This article was triggered by the recent That Pedal Show episode on Colorsound Power Boost-Style Pedals (AKA Colorsound Overdriver) - where Messrs Dan and Mick introduced us to a variety of largely vintage-style Silicon transistor overdrives. There was an original vintage Colorsound Power Boost - versions of which are still available at Macaris (Charing Cross Road), then there was the Tru-Fi Color Driver and Electronic Orange Bananaboost - all pretty much faithful reproductions of the original circuit - two of them with the added Master Volume dial for better control.
If you look at the circuitboard for the original pedal - you can see it’s really quite compact, and beyond the 3 Silicon transistors does not contain a whole heap of components. So I really don’t understand the need to use such over-sized and clunky enclosures. Another thing that was made clear in the episode is how a lot of those older-style pedals really need a ’cooking’ high-headroom amp to get them to sound great. The 1972 Hiwatt Custom 100 DR103 is a perfect foil for those vintage pedals, but when run through a regular modern amp - in this case the Victory V40 those pedals lost all their sparkle.
It’s kind of the same distinction Bjørn Riis uses on his Gilmourish.com site when reviewing pedals and gear - giving a separate rating for ’Bedroom Setups’ i.e. home-play rigs set to play at lower volumes. A very large proportion of those vintage effects only shine when everything is cranked - as most amps in those days had limited volume control and were largely set to play at ear-deafening volumes. For a home-player like myself the context of playback is critical within any gear-related consideration. I typically steer away from vintage-style pedals for these reasons - as well as their usual over-sized enclosures and extreme power requirements.
So I always choose more practical alternatives - which have been engineered for greater tolerances and greater range typically - allowing you to achieve sufficient saturation and therefore great tones at considerably lower volumes. I am looking for pedals which essentially give you more, and are more pliable and practical within a day-to-day setup - can be placed anywhere in your chain and behave consistently and reliably. So I’ve carried across two of the pedals Dan and Mick mentioned and introduced 7 different ones into the mix.
The ones I carried over are the awkwardly shaped ProAnalog Devices Power Driver V2, and the ThroBak Overdrive Boost - which I really would prefer to see in more compact and vertical enclosures. Both of those sound excellent - I’m very familiar with Scotty Smith’s ProAnalog Devices pedals which always sound superb, but occasionally inhabit larger enclosures than I am comfortable with. ThroBak also has an exceptional reputation and makes fantastic pickups as its main day-job. The ThroBak Overdrive Boost is the more interesting pedal here - in having a separate pre-gain boost footswitch alongside a toggle switch which activates an additional Germanium Transistor plus Germanium Diode circuit on top of the 3 existing Silicon Transistors - to give you even more definition and harmonics.
We then have 3 medium-size enclosure pedals - the Black Arts Toneworks Black Forest - which takes you much more into Fuzz territory - particularly with the additional ’Depth’ rotary selector. While the Buffalo FX Power Booster and Monsterpiece C.O.D. are more faithful reproductions of the original circuit - each with the additional Master Volume control. I am very familiar with both Buffalo FX and Monsterpiece pedals in general, a little less so with Black Arts Toneworks.
Finally we have 4 compact enclosure versions - which are generally much more to my liking. I’m always a huge fan of John Lyons’ Basic Audio pedals and this one is no different, I also have some experience of Vick Audio pedals - which is Mike Vickery turning out some very reasonably priced boutique reproductions of the classics - plus some interesting deviations. I am less familiar with Idiotbox, and Wall of Sound Pedals - the latter of which I am not sure is still running - you do get the occasional Wall of Sound Pedal on Reverb.com - which is where I found evidence of at least a few of that mysterious pedal-builder’s 5-pot, dual-footswitch Overdriver Clone.
My preference will always be for compact enclosure size pedals - and seeing how much Joel Korte can do with that form-factor I don’t see the need to have all these over-sized enclosures. The previous ThroBak Overdrive Boost version was a compact pedal, but it only had 3 dials and a single footswitch. The coolest derivation here is the Wall of Sound pedal with its separate independent boost footswitch and control - to go with the typical 4 Overdriver / Power Boost controls - Volume, Gain, Treble/High and Bass/Low. There are several of these I really like - the cleverest circuits here are the ThroBak and Wall of Sound ones, while all the others sound really great too - with the possible exception of the Black Arts Black Forest being just a little bit too different - that one definitely brings out more of the Fuzz-side rather than the Overdrive dynamics of those Silicon Transistors.
Pedals are listed alphabetically by brand:
As often stated I really like John Lyons' Basic Audio pedals and have the Scarab Deluxe and Gnarly to-date. John just cannot make a bad pedal and this one sounds suitably glorious and full-throated. Examples occasionally pop up on Reverb.com - but you are usually better off ordering direct.
This pedal is a slight departure from the rest here as it takes on a much more fuzz-like character really and is slightly more aggressive and darker sounding. This is more of a 'based-on' the same circuit rather than a faithful reproduction - meaning its use would be somewhat different. It's still a cool sounding pedal, but may be just a touch too different for some.
