One of the few things you can set your watch to is the increasing price of an original Klon Centaur. When the boutique pedal scene first took off, you could pick one up for about a thousand dollars. Now, depending on the model, you're probably looking at as much as five times that. And that’s why we’ve compiled this guide to the best Klon clones on the market today.
Originally produced by Bill Finnegan between about 1994 and 2000, the pedal's unique topology meant that a portion of the guitar's clean signal was always blended back into the distortion sound. This led to the term 'transparent overdrive' – though, it should be noted, that at higher gain settings, the Klon is anything but. Inspired by the enduring popularity of the design and bottleneck in supply, clones of the circuit, known as 'klones' have become available over the years. And that’s what we’ll be looking at here.
If you want to find out more about the original Klon Centaur - and what makes the best Klon clones - hit the buying advice button above. If you want to get straight to our choices, keep scrolling.
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Best Klon clones: Guitar World’s Choice
The Wampler Tumnus Deluxe offers an interesting spin on the circuit for non-purists. Meanwhile, the original Tumnus remains a good-value option for those in search of the authentic article. For a budget option, investigate the Mosky Golden Horse, especially if pedalboard space is an issue.
If you want something a little different, then the Ceriatone Horsebreaker is worth a look. In a relatively compact enclosure you're getting not just an original Klon circuit, but also a Marshall Bluesbreaker - the pedal that inspired Analogman's cult King of Tone overdrive. The two together is a potent pairing for any guitarist armed with a decent tube amp, or interested in gain staging.
Best Klon clones: Product guide
Where the regular Tumnus was a no-frills Klone, the Deluxe represents Brian Wampler's take on the circuit, and is one of the best Klon clones out there. Of most interest are the additions of an active bass and mids control. The shelving treble of the original Klon is still present, but the mids control allows you to have greater control over the midrange of the pedal.
While the Klon's mid-bump is nowhere near as pronounced as that of, say, the Ibanez Tubescreamer, it's still far from a flat EQ profile. The three-band arrangement of the Tumnus allows for far greater tonal flexibility than the original.
At this price point, it's surprising that the otherwise all-SMD Golden Horse should boast two through-hole germanium diodes. Then again, Mosky have surprised us with solid budget offerings before. As a result, the Golden Horse has the core sound down.
There's a slight difference in timbre with the Golden Horse when in the mix of a larger 'board. This may be down to the fact that this pedal appears to be true bypass rather than the buffered bypass of the original. It's a marginal difference, though, even if it isn't just our brain playing tricks on us.
J Rockett Audio Designs worked with Klon designer Bill Finnegan on the first versions of the KTR, the successor to the Centaur, so they have about as direct a link to the original as it's possible to have. For a long time, the JRAD Archer was pretty much the only show in town in terms of a mass-produced alternative. This is probably why it crops up on so many pro rigs.
Nowadays, there is more choice, but the Archer remains the gold standard replica. There's not much to say about the tone other than that you'd be very hard-pressed to tell it apart from an original. Designed to be toured, its bombproof construction means that it'll likely outlive its owner.
Ceriatone makes a part-perfect klone of the Centaur, called the Centura. It's even housed in a nifty enclosure that's got some of the over-engineered heft of the Centaur to it. However, their Horsebreaker is more interesting. Housed in a double-width enclosure, it has not only a Centaur circuit, but also a clone of the Marshall Bluesbreaker.
The Bluesbreaker, along with the Ibanez Tubescreamer, is famously the basis for the coveted Analogman King of Tone. What you're getting with the Horsebreaker then, is two classic circuits that stack well, with a switch to select the order in which they come. It's cheaper than the Centura, smaller, and as a result potentially a killer addition to a pedalboard, both in terms of tone and real-estate.
The Centaur is known for being great at pushing tube amps into saturation. With the Horsebreaker you're getting another gain stage into the bargain. As they say, "if less is more, then imagine how much more more will be!"
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The MXR Sugar Drive not only looks the part, but sounds the part, with a solid take on the Klon's sound, housed in a sleek mini-enclosure.
As you'd expect from a mass-produced MXR pedal, the internals are fully SMD rather than through-hole, and as a result the diodes appear to be silicon rather than germanium. We're on record saying we don't think that's a very big deal, but if you want a part-for-part authentic klone, then that rules out the Sugar Drive.
