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20 Favourite Boutique Style Mini Drive and Distortion Pedals

Blues Driver Style OverdriveBoostBoost and OverdriveBrown Sound DistortionDecibelicsDistortionDriveEWS EffectsF-PedalsIbanezKeeley EngineeringKHDKKlone and Transparent OverdriveMarshall Style DistortionMetal DistortionMulti-DriveMXROverdrivePigtronixSuhrTubescreamer Style OverdriveVox Style DistortionWamplerXotic EffectsXvive Audio+-
2018GPX20FavouriteMiniDrives700-min.jpg

So I’ve covered off a large variety of mini Drive and Distortion pedals in these last few features - starting with the 4-Size key enclosure type articles, then Mooer Micro PreAmps, then the older Mooer Minis, and most recently - the OneControl offerings in that area. This article is essentially a collection of the remaining mini drive and distortion pedals I rate from a variety of pedal-builders. They are not all strictly ’Boutique’ but I felt they fit best within that framework.

 

At the top of the tree in terms of high quality engineering with the very best parts - you have the mini marvels of Decibelics - while generally the quality of all those I have selected here is pretty high - just no one goes quite as far a Guillem Vilademunt of Decibelics - who has a new HM-2 clone pedal - the ’Angry Swede’ coming through in the new year.

 

Ibanez, Wampler and Xotic Effects have really laid down the marker for how to do these mini pedals well - and each has had considerable success with their smaller ranges. Something that Pigtronix and Suhr have picked up on too - I’m really impressed with the duo of Suhr minis launched this year. MXR is also starting to roll-out more mini pedals following something of an hiatus after its well-received Phase 95 pedal.

 

Of course Mooer and OneControl have the biggest selection of mini drives and distortions, while F-Pedals has an interesting compact range, and there are some individual gems from the likes of EWS, Keeley, KHDK and Xvive. I already have 8 of these pictured, and 2 are current fixtures in my pedal-chain - the Deciblics Golden Horse klone and Alchemy Audio Modded Xotic SL Drive. I will see how many more of these are still worth acquiring in my Final Thoughts and recommendations at the end of this article!

 

Pedals are listed alphabetically by brand then model name:


Decibelics Angry Swede - FORTHCOMING TBC (estd. c£190)

This is Guillem's forthcoming Boss HM-2 clone. There really are very few high gain mini pedals around so far - in fact only really Mooer is making them as far as I can tell. I feel this will be an excellent addition to the scene, and even though I've only seen prototypes so far I'm banking on this one being as good as the rather superb Golden Horse.

 

Will post video as soon as one materialises.


Decibelics Golden Horse - c£190

I have kind of run out of compliments about this pedal - which really is an engineering work of art, and easily the most finely crafted mini pedal to date. The intricacy and detail of the internals is just beautiful to behold - and you can see the quality in every aspect of this pedal. I am really looking forward to seeing Guillem roll out further types at this amazing high level of crafting.


EWS Little Brute Drive II - £117

I'm still waiting for these to filter through to UK vendors - they are though currently available from Thomann.de. I actually have the V1 - but I prefer this update - which takes more of an influence from its Little Fuzzy Drive sibling. This medium gain 'British' drive/distortion has plenty of that crunchy mid-range bite that most love. EWS are the sister company to Xotic Effects and pretty much make equally special pedals. The EWS Little Fuzzy Drive is also exceptional, and this V2 sounds like an improvement over its predecessor.


F-Pedals Damn 10 Distortion - $90

A great sounding drive/distortion with a slightly fuzzy edge. Not sure if it's supposed to be modelled on any amp or drive style in particular - but has a really nice flavour to it and plenty of range up to a sort of medium gain distortion.


F-Pedals DarkLight Distortion - $70

I've had this pedal on my wishlist for a while - but never got around to acquiring. Generally has a slightly darker distortion flavour even with Light dial maxed. The 5 dials in combination offer some very interesting textures and plenty of range - particularly via the interplay between the Distortion and Boost dials.


