Plumes: A Tube Screamer style transparent overdrive pedal, but much more of its own thing than just a TS808 clone.
One of the most important features of the Plumes™ Small Signal Shredder is that Jamie used it on his own pedalboard for a long time before releasing it for everyone to use. Not to say that he hasn’t done that with other EarthQuaker designs, because he most certainly has. But this is the case of a designer who wasn’t necessarily crazy about a specific circuit, created something that he enjoyed using, and brought the whole thing to another level for everyone else. The use on stage and at band practice is where one can really hear what a pedal is lacking, and which attributes rise to the top. This obsession with testing and refining a circuit into something special is what makes Plumes stand alone in a vast sea of Tube Screamer-style transparent overdrives.
The first thing you will notice about Plumes is that it is loud. Loud but not noisy. This is a very “deliberate” sounding pedal. You will hear your pickups and playing. You will get a big result without a lot of knob turning or maxing out the controls. In fact, Plumes is a Tube Screamer-style pedal with a clarity and presence that I have never really experienced before. The components in Plumes were chosen to provide reliability and a more “audio grade” experience overall. Stepping on Plumes is like taking a packing blanket off your speaker. That’s pretty much what it sounds like to me. And if you don’t like things too overdriven, you can still benefit from Plumes’ hi-fi tonality.
This is a very cost-effective and simple way to turn a lifeless budget guitar into a sparkle machine. The tone control is pretty much worth the price of admission for me. Turn it clockwise past noon to wake up a boring sounding or low-output guitar. Turn it counterclockwise to tame pickups that you may have deemed too bright in the past. Use it on your bass pedalboard for great grit, with minimal low-end loss. Having the ability to use momentary switching via Flexi-Switch® Technology comes in handy when experimenting with song parts. Plumes is a great way to own a quality piece of gear, that is hand made in the USA by people who love what they do.
Mode 1 is LED clipping, and by far the raunchiest overdrive. The gain control starts to wake up at about 1 o’clock with colder single coil pickups. Before that, it stays relatively tame. You can hear the full body that is added to your signal, even with gain in the lower settings. This is the mode you will use if you want to get great overdrive but aren’t necessarily using a high-gain amp. If you do use this mode with a high-gain amp with five or more gain stages, you can achieve an almost death metal hotness, with an added dimension and clarity. Let’s not forget the TONE control on Plumes, which never gets muddy, even all the way cut. I find this mode most useful for finely sculpting my overdrive. Don’t turn those knobs too fast kids, or you might miss a valuable setting!
Mode 2 is full open Op Amp drive a.k.a. Clean Boost mode. You can indeed use Plumes Small Signal Shredder as a transparent boost with the added benefit of a tone control that is useable throughout the entire range. Use this mode to make your less overdriven sound stand out, right up front, or to drive an additional overdrive/fuzz pedal into madness. I personally love using this mode with my high-output humbuckers, and a high-gain amp with the preamp VERY hot. I turn the gain on Plumes all the way down! The added complexity and articulation in my distortion is unbeatable. It sounds VERY aggressive and my whole set up sounds lame when I switch the pedal off. This is a trick that makes your palm muting stand out instead of turning to mush or getting trampled by the rest of the band. This mode is also great for pushing an “on the verge” not-so-perfectly clean sound into true overdrive with a tube amp, without changing the character of your tone too much.
Mode 3 is the one that basically allows you to have Plumes behave like a Tube Screamer, except for the fact that you cannot make it sound muffled. This is the mode you can jump to if you already love midrange-focused transparent overdrives. You get to hear exactly what makes your playing style unique, the voice of your pickups, amp, and speaker choice. You also get to slowly dial in the appropriate amount of distortion to mix with your clean sound. One never overpowers the other. You are mixing in overdrive with what you already have, not masking your signal with overdrive. TS808 Tube Screamer pedals are known for this trait. People have been asking how this pedal differs from Dunes or Palisades, and this is the easiest way to explain it…no setting on Dunes or Palisades can provide what Mode 3 on Plumes does.
The hidden versatility within Plumes is found by experimenting with the three modes and seeing how much you can get out of it with the LEAST gain possible. Then, adding in a bit more gain slowly to really hear what it does for your entire situation. I recommend setting your amp’s EQ flat (treble, mid, and bass controls all at noon), getting a sound you like with the pedal’s controls, and then fine tuning your amp around how Plumes sounds. After you play for a while, turn off Plumes and hear the difference. You may never turn it off again.
Uri Garcia hails from Kent Ohio, plays guitar in Apeshit Biscotti, repairs/builds amps & guitars, and is a member of The Million Mile Club. He works for EarthQuaker Devices, proudly serving our social media community.