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Roman Belonozhko's Multifaceted Shnobel Tone Daily Driver delivers beautifully textured breakup with alluring high frequency sparkle

Blues Breaker Style OverdriveBlues Driver Style OverdriveBoostBoost and OverdriveDumble Style OverdriveKlone and Transparent OverdriveOCD Style OverdriveOverdriveShnobel ToneTimmyTubescreamer Style Overdrive+-
2020GPXShnobelToneDailyDriverInOut700V4.jpg

I must confess that this pedal somewhat slipped under my radar when it was first teased / introduced at January’s Winter NAMM show. In fact I only really became properly aware of it when Roman started doing his head-to-head YouTube videos - where he looked to dial-in near-match tones to each of those very well-known classics - per the video references at the base of this article.

 

First Roman compared the Daily Driver (which I will henceforth occasionally refer to as the DD) versus the Benson Preamp on May 16th, then vs the Walrus Audio Ages around a month later, and then vs the Browne Protein, Klon Centaur, Maxon Apex 808, Jan Ray, King of Tone, Klon KTR, and finally vs the PC CC-1 on August 25th.

 

It was that most recent head-to-head demo really that most triggered and inspired me - as since my Steve Mac Pedalboard review and then Pete Cornish Deluxe Series follow-up - I had very much been looking out for a decent CC-1 alternative. Its combination of Sparkly High Frequencies and beautifully balanced breakup and sustain rendered a very specific hue of tone and texture that I did not feel I had come across in an overdrive before.

 

I figured that many of Pete Cornish’s classic pedals were reasonably well served by near-enough-match alternatives - like my Buffalo FX Evolution (G-2) and forthcoming Vick Audio V-2 for that matter. While before coming across the Daily Driver I had not found anything that came anyway near close enough to replicating that magical CC-1 formula.

 

So it was the last of Roman’s many Daily Driver demos to date that clinched it for me - and when I came across it I went back and reviewed all the other earlier demo videos and head-to-heads to see just how formidable a pedal this was. Obviously I have relatively recently acquired the Chase Bliss Audio Automatone Preamp MKII - and if you watched the most recent That Pedal Show episode - you should know exactly just how formidable that pedal is. Yet I felt there was something a little bit different in the timbre and character of the breakup of the Daily Driver that I picked up on very quickly and distinctly in the DD vs CC-1 head-to-head demo.


Origin

The Daily Driver is in fact a collaboration between Roman Belonozhko's Shnobel Tone and George and Debra Kay of Quimper Electronic Systems - where the pedal has been in iterative development, evolution and calibration for a good few years now. I mostly used to associate Roman with his numerous pedal demos over the years - particularly all his work with Pete Cornish pedals - and I also knew of his hybrid engineered / modified Dunlop and Ernie Ball Volume pedals with embedded TC Electronic PolyTune Tuners - where Ernie Ball then 'borrowed' his innovation for their own take on the same. Nowadays I feel his growing pedal business / pedal-mods side is pretty much equal billing - and will grow more so when the Daily Driver fully gains the recognition and support it deserves.

 

It seems that the Daily Driver only arrived at its final form around May 15th - and following several intricate months of tweaks and calibration refinement after the NAMM showcase - with the aim of getting the balance of controls and output as perfect as it could be. For me all this calibration work is somewhat reminiscent of what Brian Wampler did with his Terraform - following on from last year's Winter NAMM. That pedal obviously has a little more complexity to it, but the resulting output for both those pedals clearly shows that all that effort really paid off.

 

Roman describes how he wanted the pedal to elegantly mesh / match with any and every type of amp - while I always look upon that as translating into having capabilities for delivering extensive inherent tonal versatility and flexibility. I run a stereo clean pedal platform rig - so I'm always after unique stand-out drive and distortion voicings, with very specific timbres and extended degree of flexibility in overall output - I don't so much have to worry about amp-matchings so much for my own setup - and the core nature of the pedal is very much key to my sound/s.

