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Best of Mini, Compact, Medium and Large Plexi Style Pedals

DistortionFriedman EffectsMarshall Style DistortionOrigin EffectsWamplerXotic Effects+-
2018GPX4SizePlexiDrives700-min.jpg

Next to the Tube Screamer, the Marshall Plexi sound is probably the second most cloned sound around and particularly in pedal format. You have a huge variety of Plexi pedals to choose from - with no signs of its popularity ever likely to wane. I’ve used a number of pedals over the years for my main Plexi sound - including the Empress Multidrive - which I actually included this time around in the OCD / Crunchy Overdrive style selection. My current champion is the superb Origin Effects RevivalDrive which gives you the maximum amount of rich harmonic texture and timbre - and also combines well with its own dedicated footswitch - to allow you to get 3 variations of the same tone - via Mid Boost Engage and Blend Override - of course depending on how you’ve applied the multifarious other settings.

 

My other ’Plexi’ is the Alchemy Audio modified mini Xotic SL Drive - with the 4 internal dip-switches externalised as toggles. I have it set to a rather dark voicing and in the 18V high headroom mode, and I use it for my Led Zeppelin style tones. I find it essential to have those external toggle switches to be able to usefully deploy this pedal. I’m really not a fan of internal trimmers and dip-switches for key tone-sculpting elements - I believe all of those should be surface-mounted for ease of access and actual usability. I have the Keeley Mini Red Dirt, and I get frustrated in having to screw off the bass plate every time I want to change voicing. In any case the mini Xotic SL Drive is a sort of Jr Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret, but with the ability to switch from Super Lead to Super Bass settings easily reachable via this Alchemy Audio mods. I really like the sound of this pedal, and every time I think I need to change or up-size / upgrade - it surprises me with its amazing tones. For sure it’s not quite in the same league as the RevivalDrive, but it does exactly what I want it to, and does that really rather well.

 

Further to those two pedals I also have the Bearfoot FX Emerald Green Distortion Machine, Boss Keeley Modified Blues Driver, Dr Scientist The Elements, MI Effects Super Crunch Box V2, Strymon Riverside and Strymon Sunset - all of which can get me into decent Plexi-style territory, so I’m really not lacking in those kind of tone options in my current pedal-chain!

 

So even though I really don’t need it, I have had the Friedman Dirty Shirley on my wishlist since that first came out. At the time its sibling the BE-OD was pride-of-place in the compact High Gain slot - but that has since been ousted by the REVV G3. I had always intended to have the Dirty Shirley on rotation with the BE-OD, and I still intend to get it, as it’s the most fully featured of the sort of upper middle gain Marshal style pedals. It’s control topology is what I really would have liked for the for the BE-OD, as I feel that is missing the essential Mid frequency control. Here you get 3-band EQ, plus presence and the BE-OD’s tightness dial has been reduced to a toggle switch on the side. I’ve also had the Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret as a long-time wishlist target, but me preference leans towards the Dirty Shirley.

 

There’s a reason I did an article on Brian Wampler - called ’The King of Drive’ as he pretty much has an amazing drive pedal for every occasion - with several of those offered in both Standard Compact or Deluxe Medium Enclosure format - the latter having one or two additional voicing and tone controls, alongside a second / independent boost. This is really meat-and-potato territory for Brian and he rely excels in this sort of territory. I think almost without exception you can recommend a Wampler pedal within a particular category. Very occasionally you may find something else caters slightly more closely to your exact taste, but the Wampler is usually and almost always a contender.

 

Finally - you may have picked up on a few articles about my very positive impressions of Origin Effect’s Revival Drive - which initially seems over-complex and somewhat intimidating, but is much easier to get to grips with than a Chase Bliss Audio pedal really - even though I of course love and use most of those too. In any case, the RevivalDrive is an incredibly accomplished and versatile pedal which though does need a little patience initially in learning and setup. I find I can achieve all manner of tones on this - where I usually have the left/right split as Vox/Plexi, but have also set up a very nice Dumble-ish tone too. The big proviso here is obviously in the price, as this is a very costly proposition and mileage may vary. If you are interested in this pedal you have to go with the full-fat ’Custom’ version of the pedal with the extra front-panel tone controls, and you must get the dedicated footswtich too otherwise you won’t benefit from the full versatility of this pedal. Some view is specifically as tuning a certain style of drive into a particular amp, while I use those settings to achieve vastly different tones and texture - for an expanded palette of tones!

 

As mentioned above - I still have the Friedman Dirty Shirley on my wishlist along with the Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret - even tough I really don’t need them, I also feel it important to mention Venezuela’s Pedal Pal outfit - who make exceptional medium-size enclosure Marshall style pedals in various configurations. In any case I have more than enough existing Marshall-esque options already so I am unlikely to acquire any more of these any time soon.

