by Jay Sandwich
Boutique grade effects pedals have been taking off in popularity in recent years. More and more people seem to be looking for something unique, which is a requirement most commercial pedals are just not capable of meeting.
The issue with boutique effects pedals is that they usually offer a pretty niche performance. Most of the time, the models in this category reflect the ideas of their creators who are usually smaller shops. Speaking of which, there are well-known and not so well-known boutique pedal shops. Some of them reach fame, while others are still pretty obscure. The one we are going to talk about today is somewhere in between.
The Crowther Audio Hotcake distortion pedal is the work of Paul Crowther – a very well known New Zealand based boutique effects pedal builder. His creations are not numerous, but he’s the type of a guy who always strives for quality over quantity. In the case of Crowther Audio Hotcake, that approach turned out to be the key to success.
Boost and overdrive pedals are the essential part of every quality rock tone, especially if you are going for a more vintage vibe. Considering how close in nature these two effects are, sometimes it is hard to find the line of separation between them.
Crowther Audio Hotcake falls within that gray area. With that said, whatever magic Crowther used, it just works. A testament to the quality of Hotcake is the fact that Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits has been using this exact model for years now. It took Crowther decades to achieve that type of reach. After all, Hotcake is old enough to be considered a vintage pedal.
Take a look at this Crowther Audio HotCake demo courtesy of Tone Factor.
When you first look at the Hotcake, it looks just like most other overdrive pedals on the market. The enclosure is made of quality metal capable of taking constant abuse, which makes it great for stage use. Graphic design is reduced to a minimum. You have an all white theme with the control designations written in black, along with a Hotcake logo surrounding the foot switch. In terms of controls, you have your standard Drive, Level, and Presence.
Drive lets you adjust the amount of distortion in the signal, while presence is your EQ control. The Level knob is self-explanatory. The combination of these three knobs is more than enough to tap into both the boost side and the overdrive side of the pedal.
On the inside, you can find hand-wired circuitry and a neat little jumper that lets you switch between the standard Hotcake and Hotcake Bluesberry setting. This is a relatively new addition, which only makes the Hotcake that much more versatile in general. The pedal can either be battery powered or you can use an adapter – pretty standard stuff.
The type of sound you get from the Crowther Audio Hotcake is where this pedal stands out from the competition. If you leave the Drive alone and only increase the Level, you get a booster type effect. What is truly awesome is the fact that adding distortion doesn’t influence the clean sound of your guitar.
Instead, it adds layers of overdrive while preserving the nature of the clean channel, much like a tamed fuzz box would. Once you start cranking the Drive knob, you can go pretty far without hearing any significant change in your tone. For example, with the drive at some 12 o’clock, you will still have a perfectly clear clean tone, however hitting a chord with some force will produce a light and crunchy overdrive.
The more you go clockwise, more overdrive you add to the signal. Simple as that. What people have figured out in the meantime is that Crowther Audio Hotcake works great with Vox tube amps, especially the AC line. It’s not something you want to use in an effects loop, which is also what Crowther himself recommends. The range of tone colors that are possible with the Hotcake goes anywhere from light bluesy sound to a more Plexi-like overdrive. Playing with the Presence knob reveals a whole array of great sounding configurations. The way the EQ works is pretty transparent for a pedal of this type.
Using the internal jumper switch is not something you’d want to do often. It’s there to basically allow you to adjust the pedal in a way which makes it work better with your amp. Switching between two available modes frequently can cause damage to the circuitry, or at least put the integrity of the effect at risk. Once you figure out which jumper position works for you, it’s best to leave it at that until you have a real necessity to temper with it again.
It’s worth noting that Crowther Audio Hotcake is not really a cheap pedal. It will cost you a pretty penny, but it is definitely worth it. The pure range of boost/overdrive you can achieve with this stomp box is impressive, to say the least. That type of performance is worth paying extra for.
Check out another demo for the Hotcake here, this time by YouTuber David Fisher.
At the end of the day, Crowther Audio Hotcake is something you would want to use for rock, blues or similar genres of music. The fact that it combines a pretty transparent boost with the ability to stack a nice layer on top of it, is great for who know exactly what kind of tone they want.
From 1976 to this day, Paul Crowther created and perfected a very capable little pedal that offers the quality and performance rarely seen these days. He is still relatively unknown outside certain circles, but those who are looking for a more refined overdrive are bound to run into his name during their research. Paul is undoubtedly a master of his trade, and he knows it.
This guy has reached a level where he doesn’t have to produce a ludicrous amount mediocre of pedals in order to stay afloat. Instead, a good amount of guitar players are turning to him for pure quality, and Crowther delivers.
About Jay Sandwich
Jay is an ex-shred guitar player and current modular synth noodler from a small town somewhere. Quote: “I’m a salty old sandwich with a perspective as fresh as bread.” No bull.