The Toy Box: Caroline Guitar Company’s Olympia fuzz pedal
(Caroline Guitar Company; Columbia, S.C.)
Given its place among the boutique fuzz market — alongside mega-modded Muffs, tricked-out Tonebenders, and wild and crazy fuzzes that spit, gurgle, crackle, oscillate and vomit — the Carolina Guitar Company Olympia fuzz ($145) seems rather conservative. It’s a simple, two-knob fuzz pedal with a circuit that splits the difference between classic transistor Tonebender- and Big Muff-based fuzzes. It’s also a conservative offering considering Caroline’s flagship pedal, the Wave Cannon distortion, boasts a switchable feedback generator: the Havoc mode.
But conservative doesn’t mean boring, and the versatile Olympia boasts a wide palette of sonic colors that’s sure to please even the finickiest fuzz freaks.
From a sonic standpoint, the Olympia is as stout as the mythological mountain from which it derives its name: It splits the difference between Big Muff wooliness and Fuzz Face rasp. A true tone-shaping tool, the Olympia paired well with everything I threw at it, no matter where it was placed in the effects chain. With a Jazzmaster running in front of it and a vintage Marshall JMP half-stack behind it, the Olympia nailed J Mascis’ signature Dinosaur Jr wail circa “Start Choppin’,” pairing with the slightly dirty Marshall to yield a bright and brassy fuzz tone with plenty of low-end woof and high-end sizzle. “Start Choppin’” also seared and soared with a Fender Telecaster and reissue Fender Twin; with the reverb knob cranked (plus a little added ambience from a Boss RV-3 reverb pedal and Line 6 delay unit), it reached shoegazer heaven.
Even with higher output humbuckers from a chambered, double-cut Gibson Les Paul, the Olympia sang: On lower gain levels with the Twin, it copped a Queens of the Stone Age grunt; with the gain maxed and running through a Fender Bassman combo, it dripped with thick, Sabbath-y fuzz tones.
It even sounded huge with a Morgan AC20, an amp derived from the classic Vox AC30, which is notorious for being picky with pedals.
And with a drop-tuned vintage Ibanez ST50, equipped with high output Seymour Duncan humbuckers, the Olympia turns a Mesa Tremoverb into a doom machine, producing a thick tone that still retains remarkable note clarity and separation.
Best yet, maxing the gain doesn’t sacrifice any response to picking dynamics, and even complex jazz chords bloom with rich detail, each note ringing bright and clear.
If there’s one drawback to the Olympia’s elegant simplicity, it’s that the lack of a tone control knob affects the pedal’s versatility: the first half of the gain sweep seems to roll off some treble, resulting in a dark, muffled tone that dulls its bark; at extreme gain levels with bright pickups, the amount of treble added can be shrill and piercing. It’s a minor problem that can be tamed with a complementary stompbox like a booster or equalizer, and the Olympia, unlike some fuzzes, plays well with other pedals; [it got along with the Caroline Guitar Company Icarus boost, the Paul Cochrane Timmy overdrive. and the Fulltone Full-Drive 2 we paired it with. Even without the aid of a separate overdrive, the Olympia cuts through in a mix, seething and squealing with rich harmonic overtones.]
Caroline’s Wave Cannon was a hit upon its release in 2010, racking up numerous awards and rave reviews from gear magazines. The Olympia, released late last year, has flown largely under the radar. But given its classic design, broad harmonic response and reasonable price point, it likely won’t go unnoticed for long. —Patrick Wall