• Vick Audio Tree of Life review

    Tree of Life review

    Tracking down a good overdrive is a challenge for most of us. Obviously, they need to have the tone you want but they also need to fit your amp and guitar and perhaps more so than any other pedal. A versatile overdrive that can cover a lot of ground is often a good place to start. I recently got my hand on the Tree of Life from Vick Audio, which definitely falls into that category. Here’s my review.

    As discussed in the Buyer’s Gear Guide for Overdrive and Distortions, overdrives comes in two main categories. The transparent, mids scooped boosters and the mids boosted, amp-like modern overdrives. One of the first overdrives or boosters to emerge, was the Powerbooster from Coloursound (later Overdriver). It had a bright and transparent tone, with very little mid range. The pedal was designed to be used with loud tube amps and to drive these into sweet distortion.

    By the late 70s, the smaller combo amps started to appear and with them, the Tube Screamer. This pedal had a lot of mid range and gain and was primarily designed to produce that huge tube sound on smaller amps and lower volume.

    The Tree of Life follows the tradition of those early Tube Screamers. In fact, Vick Audio’s goal was apparently to design an overdrive that combined the tones of two modern classics, the Zendrive and OCD. Both of which are inspired by the Tube Screamer.

    Housed in a typical MXR sized box, the Tree of Life feature high quality components, with mosfet semiconductors and Bat41 diodes used for the clipping section. It’s powered by 9V adapter (only) and feature true bypass switching and a bright led.

    The first thing that strikes me with this pedal is that it is very loud. Unity gain/volume seems to be around 9:00 on the volume control. After some exploring, it’s evident that it has much of the OCD character in it. Perhaps more so than the Zen. Still, backing off the gain to around 11:00 and below, definitely takes the pedal into the Zen territory, sounding very amp-like, with warm and smooth dynamics. It actually cleans up so well that it can easily double as a clean booster, with a bit of mids added.

    Increasing the gain beyond noon, takes the Tree of Life very close to the OCD. The OCD has for many years been my go-to overdrive, especially for recording and I know the pedal well. One of my minor issues has always been that it could have been a bit tighter in the low end. I also think it sounds a bit flat in the higher frequencies. Well, the Tree of Life has a sparkling top, without ever sounding harsh. It also has a more noticeable low end, which should please fans of both the Tube Screamer and OCD. It doesn’t sound nearly as boxy as the Tube Screamer though, which makes it more versatile and work better on a wider range of amps.

    One of the things I like best about the Tree of Life is that it has more gain than the OCD and, while more gain often means a harsher tone, the Tree of Life has a nicely compressed character at higher gain settings, much like the dynamics of a tube amp.

    Bedroom setups and smaller amps require a versatile overdrive and one with a mids boost, to compensate for the lack of mids on low volume. The Tree of Life works excellent on smaller amps and it has enough low end too, which maintains much of its big tone.

    I don’t have much to put my finger on here really. Vick Audio has impressed me once more and the Tree of Life went straight to my stage board, sitting beside and complimenting my Tube Driver. It’s an incredibly versatile overdrive, with a range from clean boost to warm overdrive, rich with harmonics, and screaming distortion. Highly recommended!

    Be sure to check out Vick Audio for more details and sound clips.

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51 Responsesso far.

  1. Stéphane says:

    Hi Bjorn ! Thanks for this nice review and the nice playing, that Tree of Life sounds amazing !

    Would it be a nice addition to the Buffalo 18V Powerbooster ? I don’t own any overdrive pedal yet, and I couldn’t figure out what to buy since there are so many OD on the market, and cheap alternatives like the EHX Soul Food…I own many pedals and I’m getting close to the gilmourish tone, but my main setup is a Mex strat with Hepcat vintage pickups -> gilmourish board (mostly sunface BC109->Rotovibe->MXR Phase99->BYOC large beaver->Powerbooster->Deluxe memory Boy-> HIWATT T20 combo.) Thanks for your advices.
    Stephane

    • Bjorn says:

      They’re two very different sounding pedals so I think they compliment each other nicely. The Powerbooster is transparent and bright, while the Tree of Life has a nice mids boost and an overall darker tone, with more gain.

