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The Custom Drive is the debut pedal from new company Valvette. The company is located here in the UK and is a one-man operation, the great mind of Johan Maertens. This is one of the second batch of Custom Drives and I eagerly awaited the day I got to try it out…
The Valvette custom drive appears to have similar features to many of the other ‘three-knob’ design overdrive pedals out there, but with the addition of a bright switch. It features true-bypass circuitry to help preserve tone when the pedal is not engaged and features high-quality, no expense spared, components and hardware.
Gain – Obviously, this knob increaes the gain. There is quite a lot of gain on tap for an overdrive pedal, especially in this version which is the second run of the Custom Drives. Many players loved the original design but yearned for slightly more gain, and Valvette supplied what the players demanded.
Volume – This knob increases the volume. There is a fair amount of volume to be had, making the pedal a great booster also.
Tone – A standard tone knob, anything from warm and smooth to cutting and searing treble boosts.
Bright Switch – The switch extends the high range frequencies allowing for an even greater treble boost really making your tone stand out in the mix.
Another useful feature is that the Custom Drive can be powered at 9 OR 18 volts DC. This seems to be a popular feature that is getting added to a lot of overdrives at the moment. This feature allows for greater headroom but as usual, I prefer to run it at 9 volts, it always sounds a little sweeter and more natural to my ears.
All of these features are housed in a strong, professional looking case that should give you many years of use.
As usual with my reviews I plugged in the pedal without moving any of the knobs and began playing, this is a great way to get an immediate impression of the pedal. What can I say… I loved it! Immediately I could hear much improved sustain and clarity with a lot of pick attack and definition. Time to start tweaking…
I noticed pretty quickly that the Custom Drive seems to have a lot of high-end, even with only a slight twist of the tone knob. I was informed by Johan Maertens (designer of Valvette pedals) that this is because the Custom Drive doesn’t load down your pickups, reducing high-end and muddying the signal. If I were to use singlecoils I would find a lot of upper mid-range and treble available that simply is not there with most other pedals. The Custom Drive really ACCENTS your pickup’s natural tone and you get much more of the guitar’s sound through than with many other pedals I have tried. I was promised that by using humbuckers the pedal would have a naturally darker tone, and I was informed correctly, the pedal really responds to the type of pickup you have in your guitar. This is where the Bright switch really comes in useful (more on this later).
To start off I tried the pedal in front of a clean amp. It worked great! With the gain almost all the way up and the volume set for just above unity gain you get this fat, smooth, singing, sustained lead tone with just enough crunch to sound like a smoothed out blues fusion tone, we’re talking the ‘violin tone’ here. Rolling the tone knob up yields interesting results, the overall character of your tone is not altered, there is just a lot more treble present, taking you into the realms of a much crunchier British sound reminiscent of the seventies and eighties blues and classic rock players.
Rolling off the gain to almost zero and boosting the volume produces a great clean boost that just pushed my pre-amp section into a natural crunch.
The Custom Drive was not particularly designed with modern rock and metal rhythm tones in mind, but I thought I would try it anyway. I was quite surprised to say the least when I found that using the Custom drive as a boost on the rhythm channel yielded far greater results than I expected. It really gave a definitive attack to each note, even during fast palm-muted ‘chugging.’ Rolling up some of the tone provided even more attack and gave my tone some ‘friendly treble’ that is very hard to find.
Boosting a lead channel is where the Custom Drive really shines, after all, this is what Valvette had in mind when they designed it. Using the Custom Drive as a clean boost into my lead channel gave my tone a very definite ‘kick’ and made my sound jump out from the mix with excellent pick attack. Rolling the volume down to around unity gain and removing most of the treble and pushing the gain up to just below half way really made me smile. My tone was just so warm and sustained, yet natural and still very articulate. I didn’t really want to turn it off!
I have found a great setting on the Custom Drive that to me is one of the pedal’s sweet spots. I have one of my lead channels set up slightly crunchy with only a little gain, adding the Custom Drive into the mix sends me into blues-rock tone heaven. A lot of overdrive pedals are designed to be real smooth and thus I have never found a crunchy tone from them that I have been happy with, this is where the Custom Drive comes in. It is smooth enough to keep legato passages flowing but when you dig in to your strings and let rip with some screamin’ bends, the pedal just screams right back, its a beautiful moment.
My main guitar has single coil pickups and because of the way the pedal is designed a lot of the natural mid-range and high-end is accentuated and so for me the pedal had a lot of searing top-end. I tried the pedal out with humbucker equipped guitars and that sparkle diminished, but didn’t disappear. The Custom Drive really does respond to pickup selection and if you play with some darker sounding humbuckers, you could experience some treble loss…with other pedals. The Custom Drive has a great ‘Bright’ switch which extends the high-end frequencies bringing dull sounding humbuckers back to life, it creates the treble that you have always wanted, especially if you are into the British sounds of Brian May, Eric Clapton etc. This switch adds to the versatility of the pedal and thus there is a lot of tweaking required in order to get the real sound you want, but it is also very hard to get a bad sound.
As I have said, the pedal is very versatile, more so than I was expecting, but it is really at home providing crunchier, bluesier lead tones rich in upper mids and high-end that makes your guitar stand out and give your notes some real bite and definition, without sounding artificial. Players looking for an overdrive with exceptional crunch need look no further.
Johan originally sent me this pedal to evaluate and review for Dirt Box, I like the pedal so much I ended up buying it from him! I am really looking forward to seeing what new creations Valvette bring out in the near future.