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9 Cool Compact Dual Circuit / Dual Stage Stackable Boost, Overdrive and Distortion Pedals

Aleks K ProductionBlues Driver Style OverdriveBoostBoost and OverdriveBossBrown Sound DistortionChase Bliss AudioDiamond PedalsDistortionDriveDual-DriveFulltone EffectsFuzzFuzz-Drive and FuzzstortionKlone and Transparent OverdriveLoophole PedalsMagnetic EffectsOCD Style OverdriveOverdriveRat Style FuzzThorpyFXTubescreamer Style OverdriveVFE Pedals+-
2019GPX9CompactDualStackingDrives700.jpg

This post was sparked off by the recent launch of the Magnetic Effects Zig Zag Dual Stage Overdrive, my relatively recent acquisition of the Aleks K Production Maple Leaf Royal Drive and ThorpyFX Heavy Water Dual Boost pedals, and the hopefully fairly imminent arrival of my on-order Loophole Pedals Grey Matter Overdrive. They got me thinking about other pedals of this type which allow you to blend 2 separate circuits together essentially for more versatility and more complex and richer tones.

 

It’s an area that I’ve always been interested in, although this is the first time I really pinpoint it to a separate category/group. As always, some rules and criteria are needed here - so I will deliberately exclude all ’Drive + Boost’ pedals - even the really clever multi-variant ones like my Jackson Audio Broken Arrow and Matthews Effects The Architect V3. More lenient curators might well have allowed those to slip through the net, but for me the stipulation is that you need two separate circuits of the same type - i.e. Drive + Drive or Boost + Boost etc. - not combinations of each.

 

Probably the most established pedal in this arena is the venerable Fulltone Plimsoul, which I myself only acquired relatively recently - I’ve always preferred the OCD really - and love the new OCD Ge variety, while the darker core sound of the Plimsoul probably makes it more suitable for single coil pickup guitars - it’s been a long-term favourite of Lee Anderton - who typically plays it with one his Strat-type guitars.

 

The most feature-rich of these types is undoubtedly the Chase Bliss Audio Brothers - with all its controls and dip-switches - and I’ve found numerous uses for it over the years. Another couple of classics of the type are the earlier VFE Dragon Hound (formerly Vomit Hound and Crown Jewel) which mixes up the VFE Alpha Dog and Pale Horse circuits, and the equally excellent but more recent Boss/JHS collaborated JB-2 Angry Driver pedal - which allows you to mix up the Blues Driver and Angry Charlie circuits.

 

I’ve featured Diamond’s Cornerstone Dual Gain Distortion before on this site for the Best of Canadian Pedals and Builders post - and along with the brand new Magnetic Effects Zig Zag - those are the only two I don’t yet have in the collection as such - but that will likely change fairly soon.

 

I really enjoy each of these pedals - 3 of them are now semi-permanent fixtures in my pedal-chain - the Aleks K Maple Leaf, Chase Bliss Brothers and ThorpyFX Heavy Water - with all the others featuring very highly on the rotation. There’s essentially 3 sub-categories here - Boost², Drive² and Distortion² - with each achieving a higher level when the 2 circuits are combined. Every single one of these pedals has merits - I will endeavour to provide more structured guidance and commentary in the individual overviews and Final Thoughts below.

 

Pedals are listed alphabetically by brand as usual:


Aleks K Production Maple Leaf Royal Drive - $279

I've only had this for a number of weeks now but I'm really loving its sort of sizzling, slightly compressed 80's style singing liquid lead tones. I've mentioned I could do with a bit more volume on tap here (even at 12V) while I have various ways of solving that within my own pedal chain. I have no other pedal which sounds or feels like this one - it's possibly an acquired taste to some degree - but if you loved the marvellously liquid combination of Ibanez and DiMarzio in those 80's hey-days - then this is pretty much that sound bottled - with a little extra hot sauce on the side. You get 2 different Drives here - Drive 1 & 2 - with the upper one being more sizzling and saturated, and the lower more mid-rangy, mid-gainy - together they sound rich and luxuriant. This is a really special flavour for me and I will likely keep it as a principal pedal on its pedal-chain slot for quite some time. You have 6 controls here - Low | High | Drive 1 | Volume | Auxilliary High (Sizzle) | Drive 2.


