Ease of Use: This review is for the 1981 Pro Co 'The Rat' distortion pedal. The pedal was hand-built in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 1981 in the Pro Co factory. This was given to me by a very gracious family member when I first started playing 7 years ago. Little did I know when I received it how old it was, or how rare it was.
The pedal's ease of use is a notable feature, it's got three dials (Distortion, filter and volume) and a big silver plug located in the middle of its steel box frame. It's so easy to get a good tone out of it, and there are many good tones to find. Strangely enough, the filter dial cuts the high frequencies, which is the opposite of what the tone dial on a guitar does and this may cause some confusion, that's why it gets a 9. // 9
Sound: I'm using this pedal through a Randall RG40R and an Orange Crush PiX 20DLX and it's currently chained first from my amp in front of my Boss HM-2, DigiTech Whammy and my Dunlop CryBaby Wah. I find all of my guitars work well with it, especially my Gibson Les Paul Studio and my LTD H-500. I've even used my acoustic through this same set up and it sounds fat! The pedal's noise is surprisingly minimal after tightening all the internal wires up (30 years of use will do that). I find it a lot less noisy than the Boss HM-2 and the pedal will hold its sound better as well.
The pedal is obviously made for distortion, and thanks to its prized LM308 op-amp, it's heavier than Valhalla. Dialed in right the pedal will rip your skull from skin with its fantastic stability in the high register, and it can also provide the filthiest, sludgiest rhythms that can (and has done) shatter the very foundations that your homes stand upon. Think Sunn O))) and Electric Wizard heavy.
When it comes to mimicking sounds from guitarists, with the right amp, I'd Imagine this pedal could do them all. For me, using transistor amps nearly exclusively, I can get a rad Dimebag-esque tone quite easily and have managed to get (on different amps) tones that range in the style of Papa Hetfield to Jack White. There's something about Vintage equipment that shines a lot better than the newer stuff. This pedal has a unique warmth to its tone that pedals like the HM-3, ML-2 and even the fantastic SC-2 from DigiTech are missing. // 10
Reliability & Durability: This pedal is built like a brick... Made of steel. It's survived 30 years of rough gigging, global travel and malevolent misuse. It stands up to Pro Co's warranty statement of "Any excuse, even abuse." I would definitely depend on this pedal to survive an atomic bomb strike or even another Apocalypse prediction. The only problem I had with this pedal was when the wires on the inside of the pedal had dislodged from their rightful spot, and that was 2 years ago and that was easy fixed. Aside from that, I've never had a problem using this piece of equipment and neither had the 2 previous owners. Surviving 30 years speaks for itself. // 10
Overall Impression: I honestly can't praise this pedal enough. It's extremely versatile, extremely strong and so simple it hurts! This pedal can be applied to ANY style of playing. I've used it in Funk, Blues and Rock/Metal for my entire playing life and it's always worked a charm. This pedal is a must have for anyone who enjoys a crisp distortion tone (perfect for thrash!) and for anyone who loves a fuzzy, over-saturated sludge-bomb (perfect for doom!) and all the shades of grey that lay inbetween.
The only feature it's missing is a clone button, because I would love a lot more of these pedals. And if this were stolen from my possession, I would launch a public vendetta and curse the very soul of the thief who pried it from my hands. To finish, I'd like to state that there is a reason why these early Rat's are so coveted, and that my review, in no way, shape or form, is exaggerating any feature of this pedal. It is, quite simply, the best distortion pedal I've ever used. // 10