The world is full of overdrive pedals. Ibanez Tube Screamer clones abound. All claim to offer amp-like distortion; some claim to offer amp-like feel; some even come close to both. The H.A.L.O. in the name of the Alairex H.A.L.O. pedal ($399 street) stands for Harmonic Amp-Like Overdrive, and this one actually delivers both sound and feel to the maximum.
Full disclosure: I worked with H.A.L.O. inventor and manufacturer Alex Aguilar at Rudy’s Music Stop many moons ago. He went on from there to develop the highly respected Aguilar series of bass amplifiers, but first and foremost Alex is a guitarist—a good one. He wanted to build an overdrive that responded to touch dynamics like the best tube amplifiers.
The H.A.L.O. not only responds like a single boutique amp, it responds like a variety of boutique combos and heads. Its Shape switch offers three types of clipping, which translates into three kinds of dynamic response. Toggled left it provides asymmetrical clipping; this results in a soft, squishy feel that responds quickly to a harder attack with warm overdrive. Toggle right and you get symmetrical clipping, which requires a little more attack to produce a tighter breakup. Finally, the middle position removes the clipping circuitry, delivering the overdrive from the power source and affording everything from clean, transparent boost to focused crunch. A second toggle lets you add a little extra saturation to Channel 2 alone or both channels.
All the controls above affect both Channel 1 and Channel 2. Channel 2, however, is designed for significantly more gain—which comes up faster in the Gain pot throw, and an edgier voicing. The two channels share a master Tone (treble roll-off) and three small tone shaping knobs for Bass, Contour (mids) and Presence. These tone controls allow you to construct a wide range of amp-like (there it is again) character. Boosting the bass turned a 1×12 cabinet into a 4×12. Rolling down the Contour stopped short of classic scooped metal, but it did move a highly saturated sound on Channel 2 into more modern territory. Backing off the Gain and pushing the Contour shifted the distortion from edgy metal to smoother fusion.
Playing with various gain levels, channel and toggle settings, and tone positions yielded Fender Tweed murk, Marshall clang, Vox chime and a host of other classic tones without actually emulating any specific amp or model. With the aid of the Alairex H.A.L.O. pedal, a Fernandes Tele into a Little Walter 50-watt head set clean, through a 1×12″ custom speaker cab fitted with an Eminence Texas Heat served up a smorgesboard of sound, covering a multitude of genres.
The mark of a great guitar amp is a wealth of pleasing harmonic overtones during breakup, articulation of individual notes at high gain, and a propensity for notes to bloom into near high end feedback as you sustain them. The H.A.L.O. delivers on all counts—something almost unheard of in a pedal.
Best of all, the pedal’s sensitive response to guitar volume and picking dynamics allowed truly expressive playing. The Alairex H.A.L.O. is not cheap, but when you consider it can instantly turn your existing rig into any number of boutique amplifiers, it becomes a bargain. There is no doubt the Alairex H.A.L.O. deserves a Guitar Moderne Great Gear Award.