Review: Fender Duel Pugilist Distortion
17.03.2021

Review: Fender Duel Pugilist Distortion

Words by Bridgette Baini

Fender Music Australia | fender.com.au | RRP: $499.00

Building on their popular Pugilist Distortion Pedal, Fender have released the Duel Pugilist Distortion that is much more than just a two for one. 

Bearing the same Fender-designed drive circuitry of it’s singular namesake the new Duel Pugilist is more than just the sum of its parts, imparting not only the ability to layer two distortion effects simultaneously, but also allowing players to blend and mix these two aforementioned effects to taste, allowing for a level of control seldom encountered in multiple distortion/drive units. Fitted with the classy, handsome aesthetic of Fenders other recent effect releases, the Duel Pugilist is a compact pedalboard solution for those who need that extra level of pliability in their tones.

While there is little doubt that the impetus for the Duel Pugilist is firmly rooted in the success of the highly touted Pugilist pedal, the Duel version definitely carries some distinguishing features of its own, like separate On/Off switches for each channel and improved routing options. The independent Gain, Tone, and Level controls for each distortion channel allow for plenty of tonal flexibility, before we even get to the blend pot and two-band master EQ which only further add to the heightened level versatility and adaptability present in the duel pugilist. 

Having this EQ feature post blend, at the output stage is a serious master-stroke, as it not only allows you to adapt the Duel Pugilist’s many tonal options to whatever amp you happen to be pairing it with, but it also means it is one of the best pedals going when it comes to adapting your tone to the context of a full band performance or other arrangement/frequency based considerations that might pop up. This makes the Duel Pugilist a great option for helping the guitar find its rightful place in the mix.

And this is where the Duel Pugilist really shows its true colours. It’s a guitarist’s pedal that subtly integrates a mix engineer’s workflow, borrowing heavily from the world of sub-mixing, effect bussing and shelving EQ to allow for rich, tonal balance and a myriad of sonic options and personalised expression further.

This kind of studio headspace also extends to where the Duel Pugilist can be placed in the chain, the output EQ serving as a perfect option for offsetting the tonal balance when leading into a pedal with a particularly extreme voicing or specific frequency profile. A little cut or boost on the way out can serve as the perfect recipe for getting the very most out of the next pedal in line, a trait which only serves to further exemplify the Duel Pugilist’s value as a handy utility pedal on a board full of specialists.

The Mode switch has three options; mute, series, and bypass which expands the routing options giving you more room to create your own unique sound. When Mute is selected, Distortion A will become the main sound and layer Distortion B on the top, functioning more as a boost, rather than two separate sounds. This increased routing flexibility means that some care must be taken with general gain staging and signal flow (some might avoid having channel B at a lower setting than channel A in the above example to avoid risking any drop in RMS volume), but like anything that dips a toe in the headier parts of audio/signal theory, a few fundamentals definitely go a long way.

The Series mode stacks both distortion channels as separate sounds, this is where it serves as a traditional two in one, allowing you to use two separate distortion tones throughout your performance to get maximum gain. Where it gets interesting is the Bypass mode. Here, you can blend both channels, A and B, with its onboard EQ Blend knob. 

The tone of the distortion itself is rather warm – not too overdriven or mid heavy as one might expect from the big ‘F’. Rather, the Duel Pugilist offers more of a low to mid gain distortion, which makes it the perfect candidate as a primary distortion or for subtle drive to mix with other (more intense) units further up the chain. While far from a metal distortion; you can still pull a surprising amount of gain from the Pugilist, with the right settings and as a lead in tone for the more extreme end of the spectrum, you’d be hard pressed to find one better.

All of this is contained in a gold-coloured anodised aluminium housing, which gives it a lovely appearance and also ensures the pedal can take a beating, which is what us guitarists want especially if touring. Another impressive feature is the LED-backlit knobs which we all know is a luxury when performing in dark circumstances. This will allow you to see and adjust your settings easily on stage or in your bedroom. When you’ve had enough of them, there’s a convenient LED switch at the back of the pedal. 

Overall, this is a really exciting pedal for those who want to diversify their tone throughout a performance. With the three routing options, it’s far more than just two pedals in one, and it means you can ditch a boost pedal if you really need to. Sonically, it omits a gorgeous, full sounding gain which can be meticulously tweaked to your liking. It’s also a space saver, and a good looking, sturdy one of that, being the perfect option for anybody requiring multiple, adaptive distortion sounds that can span a full discography. 

Find out more about the Duel Pugilist over at Fender’s website.