All About the Klon Centaur
It seems as though “traditional” electric guitarists are always on the search for the ultimate overdriven tone (aka, “the sound in their head”). Some people find what they are looking for in a particular tube amp/guitar combo, others may dig a particular pedal for a year or two, and then – every now and then – an indisputable hero emerges.
The Klon Centaur Professional Overdrive, designed by Bill Finnegan, may be one of those indisputable heroes. Let us tell you why that might be the case.
This stompbox was created with one goal in mind, to offer a boost/overdrive pedal that delivered something different (and specifically less colored) than the Ibanez Tube Screamer, which in the late ’80s was all the rage.
With the help of MIT graduate Fred Fenning, Finnegan started working on the Klon Centaur overdrive pedal in the early ’90s. After several years of research and development, the first unit sold in 1994 for $225 – that very pedal is now owned by Mr. Josh JHS.
The “Klon Centaur Sound”
The idea behind this new circuit was to provide a hand-built, transparent and dynamically responsive overdrive that plays to the quality of your guitar and amp.
Rather than the pedal providing “the sound”, the idea was to affect the original signal with just the right shape and force to make your amp and guitar provide the main tone qualities, and take it from there with subtle controls providing extra saturation and volume, adding an extremely pleasing something to the original tone – call it the “Klon” sparkle if you wish!
This approach has become known as “transparent overdrive,” a soundbite that has become all the rage among pedal builders since the launch of the Klon.
The Klon’s Circuit
From a circuit point of view, the thing that makes the Klon different from other similar pedals is that the Gain knob is a two-way control that mixes the clean signal back in with the drive, which helps to keep some of the original dynamics and tonality intact (you can find schematics of the circuit here).
What it doesn’t do is provide a sound of its own. You can’t expect to have a poor amp tone and poor guitar and magically save the day with the Klon. That may be the reason why some folks spend their life savings on one only to feel that it is lackluster or over-hyped.
The circuit of the original device remained the same in the Gold and Silver Klon Centaur models, with minor component changes being made around 1995. And even though Finnegan in 2014 went industrial-scale with the Klon KTR, he kept building occasional units by hand until 2009, for a total of around 8,000. Finnegan stated that the hand-made original and the mass-produced KTR sound exactly the same.
How to Use the Klon
The Klon Centaur Overdrive is in most cases used as a clean boost or low gain overdrive, adding the right amount of volume and sparkle to let your guitar shine and cut through the other instruments on a solo and – if you wish – slightly overdrive your amp by feeding it with a higher volume.
This is why in most cases it’s placed just before the amp – which should be therefore set on the edge of breaking up.
Some guitarists use it to create a third amp channel: you’ve got the clean channel, the drive channel, and then the Klon channel, which is normally somewhere in between the two.
Others have it as an “always-on” pedal because they like what it does to their tone, stacking it with other gain pedals for their volume and dynamic shifts. In this case, your ears are the final judge as to where to place it in the chain.
What’s the Klon’s Hype All About?
So, what’s so special about Klon Centaur? Why is it so expensive and coveted?
Supply vs. Demand
While the fact that original Klons are rare (and even the KTR version is not exactly ubiquitous) helps in the hype department by shrinking the supply, there are obviously many, many guitarists who wholeheartedly love what the Klon does to their tone, which feeds the demand.
On top of that, the fact that the original units’ circuit boards are gooped (covered in epoxy resin to make them harder to clone) may be another reason why… it’s become the most cloned pedal in history! (File under “unintended consequences”…). A guy named Martin Chittum was able to “degoop” an original and reverse engineer it, producing this picture of the schematics.
Another mysterious thing about the Klon Centaur is that Finnegan famously stated that he used some diodes that no one else has access to, without which no Klone will sound like a real Klon. Of course, many pedal builders beg to disagree…
Klon Centaur Clones
The cloning of the Klon Centaur began in 2009, when Finnegan announced that he was going to stop making it and was working on a mass-produced version of it. The JHS Klone was probably the first replica, although the company agreed to discontinue it as soon as Finnegan’s new version hit the market, which happened in 2014 with the KTR.
As the pedal grew in popularity (and price) in the ’10s, more manufacturers started to release stompboxes either inspired by the Klon or downright intent on replicating its “magic.”
Below we hand-picked a selection of “Klones” in different formats. For a more in-depth list check out our super-thorough Best Klon Clones article.
Part for Part Hand-Built Klon Replicas
Presented as “an exact, part for part, meticulously crafted replica of the infamous “transparent” overdrive pedal,” the RYRA Klone enjoys a great reputation among “tone-thusiasts” and is hosted in a much smaller case than the original (although not quite a compact one). Manufactured by a bonafide US boutique builder, it won’t break the bank: at $190, its price point is just right – and the graphics look cool too.
