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Sometimes there’s just no compromise in creating the best tone possible. Especially if you’re into heavier music. It’s hard to have that heavy guitar sound that will easily cut through the mix and not get all compressed on the higher gain setting.
The often-used solution to that issue is using a quality overdrive pedal on a clean channel of a tube amp pushed to its limits. Or using the same overdrive pedal on a drive channel of an amp with the gain set down low.
The famous combination of Ibanez Tube Screamer into a Marshall JCM800 pretty much changed the game for all the lovers of heavy sound, and numerous other manufacturers followed later and made their own alternatives. One of the products is the Dunlop MXR ZW-44 Zakk Wylde Berzerker Overdrive.
Knowing what kind of an uncompromising, raw, and heavy tone Zakk Wylde has, it’s obvious that this pedal is worth checking out if you’re into those meaty metal tones.
After all, many people out there would like to sound like one of Ozzy Osbourne’s most famous guitar players. So let’s get right down to it and try to be as heavy as Zakk.
The first thing you can notice here is that the pedal is in the classic MXR metal casing, meaning that it’s not exactly easy to damage this one. Also, it can fit pretty nicely into any pedalboard along with all the other pedal brands that you own.
The ZW-44 is pretty simple when it comes to features. It’s packed with three control knobs, one foot switch, and input and output jacks on the side. The controls are output (which is volume), tone, and gain.
What’s important to note here is that this pedal features a true bypass, meaning that when the drive is off, the signal is going directly to the amp or the next available pedal without any interference or buffering.
The benefits of the true bypass and buffering are often discussed among guitar players and pedal enthusiasts, so this particular conversation deserves a whole other article on its own.
The pedal is powered by the standard 9 volt battery, just like most of the other effect units out there. It can be also powered with a 9 volt AC adapter, and Dunlop recommends their own ECB003/ECB003E or the DC Brick power supply.
However, it can be powered with any other quality 9 volt AC adapter or any other kind of pedalboard based power supply.
As already mentioned, it’s packed in the traditional MXR metal casing, which is not only very resistant and practical but also really good looking.
There is, however, a slight twist to the design of MXR ZW-44 as there are intentional wear signs, both with the metal casing and the paint job.
Of course, it’s done with class and style and represents that whole rugged Zakk Wylde vibe which goes so well together with his printed signature, which is located right above the pedal’s knobs.
The on and off switch is surrounded with two black circles and the “Berzerker Overdrive” black writing in the nicely fitting Old English Font, which is the signature style of Zakk’s Black Label Society. If the aesthetics of the gear you use are of your concern, you most likely won’t have any issues with this pedal.
Taking a listen to this pedal’s tone, we can easily address it as the heavier young brother of Ibanez Tube Screamer. It’s mostly used for the same purpose, boosting a tube amp, but the MXR ZW-44 has its own unique sound which is pretty useful for some metal stuff.
But the pedal is also quite handy for other stuff as well and can be somewhat versatile, despite its simplicity. Lowering the gain down can bring you into the softer bluesy waters, but it also requires some adjustment of the tone knob and, obviously, your amp.
All of the controls are pretty responsive, meaning that the user can do all sorts of minor tweaking and still get the needed difference in tone. It’s not like it’s super flexible when it comes to getting various different sounds out of it, but it’s a pleasant surprise for such a straightforward pedal.
It should also be noted that the indicator light is pretty noticeable, so in live situations on stage (where it can often get dark and rowdy) you won’t have any issues while checking if it’s turned on before the song or the needed part where you plan to use the pedal.
The Berzerker Overdrive can most often be found on a pedalboard of metal guitar players, even going into metalcore or other more “extreme” genres, usually as a boost for other distortions or the amp’s clean and/or drive channels.
Nonetheless, the pedal is versatile enough to be used in other situations, softer genres, or just as boost for lead or any other parts you need to accent.
However, you need to bear in mind that this pedal does shape the tone in it’s own unique way that does replicate Zakk Wylde’s sound. And maybe this won’t always be the best possible option for everyone out there. Yes, you can plug it in a vintage Fender tube amp from the 70s and try and tweak it the way you want to.
But if you’re really into bluesy stuff or are just seeking for that kind of sound, you might want to go with the Ibanez Tube Screamer or any other of its replicas, or even the BD-2 Blues Driver by Boss.
The best solution is to try it out if you get the chance, or just check out some of the countless demos online. We do hope that you find this review useful and that it will help you out in choosing the best overdrive.
After all, overdrive and distortion are some of the main components of your sound and you should always do thorough research before you jump in and buy any pedals.