Guitar Overdrive Pedal Shootout : Joyo Ultimate Drive Review

First part of a Guitar Overdrive Pedal Shootout series. A review of the Joyo Ultimate Drive Guitar Overdrive / Distortion pedal.

Ultimate OCD Clone ?

The Joyo Ultimate Drive has been much vaunted as one of the best Fulltone OCD clones on the market (other’s include the Mooer Hustle Drive and Danelecto Coolcat Overdrive V1). Having never heard the Fulltone, Youtube comparison’s had me intrigued. There was no way I was paying £100+ for an overdrive pedal and, as you can hear from the video, the Joyo Ultimate Drive seemed pretty close to the OCD anyway. I was after a versatile, dynamic overdrive / distortion that would clean up well with the guitar volume, so I promptly purchased it for around £30 from Thomman.

First Impressions

As it happens, Thomman rebrand their Joyo pedals as ‘Harley Benton’, which surprised me, but this is indeed the exact same pedal as the Joyo, bar the lettering. Build quality impresses immediately, with a solid, almost boutique feel to the aluminium casing and solid feeling connections and controls. Some have complained about the gaudy livery, but I really like it. It stands out and makes a statement. A pet hate of mine though, is the positioning of the on/off indicator. Right under your foot, exactly where you can’t see it! All in all though, it’s a great package, especially for the price, and as I set up my clean Fender Blues Junior I couldn’t wait to stomp on it to unleash the fire-breathing red-devil of tone.

Sounds

Boom! The Joyo Ultimate Drive has a LOT of output. Anything above a quarter volume with a reasonable amount of gain is more than enough to match your clean signal volume. The pedal feels very responsive and rangy from the outset, which isn’t necessarily a good thing if you need to home in on a particular sound, particularly a moderately overdriven tone, you’ll need to be very precise with the controls. Nevertheless, the drive character is very full, dynamic and responsive, with the added benefit of almost miraculously cleaning up when you back off the guitar volume, wherever the gain pot is set.

Why did I put the Joyo Ultimate Drive on my pedalboard?

The Joyo Ultimate Drive was a replacement for the ‘Squeak’ patch of my Zoom G3, which was serving me quite well. The Ultimate drive was getting rave reviews and felt it was time to upgrade to standalone analogue overdrive pedals, which are easier for tweaking on the fly in a live environment and sound much bigger and ‘real’ sounding. The Joyo Ultimate Drive has some nice tweak-ability in the wide range of the gain control which goes from mild overdrive all the way through to heavy distortion. It also has an HP/LP toggle switch (similar to the Fulltone OCD) which selects the frequency of the overdrive. HP is more middy whereas LP has more bottom. Live, the way this pedal cleans up with the guitar volume is both a lot of fun and extremely useful, meaning you can go from clean to lead just on the guitar’s volume. At full stage volume, the pedal takes on more of a raging, fiery character, just like the graphics.

Why did I take the Joyo Ultimate Drive off my pedalboard

Unfortunately the Joyo Ultimate Drive, in my setup at least (An Epiphone ES-335 PRO into a Fender Blues Junior) is just far too bass heavy. To remedy the situation you need to select HP mode and have the tone above halfway, which takes out all of the body and leaves you with fizz that doesn’t cut through. There’s no way to dial in the mids to really punch through the mix (even with amp adjustments), so the tone you get in a live scenario is either too bassy or too trebly with nothing in between. Somehow, the sound comes across as being ‘distant’, as opposed to ‘in your face’. To make matters worse, the over-sensitivity of the gain pot in particular means that setting up a moderately overdriven tone (and keeping it) is particularly hard to do (unlike the Fulltone OCD on which it’s based).

Conclusion

Ultimately (no pun intended). The Joyo Ultimate drive came across as too gainy, too twitchy and too bass heavy for my application and gear (mainly rock/pop/indie covers). Yes it’s very cheap. Yes it does sound like a Fulltone OCD. Yes it’s well built and is a decent upgrade from modelling and digital effects, but unfortunately, my overdrive pedal search continues.

With a Strat or Tele though, who knows?

The Competition

Here are other inexpensive, responsive, versatile overdrive / distortion crossover pedals in the vein of the original, the Fulltone OCD.

  • Danelectro Cool Cat Drive Overdrive Distortion Guitar Effect Pedal
  • Mooer Hustle Drive
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