A lot has been made about this pedal. At first look, it’s just another unfortunately-named, mass-produced, cheap effects pedal created not to sound good, but to be sold to 13-year-olds in garage bands trying to cross The Gorillaz with Metallica while wondering how they’re going to get drum and bass sounds when all five guys want to sing and play lead guitar. And if you’re 13 and in a garage band, this is nothing against you…unless you’re trying to cross The Gorillaz with Metallica. Don’t do that. But garage bands themselves are great…just make sure that you buy gear from Guitar Center cautious that Guitar Center is trying to rip you off…because they most likely are. Do some research into tone before buying pedals…especially ones with names like ‘Bad Monkey’ and ‘Uber Metal’. And this applies even if you are not 13 or in a garage band. Do some research first.
(Best garage band ever. And no, that’s not me. I’m not necessarily saying I looked much different when I was 13 and in my garage band…but this particular picture is not me.)
And that research will most likely take you to certain conversations about the Digitech Bad Monkey. I am blown away by how much talk this pedal gets…both good and bad. Guitarists will literally live and die by their view of this pedal. If duels were still legal, there would be people lying dead in the streets. And the civilians (remember, that’s how we refer to non-musicians here and in every aspect of life) would walk by and say, ‘What happened to them?’ And a musician would look down from his thrown (I’m totally creating my own awesome fantasy world right now) and say, ‘The Digitech Bad Monkey.’ Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how strongly you feel about this pedal), duels are no longer legal.
But I have still seen some crazy arguments about this pedal. And these arguments are much more passionate and lethal than say, arguing whether the Timefactor or the Nova Delay is better. Why? Because the Digitech Bad Monkey is $30. And it is rumored, quite passionately (can you passionately rumor? I’m not sure), to sound better than $200 and $300 overdrive pedals. That’s where the passion, and vehemence, and bitterness comes from. Want to make people feel superior or inferior to each other? Just add in money. Some feel self-important because they have so much money into their pedals, and have long ago left behind the $30 Bad Monkey and its kind. The ‘my tone is more expensive than yours’ crowd. And then others feel self-important, because their superior ears have shown them that there is no difference between the $30 Bad Monkey and the $605 vintage TS-808 (a trademark label version, of course), and they don’t need to spend money for good tone…’Tone is in the hands’, they condescend to their inferiors playing Toneczar pedals.
And that’s it! Those are almost always the only two views you see on this pedal. Polar opposites, and no middle ground. So, as I can never seem to help myself when it comes to trying gear, I just had to try one out. So I searched for a while, and even sprung an extra $5 for a $35 Bad Monkey that has ‘Made in the USA’ on the label. Because if I didn’t, I’m sure I would get flooded with comments of how the video is of no consequence because the ‘US’ ones are far superior to the ‘Taiwan’ models. It’s like, come on. Neither one is handmade, so what’s the difference? (Oh! Had to add my own cork-sniffing into the mix, just for good measure.)
(And here’s the Bad Monkey. Not a terrible design, considering the name.)
So I tested the USA-made Digitech Bad Monkey against the two pedals I have most often heard it described as to have the ability to ‘kill’: the Ibanez tubescreamer and the Hermida Zendrive. Now, I didn’t really want to drop hundreds of dollars on this test, so I did not go out and get a vintage TS-808 or TS-9 tubescreamer. But I did get a new TS9 with the Analogman mods that are supposed to make it sound like a vintage one. His stuff is highly respected, so I thought it would be the next best thing to a vintage one. Plus, given the prices, I’m guessing that a lot more guitarists who are reading this will be trying to decide between a Digitech Bad Monkey and an Analogman TS9 than a Bad Monkey and a vintage TS-808. And without any further talking from me (I do like talking, especially about gear…usually when people ask me questions, there eyes end up glazing over and they slowly back away from the conversation at about minute 46):
The Players (well, it wasn’t really a shootout…but just for clarity’s sake)
–Hermida Zendrive (at 12 volts)
–Analogman/Ibanez TS9 tubescreamer with Analogman silver mod
–Digitech Bad Monkey (‘made in the USA’ model)
The Base Tone
Robert Dixon Prairiewood Les Paul with Wolfetone Dr. Vintage pickups into a Holland EL84-based amp into a 65 Amps birch cab with a Celestion Blue and a Celestion G12H-30, all hooked together by Lava ELC and EA Melody cables. And the Bad Monkey is in a true bypass loop. Other than that, nothing is running through the pedalboard you see in the video.
