Depending on where you look, you’ll see the Crayon from JHS labeled as everything from a Preamp, to Distortion; DI Box, to Fuzz.
Even JHS themselves have the Crayon listed in two different categories: Preamp and Fuzz.
The Crayon is one of the most versatile effect boxes on the market today and it is quickly becoming my new favorite effect.
In this JHS Crayon review I will discuss the pros and cons, as well as my favorite settings for this pedal.
In order to understand the design approach for the Crayon, we have to start with the Crayon’s big brother: the Color Box. The Color Box was designed to emulate vintage console preamp circuits (specifically from a Neve console). No guitar amp or speaker needed, just great preamp tone. Pushing the gain on this kind of preamp DI signal would give you serious fuzz tones, or you could dial the gain back for clean and colorful funk rhythm parts.
While the Color Box was a huge success, especially for the pro audio industry, a smaller, stripped down version of the box is more than enough for guitarists. Enter the Crayon.
Housed in a traditional stompbox enclosure and just three dials, the Crayon is a simplified version of the Color Box that still delivers a wide array of overdrive tones that work either directly into a recording interface or in front of your favorite amplifier.
Instead of the 10 knobs and 2 switches found on the V2 Color Box, the Crayon has 3 knobs and 1 switch.
Don’t worry though, these controls are very sensitive and all encompassing; every little change in setting makes a big difference.
The controls work as follows:
Master: Overall Output Volume
Pre-Vol: Gain Control
Tilt: Active EQ
Hi Pass Switch: Activates 200/750Hz Floor dipswitch
Blend the Master and Pre-Vol settings to get the perfect amount of overdrive/volume ratio you’re looking for. The Pre-Vol can take you anywhere from a clean boost with the knob barely past zero. Any setting past 75% on the Pre-Vol takes into gated fuzz territory. The Tilt switch works as an active EQ, with the knob set to 12:00 giving you a flat EQ.
Turing this control to the left boosts low end and cuts high end frequencies, while turning to the right achieves the opposite effect. This can be used in conjunction with the Hi-Pass filter, which cuts your low end to whichever frequency you choose on the dipswitch located on the right hand side of the pedal.
Because the Crayon can be used in front of an amp or as a DI preamp, I’ll be taking a look at some settings for both applications. For all settings labeled with an amp, I’m using the Divided Duo (÷13 JRT 9/15) amp simulation from the Line 6 Helix (set clean) and a Suhr Classic Antique.
1. My Favorite – Dynamic Setting to use with an amp
My personal favorite setting on the Crayon is with the Master volume cranked, Pre-Volume at 10:00, Tilt at 3:00. The Hi-Pass is turned off to give me a full EQ spectrum so that my original guitar tone is preserved.
This setting is a great way to use the JHS Crayon as a more traditional preamp or boost pedal and could be used in an “always on” application. What I like so much about this setting is that the gain can go from Whit Stripes-esque explosion fuzz to crystal clean at the touch of your fingers. This kind of touch sensitivity can only be achieved from a preamp such as the Crayon. Traditional overdrives and most fuzz pedals can’t come close to this.
What’s even more exciting is that when you roll off the volume on your guitar to about 4, the Crayon’s original design concept shines through, giving you a really convincing DI sound that’s great for funk rhythm parts.
2. Bit Crush Fuzz – Amp or DI
By setting the Master at 2:00, Pre-Vol at 4:00, Tilt at 1:00 and engaging the Hi-Pass (750hz), the pedal turns your electric guitar into a bit crushed fuzz machine that reminds me of Return to Forever-like synth sounds, mixed Nintendo 64 fidelity. I find this setting works well in front of a clean amp or DI, but using in front of an amp warms up the midrange in a way that might appeal to some. For a more extreme sound, go DI.
This is another setting that depends on your right hand dynamics. By picking the strings harder, the box gates your signal and cuts you signal off. This gives your tone a really robotic and choppy tone, that when combined with the heavy gain and 750hz floor, makes your guitar sound like it’s going through an antique radio. This is a good thing, I promise! Take this sound to your next show and watch the eyes of the crowd move from the singer to you in an instant.
3. Funky Clean Tone – DI
This is another great tone that I will surely use on a recording in the near future. If you’re looking to get the funky rhythm tone you’ve heard from the likes of Prince and Daft Punk, then this setting is the one for you.
Set the Master all the way up, Pre-Volume just above zero (7-8:00 depending on your guitar’s output), Tilt at 2:00, and the Hi-Pass filter engaged (200hz). The key here is to set the Pre-Volume just before the point of breakup, which is pretty low on this pedal. Personally, I’ve found that I need to increase the output on my interface as the Master Volume barely gets me to Unity-gain with a Stratocaster.
This setting is all about adding color to your tone that previously only a vintage console would be able to deliver. It adds just the slightest amount of crunch, that really just adds to your attack and adds a little bit of natural compression. The Hi-Pass filter set at 200 keeps your guitar right in the frequency pocket, tightening up the low end and keeping you in the ideal midrange. I love this tone and am now realizing just how much it’s been used on records over the years.
- Simple and Cost effective alternative to JHS Color Box
- Sensitive Controls
- 9V Power
- Powerful EQ capability
- Touch sensitive and Versatile: Clean preamp to Fuzz mayhem
- Usable in front of amp or DI
- Would like more output from Master volume
Final Thoughts on the JHS Crayon
I could see the JHS Crayon being a divisive effect, for it is in no way a transparent effect. With so many people looking for “transparent” overdrives, the Crayon may easily get discarded or overlooked for its wild sounds. That being said, the folks that want to add color to their tone are going to absolutely love this pedal.
I think it is safe to say that I have never come across a pedal this gives more power to your fingers/touch than this one right here. I can literally go from a chiming clean tone to explosive fuzz just by hitting the strings harder.
Normally this kind of dynamic range would require adjusting your volume control on the guitar, but not with the Crayon. That being said, playing with the volume control on your guitar opens up even more tonal richness, which is what really makes me think this is a tonal powerhouse.
When I originally started looking into the Crayon, it was because I was interested in getting a great DI sound for funk rhythm parts. It was in this search that I stumbled across the Color Box, an effect unit that I had heard of but overlooked due to its large price tag and footprint.
While I now realize the Color Box to be a brilliant piece of engineering for the pro-recording world, having a cheaper, streamlined version designed with guitarists specifically in mind is a huge relief. This is a pedal I could see living on my board for a long, long time.
So, is the Crayon for you?
Are you looking to add a completely new voice to your instrument?
Are you the kind of player than wants to have a tone of dynamic power at your fingertips?
Are you interested in the Color Box, but want a stripped down, guitar centered version of it?
If you said yes to any of these questions, then I definitely recommend tinkering with JHS Crayon. Whether you’re looking for a great boost pedal or an all-out fuzz, it might just become your tone’s secret weapon.
- A simplified version of our Colour Box that offers the compressed overdrive and fuzz sounds of so many classic recordings
- A powerful little box that has all the color and characteristics of a vintage studio preamp when cranked
- The Master and Pre-Vol controls work together to create a ton of colorful tones that are extremely useful
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Davis Wilton Bader is a professional guitarist/writer based out of St. Louis, MO. He plays in the bands Lumet and The Outskirts.