Museum of Lost Effects: Klon Centaur

Overdrive from Heaven? Or hype from Hell?

Has any stompbox ever been as steeped in myth and legend as the Klon Centaur? Doubt it. Original Centaurs are extremely collectible, currently fetching around $1,500 on EBay. But for every player who drools over the prospect of obtaining this rare creature, there’s another who’s foaming at the mouth about idiots who’d pay four figures for a “glorified Tube Screamer.” When you Google “Klon Centaur,” one of the first items to appear is this memorable rant from the always entertaining Zachary of Zachary Guitars:

Here is a guitar pedal which has been around for about 10 years and stands for total Bull Shit in my opinion. The website, the presentation, the marketing, the hype, the price. Everything about it is why I hate the music business and the shockingly stupid guitar consumers. Its a mediocre and common pedal. Its your typical mild Tube Screamer- type of effect and sound. It really does not do much and is not very versatile. I found it stuffy and midrange sounding.In comparison to the great touch sensitivity, clarity, transparency and the wonderful independent Clean Boost section of the Zachary Pedal, well…there is absolutely no comparison.

Yow.

For a bit of perspective, how about we just listen to the thing? Here a little video demo, followed by a few observations.

When Klon #309 came in for review at Guitar Player in 1996, I purchased it. (The review was a rave, though I don’t remember which of us wrote it. We all liked it, though.) It lived on my pedalboard for a decade, though it’s been years since I fired it up. My main reaction is that it remains a massive improvement on Tube Screamer-type overdrive, with superior dynamics, an airier, more open sound, and some of the best stompbox workmanship I’ve ever seen. It still sounds good to me.

The Klon was one of the first pedals to “feature” expoxy-glop security. (It didn’t work — the schematic is widely available online.)

But while the Klon hasn’t changed, the world around it has. It’s been cloned and copied countless times. Meanwhile, many boutique builders have created pedals that perform similar feats, minus the crazy prices. Sonically speaking, there’s no reason to pay over a grand for a simple overdrive like this. (And personally, I’ve grown tired of this particular distortion flavor, and these days my tastes run more to primitive germanium overdrives or rancid, over-the-top fuzzes.) But in its day, the Klon had a huge impact, and for me it will always be a Hall of Fame stompbox.

29 comments to Museum of Lost Effects: Klon Centaur

  • Yeah, it sounds really good, but not particularly any better than my Fulltone Plimsoul, purchased new for $170. If I wanted one, I’d have it built for a fraction of the price. Still, you can’t fault Klon for raising the OD pedal bar (barre?) with sound and build quality, and helping launch the DIY revolution by raising the price too.

  • soggybag

    Funny you should post this, yesterday I received a PCB for a Klon clone.

    One of the defining features that sets the Klon apart is it’s use of the charge pump to create higher voltage headroom. Do you think you can hear this? Or do think this would work and sound equally as good at 9v?

    • joe

      Wow, great question, Mitchell! The airiness or the Klon relative to the Screamer certainly seems like it could be related to that. I’ve only recently started playing with that idea, using a little +18v charge pump in a PCB and popping it into circuits. But I swear, I have no idea what result the higher voltage will have within a circuit. I want to do some more experimenting.

  • Oinkus

    Sounds good to me , no idea how it would react to my setup without the actual testing part. Pretty attached to my Ibanez Tube King OD it has alot of sounds in it.Have a 90ish Tubescreamer which sounds good too without as much range in sound.Think the whole TS for 350 bucks versions are a load of crap (oooh original specs and components!)Have played around with a Fulltone OCD , yet again good sounds decent range of options price 135 bucks.Most of these fall in the “more distorion” area I think you try and avoid Joe.I use them with OD in mind Drive turned down Level turned up to boost and focus distortion for leads mostly.

    • joe

      I should have mentioned: BYOC does a nice-looking “super Screamer” called the Overdrive 2: http://www.buildyourownclone.com/overdrive2.html

      I bought one but haven’t built it yet. But it seems to include all those “$350 mods.”