  2. Doctor Dave says:

    Bjorn – I must say that I cannot trust your opinion on anything anymore. A co-worker just walked into my office and asked which Floyd concert I was listening to! (seriously) Everything you play, and really, I cannot say this about anyone else, you cop Gilmour’s tone so well, so perfectly, and I mean all the nuance. I have all the right equipment and despite the fact that I suck to begin with, just cannot come close to the tone and mojo I’ve seen you pull out time and time again, with different pedals and guitars, even a Telecaster once I remember. That said, I think Vick makes a superior product. Have the Overdriver and think it’s circuit is really well-done, especially for the price. Just copped a Triangle of his on ebay that wasnt get much bidding. Dont really need another triangle, but maybe his, with the 3 scooped settings, will be used more than I think. He also seems to be a great guy as he emailed me very quickly and every time I emailed him.

    • Bjorn says:

      Thanks a lot for your kind words! Much appreciated :) Mike is a great guy and he makes some awesome sounding pedals :)

  3. Ratan says:

    Thanks Bjorn for nice review. Prices of ‘Fulltone OCD’ and ‘Vick Audio tree of life’ are very much close by.
    1. Which is more versatile overdrive out of two, for low volume bedroom setup?.
    2. if one has Boss BD-2, which will add more variety as overdrive?
    Regards
    Ratan

    • Bjorn says:

      You could og either way I guess. They sound very similar. The Tree of Life has a bit more gain and low end, which compliments smaller amps. The BD2 is a more transparent overdrive, so I think they cover different ground. Depends on what tones you want.

  4. Brian says:

    Sounds great, both pedal and playing.

  5. Matt says:

    Hey Bjorn, I’m looking for a versatile OD/Distortion for my board. I would like a pedal that can be used to boost my deluxe Big Muff Pi and have a good regular sounding distortion for times during church worship when a Big Muff is not the right choice. This pedal is definitely in the running. It’s other competitors are the EHX Soul Food, and the EHX OD-Glove. The Tree of Life is almost twice as much as either of these pedals and I wondered if it was twice as good. It seems so smooth and amp-like. I’ve watched your video and Shnobel’s demo of it and your video shows that it can get the Gilmourish tones I want, and Shnobel’s video showed that I can get that Lincoln Brewsterish tones for church songs. So, is it worth the extra money to get this one or go with one of the cheaper EHX pedals?

    Thanks,

    Matt

    • Bjorn says:

      Hi Matt! I definitely think the Tree of Life is a better sounding pedal than both EHX. They’re great too but the TOL has more character and that little extra. I don’t recommend using pedals with lots of gain and boosted mids with a Muff. It will sound dark and muddy. The Soul Food might work but it depends on your amp. Ideally I’d have one mids boosted OD and one that’s more stransparent for boosting. You can also use the Deluxe Muff alone.

      • Matt says:

        Thanks. That’s what I thought. Of course ideally I should have two OD’s but I have a Pedaltrain Mini and I’m going to try hard to not get anything bigger then that because I am always trying to be light. I’d hate having to carry around a huge rig no matter how cool and impressive it looks. I want a bare bones rig that can cover all the tones I need, and a good OD/booster is the next important thing on my list. Currently I have the aforementioned deluxe BMP and a TC Electronics Flashback Delay. I’m also using a Boss DS-1 to boost the BMP but as you mentioned above, it’s not good to use a pedal with a lot of gain. So the Tree of Life is a good fit because it’s a lot of pedal in a standard size spot. Also I am looking at getting the script logo MXR Phase 90 and the Mini Cry Baby Wah for the Mini. I should have all my bases and all my pedalboard real estate covered that way. Talking about the Mini Cry Baby, have you tried it at all? Can it do the “seagull” sound if you reverse the input and output jacks?