Sorry to be so specific, but I’m just trying to brace myself for the storm of violence that may come if this video does not support people’s opinions of choice on this pedal. ;)
I may have tried too hard to be fair and inconclusive about the sound of the Bad Monkey because I knew that no matter what camp I ended up siding with, the retribution from the opposing camp would be swift and terrible. Put very simply, I was very afraid.
Also, the Zendrive has that fantastic blue led, which just puts my head in a trance, and I can’t hear the tone of anything else because the awesome blue led sounds so good.
And the test of the USA-made Digitech Bad Monkey:
So there you have it. Complete with the video running out right at the end before I got to the last pedal. But I was too lazy to do it over, and I figure most of you don’t watch until the very end anyway. ;)
As is usually the case with these over-hyped and under-hyped and argued-about pieces of gear, the results are usually much less sensational than we had hoped. I was honestly wishing that this pedal would either be a piece of absolute junk that I could totally trash in this blog and compare it to some horrendous movie like Battlefield Earth and feel very esteemed by my obviously correct choice of spending large quantities of my limited cashflow on boutique overdrive pedals, or that it would be the be-all-end-all of guitar tone that I have been searching for for years and then I could sell all my other overdrive pedals so that I could have more money for more amps.
But unfortunately, my opinion of the Bad Monkey was much more neutral. It’s definitely not a bad-sounding pedal. For $30, waaaaay better than is to be expected. The overdrive is nice and smooth, with a good deal of headroom. And it sounds fairly warm and open without having to tweak the eq settings totally out of whack. I do think the preamp section is a little better than the power amp section. It seemed to sound better at lower gains with most of the output coming from the ‘level’ control. But it didn’t completely blow my mind either. It sounded a fair amount more boxy and ‘like a pedal’ than both the Analogman and the Zendrive. Pedals tend to take your amp’s big full cleans, and squash them; which is why a lot of people spend lots of money and time trying to find ones that don’t. And the Bad Monkey didn’t squash it very much, and actually sounded very good and fairly close to the amp’s clean tones; but not nearly as open and full sounding as the Zendrive or the Analogman.
My main complaint would be that the buffer just put a huge hit on the dynamics and sparkle of my tone. Which was the reason for having it in a bypass loop for the video. When I first plugged in all the pedals, I tried them all out plugged into each other. Than I took the Bad Monkey out of the chain, and the Zen and the Analog,an just seemed to open up. Now, buffers are specific to certain rigs, and maybe it just didn’t react well with mine, but I really did not like it’s buffer at all. Other than that, this is probably the best $30 overdrive I have ever played. But it definitely did not sound as good as the $150 and $200 overdrive pedals.
So again, there’s the completely un-sensational review. Very good pedal, very decent sound (with the exception of a bad buffer and being a tone-sucker); but at the same time, it sounds a good deal more boxy and less amp-like than a couple of the pedals it is said to ‘kill’. And for the record, the Bad Monkey sounded much more like a tubescreamer to me than a bluesy overdrive. I’m not sure where it gets the Zendrive comparisons. But, oh well.
So there’s the review. And I’m afraid that I have now made a huge mistake. I was trying so hard to not offend either the ‘Bad Monkey is man’s greatest invention’ camp, or the ‘Bad Monkey makes my tone sound like I want to suffocate my face off’ camp, that I think I have now created a new camp; the ‘Eh, the Bad Monkey is decent’ camp. And I may be the only member. No the best place to be in a war. And the Digitech Bad Monkey opinions definitely are a war.
Splendid. (And a little frightened.)