 

When I first encountered the Daily Driver, I wasn't sure about the wisdom of having a 3-way Hi-Cut toggle-switch (say versus Mids / Contour options) - but it actually works really well and brilliantly softens and changes the character of the drive when you need too. The pedal has a really magnificent balance of breakup sustain and high fidelity upper frequency sparkle which seems to deliver something a little bit extra special to my ears. There's obviously some compression in there which can also give you the ghost of a sort of Big Muff style long-tail sustain. And within the core of the pedal there of course resides a suitably enhanced somewhat mid-focused soft-clipping opamp-derived overdrive circuit.

 

I've long said that there is an interactive process / experience with pedals - where there may be similarities and overlaps to a degree between one and another say in gain range and structure and approximate tonalities - while each superior-level overdrive will react and responds to your input in slightly different ways - and tends to lead your playing through that pedal in various different directions - such that you only arrive (or only arrive easily) at certain magical tones and licks via that particular device / route - often largely because of how well tuned the pedal is at its core - and how easy its major sweet-spots are to come across.


Exquisite Balance of Character

The Daily Driver sits firmly in that Low-to-Medium gain category and has a real delicacy about its texture in lower gain settings - while cranking up the Gain knob gives you more density and harmonics and much more of that beautiful sustain. I wasn't sure how much I would use the Hi-Cut toggle-switch with my mainly humbucker-pickups #1 guitar - but I find I use it quite a lot when I wish to soften and smooth out the character of the drive tone. What is immediately evident is just how touch-sensitive and dynamic the pedal is - both in response to pick-attack, and your guitar volume dial - for amazing gain-clean-up too.

 

What this pedal is in essence - is just an impeccably well-balanced and quite superbly calibrated Everyday Overdrive - which seems to deliver special results wherever you place its dials, and is extremely intuitive and responsive to use in dialling in your preferred tones. This means a lot of attention has gone into the range and taper / sweep of each of those 4 dials - and there is plenty of every parameter available - tonnes of volume too - which I always appreciate - and a real ease of dialling things in with that Baxandall-style Active 2-Band EQ - where you pretty much know immediately what you're going to get with a particular knob setting or combination. For the record my current favourite settings right now are Volume and Gain at circa 1 o'c, Bass at minimum, Treble at 3 o'c and Hi-Cut Off! I must also reiterate and reinforce that it has the most amazing dynamics and touch-sensitivity that Shawn Tubbs describes particularly well in his below demo.

 

I've spent many years of my life chasing the perfect all-rounder overdrive and distortion - that one pedal to rule them all as such. And while many of those can get really close (BYOC Crown Jewel in particular) - and very much including this one, I generally find that sort of all-rounder near-match tone-chasing is something of a wasted of effort - and I rather prefer to focus on what it is about the inherent and core character and voice of the drive tone that I really like.

 

I obviously acquired this pedal quite specifically as I loved how close it got to my own perceptions of the CC-1 - but most importantly within that I came across a certain frequency profile and character that just hugely appealed to me. These sorts of things can be all shades, degrees and nuances really - where you yourself need to decide how close a pedal gets to your perceived ideal tonality for a specific genre or character preference. I don't tend to get bogged down in those kinds of very specific pigeon-hole semantics any more - and rather just let the pedal speak for itself and define its own core True Tone and Timbre. And how pleasing that then is to my ears.

 

I've said before on this blog that I've developed a weird knack for sensing certain tonal characteristics and signatures via simply the triangulation of YouTube videos - where if I listen to enough of those resources I can kind of figure out how much a certain pedal will appeal to me and suit my rig and preferences. That knack for distinguishing tone in that manner has led to so many great discoveries - where I felt that I heard and sensed something magically distinct - and such was very much my experience with this pedal.

 

The initial connection was of course that I was very much looking for something that had a similar frequency balance and timbre to my perception of the CC-1 or was capable of those sorts of sounds I was convinced I heard. And while that was the first spark that distinguished the Daily Driver - the pedal has gone on to really deliver beyond my expectations in how cleverly the 5 controls deliver on that extended range.