The street price of the Soul Food relative to other, newer Klon clones means it's not the bargain it once was, but it still represents pretty good value for money. The enclosure and design may not be the best, but the sound is powerful and articulate.
A common complaint of the Soul Food is that it's thinner than the original, but we've not been able to tell a big difference from germanium-diode klones. Like most analogue pedals, there's a bit of unit-to-unit difference with original Klon Centaurs due to part tolerance and the like. As a result, we do wonder if the greater compression of some germanium diodes might account for different perceived EQ profiles.
Okay, so putting the KTR on this list is a little disingenuous, as it's designed and built by Bill Finnegan, the successor to the hype beast Centaur itself. Even so, it's inspired by the Centaur, so we've included it. Released in 2014, these were available through dealers as recently as a few years ago, but that seems to have ended and the pedal's price is steadily climbing on the used market.
Meanwhile, though it's not clear how frequently pedals are available, Bill has periodically sold Klon reissues made by him in the original-style enclosure on eBay. However, in the event that these do crop up, be prepared to pay an appropriately large sum for one.
The RYRA Klone is a straightforward piece of kit. Unlike other pedals which use puns and misdirection to hint at their origins, the Klone comes straight out and says what it is. RYRA is a one-man shop run by Shane Logan, so the spirit of small-run, independent operation continues in their DNA.
The circuit is a faithful reproduction of the original down to the ground, and sounds very close to it. Although there are much smaller options, it's also quite compact, always a bonus in our book.
Anasounds claim that the Savage is inspired by the Centaur rather than being a true klone, but for all the differences, it's still got 'that' sound. Chief among the changes is that the pedal is true bypass, but pop the back off, and the Savage has a few more tricks up its sleeve.
There's a voicing trimpot, as well as three different two-way switches. One changes the filter in the feed-forward network, adding more clean bass to the overdrive sound. One switches between silicon diodes and germanium diodes. The final two-way switch is the most interesting. It changes the function of the tone control from being a treble shelf to more of a tilt-style filter, a bit like the sort of thing you'd find on a Big Muff.
All this combines to make a very customisable, modern take on the Centaur, but if you're after the vintage-correct sound, it might not be for you.
Best Klon clones: Buying advice
Why is the Klon Centaur so good?
Bill Finnegan claimed that the hard-clipping 1N34A germanium diodes are the signature component of the Centaur's sound. However, testing by ear, as well as waveform analysis have since showed that, if anything, the effect of these diodes is marginal.
There's quite a bit of gain on tap, and that, combined with the hard-clipping diodes means the Centaur can hit distortion territory if required. At the maximum settings on the gain control, it's an almost square-wave distortion, caused by clipping inside the op-amp. Most players, however, value its touch-sensitivity and run it at much lower-gain settings.
Key to the circuit are two filter networks that amount to a clean blend. The first is controlled by the dual-gang gain control. As gain is increased, a filtered clean signal that runs in parallel is reduced in amplitude, and vice-versa. This is another reason why players running it at lower gain settings find it to be the 'cleanest' boost or drive that they've played.
The second network is more simple, adding a bit of 'thickness' back into the tone. This applies a low-pass filter to the clean tone, which is then blended back into the distortion sound. Each of these waveforms - the two filtered and the distorted - are radically different to one another. It's their sum that makes the Centaur so interesting.
All of this detail serves to point out that most of the magic happens in these filter networks and the gain stage itself. Though the original tone control is interesting - an active high pass shelf above 400Hz - modifying the EQ stage doesn't affect the essential character of the circuit as much as you might expect.
What to look for in a Klone
As a result, when buying a Klon clone, as long as it's a faithful reproduction of the original circuit, you can purchase based on looks, as modifications like different diodes are likely to have a small impact. The Centaur stacks pretty well with other pedals, especially at lower gain levels, and so some boutique options that offer utilities for further tweaking EQ, or indeed having two pedals in a single enclosure are good options.
Famously, the Centaur had a buffer which some people lionise to the point of building it into a separate pedal. Thus, most klones are either buffered bypass or selectable between buffered and true bypass.
Finally, the original had a massive enclosure, so as always, we tend to say that size should be one of the most important considerations. After all, if you can't fit it on your 'board, it doesn't matter how good it sounds!