You Dirty Rat: Product Reviews

September 2, 2004
Written by Daniel Halberg

I have to tell all of you a true story. Gary let me know a week in advance that he was sending me a distortion pedal from ProCo Sound to review called “You Dirty Rat”. Before I got “the Rat” it all I could think about was the song “Round and Round” by the band Ratt….oh and James Cagney. To be honest, I really didn’t know what to expect from this pedal. When it finally arrived on my desk, I opened a white carton to reveal an ominous looking black case with three dials and a shiny silver stomp button. Curiosity immediately took hold of me and I decided to plug this bad boy into my rig. So that I could hear the “true sound” I cabled it straight through, guitar to pedal to amp. As usual, I set my settings to flat “5”‘s so that I could get a reference sound for the effect. As I banged out a standard power chord progression that I use to test gear like this – a giant grin rolled across my face. I must have played with all the settings on this pedal for at least an hour – twisting all the dials on both the pedal and the amp. After this gear fest with the ProCo “Dirty Rat”, I immediately called Gary and said “Holy Distortion Batman! This pedal ROCKS!” logo

Approved Gearhead 2004 logo

Those of you who know me probably also know that I own a bunch of distortion pedals and effects units. Some are single pedals and some are combined in with multi-effects units. Some of these pedals even claim to make you sound just like Stevie Ray Vaughn or Nirvana! I say that “tongue-in-cheek”; however, most of the pedals I own have great qualities. I bought them for a reason and I especially enjoy using them to play certain cover songs. However, what I don’t like about them is that, for me, they can be a little boring and maybe a little bit contrived – like what you are hearing is just a shadow of the sound you are really after. The sound isn’t really yours and it isn’t really theirs. So, when I’m just sort of free-form jamming, what I typically do is run my guitar clean into the amp, turn everything to “11”. That was until I received the Dirty Rat.

I’m a realist. I understand that relative to your own tastes, you may prefer different effects options and sounds than I do – people are all built differently. I must confess, this pedal truly brought out MY sound – the one where you go – “Wow, that’s me!” I didn’t sound like any other band or player – it was me playing in my own zone. Finally, I played a pedal that enhanced my own emotions without filtering or muffling the sound of the guitar. I know it sounds as though I’ve gone way off of the “professional and unbiased” review train at this point – so let me be quick and just spell it out for you….this pedal isn’t just being tested, it kicked the crap out of my other gear and is setting up shop in my rig permanently!

Ok back to our regularly scheduled review. When I did some research on ProCo and the history of the Rat series pedals, I uncovered a couple of cool facts. First, ProCo has an outstanding reputation for building reliable gear. Second, their pedals hold their value on Ebay. I found old used original “Rat” pedals selling for almost as much as the new ones.

When I took the pedal out of the box I immediately felt that this pedal was solidly built with quality materials and components. This bugger is heavy and is built like a tank. Looking at the pedal you’ll notice three knobs. These knobs are pictured below. The knobs allow you various shaping options for the pedal including gain, filter, and volume. To test this pedal initially, I put all the knobs on a flat setting and plugged everything up. When my amp warmed up, I stomped on the silver on/off switch and bashed on my first chord. Let me tell you that my amp simply screamed. I know you see this in a lot of guitar magazine reviews, but this pedal is really mean and really angry. It will immediately remind you of that cousin you have in your family that spits, cusses, and will fight anyone at the drop of a hat, but everyone wants to be him because he’s so dangerously cool.

However, this pedal is not for everyone. If you turn the gain up and the filter essentially off – the tone is simply searing, albeit noisy – and it’s meant to be that way. If you are looking for clean distortion – this pedal isn’t it. If you are looking for a pedal that gives you gain riding on the edge of going out of control – that you have to actually outplay before it outplays you – this is the pedal you’ve been waiting for since you picked up your first guitar.

Have you ever banged on a full G chord with high gain? Most of the time that chord will sound like a complete almost unintelligible mess. What I especially like about the sound of the Dirty Rat is that, unlike other distortion options I’ve tried, notes are not lost. When I did this with the Dirty Rat you can actually hear each note of the G chord ring out. I was immediately thinking about the possibilities of getting huge guitar sounds out of this little monster both live and in a recording session. If you turn the filter up – essentially compressing the sound – you can produce distortion on the other end of the spectrum – thick and beefy guitar tones with plenty of weight and tension.

After I played with the Dirty Rat for a few days, I called Brian Evans at ProCo to ask him why the notes are so clear even with high gain and overpowering distortion. Brian told me that this is what the “Dirty Rat” had been engineered to do—and, if fact, this effect will be even more prominent in tube amps over solid-state amps.

Obviously impressed with the tone generated from this “Rat”—I opened up the battery compartment using a convenient thumb screw to take a peek inside. To my immediate eye, the electronics were clean and everything was well wired. On the battery door there is a 9v battery holder, which is a nice touch considering that in most pedals you have to just stuff the battery in the hole.

This leads to my only minor criticism about the unit. If you look at the 9v battery holder, it is attached to the door by white double-stick tape. Given the quality construction of the unit – I think the pedal will long outlast the tape. Ummm….I would comment on this a bit more, but the “Rat” is glaring at me right now and I think it’s giving me the finger.

In conclusion, I was thrilled with the “You Dirty Rat” distortion pedal. The quality of construction is impeccable and the company’s reputation is outstanding. For those looking for an original sound that is untamed and a little raunchy this is your pedal. Not only does this distortion pedal get a GearHead Approved award, but this is one effect that is staying in my own personal line up.

Written by Daniel Halberg

Copyright © 2005 Allen & Halberg Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved Guitar Gear Heads™ is a Trademark of Allen & Halberg Publishing, Inc.