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You might remember Funny Little Boxes for its excellent 1991 pedal, which delivers the sound of Pearl Jam’s Ten in a box. Well, now, FLB founder Andy Ilgunas and YouTube channel Let’s Play All’s Matt Webster have once again collaborated, with their sights set on recreating one of modern rock’s most revered, yet hard-to-approximate guitar tones: Queens of the Stone Age.
That’s quite a blanket description given Josh Homme’s blueprint has graced eight studio albums and dozens of side-project releases. So which is the Skeleton Key gunning for?
Well, it’s a fitting name, because the answer is simultaneously all of them and none of them. Instead, this op-amp-based distortion is designed to capture the overall vibe of Josh Homme’s clandestine, cleaner-than-you-might-think sound: part overdrive, part fuzz, all down-tuned and instantly recognisable character.
There are three controls, and while you might expect some esoteric descriptions, FLB has kept it to simple tradition: Gain, Volume and Tone. The Skeleton Key features one input, one output, and a power jack, and to cap it off, has enlisted official QOTSA artist Boneface to create the Skeleton Key Graphic that adorns the front.
We fed the Skeleton Key humbucker pickups and single coils, with our guitars tuned to C standard, drop C and standard tuning, and the results are oddly uncanny. Crucial to the Skeleton Key’s sound is its gain range, which, while labelled distortion is closer in terms of saturation levels to a heavy overdrive.
However there’s a layer of aggression that takes it away from sounding like another OG OD circuit. First, it’s dynamic, responding to our guitar’s volume with versatility.
Second, you’ll get a totally usable range of sounds out of the full travel of the controls – even with everything maxed out it maintains its clarity and throaty growl thanks to it never reaching white-hot molten gain levels.
It’s actually quite a strange experience, in that with the output pushing at a decent level and beyond, the QOTSA flavour remains throughout. This leaves you with the tone and gain controls as your seasoning without leaving the desert.