F-Pedals Edstortion - $130

A really crunchy sounding distortion with 3 different clipping modes. This was on my wishlist for a while, but I thought I might get more out of the 5 dials of the DarkLight - now I'm not so sure any more. I think I may prefer the core tone of the Edstortion after all!


F-Pedals Nikaos Distortion - $120

A really simple 2 control signature drive/distortion pedal for Greek producer Nikolas Farmakalidis. It features just 2 controls - Growl (Volume+Gain) and Bite (Tone). It's rather more raw and raucous than the other F-Pedals listed here - has a very satisfying core tone though.


Ibanez Super Metal Mini - £75

This is not really a proper modern 'Heavy Metal' pedal compared with some of the others which I have featured more recently - it is though definitely high gain. It has 5 really neat controls coming from 2 dual-centric mini dials and a larger main Drive dial. As long as you know what the parameters are here I think this is a pretty decent pedal with significant range. I did though feel that both my Ibanez mini drive pedals could have done with more gain and more volume on tap. Pretty cool nonetheless.


Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini - £51

Even though I have about half a dozen 'Tube Screamers' in the collection, this is the only official one I have from originator Ibanez. It's a decent proposition for sure at this size - not quite as warm and detailed as the full size TS808, but close enough for most. Of my various Mini Tube Screamers - I probably prefer both the Keely Red Dirt Mini and OneControl Persian Green Screamer to this, and my current favourite in this category is the KHDK Ghoul JR - q.v. which I've yet to acquire. That's not to say this Tube Screamer is not decent - as lots like it and deploy it on their boards - for my preferences there are just better and more versatile equivalent pedals available which are more for me.


Keeley Red Dirt Mini - £99

Speaking of Mini Tube Screamers - this Keeley offering is based on his many Tube Screamer mods - with 4 approximations of those offered in this pedal via internal dip-switches. I wish someone would externalise those switches - as Alchemy Audio did for the Xotic pedals - but no one has stepped up to that task yet. It's versatility put is slightly ahead of the Ibanez TS Mini.


KHDK Ghoul Jr - £130

This is my current Tube Screamer mini of choice because of its greater versatility brought about by two 3-way toggle switches - Voice and Style - which change the nature of the Gain and EQ. I would put the KHDK Ghoul Jr at the head of the queue - in from of the OneControl Persian Green, Keeley Red Dirt Mini, Ibanez TS Mini and Mooer Green Mile - to name all the usual suspects.


MXR Sugar Drive - £129

This is actually a really decent Klon clone - with a the handy addition of buffer switch carried over from the original, and which does significantly impact the tone. I did an article '4 of the Best Mini Klone Pedals' and I would probably still place this in third place after the Decibelics Golden Horse and Wampler Mini Tumnus, but just ahead of the Tone City Bad Horse - those are the 4 mini Klones worth knowing and that is my order of preference. Each has a slightly different take on the core tone - with the Decibelics being the most faithful to my ears.


Pigtronix Disnortion Micro - £135

This is currently the most versatile / feature rich of the mini drive pedals - coming with 6 different clipping options which you can apply in series or parallel. Even though this is largely a fuzz-based circuit you still get beautifully textured overdrive and distortion and various gain levels. I really like this pedal, and wish I could find more use for it.


Suhr Riot Mini - £139

I truly love this one's big brother - the compact size Riot - for that lovely sizzle EVH type of distortion, and the mini edition pretty much carries that texture across intact - with just one less voicing options - 2 instead of 3. I have been really impressed with the new Suhr Minis and they're both high on the wishlist.


Suhr Shiba Drive Reloaded Mini - £139

I actually included this one in my 4-Size Cranked Vox overview as it does an excellent job of giving you those beautifully textured distortion tones which are really quite close to the Brian May sort of tone albeit not at all intentional as I'm aware. I really can't decided whether I will get the Riot or this Shiba first - they really are both excellent - sound fantastic, and have great range / versatility.


