Imperial Electrical’s new Zeppelin preamp and overdrive is a thoughtful and enthusiastically executed attempt to get the sounds of Jimmy Page into an effects pedal – no small feat if you can pull it off. In general, it does its Pagey magic by approximating the function of an Echoplex-style preamp and amp-style overdrive in one package. As simple as it sounds, it gives the player a set of winning staging abilities.
The lead balloon takes flight
The Zeppelin, like many of the band that inspired it, isn’t immediately easy to decipher. The two-letter acronyms below each button are rendered in Zep-inspired Art Nouveau fonts. The far right knob labeled PL controls the gain of the Echoplex preamp, which is essentially a pre-overdrive boost. The right pedal activates this circuit independent of overdrive. The next three buttons from right to left are PO (plexi out), TO (tone), and PR (preamp or plexi/gain control). The left footswitch engages this section. The status light in the top center lights red when the plexi side alone is on, green when the Echoplex alone is on, and amber when they are working together. Aside from the coded control captions, this is a convenient and simplified table. And while the compact dimensions might be cause for the occasional stomping on the wrong switch, most will find it’s a small price to pay to get that effective gain in so little space.
Interestingly, however, he doesnail the throaty, thick, midrange overdrive sound achieved by pushing a Valco-made Supro amp into distortion.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the circuit board fills the entire enclosure, with barely enough room to squeeze a gnat around the edges. This also means there is no space for a 9V battery, so these are just adapters for the Zeppelin.
Zeppelin’s 70s-inspired, ’70s-inspired big rhythm and lead tones are heavy and bold. The overdrive side arguably sounds best with its PR (gain) control in the 11 o’clock to 1 o’clock range, where it generates low to mid gain overdrive sounds with plenty of body and clarity. Increasing the gain from there makes the tone denser and more saturated. But it can also sound a bit raspy and throaty, and some note separation disappears when this control is maxed out. This sound can be a lot of fun, but it’s a heavy, heavy voice, that’s for sure.
Although billed as a plexi-style overdrive, the pedal’s Marshall-inspired side doesn’t sound particularly Marshall-y to my ears. Interestingly, however, he Is nail the throaty, thick, midrange overdrive sound achieved by pushing a Valco-made Supro amp into distortion, which is, of course, the type of amp Jimmy Page uses to create the sounds of Led Zeppelin II. Regardless of my perceptions, the result is substantial and page-like.
The Echoplex side of the pedal works great, and the pedal often sounds better with a bit of that pre-OD boost added to the overdrive. Modest to sensible overdrive levels respond strongly to a bit of a kick from the boost. And they rarely produce mud. Instead, the combination tends to add a soft saturation to the overall tone.
In classic Page style, I experimented with a Les Paul and a Telecaster as drivers for the Zeppelin. The Telecaster’s single coils were the best pairing when I wanted to bring out the eviscerating clarity in the Zeppelin’s overdrive tones. But, as you’d expect, the tones you get from a Les Paul are always crisper, and the Zeppelin is more than articulate enough to keep the bigger guitar distinct at reasonable gain settings.
The Zeppelin takes a creative approach to replicating Jimmy Page’s early Led Zeppelin tone recipes. It packs both thick ’70s arena rock-inspired overdrive and a very nice preamp boost into a compact, well-made package. And while my ears hear the overdrive as more Supro than Marshall-plexi, the Zeppelin’s voice is no less pleasant, practical, or Page-like.
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