Are you looking for the best Blues Breaker style overdrive pedal?
Maybe you’re looking for a pedal that offers that classic Blues Breaker tone but with more versatility. Or maybe you just don’t want to pay over $600 for an original Marshall Blues Breaker pedal.
In this post, I’ll be comparing the best Blues Breaker style pedals and clones that I have tried and tested.
Since a number of the boutique pedals are incredibly difficult to get hold of, I’ll be focusing mostly on the more readily available Blues Breaker pedals.
Ready? Let’s get started:
The best Marshall Blues Breaker style overdrive pedals – summary
1. JHS Morning Glory
The JHS Morning Glory is one of the best selling Blues Breaker pedals on the market. And for good reason – it sounds fantastic and it’s incredibly versatile.
Not only that but it solves several of the main problems with the original pedal by adding plenty more output volume and headroom.
The original pedal was also somewhat limited by the amount of gain available. That has been solved by adding a high gain mode.
Across the top, you’ll find volume, drive, a gain mode toggle switch, and a tone control. On the side of the pedal, we’ve got an external jack socket for use with a footswitch which allows you to switch between gain modes.
And there’s an external dip switch to roll off the high end, should you need it. If you’ve got a bright amp with a tele/strat, you may find this particularly useful.
Overall, this is one heck of a pedal. Great tones. The JHS is an extremely versatile pedal and it can be used as a transparent boost, should you need it.
If you’re looking for an overdrive pedal that retains clarity while adding plenty of bite, give the JHS Morning Glory a try.
2. Zvex Box of Rock
The Zvex Box of Rock is a fantastic sounding overdrive that is the epitome of a high quality ‘Marshall In a Box’ style pedal.
It’s designed to emulate a cranked Marshall JTM45 from the 60s – the same amp that the original Blues Breaker pedal is based on.
I first came across this pedal, like many others, thanks to binge watching episodes of That Pedal Show.
While it’s not quite received as much hype as some other pedals on this list, it’s totally deserving – it sounds incredible.
The Zvex Box of Rock addresses the typical issues with pedals of this type, albeit in a different way.
The Box of Rock incorporates two foot switches into a single pedal enclosure, giving you a boost channel and distortion channel. The boost provides huge headroom while the distortion provides plenty of grit and rich harmonics while retaining clarity and note definition. It’s transparent as you’d expect, and offers plenty of dynamics.
There are two different versions of this pedal. Firstly, Zvex offers a custom hand-painted version. The more affordable, is the Vexter series version with UV printed artwork. Turnaround times for the hand-painted versions are quite high so I opted for the Vexter version.
It’s also worth noting that the design on the pedal is likely not the one you’ll get. They have a number of different designs. When I ordered mine, the artwork looked quite different from the picture. Mine was more Led Zep inspired than the photo listed.
They also offer vertical and horizontal versions of the pedal.
As a final note, if you notice the drive pot is noisy, don’t worry. That’s completely normal. The pot re-biases itself as you adjust it.
3. Tone City King of Blues
The Tone City King of Blues is the best pedal if you want the most ‘bang for your buck’.
Inside this pedal, we have two classic circuits – the Klon clean boost, and the Blues Breaker. Both are fairly transparent, the Klon being slightly less transparent due to its slight mid-hump.
This gives you two unique flavours of pedal in one enclosure.
I believe the Blues Breaker circuit in this pedal is based on the Analogueman King of Tone pedal. However, I could be wrong. I’m still on the waiting list for one of those. So, I’ll have to wait another 3-4 years before I can test them side-by-side.
Anyway, back to the King of Blues. When I first purchased this pedal, I wasn’t expecting much. I made a passing judgement based on the price tag but I was pleasantly surprised. It offers a lot of excellent tones for the money. And the build quality is far better than I expected.
This is a particularly nice option if you use a clean pedal-platform style amp, as it’ll give you an extra couple of channels, with plenty of tonal options.
