Drive is kind of like skin color; everyone has some, but how much and what shade of color is a big aspect of the visual differences between humans. In much the same way, how much drive and what shade of it you have in your signal plays a big role in your tone.
Some may say: “Nope, not me… I don’t use no drive, none at all..” well… every amp has a gain stage. So, even if you play super wickedly clean like Robert Cray or similar, you just have a very low amount of gain in your signal. There has to be gain, or else there would be no sound. It’s just that a very clean sound with tons over overhead uses minimal pre-gain, and lots of power-amp output. But let me not beat that point to death any more, I’m sure someone out there will debate me and say that they “..use no gain.” Let’s just assume I’m making a reasonably valid point. That all said, people’s voices, personalities and car types vary in foundation; A VW Bug will just never be the same car as a two-ton truck and a large baritone man will never produce the same vocal sounds as a petite woman. Boith are humans, but the basic genetic makeup means they
are starting out from different places.
I find the same with Overdrive. What I find funny, is that people actually debate which overdrive pedal is “better”. Well, it really depends on what you are trying to accomplish. It seems that one of the most popular “Goals” for a pedal is: “Plexi in a box”. If I see one more ad in Guitar World that says that I am gonna bonk myself in the head with a giant stick. If you want to sound like you are playing through a plexi that is dimmed, then plug into a plexi, run your fingers across the dials, and then proceed to rock out accordingly.
“But I can’t man… I mean, my neighbors would totally freak out, and my old lady?… oh Jeez, she would just flip on me and I can’t have that man ‘cause… well.. she kinda pays most of……er..uh….well at the moment she pays all the rent, but my band just got a major deal with a tiny little lable from Antartica and y’know…. Our first single is comin’ out in 2017, so… I’m gonna be able to deal with my half of the rent soon…. But nah… I really can’t play that loud at home… y’know..?”
...’cmon… you all know at least one guy like this. I’m man enough to admit that I was that guy once in my life.
Point here is that there are all these classic tones that folks often want, and they want to reach for a spray can, spritz the room and then enjoy the smell of a “Plexi” or a “Vox” or a “Tweed” or a “Quadruple Rectifier…” Etc. I know that many do not base their sound on a particular model but just twist and tweak and surf the airwaves for the tone that feel works best for the moment, a song, or a lifetime, but the fact remains that unless you play very clean, or can afford to push a little air, it is likely that at some point, you have, do, or will, stop on a box for the right amount of juice. Most out there have tried a few overdrive pedals in their life, some have tried many. I have definitely blown more than a few million bucks tyring as many as I could get my hands on.
While I do have my favorites, I aknowlege that they are my favorite because they work best for me. I defintely don’t think that they are “the best” because the next guy or gal might be tyring to get a more thick-mids tone with lots of gain, instead of the jangly semi-clean tone that I like. Everyone like / wants / needs something different.
I have found a few pedals that I feel offer a pretty wide range of drive that allows you to go from darn-clean to dam-driven. Personally, I feel the Radial Tonebone Trimode, Tonebone Hot British and Fulltone OCD are quite goodin that area. I’ll never say “Best”, but these three offer a great range, plenty of transparency as well as less-transparency (if you want that). Then again, some might use an overdrive for Metal Sounds, or want the best Guitar Pedal for the Van Halen Tone, Eric Clapton’s Tone, or what have you. It’s a big world with lots of choices. I tend to bristle at the “Plexi in a box” or “Fender Deluxe Reverb in a box” kind of thing. But some of those are not too bad in their own way and hey, if someone plugs into it and finds their holy-grail sound, more power to ‘em… I mean, who the hell cares what Kevin Chisholm thinks? (Note: do not feel obliged to agree with that statement).
There are a few that I have come across over the years that I loved merely for the kitsch factor. While Menatone does make some really great pedals, the "King of the Britains" is the one I loved. Of course they couldn’t name it “This pedal will make you sound just like you are playing through a Marshall”… so they came of with King of the Britains. I love it. Not a bad pedal. Not a holy-grail, but it does sound ok if you can turn up your amp a little bit (it sounds kinda lame at low volumes).
My favorite flavor of drive of all time is gotten from plugging strait in and just turning the amp all the way up to 10. I grew up thinking that bigger amps were always better. I was wrong. Few people can really turn a 100-watt amp up to ten. Small amps rock, they just sound friggin’ great because you can often dime them with no negative social implications. My favorite of all time is the Fender Super Champ. But I’ll save my drooling praise of that little sweetie for another post. I have had a half-power switch installed in a few Fender Deluxe Reverb amps and that was (for me) a perfect fit; loud enough to gig, but not that much over head so the breakup was creamy
and just downright lovely… and the feeling of literally doing a whole 3-set night with one guitar, one pick, one cord and one amp was one that I liked.
Summary: Well, I’ve picked another topic that has many right and wrong answers depending on who you ask. But the “Concept” of drive is in everyone’s tone. Some have very little, some use a lot, most of us fall somewhere in the middle. It’s hard to get much useful drive strictly out of an amp at low volumes, you often cannot turn up too much, so….we gots the pedals. And the pedals come in more flavors than Baskin Robbins ice cream. Which flavor of ice cream you choose is very personal as is the choice of cone (I prefer wafer) and if you like sprinkles (I like a lot of ‘em).
Me? Use analogies when I write? Nah….. : - )
Have e a great week,