From Reverb’s Gear History (June 2017)

“Gear Tribute: The BJFe/BearFoot FX Honey Bee, a Golden Overdrive”

published Jun 12, 2017 by Seth L. Riley from Reverb‘s Gear History

 

Everyone has an essential pedal, the one that gets all of the typical lauds: “My always–on pedal,” “My desert island pedal,” “My tonal base.”For me, that essential pedal is the Bearfoot Honey Bee overdrive. I’ve had it for years. It’s well–loved, with a bit of chipping paint, and sits modestly in the middle of my small pedalboard. If push really came to shove, I could probably do without my other pedals, but I would be in serious trouble without my Honey Bee.I used to be an overdrive skeptic, always finding that the added gain came at the cost of a whittled down EQ or bloated mids. I tried a number of overdrives in hopes of finding what I needed, but was always met with less–than–desirable results.

And then I bought a Honey Bee.

The Honey Bee’s History

I was intrigued by the Honey Bee‘s whimsical look — folksy, handwritten graphics over a rippling, golden paint job — and its reputation as a natural, amp–like pedal designed to mimic an old, worn–out combo.

As a self–taught, largely pressure–free player, my tonal sensibility was, up to that point, fairly straightforward and rudimentary. The Honey Bee helped me to transcend my rut of bland notes played over chords that were being dutifully recited by a loop pedal.

With its natural and inviting low–gain structure, the Honey Bee forced me to dig in and play in a way that I never had before. I learned to wring sustain from notes, allow for space, and let my finger’s touch more emotively shape the guitar’s response.

The Honey Bee was developed by Björn Juhl, the legendary tone Jedi of BJFe Electronics. The story goes that Björn came up with the Honey Bee in an effort to convert purist who didn’t play with pedals. It started its life as the the BJFe Blueberry Bass Overdrive, which was soon tweaked for guitar.

The Honey Bee went on to be Juhl’s most successful design. Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo have used ones for years. Today, the Honey Bee largely lives on as a Bearfoot pedal but, thanks to the internet, used Bearfoot and classic BJFe examples are readily available.

In addition to the standard model, there are several variations available. The gainier Bearfoot Honey Beest, the Bearfoot Über Bee, and the BJFe Retro Bee all feature additional tone controls. The BJFe Honey Bee Deluxe sports a boost section as well.

The controls are simple. Volume and Gain are pretty obvious, and the Nature knob is a tone control that nicely finesses the EQ’s profile. With the Nature knob fully counterclockwise, the bottom sags and puffs, taking on semi–farty fuzz properties. Fully clockwise, the treble is more pronounced, with the bottom’s sag trimmed back.

Set It and Forget It

I typically keep all of the knobs at 10 o’clock. When played with normal restraint, that basically gives me a clean tone with a pleasant lower–mids boost and a slightly compressed top–end. It’s a warmer, gooier version of the bypassed signal.

It seems that most users tend to set their Bees similarly: Nature from nine o’clock to two o’clock, Gain hovering somewhere near noon, Volume to taste. Gain plateaus at about two o’clock, though pushing it further will increase compression.

The Honey Bee tends to be a set–it–and–forget–it pedal. Tonal nuance comes much more from the way it is played than from messing with the knobs.

The Honey Bee also reacts to power voltage. Rated from 5v to 12v, you can raise or lower the headroom with different power levels. The Honey Bee sounds great with a dying battery.

The Harmonically Rich Honey Bee’s Sound

The Honey Bee encourages focus on the zen of dynamics. Though you couldn’t call it tonally transparent, it is dynamically transparent. It reacts the exact same way as an amplifier. It clips harder when you play harder, and cleans up with softer attack.

With the Bee engaged, I often find myself playing without a pick. Legato strums and runs result in a responsive edge–of–breakup sound. As you dig into the strings, the tone expands, blooms, and becomes more and more complex.  You will find reasons to play in expressive peaks and valleys, just to hear how the tone shifts, morphs, and coalesces.

At full tilt, the Honey Bee is harmonically rich and goads you with pleasant overtones reminiscent of The Stones, early Led Zeppelin, CCR, and even low–gain ZZ Top. You will find reasons to play in expressive peaks and valleys, just to hear how the tone shifts, morphs, and coalesces.

Even non–blues players tend to acquire that sort of sensibility, often bending strings to hear them ring out before moving onto the next note.

Despite its many merits as a standalone stompbox, most players find that the Honey Bee is an incredible stacker. Push the Honey Bee with a fuzz or another overdrive, and it really comes alive.

It also imparts a great deal of responsiveness to the other drives. Even famously ill–tempered effects, like the ZVex Fuzz Factory, will emerge sweeter, easier to handle, and more tonally rounded.

The Honey Bee opened up a new world of nuance to me. It melded naturally with my playing, and its overtones demonstrated that there was a lot that I had been leaving on the table. In short, this pedal taught me dynamics. Overall, that helped me become a much better, more interesting player.