Wampler Tumnus Mini - £139

This was my favourite Klone for the longest time - Brian tuned this one really well and added some more body and low-end frequencies versus the original inspiration. This was in turn ousted by the Tumnus Deluxe, before I settled on the Decibelics Golden Horse as my favourite for this slot. I still love both my Tumni - although it's usually the larger more versatile one that get rotes with the Golden Horse ever so occasionally.


Xotic EP Booster Alchemy Audio Mod - c£120 (Reverb.com)

I whole-heartedly stand behind the three Alchemy Audio modified Xotic mini pedals - which externalise the internal dip-switch - giving you easy and direct access to voicing options. This was for the longest time my boosted of choice - to warm up and add sparkle to my core tone. I would currently see this pretty much on par with the excellent OneControl Raspberry Booster. Both of these can function as pretty good overdrives - with the Raspberry Booster in particular. I would not hesitate to recommend either.


Xotic SL Drive Alchemy Audio Mod - c£130 (Reverb.com)

This is currently the longest standing mini pedal in my pedal-chain. When I started down that road I employed quite a lot of mini pedals in the chain - but those have been ousted by larger / compact alternatives which offer more. Of the sort of original batch - only this one still remains despite ongoing challenges to its status. Having the 4 dip-switches as toggles really helps flipping this between Super Lead and Super Bass modes - I see this as a sort of mini Catalinbread DLS - and it still perseveres!


Xvive Sweet Leo Overdrive - £40

A Thomas Blug designed slightly fuzz-edged overdrive for Xvive, has quite a unique flavour to it and a fair few lacklustre demos of it online - you need to be a little careful how you dial this one in, but you can get some really tasteful tones out of it if you show it a little patience.


Xvive Golden Brownie Distortion - £50

I used to regularly rotate this with the OneControl Anodized Brown distortion - both offer really good but slightly different takes on the EVH Brown Sound. Nowadays the MI Effects Super Crunch Box V2 gets all the action in this department - with occasional games from the Suhr Riot and Bogner Burnley. In the mini stakes I would also probably have the Suhr Riot a fraction ahead of the Golden Brownie and Anodized Brown - although all are very useful options to have.


Final Thoughts and Favourites

So the question is as always if I had to buy just one of each 'type' today - which of these would I go for, and which would I likely skip even though a decent pedal in its own right. After considering the Mooer and OneControl options and alternatives too - I am left with these 9 essentials - of which I still need to acquire a number:

  • Decibelics Angry Swede (Forthcoming)
  • Decibelics Golden Horse
  • EWS Little Brute Drive
  • KHDK Ghoul Jr
  • Pigtronix Disnortion Micro
  • Suhr Riot Mini
  • Suhr Shiba Reloaded Mini
  • Xotic EP Booster Alchemy Audio Mod
  • Xotic SL Drive Alchemy Audio Mod

Each of those gives you something unique or something more than the other existing alternatives. It is heartening to see that there's plenty of competition in most areas.

 

As I've touched on earlier - there really aren't a lot of the higher gain types available in mini format currently - so I see a gap in the market there. I also think Wampler would do well to release a Mini Pantheon - in fact Blues Breakers are quite popular at the moment, but not many choices at the mini level - I can only think of the Mooer Blues Crab. There are other notable gaps in the mini selection - a proper mini Tweed Drive etc. - so still lots of scope for growth here.

 

I also think the Mooer-started trend of offering smaller copies of modded pedals with voicing and clipping options is a healthy move. I like to see voicing and clipping options on most of my pedals - and feel that Such have done an excellent job of that. Modern Mini pedals really need to be the equivalent of the compacts in every way possible bar the size.

 

Just as my newish iPhone takes all of my laptop computing essentially and compresses it into a much tinier format - the technical challenges of making super high quality miniatures should not be unsurmountable - as Decibelics has shown - it requires quite a lot of prototyping and a proper engineer's brain - but it can be done. The vast majority of existing pedal circuits can be brought down in size somewhat by use of clever circuit design and layout and slightly smaller components...

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