      I’ve just gotten pretty tired of the basic “IC plus diodes” formula. I get why it’s popular — you can get nice, consistent distortion sounds with a wide variety of guitar and pickup types, and it alway “works.” But these days circuits of this type, even the best ones, inevitably sound overly compressed and midrange-constipated.

  • bear

    There is a pleasant lack of that plastic-coating sound that leads me to use my Tube Screamer less and less. I’d DIY one but I’m not down with paying the market prices that even some of the clones are going for.

  • Scott

    Built a klone from buildyourowntone.com. $65 for the board and majority of parts. Another $15 for other parts (diodes, case, and a couple of other things). Well worth it. Love the sound of this.

    I DON’T use it for leads. I use it for grit/grind/chime at lower volumes. I set the gain at 9 o’clock and the volume the same. Tone at 2 o’clock. I get really nice chimey overdrive for alt.country rhythm guitar playing. With my Gretsch 6120 w/TV Jones Classics, it just sounds perfect. Responds to attack and volume control very nicely. Stacks well too. I tend to use Fuzz for solos. Lately, I am favoring a Mojo Hand FX Huckleberry and a Lovepedal BBB11, plus some Emerson Custom EM-Drive or Resonant Design Manifold Drive. Oh, and I can’t forget the Nocturne Atomic Brain, which is always on. It is a preamp pedal and it really makes the guitar come alive.

    Regarding the Klone, my bandmate has owned two and sold them after getting board (both pre-price craziness) and he says my klone sounds and performs the same as his old originals. Not bad for $80.

    • Scott

      BTW, buildyourowntone.com is now charging a ridiculous $23 shipping, so not as affordable as it was before. Perhaps better off going to madbeanspedals.com for the PCB and finding the parts yourself.

      • joe

        I’m a big fan of both Madbean and BYOC. I might recommend a complete BYOC kit for a beginner, because it can be surprisingly difficult ordering exactly the right parts at first. I like how Madbean revives some extinct circuits that you really can’t find elsewhere. Meanwhile, many of the BYOC designs add cool options and mods, and in my experience, they tend to sound better than the originals. Good stuff, IMHO.

        • joe

          Oops — you’re talking about Build Your Own Tone, a company I’m not familiar with. I tried reading the website and failed. I agree that $32 is excessive for shipping a stompbox worth of parts.

  • wrangle

    Oh, sure, it’s a super high-quality pedal with an open, amp-like response that reveals the nuances of your technique. All fine and good for those who are talented and accomplished guitar players! I’ll take one of the boxes that distracts listeners from my poor playing by making a sound like a farting wasp in a blender, please.

  • hi guys, sorry to bump a zombie, but surfin around trying to find something new to build, and i found a link to joe’s site..
    man, it’s GROWN since last i was here…looks great.
    anyways..
    here’s the thing. it’s NOT a “tube screamer”. not even in the same ballpark. the klon is splitting the guitar signal, and distorting them separately. it doesn’t sound like a tube screamer. bill finigan had a distinctly original design, and writing it off as the guy linked above is ridiculous.
    i built a couple of these puppies now..the one on my board is modded thanks to the guys at freestompboxes.org…and has a footswitchable boost.. made a big difference. i’d have to look it up to specifically tell what stupid resistor to replace..if memory serves, it was changing a 47k to 10k or 4.7k (hey, i’m a spaceshot…43 years of sex drugs and rocknroll, cut me a little slack ;))
    the “sagitarian charger” is the optimized circuit last i checked, and barry at guitarpcb dot com has a version called the mkc1, which for all intents is a centaur/sag that runs at 9volts, without the charge pump. while there IS a bit more headroom @ 18v, there’s really not much difference tonally between the two circuits…and no annoying charge pump whine (which can happen). may be worth checking out.
    but for the most part, i’m with joe…
    gimme the disgusting stink of hyperdriven germanium fuzz, and i’m a happy boy.
    peace!

  • I wouldn’t give the idiot at Zachary Guitars any free press. He bad mouths every other company to get some attention. His guitars are nothing special either.

