Guitar Gear Review: CSE Supernaut – From the Doom-drenched Reaches of Space

Let me start by admitting that I’ve spent a lot of money on dirt boxes. Like, an assload of dollars. Whether it was a boost, distortion or a fuzz pedal – I always went looking for my “tone” and always found disappointment. Many of the pedals were good, but they just failed to deliver the clarity and full-bodied sound I was chasing. Unfortunately, most of them sounded like nothing more than a generic tweak on an existing pedal and left me feeling like I dropped a ton of cash on a pretty paint job. So far, only one pedal has broken the mold: The Supernaut from Center Street Electronics.

I stumbled across the CSE site back in early December after a series of unfortunate typos while trying to google an address while driving, (don’t judge) and immediately liked what I saw: contemporary effects with a vintage vibe that are geared toward guitarists like me. Simply put, the pedal is meant for someone unafraid to show that they’re influenced by old-school heavy metal and the giant sounds that shaped the genre. The pedal that jumped out at me was The Supernaut.

Basing my judgement on their claim that it was their take on the classic high gain sound of the 60’s and 70’s, and the awesome, iconic paint job, I knew right away what the guys at CSE were going for – huge, crushing guitar tones with a low-mid emphasis that will tear down your neighbor’s walls before he can call the cops. The only issue was that it was on pre-order status, so I decided to wait and keep an eye on it. Fast forward a few months, and it still wasn’t listed for sale. I, (being nothing if not impatient), decided to email the company and inquire about when it would be available. To my surprise, I received a quick and pleasant response stating that there were a few left that were unclaimed and if I ordered one they’d send it out ASAP.

Three days later, it arrived at my door and I set out to see what it could do. Now, let’s get loud.

I plugged an old set-neck Hondo with a Super Distortion in the neck and an X2N in the bridge into the pedal and straight into the Hovercraft Dwarvenaut. I dialed in an immaculate clean tone, set all the knobs at noon except for “shape”, (a FAC-ish or “mid-sweep” knob that I left completely counter-clockwise), and I proceeded to pummel the amp with a massive and unapologetically doomy sound that could fool even a purist into thinking it was coming from a cranked Matamp and enough thunderous output to physically damage the human skeletal structure. Sleep’s “Dopesmoker” oozed from my cabinet like molasses and every nuance of my picking hand changed the character of the gain. This is an important thing to note. Most people think that the “Doom/Stoner/Sludge” sound is all about lows and enough gain to hide how sloppy-drunk you are. This is not the case. Players of these genres NEED clarity because, (as dumb as this sounds when talking about metal), their riffs have subtlety and variation that can easily be lost under the amount of gain they use. Amazingly, and almost magically, this pedal provides the clear definition that many amps (and fewer pedals) can provide.

Immediately, I knew I was in love; however, one setting does not a review make. Therefore, I set out to push the limits and see how versatile The Supernaut could be.

Lowering the gain and boosting the volume yielded a rich and nuanced overdrive that pulled me R and dropped me into a smoke filled Chicago bar, while fiddling with the shape control and gain settings covered the entire spectrum of heavy music.

To my ears, the shape control changes the emphasis from the low/low-mid frequencies to that of the high/mid-mid register. Literally any tone can be found along its six-position dial. Somewhere in the middle lies a perfectly voiced and meaty tone for Tool-esque riffing, 1 o’clock is almost perfect for Iommi style playing (think Warpigs style note separation) and the final position is straight-up, deafening death metal. The thunderous and skull crushing lows became tight and percussive and the blooming mids became focused. My stoner rock rig was now easily handling Behemoth riffs with such startling accuracy that I had to double check to make sure it was still set to “vintage” on the back panel. It was, and I couldn’t keep from smiling.

The character of the gain was versatile and responsive. Different combinations of EQ and shape settings delivered any and all sounds from back-alley blues to sharp, biting and blistering metal of the extreme variety. The tone changed, but the one constant was that it never sounded thin or harsh (even when you’d expect it to), rather – it stayed lively and pulled you into a state of perpetually exciting experimentation. Half-chords and exotic phrasings that would otherwise sound thin and unpleasant now had enough balls behind them to work and add character to your riffs. Even jazz chords sounded like a heavy metal apocalypse just begging to be put on a bootleg cassette.

All in all, I can say without a doubt that The CSE Supernaut is my favorite distortion pedal. I can’t promise that I won’t buy another dirt box, I can promise that this one will never leave my signal path. It is that good. If you’re in the market for a heavy styled distortion pedal but don’t want a gimmicky one-trick-pony tone, you owe it to yourself to try this out.

The excellent customer service I received from John via email sold me on The Supernaut. The incredible tone and build quality has made me a CSE customer for life. Check them out so I don’t keep all this happiness to myself.