This guest post is brought to you by my brother-in-law Joel. Joel’s a great bass player/producer, and he’s been building up his home studio over the last year. His Crummy Church Signs blog, while unrelated to the topic of home studios, is hilarious. You can also follow him on Twitter here.

I’ve always been nervous about having my own home studio. You see, I wasn’t reared on the low-key singer/songwriter scene that seems to be the forte of many home studio owners. Nor was I content to totally lean on MIDI for all of my sounds. I wanted to make loud music, and I wanted it to sound authentic. I always just assumed that there was no way to do that on a low budget (or with neighbors on every side of me who would strongly disapprove if I miked an 8×10 Ampeg bass cabinet at full volume).

TECH-21 somehow heard my unspoken requests and developed their fairly new Character series pedals. TECH-21 markets these bad boys as equal parts stomp box and preamp, but they are really worth their weight in gold in a small home studio. Large studios that can afford to mic a wall of amps have little need for these. But are you looking for that perfect guitar or bass tone without blowing the neighbors away or spending a fortune? Then these pedals are exactly what you’re looking for.

Each pedal models a different brand of amplifier; I have the “California” pedal, which mimics Mesa Boogie cabinets (including a clean setting, dirtier Mark II, and blazing Rectifier), and the VT Bass pedal, which mimics the aforementioned Ampeg bass monstrosities (SVT and Flip-top, plus a setting with tons of churn and grind built in). The other pedals (“Blonde”, “Liverpool”, and “British”) mimic tones and styles popular in different time periods, from the British invasion to 70s classic rock. (They are modeled after Fender, Vox, and Marshall amps respectively.)

The sounds these things generate are no joke. Playing with a simple Epiphone Les Paul Studio plugged directly into the California plugged directly into my Mbox 2, I was able to generate all kinds of chaos including effortless feedback, crunchy driving chords and soaring leads. A single character pedal offers a ton of variety in its settings. The aptly named “Character” dial on the pedal is extremely sensitive, providing a wide sweep of unique variations within its basic focus area.

Combined with a basic distortion plug-in in Pro Tools (Izotope Trash), there hasn’t been a distortion sound that I haven’t been able to recreate with my California pedal. I have a hard time imagining the possibilities if I bought a second one. The pedal’s built in speaker emulation completes the sound; with a creative use of reverb in Pro Tools, I can make it sound like I’m recording in pretty much any live setting.

I’m the first to admit that I know almost nothing about home recording. I’ve had my “studio” (Pro Tools on my home computer with a 2-channel Mbox) for a grand total of three months. However, with my long history as a musician I do know what sounds good, and I’m picky about tone. Maybe there are other options that do something similar, but I can’t believe how well these things deliver. For less than $200 a pop, I can’t imagine that the TECH-21 character pedals won’t become a staple in many small home studios across the country.

Joel was kind enough to record a few quick samples from his VT Bass pedal. You can listen to them below. Here are a few of his notes:

  • First Section: bass directly into my MBox – (The next four sections use the four recommended settings on the VT Bass pedal)
  • Second Section: SVT amp modeler
  • Third Section: Fat Tube
  • Fourth Section: Flip-Top Amp Modeler
  • Fifth Section: “Rage”

It should be noted that on their recommendations the “Drive” dial never gets above 12:00. There are much better “Rage” sounding tones than the one they recommend. Also, my bass is a 4-string Ernie Ball Music Man Sterling.

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[Having trouble listening? Download the mp3 here.]

What do you think? Leave a comment! You can also check out the Character Series pedals in their entirety here.

  • Kenneth

    Hi Joe… im about to buy a sansamp … so here is the thing .. i got the bass driver programmable and it sounds great!! … but i want to upgrade to the bass driver deluxe … but now there is the vt bass deluxe … so then my question is … what its the main difference between the two …

    i cant test the vt bass because i cant found one ..

    • Hmmm…I honestly don’t know. All I can say is the VT Bass sounds amazing.

  • Lukas

    Thanks Joe!.
    Sorry, the picture on the top of the page totally confused me.
    I will probably get Cali soon and maybe post some clips myself for you and others if you don’t mind.
    Thanks again.


    • Hey Lukas.

      This article IS a review of the Cali pedal and the VT bass pedal, but it was written by a guest poster, not me.

      Hopefully that makes sense. 😉

  • Lukas

    I am seriously considering getting one or two of their pedals (maybe Cali nad British)
    They have the speaker emulation built-in, don’t they ? When you say you plug your guitar into California and then into MBox, do you mean MBox’s line-in? In this case HiZ would be inappropriate, wouldn’t it?

    I know Cali is supposed to mimic Mesa tone, but how close does it really get? Would you be able to post few audio clips with various settings, please? Is Cali able to give you that warm, fat tone without all the fuzziness that guitar amp emulation plug-ins usually produce? I demoed loads of them (Amplitube series, Eleven, SansAmp that comes with PT 8, McDSP Chrome Tone, Waves GTR, Peavey’s Revalver MKIII) and only one of them could get close to the sound I was after. All the rest was just not right.
    Of course you can dial in some decent tones, but they’re rather far from the real thing. Are Tech21 pedals getting any closer?
    Appreciate your help.


    • Hi Lukas,

      I don’t own the Cali, so I can’t post clips for you. However, just get it. You’ll love it. (I own the Blonde.)

      As far as what inputs I use. It doesn’t really matter. The pedals aren’t technically pre-amps, so you technically need to plug them into instrument input. However, these have a really hot output, so sometimes it works okay in the line input.


    The VT Pedal sounds great, man!!!