 

Pedals are listed in order of enclosure size - from small to large:


Xotic SL Drive Alchemy Audio Modded Version - c£125 (Reverb.com)

There are several really decent mini Plexi pedals available from all the usual suspects - I also have the excellent OneControl Plexifier and have considered a number of others, but prefer the Xotic SL Drive overall for a number of reasons. I run it on 18 volts for higher headroom and more control, and I have to have it in the Alchemy Modified version - so that I can easily access the dip-switches to change the key voicing characteristics. I generally approve of some internal trim-pots and dip-switches for more esoteric and occasional changes. But dislike immensely when pedal-makers place essential voicing and tone-control switches on the inside - meaning you have to unscrew and re-apply 4 screws every time you wish to make a change. Having the dip-switches externalised really makes this pedal and give it the versatility it needs. As reported, I set it to a fairly dark tone and use it for my own Led Zeppelin-is noodling. It seems to suit those sort of songs well - I'm not trying to authentically replicate anything here. I've frequently thought of switching this for the Catalinbread DLS or Friedman Dirty Shirley, but my pedal-chain is somewhat over-crowded anyway and I really like having this small space-saver which actually really sounds tremendous. It does require a little fiddling around with settings initially, but really is plenty versatile if you have easy access to all the settings as I do. I in fact have a full Alchemy Audio modified set of the 3 Xotic minis - it's so worthy it!


Friedman Dirty Shirley Overdrive - £149

There are so many possibilities in this category with a new pedal of this type being released every other month - it's not so long ago that Keeley release their El Rey Dorado. Yet I feel that the prime contenders are still the Friedman Dirty Shirley and Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret - each of which has its own advantages. It's no major contest for me really as I've intended to get the Dirty Shirley from when I first heard it - with its combination of 6 dials plus Tightness control toggle, it is currently the most fully featured at this size. I also actually considered the recent Zvex Vertical Box of Rock - with its dual footswitches. I think longer-term it's likely I will end up with all of those, while I feel that the Dirty Shirley will still probably be my favourite at this enclosure size.


Wampler Plexi Drive Deluxe V2 - £209

It's another hit for Brian 'King of Drive' Wampler - there really is no one who offers quite the same range of key overdrive and distortion pedals - and they're all lovingly and beautifully tuned in - sometimes taking a period of several years. Even with all that success there are still players who weirdly cast shade in Brian's direction. I've been more than satisfied with every one of the Wampler Pedals that I have acquired and several of them are my favourites in their respective categories. This Deluxe Version of the Plexi-Drive adds 3-band EQ, Brightness Boost switch and Boost Footswitch to the original - for far more versatility and tonal control. There are several more suitable pedals at this size - including the Tech 21 British - which I actually assigned to the Blues Breaker category - for its prowess in that area - while it ranges right across the Marshall-style spectrum. For me the Wampler is the strongest contender in this slot.


Origin Effects RevivalDrive Custom + Footswitch - £559 + £89

I've reported on this one at length - and the short end of the story is that I firmly believe this is the most nuanced and textured and amp-like of the Plexi-style pedals. It is already very pricey, but you should definitely buy the Custom version with the additional EQ panel, and you should also definitely buy the dedicated Footswitch in order to get the most out of this pedal. The RevivalDrive lets you highly accurately replicate the amp tones of a variety of classic American and British Amps - including early Fenders, Marshall, Vox and Dumble. Many players use the various cap and EQ settings just to set and forget - while I use them further as actual tonal variations. Used in combination with the Custom front EQ panel - you get a vast range of tones. My only criticism being really that I would have include 2 mid-band controls per Channel, and done a separate set of controls for the the Boost. As it is you have the option deploying the middle-frequency control permanently or temporarily via boost switch - that is my only quibble - oh and the rather archaic naming of some of the dials. In sticking to the fairly technical Amp-centric approach Simon Keats has made the pedal just a touch less usable for more pedal-centric users. Nevertheless as a keen Chase Bliss Audio enthusiast - all those dials and switches were bread and butter to me, and I soon got a handle on how to control the tone - I feel it could just have been done slightly differently for more ease of use - not that it's impacting the sale of the pedal which has shifted nearly 700 units already.


Final Thoughts

There really is no shortage of Plexi-style pedals out there in all shapes and sizes and at all manner of different prices - Andertons have for a number of years featured and promoted the Tone City Golden Plexi which is yours for just £40 - it sounds pretty great, but it only really has 'one sound' as such and the Gain dial seems to do very little. Contrast that with the multi-headed hydra or RevivalDrive at the other end of the scale - which will set you back the best part of £650 but can deliver several different very complex amp tones.

 

Most people will of course be aiming for something in-between, and the Dirty Shirley has come down in price recently to make it an even more appealing proposition. In any case you've got a range of about £600 pounds to play with and probably dozens of highly competent examples. Delicious Audio usually to excellent full-fat guides with pretty much everything that is available (see pedals.thedelimagazine.com/best-marshall-plexi-distortion-pedals-and-mini-pedals-under-300/) - while I take a more selective / curate approach where I only really touch on pedals that directly appeal to me - and that typically I already have, or are on my extensive rolling wishlist.

 

I will definitely be getting the Dirty Shirley, and probably the Catalinbread DLS and Zvex Vertical Box of Rock, I also like the look of the Ramble FX Marvel Drive and JHS Charlie Brown. Also at the larger size the usually excellent Bogner does the amazing La Grange pedal - which all should consider too - you really are spoilt for choice in this particular category.

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