Mr. Nutcracker is a boutique 100% handmade creation of C. J. Himmelstrutz out of his shop in Sweden.
He is most known for his Fetto line of OD pedals and my research suggests those Fetto pedals are highly esteemed. If you hadn't heard of Himmelstrutz pedals, well, neither had I but stumbled across commentary on the Mr. Nutcracker on a forum and decided I had to give it a try. I'm certainly glad I did. This is a fun pedal!
It comes packaged in a unique cylindrical cardboard tube with Mr. Nutcracker's face front and center. The packaging feels boutique, just like the pedal itself. There is a handy user guide and
On his website, C.J. Himmelstrutz describes the Mr. Nutcracker as
an "OPTO DYNAMIC SOUND ENHANCER".
After using the pedal for quite a while I see why. Over the last few weeks I conversed with C.J. via email and he made it clear that Mr. Nutcracker is not just a compressor.
He referred to it as
"a dynamic booster, enhancer, overdrive(r)."
It is all of those things, but also a cool compressor.
Mr. Nutcracker is an optical compressor with an approximate 10ms attack and 100ms release. For everyone wanting a LED compression indicator, Mr. Nutcracker has an orange LED that illuminates based on compressor activity. With COMP dial set to zero the compressor is eliminated/terminated and you have a fantastic sounding boost/tone enhancing tool.
It is the next iteration of what was the Miss Nutcracker which was created to be a boost pedal to drive Himmelstrutz's Fetto line of OD pedals. C.J. later added a compressor circuit to Miss Nutcracker. Miss Nutcracker has been discontinued in favor of Mr. Nutcracker.
There are four dials: - The Comp dial increases the amount that the optical circuit reacts to your signal. The stronger your initial signal will highly influence how the Comp dial reacts. It can be very subtle or quite squishy with some dip and swell. The orange LED works well to help indicate what the circuit is doing.
- The Volume dial is there for makeup volume and is as loud as you’ll ever need. There is +20db of volume on hand.
- Then you have a Gain dial which pushes the compression circuit from crispy clean to a light overdrive. That is the magical dial. Play with this one to dial in a whole lot of punchy, snappy goodness. On higher settings in combination with the rest of the controls, some pleasing overdrive can occur.
- The Treble dial is a passive high frequencies control and is very useful. In fact, of all the compressor pedals I have tested to date, this Treble control as the widest range and is the most useful. If you like bite and snap, this dial will be your best friend. You can dial in all of the brightness you want or dial it all out. There is a lot of control. Start at noon and then adjust to taste. Turning left will cut treble. Though we don't always think about treble frequencies with bass guitar, I really came to appreciate this dial.
There are two switches: - Mode (2 way toggle) manipulates the compressor mode by delivering more or less compression and string attack. Flipping to the right gives more string attack and offers a more punchy, snappy feel. Flipping to the left delivers a smoother feel with more compression. How the Comp dial reacts will change based on the position of the Mode switch.
- Bass switch (3 way toggle) offers more or less lower frequencies. In the left position, it is said to be neutral. In the middle position it is said to cut bass. The magic is with the switch in the right position which delivers a real nice bass and mids boost. I really, really liked the sonic bliss that is this pedal with the switch in the right position. It is full, with a wide presence that just sounds sonically "exciting". I did not care for how the pedal sounded with the switches in either of the other two positions. In fact, for bass guitar I think the other two positions are useless.
All of these controls are highly interactive. You have got to take time to come to terms with how everything impacts your tone. But it is worth it. There is something magical about the complexity of tonal variety the pedal is capable of. I put this in the camp of devices like the heralded Ziebek Submarine (or Southhampton Ictineo clone) that just add something special.
On the circuit board are two bias dials and one jumper along with a warning from Himmelstrutz advising that you not make any changes to these controls. I exchanged dialogue with C.J. Himmelstrutz via email about these controls. The two bias controls are really there for fine tuning and effect the reduction or increase light in the optical circuit. C.J. said they are there because after he hand builds a pedal sometimes there is some fine trimming to do because of tolerances in LED’s & LDR resistors. C.J. said,
"Trimmers are for fine calibrations/details, sometimes just like adding a small amount of salt or pepper on the food, they trimmers don’t transform things, will never make a day/night difference."
I adjusted them both and noticed only extremely minimal effect.
Removing the jumper on the other hand reduces the overall brightness of the pedal and the compression will get more frequency linear. Basically the sound will overall sound “darker”. I preferred the default On position. The bias dials are marked red for their default position. There is really no need to adjust these circuit board features. I'm only pointing them out because they are there and for the sake of a thorough review.
You might have noticed that the inside enclosure plate has the handwritten note "R.I.P. Phil Lynott." I asked C.J. about it and he said it because
"Phil Lynott is my greatest favourite of all times!"
Phil passed on January 4, 1986 and my pedal was made on January 4, 2019.
If you are looking for a highly versatile compressor, Mr. Nutcracker is not the tool for you. Afterall, C.J. Himmelstrutz himself said, and I quote,
"it’s not a pure compressor. I like to call it dynamic booster, enhancer, overdrive(r)!"
That's a good way to put it, but yet it is a compressor. If you are looking for a limiter it is not the tool for you. Mr. Nutcracker is a tone enhancing machine and would make an excellent boost/solo pedal or even an always on preamp pedal. If you want subtle compression in a way that adds punch and "feeling", you should take Mr. Nutcracker along for the ride. I'd like to make one thing clear though. Mr. Nutcracker is not about huge fat low end.
It is more of a tone tightening effect, making the low end tighter and punchy instead of wooly and fat. There is something special happening in the low mids. I found a lot of sweet spots in my testing but always seemed to come back to settings with low subtle compression, bass switch in the right "bass" position and a fair amount of gain and some boosted treble. Really, really nice sparkle and pizazz. Again, not huge on the low end, but overall bigger across all frequencies. You will know Mr. Nutcracker is for you pretty quickly. Different combinations of the outboard controls will yield many different results.
It runs on 9 volt battery or 5-18 volt power supply (center pin negative). The enclosure itself is very well constructed and is heavy at 450 grams. It looks and feels like the high quality piece it is. All of the knobs turn with resistance and authority. The foot switch is true bypass and clicks on/off with authority yet is not as stiff as others. There is a blue LED (strategically placed in Mr. Nutcrackers left eye) that illuminates as the pedal is activated.
Input and output jacks are side mounted as is the power input jack.
Retail price: $215 (available only from Himmelstrutz.com as far as I know)