High-End, Hand-Made, Custom-Built Mini-Klones
The Decibelics Golden Horse is high-end, hand-made-to-order Klon replica that is A/B tested against a real gold Centaur prior to being shipped. It features New Old Stock components and the same response values as the original. Constantly sold out, it may be found used at twice the original price.
Ceriatone Centura (built or DIY Kit)
This pedal is so hand-made that… you can build it with your own hands if you so wish! Available (after a few months of waiting) as a fully assembled unit for $250 and a kit for $215, the Centura is made with top-notch components and has a stellar reputation among tone connoisseurs, although its size, identical to the one of the original unit and therefore rather bulky, might be a drawback for some.
Quality, Mid-Priced Klon Replicas (hand-assembled)
Fairly priced at around $150, this is one of the most popular Klones out there. Designed and built in the US, the Tumnus is a faithful recreation of the original 3-knob design in miniature shape from a builder with boutique credentials and a super solid reputation for overdrives. Running solely on 9v power (the case is too small for a battery) it convincingly delivers the goodness of the famed rich, dynamic and transparent Klon tone.
J. Rockett Archer (Silver or Gold)
Designed in Nashville and assembled by a small team in a Californian facility, the Archer features Silicon diodes but replicates the sound of an original Klon very closely – it’s fair to say few would notice the difference, in particular in a band setting. The Golden version of it – according to the manufacturer – sports Germanium diodes and sounds slightly warmer.
Mass Produced Mid-Priced Klon Clones
The MXR Sugar Drive is an affordable and deceptively simple mini-klone. Just like in the original unit, the drive knob in this circuit blends the clean guitar signal with the overdriven one as you turn it up, while the circuit’s headroom is increased through what is referred to as a “Charge Pump.” A switch lets you choose between bypass or MXR’s buffered bypass.
This is one of the newest, affordable, solidly built three-knob klones from a reliable manufacturer. It keeps things simple, compact and – what’s important – delivers authentic tones, although it lacks the buffered bypass and has a slight emphasis on the lower mids.
Klon Centaur Evolutions
This expanded version of the original Tumnus (the mini-Klone we covered above) makes a good thing even better, giving the player more control, although in a non-mini (but still compact) enclosure. The tonal flexibility is greatly expanded by a three-way EQ section, and a Normal/Hot switch that allows access a higher gain version of the Klone tone. A side switch lets you engage true bypass for uncolored tonal purity.
This is a simple but very popular Klon evolution hailing from Australia, delivering the usual range of transparent tones from clean boost to crunchy overdrive. It features a toggle switch that controls the amount of headroom and character of the drive, and an extra Bass knob for added versatility. Both EQ knobs allow 15dB of boost or cut. Australian pedals rarely become popular in the USA. The fact that this has invaded that market is a testament to its quality.
This is an exact copy of the very well-regarded Pro Analog Manticore V2 (now discontinued, there’s a story about these two devices). It’s a re-engineered but authentic-sounding version of the Klon Centaur, introducing an extra gain stage at the input level and a Savage knob that fattens up your guitar signal through a unique low pass filter. This opens up the range enormously, maintaining the dynamics and articulation of the Klon but allowing for a lot more, including full-on distortion at high gain settings.
Compact, under $80, and readily available, the Electro-Harmonix Soul Food is pound-for-pound one of the most popular Centaur-style pedals. A switchable buffer/true-bypass feature solidifies it as a contender against the others. The overall sound is said to be a little thinner, but it works well stacked with other overdrives, and at that price point, nobody can expect 100% authenticity.
What’s remarkable about this $69 mini-pedal is that it has two modes, allegedly emulating, in one box, both the Gold and Silver versions of the original. And to those who object that those two versions shared the same circuit, we’ll respond: “you are right, but you still get two Klon flavors in one!” The Silver mode is described as a powered version with an extended gain range. And folks love it: it’s extremely popular on Amazon, where it gets an average of 4.6 stars (out of 5) from customer reviews.
Klon Centaur Clone Kits
Please see our separate article about the Best Klon Centaur Clone Kits.
Klon Videos Shortlist
If the pedal demos we linked to in the galleries above weren’t enough to sway you one way or another, there are a series of videos where the various Klon inspired pedals get compared directly through shootouts: we’ve embedded here some of them to better inform your choice.
Klon Centaur Vs. Tube Screamer
For those who are wondering how different the Klon sounds compared to the Ibanez Tube Screamer – the very pedal it was supposed to NOT sound like – here’s a video for you.
Want to browse through more Knlo-inspired pedals? you owe it to yourself to check out our other article featuring the most thorough list of Klon Clones!