On the surface, the Pickup Booster and the new Killing Floor High Gain Boost might seem like they have a lot of similarities. (Then again, the vintage-toned ’59 Model and the high-powered Alternative 8 look pretty similar!) The contrast between the Pickup Booster and the Killing Floor is quite similar: each has its own character, and we’re going to have a look at what each one does and which one might suit you. Maybe you’re like me and you’ll use both of them in different ways.
The best way to describe the two is this: what the Pickup Booster does for your guitar, the Killing Floor does for your amp. The Pickup Booster is designed to quite literally boost the output of your pickup, and you can use it for simple signal management purposes or as a subtle but effective tone-shaper. You can use the Pickup Booster to bring the output level of a quieter guitar up to that of your louder ones so you don’t have to mess with the settings on your amp when you change instruments mid-concert. You can use it as a volume boost at the end of a pedal chain for when you need to stand out during solos and between vocal sections. You can use it to hit the input stage of a tube amp harder for extra distortion. And you can use the Resonance switch to alter the character of your guitar. If your single coils are a little too dark, Position 1 will add some top-end sparkle (and it’s great for adding some character to Telecaster neck pickups). If your guitar is a little too bright, Position 2 will take some of the edge off. And if you use humbuckers, Position 2 can give you a fatter, smoother lead tone. In short, the Pickup Booster lets you shape the sound of your guitar before it hits the rest of the signal chain.
On the other hand, the Killing Floor isn’t about nice clean manageable gain boost. As you turn the Killing Floor up higher you’re not just increasing the output level, you’re also adding a gritty, bluesy overdrive. And the Killing Floor’s Voicing switch gives you a boost at 10k, a cut at 4.8k and a flat setting. You can think of the Killing Floor as another gain stage for your amp, complete with ‘bright’ and ‘fat’ switches. If you’re playing in a dark-sounding room or if your amp is a little woolly-sounding, the 10k boost will add some air to the high end. If you need a fuller low-end response for downtuned instruments, hitting the High Cut will shift the focus of your sound a little more towards the punch of the low strings. And the Gain control can take you everywhere from a unity output level (where you can still use the Voicing switch without adding any overdrive) all the way up to a punishing 34dB of gain augmented by crunchy overdrive. At the top end of the Gain control you can take a crystal-clear clean channel right up to that classic ‘5-watt tube combo pushed to 10’ sound, kick in the High Boost for an edgy punk or alternative tone, or hit the High Cut for a far, sustaining lead sound.
I like to use the Killing Floor as a dirty boost with the Gain control at about 11 o’clock and the High Boost engaged to add a little Gretsch-like upper-end jangle to my otherwise sweet-sounding Saturday Night Special pickup set for goth/alternative/indie sounds (and this is really great for getting some extra clang out of my Bass VI). Occasionally when I do this I’ll step on the Pickup Booster too with the Resonance switch in Position 2 for extra gain and a fatter midrange. Another fun experiment is to treat the Killing Floor as a very gutsy-sounding Class A amp with the Pickup Booster placed afterwards for a straight solo boost, running into a Vapor Trail Analog Delay for a little ambience.
And that’s what’s so much fun about these two pedals: they’re both able to work with your existing gear to make them do things that were just that little bit too far out of reach before, whether it’s helping a particular guitar to integrate more smoothly with the rest of your setup, pushing an almost-there amp over the edge or taking a polite guitar and turning it into a high-output fire-breather.