I must confess, the collector in me is attracted to the buzz of rarity. ProAnalog Dual Drive has always been one of those mystic devices in my mind, since there are people on The Gear Page who seem to claim that there are unduplicatable qualities to these hand-made pedals. So when I saw one for sale at a reasonable price, I jumped at the chance to check it out.
What I am going to describe is Dual Drive #139, which was described to me as the version 1 of this pedal. Apparently v2s say that it is v2, though I read reports of variations both in terms of features (some v2s don’t have the Phat switch) and sounds, so apparently the builder perhaps were experimenting slightly with each build or maybe the parts used had some inconsistencies.
This low- to mid-gain overdrive pedal features Gain, Level (volume), Bite, Bark, Phat switch and Clean/Drive foot switch. First of all, when you plug a power supply to this pedal, the LED for Clean/Drive immediately comes on — blue for Clean, red for Drive. So you’ll know which setting you’re in even when the pedal is off. But if you were running it from a battery, you’ll have to remember to unplug the cables or otherwise it’ll drain your battery. And by the way, I read that this pedal can take 12v power supply as well. More on that in a little bit.
In Clean mode, the pedal really doesn’t have much gain. On my Strat you have to hit pretty full-sounding chords in order to detect any breakup. On the other hand, the Drive mode can go very clean when you set the Gain low. So — if you have a high-output guitar the Clean mode can tame it but otherwise I am not sure if I’d find the Clean mode to be all that useful. The name “Dual Drive” really makes it sound like it’s a two-channel overdrive but I think it’s more accurate if you consider it a single-channel overdrive with low-gain mode to tame high-output guitars.
The Bite knob deals with the treble content, but not in the usual way you think of tone controls. It deals with the frequency range that affects your sense of distance (around 5k) — so turning down the Bite knob makes it sound like your amp is placed farther away from you. Otherwise, it doesn’t do a whole lot of darkening your tone. Turning it up will make it sound like the sound source is closer to you, without making it sound overtly brighter.
The Bark knob deals with the mid-range, make that low-mid range. A lot of overdrives deal with upper mid-range that controls the rude/polite character of the tone, but here the Bark has a different effect. Turning it low makes your tone thin and more transparent, while turning it up makes it sound fuller. On my single-coil equipped guitars turning up Bark makes it sound like I’m playing a humbucker. But this knob’s range isn’t huge — you can hear its impact when you travel the whole range but it never gets extreme.
Pulling out the Bite knob engages the Phat switch, which adds a subtle filling out of the “thud” range of the guitar. It is noticeable but only if your overall volume is fairly loud — it’s not apparent at bedroom level. This switch unfortunately is close to the bypass footswitch, so it’s very easy to disengage it when you step on it to turn the pedal on/off.
Oh, one more quirk — the input/output jacks are reversed from most other pedals, with the left being the input and the right being the output. This may irk some people with certain approach/aesthetic to pedalboard layouts.
I read people often using the term “open sounding” to mean uncompressed and bright, lively tone. That makes sense, because when the tone gets compressed it often dulls treble and the sound loses responsiveness, giving you an impression that you’re triggering a sound instead of the signal chain really reproducing your nuances of playing.
Well, this is the first overdrive pedal I’ve tried where it sounds “open” but also provides nice amount of compression that makes single-note leads easier to play. The pick attack is articulate but there is a subtle sweetening of upper mid-range — so it never gets strident. The voice is fairly bright, which you can tame a little bit by turning the Bite knob low, but then you have to turn the Level up to compensate as it’ll make you sound farther away.
There is also a sense of focus in the mid-range that gives a “reedy” impression to sustained notes. I use that word because it reminds me of a fine woodwind, like an oboe or a clarinet played well. Articulation often comes in the form of harshness, but this pedal has a sense of subtle softness or sponginess without really sacrificing note definition.
The tone controls are on the subtle side so basically you get one sound, which you can fine tune to your liking. But there is a magical balancing act achieved in that one sound this pedal delivers. The openness of healthy but natural sounding treble content, coupled with again organic-feeling compression that still feels responsive to your touch but also makes it easy to play. It’s not really a radically different or unique voice that grabs your attention when you first hear it. It’s more about how the pedal feels when you’re playing, how it meets you half way by being transparent enough to let what you’re feeding it come through, but it also has its own sound that provides nice coloration.
But that difference you notice in the feel/responsiveness of the pedal only becomes apparent when you play it at a certain decibel level. It sounds like a garden-variety overdrive at bedroom volume. When you turn it up loud enough where you can hear the details — other pedals often uncover its “pedalness” by revealing some artificial qualities both in terms of its sound and its responsiveness. Not so with this pedal. It just seems to bloom with volume, never reveals its untidy corners, always remains refined and focused without sounding forced or constrained (even though it is compressing and thus constraining, though not killing, your dynamic range).
Oh, I did try running it at 12v using my Voodoo Labs Pedal Power 2. The difference between 12v and standard 9v voltage is subtle. Predictably, it has a bit more dynamic range at 12v — the attacks pop a bit more, the compression level is lower — but you really have to A/B it to feel the difference. (You really won’t “hear” difference in terms of tone) It may be a different story with high output guitars. Between the two, I do prefer the 12v setting but in reality if I accidentally plug it into a 9v supply I’m sure I won’t notice the difference.
Here is a quick video demo I made of this pedal. I have not seen another demo that really examines this pedal’s features, hopefully this will give you some inkling. But note that this pedal’s distinguishing qualities are really something you have to experience in person.
The Dual Drive is a bit like fine wine for afficionados. Unless you’re a connoisseur interested in some fine details, I’m not sure you’ll “get” this device. Its range is rather limited, and there is nothing that is overtly unique or different about its features or sound. But after you spend a little time with it, its natural, organic feel that still outputs nicely even (compressed just the right amount) sound, other overdrives may feel more artificial all the sudden.
This pedal’s manufacturer was long inactive, but recently I learned through Twitter that he may be active as of 2013. I have no idea if he plans to start making this pedal again. I’d say don’t worry about hunting this one down if you’re more of a practical musician looking for a pragmatic tool. Given its limited range I’m not sure I’d pay more than $200 for it myself — but I am sure glad I got to test it out and uncover its mystique. It does have a subtle virtue that seems to seep under your skin, and for enthusiasts, that is stuff worth getting excited about.