Guitar Overdrive Pedal Shootout : ProCo Rat 2 Review.

Part 5 of my Guitar Overdrive Pedal Shootout series. Review of the ProCo Rat 2.

Meeting a Legend.

I won’t bore you with the background to this shootout, for that please refer to the other parts in the series on this site.

I’d now been through the clone phase, and so far in my quest I’ve established my requirements….

  • Organic overdrive/distortion.
  • Transparent and flexible enough to cope with a wide range of applications, from bluesy, to almost hard-rock (no metal).
  • Enough gain for controllable harmonic feedback.
  • The ability to clean up with the guitar volume.

Before I started off down this road, I was using the ‘Squeak’ model of my Zoom G3 for dirt. which, you can guess, is based off the ProCo RAT. This sounded okay (pretty great in fact), but having it take up a whole switch on the Zoom G3 wasn’t ideal as I preferred using it’s three switches solely for effects. I hadn’t gone for the real McCoy yet as I wanted to try out out a few alternatives first..

I’d read great things in my research of the RAT 2, which as far as I could gather achieved all of the above, but was it maybe too hard-clipping and aggressive for me? Let’s find out.

First Impressions

Really not that great. The first problem was the power socket, which I needed to purchase a special adapter for. This was almost a deal-breaker immediately as I really couldn’t see any reason for the manufacturer not to sort it. I mean, this is the sort of thing players had to deal with in the 80’s, not now surely?

Problem number two was the gaping gap in the housing either side, clearing showing the innards of the pedal. Sure, the pedal is build like a tank, but what’s the point if a single drop of water could kill it in a second?

Lastly, the overall design of the pedal I felt was really old-fashioned and not ergonomic at all. The switch sits up too high and the pedal in general was too square and blocky with a fairly high centre of gravity. Not a patch on the expertly designed Joyo Crunch Distortion or Electro-Harmonix East River Drive. That Rat LED is pretty cool though isn’t it?

Sounds

Overall, while the RAT 2 didn’t have the aural, mid heavy impact of the Joyo Crunch Distortion, It certainly did clean up on the guitar volume a hell of a lot better, in a similar way to the Joyo Ultimate Drive in fact. What set it apart from the Ultimate Drive though was it’s altogether raspier, cutting tones, as opposed to the overly dark eq of the former. There’s gain to spare on this pedal, so much so that the 11’oclock setting worked best for me,  and although the square-edged tone was perhaps on the cold, sterile side, I reasoned this could work well with a cooking valve amp (in my case the Fender Blues Junior III) to warm it up and smooth out the edges.

Why did I add the ProCo RAT 2 to my pedalboard?

To see what a real ProCo RAT could do for my sound of course! Sadly the first thing that grabbed me was the excessive noise and static, particularly when going anywhere near the switch. This was no doubt down to those gaping gaps in the housing allowing all sorts of foreign bodies into the electrics. In normal running however, an A/B test with the ‘squeak’ of the Zoom G3 and the ProCo RAT 2 revealed they are VERY close indeed, with the RAT being the quieter pedal, but that’s really all there was in it. The Blues Junior did warm it up and round out the tone a little, but not by as much as I was hoping. The filter control, which gradually rolls off the highs as you turn it clockwise is billed as the ‘key to the ProCo RAT 2’s versatility’, but in practice, much like the gain control of the Joyo Ultimate Drive, it’s far too sensitive to be practical live. In a live context I found the tone to be either to dark, or with the lightest of adjustments to the filter, too fizzy.  The other problem with RAT 2 is that the mids aren’t adjustable, so if they aren’t enough for you you’ll need to boost them with your amp EQ, which isn’t ideal if you want a nicely scooped clean tone with the pedal disengaged.

Why did I take the ProCo RAT 2 from my pedalboard

In the end, the ProCo Rat 2’s filter range goes from too bassy to too scooped and fizzy. The tone is too square-wave for me, and not a patch on the classic-sounding mid-heavy grunt of the Joyo Crunch Distortion or even the lighter, natural bark of the Electro-Harmonix East River Drive. To me it’s really an ‘effect’ gain pedal as opposed to a main overdrive/distortion I can use all the time. It’s design means it just doesn’t fit on a pedal-board as well as most of the other pedals in the shootout too. Also, a small thing, but the battery cover doesn’t lie flat once you remove the feet to install it on your board, as ProCo had the bright idea of fitting an oversize hex nut to it.

Conclusion

In the ProCo RAT 2’s defence, the obviously good quality, quiet (when the static had been removed), rasping overdrive/distortion/fuzz textures just weren’t for me. Design-wise it’s outdated and frustratingly over-engineered. Most of all though, I couldn’t help thinking that the tones weren’t a million miles away from what I was getting out of my Zoom G3 anyway.

Moving on, I now know I need something with a flatter mid hump that both the Joyo Crunch Distortion and Electro-Harmonix East River Drive, but more gain than the latter. This will give me more of a ‘kick’ than the more ‘scooped’ pedals in this shootout but also allow me to boost with my Danelectro Cool Cat Transparent Overdrive V2 without the mid frequencies crapping out….

…..Oh and still be able to clean up on the guitar volume. BOSS BD-2 Blues Driver it is then?

The Competition.

  • Mooer Black Secret.
  • Zoom G3 ‘Squeak’ model.
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