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Monday, March 14, 2016

Guitar Pedal Review!
Gizmo Audio Sawmill Plus,
RIPSAW Distortion Pedals

Everything Guitar Network

Price: $180 each
Likes: deeper OD and distortion tones
Dislikes: no internal battery connection
Wow Factor! USA-made pedals nail the OD
More info: GizmoAudio

by Matt Rubenstein
  These made in USA guitar pedals that were sent to me for review - the Sawmill Jr. medium/light overdrive”, and the “RIPSAW” high-gain distortion, are both the brainchildren of Charles Luke, president/designer of Georgia-based GizmoAudio.
  A wise man once said that “necessity is the mother of invention.” And these pedals are, literally, inventions – as the Sawmill Jr. is a patented design. And, because Mr. Luke, an engineering graduate of Georgia Institute of Technology, could not find the sound from the current crop of OD’s that he was hearing in his head, his invention was also a “necessity.” And considering that there are hundreds of different overdrives available on the market today, being awarded a patent on an overdrive design is, by itself, an impressive feat.

  Both the Ripsaw and Sawmill Jr. are priced at $180 (direct order from the GizmoAudio web site.) , and are similar looking, high-end pedals. The key to the Sawmill Jr.’s signature OD sound is its MOSFET design, containing both internal bias for the locating the MOSFET’s “Sweet Spot” and circuitry for canceling non-musical intermod that allows for breakup that does retains the the guitar tone’s upper-end harmonics without the excessive “smear” that most pedals exhibit. The medium range OD features a 15V internal power supply for high-headroom. The controls include Drive, Tone, Bass Cut, and Volume.
 The RIPSAW is similar in its design and control layout, but it dishes out much higher amounts of drive for full-on distortion. Both pedals need external (power from a pedalboard or standalone wall wart DC power supply).

The audition
  For this review I used a Carvin Bolt hardtail “Strat” loaded with Lollar Tweed low output single coil pickups. I ran it into a Rivera Pubster 25, 25 watt 1 x 10 combo. I would consider the amp a Fender Princeton/Deluxe Reverb hybrid spin based on the power section of 2 6v6 power tubes. I ran the amp clean. This clean, fundamental set-up provides an easier way to isolate and identify the sound, and gain, coming from the actual pedals - as there is only negligible gain coming from the guitar and amp. I also kept the tone controls on the amp at Noon across the board - again, in an attempt to isolate the actual sound of the pedals. 
  Initially, there were a few design elements of these pedals that I felt were a little idiosyncratic, and created a slight “learning curve” in placing them on my board, and dialing them in. First off, the Input and output jacks are reversed from the typical location on pedals with top jacks. I was still able to wire them up side by side with 8” patch cables – which would be the most demanding scenario for patch cable length.  But the pedals were a little tight next to each other. But this could be easily remedied by running slightly longer patch cables (basically anything 9”or longer would be perfect), or by running either one of them between conventionally wired pedals.

  The Sawmill Jr. overdrive is a very versatile pedal that can, on a busy pedal-board, serve as both an “end of the chain” clean boost/tone sweetener/light overdrive, as well as a post dirt “refinery.”

  The other idiosyncrasy I discovered was the way that the volume control was tapered on the Sawmill Jr. With the gain dimed on the Sawmill, the tone at Noon, and the volume on “0”, the pedal was still mildly boosting the signal. This ultimately did not matter at all to me as even at this setting, the pedal was still giving me just the right, subtle volume boost I wanted. And I found the most useful drive settings to be between 12:00 and 3:00 anyhow, and at those drive settings, unity gain is easily achievable, if it is even desired.
  And finally, neither one of these pedals take batteries. But let’s face it, unless you are powering a Germanium Fuzz-Face with a carbon battery to get that extra 5 to 10% out of it, there simply is no need, or want for that matter, to use batteries to power pedals anymore. And these pedals also have unusually high power requirements for analog drive pedals, so a battery is really a non-option here anyhow. But, above said, the sonic attributes that both these pedals bring to the table far outweigh these slight, and very easy to deal with; just niggles.

Cutting with the Sawmill Jr.
  “Touch sensitivity” is undoubtedly a term thrown around in many pedal companies’ marketing jargon, and also a term that gets endless play and discourse on guitar gear forums. But, that said, The Sawmill Jr. Medium/Light Overdrive is certainly touch sensitive. With the gain at 3:00, the tone at Noon, the volume set to unity gain, and the bass cut toggle “off”, a gentle pluck of the guitar string yields absolutely no noticeable distortion. And as you start to dig in more, you notice various shades of mild “grit” that stay quite true to your fundamental tone – along with a slight thickening, as well as a touch more sustain. I found the subtle thickening ideal for my single coil equipped guitar. But if this particular effect is not desired, or if you use humbuckers, the “bass cut” toggle switch will afford you a different voicing. 
  While obviously not the same, the Sawmill Jr. can have a similar effect on your sound as a high quality, subtle, transparent compressor.  You hear more “information” coming off your fingers and your pick, and you get a bit more sustain - just like a compressor.  In fact, I would say that the Sawmill Jr. would be a good choice for guitarists who have been through several compressors before finally coming to the conclusion that sometimes, you just don’t want your pick attack “limited”, at all, by a compressor - like yours truly. 

