NAMM 2020: Earthquaker Devices unleashes V2 of Sunn O))) Life Pedal

NAMM 2020: Any pedal described as having 'chasm-clearing, mountain-shearing, glacier-calving, novæ-birthing capability' pretty much gets our credit cards on the table. We were already excited about the Earthquaker and experimental metal outfit Sunn O)))'s collaborative Life Pedal in its original, highly limited guise last year, now  it's going to be even harder to resist in an improved compact second version.

It's a distortion pedal like no other. It's tones based on the sounds created by  Sunn O)))'s Stephen O'Malley and Greg Anderson for the Life Metal and Pyroclast albums.

It's again a limited run but with 2,500 units there's a much higher chance of bagging one for your 'board this time (the 2019 version sold out almost immediately on Reverb). It's also offering additional features to the original.

Expression pedal control over the octave blend is now included and there's Flexi-Switch Technology on the relay-based true bypass footswitches. Analogue octave blending is another new feature.

The Life Pedal is designed to represent the core front end chain used in the Steve Albini-recorded and mixed Life Metal sessions. They used it to drive the tubes of the band’s multiple vintage Sunn O))) Model T amplifiers.

Earthquaker Devices describe the results best… 'The results are astounding: there is breadth and luminosity of color, vast sonic cosmoses, flashes of abstract color (synthetic and objective) through resulting themes which emerged from the mastered depths of saturation and circuits between the two players and their mountains of gear.' Quite!  

At its heart, the Life Pedal is a distortion with a blendable analog octave up and a booster. The signal path is octave>distortion>boost and the octave distortion and booster can be used independently with their own respective footswitches. The Petrine Cross (left switch) is the octave distortion and the Christian Cross (right switch) is the booster). 

(Image credit: Earthquaker Devices)

An octave fuzz leads the circuit, inspired by the Shin-Ei FY2 & FY6 units that leads the circuit into a LM308 chipped and 'brutal' rodent big box distortion, recreated using high quality circuits. 

The second stage of the Life Pedal is a clean boost to overdrive the preamp tubes further and lead to feedback heaven… or hell!

The pedal includes a three-way clipping switch (op Amp, Asymmetric & Symmetric). The first position is no diodes to allow for full, grinding Op Amp assault at maximum volume. The second position utilizes the pedal's two silicon diodes and one LED in an asymmetrical clipping configuration. This delivers a 'slightly compressed and smooth crunch tone' – one this is similar in character to a valve amplifier. 

The final position is the stock double silicon diode configuration which provides the full Life Pedal experience.

The Life Pedal introduces two additional clipping options to give players flexibility depending on their rig. The first position is no diodes to allow for 'full, grinding Op Amp assault at maximum volume.' So maybe not one for the house. 

And Earthquaker has this to add about the octave and Magnitude features of the Life Pedal:

'The Octave element in of the Life Pedal is defined an all-discrete, analog full-wave rectifier circuit built around a pair of Russian Germanium diodes. Located at the input of the circuit, the Octave control slowly blends in the octave effects as you turn it clockwise. This feature can also be used via expression control allowing for wild, hands-free octave swells mid-riff. 

'Because this is an analog octave effect, it is monophonic and works best playing single notes above the twelfth fret while using the neck pickup. Playing chords with the analog octave will sound clanging and chaotic. Using the bridge pickup and playing below the twelfth fret will produce a very subtle octave effect. Going full Octave transforms Life Pedal from a simple distortion device into a swelling, raging fuzz similar to the classic Super Fuzz!

'The Magnitude section of Life Pedal is a simple all-discrete MOSFET booster designed to blast your preamp tubes and drive them wild. It is a 100% clean, no-nonsense, high impedance booster that adds very little color to your tone. It does not add distortion on its own but has plenty of output to push your amp into saturation.'

The Earthquaker Devices Life Pedal V2 is priced at $269 / £289. Visit Earthquaker Devices for more info.

Rob Laing
Guitars Editor, MusicRadar

I'm the Guitars Editor for MusicRadar, handling news, reviews, features, tuition, advice for the strings side of the site and everything in between. Before MusicRadar I worked on guitar magazines for 15 years, including Editor of Total Guitar. I've currently set aside any pipe dreams of getting anywhere with my own songs and I am enjoying playing covers in function bands.