    The Klon is a cool circuit design. You have the split signal with one side being a clean boost and the other an overdrive, and then as you adjust the gain, it turns the boost down and the overdrive up.

    Of course the Klon is back in production as the Klon KTR for a mere $269.

    None of the clone kits are exact copies, but they are very close. I’m building one of the MadBean Kingslayers.

  • David

    I agree. It does what it does and it does it well, but there must now be as many Klones by different manufacturers as there are original Klons out there, and you don’t need to spend the big bucks to get a similar tone.

    Case in point:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4EPt7P4SfU

    The Zoom PD-01 Power Drive can still be picked up second hand cheaply, and I honestly don’t believe I could tell the difference between a Klon and an inexpensive modern overdrive pedal when it’s being played in a club within a full band.

    I do think it’s great however that people are using the original circuit as a jumping off point to take the pedal in new directions, or using bits of the circuit in their own designs of new pedals. Personally, I want to hear the evolution of the Klon tone, not just another copy of it.

    Kudos to Bill though for coming up with the original circuit.

    • joe

      Yeah I agree…BUT…

      A pal of mine was over last week. He’s a super-knowledgable stompbox afficionado who owns an absurd number of pedals. We tried my first-generation Klon against several clones. The clones all sounded good — but the Klon sounded a little better, mostly because of its superior low-mid clarity.

      Which I guess means that a Klon may still be the best way to get a Klon sound. :)

      But there are many other paths to get there. I don’t mean to damn the Klon with faint praise — it really sounds fab. But I wouldn’t lose any sleep over not being able to find or afford an original.

  • Had one. Used it in a band with Keith Carlock, like, 10 years ago. Totally unimpressed. And, not with just the pedal. Ever talk to its creator Bill Finnigan? OOOOOOwee! What a bitter SOB. Sold it for what I paid – no profiteering. Never looked back.

  • Oinkus

    What would it take to actually build an exact copy ? Only one I can actually find is the PCB board on Madbean not a single kit with everything anywhere?

  • Lord Koos

    I’ve tried a few of the klones, but not a real Klon. The klones can vary a lot depending on the quality of the parts used. Using cheap, smaller pots is a tonal compromise, for one thing. After trying a few copies, I now have a version made by Fredric effects that sounds great. It retains some fatness as the OD is cranked up, whereas the other klones I had started to sound thin and constipated as the gain goes up. I’m very happy with the Fredric pedal. I think the 18v does make a difference. I used to run OD pedals at 12 and 18 volts for the headroom, but the Klon circuit takes care of that. Anyway I’m late to the party on using this particular OD but I like what it does.

  • Oinkus

    Going to buy a Lovepedal Kalamazoo eventually , watch some of the utub vids comparing them.looks like it has a very close proximity to the Klon but also has more sounds in it .The funny part is they say it is not a Klone of any sort and never was meant to be one. 9v – 18v power .

  • joe

    That one is eve closer to a Screamer: http://revolutiondeux.blogspot.com/2012/01/lovepedal-kalamazoo.html

    Lovepedal takes some heat in the geek forums for issuing so many pedal based on the Screamer and the Electra distortion. But I think Sean from Lovepedal has great ears, and original or not, his stuff sounds real good to me.

  • Oinkus

    There are a bunch of kalamazoo vs klon videos sound is pretty close to the same and both are good to my ear. Been looking into a klone but nothing I can buy on musicians friend that sounds that close.

  • Brent

    One producer, guitarist, songwriter and visionary in Nashville recommended it to me with a warning about its price; alternatives he mentioned were Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire (awesome) and Fulltone’s OCD (incredible – I own one).

  • Bear

    Since this came back up, here’s a video of someone regretting overpaying for a Centaur:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aP0wGGQRQAI

  • Oinkus

    Oh man ! It hurtses makes it stops ! That is too dern funny ! Still waiting for someone to donate me a Klon or a Klone, probly gonna wait til eternity has passed a couple times. Holy Fire demo is pretty neat too.

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