I love Buffalo FX's TD-X pedal which I still intend to acquire one of these days, and this Power Booster is of that same quality - really dynamic and great sounding - carrying across a much more malleable version of the Colorsound Power Boost in a slightly too large enclosure as far as I am concerned. I've come across earlier versions of this pedal in my much preferred compact enclosure with top-mounted jacks - not sure why the switch to larger enclosure. If I was to get this one I would hunt down an earlier compact version of the pedal.
This has the now typical 4-pot design and does not sound too much different to the above Basic Audio Futureman, possibly even a touch more raw and raucous. I'm not that familiar with Idiotbox pedals but have seen several of them around including the Han Solo featured 'Han-Taun' (Klon Clone) - and they've been going since 2011. These are very keenly priced boutique pedals - at roughly the same price-point as Vick Audio, but with more interesting graphics!
This is another pedal-maker I have huge respect for - one Richard Coibion - I have just one of his so far - a unique 6-pot version of the Scratchy Snatch Fuzz. As per the Buffalo FX version - I would really prefer this in a more compact sized enclosure - not sure why certain pedal-makers persist with the larger formats - where you can very evidently engineer this circuit to fit more modest surrounds. All of Richard's pedals sound great - they occasionally appear on Reverb.com - but are best ordered direct.
Scotty Smith is another master pedal builder whose every pedal sounds amazing. He's probably best known currently for his Manticore Klone, and I have his MKIV Vintage Germanium Fuzz which is incredible. The Power Driver V2 is one of his older pedals, and I'm not sure it's still part of the current range - but examples do pop up on Reverb.com every now and again. I would of course prefer this pedal in a more compact enclosure, but you can't deny it sounds fantastic.
This is the cleverest circuit on the page - featuring the original 3 Silicon Transistor Power Booster circuit with some really cool additions. You have the now typical 4th Master Volume dial, alongside separate Pre-Gain boost footswitch and 'Germanium' toggle switch which activates an additional Germanium Transistor plus Germanium Diode for more harmonics and definition. It's understandably pricey because of all those expensive components, I still think this could have been built more along the lines of the Wall of Sounds Overdriver clone below.
UPDATE - I actually prefer the previous version of this one too - it does not have the separate footswitch, but has the master volume on the left hand side, Pre-Gain toggle switch on the top face, and Germanium toggle switch on the right hand side - so all the core sounds intact.
Mike Vickery is a touch an unsung master pedal-builder. I guess he's as unassuming as his mostly monochromatic and rather plain compact stompboxes. But the plain exteriors belie the tuneful and sophisticated interiors. These are unanimously great sounding pedals which are rather moderately priced - the Tree of Life OCD/Zen hybrid is probably Mike's current best known pedal - which I have featured before - while this Overdriver is pretty much equal to most of the above.
Note - no current demos found
I came across this slightly mysterious pedal-builder quite by chance - according to their Facebook page activity they may no longer be in business. But there are a number of excellent demos of their other pedals here - alas none for this particular one - of which a few examples have appeared on Reverb.com. It is essentially the same Colorsound Overdriver circuit - but with a separate and independent boost with its own level control and footswitch. I look at this pedal, Alexander Pedals, Chase Bliss Audio, Foxpedal, JHS and Walrus Audio and wonder why more pedals cannot be like this. The Throwbak Overdrive Boost would surely be better served in such a compact enclosure?
I think the odd one out here is the Black Arts Toneworks Black Forest - which really takes the circuit in a somewhat different direction. Otherwise all the others listed are really very suitable alternatives to the vintage original - with a little more even temperament and more controllability - but still maintaining that raw and raucous - slightly abrasive Silicon tone.
For me there are two here that really stand out - the ThroBak Overdrive Boost and Wall of Sound Overdriver Clone - and I particularly like the form factor of the latter. Next I would look at either a Basic Audio Futureman or the original compact version of the Buffalo FX Power Booster - then the other compacts etc.
Before the That Pedal show I really knew very little about the Power Boost / Overdriver - I had encountered it before in passing - but it never really registered or resonated previously. Now I feel this is another essential overdrive flavour that I need in my collection and I'm just figuring out which of these would suit me best. Some of these pedals are fairly hard to come by - particularly for someone based in the UK, but where I am right now - I think I will keep an eye out on Reverb.com for a Wall of Sound Overdriver Clone or early compact edition Buffalo FX Power Booster - this type of pedal offers another cool alternative to Klon, Screamer, Dumble, OCD and Blues-Driver style Overdrives which we players are generally more familiar with.
One final thing - as in where does this overdrive fit on the celebrated '12 Degrees of Saturation Scale'? I would put it on par with the OCD I think - or around Level 6! While the Tube Driver type circuit is properly one level lower at around a Level 5.
UPDATE - I've seen the older version of the ThroBak pedal which does not have dual footswitches, but maintains all the other functions within a compact vertical format - with the Pre-Gain rendered as a toggle switch also, and master volume and Germanium controls on the sides of the pedal - that is now my preferred target if I can find one!