The first overdrive I was properly enamoured with was funnily enough the Mooer Blues Mood - set to the Fat Mode with Gain around 1 o’clock. I always intended to get a proper Keeley Phat-modified Blues Driver but for a long time struggled to find one in reasonable condition and at a reasonable price. Then came the Boss JB-2 Angry Driver which allowed you to mix the Blues Driver circuit with JHS’s Angry Charlie circuit to great effect - but I found that long term I was gravitating towards the sort of Phat tone of my earlier Mooer.
I finally chanced upon a Keeley Freak Fuzz modified Blues Driver which includes also the earlier Phat mod, in tandem with two additional Germanium transistors used as diodes for a separate ’Freak Fuzz’ mode. The stock sound is significantly beefed up with tighter bass response - while the Phat mod takes me where I want to go - and that remains my setting of choice. I still occasionally rotate with the Angry Driver, but the modded Blues Driver tends to be my weapon of choice.
Before I acquired either the Angry Driver or Modded BD-2, I had already been running with the Strymon Riverside - a really smart multi-cascading - 4-stage I believe distortion. While the classic Blues Driver achieves its drive / distortion from dual cascaded gain stages rather than soft or hard clipping as is usually the norm. This means the Riverside is actually exceptional at recreating those Blues Driver tones, as its mechanism for distortion is largely the same. I have to admit that I have rarely used the Riverside for this purpose as I have the BD-2 or JB-2 pretty much as permanent fixtures - it nevertheless can create a very credible facsimile with ease!
Finally the BYOC Crown Jewel is a little bit the odd one out - I really like it in this rare blue sparkle finish of which I believe only a couple were made. I’m going to try to bend the arm of BYOC to see if they can’t make me one the same. There other colourways are fine really - I just love that little extra bit of sparkle. Anyway, the Crown Jewel is actually a multi or omni-drive even with multiple clipping and EQ capabilities plus different headroom settings and of 3-band EQ - you can pretty much generate any kind of drive or distortion sound with this pedal. To recreate the Blues Driver though you have to make use of the Boost module - to get that dual cascading gain stage - and you have a range of 9 different modules you can slot into the Boost slot - for our purposes we really need the ’Pre-gain Boost Module’ and then you just adjust to taste!
As I already have 3 of these, I really only have the Crown Jewel to get - which I will do if I can secure one in a cool sparkly finish like the one pictured!
Pedals are listed in order of ascending enclosure size.
A pretty faithful mini reproduction of the celebrated Keeley Phat Modified Blues Driver with Bright and Fat modes. This was my favourite overdrive for the best part of 2 years - it's wonderfully expressive and full-bodied and contrasts rather significantly to the majority of the more thinner sounding overdrives - this is capable of being properly 'meaty' and has a great range up to the upper levels of medium gain. This was eventually ousted first by the Boss JB-2 Angry Driver, and then the Keely Freak Fuzz Modded Blues Driver which has been the mainstay of my pedal-chain for a while. I rarely bring out the Blues Mood these days, but I do retain many fond memories of it and if I was limited for space I would not hesitate to lead with this drive. It is rightfully heralded as the best of the mini Mooer drives - it truly sounds pretty fantastic as Mike Herman's above demo attests to!
I feel very lucky to have finally got my hands on one of these relative rarities in such good condition, although I admittedly don't use it much in Freak Fuzz Mode, but really enjoy it in both Neutral and Phat Modes. The stock components have been upgraded and enhanced so that even the default tone has more definition to it and more low end. The Phat Mode of course ramps this up significantly - adding more body thickness and more oomph overall for a gorgeously rich and saturated sound at the higher reaches of the gain. I have the Tone dial usually dimed, and the Gain normally at around 1 o'clock. This will always be one of my favourite tones! Note that you reduce the bass flub by turning up the tone dial - I've seen lots of demos with the tone way down, and boomy flubby low-end which is not what mine sound like at all - it's full-bodied rich and harmonic and perfectly balanced - just beautifully thick and saturated...
I largely misunderstood this pedal when it first came out, and initially ended up being a touch disappointed when I was unable to replicate some of my favourite drive sounds. But this pedal is not really intended as an all-round chameleon - which the BYOC Crown Jewel really rather is. Instead, the Riverside is a 4-stage distortion as far as I understand - described as "Class-A JFET input gain stage with three additional SHARC DSP gain stages". You get 3-band EQ, Low/High Gain Switch and Pushed Mids Switch. I mostly use the Riverside as a harmonically rich amp-style high gain distortion - usually set to sort of 80's metal tones. But its cascading gain stage architecture is of course perfect for replicating the Blues Driver too, and it does a commendable job at that as you can see in the above demo! Most of the time though I actually just largely use the Riverside as sort of Treble Booster to add more edge to my various overdrives and distortions in my chain.
This has been on my wishlist ever since it was first announced, and I keep meaning to get one but I've never got around to it. I guess part of it is that I want the same blue sparkly version that features in the demo video, and of which only a handful were made. I live in hope that I can persuade those good fellows at BYOC to make a sparkly one for me at some stage. This is really what I expected the Riverside to be - a chameleon pedal with all manner of clipping and EQ settings and a modular Boost slot to be able to produce pretty much every kind of drive and distortion sound. You can select from a range of modules - currently 9, although I seem to think there were more at one stage and at least one Fuzz module, although I may be confusing that with the Germanium Treble Booster. In any case for a Blues Driver type of sound you need cascading gain stages, and hence the module of choice would be the Pre-Gain Boost Module. I feel that this pedal offers superb value in both kit and assembled formats and hope that there are many takers for this cool innovation. My only criticism really is that I would have preferred the modules to be cartridge-based like on the Foxrox Zim Dual Drive - possibly they will evolve to this some day.
The Boss BD-2 is a classic overdrive much loved by many a professional and seen on many a pedalboard in Stock, Waza Craft and Keeley or JHS -modded editions; even in its JB-2 Angry Driver guise. All those pedals are excellent and there are various mods and remedies for those players who find the Blues Driver a little too fizzy or sizzly. My preference leans more on the Phat Mod, but I also love the Angry Driver - and use two of the pictured pedals actively in my pedal-chain as permanent fixtures. Only my original Mooer Blues Mood is sitting somewhat on the shelf, but I will never get rid of it - I still love it in its own way.
Modded versions in decent condition are around £160, Angry Driver currently retails at £149, the Waza Craft BD-2w is at £113, and the stock BD-2 can be had at £75 - with second-hand versions around the same price as the Mooer Blues Mood - so plenty of scope for everyone really. The Riverside is a pricey proposition if you are intending just to use it as Blues Drive - but it is Dual Channel with a Favourite setting - so you can alternate between two vastly different tones - I also have an additional Strymon micro footswitch attached as an extra boost - so plenty of scope for versatility there which goes a long way towards justifying the £299 price tag.
A still more versatile proposition all-round, albeit without presets is the formidable BYOC Crown Royal which can become every drive pedal pretty much you ever wanted, but you get no presets or save to memory here! Would be nice to see this sort of pedal evolve towards a more Chase Bliss / Empress style approach of Digital control over analogue circuits. I could actually see Empress doing its own really clever preset-enable version of the Crown Jewel - we can but hope. In the meantime I will definitely be angling to acquire a Crown Jewel - hopefully in sparkly enclosure!