If you have been a guitarist that is interested in effects pedals for any time, you probably have seen a big pedal with a half man-half horse on it going for thousands of dollars. Why in the world would any guitar pedal be worth that much? Well, I’m glad you asked! Let’s talk about the legend of the Klon Centaur.
The Klon Centaur is considered the world’s first boutique overdrive pedal, created in late 1994 by Bill Finnegan. Throughout the 1980’s Bill played in various clubs and venues with his trusty Telecaster and Twin Reverb. However, he quickly discovered that when he played in smaller clubs, he couldn’t play his amp at the volume that he liked to. He began looking into pedals that could push the amp into that harmonically rich tone he liked, just at lower volume. During that time, finding out of production TS9’s were all the rage, but he quickly realized that those were not for him. He didn’t like the mid range compression that both the TS9 and TS808 had. Bill started production in 1990 and finally released the first Klon Centaur in late 1994. Throughout the 15 years of production, 8,000 Klon Centaurs were hand built on a small folding table in his apartment. The Klon Centaur was discontinued all together in 2009.
What does it do?
So let’s talk about what the pedal actually does. It is a pretty basic three-knob overdrive pedal. It has 3 controls – gain, treble, and output. The genius behind the pedal was that not only is a great overdrive, but it was also a completely transparent clean boost. In modern music, this is what tends to be seen used most. However, the original intent of the Klon was to crank the volume and get your tone of the guitar, but bigger. Bill’s intention was to make your amp soar at lower volumes, making your amp the focus, not necessarily the pedal. The Klon is also considered one of the first overdrive pedals to ever internally boost the voltage from 9v to 18v, giving the pedal much greater headroom. Bill really revolutionized the game when it comes to drive pedals, and started in motion many gear enthusiasts attempting to build their own version on the pedal.
After a growing waitlist and inflated used market pricing, Bill realized it just wasn’t sustainable and knew that he had to change the way the pedal was made. In 2004 he began to work on an updated version that was surface mounted, and easy for any manufacturer to produce, ultimately being released in 2012. The only added feature to the KTR is the ability to switch between a buffered bypass and true bypass switch. On the pedal you see one side says, “Almost always better” while the other says “almost always worse.” This indicates that the pedal is meant to be run at buffered bypass, while with the true bypass setting engaged, it has obvious tone degradation. After years of work, Bill confidently says that it sounds exactly the same as the original Klon Centaur. While it is now surface mounted, the diodes are still the same, giving that same Klon tone. In our experience, we do feel like there is a slight difference in tone, and that is most likely attributed to the fact that the PCB and diodes are now top mounted. Our favorite part about the Klon KTR is the message that Bill has on top of every pedal. “Kindly remember: the ridiculous hype that offends so many is not of my making.”
The Klon Centaur has gathered so much hype that myths and rumors have began to arise, but we are here to bust them (cue Myth Busters theme song). The first myth we hear often is that every Klon sounds different. Bill said that over the years he made no changes whatsoever to the Klon circuit, and he can assure you that every Klon is exactly the same. However, there have been multiple players and artists that state that the colors do in fact have different slightly circuits inside. The second most common myth we hear is that certain Klon clones sound the same as the Klon. Bill has been noted on multiple occasions saying it would be nearly impossible to completely recreate the sound of his pedal with a cloned circuit. Now through our extensive playing of Klon clones, we feel like some stellar companies really do a great job at replicating that sound, and some that sound spot on! We think there are many options out there to get you that Klon sound, but if you believe Bill, we guess you’ll have to fork over the dough and get an original.
Since its creation, there have been many who have created Klon clones or what we affectionately call “Klones.” Each Klone is obviously based off of the Klon, with minor improvements or additional features. While Bill has said that no Klone sounds like his, we'll let you decide if there's really a $2,000 difference. Some of the most popular Klone pedals are Matthews Effects Architect V2, Wampler Tumnus Deluxe, J Rockett Archer, and the EHX Soul Food. Plus, there are many more.
The Klon may always be one of the most iconic guitar pedals ever invented. It is played by some of the greats like John Mayer, Joe Perry, Jeff Black, Peter Frampton and more. Current prices for the original Klon Centaurs are between $1750 to $2800. While the prices may continue to climb on the used market, grab either a KTR or a Klone pedal from your favorite pedal company and see what the hype is all about. You’ll be glad you did.