        Thanks for all the help,

        Matt

        • Bjorn says:

          In that case the Tree of Life should fit nicely on Your Board a provide some versatile tones. I don’t think you need to boost the Deluxe Muff. It’s a matter of taste but try fiddling with the mids Control and see of that gives you enough. I haven’t tried the mini Wah so I can’t tell.

  6. Nathan Vickers says:

    Is there anything that the OCD does better than this pedal, or should I look at giving mine up in favour of one of these?

    • Bjorn says:

      The OCD has a tad less low end, slightly less gain and a bit more high end sparkle. It also got the presence switch. I love both for different Applications. Which to ultimately choose depends on your amp and whether or not you need a darker or brighter pedal.

  7. Marcel Costoya says:

    Hi Bjorn,

    I have two overdrives, the EHX Soul Food, which I mainly use it as a clean boost, and the Ibanez TS808 for the heavy bluesy stuff. Although I like the TS808 a lot, I have not learned yet to apreciate the lack of lower end and gain, so i was considering buying another overdrive. First I came across with the Robert Keeley MOD for the TS808 and it seems it solves those issues of lower end and gain. Then I saw your review of the Tree Of Life and I quite like it. Since the RK MOD cost the same as the Tree Of Life, wich one would you recommend? Is it worth to mod my TS808 or getting a brand new Tree Of Life? Have you ever tried out one of those RK TS808?

    Take care,

    Marcel

    • Bjorn says:

      Hi Marcel! I’d get the Tree of Life. The 808 is great and a pedal that I often come back to but the Tree of Life is the way to go if you miss some of that low end and extra gain. It’s very versatile. You might also want to check out the Wampler PlexiDrive. It’s a tad more transparent but it has plenty of gain and low end.

  8. Brad Roller says:

    Nice sounding overdrive! Finally got my tube driver!! Sounds great! I think I’m going to try it with different tubes. Does your tube driver sound kinda harsh with EMGs? It doesn’t sound bad just a little spiky. I use a rotary cab with my regular cab and it smooths it out but without the rotary cab, kinda harsh. Is it the tube needing breaking in? Also, my shine boost came in. I’m working 7 days a week 12 hours a day so I haven’t had time To try them out together. You ever combine your TD with a phase 90? Great combination! Thanks for the review!

    • Bjorn says:

      Congrats! Mine came with a Yogo tube I think… back in 2006. It has a nice presence but I found it just a tad too bright. I’m using a JJ Electronics 12AX7, which has a slightly smoother and warmer tone. All tubes needs some breaking in so I’d wait with the tube change for a month or so. The Tube Driver is basically an amp so the louder you play the more compression is will produce. I also like to keep the volume at about 2:00 regardless of what gain setting I’m using. That will push the amp a bit harder and roll of that harshness.

  9. Anaon says:

    Hi Bjorn! Great demo! It sounds very nice! I already own a Wampler Plexi Drive and I’m wondering if they work well together? The Plexi Drive is great but the Tree Of Life seems to offer a very nice classic 70’s overdrive tone, even more than the Plexi Drive, do you agree? I’m still looking for the “perfect” vintage overdrive to be honest, I always come back to the TS9… Thanks ;)

    • Bjorn says:

      Thanks! The Plexi is based on the JTM45 so it doesn’t get more vintage than that :) The Tree of Life is closer to a TS9 I think although with a great deal more gain and low end.

  10. Alfredo Martínez says:

    Hi Mike, thank you very much for share your knowledge and musical sensitivity. Thank you also for your great work in the effort to inform the musicians who do not have the chance to try the huge number of pedals and to choose one. In this regard, I would like to ask your advice, since live in Ecuador, and as you can imagine, I have not the ability to test and choose the right pedal. I am very interested in buying an Overdrive, but which is the best choice, the BK Butler Tube Driver (4knob estandar model or Special 5th Knob Bias), Vick Audio Tree of live I do not know … I’m sure your advice would help me have clearer the right choose …. thanks

  11. Lonney says:

    Hey Bjorn, thanks for the great, convincing review. Just picked one up off of Reverb.com, used for <100 bucks. Can't wait for the pedal to arrive.

