als are made of brass, come folded in brown pa­per, are boxed in a min­i­mal­ist style and ac­com­pa­nied by a mini screw­driver and logo sticker. They’re em­bla­zoned with quirky names like Karen and yet still have a kind of dig­ni­fied se­ri­ous­ness about them.

It’s al­most like they’re chunky di­a­monds, sit­ting on a silk pil­low, sur­rounded by rose petals as muzak bur­bles in the back­ground. Nonethe­less, Ve­mu­ram’s ped­als have found a home in the rigs of big hit­ters in ev­ery cor­ner of rock's hall of fame, rang­ing all the way from Keith Ur­ban to Richie Samb­ora to Wayne Krantz.

Their rep­u­ta­tion no­to­ri­ous and their price tags hefty, Ve­mu­ram it­self re­mains some­what mys­te­ri­ous. There’s nary a com­pany his­tory on the web­site, but in­stead a stark man­i­festo out­lin­ing their phi­los­o­phy of pedal design. On­line gear fo­rums are divided on whether the ped­als are in­deed the bee's knees, or just an­other over-hyped lux­ury stomp­box. So all in all, th­ese are maybe the most bou­tique of bou­tique ped­als I’ve come across.

Kick on the Rage e and you’ll be hit by a wave of creamy dis­tor­tion. The gain added by this pedal, even with­out the boost, is con­sid­er­able. The com­pres­sion of the cir­cuit hits the lows hard, lend­ing them per­cus­sive­ness and size. Clar­ity and width is re­tained as the Rage e does not cut the high fre­quen­cies as ag­gres­sively as other ped­als. The boost func­tion shoots an al­ready vol­canic amount of gain off into the strato­sphere, and while it can’t be en­gaged separately to the main drive cir­cuit, that didn’t prove a big prob­lem in prac­tice.

Terms like ‘warmth’, ‘depth’ and ‘or­ganic’ are of­ten abused by gui­tarists speak­ing vaguely and rev­er­ently about their favourite tones. But the Rage e, and in­deed the other ped­als in this re­view, all have that kind of rich­ness to their sound – the amount of thought Ve­mu­ram have put into their tonal char­ac­ters is stun­ning.

Th­ese Ve­mu­ram ped­als al­most al­ways flat­tered my play­ing, and more­over, they feel fan­tas­tic. De­spite their var­i­ous colours and ca­pac­i­ties for gain, all th­ese ped­als are marked by nat­u­ral and spongy breakup curve that’s ab­so­lutely de­light­ful un­der the fin­gers.

Karen has a fair bit more head­room than the Rage e, but is still a rocker’s pedal. Its dis­tor­tion is ag­gres­sive, bright and chunky. It’s def­i­nitely a gnarly sound with the gain cranked, but gen­er­ally it’s best for a smoother, more old-school sound. Given the head­room avail­able on this pedal, you can hear more of the dis­tor­tion’s pleas­ing com­pres­sion push­ing back against you. De­spite this, the pedal still feels sen­si­tive and open to play.

The Jan Ray’s em­u­la­tion of a Fender is ded­i­cated, dig­ni­fied, nat­u­ral and de­tailed. Plug an ac­tual Fender gui­tar into it, and the pedal will snap and sparkle. How­ever, it’s also ver­sa­tile, con­jur­ing a re­ally nice and creamy sat­u­ra­tion from a Gib­son hol­low­body. While midrange in­creases a lit­tle with more vol­ume, this pedal tends to brighten and widen the sound. As it has the high­est head­room of any of th­ese ped­als, the com­pres­sion is gentle and re­spon­sive.

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