The Thick Air Pedal is a two stage, clean boost, that, unlike other straight boost pedals, imparts a vastly upgraded psychoacoustic, magical and mysterious aspect to your tone by using audiophile-grade, non-magnetic resistors and boutique-grade, NOS German and Russian film & foil capacitors, NOS Russian and Sprague tantalum capacitors, NOS Siliconix J230 JFET transistors and mil-spec silver tinned wire, for the highest quality, smoothest sounding signal path. (No electrolytic capacitors, ever! Meaning they'll never need replacing.)
Just like in the studio, there are some vintage devices we use simply because the unaffected signal path has some qualities that enhance & energize the sound - no process, no "effect" exactly, just an injection of presence, "air", vibrance, and excitement to the signal. In this case the Thick Air Pedal is built on a pair of simple, blaster-like gain stages. So if there's any "effect", it's a little bit (or a lot) of gain, but the main result of the T.A. pedal is a real aura of sonic presence and clarity, with a subtle halo of harmonic glow.
Each of the two booster circuits can be engaged via dedicated foot switches for a neither, either, or both setting option. The right side of the pedal adds the subtle yet special “Air” toggle switch to help enhance upper, more “airy” frequencies. The pedal is entirely hand built, hand-wired, hand decaled here in my shop. Users of the Thick Air report an enhanced clarity, presence, and vibrance to the sound in addition to the adjustable gain boost. It can be used as an always-on pedal with the second stage used as a pre-calibrated gain boost or, as I prefer, both sides always on for lovely sonic sculpting. It gives the player an extremely lively feel, greatly enhanced reactivity and a marvelous 3-Dimensional sound stage!
Unfortunately, because the Thick Air is reliant on components that are no longer manufactured, there will be a finite number built... when the parts are gone, the pedal won't be offered any more. At the time of this writing, there will be approximately 300 more made, with 250 in existence now.
Below you'll find a few testimonials... virtually anyone who hears or uses this great device has been happy with it! Read what other folks have to say about this very special pedal.
The Thick Air pedal is great! As I understand it, the Thick Air could be described generally as two StratoBlasters in one pedal. But the way Brian built and executed this circuit, it’s a lot nicer than the original Blaster. He’s really gone the extra here using audiophile-grade resistors and fairly esoteric film/foil capacitors for a signal path that’s really special. To me, the pedal is best used with one channel always on as a buffer/driver and tone enhancer. Probably set that one to minimum gain. And keep in mind that there’s always a little bit of boost with each section. Then use the 2nd channel with the air toggle on as the boost or extra pedal. I know the old Blaster circuit pretty well and am familiar with it’s uniquely lively and borderline gritty, crispy edge, not the cleanest buffer but very musical and sparkly. The way Brian upgraded this design here gives the tonality a quality that’s more refined, more elegant, more smooth, more audiophile. He takes great care with the hefty amount of hand wiring and uses top grade parts throughout. This thing is just great! It's a very classy, boutique build, and it sounds killer. And the best pedal name/reference ever.
I’ve now had my Thick Air Pedal from Brian at IO Custom Guitars for about a week and it’s been a complete game changer. One week ago I loved the sound of my guitar, and now when I play it without Stage 1 of the Thick Air turned on it feels anemic and thin. I haven’t turned it off in days, and I imagine this one will be always on. I’m relatively new to this, and worry my limited vocabulary for describing these sounds will limit how I can convey what I’m hearing, but let me tell you it’s amazing. Stage 1, with the gain set low around 9:00, makes the guitar absolutely sparkle. It only adds a touch of volume, but the tone just gets bright and full and complex. A complete game changer for my passive single coil set up. Then there’s Stage 2. I like it best with the Air switch on, and it adds amazing boost to the guitar, driving some beautiful breakup and thick, dark drive to my guitar. Pairs perfectly with my JBL D120. Also, Stage 2 without Stage 1 is similarly fantastic - adding depth and distortion without really boosting volume as much as when Stage 1 is on.
I lack the technical know-how to get too deep in to the build, but look up reviews online from pros like Brad Sarno and Waldo and you can see the respect that they have for Brian’s hand wiring and choice of components. I always love the aesthetics of such things, and the box itself is beautiful: a really cool schematic-looking picture of the Wall of Sound, with Brian’s sweet looking IO font. And of course, the best name for a Dead Head pedal ever.
So happy I bought this, and can’t see it getting turned off again. I couldn’t recommend it more - it’s really like having 3 pedals in one and each one shines. I’ve explored so much, and have so much left to play with still. Searchin’ for the sound.....
Brian my bandmates tonight were all commenting on my tone. usually they are like "yeah man sounds great!" but tonight my bass player looked up at the end of a song and goes, "so that was the thick air? Holy shit!"
