Ah, Rats (Pedals)!

The Pro Co Rat is a, if not the, clas­sic dis­tor­tion gui­tar effect1. It’s still around though “vin­tage” effects can go for hun­dreds of dol­lars. There are many vari­ants and, like any clas­sic gui­tar effect, there are many clones. It’s also one of those ped­als that many of the mods and clones have improved upon the orig­i­nal.

Aion Helios Vin­tage Dis­tor­tion Kit

I got a com­plete ped­al kit from Aion effects — the Helios Vin­tage Dis­tor­tion. I have built one of their effects using just a PCB before, and the instruc­tions are top-notch. The kit was equal­ly well done, with qual­i­ty com­po­nents. The Helios is basi­cal­ly a Rat clone that uses an OP07 chip (instead of the hard to find LM308N and most folks who seem to know say they sound the same, any­way). The Helios also includes a cou­ple of very com­mon mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the Rat: an addi­tion­al “sweep” con­trol and a clip­ping diode selec­tion. The for­mer adds an addi­tion­al EQ con­trol to the ped­al where as the lat­ter adds the abil­i­ty to select dif­fer­ent clip­ping diodes that decide the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the dis­tor­tion.

Com­po­nents for the Rat ped­al laid out

I’m not sure if I’ve real­ly men­tioned this in any posts of effects build­ing, but I pre­fer to tape down all of the com­po­nents for each build onto paper along each of their descrip­tions. This is sort of anal­o­gous to “knolling” a LEGO kit, I sup­pose (though tap­ing them down makes the com­po­nents eas­i­er to iden­ti­fy lat­er!).

Aion footswitch board and red resistors
Aion footswitch board and red resis­tors

As I men­tioned, the Aion kit comes with what all seem to be high qual­i­ty com­po­nents. I have to admit, the all red resis­tors had me con­fused. They were clear­ly labeled with text as to each val­ue (which is much bet­ter than try­ing to read col­or bands!). They appear to be 1/4W 1% met­al film resis­tors with a coat­ing and print­ed val­ue is all.

Rat pots and switch­es

The kit comes with lit­er­al­ly every­thing you need, includ­ing pot iso­la­tion cov­ers. The fit-up of the top-mount audio and pow­er jacks is very pre­cise, so I did have to re-work the sol­der joints on one of the jacks. But the result­ing fin­ish of the enclo­sure is that much nicer.

Rat ped­al ready to assem­ble

The wiring in the ped­al is done using head­ers and small rib­bon cables. If you real­ly hate off-board wiring (I don’t mind it so much), this is real­ly nice. Here you can see the cus­tom dress­ing nut used over the stomp switch (there’s a sim­i­lar cus­tom nut for the clip­ping switch!), which gives the ped­al a very high-end made feel.

Rat ped­al guts and signed bot­tom cov­er
Rat ped­al guts shot after final assem­bly

I do have a few com­plaints about the kit, though. First is that the PCB just refused to lay flat on the selec­tor switch and pots. I could have fid­dled with it more, but it seemed like things just did­n’t want to line up. Even though Aion states the 3PDT footswitch is a pre­mi­um switch, with longer life, I’m not a fan of the feel of it (I guess I’m just so used to either a relay or the Tai­wan blue switch!). Last­ly, and this is some­thing I absolute­ly plan to change on this ped­al: the LED is insane­ly bright! I mean, it hurts to look at and is actu­al­ly dis­tract­ing, even when you’re not look­ing direct­ly at the ped­al! I’m going to swap out the LED resis­tor to dim it down. A lot!

Helios Vin­tage Dis­tor­tion Kit Com­plete

But these are great kits and this is an amaz­ing ped­al for less than $75 (on sale, reg­u­lar­ly $82). The assem­bly took me about 2 hours or so (that includes tak­ing a few min­utes to put my son to bed). Of course, your mileage may vary. Some of their ped­als are sold ful­ly assem­bled on Reverb or you can also reach out to a builder to see about pric­ing an assem­bled ped­al. Even at that price, it’s a good deal! With the clip­ping options, it can cov­er ground from almost a trans­par­ent boost all the way to a medi­um gain dis­tor­tion ped­al (I mean, it’s no Boss Met­al Zone…). It’s hon­est­ly cheap­er than you could pur­chase a used Rat ped­al and mod it, and already mod­ded Rat ped­als go for much more.

Now, none of this mat­ters if it does­n’t sound good, of course. Once again, I’ve man­aged to build a ped­al and write a blog post with­out both­er­ing to record any audio. Part of that is because I don’t yet have a mic and I’m not pleased with the cab­i­net sim­u­la­tor on my amp head. But most­ly, it’s because I’m lazy and not real­ly a great gui­tar play­er! I’ll try to get some audio post­ed soon, though.

  1. Now, when I say “dis­tor­tion effect”, I’m not refer­ring to fuzz ped­als or dis­tort­ed ampli­fiers, I real­ly do just mean dis­tor­tion effects ped­als. Hen­drix nev­er played one of these! []

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