Guitar Overdrive Pedal Shootout: Electro-Harmonix East River Drive Review

Part 2 of a Guitar Overdrive Pedal Shootout series. Review of the Electro-Harmonix East River Drive guitar overdrive pedal.

Bargain JRC4558 chip Ibanez Tubescreamer Clone?

Moving on from my previous attempt at a standalone overdrive, the Joyo Ultimate Drive, this was it. Tubescreamer time! Never having owned a tubscreamer in the past, I plumped for the very reasonable Electro-Harmonix East River Drive Guitar Overdrive Pedal for a number of reasons, Firstly, it was half the price of Ibanez TS-9, but made in the U.S.A and possessing the legendary JRC4558 chip. Build quality seemed first-class, and I must admit to be taken by the overall look of the pedal too. I handle over my £41 and couldn’t wait to get it home.

First Impressions

I’m a big fan of Electro-Harmonix. They seem to combine quirkiness with workmanlike build and inspiring sounds. Even the box has an air of homely handmade-ness about it, The pedal itself feels very solid in the hand with an all aluminium casing. It looks fantastic with a marvellouslly atmospheric green and black backdrop of New York City, where re-assuringly, the pedal was made. This, along with the bright green indicator light cheekily and brazenly lets you know the pedal’s inspiration; The mighty Ibanez Tubescreamer. True Bypass switching is also included along with three plastic but very sturdy and easy to maneuver pots. Almost a perfect start, if it wasn’t for the now too common poorly positioned indicator light, which falls in the worst possible place, right under your foot.

Sounds

After the overpowered and dark Joyo Ultimate Drive, the Electro-Harmonix East River Drive Guitar Overdrive Pedal is the exact opposite and a welcome relief, with a warm but clear and bright tone. At the time I thought I’d nailed it. This was the sound I’d been after all this time. The East River Drive (and all Ibanez Tubescreamer style pedals for that matter) cut the bass and boost the mids. Or in other words, focus the EQ to push forward the guitar-friendly frequencies, which in effect makes your sound jump out, particularly in a dense band mix. My guitar seemed to come alive, much more so than the Joyo Ultimate Drive with a much more natural, organic overdrive (as opposed to distortion). I lost myself for a while in a world of milder, more organic and cleaner tones.

Why did I put the Electro-Harmonix East River Drive Guitar Overdrive Pedal on my pedalboard?

My setup is an Epiphone ES-335 PRO into a Fender Blues Junior with a Danelectro Cool Cat Transparent Drive V2 my favoured boost pedal after my main overdrive. On it’s own, with the gain and tone at noon and volume to match the amp, you have pretty much the perfect low-medium gain overdrive. Its dynamic, transparent, punchy, cutting and natural. Extra high end is there if needed in the eq and you don’t really miss the filtered-out bass frequencies. Of course at this level of gain it’s also very responsive to pick attack and volume changes on the guitar, allowing you to seamlessly drift from clean to overdrive and back again, via all the subtle shades in-between.

Why did I take the Electro-Harmonix East River Drive Guitar Overdrive Pedal off my pedalboard

Two reasons, Not enough natural sounding gain and it doesn’t like to be boosted.

Don’t get me wrong, the Electro-Harmonix East River Drive is a great-sounding low-medium overdrive pedal. If that’s you domain. I highly recommend it.

My problem with it is, on-stage, I like to play with a basic overdrive sound which is just on the point of feedback, giving me control over control and sustain while also letting me back off a bit if need be to clean up, but the East River Drive doesn’t have enough ‘oomph’ for this. When the gain knob gets about noon, things start sounding a little unnatural with a dare I say it ‘digital’ edge, papery even. This is unexpected given the wholly natural sounds of the East River Drive at noon gain and below.

Secondly, because the East-River drive is already boosting the mids a lot, even my incomparable Danelectro Cool Cat Transparent Drive V2 creates mud however I set it, resulting in an unusable lead tone, unfortunately.

Conclusion

I was sorry to see the Electro-Harmonix East River Drive Guitar Overdrive Pedal go. It’s a very loveable pedal, and as a stand-alone overdrive, it was fantastic for low-medium gain tone, the best I’ve heard in pedal form. Sadly though, it just didn’t work in my setup with the level of gain that I need. I even tried it as a booster after overdrive, but there’s just not enough output in this scenario to make it work for me either.

It’s been a good learning process though, I definitely need a gainer pedal than the East-River Drive, something with less pronounced mids, but not as dark/scooped sounding as the Joyo Ultimate Drive. A ‘Marshall in a box‘ next up then………

The Competion

The market is swamped with Ibanez Tubescreamer clones, here’s just a few……

  • Mooer Green Mile Overdrive
  • Digitech Bad Monkey
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