If you’re looking for an incredibly raw and authentic tone and have a liking for screamers, the Bonsai may be the answer. Below is a YouTube video that demonstrates the various tones:
Although I am presenting my views on JHS Pedal’s Bonsai 9-way Screamer, I am doing so without comparing each mode side-by-side with the actual screamer in question. Nonetheless, the Bonsai works so well and as the original modes intended – by adding dirt to a clean channel or driving a ‘gain’ channel with some added pizzazz and varying qualities – that it deserves two-thumbs up and makes it obvious why the first batch of 1000 units sold out in no time. I will share the following, which comes from JHS Pedal’s website:
“One of the most challenging parts of this project was accounting for component drift as many of these pedals were decades old and the internal components had strayed from their original values. Each pedal was individually replicated using our Audio Precision analyzer and various other methods that allowed us to perfectly replicate every aspect of the sound and feel of the unit. It's important to know that the Bonsai is not a ‘box of mods,’ it is exact replications of these nine units all housed in one box! The Bonsai is exact replication, not emulation. When you choose a mode on the Bonsai rotary, you are actually activating components specific to each mode and playing the unit that Josh chose along with all the quirks, drift, vintage mojo, and individuality that a vintage pedal has.”
If we consider the tonal qualities of each mode, they are as follows:
• OD1 has a brighter and moderate gain;
• TS808 has less gain and more mid-range;
• TS9 is similar to the TS808, but with more low-mids;
• MSL is higher gain with thicker low ends;
• TS10 is an upgrade from the TS9 with a crisper tone and more low-end roll off and low-gain;
• Exar OD-1 has a unique transparent drive character with a little more gain than the classic screamers;
• TS-7 produces the highest gain on the Bonsai, with more low-end and ‘dirt’;
• Keeley Mod Plus has a tighter sound with a smoother mid-range, high frequencies and an increased bass response; and
• JHS Strong Mod is clean and powerful (incredible as a boost) with pronounced higher- and lower-end drop offs.
The Bonsai is a moderately priced pedal at $229 USD (not high-end, but not inexpensive), but what you get is incredible considering it can replace 8 different tube screamers and while offering a 9th version (the JHS version) to boot. Think about that for a moment, since all the top screamers on the market offer unique characteristics, and some work better with different amps (or drive/distortion pedals) than others. Having access to all of them in one pedal is a pedal-board dream come true, and JHS Pedals definitely hit a home run with this strikingly green and organically sounding piece of technology. There’s a reason why we like a delay or reverb pedal with various options (so that we don’t have to have more than one delay or reverb pedal on our board), and certainly the Bonsai fits that criteria by placing all the classics at your fingertips and in a standard-sized pedal. All the controls needed are there, including Volume, Drive and Tone – simple to use and to dial in a great sound with any amp or pedal combination.
EASE OF USE
Screamers have come to be known as one of those essential pedals to add dirt to a signal (the Tube Screamer being one of the best selling pedals of all time), but also to boost and add quality to a guitar’s tone, whether working through clean/crunch amps or with gain-type pedals. This cannot be said about typical distortion/gain pedals, as sometimes they can make a high-gain amp sound messy. With a screamer, on the other hand, you can keep the Drive very low in the mix and yet it makes a distorted or high-gain signal come to life with added energy (as though you modded the original equipment). I was even surprised as to how the Bonsai improved the tonal and singing qualities of my drive pedals, including some high-end boutique pedals.
Now, what is interesting about screamers is that some work better than others when it comes to different amps and pedal combinations. A Fender amp may respond better to one type of screamer, whereas a Marshall sounds better with a different type of screamer. Not that the same screamer cannot have a positive influence on different equipment, but that some work better than others relative to one’s taste. Consequently, because each mode on the Bonsai has very unique characteristics, as per the original screamer in question, you definitely will hear very different outcomes with each mode and relative to the gear you’re using. I demonstrated this on the video as I used the same equipment throughout, and yet the tonal qualities varied from one screamer mode to the next. And so, not only is there a lot of fun exploring the various combinations, but you can achieve a host of unique tones while using the same amp and pedals.
RELIABILITY & DURABILITY
The Bonsai consists of a good heft of steel with a solid ‘monster green’ paint job. The knobs are heavy plastic and far removed from the solid click of the foot switch. The LED is next to the foot switch, but no worries there. The power input (the most delicate of the bunch) is located in the back and away from wandering feet, whereas the Input and Output are located along the sides. The electronics are of high quality, since this is JHS from the USA we’re talking about… I won’t even question that part of the build. Consequently, I suspect the Bonsai will last for many years to come. Power, by the way, is via a standard 9V supply while consuming less than 100 mA. I asky you, what’s not to love about this pedal?