A great Plexi Tone pedal that is ‘rich’ in tone, the El Rey Dorado certainly other descriptors, like grainy, defined and robust.
The El Rey Dorado has two channels or selections – Lo and Hi. Even on Lo, and with the Drive down as far as it can go, there is plenty of energy for moderate rock riffing. Once you get to 9-o’clock and upward of 1-o’clock the pedal hits a sweet spot (same is true for the Hi setting); it still sounds good past that point, but more saturated and thicker (with less definition). The Lo setting is more full-bodied and ideal for crunch rhythm or some moderate lead whereas the Hi setting is make for lead as it has more harmonics and compression. Different amps and cabs will produce different results, but the demo included in this review uses the Victory Countess V4 Preamp (clean channel) into an Axe-Fx II (Petrucci MESA 4x12 cabinet). The Countess preamp has a very warm and thick tone, whereas the Petrucci cab-sim is a bit on the dark side, as opposed to a Marshall 4x12. Consequently, my resultant tone is very thick and chewy, although you still can hear plenty of note definition. Overall, this is one of the best sounding drives/distortions I’ve heard and its sound/quality encourages a guitarist to play.
A fairly aggressive pedal (although on low settings it may behave with some higher-gain amp channels, the El Rey Dorado definitely was made to rock a clean channel. If you ever wanted a Plexi tone, but may have been disappointed in the past, then you need to investigate the Robert Keeley El Rey Dorado, aka The Golden King. This pedal produces some of the best crunch and lead tones I’ve heard in a pedal and definitely brings to life a clean amp channel. The distortion/drive is so grainy and badass that it is not meant for light rock in the least, but will find its home with higher energy Rock and even some genres of Metal. The Lo setting produces some thick crunch while remaining ultra clear and grainy, whereas the Hi setting produces that unmistakable compressed super lead. At $149 the El Rey Dorado not only is a fair price, but also produces one of the best overdrive tones for the money (although results will vary depending on your amp and cab).
Start with the Drive knob turned all the way down if you want only a modest amount of drive. There is a serious amount of gain to be had even at that setting (more so with the Lo setting than the Hi setting). The sweet spots for either Lo or Hi ranges between 9-1 o’clock, which means you get the full robustness and note detail in that range and before the signal becomes more saturated or compressed. The Tone knob offers a very good range, which seems to be most notable with the Lo setting (very deep, almost muffled, to relatively high, yet not shrill). The Tone affects the Hi setting less, but still to good effect nonetheless (not as much muffle with a lot of bass). With the Hi setting, particularly for lead playing on the bridge pickup, you can get a very deep and mellow tone with the knob turned full counter-clockwise, e.g., more bass (it sounds as though playing on the neck pickup); conversely, with a lot of treble (knob turned fully clockwise) you get a very clear and cutting tone that does not sound brittle. Overall, not only is the El Rey Dorado a fantastic sounding pedal, but if it could have one extra thing I would suggest a second footswitch – one to turn the pedal on and off and the other to switch between the two channels (Lo and Hi). Certainly this would increase pedal size and the cost, but the El Rey Dorado’s Lo sounds so good for crunch/rhythm, whereas the Hi sounds so good for Lead, you may find yourself stooping a lot to make the switch.
A standard sized pedal made of heavy duty, lightweight aluminum with a gold powder coated paint finish, the black and red graphics on the chassis has a great Aztec/Mayan/Inca vibe to it (the legend of El Rey Dorado does not seem to specify the exact Central American civilization). Measuring 112 mm (L) x 60mm (W) x 50mm (H) (4.4 x 2.36 x 1.97 inches), the footswitch produces a solid click when the pedal is engaged and disengaged. The small toggle switch (to select Lo and Hi settings) is small enough and located among the three knobs that accidental stomping/breakage is very unlikely. The three knobs controlling Level, Tone and Drive all have good quality pots (smooth and solid when turned). The cable input and output are located along the sides of the unit, whereas the power input is located in the back. Consequently, modest care is required to prevent a stomping foot from striking either ¼-inch cables and causing damage to the unit. The El Rey Dorado can work on a standard 9V battery or via a standard 9VDC (center -) power supply. The user manual does not indicate the mA power consumption, but since it can work on a battery it likely is relatively low, e.g., 10-20mA of power.