Rethinking how we shape our tone and rebuilding it from the ground up
KarDiaN is a pedal company making their way across the Pacific, having been hugely successful in their native home, “Shiga, overlooking Lake Biwa” in Japan to be exact. Like a lot of manufacturers, they produce pedals intended for guitars and bass, but unlike most, KarDiaN push the limits in their preamp building for installation into your guitar or bass.
Their pedals, like the drive pedals Vitamin C and Serotonin, a guitar volume pedal KND-Low, and Character Module Box are nothing to be snuffed at, the Y.O.S Smoggy, an onboard overdrive and the Irodori, a boost, push KarDiaN into a league of their own. We’re all chasing unique tones and this often starts at the source, something that KarDiaN clearly understands. While admittedly it’ll take some routing, KarDiaN allows us to make our instruments truly one of a kind, colouring the tone even before it leaves the output jack. Let’s start slow though, and look at their growing range of stomp box pedals.
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The aforementioned Vitamin C and Serotonin are a Tubescreamer-esque overdrive and a fuzz respectively. They’re housed in relic’d, four knob enclosures, and along with the Chlorofrom transparent overdrive and Nitroglycerin overdrive/distortion, they make up the current range of pedals from KarDiaN. All four pedals have some simple tone controls, volume, and gain, and while they do what you expect of them, there’s an underlying clarity in these pedals. Not in the sense that they’re cleaner or more transparent than others, but in that KarDiaN is doing something new with their own take on timeless designs.
The Serotonin provides attack in the high mids and punch thanks to a subtle bass roll off, but the way it clips feels like a whole new beast. The Vitamin C moves from grungey grime to full blown fuzz, but with an attack available that gives you uniquely clear picking definition. While these are the more extreme sounds available from KarDiaN’s stompbox offering, the Chlorofrom and Nitroglycerin still push your signal to break up in new and interesting ways – the Chloroform especially responding super dynamically without introducing noise. But pedals are pedals, and while KarDiaN produce some great ones, that’s not what makes them stand out from the crowd.
Preamps built into guitars and basses are nothing new. Active pickups for guitars from companies like EMG, Fishman, and Seymour Duncan are powered by a little preamp, but these pickups have a distinct sound, though admittedly sometimes exactly what we’re looking for. A company like Darkglass refine it further, having active EQ and volume available to be built into your bass. What KarDiaN do though, is revolutionise the game entirely. Take the Y.O.S Smoggy for example, an onboard overdrive character module to be installed directly into your guitar. The Y.O.S Smoggy is an onboard version of the Smoggy overdrive, the brainchild of Y.O.S. Guitars, and the module being brought to fruition with the help of KarDiaN. The Smoggy Module is powered by a 9V battery and features three controls to adjust volume, gain, and tone of the module. The sound of the module is warm and full, but can be pushed into proper overdrive if need be.
This idea is also available in the Iodoform, designed to ultimately change the character of the guitar itself before it’s even arrived at pedals or an amp. The Iodoform is listed as an “overdrive character”, but this doesn’t mean your signal is constantly clipping the output, it’s just being fattened, warmed, and articulated via the gain, volume, treble, and bass controls.
If options are your thing, the Irodori is for you. A third inbuilt preamp offering, the Irodori is also a booster, offering a level control and switchable mellow/vivid presets to shape the tone. The mellow setting pushes the lows and mids to fill in all those gaps, while vivid immediately offers a clearer picture of note definition and the harmonic makeup of your chords.
While all this is good and well in theory, onboard circuitry is a pretty big job, and what if you don’t want to dive headfirst into a permanent modification? KarDiaN also offers the Character Module Box, an empty stompbox chassis that’s ready to be configured with your choice of module. Toggle the Irodori on and off with the single footswitch on the Character Module Box, or create a new overdrive with the Iodoform module. The Character Module Box features a ¼” input and output and a 9V adapter to power the module. The interior of the box features the same solder-less connectors that modules connect to – so setup is a breeze!
KarDiaN is a company rethinking how we shape our tone and rebuilding it from the ground up. While their list of stompboxes are stellar in their own right, KarDiaN’s modules for onboard drive, colour, boost, and clarity allow us to shape our tone at the source, allowing us to push, pull, and drive into pedals in a whole new way. The range of stompboxes give us some classic sounds with extra controls, and with a cool relic’d and road-worn style no less. The modules take their cue from some classic pedal designs, and allow us to house them permanently in our instrument, for use when we need them.
While a little wiring knowledge is required, and some professional routing (please, please, please go to a professional for routing your guitar, there are too many weird “customised” Marketplace and eBay listings already), the payoff is massive. Configurable to your taste, you can really make the guitar your own depending on your preference, and KarDiaN has a few different options for whatever you’re chasing.