Spaceman Effects Saturn V Harmonic Booster
Maybe it's all those years of delving into endless depths of rack-mount multi-fx menus back in the early 90s, or buying into the recent flood of highly tweak-able knob-heavy stomp boxes, but I've always been highly suspicious of pedals with only one or two knobs on them. I know, I know... it's ridiculous and irrational, but let's face it, many are one-trick tonal ponies and some hardly warrant valuable real estate on many pedalboards. I guess that's why spending more than a month with the Spacemen Saturn V Harmonic Booster was so refreshing. Even with its two simple knobs, this is a stomp box with more than enough depth and complexity to easily adapt, alter - and even excite - many different guitars, pickups and amp set-ups.
Right off the launch pad, we noticed the massive amounts of boost the Saturn V had on tap: 18db to be exact. Combine that with the gain knob and you’re dealing with nearly 35db of combined volume! Those looking for an absolutely pure, uncolored clean boost might want to go elsewhere, because the Saturn V oozes with personality. How much of that personality you want to surface depends - to a huge extent - on your pickups and volume settings. With the Saturn's gain backed off and the boost at 50%, single coils barely bubble with a bit of passive-aggressiveness while humbuckers easily cross over the clean line and start getting tough and testy. Nothing terribly aggressive or downright nasty, but you definitely get the sense that an underlying well of pent-up grit is ready and waiting for your next power chord. It's like that shy kid that you never want to mess with because he might go from a friendly high five to a punch-in-the-face in a matter of moments.
Speaking of power chords, the Saturn makes them absolutely sparkle. The top end can be energetic and edgy but never shrill or slashing. There is a ton of harmonic content going on here that magically captures that late 60s open chord craziness of bands like The Who, Led Zeppelin and The Animals. The overall tone is warm, rich and surprisingly punchy with a touch of treble tearing through the mix for a balanced blend of clean and discernible dirt.
Giving the gain knob a little goose is where the situation starts to get very interesting. Hints of grit start to creep into the mix along with a very open and pronounced valve-like roar. It's almost as though the bass, mids and treble expand and widen to let elements of overdrive, distortion and fuzz creep through. The transition into this rockin' realm sounds natural with no unusual artifacts introduced. This is where the Saturn starts getting very selective about pickup position and overall guitar volume. With enough experimentation, you will also find the V molding and shaping your normally predictable amp sounds into something very schizophrenic. Our little 1x12 solid state Roland Jazz Chorus actually began to sound very Vox-like, while the old Blackface Princeton took on some very Marshall-esque glassiness. Very weird, very welcomed and very rewarding - IF you spend enough time tweaking. I can see a ton of timid bedroom - or retired - amps being call back into action by the Harmonic Booster.
I can also see many fans in their respective Overdrive, Distortion and Fuzz camps finding something to appreciate here. Overdrive nuts will find the unit's crispiness a welcome tonal treat after years of stomping hazy mid-range heavy screamers, distortion lovers will dig the dynamics after dealing with compressed and dimensionally challenged DS-type boxes and fuzz nuts will love something that is less squirrelly but with all that recognizable woolyness. While there is a noticeable nod to 1960s treble boosters going on here, the Saturn V's scope can cover a wide range of genres and bygone eras. Aside from the bands mentioned above, I was able to mimic everything from the chord-heavy crunch of Oasis to the sludgy stoner buzz of Queens of the Stone Age. Pretty cool!
I have to admit that the Spaceman line initially caught my attention on looks alone. Shallow, I know, but that cool, clean, classic Apollo-era space age imagery is indelibly imprinted on my brain after being glued to the TV for many of those historic launches - not to mention the countless grade school "space age" book reports that followed. It's glaringly obvious that a ton of time and thought went into creating the design-savvy elements that make up the Saturn V. One glance at the lovely polished housing, the unique vinyl etched face plate, large jeweled LED, hand-stamped/screened serial plate and the slick and shiny control knobs leaves little doubt that there is whole lot of passion - if not a full-blown obsession - behind the Spaceman gear.
As expected this same incredible attention to detail carries over into the impeccable interior of the unit. Not a single thing is out of place. The mirrored circuit board looks lovely and the mini constellation of etched stars scattered about are a nice touch. The stellar soldering work and the neat and tidy wiring is worthy of a NASA clean room inspection. Did I mention the super small silk-screened planet (Saturn of course!) and stars on the 9-Volt battery clip? The internal mount for it? Right on!
The word “boutique” has been bandied about quite freely in gear circles the past 20 years. Sadly, the term has almost become blurred and abused to the point of being utterly meaningless. The Spaceman line sets a new, and very high, bar for what that word actually means. Not only does the Saturn V sound incredible, but its expert craftsmanship and impeccable design border on high art.