The Banzai Fireball 2
For those of us who are into overdrive sound, finding the ultimate overdrive is like searching for the Holy Grail. There are hundreds of overdrive effects around in the market. Every single manufacture praised the virtues of their products, extols their superiority over competitive products. Their price range from US$100 to US$500. Which one to go for is often mind-boggling, at least to me anyway. Many say the best overdrive sound is from the amp itself, assuming you are using a tube amp. But then and again I have tried overdrive straight from the amp and often I don't get a very good sound. I suppose very much depends on what amp you are using. With a tube Marshall, the overdriven sound is muddy, lacks bottom and fuzzy. With a Boogie, you can get a really good sound, but we are talking about serious money. And serious money I mean. But even with the Boogie, the sound differs night to night. You thought you had a really good sound one night. Two or three days later you play through the same settings and it sounded all different. Unstable, this is the word.
When I had my blues club 48th Street Chicago Blues, I used a Mesa Boogi8e Formula Pro preamp, a Mesa Boogie 50/50 power amp with a stereo out put; one channel was routed to a 2 by 10 Boogie cabinet and the other channel went straight to the speaker of my Boogie Mark 1. The sound was incredible. We are not talking about how loud the thing is, it is the quality of the sound, the punch and texture. Even with this set up, I did not use the overdrive of the preamp. It was difficult to get the sound I wanted, and the thing was unstable, the sound seemed to differ every night. I rely on pedals. For many years my overdrive padel was an Ibanez TS-9. When I wanted to be crunchy, I dialed the volume of my guitar to 7 or 8 and when I take a solo I turn it full up. When turned full up, the Boogie kicks in, gave me the punch and edge I needed. I was pretty happy with what the TS-9 at the time. Then the bottom fell out, my Blues club closed down. Unfortunately, life still has to go on.
It is not often viable to carry your full gear when you play a show. Ideally, I want my Mesa Boogie preamp, my Mesa Boogie 50/50 power amp, two speaker cabinets. I don't even drive. Now I have problems walking a straight line after a few drinks. In shows, you often end up using the amp the venue has for you. Never once in my life whether playing in Japan or Hong Kong or China did I see a Mesa Boogie on stage. The only place that has a Mesa Boogie amp on stage was my Blues club and it is closed. The problem I find is that whilst the TS-9 works great with a Mesa Boogie set up, it is lacking when you patch it through, say, a Fender Twin or a Marshall JCM-900 or a Roland Jazz Chorus. It just lack the punch and the edge. Instead of a razor sharp tone filled on punch, the TS-9 sounds insipid. If you turn up the drive on the TS-9, you lose all your transparency. The sound of a TS-9 through these amps smothers, but never seems to catch fire; it simmers but never seem to reach a boiling point. I recently found that the solution to this problem can be found in the new generation of effects.
The new generation of overdrive effects are not cheap. We are talking about in the region of US$200 (HK$1,600) or more. They are very expensive, certainly for someone like me who is used using an Ibanez TS-9. For an overdrive unit costing some US$200, you can say it is outrageous. But then and again, no money no honey. In this day and age where everything is so competitive, you will find you get your money's worth. Unlike in the old days, you cannot market an over-priced product or sell any bogus gear. These days, you really get your money's worth, it is just a question of whether it suits your need. But you have to get the money first.
When I was in Beijing for the Nine Gates Festival, my friend Percy Laws, architect and guitarist and guru of overdrive sound, introduced me to whole range of overdrive effects. The first day I met him and told him that I did not get the sound I like from my TS-9, the next day the turned up at the studio with 8 or 9 overdrive effects for me to try out. He then took me round to music shops and Beijing and I tried out the Fireball 2. The thing is expensive, even after discount it carries a price tag of HK$1,400. I ended up buying one. I had no choice. It simply is the best overdrive I even laid my hands on.
The Fire Ball 2 has two channels. One is the Overdrive channel and the other is the Boost channel. Each channel has a separate gain button. So you can set a different amount of overdrive on each channel. The whole idea is you use the Overdrive channel to get a crunch sound and when you need the extra punch doing a solo you hit the Boost button. The machine has a built-in compressor. I really hated compressors. it stifled the life of the notes you play and renders your sterile. But the compressor on this thing is something else. You can choose between medium and high compression or no compression at all. When you set the thing to medium compression, the sound is creamy and fluid. You would never have noticed a compressor is at work unless I tell you. You are going to ask what the hell is the point since I don't even know it is at work. Well, the answer is this, you turn off the compressor and you will hear the difference. The compressor at medium level smoothes out the notes whilst retaining the dynamics of the notes you play. What is get in the end is the sort of sound you get from a really good preamp overdriven and played through a whole stack of effects. The sound is incredible. Now whatever amp I use now, I can set it on fire. When I need the extra bit of sustain, that extra bit of drive, I just hit the Boost button and there it goes.
It is worth all the money? Yes, yes and yes. It is so sad in this world, no money no honey. It is a lot of money for an overdrive effect. But it delivers, it sounds great. You cannot compare a TS-9 or a Boss overdrive with the Fireball 2. The Fireball 2 belongs to a different generation. If you are serious about your music, make sure you try it out. They do another killer effect called "Cold Fusion". Phew. Check it out.
For the Banazi website, click here.
No sooner had I acquired The Fireball 2 than they released a new version The Fireball 3. It always happnes to me, I really don't know why. The Fireball 3 has a extra control button for mid boost. Check it out here.
PS. In October 2006, I played a show with a really crappy Fender transistor amp. I had no choice in the mater at all; it was a professinal gig where the venue provided all the equipment. I sometimes wonder what is the point of churning out these shoddy amps. Who would want to buy them? But some people do buy them amazingly. The amp was not working properly, sounds came in and out intermittently. But when the damn thing stablized, I got a really good sound out of the Fireball 2. I could almost swear I was using my Mesa Booige amp. Yes, I am afraid the Fireball 2 is as good as that. Smooth as silk, has all the sustain you want yet you can hear every single note coming out artiuclated. What a thing to have. This is definitely the best overdrive I have ever laid my hands on.