Inside the Gizmos

  As far as overall gain range is concerned, I would place the Sawmill Jr. between a clean boost and a light overdrive. For example, it has less gain/saturation range than a stock Tube Screamer. And while the Tube Screamer, with its midrange emphasis, excels at “pushing” other pedals and amps - the “mid-flat” Sawmill Jr., really shines when being “pushed”.  The Sawmill Jr. made any dirt box I ran into it sound either equally as good but just different, or just flat out better. When running an original whiteface Pro co Rat into the Sawmill Jr., the iconic grit of the Rat smoothed out, the touch responsiveness improved, there was more sustain, more focus, and there was more body. It also had a very similar effect being pushed by a Keeley Modded Boss DS-1 
  One of the many guitar sounds this reviewer has chased over the years is Sir David Gilmour’s soaring Big Muff fueled lead guitar sound. And part of Gilmour’s “secret tone sauce”, in addition to having Pete Cornish on retainer, is that he ran his Big Muff into an overdrive/boost pedal - most notably the B.K. Butler Tube driver, or the Colorsound Overdriver.  But the “wrong” overdrive after a Big Muff, regardless of how you dial it in, can make the Big Muff sound “choked”, unfocused, and messy.  But this was certainly not the case with the Sawmill Jr. It really shines in this application. Placed after the Big Muff, the Sawmill Jr. smoothed out the grit without choking the sound, increased its focus, thickened it and made it sound even huger, and increased the touch sensitivity. 

RIPSAW tears it open
  The RIPSAW distortion pedal has a similar tonality to the Sawmill Jr. overdrive. But they don’t sound the same. I heard a slight midrange emphasis on the RIPSAW that I didn’t hear from the Sawmill Jr. Not anywhere near the pronounced iconic “mid-bump” of a Tube Screamer, but more of a subtle “seasoning”.  And this reviewer found that subtle mid-bump to be just what the doctor ordered when pushing the Sawmill Jr. The RIPSAW also happens to have the same exceptional “touch sensitivity” as the Sawmill Jr. And in regards to gain range, the RIPSAW is capable of considerably more gain than the Sawmill Jr. But I would still not classify the RIPSAW as a “high gain” distortion.   I would consider my Big Muff, my Rat, and my modded DS-1, high gain distortions. And all of these pedals are capable of considerably more gain/saturation than the Ripsaw. But if you want sublime, singing, mid-gain distortion – look no further than the RIPSAW.  
  I would consider my Big Muff, my Rat, and my modded DS-1, high gain distortions. And all of these pedals are capable of considerably more gain/saturation than the Ripsaw. But if you want sublime, singing, mid-gain distortion – look no further than the RIPSAW. 
  One of the most desirable guitar sounds this particular reviewer has ever heard, is the sound Larry Carlton achieved on his seminal “Larry Carlton – Last Night” live album. During that phase of his career, Mr. Carlton was not using his trademark Gibson ES-335. He was using a single coil EMG loaded Valley Arts hardtail “Strat”, into his Dumble amplifier. And just as the creator of the RIPSAW refers to the sound of his pedals as “clean distortion”, that is precisely how I would describe Larry Carlton’s sound on this album. And while myself, being a mere mortal, will never be able to play like Larry Carlton, I was able to enter his amazing “sonic arena” with the RIPSAW in my set-up. And then get even “closer to the stage” running the RIPSAW into the Sawmill Jr.

The verdict
  In summation, these GizmoAudio OD's are two unique, and great sounding drive pedals. The Sawmill Jr. overdrive is a very versatile pedal that can, on a busy pedal-board, serve as both an “end of the chain” clean boost/tone sweetener/light overdrive, as well as a post dirt “refinery.” Throughout my own, personal pedal odyssey, these are two tricks that very few ponies can pull off at the same time. And the Sawmill Jr. overdrive can pull off both these tricks with aplomb. And the RIPSAW distortion truly provides what its creator claims as “clean distortion.” By itself, it occupies a very musical, and hard to find, place in the “distortion spectrum.”  And when “pushing” the Sawmill Jr., just like everything else, the RIPSAW sounds even better. Overall, both pedals get our Everything Audio Network Grade A Award.

  Matt Rubenstein is a guitar player, and resident pedal reviewer at the Everything Guitar Network. He also spent 20 years in the pro audio industry.


  1. Great things you’ve always shared with us. Just keep writing this kind of posts.The time which was wasted in traveling for tuition now it can be used for studies.Thanks best distortion pedal

  2. This unit is quite attractive with its red and blue exterior. However, it is the inside that makes it stand out. There are our knobs for Dry, Upper octave control and Sub octave controls. Kelvin