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On with the review:
Tone City are a budget friendly Chinese pedal brand who are really making some big waves despite the small size of most of their pedals.
Their approach is basically to make cheap knock-offs of very well-known pedals, usually produced in small, pedalboard friendly enclosures. Some people may disagree with this way of doing things, but when you think about it most overdrive pedals, for example, are based on just a few classic circuits.
The King of Blues is a perfect example of the company’s approach: a total rip-off of the Analogman King of Tone pedal, but at a fraction of the price, so the average mortal can actually afford to have these tones at their fingertips.
A quick search on a well-known auction site will quickly throw up some of the Analogman originals at a price of around £400 in the UK at the time of writing this, whereas the Tone City King of Blues can be had for under £60. In fact, I got mine for £40, which I considered a steal for the tones on tap.
And just what are those tones?
Well, the way I’d think about it is like this: basically a Tubescreamer and a Klon in one pedal.
In my experience this is a fair way to describe the King of Blues as the left side has a distinct mid-hump, while rolling off both the highs and lows a bit similar to a Tubescreamer, and the right side still has prominent mids but allows a more natural top end, reminiscent of the infamous Klon.
While the King of Tone was originally more based off a Blues Breaker circuit, Analogman states himself that they changed it so much in their tone search that it ended up completely different anyway.
Analogman describes the King of Tone as having less drive available, less compression and not boosting the mids or cutting the low end as much as a Tubescreamer thus overcoming many of the criticisms that may be held against the classic TS circuit.
In fact, it is this combination of still having great mids that help cut through the mix and the retained dynamics through a lower compression that really make the King of Tone and amazing pedal.
If you want to read more about the original, you can’t beat the actual Analogman site here:
Firstly, the Tone City King of Blues pedal has a nice sturdy enclosure and the knobs all feel pretty good. There was a nice resistance when turning them and no nasty wiggle in the pots. It's probably worth mentioning here that the pedal doesn't take a battery, but does have the standard 9v centre negative in.
I must admit I was concerned the build quality would take a hit in this price bracket but I couldn’t really find any fault with it – although I am not particularly fond of the yellow finish!
The controls are very simple with just the expected Tone, Volume and Gain knobs to think about. No complicated switching diodes or anything else, the pedal isn’t trying to be a chameleon but just do one thing well.
I grabbed my Suhr Tele style guitar and Two Rock Studio Pro 35 amp with a 2x12 Two Rock guitar cab. I really fancied using this guitar as I thought it would bring out the best in the pedal due to its open dynamics and the slight mid hump.
Starting with the left side, I found the Gain to have a very useable range and a rewarding feel. It really does have good dynamics, responding well to both how hard or soft you pick the guitar volume.
There is also enough volume in the pedal to push a tube amp into saturation, and the tone control has a very considered range too, not going too dark or too bright.
The right side Gain is very similar, with the slightly more open feel.
The amount of drive available will get you anywhere from a light breakup all the way to great rock solo tones with both pedals engaged. Add some delay, and you’ll be in heaven.
There are other pedals out there that do a similar thing. Of course the original King of Tone, but also the Keeley D and M drive, and the JHS Double Barrel to name just a couple.
However, for just under £70 new, you won’t find anything better than the Tone City King of Blues. So if you’re on a budget, or maybe just don’t want to pay £400 for a pedal (and who does?) then this is a no-brainer!
You might like this video where I compare a Tone City Bad Horse to a KTR Klon: