Every so often a new design comes along that becomes so iconic, it simultaneously creates obsessive cult following and an army of nay-sayers who claim said design is over-hyped in equal measure. In the guitar world there have been many such iconic designs; from the original inception of the Gibson Flying V, all the way to Line 6 and the dawn of amp modelling, game changers have always been met with a certain amount of divided opinion.
Enter Bill Finnegan…
Around the early 1990’s frustrated with the current selection of mediocre guitar pedals available to working musicians like him, and rising prices of vintage items such as Ibanez’s TS808 ‘Tube Screamer’, Bill set out to design an overdrive pedal that would not sound like a ‘pedal’, rather a device that would push the input stage of any guitar amp into natural overdrive and extended harmonic content and be as transparent as possible. Together with the late Fred Fenning, a graduate MIT electronics engineer, he developed the now legendary Klon Centaur Professional Overdrive Pedal, that has now become the Overdrive Pedal that all others are judged against.
Due to its unorthodox pairing of creators, the Klon design was completely unique in its circuitry (most other Overdrive Pedals are variations of Tube Screamer, Marshall Bluesbreaker, or Fuzz Face circuits). Contemporary players and legends alike were quick to add the Klon to their pedalboards. Jeff Beck and John Mayer to name just two! By 1998, after building around 8,000 units, Bill decided to discontinue the Klon as he was building these one at a time in his home. Second hand price have been rising rapidly ever since, and at this time, the going rate for a Klon Centaur is hovering around the £2,000 mark.
Bill’s original Klon website can been found here.
Fast forward to 2018 and there are hundreds of so called ‘Klones’ (that is, Klon copies) on the market, each claiming to be more authentic than the next, and full on forum wars are being waged between guitarists discussing and arguing the merits of each. With that said, I’m likely to get a certain amount of troll comments just for writing this blog instalment, but hey, why break the Klon tradition?!
Given that the Klon is such a unique design, and the fact that a lot of my favourite players have at one time or another used the legendary pedal (just go and listen to Matt Schofield or David Grissom), I’ve been keen to get my hands on one to experience what all the fuss is about. Just one problem then, the astronomical financial outlay! I started looking around at the various Klones, to see what would take my fancy. Now, I already own a Keeley Oxblood which is famously billed as the ‘Klon Killer’ and is a great pedal in its own right, but i was after something more true to its namesake. I took to reading the forums, which as most will discover left me even more confused. Until I started reading about a company called Ceriatone, who, according to people who actually owned original Klon’s, are making what they considered to be the closest equivalent around.
Ceriatone, based in Kuala Lumpur is a company run by Nik Azam and he is mainly know for producing clones of hard to find and out of production amps (such as the fabled Dumble Steel String Singer) both in kit form and ready built versions. Nik prides himself on his attention to detail and gives exceptional consideration to his designs, all the way down to component level, to ensure his offerings are as close to the original circuits as possible. Nik’s company offer their own Klon, affectionately named the ‘Centura’ (which is an anagram of ‘Centaur’). The Centura differs from most Klone’s in that it is built with the same Printed Circuit Board (PCB) layout and sand cast housing as the original (both are extremely accurate to my eyes). As with most of Ceriatone’s products, ordering is done via email with Nik, and there is a substantial waiting list for the Centura.
Here’s a link to Nik’s Ceriatone website.
As with my usual guitar obsessed brain I was cruising eBay for a bargain and noticed there was a ‘new in box’ Centura for auction from a seller in Spain. Given that the price of the pre-made pedal direct from Ceriatone was around £200 I put in an opening bid for the same amount and waited…
Wayne once said “She will be mine, oh yes, she will be mine….”
Five days later, the UPS man dropped off the parcel at my door, and I was keen to see if the Centura was indeed as well made and accurate as had been intimated online on the Ceriatone website and indeed in the forums.
Opening up the back of the pedal to connect a battery reveals just how accurate the innards of the Centura are as well as its exterior. No cheap parts here, just high quality pots, switches and a very decent looking neat PCB that is packed full of top notch components. A very good start indeed.
Hooking up the Centura between my SRV Strat, and Deluxe Reverb instantly sounded familiar, with the Gain around 12 o’clock it was very reminiscent of ‘Gravity’ by John Mayer. Pushing the Gain even further led me into that familiar Texas Blues territory, and switching to a Les Paul gave one of the best Duane Allman tones I’ve managed to coax out of my setup for a long time. The thing that really impressed me was the way in which the Centura preserves the dynamics and feel of plugging a guitar straight into the front end of my amp whilst at the same time giving it a nudge to push the pre-amp of the Deluxe into its own overdrive characteristics without having to turn the amp up to 10! This ‘plugged’ straight in feeling is achieved by incorporating a unique buffered output design that is unlike most modern pedal designs which are ‘True-Bypass’. The buffer preserves the harmonic content in the signal that can be lost either from running long cables or by connecting too many pedals together in a signal chain.
Compared to my other long time, go to overdrive pedal, the fantastic Barber LTD, the Centura sounds more open and 3D, and responds slightly better to pick attack. I have always been impressed with the way the LTD preserves the tonal characteristics of whichever guitar is plugged in, and I have to say the Centura, whilst doing a good job of this still imparts its Klon vibe, which I suppose is the whole point. Transparent it is not, and neither was the Klon, which is why it’s loved (or loathed) in the first place.
All in all, I’m extremely impressed by the Centura, I’m sure many will argue that nothing will come close to Bill Finnegan’s original, but until I have that elusive lottery win, and track down a genuine Klon, as far as I’m concerned, ignorance is bliss… If you are in the market for a natural amp like Overdrive Pedal and are looking for something not so run-of-the-mill, I highly recommend considering getting yourself on the waiting list for a Centura, and check out the other Klon inspired pedals that are available such as:
J. Rockett: Archer Ikon
Bondi Effects: Sick As Overdrive
to name but a few…
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