In the 80s there was a movie called Quest for Fire. An interesting movie showing the struggle from early humans for the magical.. fire! Recently, I’ve been on a similar quest. Not for fire, but for drive pedals, and it got me thinking about why we search for drives and figured it might be an interesting post, and some comments might help with my own quest.
Drive pedals… oh, there are so many drive pedals out there. Why so many? In my opinion because a) there somewhat easier to make, but more importantly b) builders can add their flavor to circuit giving them interesting characteristics. Obviously, the demand and need for drive pedals is incredible and is what pushes the need. But what are people looking for? Why do musicians constantly change their drives?
For me, I’ve gone through some cycles with drives. Early on I used drives as my ‘medium grit’ tone. I use to play a Rivera Knucklehead and would use the drive on my dirty section that was somewhat cleaned up. That drive pedal would get it to stage 2 and the boost on the amp would take it all the way. Back in those days I would be all about the Crowther Audio Hot Cake (and with various versions of this pedal). Later, I was getting into more lead work, and would end up with the classic Tube Screamer for the lead boost, but I wasn’t a fan of the ‘tight’ drive, but I did like the mid boost and how it cut through the mix, and at this point… the quest began!
Since those days, I switched to a Matchless HC30 and my never ending hunt for drives to manage my lead boost went into full effect. I personally like a level of transparency since I do really like the tone of the Matchless. I initially went from the Spaceman Aphelion, but it was a little dark for me. Then I spent a long time on the Cochrane Tim pedal. That was on my board for a while, but with the gain up, it was a little ‘fizzy’ and ‘squeely’ with my Jazzmaster. It was hard to get the feedback, and I really need to state, that is because of the combination of my amp and the guitar. The pedal slays. I then dug up a pedal that I had and pulled off of my board years ago – Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire. Whoa! This isn’t as transparent as I want, but it made my amp explode when I stomped on it.. which I really liked. That was on my board for a couple of years, but the pedal began to have problems, so I thought I would take advantage of this set back to explore new ground. And that is where I’m at – pulling old drive pedals off the shelf and seeing how they respond. The problem I believe, is that I want a very amp-like high gain, with good low end response while not being too compressed. In a perfect world, I would totally go with a different amp for a lead boost, but 2 amps would be too much gear to haul from venue to venue. My bandmates would hate me.
Drives are funny that way, being so similar we’re faced with how it reacts and responds to the amp and guitar and the actual tone and texture of the pedal. Somewhere there is a perfect combination for me.
So am I bat-shit crazy about overdrives? Or do you guys have similar quests? Let me know by commenting below. Also, if you have any recommendations for overdrives for me.. let me know as well!
7 years ago
I'm the same exact way with my drive hunt. The base of my sound comes from a clean amp, which currently is a silverface vibrolux. I usually go back and forth between having one that's always on, and then just using two or three alone or in different combinations to get what I need. I've gone through so many different drive lineups, started off with a dual tube screamer setup and then I subbed in a Rat at one point. Then I decided to take a big jump and I got a King of Tone from Analogman, and all of a sudden the pieces started coming together. I also really like the Barber direct drive which is an easy grab and go drive that can get arguably pretty heavy. Recently I've been on a hunt for a good pedal to compliment the KoT with and I've been using the SickAs from Bondi which is really tweakable. It can get really clean for help with my clean tone and it can hold on when the gain gets pushed up.Reply
7 years ago
Ohhh yeah – searching for drive tones…. the quest of my life, now that I'm married.Reply
I started with a Marshall JCM 900 combo. I used the the Boss OD-1 to add grid to the clean channel, and the drive channel for lead. Later I replaced the OD-1 with a Marshall Guv'nor. On these setups I used a Gibson The Paul. At that time I was going for a classic rock sound. Then grunge came a long and a shift of drive. I went for Boss DS-1.
Later again I turned to punk/garagerock. I teamed up with a Tele and a '68 twin. For crunch started out with a Carl Martin Hot Drive'n Boost to get a transparent sound. I added boost pedals before the drive to get two drive stages. The Carl Martin got replaced with a EHX English Muff'n. I may have used a rat in between… It is a bit cloudy.
Now I'm using a JHS Superbolt. I teamed it up with homemade Fuzz. Transparency is not vital any more, the guitar is now different kind 60'ies budget guitars from Germany and Japan played through my twin.
I guess went through more. The ones I listed heres was the ones I felt like something to keep. The tubescreamer never sounded right to me. Neither did the Vox pedal range with valves. I've tried different Big Muffs, but never found one that suited my needs. I once tried a Colorsound fuzz, which was perfect. But wasn't mine and not for sale…
I'm sure my quest never ends.
7 years ago
Five of my current favorite drives (in no particular order)
EQD Speaker Cranker – Great full range meduim gain drive with some upper sparkle. It doesn't cut any low end and it amazingly always has the perfect output level even though it only has one knob. I call it my "idiot proof" dirt for live situations.
Red Llama – Mine is a clone from Chicago Stompworks, again a full range that cuts zero low end. Goes from mild to nasty and has a really ragged uncompressed sound. Basically the polar opposite of a tube screamer.
EQD Crimson Drive – Fantastic germanium overdrive that goes from mild grit almost to fuzz territory (mine is the early two knob version, they later added a tone control). Super sensitive to your guitars volume control, it is truly a pedal you can leave on all the time and control the gain with your guitar and pick attack. Uncompressed and classic sounding.
DOD 250 – I had always heard about the grey legend used on so many hard rock recordings, I decided to give it a shot and ordered a clone from Chicago Stompworks (great dude). Surprisingly huge gain range, very open at lower gain settings. I think many players used this pedal close to maxed out but I find the sweet stuff resides with the gain below 11 o'clock.
Joyo Sweet Baby – Don't laugh… this low to medium gain overdrive is great sounding. The best $35 you will ever spend.Reply