Most of you should have seen by now my ’Yellow Means OverDrive’ (9) feature which covers off all of Boss’s Yellow OverDrives, and more recently I did a piece on ’Boss’s High Gain and Metal Distortion Pedals’ (9) - so this article covers all those remaining Boss Drive and Distortion Pedals (13) (past and present) which exist between those two extremes.
This article is written with a view towards the forthcoming OD-200 Hybrid Drive Workstation which in theory should be able to replicate the majority of Boss’s drive and distortion backcatalog, while there are actually only 6 specific Boss pedals referenced on the OD-200 - the OD-1 OverDrive, BD-2 Blues Driver, DS-1 Distortion, ST-2 Power Stack, ML-2 Metal Core and MT-2 Metal Zone - with 3 of those being covered in this article.
I believe the DS-1 is actually Boss’s best selling pedal of all time followed by the Metal Zone - while I’m not 100% clear on the make-up of the rest of its all-time top 10 bestsellers - there’s probably the SD-1 in there somewhere, a Blues Driver, a GE-7 EQ, NS-2 Noise Suppressor and TU-3 Tuner - probably the DD-3 Digital Delay too - I will try and get the official list for a later feature.
Here follows the Chronology of these particular pedals :
I personally have 3 of these pedals - two versions actually of the DS-1 both black 40th Anniversary editions, one of them JHS-modded, then my favourite iteration of Blues Driver - the Keeley Freak Fuzz Modded version, and the DS-1X MDP Distortion.
I’ve had a mind to get the DS-2 Turbo Distortion at some stage as it was a pedal much favoured by Prince, and I feel I should probably own a Power Stack, Combo Drive and Waza Craft Blues Driver - but we shall see!
As mentioned, Boss's most enduringly popular pedal and one which is actually often misunderstood and misused, as it was by me initially. I'm sure the word 'Distortion' conjures up lots of different reference points and people will probably have different levels of saturation that they feel adequately benchmarks their notion of distortion. So when I first got mine it got nowhere near the level or degree of distortion I was expecting. That was largely down to a rookie error of running this into an entirely clean amp (too-clean!). While lots of the Boss pedals are engineered to be run into a properly clean amp, the DS-1 is optimised for slightly cooking amps - they don't have to have heaps of gain, but the DS-1 needs to interact with some degree of existing gain - at which point it generates a wonderful texture on top of that. It's a really simple pedal - just Tone | Level | Distortion controls, and you will get great results as long as you know how to deploy it. As mentioned I have two black 40th Anniversary editions of these, with one being the JHS Synth Drive Deluxe Mod with some extra bells and whistles.
This is a suitably grungy sounding distortion which feeds back beautifully when you press and hold the footswitch. The distortion has the 3 usual controls - Level | Tone | Distortion while you control the degree of feedback with the 4th OverTone knob. This is a pretty unique effect long since discontinued, but which several players still really like - and while there are more modern pedals like the DigiTech FreqOut - here you get the feedback element combines with a lovely rich sounding distortion. I see this pedal as a nice-to-have rather than essential - and if one ever materialised at the right time and with the right combination of condition and price I would quite likely snap one up.
As famously featured on many a Prince official pedalboard - I really need to do further digging to figure out exactly which tracks deployed on - Prince also famously deployed the Boss Turbo OverDrive, Blues Driver and yes even the Metal Zone! The Turbo Distortion seems to have a slightly different tone stack to the classic DS-1 with a less harsh filter sweep on the Tone control - and which retains more lows in the frequency profile. I also has 2 modes, with the Turbo mode adding in a significant mid-boost. The gain structure here seems slightly more even-tempered than the DS-1 and in many ways more satisfying at higher Distortion levels and with the Tone dial set higher - while for those same settings the DS-1 can sound harsh - while the rawer character of the DS-1 makes it more suitable slightly lower down the gain scale! It's not a pedal I feel I personally really need, but the Prince connection kind of makes me want one.
And so to my favourite Boss Drive - the quite fantastic Blues Driver - which has that perfect smokey bluesy drive sound to it at lower gain levels, but broaches crisp and crunchy Plexi style tones at higher gain. I came to this pedal in a roundabout fashion courtesy of the Mooer Blues Mood - a replica of the Robert Keeley Blues Driver Phat Mod. My next Blues Driver was then then JB-2 Angry Driver - where I mostly used the Blues Driver circuit - before I acquired the quite wonderful Keeley Freak Fuzz Mod edition of Blues Driver - which I use mostly in its Phat Mod Mode setting - it's just a lovely thick and rich sounding overdrive - slightly Marshall-esque in some ways - but it just sounds wonderful to my ears. I know this is many players favourite Boss overdrive which I thoroughly understand - I just can't understand why some people can't get along with this pedal as even in its basic unadulterated standard version it sounds amazing. I would of course recommend you rather get the Waza Craft version, or try to hunt down the now fairly rare Keeley modded editions. For all the right reasons this is an enduring classic - and it was another favourite of Prince.
