The ProCo RAT line of distortion pedals has been around for a long time now, since the late 70’s. It’s one of the most famous distortion pedals ever made, known for some of the grittiest rock sounds ever made.
It’s no surprise why many a musician, famous and not, have gotten themselves a ProCo RAT to use how they like. It’s noisy, but in just the right way.
RAT Distortion History
The RAT story begins in downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan, at the Pro Co Sound Factory.
As RAT has always strove to be the “Sound of the Underground”, it seems only fitting that they found their beginnings in a basement, with actual rats, developing the prototype for what would become the first RAT pedal, the Bud Box Rat, from 1978.
There were only 12 of these pedals made, prototype included, and they were all hand made, drilled, and finished with a silk screen logo.
The first actual “Rat” came out in 1979 and was the first to be mass produced, achieving the classic look and sound of the pedal we (or some of us) know and love.
From there, the RAT chronology goes a little something like this.
- The Rat (ver. 2) 1981-83
- Small Box RAT 1984-88
- R2DU 1984-88
- RAT 2 1988-present
- Turbo RAT 1989-present
- Vintage RAT 1991-2005
- Brat 1997-2001
- Deucetone RAT 2002-present
- You Dirty RAT 2004-present
There are alternatives to the RAT pedal such as the VFE Alpha Dog, Dr Scientist Elements, Emma Reezafratzitz, and others. But most RAT fans I think will agree that you can’t quite get the same effect as the real deal, which is why RAT users stay RAT users.
They might buy other pedals, but generally they don’t take the RAT away.
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Not only have RAT pedals been used by just about everyone trying to get some decent distortion in their sound, but there’s a whole bunch of musicians you definitely would know that love the RAT’s distorted sounds to the point where they have featured the pedal in some of their biggest songs.
We wanted to share with you some classic albums that changed our lives personally, that have a healthy dose of the RAT distortion sound.
Some of these albums you may know, some you may not, but we suggest you to go check these albums if you somehow missed ’em.
Kill ‘Em All by Metallica
When people think RAT distortion, they tend to think of that classic dirty sound, but then from there it becomes somewhat confusing as to what genres of music actually fully embrace the RAT.
The reason we say that is because in the gear forums, there are arguments on whether or not RAT pedals are good for metal or not? Some say no, some say hell yeah.
The thing is, one of the metal gods themselves, Metallica, was big on RAT pedals back in the day, and featured them on their debut album – Kill ‘Em All. Now, you might argue that Metallica wasn’t even “metal” at the time, but instead “thrash”.
But, the term is actually “thrash metal”, so it’s a type of metal music. No, it’s not not death metal, but it still falls under the metal banner, and paving the way for many bands to follow.
With Kill ‘Em All, we will say that there is even some debate about the presence of RAT distortion in the mix. People attribute their sound back then to other parts of the early Metallica rig.
It does makes sense that it is slightly vague, because Metallica weren’t famous yet and so no one was keeping track of their rig by taking press pics or fan pics or whatever people do now to try to figure out what pedals a band uses.
However, we believe that RATs are in there, and once you tune into the sound, there seems to be no denying it. Here’s a video that makes a good argument that Metallica was beefing up their sound with some RATs, particularly Kirk. Watch this and see what you think.
If you are still on the fence about whether Kill ‘Em All was using RATs, it’s going to be hard to convince you 100% at this point, short of a direct quote from the band or a picture of their pedalboard (which we can’t find – goddammit).
Then, we feel, the question becomes – Can you use a RAT to get the Kill ‘Em All sound (since we can’t travel back in time to take pics of their gear back in ’83), and the answer to that we think is HELL YEAH YOU CAN.
Watch this video which seeks to mimic Search and Destroy’s tones and see if you think that the tones match. We think you’ll agree, it’s pretty damn close.
Now, for the album in question. Here’s Kill ‘Em All. Listen and enjoy, and if you hear a RAT in the mix, let us know in the comments.
Monster by R.E.M.
R.E.M.? What are they doing here?
R.E.M. isn’t necessarily the first band you think of when you think of “dirty” or “heavy”, since they are generally considered to be more of a jangle-pop band by reviewers trying to describe their sound. It’s typically full of arpeggiated guitar licks and they never did release a metal album of any sort, did they?