Well, in my dream about the Thick Air, I vividly remember it being the best tone I'd ever heard..so sparkly, so hard to describe. The reality is even better than the dream! All the most lovable qualities of the guitar are boosted in the sweetest way; each stage has a powerful flavor of its own, and together make the guitar sing even with the lightest touch. Definitely the best pedal I've ever owned :)
This pedal has already received a few amazing reviews, but since there are only a few in existence, I thought I would add my praise. This thing kicks ass. I tried to record a few videos to demonstrate, but my iphone videos just don't do it justice. But -- I would describe it this way: You ever A/B a classic album first on CD (or MP3) then on vinyl on a nice system? I'll never forget the first time I did this. I never wanted to listen to a CD again because the vinyl was so much warmer and sweeter. It's kind of like that. Honestly -- it adds thick air! And it's very Jerry. For me -- I think it's the absolute perfect compliment to a set-up, that frankly, I didn't think could get any better. I play a Coscia Bella into an SMS (Waldo Mod), with a MC50 that goes into one or two JBL Ks. It's gorgeous. But -- the Thick Air warms it up a bit and adds a little bit more magic, somehow. I also have a sweet guitar designed by Brian that has a blaster as well as a buffer, which interacts really well with it. When I was listening back to the videos I took with and without the Thick Air, while I couldn't really detect any tonal difference (because of the video limitations), it was clear that I just played better when it was on. And I think that's a big part of what chasing the tone is about, at any rate. It's about finding those things (amps, mods, pedals, pickups, guitars) that inspire you to play your best. This pedal gives me that inspiration in a big way. I'm using the Thick Air outside the loop just before the preamp. Mainly using the first stage, but experimenting with the second. Highly recommend snagging one of these -- especially since Brian may not be able to make all that many of them (because of limited parts). And -- Brian is the best. I bought this pedal immediately from him because I knew he would only put something out that was really good.
This pedal truly does something special to the sound and feel of my guitar that is very, very difficult to describe. Honestly, I’m trying to sum up specifically what the “it” is that it does, but it’s so unique and subtle; there’s no sure-shot way to describe the “it”. With that said, I’ll do what I can... I’ll try and describe what I’d say are the 3 main aspects of what this pedal does.
The very first thing I noticed is that the low end tightens up dramatically and feels/sounds less round, more defined, subtly more “square-wavey”, almost like some kind of tube compression is acting on it, squashing a bit on the low-mids and lows, making them more “punchy”. These lower frequencies acquire a feel that seems more reactive to pick attack and “tight” sounding. Backing off on the volume knob a bit, this “tightening” seems to be retained but ‘gives’ a bit as the volume goes down, allowing for a “backgroundyness” when sitting in the full band mix that somehow changes in eq to sit better.
There is overall engendered an unmistakable dynamic “grit threshold”—that is to say, if you strum chords lightly, gradually increasing the force of your strumming, there will also increase a subtle sense of “clean grit”, harmonic distortion, almost like an overdriven tube, but NOT! It’s far “cleaner” and “softer” than amp-breakup would be... like a semi-transparent shag-rug atop the un-darkened tone, but the feel remains “tight”. This effect is both reminiscent of and absolutely unlike any gain/overdrive/distortion/boost pedal I’ve ever used. It’s totally unique.
Lastly, there’s the aspect of tone... and here is where my ability to use my vocabulary to describe this thing begins to challenge me...
It has a sound somewhat like a trippy, subtle phase inversion on the guitar tone... but the parameters of this phase inversion react dynamically to pick attack and volume, shaping the geometry of the tone/feel in a way I cant exactly describe. It’s absolutely unique. This effect gives the guitar tone and feel a kind of “drawl” (like how a person from Kentucky would sound to a Californian... or visa versa...) but in sound, tone, and feel, not in “speech”. Its very subtle... I absolutely cannot describe it. It’s so totally interesting and transformative to the feel and tone of the guitar that it just has to be heard and felt to be understood.
In conclusion, and most importantly, all 3 of these aspects of the io custom guitar “thick air” pedal come together to produce a sound SSOOO Jerry Garcia that I was dumbfounded. I have a very, Very similar amp/guitar setup to that of Garcia, which I have used for years and felt like it very-closely emulated Garcia’s sound... I had no idea I was so totally lacking such a key component of “that sound” until I used ‘thick air’... Now I wonder how I could have been lacking it for so long without noticing.
This pedal is special. It now has a permanent “always on” (I never turn it off—it affects my sound at all times) spot in my rig, and I recommend it confidently to anyone trying to emulate Jerry.