In the world of guitar effects pedals, few brands can command the respect and popularity as Jim Dunlop’s MXR variety, and deservedly so. Through years of perfecting the art of the effects pedal, MXR is now one of the current leaders in bringing players the most versatile and sought after effects in the business. For those of you unfamiliar with the history of the brand, MXR started off as an independent company and became known as MXR Innovations, Inc, when the company was incorporated in 1974. It is now owned by Jim Dunlop, which continues to produce MXR’s storied pedals. When the company was first founded in 1973, MXR Innovations became pioneers in creating tough and rugged stomp boxes with simple utilitarian designs and small sizes – all of which can be seen today in several different companies’ approach to their effects pedals. The first pedal released by the company was the M-101 Phase 90, popularized by Van Halen’s use of the phaser pedal on their first two albums. Soon after, they released a milder design to their Phase 90 – the Phase 45 – as well as the programmable version, the Phase 100. Today, as a division of Jim Dunlop, MXR continues their tradition of giving players the effects pedals they crave as well as professional rackmount effects, desktop effects and drum computers. And speaking of MXR effects, one of the most unique and popular varieties in their catalog is the MXR M103 BlueBox. MXR themselves describes the BlueBox as “an unassuming little box that shovels out enough low frequencies to scare a blue whale. It takes your guitar signal, fuzzes it up, then duplicates it two octaves down.” If that’s not exactly making things a bit easier to understand, read on and check out what the MXR BlueBox can do for you.
Like most other MXR pedals, the BlueBox has that same straight forward, easy to use design in that familiar compact chassis. Technically speaking, the BlueBox is an octave fuzz pedal that takes two different effects and combines them in one stomp box for a sound that is uniquely its own. Also, unlike most octave fuzz pedals, the BlueBox takes your signal and drops it two octaves instead of one, furthering its unique sound and appeal. As far as controls go, the BlueBox features two control dials and a stomp switch – no more, no less. The Output knob controls the output volume of the pedal while the Blend control is lets you choose just the right amount of octave fuzz effect mix for your signal. If it sounds like two knobs will leave you wanting more, don’t jump the gun too quickly as two are all you’ll really need in order to get some excellent tones off this BlueBox. The BlueBox I purchased did not come with a manual which can sometimes be the case with these pedals but after about 15 minutes or so with the pedal, you won’t really ever need a manual as the pedal is pretty much dummy proof. The Blend knob is your money maker as far as tone production is concerned. When turned to its mid setting at 12 o’clock, you will get an equal mix of fuzz and octave effect. Turning it clockwise will give you more fuzz and less octave while counter-clockwise will yield the opposite.
As far as sound goes, MXR themselves pride the BlueBox as the pedal used to create the solo for Led Zeppelin’s “Fool in the Rain,” so if you’re familiar with the song, you will know a bit of what to expect. When MXR says the BlueBox has enough low tone frequencies to scare a blue whale, they mean it. Dialing the blend Knob to its max settings will give your tone plenty thickness that matched great when used with other common pedals in my inventory, such as the EH Big Muff (which gave it a really good White Stripes type of distortion sound). Mix it with a Wah pedal and you will get pretty close to that ‘60s Jimi Hendrix psychedelic classic rock sound with just enough overdrive. All in all, the tones created by the BlueBox are pretty awesome although the pedal is not without its faults. At times, the fuzz can get a bit weak, making me have to turn the Output knob a bit higher than I would like and the full on Octave mode can be a bit too out there for most traditional rock guitarists. Still though, if you’re a fan of thick overdrive used in classic rock, ‘60s psychedelic rock or even grunge, there are plenty of sounds in the BlueBox that you’ll enjoy.
As far as size and build go, the BlueBox keeps in line with the rest of MXR’s single effect pedals such as the Phase 90. Small enough to fit on a pedal board without much fuss and strong enough to take the wear and tear of live performance touring. The pedal can be powered n by either a standard 9 volt battery or a 9 volt AC adapter. You’re going to have to unscrew the bottom compartment in order to get batteries in and out of the BlueBox which might be a pain for those used to the easier method of the simple, screw-less design featured on other pedals. Not even remotely a deal breaker but there are players out there who insist on knowing these things.
With its straight forward design and unique sound, there are few reasons why not to have this effect as part of your pedal board. The tones created by the BlueBox range from slightly mild to all out insanity, but rest assured that it’s never so over the top that tone feels unusable in a live environment, save for the maximum octave setting which is a bit too out there for my taste (but again, prog rockers might enjoy its very unique sound at this setting). All in all though, for less than $70, the MXR BlueBox is most definitely worth the investment.