By Bob Cianci
Years ago, my late Uncle Phil, a talented violinist, gave me his 1951 Silvertone lap steel and a small, unnamed tube amp covered with brown Tolex. I never determined who made this mystery amp, but I remember it had a couple of input jacks, a volume and tone control and an eight inch speaker. It must have been made around the same time as the lap steel. In all the years I owned that amp, I turned it on and played through it but a handful of times. To me at the time, it was a crappy little underpowered turkey that was good for nothing. The one good thing that amp did was break up into fuzzy nirvana when cranked to ten, but not realizing what a valuable tool it could be, I discarded it one day after the power cord shorted out. It went out for the trash collector. Looking back, I could kick myself for dumping it. The overdriven tone was something I could have used for recording years later. Small, off brand tube amps were usually thought of as being worthless way back then, but times have since changed.
When it became common knowledge that people like Jimmy Page were using low watt vintage Supro amps for recording and getting great tone, these once reviled amps became desirable and collectible. And of course, pedal makers soon jumped on the bandwagon, producing stompboxes that purport to reproduce the sound of a small overdriven tube amp. One of the best of the bunch is the Mojo Hand Superlative, which recreates that desirable Valco/Supro preamp circuitry.
Mojo Hand calls the Superlative, “A throwback to the sound of those small, vintage amps of days gone by. Countless recording artists used small amps, pushed to the edge of destruction, to get those gnarly overdriven tones on your favorite records. Somewhere between overdrive, distortion, and fuzz, it was a character all its own.”
Okay, call it stompbox manufacturer hip-speak, but it’s an accurate description of what the Superlative can do. By way of details, the Superlative is American-made and features true bypass switching, Volume, Tone and Gain controls, a Hi/Lo toggle that emulates the high and low inputs found on vintage amps, a heavy duty, powder covered enclosure, and cool UV printed artwork with a recreation of Supro’s lightning bolt logo. It also features a standard 9-volt power negative jack for easy pedalboard mounting. So, how does it sound?
In a word, great! This is not a maximum high gain OD pedal, so it won’t be of much use to metal shredders, but that’s not the purpose for which it was designed. It’s no secret that Jimmy Page recorded Led Zeppelin II with little Supro amps, and I think most of us would agree, that’s tone to die for. The Superlative accurately reproduces those sounds, and the Hi/Lo option allows tonal versatility. With the gain set to 12:00, it added just a little hair to my signal, and when cranked to ten, the resulting tone did fall somewhere between distortion, overdrive and fuzz as the manufacturer claims. When playing a Strat, the Superlative dirtied up my tone just enough so it wasn’t squeaky clean for chording and solos, and allowed the guitar to retain all its high end sparkle. With a Les Paul, the Superlative put me that Jimmy Page vintage Supro territory easily, once again without altering the guitar’s natural tone. With the Les Paul maxed out and the gain dimed, there was grind to spare; plenty of it for my purposes at the moment. Over the course of three gigs, the Superlative earned its rightful permanent place on my pedalboard. It’s highly recommended.