I would like to introduce this “Timeless Classics” series about effects with a pedal that I discovered quite recently (about two years ago) after trying and owning a lot of distortion/overdrive pedals: The Proco Rat-2.
The Rat 2 is the granddaughter of the RAT, released at the end of the 70s and whose 1985 reissue model has just been announced by Proco. The RAT has been the pedal of choice of a number of guitarists including at some stage Jeff Beck.
My model has a below 300000 serial number. According to Robert Keeley (who knows a thing or two about effects), the RAT 2 made after serial number 300000 (early 2008) are of inferior quality. I have not been able to compare mine to a more recent model tonewise so I will not comment first hand on that. Nonetheless, if you have your eyes on a second hand RAT 2, you might want to check the serial number under the pedal.
Anyway, I find the RAT highly effective. It can go from a nice overdriven sound at lower gain settings to a fat slightly fuzzy distortion at higher gain settings. If you are into lower gain overdrive type of sounds there is a lot of alternatives but for high gain distortion types of sound (and for a reasonable price) it is pretty unique. The filter is very effective and works differently from most pedals as it cuts highs as you increase it. A slight variation can make a big difference. The volume will not provide a huge boost but a boost nonetheless. Gilmourish has an excellent piece about the RAT and explains why it is a good staple distortion pedal.
In particular, I find it as effective with single coils as it is with humbuckers which is where I find most distortion pedals to be lacking. I have recorded two videos showing the fat tone you can get from a Telecaster and a RAT. I understand this type of hairy fat tone is not everyone’s cup of tea but if it is what you are looking for, chances are a proco RAT 2 will do it for you.
In these clips, the settings on the RAT 2 are as follows: gain 2 o’clock, filter 3 o’clock, volume 2 o’clock.
First using a 1978 Telecaster with stock pickups through a 5 watts all tube 1974 Fender Silverface champ miked by a Shure SM-57 pluggeg into a Boss Micro-BR recorder (some BOSS DD-3 delay added mid way and BOSS RV-3 reverb always on):
Update 24-10-2010: here is another video of my Telecaster, the Proco Rat 2 and my trusty Fender amp (same as video above). The sound quality is better and you get to hear how it sounds with a slapback echo added in the second part of the video.
And now the same guitar and the same pedals through a Marshall JM-1 Preamp set clean and plugged directly into the recorder (I have used the “clean 1” channel with a gain of 9):