 

You can be as academic as you like in pointing out your perceived differences and disqualifiers for the Daily Driver - while I can likewise be highly satisfied that the pedal exactly matches my own perceived expectations - and that it has fully justified its place in my 40-strong pedal-chain.

 

Roman has done a fantastic exercise with all those various head-to-head videos which show just how versatile the Daily Driver can be - and you will need to decide individually whether you discern something particularly special in its tone and timbre and near-match prowess like I did. I'm not going to waste a lot of time myself in trying to dial in all those near-match approximations - I'm simply going to let the pedal talk to me and set its own direction - based on its own elegant core character and voice. I find each of my pedals very much has its own core spirit and personality - and influences a typically unique response in me for how I play through that pedal. In some ways akin to a pedal having its own signature style or idealised theme tune which particularly suits is default output - irrespective of its overall capability and versatility - or ability to match many other classic pedals almost exactly..


Super High Quality Tone Machine

At $279 this is quite a pricey proposition - but a lot more wallet-friendly than the £600/$800 equivalent Pete Cornish CC-1 or the circa £360/$370 for a Jan Ray; while the King of Tone will give you something else unique with its two stacking Channels - and starts from $265 - so price doesn't really account for everything in head-to-head comparisons.

 

There's no doubt that there is a huge variety of different tones onboard the Daily Driver - while I will always be most interested in its baseline and default core voicing and character. Roman can dial the Daily Driver into an enormous range of near-match tones to those classic comparisons and you can take that with as big a pinch of salt as you need to satisfy your own world-view. There will certainly be some players who use this as multi-coverage catch-all Drive - and look to replace their core Tube Screamer, Blues Breaker or Klon pedals or several even. I say you should rather listen out for the character and sense the dynamics of how this pedal reacts / might react to your playing.

 

I've had mine for about a week now and it very much continues to impress. Yet like I said - I'm not at all dialling in anything to match any specific reference point. There was something I heard in the frequency profile and character of the Daily Driver which triggered my acquisition - and I've very much allowed it to set down its own character in for its position in the signal-chain.

 

Based on individual players' reference points and perceived and imaginary tonal ideals - I feel there will be some variable mileage to be gained if you solely treat this pedal as a replacement vehicle for kicking other existing overdrive favourites off your board. That's surely all just the gateway into the pedal - and once you're there you can properly experience it own distinct personality.

 

Looking at the insides of the pedal you can see this is evidently carefully precision-honed hand-assembled work - all Made in the USA - and utilising the very finest quality components - including some truly fine Zener Clipping Diodes which seem to add a lot of the richness of character and harmonic detail to the output. It also has a really elegant soft-touch footswitch which should really become the de facto industry standard now - I'm really not that keen on those hard-clicking varieties any more. And you can tell from how consistently and smoothly the knobs move that you're dealing with the highest calibre of production here.

 

What this pedal does particularly well is marry up its inherent elegant and sparkling voicing and sustain with really smooth and refined, obvious and intuitive controls. It's a beautiful pedal inside and out and I really rather like how it sounds and feels - I in fact chased Roman down for this pedal pretty much immediately after I had heard his CC-1 head-to-head - and am of course giving it some extra support here as I so like it and feel it deserves to do really well among a much wider audience.

 

Of course when you see yet another new Overdrive you tend to think - do we really need another one of these!?! - although when the formula and attention to detail is just right - and the new format sufficiently distinct, then another Overdrive can be a really magical event indeed. I'm not going to get bogged down in semantics as to just how close this gets to all the usual suspects - you will most definitely need to decide that for yourselves. I for one am wholly won over by its core character and I feel that this will very much be one of my pedal-board / pedal-chain long-termers. I'm kind of spoilt for choice on slot #15 - while this one once more delivers something distinctly different for me which I don't feel I've had before - I genuinely feel this one will be very difficult to unseat.

 

The Shnobel Tone Daily Driver is best obtained via the Shnobel Tone Store and Reverb.com equivalent.


The Demos


Daily Driver Head-to-Heads

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
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