Donner Triple Threat – Jack White-approved multi-effects might be the ultimate beginner pedal
With three onboard effects and a price cheaper than an individual stompbox, can Third Man Hardware’s latest collab offer something for the beginner in all of us?
Donner Triple Threat. Image: Adam Gasson
It’s easy to forget that when Jack White burst onto the scene and promptly redefined what cool meant for guitar players at the turn of the millennium, he wasn’t just using weird and unconventional gear because it was a bit different (though I’m sure that was part of it) it was because it was cheap.
Nowadays we might expect old Harmony, Kay or Airline instruments from the 50s and 60s going for many hundreds – if not thousands – of bucks, but that’s primarily because Jack White spent most of the early 2000s demonstrating to the world that these instruments didn’t just look and sound great – but in the right hands and with a bit of TLC they could be tools to shake the very firmament of rock ‘n’ roll.
The Jack White of 2024 might have an arsenal of colour-coordinated made-to-measure Custom Shop Fender guitars and a board full of boutique pedals created in collaboration with his Third Man Hardware brand – but it hasn’t always been like that. Indeed, when The White Stripes broke through his board was pretty humble – a Big Muff, an MXR Micro Amp, a DigiTech Whammy and a POG. But what magic he was able to create with it, right?
Why are Donner and Jack White collaborating?
All of which brings us to this, perhaps the most unexpected Third Man Hardware collaboration yet – with budget Chinese guitar, amp and effects maker Donner. The temptation here of course is to assume that Donner drove up to White’s house with a dump truck full of money to get him to add his credibility to the project, but apparently the opposite is true.
According to White, he was messing around with one of Donner’s Alpha series multi-effects pedals a few years back and was very impressed with the quality of sound and tone found within.
“It has been my hope for a while to make an affordable pedal for beginning musicians,” White explains. “When I approached Donner they knew what I was aiming for and we were able to make something very cool that was also not going to break the bank for a beginning musician.”
What effects does the Donner Triple Threat have?
The result is the Triple Threat, a three-in-one multi-effects that shares the same basic chassis as the now-discontinued Alpha pedals, but with the innards tweaked by White and Donner to create something that Jack believes provides the ultimate three-course meal for beginner guitarists.
In practice that means you get a gnarly high-gain distortion, a phaser based on Donner’s Pearl Tremor pedal (but with an extended modulation range) and finally a vintage-style echo based on Donner’s first-ever pedal, the Yellow Fall Delay.
“All three effects: the distortion, phaser and echo are all heavy duty. I was very impressed with them the first time I plugged into the prototype version that Donner had sent, ” says White. “This set of effects is for all kinds of music, all genres. Maybe not opera though.”
The Triple Threat is available in black or Reverb/Third Man Records-exclusive yellow – though that will cost you $30 more. Perhaps most impressive of all seems to be White’s intention to use it himself, saying, “The Triple Threat will fit very comfortably on my pedalboard.”
Is the Donner Triple Threat good quality?
Removing the Triple Threat from its extremely Third Man Hardware magnetically clasped box, it’s hard not to be charmed by the thing. It’s pretty much the same dimensions as a couple of packs of cigarettes stacked end to end, but despite its tiny profile there’s a lot going on here.
Each effect has its own soft-touch footswitch, display LED (yellow of course) and a trio of rubberised knobs (yellow and black, duh) to control parameters for each effect. The knobs are tiny, this should be understood – you’re not going to tweak these with your foot mid-gig, and even people with larger hands and chunky fingers might find twiddling the knobs a little trickier than normal. Despite this, the knobs themselves have a pleasingly robust travel and feel very solid.
With a rugged bent steel enclosure, metal input and output jacks at either end and a standard 9V input jack for power (100mA current draw), the overall feel is one of impressive quality and sturdiness, and something that should be able to withstand night after night of exuberant stomping.
Does the Donner Triple Threat sound good?
Running my Jazzmaster into a Fender Princeton (a very rough approximation of White’s current rig of choice) and the only sensible place to start here is the distortion, natch. And phew, even with everything at 12 o’clock there’s no doubt that they were not messing around when they called this thing high-gain. It’s versatile though – dial the gain right back and you can get some fun heavy overdrive tones to one side, though whack things up and you’ll be treated with a wonderfully compressed and thick distortion that still keeps impressive clarity and note separation, and plays very nicely with the tone knob to unlock even more tones.
Moving on to the most potentially divisive of our trio here, the phaser – and certainly the prevailing mood on social media in the wake of this pedal’s launch was, ‘Why on earth would you choose a phaser as one of your three beginner effects?’ Well, because Jack White wanted to, okay?
And in truth, when the phaser is this useful, it’s easy to see why Jack was so keen to include it. The added depth control, a unique feature to the Triple Threat, opens up a huge amount of sonic versatility to proceedings, offering you everything from gentle warbles to huge trouser-shaking wooshes. What’s really fun is how the rate and depth controls work together – at the more polite end you can get everything from chorus-like effects to something approximating a rotary speaker. The only limit, really, is those fiddly little knobs.
Finally we have the echo, which is perhaps the least grab-you-by-the-lapels impressive sound of the three, but that’s just because it’s a very good sounding, relatively flexible vintage-style delay and not much more.
Is the Donner Triple Threat good value for money?
In a world where most young guitar players are seemingly content to make music with little more than an audio interface and their phone, and where digital multi-effects are more affordable and better sounding than ever, is there really a place for such a simple and limited analogue pedal as this?
In a word, hell yes. I remember the first pedal I ever bought was a Boss ME-30 and it took me five years of wrestling with menus and patches and terrible presets to realise that too much choice can be a bad thing.
The Triple Threat offers sensational value for money but more important than that it offers beginner guitarists a curated selection of effects that you could quite easily start a band around, with all the easy tweakability and versatility to enable you to really understand what these effects do and how they work with each other.
That sort of education is priceless, and would be a huge boon to any young guitar player – or for more experienced players who want something compact, great sounding and rugged they can chuck on the floor of a bar or pub and not have to worry too much about.