I had originally planed to write two separate reviews for each pedal but after some long thought I figured that given how I am using them in my current setup, it only made sense to write about them at the same time.
If you haven’t heard about these two pedals from TC Electronics, it might be a result of their price tag or the lack of interest in the North American market. Each one only costs about $80 new and probably $40 used. Most pedal junkies tend to avoid products with such a cheap price tag because clearly they aren’t going to be any good at all… that is soooo wrong in this case. The Dark Matter and MojoMojo absolutely rock! They are completely analog, which means no Tone Print options like many of the TC lineup. They both operate on a 9V battery or adapter and are True Bypass. But that is about where the commonalities end.
Dark Matter (i.e. Marshall Plexi JCM series???)
Don’t be fooled by the appearance, a Darth Vader type of Hard Metal feel, the Dark Matter pedal is not as aggressive as you would expect. While the pedal is labelled a distortion, which really does it a disservice, the Dark Matter is a highly responsive drive pedal that can clean up with the turn of a volume knob or be pushed into saturation heaven with another dirt pedal. In fact if I were to describe this pedal I would say it’s actually a Plexi in a stomp box.
I did a lot of research lately looking to find a great Plexi in a pedal and I was leaning towards the Wampler Plexi-Drive or Pinnacle Deluxe. However, having seen a couple reviews of the Dark Matter, I was interested to see how it faired, especially given the difference in price. I do believe that the Wampler pedals will give you exactly what they promise, and having heard a number of pedal shoot-outs, I can’t imagine Wampler not winning 99% of the time… but I would be interested to see how the Dark Matter would fair because it is one hell of a pedal and Plexi sound-a-like.
What this pedal captures is that JCM 800 sound from the 70s all the way to a 2000 series. It does struggle to get that super heavy saturation on its own but throw another pedal, say a RAT in front and you can hang out with Van Halen any day of the week. The layout of the pedal is simple, Gain-Level-Bass-Treble with a mid range vintage cut (down) or a mid range bump (up). The tone controls are active so at the 12 o’clock position they won’t colour the sound at all. This had some draw backs since the pedal really highlighted tonal issue with my amps. Simple fix was to engage the pedal in a completely clean setting (which can be done just like a real amp) and then dial the amps tone settings in while leaving the tone controls at neutral. I have seen a lot of complaints that this pedal just doesn’t sound good… its not the pedal its the amp and its settings; plain and simple.
TC mentions that if you aren’t looking for a pedal that reacts to subtle playing techniques or responds like a real amplifier then you should look elsewhere, and they couldn’t be more right. I can’t believe how natural this pedal reacts to the player. That’s why I said the distortion label really detracts from the nature of the pedal. This pedal is meant to recreate the tonal and playing characteristics of a heavily gunned amp. Play softly and the gain will clean up, drive it hard and the pedal will crunch harder. Try taking this guy through a song like “Over the hills and far away” by Led Zeppelin and don’t turn it off. You can easily clean up with the volume for the intro then quickly crank right back up to for the bulk of the song. In fact, this pedal capture the exact sound of Jimmy’s Marshall from the “How the West was Won” live recordings.
On the other end of the dirt spectrum (cranked full) the pedal is still extremely quiet. In this range you will get close to the Van Halen sound, but sit closer to the likes of Slash or Dave Grohl. Roll back a little on the volume and get that Pearl Jam Ten sound or the STP crunch. Hell this even captures tones that Hendrix had and even Frusciante. You might see a bit of a pattern here, everyone I’ve listed has used the JCM series. The Dark Matter is a JCM clone, I have no doubt. I believe TC hasn’t mentioned this because they don’t want to be compared to the market that already exists. I can’t blame them either because depending on how well you choose to work with the pedal, that is to set your amp up to sound good with it, it’s likely going to get a lot of criticisms. BUT if you work with it, it will become the backbone of your sound.
