Guitar Gear Review: Pedal Shootout – Empress Heavy vs Bogner Uberschall

Been dying to get round to this for the past month or so, but didn’t have the chance. An acquaintance had a Bogner Uberschall pedal for sale and whilst I need another distortion pedal like I need another hole in my head, I was really intrigued to try it.

So, the Bogner arrived in good order, but work and illness prevented me from doing the head to head shootout. Since many people do not have the opportunity to direct compare these two titans, I thought you might find my conclusions interesting.

As I was waiting for the chance to do this shoot out, I watched a few videos on Youtube, and I admit I was thinking the Uberschall would not do it for me: all of the demos sound absolute pants to my ears.

Today the Moment Of Truth finally arrived. Setup: MIM ’72 reissue Tele Thinline w R Cocco strings, 1Spot power supply, Cables by Divine Noise, VOX LNT w ECC83 in power stage and bright mod and an Early 70s Hiwatt 4×12 cabinet

The first thing you should know is that these pedals are TOTALLY DIFFERENT. There was no real way to get them close in terms of overall tone, so I just tried to get them to unity gain and the same general timbre.

EMPRESS HEAVY. To me, this is the Be All-End All of high gain distortion pedals. Just tonnes of EVERYTHING, this pedal does not do organic, nor does it do responsive. It is a high gain, high sustain, distortion MONSTER. At the bottom of its gain range, it sounds like an overdrive pedal into a solid state amp … not very pretty to my ears. But from 8 o’clock on, the Heavy can do it all for metal tones. It is HIGHLY configurable with a tonne of knobs, switches, and noise gate options.

BOGNER UBERSCHALL. Based on the videos I saw, I was really expecting the Uberschall to be this OTT distortion pedal that would basically be the same as the Heavy, but harder and brighter sounding. I COULD NOT BE MORE WRONG. The Uberschall is a lovely, amplike, character driven pedal that colours your tone is wonderful ways. I am pretty convinced that the output is buffered, at least with the boost engaged, or there is an optical compression circuit in the boost. I also think that the EQ is either passive or has VERY little gain. It sounded most natural with the EQ dimed, but the natural voicing of the pedal is so mid forward, I rolled the mids back to 1 o’clock. [comparatively, I had the Heavy mids set to 500Hz and BOOSTED UP to the same point]

The Uberschall’s overall tone reminded me very much of the Shiva, a kind of Marshallesque saturation that really wants to be wound up to sound its best. And that proved to be the case: if you want to get to the high gain goods here, be prepared to go WAY beyond unity gain and have your amp COOKING before engaging. If you engage the boost, crank the volume and gain, and compensate by turning your amp down, it will sound anaemic as all get-out. HOWEVER, at this end of the range, whilst sounding different from the Heavy, to my ears, it did not sound BETTER…

So, after much back and forth’ing, it became evident to me that the Uberschall, when not pushed to its limits, is a BRILLIANT preamp/boost/character/saturation pedal. It is not only the ‘supa br00talz’ pedal the marketing hype leads you to believe. The Heavy leaves the Uber booby trapped and waxed in that department. Sorry, Bogner fan boys, simple fact.

BUT WHICH ONE IS BETTER?!?! Neither, they are both great. The Uber is more versatile overall. The Heavy has more gain, sounds better at high gain, and has more versatility within that spectrum. For saturated crunch to old Priest or Maiden, look to the Uber. For Metallica, Anthrax, Testament, any modern or death metal? Heavy would be my first port of call.

WHICH DID I PREFER? My personal favourite setting? BOTH!

On either the Heavy or Heavier side of the Heavy, with the gain cranked, I LOVED the sound of the Heavy running into the Uberschall with the Boost engaged. It transformed my tone from sounding like a SS distortion pedal into a clean valve amp to sounding like an all valve gain MONSTER.

The Uberschall’s colouration and sag combined with the Heavy’s utra-precise distortion sounds … pretty much what you would expect a $600 combination to sound like.

I am greatly looking forward to trying this combination with my boost pedals, in particular the SHO and Bogner Harlow …

Thanks to guest contributor Ben Asaro for this great review.