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It’s no surprise why many a musician, famous and not, have gotten themselves a ProCo RAT to use and abuse. It’s noisy, it’s heavy, it’s greasy, and it’s just the way mamma likes it!
RAT Distortion History
The RAT story begins in downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan, at the ProCo 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, probably excluding a few stuffed shirts out there) 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.
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 we think are life-changing for any rock fan to hear, 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” (sub-genre of metal or punk? hybrid?).
But, the term actually lands, as far as we know, on “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. Because who is metal if not METALLICA!?
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. R.E.M. were disciples of Big Star, and Big Star liked their riffs to be sparkly and jangly, not RAT-ified. R.E.M., over the years, wrote songs that were typically full of arpeggiated guitar licks and they never did release a metal album of any sort, did they?
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 sort of alt-rock folkster 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. R.E.M. must have gotten sick of being sort of a bunch of nice guys, and at least Peter wanted to straight up rock out, since the band were fans of punk rock, to an extent.
Although tremolo was also a big part of the Monster album, the RAT pedal was in there just as much as the tremolo, 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 that must have shocked some of their more sensitive fans who wanted to hear more “Near Wild Heaven” type of songs.
Here’s Monster, for what it’s worth…
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. That said, Graham was always an effects buff, so it was only a matter of time…
Anyway, 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”, in a “Down with the sickness” sort of way. They did have Bank Holiday, which was pretty damn fuzzy for an album like Parklife, which featured a lot of strings and stuff.
That said, Graham Coxon, the band’s resident wizard guitarist a la Jonny Greenwood, a la John Squire, a la Noel Gallagher, is a master of tones and effects and can write a riff as good as any axe-man alive. So, 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. Damon was apparently going through something, and things were getting weird. The band had heard Sebadoh and Nirvana, and were ready to show the world that they too were damaged goods.
Song 2, aka Woo Hoo, 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. Apparently some deny that Song 2 was pure greasy-tailed RAT, but most just accept it as a fact.
But we wouldn’t put this album, actually called Blur, on this list if the RAT was just used on Song 2. Actually, we might, but…
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. Blur is a band with so much talent, that they basically can’t stick to one sound, and so every album shows off something different, whether it’s a string arrangement, a gnarly riff, a fluid bass part, or what have you.
Blur by Blur, while being a fairly gnarly 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. This album came out before 13, where he really cuts loose with some wild stuff, but this album is a precursor, and is pretty weird and wild itself.
The RAT was just one sound Graham and co. incorporated into this mish-mash of an album, but he managed to succeed in creating what is definitely the heaviest, most speaker rockin’ 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, where Dave was the only member and he tried to hide the fact that it was his band. And so lo’, 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. For those of us hanging around CD racks in 1995, this album just looked like another weird new release by some alt-rock band somewhere. Kinda cool cover, what is this??
This timeframe of the band as a wacky UFO-themed band from Roswell Records only lasted about a year (Roswell kept going, but the band being an X-Files band didn’t), with Dave Grohl running into a studio and ripping through all the tracks in like a week or something. Roswell Records was an imprint of RCA, so it wasn’t exactly an indie label. By this point the guy had cred, so he wasn’t just doing a super micro-label thing – he had distribution power, or else no one would have ever seen it on the racks.
Coming from the punk scene of being in Scream and then Nirvana (and let’s not forget Pocketwatch!), and having worked with Butch Vig and Andy Wallace, it’s not surprising that the first Foo Fighters album was pretty grunge-y itself, but well produced and well executed. That is, full of big drums and distorted guitars, but played by a grunge God / total perfectionist.
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) He was a rocker, and most of the songs on the debut were from before or during Nirvana’s time. He had been writing songs the whole time, it turns out.