With supposed falling sales of 'Metal' pedals in the wake of the Grunge movement, this was Boss's attempt to capture the sound of Grunge and appeal to that generation of players, which by and large is considered one of its least successful ventures / experiments. This is a sort of Big-Muff style sounding pedal with some oddly named controls, and which could have really done with a further Treble or overall Tone control. The 4 controls are - Level | Fat (Lows) | Muscle (Mids) | Drive - with the Mids frequency around the 800kHz mark which leads to some very unusable tones if you dime that. The Muscle control works fine - but you really need something to control the high end frequencies - particularly in the higher gain register which just isn't possible. I believe this pedal could be resuscitated / rehabilitated with a modification or two or if deployed with a GE-7, but in its stock version it's just a touch too flawed to be of significant use to most.
I believe this was an early foray into dynamic tone-shaping which later evolved into Boss's digital MDP Multi-Dimension Processing. The idea was to bring more amp-like dynamics and articulation into the core pedal workings - lowering guitar volume knob etc., which by and large it achieved on this first attempt. This is actually a really decent pedal which was sort of updated by the DA-2 Adaptive Distortion in 2013, and then more formally by the now MDP-controlled DS-1X in 2014. I still think it's a great sounding pedal - but possibly the recommendation here is to go for the newer DS-1X which splits the Tone control into separate Low and High knobs for more refined tone-shaping.
Boss's first Fender collaboration was this take on the 1959 45 Watt Tweed-style Bassman and was also one of the first COSM | Composite Object Sound Modelling pedals - using technology original pioneered for the Roland amps, and which later morphed into MDP | Multi-Dimension Processing. Possibly because of the digital / DSP association this was not really as well received as it should have been. I included it in my Tweed Style Pedals Overview and I actually really like it. It may not be one of my absolute favourites from that group but it very much holds its own - with 5 controls / including one dual-concentric pot - Middle | Bass | Treble | Level | Gain. As I've said previously I have other preferences in this category - but this is still a really decent proposition, and I guess the fact that it was doing things just a little bit different somehow got in the way of its popularity / uptake.
Boss's second Fender collaboration is another COSM special - this time featuring 6 controls with 2 dual-concentric pots - Level | Gain | Treble | Bass | Vibrato | Reverb - the latter two of which make this pedal pretty unique - also the inclusion of press & hold tap-tempo. Again similarly to the above FBM-1 the digital connotations seemed to have gotten in the way of larger scale uptake, and while the Bassman probably gets a little closer to its source, this is still a great take on a 1959 Fender Deluxe Reverb Amp. Some critics say it doesn't quite capture the signature Fender clean sparkle - but I still feel that this is a very well executed pedal. Boss had 3 Fender collaborations which all seem to be doing fairly well on the second-hand market at the moment, and in particular the classic spring-reverb-style FRV-1 Fender '63 Reverb which is certainly currently the most collectible of these.
This somewhat cryptically named pedal is actually Boss's take on the classic 70s/80s Marshall Amp Stack sound. There are 4 controls here - Level | Bass | Treble | Sound - with the final one running through Crunch > Drive > Ultra and simultaneously changing a number of parameters around the overall gain structure and character. Even though not overtly mentioned I feel pretty sure there is some degree of COSM / MDP at play here on the gain structure, but perhaps because of the slightly backlash against the COSM-powered Fender collaborations in particular Boss decided to play down that part as obviously the main tone generation is still analog. This covers and overlaps somewhat with Plexi and JCM tones, and it's a pedal I've considered a few times but not got around to acquiring. Interestingly it's actually one of the flavours present on the forthcoming OD-200 - this one still remain a sort of nice-to-have for me.
This alas seems to be one of the next Boss pedals marked for discontinuation as these seem to be far and few between at most dealers - especially here in the UK. Structurally and Control Topologically it's identical to the above ST-2 Power Stack, although its source amp is the venerable Vox AC-30. I'm a huge fan of that rich distortion you get with Top / Treble Boosted Vox Amps and my long-term weapon of choice for that has been the excellent Bearfoot FX Emerald Green Distortion Machine. With so few decent pedals in this genre though I've long considered acquiring the Combo Drive for that rotation. I can see why the Power Stack would be more popular but there's just far less competition in the category the Combo Drive resides in, and that makes it the more appealing pedal for me.
