No guitarist’s arsenal is complete without a good distortion pedal, and if you’re taking the time to read this review, there’s a good chance that you’re on a bit of a quest to find a sound that really fits with your playing style. Tech 21 is known for good guitar effect pedals with a ton of versatility and Tech 21’s California CS-CA distortion pedal has some eye catching looks and a good pedigree.
I recently got a chance to try the Tech 21 CS-CA, courtesy of a friend at a local guitar store. Here’s my full review of the Tech 21 CS-CA.
A Range of Options
The first thing you notice about the CS-CA (other than its retro look) is the series of knobs adorning the front of the pedal. This isn’t a DS-1 or similar barebones distortion pedal; the Tech 21 CS-CA gives you a great deal of options for shaping your tone. You’ll find knobs for Level, Character, and Drive, as well as three EQ knobs, High, Mid, and Low.
The “Level” and “Drive” knobs work in a pretty predictable way, with the “Drive” knob ratcheting up the distortion to a pretty surprisingly powerful level. Don’t get me wrong, you’re not going to dig this effect if you’re a metal guitarist, but surf rock aficionados and classic rock fans will have a good time, and some rockabilly or punk guitarists might find it to be a great alternative distortion pedal–though it won’t replace the main distortion effect in heavier guitarists’ toolkits.
The “Character” knob is probably the most fun, as it shifts the distortion’s algorithm around to let you find creamy sustain and choose how much pick noise and other critical elements you want in the mix. Combine this with the fairly versatile EQ knobs and you’ve got a powerful pedal that sounds unique, but tube-driven in complexity.
Depending on how the EQ’s set up, you’ll get wildly different tones from the pedal, but the bass isn’t lost to the distortion effect, which is more than I can say for less well-built (and less expensive) pedals. The Tech 21 CS-CA emulates older guitar cabs to a wonderful effect, and the end result is a broad tone that you’ll be happy to pump through a decent amp. I wouldn’t invest in this pedal if you’re playing through a cheap amp, as you won’t get the full benefits of its tone-shaping qualities through anything less than a nice solid state or preferably, a tube amp. Still, if you’ve got the money, it’s more than worth its $195 asking price.
It may seem like a small point, but I couldn’t get over the awful font on the front of the CS-CA effect pedal. It’s practically comic sans; c’mon, Tech 21. Hire a font guy, will you?
As with almost any other guitar effect pedal on the market, I recommend playing around with this pedal to see if its tone fits with your playing style. However, it’s a very solid if expensive pedal that’s sure to delight fans of Californian guitar distortion, and it’s not as limited in scope as that might imply. Tech 21’s made a great pedal in the CS-CA, and it looks great on any pedal board.
Do you own the CS-CA distortion pedal? Post your thoughts in the comments section below.