Here’s the band’s first appearance on Letterman back in 1995. (They were also the last band to perform for Dave, as well)
Anywho, Dave really wanted things to sound dirty, and scream-y, and punky.. but also huge, a la Butch and Andy. 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:
Radiohead – The Bends
Jonny Greenwood isn’t so much a guitar player as he is a guitar slingin’ mad scientist. The sounds he can make with his instruments are definitely out of this world, but Jonny has always had a way of approaching his sound that is like Matt Damon in that movie (??) solving a huge equation on a 10 foot blackboard, in that it looks complicated to us, but to him it makes perfect sense cause he’s a genius.
There’s a lot of things going on upstairs with that guy in terms of musical ideas, and it reflects in his playing. Of all the members of Radiohead, Jonny is the reason they were never, and never will be boring. Did he not CA-CHUNK “Creep” into being a half decent song, just because he couldn’t handle it being a normal song?
So by now, we all now Jonny is a guitar wizard, and here is a video showing evidence of that type of behavior…
So, yeah, the guy likes to mess around. That said, if you cast your mind back to 1993, Radiohead was just a band that was considered a one-hit wonder with “Creep” from their album Pablo Honey. Some people loved the song, others hated it. But, what defined Creep, was those CA-CHUNKS.
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 did, becoming the 90’s version of Pink Floyd (atmospheric British arena band obsessed with production).
But what really made people take notice, when The Bends came out, was the video for Just, which got everyone talking about them. Like, what was that guy saying???
While they were definitely an alternative band during the Pablo Honey days, it was their embracing of the Pixies loud-quiet-loud aesthetic for The Bends, as well as Jonny’s interesting use of pedals, that really set them apart from Oasis and Blur.
There is some debate who used what pedals back in those days, what with three guitar players in the band, all of whom enjoyed the sound of distortion. That said, there was a RAT or two in the studio when The Bends was made.
While you might assume that Jonny was the one using the RAT pedal, it was supposedly Thom who loved using the Turbo Rat for The Bends (and for many distorted parts he’d play), while Jonny used a Marshall Shredmaster on songs like My Iron Lung, which is similar to a Rat. Meanwhile, there’s Ed O’Brien, who is also known to dabble in weird sounds – mostly atmospheric, although even he was rumoured to use a RAT for a period of time – maybe on The Bends, but can’t be 100% sure. Oy vey, what a conundrum!
When it came to recording The Bends, it’s difficult to really say who did what in terms of guitar parts, as you’d have to be a fly on the wall to know which musician used which pedal for which song, although if you have a keen ear for guitar effects, you can probably make a good guess. Each song does have an interesting melding of sounds, as a result of the 3 guitarists in the band, each experimental in their own way.
What we can safely say is that Radiohead, particularly Thom, loves him some Turbo RAT distortion, and distortion was a huge part of what made The Bends such a classic album. It slams!
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. Some people love the band, some hate it and don’t understand it. They are definitely a strange group, with some pretty “challenging” songs to listen to.
At one point, they were dubbed as “no wave”, which is like a form of new wave but inverted to sound like the nightmare version of that movement, just kind of avant garde noise and the occasional sax. In fact, Thurston might have been the one who came up with that no wave label in the first place. They were always kind of a heavy band, though.
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, with some prog leanings, psychedelia, punk for sure, and plus some Jandek leanings.
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. By this point they had Steve Shelley, who allowed them to really rock with some power.
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 go back to drinkin’ and druggin’.
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. Lee was the same way, it seemed, and so together it was two fractured souls against the world.
And yet, they also loved beauty, so him and Lee and Kim (who some say can’t play bass but meh, yeah she can) would come up with some nice, melodic passage, and then drop the hammer on it with some heavy distortion and “ruin” everything.
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 dog go into spasms and your cat just drops dead from sound poisoning. You better not have any wee ones around, they’ll also get a disease – headbanging disease that is!
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. Hear the full album here – best listened to while skateboarding at a mall.
So there ya have it – classic rock albums that sink their teeth into a RAT sandwich. Visit the RAT website below.