But, to be fair, R.E.M. did have a period back in the ’90’s where guitarist Peter Buck got into using that unmistakeable RAT distortion sound for their Monster album, especially live on tour that year in 1995.
The goal, at this time, was to hit people with something that they maybe didn’t see coming – a real ROCK album, followed by a real stadium rock tour.
Tracks such as “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?”, as well as severals others from this album, feature RAT distortion.
By the time Monster arrived in ‘94, R.E.M. had long since left behind being maybe the best underground band to come out of Athens, Georgia besides the B-52’s. They were, by the mid-90’s, well known for albums like Green, Out Of Time, and Automatic For The People.
For the most part, R.E.M. was almost known as a folk band because they used a lot of instruments like mandolin and acoustic-y sounds which gave them more of a lighter touch on their mid-career albums.
On Monster, Peter Buck finally let loose with some decidedly heavier riffage, influenced most likely by the “Seattle Sound” that had swept across the nation a few years prior.
Although tremelo was also a big part of the Monster album, the RAT pedal was in there just as much as the tremelo, providing some spicy mids.
R.E.M. eventually did return to their more subdued side before calling it a day in 2011, but for a while there, they were rockin’ the RAT and getting some fat sounds.
Blur by Blur
Blur is a band that has been around since the early 90’s, and they started their career as a Brit-pop band, writing slightly woozy and somewhat psychedelic songs like “She’s So High” and “There’s No Other Way”. In other words, songs that had nothing to do with RAT distortion.
Once they hit their second and third albums, the band was getting huge in the UK, and basically writing some of the UK’s most classic albums with Modern Life Is Rubbish and Parklife. Still, they were not known to get “heavy” really…ever.
That said, Graham Coxon, the band’s wizard guitarist, is a master of tones and effects. As the band grew, so did his pedalboard. It was just a matter of time before Blur decided to do what R.E.M. did at the mid-life point of their career – get kinda pissed off, and go heavy.
In 1997, the band was fed up with being “brit-pop” and hit the public with their most distorted song to date – Song 2. You know, the “Whoo hoo!” song.
Well, this song was brought to you by RAT – specifically, not one but TWO Proco Turbo RATs to get that beefy sound, and on the bass yet, and maybe the guitar too. It’s just one giant wall once the song really kicks in.
But we wouldn’t put this album, actually called Blur, on this list if the RAT was just used on Song 2.
If you’ve actually listened to this album, you would know that there are several really distorted, dirty songs that really boost up the grunge a whole lot.
The album goes in several different directions at once, and this is because Graham, the guitar player, is having a field day with some new sounds for the band.
The RAT was just one sound he incorporated into this mish-mash of a weird-ass album, but he managed to succeed in creating what is definitely the heaviest album of Blur’s career.
Foo Fighters – Self-Titled Album
You may not remember this, but the Foo Fighters were once a quirky little punk pop rock band. Their first album was released to no fanfare with an alien laser gun on the front, and even the singles from that time had UFO imagery all over them.
This timeframe of the band as a wacky UFO-themed band only lasted about a year, with Dave Grohl kind of hiding behind the Foo Fighters name and the label, Roswell Records, which basically was Dave Grohl as president and that’s it. Roswell Records was an imprint of RCA, so it wasn’t exactly an indie label.
Coming from the punk scene and Nirvana, and having worked with Butch Vig and Andy Wallace, it’s not surprising that the first Foo Fighters album was pretty grunge-y itself. That is, full of big drums and distorted guitars.
People gave Dave flack for “copying” Nirvana somewhat, but Dave’s response was basically “Are you kidding me? What did you expect me to do?” (<- not an exact quote)
Here’s the band’s first appearance on Letterman back in 1995.
The cool thing about that first Foo’s album, for some fans, is that it was actually more of a punk rock album than anything. Before Dave was in Nirvana, he was in Scream, which was a total punk rock thing, and never really rose above underground status.
Dave really wanted things to sound dirty, and scream-y, and punky.. but also huge. So he turned to RAT for a boost, like many 90’s alternative rock bands did at the time. It was kind of either Big Muff, RAT, or both.
Anyway, that first album is a whole lot of RAT distortion, and you can check it out below with a lesser known track called Winnebago.