4. J.Rockett Blue Note Pro Series
The J.Rockett Blue Note blew me away when I first heard it. And it does every time I get it on my board.
It isn’t quite as versatile as the Box of Rock or King of Blues, but the tone? It’s exceptional. So much note clarity and note definition. It gets real close to those vintage Eric Clapton tones.
The Tour Series version that I have is a bit lacking in the gain and level department.
However, the newer Pro Series solves that problem with the addition of a ‘Hot’ switch that gives you more level, gain, and mids.
Both appear to still be in production but they’re around the same price. I haven’t had the opportunity to test the two side-by-side. But if I didn’t already have the Tour Series version, I’d likely go for the Pro Series to get that Hot switch.
5. Wampler Pantheon
In terms of guitar tone, the Wampler Pantheon is quite possibly the furthest you can get from an original Marshall Blues Breaker on this list. That’s partly due to its powerful EQ controls, gain modes and clipping modes.
It’s not a pedal for purists or those who want to dial in their tone quickly. This pedal is for the tone chasers and tweakers.
Where most pedals on this list offer a single tone control, the Pantheon offers bass, treble, and presence controls. What makes the EQ section in this pedal unique is that they are active controls!
The versatility doesn’t end there, you get 3 different gain voicings so you can alter the clipping, and you can choose between 3 different gain levels.
The Pantheon has more high end and presence than other amps so this would lend itself best to gainier amps. Whereas other bb style pedals tend to sound better with clean amps.
That said, you have enough tonal flexibility to dial in a great tone on any rig.
This is what I love most about the Pantheon – whatever your rig – you have the tone shaping options to get the sound you want.
Clearly, Brian Wampler knows what he’s doing. Afterall, he did write the book on modding and building pedals.
As you can see, the Wampler Pantheon is not just another Blues Breaker clone.
6. JHS Double Barrel
The JHS Morning Glory is already a very versatile pedal but the Double Barrel takes that tonal flexibility to new heights. It’s one of the more popular dual drive pedals on the market.
You get a Morning Glory and a Moonshine in one enclosure. If you haven’t heard of the JHS Moonshine, here’s what you need to know:
The JHS Moonshine is based on a tubescreamer but with some important tweaks.
The original tubescreamer is known for sucking out some of the low-end. The Moonshine solves this by using a charge pump to take the internal 9v up to 18v (you still power it with a 9v power supply!).
This gives you more low-end and huge headroom.
There’s also a toggle switch that takes you from low volume and saturated to high headroom and crunchy.
In addition, there’s a clean blend control. With the original tubescreamer (or most of the clones), the clean blend is set internally. But with the Moonshine, you have an external control that you can dial in for yourself.
Combining these two pedals into one offers the additional benefit of the ‘order toggle switch’ – this means you can stack both pedals and flip the order around. You get to choose which circuit comes first in the chain without the need of rewiring your pedal board.
7. Vick Audio Mount Pleasant
The Mount Pleasant is a pedal that almost passed me by entirely but I’m so glad it didn’t. In terms of tone, the Mount Pleasant is right up there with the Box of Rock and Blue Note – it sounds fantastic.
Vick Audio’s pedals are individually hand-wired by Mike Vickery in his Gilbert Arizona store. As such, these pedals aren’t as widely available as others on this list.
For a hand-wired pedal, Vick Audio pedals are extremely competitively priced. And the quality is next level. This is my first and only Vick Audio pedal but hopefully it won’t be my last.
The Mount Pleasant is Mick’s solution to all of the foibles within the original BB pedal. That translates to more gain, more headroom, and less brightness.
If you run a particularly bright rig, you’ll love the high-cut switch. You can set it to no cut (of course), or you can select one of two different levels of high-cut. Allowing you to tweak your tone to better fit with your rig.
Overall, it’s a fantastic pedal. Just the right amount of dynamics, plenty of clarity, excellent note definition.
8. Mooer Blues Crab
The Mooer Blues Crab is a solid option for those who don’t want to break the bank or take up too much space on their board.
