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Regular readers of the site should now be a little familiar with Bob Burt (after reading the Clean Boost review earlier this year) but for those who aren’t Bob is a renowned guitar speaker cabinet maker in the USA who branched out into the effects market a while back with his two debut pedals, the Clean Boost and the Overdrive. After previously reviewing the Clean Boost got my hands on an Overdrive!
Nothing unique about this layout then, but why change what we are used to? It works so well. The layout is simple, Gain, Tone and Volume much like the age-old Tubescreamer circuit on which this is based (more on this later…). The same high quality parts as used in the Clean Boost are again used here ensuring the best possible signal path and, ultimately, tone, all finished off in another gorgeous ‘swirly’ paint job, no two of which will ever be perfectly alike. An eye-burningly bright (in a good way!) blue LED is fitted to ensure maximum visibility when on the stage or in the dark and a sturdy, tried-and-tested 3PDT switch finish off this great looking pedal.
What about inside then?
As expected the quality of construction is again top notch, never too much or too little solder, neat but direct wiring (no unnecessarily long lengths of wire) and an all round professional looking job. The circuit board is again ‘glooped’ over but leaves the socketed IC free so that it can be swapped out to experiment with different chips depending on your personal preferences. Although I am yet to experiment with this I don’t think I need to just yet as what is currently installed is doing the job more than admirably and I am thoroughly happy with the overall tone.
So, this is an 808?
In a word, no! Let me clarify… The Overdrive is indeed ‘based’ on classic tubescreamer circuits (which are some of Bob’s all time favourite pedals) but that doesn’t mean to say this IS a tubescreamer. Bob has spent a lot of time tweaking component values and types, altering the circuit and generally overhauling it to make the tubescreamer his own. At the heart of this design though is the tubescreamer (much like at the heart of a car is an engine, which are all based on similar principles and designs) but tweaked for more gain, boosted low end, flatter mids and a few other of Bob’s personalizations..
Now that the ‘history’ of the pedal is covered we can get to the part we should concern ourselves the most with, the sound! I will do my best to keep this relatively slimmed down as there is so much to talk about and not enough digital space on the internet to cover everything this pedal does.
In a diversion from the norm I will actually start this time with what I don’t like about the pedal. Now remember that a review is obviously a personal experience and what I dislike about the pedal other’s may relish, and vice versa. In truth there is very little I dislike and it is not a major concern in the design or anything, just a personal preference. As regular readers will no doubt have picked up on I am very much a fan of a dark, warm, fat and rounded tone (much akin to the Eric Johnsons and Andy Timmons of this world) so this is why I found the tone control a little too much for me. With almost every dirt box I own the ‘tone’ or ‘treble’ knob is nearly always set way down low, that is the way I like it.
The tone control on the Overdrive (which is actually a ‘cut’ control, rolling off high end as you turn it down and allowing more high end through as you turn it up – (a low pass filter if you will) in combination with the natural buffering of the signal that occurs (due to the high quality componentry buffering the signal – for more of this read the Clean Boost review where I also touch on this) means this pedal can become VERY trebly and piercing. Now this may be what you like (Brian May anyone?) but as I said it is not my tonal preference and therefore I have to label it as a dislike. If you were to use this pedal in the old 808 rhythm boost trick way (Volume on full, Gain on zero) to tighten and ‘chunk up’ rhythm tracks then the tone control is very useful. Pushing it to around midday or just above really adds that aggressive pick attack that defines the thrash rhythm tone, but even then I found no use for boosting it much higher.
With that out of the way I can focus on what I do like…everything else!
The first thing I tried to do when experimenting seriously with this pedal was what most other people would do when they buy an overdrive of this nature, try and nail the SRV sound on a clean channel! Let me tell you, this pedal NAILS it, nails it flat to the wall. I have come reasonably close in the past at getting that sound from other overdrive pedals (including actual tubescreamers) but never as close as this. There are two great ways to get that tone from this pedal:
I – Set the gain just under half way and (with my set up at least) you are SRV-ing all night long.
II – My preferred method! Set the gain almost all the way up and roll down the volume of your guitar considerably (I had mine around 4) and the pedal responds VERY well. Notes become even more articulate, the drive is so sweet your teeth hurt and you just can’t help but play Scuttle Buttin’ pretty much every time you turn the pedal on! Using this method means you can then roll up the volume on your guitar a bit for extra solo boost. I truly believe that a ‘classic’ blues player (SRV, BB King et al) could do an entire set list using just a guitar with a volume knob, the Overdrive and a clean amp; it has pretty much all the classic blues tones that defined an era that you could ask for!
With the gain set at full I found my favourite setting (into a clean amp). I roll the tone knob all the way off which really darkens the tone (but without ever becoming muddy or unclear) and the volume dial to around one o-clock. Doing this yielded some of the finest Andy Timmons-esque tone I have been able to achieve (and this includes bettering the BB Preamp!). Every note just sings and commands attention with a full-bodied, thick, almost smooth fuzz. This tone does what any good tone should do, inspire you to create music! I wrote an entire song over the course of a few days because of this tone. That sounds like a strange thing to say but it really did have that much of an impact on me that it inspired the creative process.
So, we move away from the clean channel and onto already dirty sounds. So how does the Overdrive hold up? Again, very well. As I mentioned earlier the Overdrive works great ‘chunking up’ a heavy rhythm tone and this is when the tone knob is particularly useful. However, because of the flattened mids (whereas the original tubescreamers boost the midrange) it doesn’t quite give that same presence, in your face sound. Using the tone knob however you can add a lot of ‘friendly treble’ (as I like to call it) which increases the pick on string sound and adds much needed definition to palm muted phrases. This is unlikely to be the reason this pedal was created however, but you CAN achieve this kind of sound.