Radiohead – The Bends
Jonny Greenwood isn’t so much a guitar player as he is a guitar scientist. The sounds he can make with his instruments are definitely otherworldly, but Jonny has always had a way of approaching his sound that is like Matt Damon solving a huge equation on a 10 foot blackboard, in that it looks complicated to us, but to him it makes perfect sense.
There’s a lot of things going on upstairs with that guy in terms of musical ideas, and it reflects in his playing. Half of it is experimental noise and madness, but half of it is very calculated and under control. Is this the sound of a man who’s in control?
So, yeah, the guy likes to fuck around. That said, if you cast your mind back to 1993, Radiohead was just a band that was considered a one-hit wonder with their song “Creep” from their album Pablo Honey. Some people loved the song, others hated it. But, what defined Creep, was Jonny’s big guitar ca-chunks that caught people’s attention right away.
At the time they released The Bends in 1995, bands like Oasis, Blur, and The Stone Roses were the big British alternative bands of the day, and it didn’t seem like Radiohead were going to take over as the next kings of British alt rock. And then they kind of did.
They released Just, the first song to feature the band with a video that was rather strange, and this catapulted the band to the next level. Just who were these weirdos?
While the band has been more known to the general rock fan as the band that made OK Computer and won some awards, it was The Bends that raised their profile, and one thing that was fairly characteristic of that album was the distortion it used, and this included RAT distortion.
Being an album full of angst, it makes sense that Jonny, Thom, and Ed would put the RAT to use. Their layered guitar approach was, on this album, now becoming a staple of their sound, and they always liked to sneak some distortion into the mix when they could.
The tracks on The Bends, such as the first single, My Iron Lung, may not have had the brutal punch it did without the RAT.
Radiohead was a band that seemed to have developed a bit of a complex, like they as a band had been bullied by the press and some fans on the first album, for writing such a wussy song like Creep. You know, it took them years to get over that.
Creep, while it is a good song, is basically a song about being a loser, but not a cool loser like Beck’s “Loser”, but an actual “I’m waiting to get my ass kicked” loser.
By 1995, it was time for the band to fight back, and they used RAT pedals to help them do it.
Sonic Youth – Dirty
Sonic Youth has been around since the early ’80’s and they are one of those bands that has a ton of music that they’ve released.
At one point, they were dubbed as “no wave”, which is like a form of new wave but inverted to sound like the nightmare doppelganger of that movement. In fact, Thurston might have been the one who came up with that label in the first place. They were always kind of a heavy band. They weren’t really about lighter fare.
With songs like Shaking Hell, Society Is A Hole, and Tom Violence, Sonic Youth established themselves as a band that were not on friendly terms with mainstream society. Even though they did achieve some sort of mainstream success, they were basically a punk band to the end.
In ’88, they surprised a few people with Daydream Nation, an album that showed that they had some great super catchy riffs up their sleeve, and were willing to take their creativity to the next level.
It was then that their cult got very big, especially in Europe, where they toured a lot to some huge crowds who could relate to their “fuck absolutely everything” aesthetic that they managed to ooze through their amps and through the throngs of disenchanted Europeans of the ’80’s.
In ’92, Sonic Youth was back again with their album Dirty, which was…quite a dirty little album, featuring better production thanks to their label Geffen, more money thanks to Nirvana, but nastier and trashier songs that featured more noise, more guitar jams, and frankly more vision. It was enough to drive your grandparents to drink.
Thurston Moore, being a real music nerd as he is, was always into pulling in as many influences as he could grab out of the air into the Sonic Youth palette, but one thing he always loved was a bludgeoning heavy dissonant riff.
And yet, he also loved beauty, so him and Lee and Kim would come up with some nice, melodic passage, and then drop the hammer on it with some heavy distortion…
This is where the RAT pedal came into play heavily for Sonic Youth. Thurston, being a RAT man for a long time by then, was way into the pedal by the time of Dirty and he really let it fly for that album.
The RAT was the perfect pedal for Thurston to thrash out to, and when you turn it up loud, it really raises the hair on your arms and makes your little doggie pee on the carpet.
The RAT isn’t the only pedal used on the album, because the band loves their effects pedals, but the RAT certainly it gets its day in the sun on Dirty.
So there ya have it – classic rock albums that sink their teeth into a RAT sandwich. Visit the RAT website below.