RAILhead Effects io Super-Distortion Pedal

By Scott Auld

Granted, I don’t know very much about designing circuits and building pedals from them. But I do know a good bit about playing guitar through those pedals, and I know that it must be very hard to design and make a distortion pedal that isn’t too grainy and aggressive. Maury at RAILhead Effects has definitely broken the code with his io Super-Distortion.

The io is a very impressive distortion pedal. The juicy gain is full of something that a lot of its predecessors missed: musicality. Missing are the harsh overtones found in some of the distortion pedals of the past – the io Super-Distortion taps into sweet, creamy overtones that make lead tones sing.

Perhaps the reason for this sing-song-y characteristic is the inherent transparency found in this design. Unlike many high-gain distortions, you can tell the characteristic differences between guitars in the RAILhead Effects unit. The io Super-Distortion lets the guitar’s personality come through. I’ve been using it for solos with the distortion control cranked nearly all the way up, and yet I can still hear the quackiness of the Strat and the aggression of the Telecaster just fine. And when I plugged my humbucker’d SG into it, I was launched into sweet, harmonic feedback. Nothing shrill about it. It was almost like I had an eBow in my hands.

The io Super-Distortion is a very sensitive pedal. It’s meaty low end responds very well to delicate playing. The depth of tone found in the lows will have you spending more time on your wound strings than you probably do today. The squishy, thick overdriven distortion is very addictive. Soundclips can be found at this link.

Regarding looks and appearance, Maury has a leg-up on his powder-coating peers. The finish of his pedals is available in an etched finish which is in itself a piece of art, and I’m not exaggerating. The etched-finish models are collaborations between Maury’s building skill and his wife’s artistic gifts. Maury levels the pedal, and uses a stencil that features the artwork his wife has created to create a negative of the art. He applies the stencil to the pedal and then puts this into the etchant solution. The etchant eats away at any exposed metal, so the exposed artwork section is grooved into the aluminum. Maury then adds a bit of paint to the etched areas and sands it all very smooth. The result is not only a different, durable result; it’s also a one-of-a-kind work of art. No two etched pedals are exactly alike. But looks aside, the strength of this pedal really is in its sound. I sometimes think of it as my supercharger: step on the gas and sure, you start accelerating, but then kick in the io Super-Distortion and you are launched forward.

Overall, Maury’s creation is a wonderful high gain distortion that won’t fight you when you’re playing. If you need to step beyond the realm of mild overdrives, do not short yourself – try the RAILhead Effects io Super-Distortion. More information about this company and it's products can be found at www.railheadeffects.com.