Boss JB-2 Angry Driver Distortion - £149

I've been a long-time Boss Blues Driver fan - even though actually my first pedal in this area was the admittedly superb but diminutive Mooer Blues Mood, which was then supplanted by this JB-2 - which I've actually used mostly in Blues Driver mode, before acquiring my current unshakeable permanent fixture - the Robert Keeley Phreak Fuzz Modded BD-2. In any case the JB-2 is a lot more than the sum of its parts. You get 3 x dual-concentric knobs to enable control of Level | Tone | Drive of each circuit - Angry Charlie above, and Blues Driver below. Then you get a clever mode switch which allows you to play back the circuits independently or in either-way series or parallel - the latter of which is my favourite combination setting. I typically used the pedal mostly as a BD-2, and then juice the signal up with extra Angry Charlie sizzle. This is definitely a classic of this type and its recent leaner leaner price makes it a must-have really. You get the best of BD-2 + Angry Charlie - with the addition of the extra sizzle on top by combining both.


Chase Bliss Audio Brothers Analog Gainstage - £349

As frequently reported - I actually use this mostly as a Fuzz, but it has two each - Channel A & B of Boost, Drive and Fuzz. And with its 10 controls, presets and 16 dip-switches - you can't get more bells and whistles to your dirt pedal - certainly not at this enclosure size. The range and variety of tones here is just immense - and for many players this is their principal drive pedal, while for me it's one of several - but it's impressive versatility has made it a permanent feature in my chain from since I first acquired it. This is definitely one of the leading examples of this type. You get Gain A | Tone A | Mode A Selector | Gain B | Tone B | Mode B Selector | Master | A/B Mix | Stack Options | Presets - A and B footswtiches - I really feel a few more of those featured here could do with this sort of dual footswitches!


Diamond CST1 Cornerstone Dual Gain Stage Overdrive/Distortion - £155

Since I did my Best of Canada overview there seem to be ever fewer Diamond Pedals available in the UK - in fact I could not find a single store which had a CST1 Cornerstone in stock - while there are a few on Ebay and Reverb.com. Most of the listed Diamond Dealers in the UK seem to be phasing out their support - as there are few to none available. In any case this pedal is often described as a 'Variable Personality' Drive - ranging from Low Gain to pretty searing leads. It makes use of multiple discrete gain stages with distributed dual gain controls - to produce a very wide variety of harmonically complex Drive and Distortion tones. Beyond the 2 Gain Controls we have a Volume and Mid knob. I feel Diamond could update this with dual-footswitches for more versatility - but it's a really effective pedal as is - it also has a 2-way BRT / Bright Switch. This is one of the ones I don't have yet - and while it's not a major priority for me - I will likely have one of these eventually in any case - for Tone Library reference purposes if nothing else and of course for the fact that I love this genre / category of pedals.


Fulltone Plimsoul - £149

I can in no way say with absolute certainty that this was the first of this kind in compact enclosure, but it's probably the one that gets most readily recalled when you think of dual stage drive pedals. I've known about this one for the longest time - and have watched Lee Anderton or 'Captain' Lee of Andertons play it out regularly for a number of years now. It was one of the longest standing pedals on my wishlist - but got recently added to the collection. I am of course more familiar with the OCD and have more of a preferences for that - the Plimsoul has quite a different character - it's both smoother and darker, and much more suitable therefore for the sort of bright single coil pickups you find on Strats and Teles. I still like this tone to a significant degree and I like the versatility this pedal brings - but feel it would probably be better served with just 4 dials / knobs of equal size - rather than having the 2nd Gain Stage on the mini control. It's not altogether dissimilar to the Diamond Cornerstone just mentioned - the main difference being that the Cornerstone has a Mids Tone Control, while the Plimsoul has a Hi-Cut - which further biases it towards brighter pickups and guitars.


Loophole Pedals Grey Matter PreAmp/Drive - $249

I've been aware of Mike Copeland's Grey Matter PreAmp/Drive for a while - but reacted just a touch too slowly to get in on the first batch release. These are made in very small batches of only around 10 or 20 pedals at a time - so you need to react pretty quickly to secure one. I'm definitely in on the second batch though which is due any day now production-wise - but there was also an issue with ordering online to the UK with regards to shipping costs - so I've had to go direct to Mike on this one. The Grey Matter is a really cool dual version take on the original Grey Drive Pedal or DOD250 - here with additional clipping options per channel / stage and an additional 'Edge' control over the classic's Gain and Volume knobs. The Edge Control adjusts the gain saturation, while the Left Channel/Hemisphere has 1N270 Germanium/Open/Silicon clipping, and the Right Channel/Hemisphere has Bat41 Schottky diodes/Open/Silicon - the core tone-generator here is the LM741 OpAmp. This is just my sort of pedal - the ability to combine different clipping and degrees of texture and saturation in a beloved drive variant. As with may of these pedals this is not just 2 x DOD250, but more like DOD250²!


