A reader pulled me up on the fact that I had not included the Walrus Audio 385 Overdrive in my recent 28 Best Compact Overdrives roundup. In fact, as I stated then - there were a number of equally great overdrives that just missed out on that listing for a variety of reasons, but still deserve a mention.
This post seeks to highlight a few more exceptional overdrives which really play on touch-sensitivity and feel and pick-attack - where playing technique is a significant part of the tone-shaping experience. I have acquired two of these thus far - the MI Effects Cross Over Drive V2 and Spaceman Aphelion - a long term favourite of mine. The other two here are Josh Smith’s fantastic signature overdrive the Tchula - which is his specific calibration of Lovepedal’s Church of Tone 50 (COT50) pedal which is in turn based on a 1962 Marshall Plexi style amp. And of course last listed alphabetically is the aforementioned Walrus Audio 385 Overdrive - re-purposed from a vintage cinema-projector audio circuit.
I really like all of these, and once things return to normal post Covid-19 peak, I will no doubt be looking to add the other two also - starting with Josh Smith’s Tchula - as will become evident in a forthcoming follow-on article.
So here follow a few more details on each :
I along with many evidently am a huge fan of Josh Smith's core tone/s - albeit I don't necessarily listen to a lot of Blues-based music - at least not since Robert Cray in the late 80's and early 90's. I do though love every ounce of tone Josh teases out of his guitar and rig. Key to Josh is his signature Tchula Overdrive which he has on circa 90% of the time. This for me - at least how Josh plays it - is the benchmark tone for Blues - of all the pedals out there I don't think any is more bluesy-sounding than the Tchula. In its use it really could not be simpler - two footswitches for two different gain-stages, the second of which has a single Bias knob for adjusting how hot you would like it to sound. You will know that I'm a dial-tweaker by nature, although I do too appreciate the simplicity and elegance of certain simpler pedals - and that is definitely the case with the Tchula. It's been floating around my wishlist for a while, yet for some reason I've become more switched on to Josh in 2020 - and intend to acquire a number of his signature pedals - starting with this one. Actually I would really quite like a Vertical version of this one with dual-footswitches at the base, but since it is specifically Josh Smith's pedal I am resigned to getting it in this format and using it in the illustrated orientation. Perhaps I can get someone to re-house it to my specs at a later stage!
I'm a big fan of Michael Ibrahim's pedals and have 7 of his in the collection to-date including this very distinctive and unique circuit which cascades 4 gain-stages together for one of the most dynamic gain ranges of any overdrive pedal. There is a 3-way voicing switch in the centre which adjusts the drive's character between Tight/Standard/Low. You then have 4 knobs - Volume, Gain, Balance and Detail. Balance is really a Low EQ / Bass-Cut, where the Detail dial adjusts the character of the High Frequencies. This is a fantastic touch-sensitive pedal with a very significant range available in combination with the Gain knob and 3-way voicing switch. Weirdly there is still no video of the newer V2 version, while Brett does a brilliant one for the original above.
This is one of my long-term favourites and one of the very first Spaceman pedals I acquired - probably due for a reissue / reversioning by now. Just a fantastically harmonically rich sounding drive with a tonne of texture onboard. I tend to have the Drive dial near enough fully wound back and it sounds amazing and stacks wonderfully too - probably time I introduced it back into the rotation! I so like this pedal in fact that I stuck it originally in its own category of Harmonic Overdrive - where it has since been joined by the Bogner Wessex and Greer Amps Southland. I'm sure there are many other harmonically rich overdrives out there - but those are definitely 3 of my favourites, and I laboured long and hard over the decision of whether to include the Southland in place of the Lightspeed in my 28 Best Overdrive article - or go with this original even. It seems fitting that the Aphelion gets a little more standout in this group of 4. Note that the controls here are named slightly unusually and don't function entirely conventionally. The Gain dial is a volume, but also adds a degree of boost, while Drive could also be labelled 'Thickness' as it transitions from a sparkly shimmering boost through to much chunkier overdrive. I feel Gearmanndude fully does the pedal justice in his above demo.
And so to the one that kind of triggered this post - Walrus Audio's 385, which is based on the tube-powered audio section of the vintage Bell and Howell 385 Filmosound projector. I had at one stage thought to feature this alongside the Spaceman Apollo VII - itself derived from the gain section of the Voyager I Tremolo. I believed I could find a few more similarly unusually originated overdrives - but my recollection kind of failed me on those that I had encountered previously and I decided in the end that I preferred to focus on my longer-term favourite Spaceman Aphelion. So if any of you know any more unusual drives for consideration - please let me know and I can follow up with another roundup later on. The 385 is about as straightforward as they come with active Bass and Treble controls. There's no point really on comparing any of these to each other as they are all distinctly their own thing and will have broadly different appeal - even though they all have that high degree of touch-sensitivity and inherent dynamics. The 385 has a lovely touch of grit too which rounds out its tone elegantly. I will definitely be getting this in post Covid-19, as it's for sure another essential for my benchmark overdrives collection.
Each of these Overdrives sounds fantastic and has its own distinct character and tonal profile - so comparing one to the other and prioritising an order is pointless really.
As mentioned, I already have the Aphelion and Cross Over - probably should bring both into the fold / rotation again once I'm done with focusing on my new Thorpy pedals. The Aphelion in particular has always appealed to me, while I really should spend some more time with the Cross Over - that certainly deserves a lot more of my attention.
For the remaining two I am on a bit of a Josh Smith kind of trail at the moment - meaning the Tchula will most definitely be the next addition. That does not mean that the last mentioned is least - it's just a matter of current influences and priorities - and that one is likely not too far off the collection either.
I obviously like lots of different overdrive styles and like to collect benchmarks from all the key genres - which certainly includes all these 4. If you haven't come across any of these previously by all means give them a go! If you would like me to focus my attentions in a particular area - do feel free to make a suggestion. Note that mood and prevailing winds are the key impacts on direction, and just because I haven't featured something yet does not mean it's not on the backburner and due to materialise at some stage in the not too distant future ...