Guitar Overdrive Pedal Shootout: BOSS Blues Driver BD-2 Review
The 6th and final chapter of my Guitar Overdrive Pedal Shootout series.
Before we start, a recap on the situation so far……
After being spoilt with fantastic overdriven amps in the past, (Marshalls, Oranges and last but not least my Cornford Roadhouse 30 combo), I decided to simplify my setup, and instead of using the OD channel of my amp and it’s FX loop for delays etc, I decided to purchase a decent clean valve amp, (the Fender Blues Junior III) and run my Epiphone ES-335 PRO + pedals straight into the front.
This of course necessitated the purchase of an overdrive pedal, something I’d never needed before. I wanted to try and get as close as possible to the amp drive tones I was used to; sustain, warmth, but also bite, dynamics and versatility. I needed enough gain for controllable feedback but still with the ability to clean up on the guitar volume if need be. I didn’t want to spend a fortune so my search began experimenting with clones before moving onto others. I’d already found the perfect boost pedal, the incomparable Danelectro Cool Cat Drive V2 which is always place after the main OD for a solo gain/volume boost. Here’s a quick rundown of my search up to this point.
- Joyo Ultimate Drive – Too dark and twitchy. Not enough mid-range punch. Perhaps too gainy.
- Electro-Harmonix East River Drive – Not enough gain. Muddy when boosted.
- Joyo Crunch Distortion – Almost perfect, except it turns to mud when you back off your guitar volume. Brilliantly designed.
- Danelectro Cool Cat Drive V2 – The worst of the lot. Murky sounds coupled with troublesome jacks and fiddly controls.
- ProCo Rat 2 – Like the Joyo Ultimate Drive, tons of gain but no mid punch. Tone on the cold/sterile side. Old fashioned design.
From the above, it’s clear what I wanted. A Joyo Crunch Distortion with a little less gain and less of a mid hump so that I could utilise the guitar volume to clean up.
An Underrated Classic.
I’d always thought of BOSS as experts on effects as opposed to dirt. To me the very thought of a Blues Driver BD-2 seemed a bit cheesy, generic and maybe even artificial-sounding, but a quick google search later, and I’d seemed to have found a pedal that could do everything I wanted. Less mid hump than Ibanez Tubescreamer style pedals, but more gain, and a celebrated ability to clean up on the guitar volume too. The guitar forums seemed to uniformly praise them as being organic, transparent overdrives, particularly well suited to a mid-heavy setup, as, I suppose the Blues Junior is when compared to other Fenders. A well respected pedal overall.
BOSS do things in a very business-like manner, no Electro-Harmonix quirkiness here. £60 gets you a lot of pedal for your money, what with BOSS’ classic bullet proof construction, 5-year warranty and comforting box-candy. Handling it for the first time gives you no doubt that it’ll out-live you. Unbelievably, for the first time in the shootout, we get an LED that you can actually see light up when you stomp, but sadly, it’s still not a 10/10 for design. For me the best designed pedal of the shootout goes to the Joyo Crunch Distortion, which would have been perfect if it had the Blues Driver’s LED positioning. I much prefer the smaller switch to BOSS’s square “flap”, it just gives more feedback and a reassuring click under your foot. Also although the BOSS has superior battery access with it’s front-mounted thumb-wheel, this is a superfluous feature for me as I always use a power supply. Lastly, the BOSS Blues Driver BD-2 just sits up that bit higher than the Joyo, so is a tad more “wobbly” on a pedal-board if not fastened down properly. In fairness though, this is a very good looking, solidly built pedal that’ll last you a lifetime, and probably outlast the Joyo by a long way.
With baited breath I engaged the pedal to a pleasingly quiet, neutral, inoffensive driven-amp tone. No ProCo Rat 2 style static here. With gain and volume at around ten o’clock and tone at twelve, this gives you the advertised organic, transparent drive which can also be found by simply increasing the gain on the amp, with more gain being applied as you turn the gain clockwise. After twelve o’clock we pass Tubescreamer gain levels and are now into the sustaining, sweet but punchy tones I was after all along, but with a welcome surprise; guitar volume cleanup !
Why did I add the BOSS Blues Driver BD-2 to my pedalboard?
The BOSS Blues Driver BD-2 integrated perfectly with my setup. At last I had the amount of sustain I wanted, but also enough mids to be able to punch through. OK, the BOSS Blues Driver BD-2 isn’t as middy as the Joyo Ultimate Drive or the Electro-Harmonix East River Drive, but it’s enough. Boosting it worked out great too as I now had the spare headroom in the mids for the Danelectro Cool Cat Transparent Overdrive V2 to work it’s magic and give a lift for leads. In a nutshell, the BOSS Blues-driver BD-2 is voiced perfectly for my needs. Not too gainy, not too middy, but with enough mids to cut.
Like the Joyo Crunch Distortion, the controls are very intuitive, giving you the sounds you expect over a predictable and usable range, but the Blues Driver has a trick up it’s sleeve in that, with the gain greater than two o’clock, we get a much more unruly OD, verging on fuzz thrown in too, which makes it the most versatile pedal in the group, especially when you consider many players also use it as a lead boost (it certainly has volume to spare).
Why did I take the BOSS Blues Driver BD-2 from my pedal-board
In a way, I didn’t. The arrival of the BOSS Blues Driver BD-2 not only signaled the end of my search for an overdrive pedal, but sadly also the end of my gigging activity (for now). Everything bar my guitars have have now been offloaded!
The BOSS Blues Driver BD-2 gave me everything I needed in an overdrive pedal and more. Enough sustain for controlled feedback and enough mids to cut through the mix but also the flexibility to clean up with the guitar volume. It’s the most versatile of the all the pedals in the shootout due to it’s fuzz and boost capabilities, but also the most organic sounding, like adding another channel to your amp. Granted, it doesn’t have the immediate impact, near perfect design or sheer fun of the Joyo Crunch Distortion, nor the classic Tubescreamer mid-focus of the Electro-Harmonix East River Drive, but it does the job where all the others failed. It’s a “big” sounding pedal in that it expands on your sound rather than shrink it in a controllable and intuitive way. In other words it’s very amp-like and I love it!
Guitar Overdrive Pedal Shootout- Final Verdict
Here’s my top 6.
- BOSS Blues Driver BD2
- Joyo Crunch Distortion
- Electro-Harmonix East River Drive
- Joyo Ultimate Drive
- ProCo Rat 2
- Danelectro Cool Cat Drive V2
- Mooer Blues Mood
- Behringer Blues Overdrive BO100
- Keeley Modded Blues Driver