I also want to mention that this pedal stacks incredibly well with anything you throw at it. Fuzzes, overdrives and even other distortions sound awesome through it. In fact the RAT has an amazing affect on the Dark Matter, similar to the same pairing of a dirty JCM and RAT… surprised? Not me! Now if the JCM Plexi isn’t your taste the voicing of the MojoMojo might be for you.
The appearance of the pedal should give away the kind of tones you should expect to get out of it (and no I don’t mean sh!t!). The MojoMojo while labeled an overdrive pedal is yet another amp in a stomp box. Following the British grit, I would suggest that his pedal is fashioned after the ever sought after brown tone of the JTM 45 from Marshall. For those not familiar with the JTM, its been used by the likes of Angus Young and Jimi Hendrix two name just two. The JTM is known for being a very clean amplifier with lots of headroom, but also a very full on the bottom end. Even though it shines when clean, many musicians found the overdriven tone to be beyond any other amplifier on earth.
The MojoMojo has the same layout as the Dark Matter, except the switch is used to either create a bass boost (up) or a bass enhancer (down). What I mean by enhancing mode is that the pedal doesn’t cut the bass but instead keeps the natural tones coming from the guitar, which most other pedals end up depleting. They apparently do this by drawing more power into the pedal for increased head room but don’t use it for the drive channel. Again this pedal highlighted any tonal issues present in the EQ settings on the amp. But once I dialled this to a clean tone and adjusted the amp, there were zero issues. Of course the Dark Matter and MojoMojo eq’d in the same way, which only added to their use on the same board.
I have read reviews that mention the MojoMojo can get a little bright or that its muddy. I haven’t had issue with it being bright but I have found the pedal to be dark at times. Oddly it seems that it responds best by boosting the bass signal instead of cutting it with the Bass control. But I would mention that it really depends on how you choose to use the pedal. Currently I’m using it to capture the sounds from Hendrix’s live shows/recordings which means I don’t boost the bass but keep it neutral so that when I run the Fuzz into it and roll the volume down I get a very tight response. Have I completely matched the Hendrix tone? Probably not but that’s impossible for a number of reasons. Instead I’ve found a combo that works in the same way Hendrix’s would have which adds some level of learning and stylistic growth as a result.
A bit of a side note, I find that many people when imitating the Hendrix sound go for a very bass drive fullness. I have to say I fell into the rabbit hole as well, but when I put the recordings on and really tried to match the sound I found that his neck pickup sound was very similar to that of a humbucker bridge tone, while the bridge tone was a lot brighter almost telecaster-ish. If you watch some live recordings you’ll see he plays more in the neck position so it might explain why his tone was set of that way. Also I really believe that he used the fuzz a lot more than the dirt channel of the amp. If you have a chance to experiment by running a fuzz into a slightly dirty amp, rolling through different volume levels, you’ll notice that the fuzz cleans up in a way that brightens the tone and also lightly drives the amp. “Fire” would be a good example; he clearly has the fuzz on for the entire song, and when the solo comes about he rolls the volume back to full establishing the presence of the fuzz. Also, it might be worth mentioning that I think the fuzz was overdriven with a buffer… but that’s just speculation. Then again, it also probably depended on the show and the time as it doesn’t seem like Hendrix ever followed a script on how he set his gear up.
Anyway, the MojoMojo like the Dark Matter is responsive to playing techniques and really does act like an amp. Stacking isn’t an issue and responds great to other pedals driving it. They do mention on the website that the MojoMojo is the little brother to the Dark Matter but I honestly think they are distinct enough from each other that they warrant being viewed as two separate gain stacks.
You might ask why I don’t just invest in getting the exact amps over using pedals? Finances aside, I love the flexibility a pedal provides. It can be changed on the fly and have all the gain in the world at any volume. Also who else can go from Fender clean to Marshall JCM/JTM or HIWATT dirt with a click of a switch?
Should you get the Dark Matter and MojoMojo? NO!!! Absolutely not!!! No way!!! I mean who wants two awesome pedals right? Nope not me or you…