  12. Wyatt Murphy says:

    Hi Bjorn:
    Thanks for the review of the Tree of Life. I recently got one, and was wondering how you handle the high volume output? The pedal sounds fantastic with a wide range of tones, but it has a tremendous output, at least in my bedroom. I haven’t been able to just open up the volume to really explore if it keeps getting louder and louder. In your exploration of the pedal, does the output just keep getting higher and higher? I am concerned about simply overdriving everything after the ToL.
    Apart from that, it is one of the best sounding overdrives I’ve got. Thanks for your hard work for the music community.
    Cheers
    Wyatt

    • Bjorn says:

      Yes, it is loud. It’s also got a healthy amount of mid range as well, which is perceived louder than a more transparent pedal. Keep in mind that unity gain, although often referred to as noon or 12 o’clock, may differ from pedal to pedal. Don’t worry about turning the volume way down if that sounds better.

  13. Martin says:

    I just bought this pedal and I have to say I love it. I use it with my Mesa MK3 which is run clean, I have it on class A setting just about on break up and wow….it sounds so good, very loud pedal mind you but the tones are perfect for Animals, WYWH, Gilmour solo work etc. I cannot recommend Mike Vickery highly enough.Check him out, you will not regret it !

  14. Greg says:

    Hey Bjorn…love your site, really great.

    I do not have an OD pedal, but was looking at the Vick Audio Overdriver or Tree of Life based on your reviews. I play at basement levels, sometimes my wife and kids ask for bedroom levels but you gotta live a couple hours a week :). I like the idea of keeping these small guys going that seem to care as much as you about tone etc so real interested in buying a Vick vs an OCD or Ibanez Tube Screamer. I am a mix bag player and want to get a versatile OD to drive/boost my own songs and to some degree capture Gilmour, Jack White, SRV, Jimmy Page and RHCP (I noted mix bag). I would like to boost, drive, tonal OD and also compliment other pedals and equip (Carvin V3m w/ 2×12, Orange OR15 w/ Kustom 4 x12 Celestian, Deluxe Big Muff, TC Flashback, Crybaby Wah,, Tele, SG). What are the main differences between these 2 pedals & which would you recommend when considering my gear and mix bag?

    I’ve also considered the Procat Rat 2 although my tube amps already get killer gain so maybe that is for another day

    • Bjorn says:

      Hi Greg! It’s really two very different sounding pedals. The Overdriver is a vintage style transparent booster/overdrive, with very little mid range, lots of headroom and a glassy and bright gain character. Great for classic 60s and 70s rock but perhaps not the most versatile and ideal pedal when it comes to smaller amps and bedroom setups. It needs a bit of volume to sound smooth. The Tree of Life is a more modern sounding pedal, loosely based on the Dumble amps, with lots of mid range, super smooth gain and a nice amount of headroom. No doubt a more versatile pedal and it works nicely on almost any amp.

      • Greg says:

        Thanks Bjorn. Ordered the TOL, looking foward to some new tones there. Was able to dial in a great Gilmoure tone on my Deluxe Big Muff for the Time solo layered over the rhtyhm I put down on my TC Ditto. I now realize i need a Srat to do Gilmoyre justice over the long haul, so looking at the Fender Deluxe Roadhouse as it looks a good value at $699(although it is the Mex version). Downloaded your solo album and Greatest Show on Earth…Amazing jobf, gotta check you out when you come to Denver Colorado or Redrocks!

