What would you do for a Klon?

Welcome back to Analyzing the Hype, a series in which we look at some coveted pieces of old school gear and we look into why they became so damn popular, and what is out there that can get you some of that sound. Today;  the Klon Centaur.

The Klon Centaur is arguably the most hyped and lauded pedal ever (We recently covered a similarly hyped pedal in our history of the Timmy overdrive, but it’s nowhere near this level). Originally designed and built by Bill Finnegan between 1994 and 2000, this simple 3 knob overdrive has garnered a legacy that has elevated it to the level of the ’59 LP Burst in just 20 or so years. But, why is that? Lets take a closer look…….

The History

To fully understand the history of the Centaur, we have to go back to 1990, when Bill Finnegan was looking for an overdrive pedal to help him achieve his preferred gigging amp sound of a Fender Twin with the volume up around 6 or 7, at a small venue-friendly level. After trying some Ibanez Tubescreamers and being dissatisfied with their compressed, overly colored sound, he set about designing his own device with his a friend of his, an MIT graduate.

Over the span of roughly 4 years and lots of encouragement from friends to release the pedal, they developed and tweaked the overall circuit to perfection in his eyes. In late 1994, the first 18 Klon Centaurs were built (note that these first 18 were actually numbered 2-19, Bill made himself #001 in Jan 1995, but he had to complete orders before hand, and of course he wanted the first serial number).

The topology of the Centaur is actually quite unique, in that it doesn’t behave like a typical overdrive box, and that the components used are rather unorthodox. Firstly, it uses an IC MAX1044 voltage converter to double the voltage, so that the pedal runs at 18v off a standard 9v supply. The tonal qualities this gives include increased headroom, less compression, increased volume, and more high order harmonics.

Secondly, it uses Germanium clipping diodes, whereas most overdrives use LED or Silicon diodes as they are cheaper, more available, and much more consistent. It also has a dual ganged gain pot (two pots connected to one knob), which provides a bass/mid EQ shift to the circuit when you wind up the gain. The Klon was also one of, if not the, first pedal to incorporate a high quality signal buffer into the circuit to avoid signal loss when the pedal was bypassed (yes, I know Boss pedals have a decent buffer, but the Klon’s buffer was integral to the design from the start).

The tone of the Klon is also very uncompressed, which is unlike most overdrives out there. It’s also very loud and has a broad frequency range, which means it’s very well suited to boosting an amp, as well as being an overdrive in and of itself.

Production of the Centaur lasted until around 2000, and some continuation models made by one of Bill’s friends were available until around 2006 or so. All in all, around 8,000 Centaurs were built over the pedal’s lifespan, and retailed for $325 new. Nowadays, originals sell for $1,000 upwards. So what makes these pedals so expensive?

Why Is It So Hyped?

This is where it, thankfully, is quite simple. I’ll explain.

A lot of what gave the Centaur it’s stature was rarity and word of mouth praise. That’s really the thick of it. To expand on this some more, these two things combined gave rise to some myth and misconception over the Klon.

For example, there has been a lot of debate over whether gold-cased Centaurs are better than the more common silver-cased ones, and whether ones with the “Horsie” Centaur graphic are better than the ones without. In reality, the circuit was the same throughout its production life, and those tonal differences are most likely due to the inconsistent nature of the NOS Germanium clipping diodes that were used.

Then there were also the comparisons to Dumble (check out my article on the history of Dumble), because he epoxy-dipped the circuit. This is more likely to do with shielding and durability, rather than it being there to provide shrouded secrecy (Bill himself has been open about this and hates the hype of the myths).

Then, you also have the sheer list of big name gunslingers who have used this pedal. Everyone from Jeff Beck and Warren Haynes to Keith Urban and Nels Cline have used the Centaur, which has also given rise to some of the mysticism around it. Then, you have the point that Bill was constantly moving around (around 15 places during the Centaurs lifespan) and built every one on the original run himself, which only made the Centaur harder to obtain.

Real World Options

If the thought of spending in excess of a grand for an original seems quite nauseating, then fear not, as the circuit has been redone by Bill himself! At $299, it’s affordable in comparison. However, these are only made in limited batches, so it’s still pretty tricky to get one. Luckily there are some other pedals that follow the path of the Centaur that are ready to buy right now!

Probably the most notable Klone (yes, bad pun as old as the hills) available now is the JRAD Archer. This pedal pretty much follows the Klon recipe to a tee and is much more pedalboard-friendly than the original, and at under $200, it’s also much more wallet friendly. You can choose between a chrome or a gold IKON model; both are slightly different sounding, as each is modeled after a different Klon.

Then, if you don’t have all that much to spend, Electro Harmonix has the Soul Food overdrive. Now this follows in a very similar vein to the Klon, but some of the circuitry is changed to not only differentiate the sound, but to also keep it to its very wallet friendly $80 pricetag.

If, on the other hand, you are really struggling for pedalboard space, Wampler offers the Tumnus overdrive.

This teeny tiny golden box is a very close approximation to the Klon in may ways. It sounds a lot like the real deal, reacts similarly to it, but it’s just extra compact. At $180, it’s reasonably priced as well.


The Klon Centaur is a truly legendary pedal, and this article definitely doesn’t intend to take anything away from that. What I will say is that while it’s exceptionally well designed and sounds phenomenal, Bill would agree with us that the myth is becoming truly absurd. If you’re tired of oldschool overdrives, I’d highly recommend finding a Klon (if you have the budget) or looking into some of the pedals that have followed in its footsteps.

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This article written by community contributor John Waldock.

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