Last year, Tone Box released a uniquely menacing overdrive unit shaped like a human skull where red LEDs lit up the orb sockets. Now the company has announced a new Skull Crusher in steel or gold finish that's being made available to retail in just ten locations in the U.S. The latest incarnation retains the useful 10dB signal boost but now offers an analog preamp that can be used to drive an amplifier or plugged directly into a recording system or mixing board. And yes, the LEDs in the eye sockets are still there too.

The original Skull Crusher was, to all intents and purposes, a repackaged KA-ODP-A overdrive pedal from Kasha Amplifiers. It's not too surprising that technology from such a company should find its way into the uniquely-shaped stompbox when John Kasha is revealed to be one of Tone Box's founding forces.

Based on the Rockmodules amp sound from the mid-1980s, the Skull Crusher was said to be the world's first overdrive unit to offer eight analog voicings and a 10dB boost for those moments when you need to make yourself heard above the hubbub.

The four channel analog overdrive unit also benefits from true bypass switching and low noise but what makes it stand out from the crowd is its styling. Shaped like the top half of a shrunken human skull, the three pound (1.36kg) Skull Crusher comes in four finishes – stainless steel, gun metal, aged and ancient. In each eye socket sits a red LED that glows when the 9-volt battery-powered effects pedal is ready to rock. There's also a blue LED on top the head, next to the footswitch.

The unit has found favor with heavy rock guitarists like Phil X and Robbie Crane, but for some reason Screamin' Jay Hawkins sprung into my head when I first saw this beast. That early rock feel continues with the company's choice of cartoon logo backdrop on the website and promotional materials. Reminiscent of artwork from Fuzztones frontman Rudi Protrudi or an old Swamp Rats t-shirt, it in fact came from renowned illustrator John Detrach.

For the new model, Tone Box has included a six stage analog preamp together with that useful 10dB boost. The preamp part of the Skull Crusher can be used to drive a power amplifier or plugged directly into a studio board, powered speakers or a PA system. There's also true bypass switching and mute, volume, gain and tone controls. Like those that went before, the new unit features in/out jacks on either side of the head (where the ears would be), the boost switch is under one of the cheek bones and the footswitch sits on top.

The menacing LEDs make it through to the new model too, with the new Skull Crusher coming in either a polished stainless steel (US$399) or 24K gold (US$499) finish and is available now at the following ten Guitar Center locations: Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, L.A.'s West Pico Blvd, San Francisco, Nashville, La Mesa, Chicago, North Dallas, Houston and Manhattan.

More information on the Skull Crusher units is available on the Tone Box website.

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