This was the sort of evolution and follow-up to the DN-2 Dyna Drive pedal using an early version of what I believe became the MDP named technology. It kind of follows on nicely from the Power Stack and Combo Drive also in having a very similar control topology which is named just slightly differently - Level | Low | High | A-Dist - the 4th control once more adjusting several parameters around gain structure and character. It was sort of supplanted one year later by the DS-1X Distortion which surely was just a more refined version of the same technology - in a more shiny enclosure. I've tried to seek these out on the second-hand market - but there are just none to be found - so either way if you are thinking of getting one of these you need to get the DS-1X!
This pedal seems to be the culmination of the cycle that started in 2007 with the DN-2 Dyna Drive, was then updated by the DA-2 Adaptive Distortion in 2013, and then this barely a year later. The control topology is identical to the DA-2, although the final control here is just 'Distortion' Rather than the 'A-Dist' of its predecessor. This was launched alongside the OD-1X OverDrive and both use the then newly named MDP | Multi-Dimension Processing technology which is presumably a further evolution / enhancement / refinement of the earlier COSM DSP standard. I actually have one of these and sort of prefer it to using a SD-1 at lower gain levels, while I prefer the DS-1 with the Distortion dial in the higher register. If you are a particularly dynamic player with a highly refined touch - then probably the DS-1X is worth the investment over the DS-1 - and besides you get better tone-shaping control as you have separate Low and High dials.
So according to some sources the Waza Craft version of the Blues Driver took some major inspiration / influence from the celebrate Keeley Phat Modded version of the original. Many felt that the stock Blues Driver felt a little thin, and could have down with more in the low end, as well as some finessing of the noise floor and overall frequency response. In many ways then you can conceptualise the BD-2W as following along similar lines to the Keeley Mod in refining the original pedal, and there are certainly a number of similarities in the Custom to Phat switch comparison while overall the Keeley edition has a touch more warmth and low-end to it - they're very close in many ways, so it will come down to your personal preference as what sort of frequency curve you are after - and if you want more of the Waza's brightness, or more of the Phat Mod's low-end. Even though my Freak Fuzz Mod edition of the Blues Driver is one of favourite pedals ever, I still intend to get this Waza Edition at some stage - will be interesting to see how close the OD-200 gets to both of these. Don't either forget that Boss has a 3rd Blues Driver pedal in the guise of the JB-2 Angry Driver - which I'm really rather fond of too.
As I mentioned in the intro I did this article with particular consideration towards the forthcoming OD-200 Hybrid Drive which is a combination of Analog first gain stage and then Digital Processing for further gain stages / gain structuring - some version or evolution of MDP no doubt. Boss have not revealed what exactly the first stage is composed of - JFET (a la Strymon), MOSFET, OpAmp or otherwise - but we're pretty clued up on its digital processing heritage and pedigree as ably demonstrated by 7 of the pedals featured here.
I already tagged the DS-1 Distortion, BD-2 Blues Driver and ST-2 Power Stack as being 3 of the modes on the OD-200 units - this would in theory cover off most of the more appealing flavours from this selection. The Boss Blues Driver is one of my favourite drive pedals ever, and the Keeley Freak Fuzz Modded version of that - which includes the Phat Mod - is never out of my pedal-chain. I also have the DS-1 in a couple of guises and the DS-1X from this selection.
Of the discontinued pedals I feel the DF-2 Supper Feedbacker & Distortion is the most interesting, while I myself would quite like to acquire a DS-2 Turbo Distortion (Because Prince!), ST-2 Power Stack, BC-2 Combo Drive and BD-2W Waza Blues Driver. In terms of how the OD-200 fits in - that should cover near enough everything here - bar the 2 Fender types and the Combo Drive - although I will surely see if I can get close to that.
If you're new to Boss and wanted one representative, I would surely recommend the Waza Blues Driver, then the DS-1 - those are for sure the 2 key flavours here. I must say I'm really looking forward to testing the OD-200 and seeing just how close it can get me to my favourite drive and distortion flavours - low, medium and high gain. Once I've done that exercise I can recommend which pedals from the Boss range you would need to supplement to get your favourite tones. I'll probably get a BD-2w and BC-2 anyway - those latter ones in particular before they totally disappear and start escalating in price.