What I was trying to find in an Oceanefx Pearl Drive was a warm and fat mid-gain drive with Dumble-voiced character. Will it deliver? Let’s find out.
Along with the expected drive and level controls, this pedal has an unusual tone control configuration. Treble and Mids knobs, and a bass boost switch. It turns out, these controls are the defining features of this pedal — they are very, very effective sculpting tools.
First, the treble controls the range close to the 3.2k slider on a Boss 7-band EQ — the brightness or the “bite.” It has a fairly broad range, and on my Strat, going past 12 o’clock is too painfully bright. But on a humbucker-equipped guitar with dark-voiced amps, there’s plenty in there to increase the note definition.
The Mids knob actually controls the upper-mid range. It controls somewhat broad range around 1-2k and boy I tell you, this range really affects the tone. Crank it up, and you get the Marshall-like kerrang with in-your-face aggression and attitude. Dial it back, and it purrs like a sleepy kitten. Nice! Again, there’s a broad range here and can accommodate some extreme-sounding guitars and amps, but for most situations somewhere between 9-2 o’clock should suffice. Since it controls the upper mids, even dialing it back won’t make the tone sound thin or hollowed out.
Finally, the bass boost kicks in about 5dB gain at about 200. It’s placed perfectly — the boost is noticeable but not over the top, the range fattens single coils up without too much muddying.
The gain knob is useful throughout its range, and combine this with the mids knob in particular and you can go from a fairly transparent boost to snarling rock’n’roll machine. Great for classic rock, though it’s not a spot-on emulation of Marshall or any other recognizable sound. It sits somewhere neutral enough to let the guitar’s voice come through, and colorization is subtle.
With the Treble and Mids knobs set to noon, bass boost off and drive low, it can do a pretty transparent boost, albeit with a slight tightening of bass. In the other words, with the bass boost off the lower frequency isn’t untouched — it shaves off just a hair.
I noticed that when I dial back the Mids and Treble knobs somewhat, it’s also adding a slight “warming” or “rounding” effect on the pick attack. I can get somewhat similar EQ shape using an EQ pedal, but this warming effect I couldn’t reproduce. Again, it’s subtle, but very pleasing and musical.
Even at highest gain setting, the volume-knob clean-up is excellent. I even slammed the front-end with a 10dB boost from a flatly-set EQ pedal, and it still cleaned up — and still sounded great even when my Strat’s volume is set around 1!
On the other hand, it has a subtle compression going on as well — it will not give that much of “pick lightly to clean up, dig in for dirt” type response. This is a good or bad thing depending on what you’re looking for. If the gain’s set high and if you have higher-output pickups or slam it with a boost, it results in a very natural, singing sustain. Great for single-note leads. It still doesn’t feel like it’s super-compressed no matter how you pick — it feels to me like what a guitar amp would do when it’s loud enough to start compressing. If you’re the type of player who has subtle compression on constantly from a compressor pedal, you may find that you don’t need it with this pedal. It’s very easy to play because it’s not super-duper touch sensitive, without sounding like you’re playing through “a pedal.”
I was very impressed with Pearl Drive. It’s very versatile and all the controls are so very useful. I think the key here is the Mids knob and the amount of compression. The Mids helps this pedal be useful from warm and bluesy to aggressive, and you can dial in just the right amount for your needs. And it’s a joy to play, precisely because it’s neither clinically touch-sensitive nor hyper-compressed in that typical way pedals do — severely limiting your range or coloring your guitar/amp’s voice. I think it hits the sweet spot for many applications, and its voice is still very amp-like.
It’s a bit more transparent than I expected — its character is subtle and somewhat neutral, so while I am sure you can approximate the stereotypical Dumble (Ford/Carlton) tone with a humbucker guitar and mids dialed back a tad, I don’t think that’s this pedal’s calling card. If you’re looking for an easy-to-play and dial-in overdrive pedal that is perfectly at home from anywhere between blues, country and classic rock, then it’s definitely worth checking out.