    • Greg says:

      Update: I’ve bought the TOL, love it. Great pedal couple observations. As Bjorn and Mike Vick stated, 12:00- is a great booster for amp OD or other pedals, above 12:00+ is more OCD. You can get great Gilmour in either combination, particularly with 12:00+ on it’s own with TC Flashback. Amazing gutty growl. As Bjorn noted, you don’t need to boost a Deluxe Big Muff, 12:00- on TOL only muddied the DBM tone. I was hoping for a boost on the DBM, but it does not need it. No comment from Bjorn needed here, he said it all already ( don’t know how he keeps up)…this is for the rest you Gilmour’s and your quest. I bet I will buy another Vick Pedal this year, so cool you can speak with this guy yourself, I did…and he is a rock star in the small affordable pedal world. From what I can tell Mike does this mostly bc of his love of the quest!

  15. Ben Ferwerda says:

    Hi Bjorn!

    I recently emailed Mike at Vick Audio about a custom TOL and thought I would share my experience.

    About 8 months ago I bought a TOL for my Gilmour inspired tone and it was great. Really liked how it sounded on my Fender HRD. But I kept running into a problem. The pedal has so much headroom that the level knob would have to stay between 7:30 and 8:30 ( I play mostly in the bedroom and small 120 person venues). The slightest movement from the knob would either create a huge volume boost or turn the pedal volume down altogether. This was happening when I would engage the pedal or when I would engage a pedal above it on my pedal board (most likely due to my dumb huge feet). Anyway, it was difficult to use live because of this so I eventually sold it. I went through a few overdrives after that including the TD-X which was stellar but didn’t fit with the HRD very well. I kept thinking about the great tone I was getting with the TOL, so I contacted Mike and asked him if there was a way to make the TOL’s volume knob less sensitive. His reply was swift and very helpful. He said that it would be super easy and would only cost $10 for the mod. He noted that there would be some minor loss of headroom but since the pedal is SO loud to begin with I assume it won’t be a problem.

    Anyway, sorry for the long post but I just wanted to say that Mike is a great guy and he really knows his stuff when it comes to great guitar tone! If I feel up to it I will try and make a video of the modded TOL if anyone is interested.

    Thanks Bjorn! As always your hard work is very much appreciated!

  16. Don says:

    Hi Bjorn!

    I noticed in your review of Vick’s new delay that you refer to the ToL as your “go-to overdrive over any.”

    How does the ToL stack up to some other favorites such as the Buffalo Evolution and TD-X?

    Thanks!

    • Bjorn says:

      It’s very different. The Evolution is a fairly high gain distortion and the TDX is an overdrive, quite similar to the JTM and Plexi era Marshalls, with a distinct amp-like character. The ToL is based on the Dumble amp, which again inspired a wide range of pedals, including the OCD. It has less gain and much more compression and mid range. It’s my go-to pedal because it’s so easy to record. It blends perfectly with almost any guitar and amp.

  17. Charles says:

    First off, your work is absolutely incredible. The sheer amount of detail you put in is wonderful. With that, I’m having a bit of trouble boosting my vick audio rams head’s mid range enough to get that fat tone from my twin reverb. Would this tree of life help round out my tone?

  18. Cribs says:

    Hi bjorn,
    How do you setting tree of life when you use it for a back up for the Tube Driver or. Td-x?

    • Bjorn says:

      Depends very much on your amp and pickups. I usually have mine set with the volume slightly above unity gain, tone around 10:00 and the gain somewhere around noon but again, that could sound very wrong on a different rig than mine.

      • Cribs says:

        Thanks for your reply.
        I usually turn my tree of life on when I use bugera v5 and 57/62 pickups for my bedroom setup ’cause both have a few midrange.
        Is it similar situation with you?

        • Bjorn says:

          That would make sense as mid range and compression is often compromised on lower volume and a pedal like the ToL would compensate for some of that.

  19. Serge Forest says:

    Hello Bjorn,

    This pedal Tree of Life sound really great in your demo. Which amp did you use ? I understand that this pedal should be great with a Fender amp (I got a Carr Rambler which have lot of headroom). I also have a Suhr Badger 18 (kind of British amp with power scale). It’s could sound great with this amp too ?

    • Bjorn says:

      I used the Laney Lionheart for this one. The pedals works great with any amp and it will provide a nice mids hump to Fender amps and other typically mids scooped models.

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