The three main ways to make distortion are with fuzz, overdrive, and a distortion pedals. I tend to stick to overdrive pedals for a couple of reasons. First, I can get a lot of distortion/gain from just about any amp or even a preamp like a pedal board. Secondly, I prefer the more singing quality of overdrive pedals. That said we've covered different overdrive pedals that definitely increase gain but I found one that boosts the input to the amplifier's preamp without adding a ton of gain. This is handy for soloing as well as increasing input to other effects without changing the basic tone too much.
Stunt Monkey's Tone Grenade promises to increase tone right up to the range of blues. That suits me fine because, again I can change to my amp's driven channel and then kick on the Tone Grenade for even more oomph or equally use it with a clean channel to get glassy tones all the way up to blues. This is the plan at onset anyways.
First things first. The Tone Grenade looks like something out of a 1950's sci-fi movie. Most prominent on this pedal is the 12AU7 tube that sticks out from it. Its surrounded with a metal shroud to protect it from your feet should you miss when attempting to engage the pedal. Equally interesting is the green paintjob with nice silk screened picture of a grenade on it. The pedal itself features only two knobs, an on/off foot switch, and the aforementioned tube. You'll have to run this pedal off of 9v adapter power as it does not have the ability to run on battery power.
The construction of the case itself is very solid and even the tube has protection from normal bumps and shock.
Hows it sound?
In a word? Fantastic. Too often a pedal can totally change the way your setup sounds. I'm not trying to get all my tone from any one pedal; as a matter of fact I try to get as much tone from the guitar and amp as possible. I like it when pedals add that little something extra without totally distorting my original tone. This is where the Tone Grenade works well and it does it so in spades. You can adjust the pedal's output so that no perceivable change of volume is heard when activated. What is heard is more overtones and a velvety smooth distortion. This is very useful and it works even better on the clean channel of the amplifier. As this pedal uses a 12AU7 tube you can get more gain without using another pedal like a distortion pedal or manually turning up the gain on the amplifier. I tried a 12AX7 tube and it plain didn't work. You need more voltage for that to happen but this pedal can accept up to 12 volts of input power. I didn't have 12v available to try but at the very least a 12AT7 with 12 volts would probably work. Be forewarned though, Stunt Monkey's website clearly states that upping the voltage will actually reduce the gain.So increasing the voltage to make a higher gain tube work is probably going to get odd results. This makes sense since you are actually creating more headroom before the overdrive goes into noticeable gain.
My recommendation is get a distortion pedal you really like and then use it in combination with this overdrive to get different tones. Use this in conjunction with other effects like chorus or phase shifters and immediately you notice how dead quiet this pedal is. I like it at the beginning of the signal chain as it doesn't put any noise into the path before other pedals manipulate the tone. Having a dead quiet overdrive helps tremendously to get good tones from your other effects - put a noisy one here and you'll just boost that hum and buzz with all your other effects. I found that this pedal alone between my Les Paul and Quilter Aviator game me great flexibility and was never obnoxious. I'm a minimalist and if I can get away with only one pedal that's a big bonus for me. My son loves his pedals and found that the previously reviewed Vox overdrive gave him what he needed. I compare it this way - if you like Stevie Ray Vaughn's tone than the Tone Grenade is something you need to check out. If you need more gain and more features from the overdrive look at stuff like the Vox pedal.
So it only sounds good with guitar right? Wrong. I found a YouTube video of someone using it with a bass guitar and I tried it out. The sound from my Thunderbird bass got fatter and fuller but didn't boost any one section of the sound more than another. I didn't get weird squeeks or pops caused by pedals designed to work in the guitar frequency range which happens a lot with guitar pedals used with basses. I also found that this pedal really likes a lot of input - I tried it with a guitar equipped with a Steve Vai humbucker in the bridge. This pickup tends to get overtones easily but cheap pedals accentuate all the wrong tones and can create a lot of feedback. The Tone Grenade didn't do these things which is a relief. I like to build on the tone I already have - not try to totally change it into something else.
I'd say 3/4 of the players out there would really benefit from this pedal. If you need even more gain perhaps a pedal that is designed to work as a combination overdrive/distortion is more up your alley? I'm not a fan of those as I think there are really good versions of both types of pedals that can create great tones when worked together. At $180 this is by no means a cheap upgrade. Hopefully you can check it out in a store before buying because in this price range buyer's remorse could be fatal. The Tone Grenade can go from clean to bluesy very nicely.