Thanks to its small enclosure, this pedal won’t take up much room on your board.
As such, you don’t get much in the way of extra features like you get with the Box of Rock or the Mount Pleasant.
And it is lacking the headroom of those pedals as well. That may not be an issue for you if you’re using a separate boost pedal, but it’s worth mentioning.
The quality also isn’t to the same standards as other pedals on this list. But that’s to be expected – the Mooer Blues Crab is made to a budget.
For the money though? It sounds very good.
What is a Blues Breaker pedal?
The Blues Breaker is a light-medium gain overdrive pedal with an amp-like circuit that uses soft clipping. It’s a fairly transparent overdrive pedal but with more low-end than a tubescreamer and less mids than a klon.
Generally, this isn’t the pedal that’s going to push your amp much. The idea is to recreate amp breakup using a pedal through a clean amp.
That said, there are some Blues Breaker style pedals that do have more gain. The JHS Morning Glory is a good example because it has a high gain mode.
So, that’s the Blues Breaker sound, but for those of you who are interested in the history, here’s some background on this mythical pedal:
The original pedal, the Marshall Blues Breaker, was originally released in 1991 with the aim of recreating the sound of a 2×12” JTM combo (more on this amp in a moment – it’s a significant part of the story). This pedal became known as the “black box” version.
It’s known for being pretty quiet as far as most pedals go. This is something that some of the pedal manufacturers featured in this list have addressed in various ways via tweaking the circuit, adding a boost, or adding a high gain mode. J.Rockett’s Blue Note, like the original pedal, is on the quiet side, for example. But the tone is incredible. Or at least, it is to me.
The “black box” version of the pedal was discontinued shortly after due to poor sales. A version 2 model was later released along with a new range of pedals, but that entire range was eventually discontinued as well.
It wasn’t until people started seeing the pedal on John Mayer’s pedalboard in 2006 that the bb style pedal became popular. Pedal builders started to pay more attention to this circuit as well. Within a short amount of time, the Blues Breaker became one of the most ‘fabled’ types of overdrive pedals in the guitar market.
But to find the origin of the Blues Breaker sound, we have to go back even further.
In the early 1960s, Jim Marshall started building the 1962 JTM amps based on the Fender Bassman but with different components. A few years later, Eric Clapton buys a JTM combo and joins John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. Clapton then used that amp to record the ‘Bluesbreakers’ album. Otherwise known as the Beano album.
An album that is widely considered to be what ignited the British blues rock scene in the 1960s. And it inspired a new generation of guitarists to pick up Les Pauls.
Later on, the name of the combo amp was changed to incorporate the ‘Bluesbreaker’ name. This is why if you’re searching for a bluesbreaker, you’ll find both amps and pedals.
If you’d like to learn more about the history of this amazing pedal, I’d highly recommend checking out this article by JHS.
Alternatively, check out this episode of That Pedal Show:
As a side note, you may have noticed I’m using two different spellings – ‘Bluesbreaker’ and ‘Blues Breaker’. The former is used on the Bluesbreaker album, and was incorporated into the 1962 JTM amp while the latter was used on the original Marshall ‘black box’ Blues Breaker pedal from 1991.
Choosing the best Blues Breaker pedal for you
Now the question remains – which Marshall Blues Breaker inspired pedal should you choose?
That depends on your needs – you can’t go wrong with any pedal on this list. Each one of them will get you pretty close to that classic bluesbreaker sound.
Purely from a tonal perspective, the Box of Rock, Blue Note, and Mount Pleasant are exceptional. The Morning Glory is right up there too but I love the additional versatility that the JHS Double Barrel offers.
Then there’s the other consideration – cost. The Mount Pleasant is extremely well priced given that its hand-wired. The Mooer Blues Crab is the most affordable overall. But for not much extra, you could get a Tone City King of Blues which offers far more tonal flexibility.
Or do you want the most tonal flexibility of any pedal on this list? That’ll be the Wampler Pantheon.
Featured Image credit: Adam Connell // Tone Island.