Updated: Jun 2
J Rockett Audio Designs, or JRAD as they’re often known, are a combination of the talents of Chris Van Tassel and Jay Rockett in 2006. With Rockett and Tassel both being session musicians with a lot of experience in the recording industry, they decided to put their heads together and create the best guitar effects they could – a worthy dream that brings to mind the motivation behind Greer Amplification and other notable builders too - and a great many pedals have come out of these dreams.
One of those is the JRAD Archer, in both its original silver design that we’re reviewing here, and the later gold Ikon that followed.
You can tell that they’ve taken the touring musician into consideration straight away just with a glance at the incredibly solid steel enclosure of the Archer pedal under review – if a whale stomped on this with its…. Hmm, what would a whale stomp with? Maybe it’s better not to ask!
Anyway you get the idea: it’s a solid piece of kit.
Bill Finnegan at Klon was the creator of this mythical beast, and although he never charged crazy prices for the pedals, they were soon selling for crazy money and today the originals still sell for over £1,500!
As is stated on the KTR – Kindly remember: the ridiculous hype that offends so many is not of my making.
And this is worth bearing in mind as no pedal will miraculously transform your playing and make you sound like your favourite guitar hero. However, there’s no denying the Klon style pedal has been used by a myriad of players to get their tone, and having one even if it’s not the original may get you closer to that tone you have in your head.
And if that’s the case, then it’s very easy to argue that if you’re only going to be getting one pedal in this ilk, then surely one officially released by the original creator should be the one on your board.
The interesting thing though about these two pedals in particular is that J. Rockett was actually involved in the production of the official Klon ‘reissue’ too, so to an extent, that puts the previous argument to test.
Both pedals are incredibly well built, from their solid metal enclosures, to the parts used. They both share the same basic layout of just three controls of volume / output, gain and tone – although this is labelled treble on the Archer.
They both have the in / outs on the top and also the 9v standard power input, as well as having battery capacity, which is kind of surprising with the Archer as it’s so small – it’s actually about half the size of the KTR and smaller than a standard Boss pedal.
Another interesting thing about the enclosure of the Archer is the screw placement, which becomes relevant when thinking of changing batteries, as they are on the side. This would mean in theory you could open it up without removing it from the pedal board as long as you could get a screwdriver in at the right angle.
As already said, if anyone is going to get the details right in a Klone (Klon clone) it’ll be Finnegan and Rockett, so we can rest assured the diodes used in these pedals come as close as possible to those of the original pedals which were reportedly chosen after much tweaking and experimenting.
And this is part of the secret of the Klon and helped propel it to the heights of Pedaldom. The original pedals were not only covered in goop so you couldn’t easily see the circuit – again reminding me of Greer Amplification as they did the same with the Lightspeed I recently reviewed – but the diodes were unmarked so there was no way to copy them exactly.
So although Finnegan reminds us the hype was not of his making, it’s unsurprising that it was the result given the way he went about the production and distribution of it: keeping the circuit secret; producing only in small numbers, and then stopping production when demand was high.
I was very excited to get these two pedals side by side and could only have been happier if I’d been able to get hold of an original as well to compare. However, budget simply wouldn’t stretch!
I added both pedals to the board, plugged my Stratocaster into my Two Rock Studio Pro 35, and flicked the switch.
The Two Rock has a beautiful clean tone and was set just before breakup and a nice on board reverb. It does have high headroom though, so needs some pushing before the tubes start breaking up, and this is exactly what the Klon was designed to do. Really it’s intended to be used as a more or less clean boost to push an amp into natural overdrive, but also add colour via its buffered circuitry, while retaining the ability for the player to add gain if they wish for extra drive and sustain.
You can, of course, increase the gain on the pedal and use that alone to provide overdrive using your amp as a clean pedal platform, but many would look at you with disdain if you did, although it still sounds damn good!
If you do like using your amp in this way, though, and get your dirt from pedals, this can always go before another dirt overdrive pedal and do exactly the same job. It sounds great before the Keeley 1962 for example.
However, it may be why some people are underwhelmed by this style of pedal as it can be quite gear dependent and probably won’t sound great into certain amps. I wouldn’t really fancy playing it through a solid state amp like a Jazz Chorus, but I’ve never tried and it might still sound fantastic. If you really want to capture the sound of magic, a vintage voiced tube amp will just sound glorious when pushed into saturation.
Both pedals do have a lot of volume on tap and easily pushed the Two Rock. The Gain control goes from basically off, to a surprisingly large amount of vintage voiced overdrive. Not as smooth as distortion as there feels like there’s less clipping going on, a more open sound which great for classic rock and blues.
Even with quite high settings on the gain, the pedals retained a dynamic feel and cleaned up beautifully with the guitar volume control, cleaning up completely by the time I was at around 4.
The tone control, Treble on the Archer and unmarked on the KTR as all the controls are, on both pedals doesn’t have a huge range, but what’s there is very useable indeed making it very hard to actually get a bad sound.
Without having an original Klon I can’t honestly say which comes closer. What I can say though is that both of these are incredibly dynamic pedals that add a certain mojo to the sound.
How would I describe that mojo? There’s something lovely going on in the mids, especially with single coils. Although I liked the Archer with humbuckers too, it just helps fill out the frequencies that sometimes lack in a Stratocaster. It even makes the out of phase positions 2 and 4, which can be a little weedy, very useable for solo tones.
It’s also about how dynamic the pedals are and if you like playing in this way, you will reap the rewards. I was also reminded of the Tchula by Lovepedal, which also has a similar feel. So, the final conclusion is which pedal is best. I honestly can’t answer this question for you. In the comparison video, I went through the settings one by one setting the controls the same on each pedal. I was left with the impression that the Archer was slightly warmer with a little more going on in the mids. But when later playing around with them a bit more, I was able to dial in the same sounds on both pedals by adjusting the tone controls, so there really isn’t much in it at all.
The deciding factor in which you buy may just be something as simple as the size of the enclosure or whether you feel getting a Klone from the original maker has more merit, but the differences really are pretty arbitrary.
The good thing though, is that whichever you go for, you’ll be getting a pedal that really is fantastic.
Oh, and if you watch the video till the end you can hear them in a mix. I played along to a backing track you can find on my site, link in description on the youtube video, using my Suhr T-style guitar. I’ve played along twice, A and B, so take a listen and maybe you’ll prefer one sound to the other and that could help you decide.
Which pedal was A and which B? Find out at the bottom of this page.
A was the Archer and B was the KTR.
Let us all know which you preferred and why, leave a comment please.
Thanks for reading and here’s to the never ending Tone Search!