Klon Centaur Guitar Pedal: Features, Impact, and Legacy

The Klon Centaur, a renowned guitar effect pedal, was the product of Bill Finnegan’s dedicated craftsmanship from 1990 to 1994. Its uniqueness lies in its “transparent” overdrive which amplifies an original signal without significantly altering the guitar’s tone. Built manually by Finnegan, the Klon Centaur saw the creation of around 8000 units between 1994 and 2000, receiving admiration from top-notch guitarists for its distinct, unaltered tone in the amplified signal.

Unique Characteristics of the Klon Centaur

What sets the Klon Centaur apart is its utilization of an IC MAX1044 voltage converter on its circuit board. This feature allows the voltage converter to supply 18 volts to the operational amplifier, the circuit’s heart. With this voltage, the amplifier’s response differs from that at 9 volts as its slew rate hinges on the power supply. As the power supply increases, the operational amplifier creates higher harmonics, giving a more “metallic” sound.

Depending on the control knob settings, the pedal can primarily function as a clean boost, adding volume while minimally altering the sound. This can be advantageous in driving a guitar amplifier’s preamp to achieve its distinctive distortion sound. Alternatively, the settings can be adjusted to distort the sound signal within the pedal itself, with two germanium diodes performing waveform clipping. The “Gain” knob, a double potentiometer, controls the bass and mid-frequencies. Other knobs are assigned to treble and volume control.

To prevent imitation, the circuit boards of Centaurs are shielded with black epoxy resin.

Aftermath and Influence of the Klon Centaur

Following the halt in production, original Centaur units have been seen on the market for prices exceeding $5000, securing their status as rare collector’s items. Various pedal manufacturers have since introduced similar but more affordable products, some of which closely resemble the Centaur’s characteristics. However, the original Centaur pedal continues to serve as a benchmark when evaluating new overdrive pedal designs.

In 2014, Finnegan launched a new pedal, “KTR,” utilizing the same circuit design and germanium diodes integral to the sound-shaping circuit as the original Centaur. The KTR, however, incorporated surface-mounted technology, which allowed for mass production and a smaller design. The KTR is marked with a printed message, a response to the hype surrounding the original Centaur, stating, “kindly remember that the ridiculous hype that offends so many is not of my making.”

Notable Users of the Klon Centaur

The Klon Centaur boasts a list of eminent users, including guitarists like Mark Tremonti, Jeff Beck, Warren Haynes, Britt Daniel (Spoon), Nick Valensi (The Strokes; CRX), John Mayer, David Grissom, and Adam Hann (The 1975). Nels Cline from the band Wilco once stated about his Klon Centaur, “…It’s an amp in a box. No more worries in the world of ‘amp du jour’ about overdrive tone. It will be OK. The Centaur will take care of it…”

Conclusion

The Klon Centaur stands as a testament to skilled craftsmanship and innovative design in the world of guitar effect pedals. Despite the cessation of its production and the emergence of similar products, the Centaur continues to set the standard in overdrive pedal designs and is a cherished possession among many guitarists. Its intricate design, along with its distinctive sound, has immortalized the Klon Centaur in the annals of music history.

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