Magnetic Effects Zig Zag Dual Stage Overdrive - £125

This is near enough the newest of this bunch (not sure which came later this or the Heavy Water?) - but only just released in any case - and superbly demo'd as always by Alberto Barrero per the above video. I'm a huge fan of Chris Livingstone's Magnetic Effects Pedals and already have 6 of his in the collection - with a couple more on the wishlist - I'm still trying to get a copy of the last version of the compact edition Double Feature - but onto more important matters! The Zig Zag features 6 controls - Volume | Treble | Gain | EQ (EQ-Shift of low + low-mids) | PreAmp | Bass. The significant interplay here is between the PreAmp and Gain controls - which give you that extended gain range. It's just a beautiful sounding even tempered Drive/Distortion with plenty of texture and tone-shaping. This will undoubtedly be added to the collection very soon. I don't as such really need another drive - but I really like the core tonality of this - and while I'm not sure it would become a principal pedal - it would certainly feature pretty high on the rotation.


ThorpyFX Heavy Water Dual Boost - £189

This is certainly my most recently acquired pedal - and went directly in on principal pedal duties to replace my almost-always-on Spaceman Mercury IV Germanium Harmonic Boost - which I use as a tone enhancer and texturizer. The new Heavy Water takes up double duty in that department - with the right hand 'Dane' boost handling smoother tone articulation and enhancement - while the left-hand Germanium Diode side handles more textured duties - I actually use both almost as frequently but on different pedals typically - sometimes just for different effect and impact. Both boosts are super high headroom - so I have them on really just a 'touch' (almost fully anti-clockwise) with the Lows dials set around 9 o'c. In any case the Heavy Water does exactly what I intended and needed it to do, but I'm slightly bemused that the Levels need to be set so low - shows just how powerful a boost this is!


VFE Dragon Hound - discontinued - $199 when new

This pedal actually shows up very rarely on Reverb.com nowadays - I happened to chance by the one I snagged a couple of years ago being sold on Reverb.com from Bucharest - an early gold prototype Vomit Hound with BJFe style hand-written legends! In any case I'm a big fan too of Peter Rutter's VFE Pedals and have 5 of those in the collection - with a couple more still to add. The Dragon Hound, formerly Vomit Hound, formerly Crown Jewel - is actually a dual circuit confection of VFE's Alpha Dog (Rat) and Pale Course (TS808+) circuits - referred to here as A Drive and P Drive. You have the 6 usual VFE style controls - 3 regular - A Drive (Gain) | P Drive (Gain) | Level (Master), and Fat | Filter | A-P (Mix). The Alpha Dog in particular is a legendary circuit - and being able to combine it with a Tube Screamer variant here gives you all kinds of beautifully saturated tones. This pedal really is a hidden gem - those 2 circuits are so complementary - like the Blues Drive and Angry Charlie of the JB-2 Above - the sum of the parts here is just exceptional - I really love this pedal, it needs to get more rotation time really!


Final Thoughts

After some considerable contemplation - I settled on the selection of 9 above eventually, and very happy I am with that - while I've no doubt I've likely overlooked one or two here - including the Coldcraft Effects Cascade MKII Dual Stage Ovedrive which just missed out. The above selection of 9 really could not be better balanced though - considering how many of those I already love and own - and the other couple I will likely soon add - especially the Magnetic Effects Zig Zag.

 

As to which of these pedals would be the best for you - it really depends on what sort of thing you're after - as each one here is mostly its own thing - while there is some rough overlap to a degree between the Cornerstone and Plimsoul - yet they are still intrinsically different.

 

The ones that are or have been permanent fixtures in my pedal-chain include the Aleks K Maple Leaf, Boss JB-2 Angry Driver, Chase Bliss Brothers and Thorpy Heavy Water. Of those the Brothers is the most versatile - but also the most expensive - all are exceptional really.

 

I'm very much looking forward to receiving my Loophole Grey Matter, and I feel the Magnetic Effects Zig Zag will follow suit very soon really - while I will stalk Reverb.com for a well-priced Diamond Cornerstone. The Zig Zag is the lowest cost option here and well worthy a look-in - so if you're looking to dip your toes in this area then that is certainly a great starting point - the JB-2 Angry Driver and VFE Dragon Hound combine 2 stellar circuits each - which you should be able to find very good use for - and the Aleks K Maple Leaf is just very unique sounding for me.

 

As I've said several times - I feel all of these have merit and I will have all eventually in my Tone Library - whichever one you choose here will depend on the kind of music you play and weight of drive you need - but you should not be disappointed with any of these - each one gives you far greater versatility and variety than you would get out of an equivalent single circuit pedal. There's obviously an argument for 3-band EQ vs Dual Circuits - the latter of which offers up so many nuances in saturation and gain structure that you simply cannot typically get with just EQ - so there are good reasons for each!

 

It's really a case of picking your own weapon of choice here.

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
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