We all want that super smooth tone, with singing sustain, that makes our guitar sound huge and impressive. Not all pedals, nor amps, can do that and it’s certainly a challenge to achieve something like that on a typical bedroom setup. The CostaLab Bad Angel promise to deliver classic amp distortion, with no compromise. Here’s my review.
My first love, when it comes to pedals, was the green Sovtek Big Muff pi. My second love, and equally long lasting, was the the Rat. I bought the “Vintage” model back in the mid 90s and it completely changed my tone and shaped the sound of early Airbag. I still use it, or similar sounding clones, just for that saturated, smooth distortion.
Fuzz and Big Muffs might be more unique in the way that they have a distinct tone and, they allow some really cool experimentation and wild sounds. Amp distortion, or distortion pedals, often leave more up to the guitarist but once you learn how to master it, you can get some extremely versatile tones that can take your tone and playing to new heights.
Italian company CostaLab has designed some of my favourite pedals, including the Chorus Lab – an excellent version of the Boss CE2. The Bad Angel is one of their newest pedals and although not perhaps the typical Gilmour pedal, I wanted to check it out, mainly because I know how versatile a Rat can be and I’m sure many of you also have one, or something similar, in your Gilmour rig.
The Bad Angel is housed in an MXR-ish box, with true bypass switching, bright leds and it runs on 9V negative tip adapter.
The pedal sports three controls: gain, tone (clockwise) and volume. A push/push knob engages a second gain stage, adding more gain, saturation and harmonics.
Strangely decorated with a 50s rockabilly theme, the Bad Angel has nothing to do with twangy tones and spring reverb. As mentioned, the idea sprung from the Rat and its amp-like distortion.
In default mode, the Bad Angel act as a low gain amp or overdrive pedal, with a sweep from fairly clean, or slightly crunchy depending on your pickups and headroom, to pretty hot, similar to the Fulltone OCD.
The Bad Angel responds extremely well to your playing and cleans up nicely when you roll back the guitar volume. Unlike the OCD and Rat, which both tend to sound a tad boxy and even lack some of the low end, the Bad Angel has more emphasis on the lower mid range, which makes it sound open but with a chunky attack (much like boosting the SPC on the EMG DG20s). The low end is nicely balanced, making the pedal an excellent and versatile overdrive unit equally capable of defined chords and fat bluesy leads.
Engaging the “saint sinner” mode, adds a second clipping stage and takes the Bad Angel into lead territory, much like boosting a cranked overdrive. Most Rat clones with a similar feature, often sound too aggressive or too muddy with more gain, but the Bad Angel manages to maintain that open and dynamic tone, even with the gain cranked beyond what’s healthy.
While some distortions often sound thinner, and even a bit harsh, the more you crank the gain, the Bad Angel behaves much like a hot tube amp. The more you increase the gain, the smoother it gets. And likewise, as you turn the tone control past noon, it get’s a nice subtle compression, which allow you to get a nice high end, without it ever sounding ice-picky.
In terms of David Gilmour’s tones, I find it capable of replicating the Tube Driver and G2 particularly well. It can also do a convincing ram’s head Muff, with the “saint-sinner” engaged and the tone up past noon for more harmonics.
Although the similarities to the Rat are obvious, it’s really not a fair comparison. The Bad Angel offer a new take on the classic distortion circuit and the wide range of tones and dynamics you get with this thing is very different from the Rat.
The Pete Cornish G2, or similar clones like the TopTone DG2 and Buffalo FX Evolution, is perhaps closer, although these have more of that Muff character.
Bedroom-wise the Bad Angel holds up very well and seem to work nicely on different sounding low wattage amps. It’s quiet and it’s not depending on high volume or boosters to sound big.
I don’t have anything major to put my finger on really. I would have preferred the “saint-sinner” as a second stomp switch so that I don’t need to bend down for switching between overdrive and distortion.
I’ve spent a few weeks with the Bad Angel and I’m truly both surprised and amazed. This is, in my very humble opinion, one of the coolest sounding distortion pedal out there. The fact that it can easily double as a warm and creamy overdrive, while still providing those super saturated and sustained lead tones, also makes it one of the most versatile. This thing goes straight to my stage board. Highly recommended!
Check out costalab.com for more details.