VHT V-Drive Review

VHT V-Drive

VHT V-Drive

$100 doesn’t get you far in boutique guitar pedals usually.  So when I first learned about VHT V-Drive, I was intrigued — here’s a smaller, more “boutique” brand with an overdrive pedal in $100 range.  I realize that VHT isn’t quite a household name in pedals, and in fact, I was under the impression that it’s not commanding the respect it once had, since the company’s chief product designer Steven Fryette has his own company now and took all the renowned amp models with him.

So I had been watching eBay for this model for a while, and perhaps because it is a more recent entry into the market (2012?) I didn’t see any of them being sold in the used market — which was odd, since it’s available in major retailers like Musician’s Friend — so it took me several weeks till I spotted one reasonably priced.

As the number of knobs attest, this is a highly tweakable pedal, touted for its flexibility and variety.  As I dug deep into figuring it out, I found that some of their claims didn’t quite ring true — but that didn’t take away from the fact that this pedal offered a great value, holding its own against more expensive entries.

Features

7 knobs, counting the small Voltage knob located above the Drive knob.  That’s a lot for an overdrive.  Volume and Drive are self-explanatory, and there is plenty of volume boost on tap.

Select knob draws your attention first, because according to the manual it offers 11 different sounds.  It’s actually 10 different combinations of various clipping diodes plus diode-lift/clean boost, arranged so that the most clockwise position is the clean boost and from there on the diodes offer progressively earlier breakup in the Drive knob setting.  In the other words, using my Strat-type guitars with DiMarzio Virtual Vintage Heavy Blues 2 pickup in the bridge, at the clean boost (position 11) setting you can start to detect breakup around 2 o’clock range.  At position 6 the breakup starts around 9- o’clock, and at position 1 it’s distorting around 8:30.  That’s not to say that at position 1 it turns into a high-gain pedal, as at this point the useful range of the Drive knob is limited to the lowest 3rd of the knob — turning it up higher doesn’t really add more gain.  Conversely, at position 11 it offers the most amount of volume boost, and the position 1 the least.

To be honest, I was initially disappointed with the Select knob.  Other than the clean boost setting, the tonal variations between the rest of 10 positions are subtle at best.  Sure, the point of breakup and volume change, but after you tweak the Volume and Drive knob to compensate, you’d be hard pressed to hear a difference between most settings.  There is some difference in terms of its attack response and overdrive texture — but don’t expect this to be like a modeling device, offering 11 vastly different sounds.  It is misleading, though, since the manual says: “the V-Drive’s Select switch replicates the diode type and configuration of the most popular overdrive pedals from the ‘80s and ‘90s as well as some of today’s most sought-after boutique designs.”  (The manual never specifies which pedals it’s emulating — but technical info re diodes is at the bottom of this post) That kind of language makes one expect sounds like Tube Screamer or Blues Breaker or Distortion+ or other popular overdrive designs, each sounding distinct and different.

The Tone knob also does what’s expected, dialing in the treble content of the pedal — but as the manual indicates, the frequency range it affects is high and turning it down really doesn’t take away note definitions very much — higher setting sounds more in-your-face and lower setting makes it sound farther away.  Even when you turn it up it doesn’t make the pedal seem thin or ice-picky.

The Depth knob is notched and the top position offers the neutral amount of bass, and you can add or subtract.  This knob also is very effective in adjusting the fatness/tightness without messing with the midrange.

The Texture knob is the most interesting of the bunch — the manual says it adjusts overdrive texture and harmonic content.  To me, it strikes me almost like a guitar’s tone knob — it affects a very broad range of upper-mid frequencies, or perhaps it’s dealing with overtone content.  Set to the highest position, the pedal sounds most open, saturated and articulate.  Dial it back and it starts to sound muffled.  The manual describes it as warm and smooth, and while it’s not untrue, to me in the lower half of this knob the tone sounds rather muffled or muted — like throwing a blanket over your ears.  Not very musical sounding in that range, but there’s plenty of useful settings in the upper half of the knob’s range.  It’s just a very powerful control, so my inclination is to start it at the highest setting and dial it back little by little until I hear the sweet spot, which usually was somewhere not too far from the highest setting — somewhere between 3-5 o’clock.  At lower settings the tone gets so muffled that you won’t be able to detect any breakup.

The Voltage knob on the top adjust the voltage applied to the circuit.  I recall reading somewhere that the range is between 5-15 volts, though can’t find that info in the official literature.  Voltage or bias adjustment is more commonly found in boutique fuzz pedals these days, but it’s rare on an overdrive.  However, the effect of this knob on most Select positions is almost non-existent.  I thought perhaps that my guitar’s output isn’t high enough, but even putting a boost before this pedal didn’t really seem to make Voltage take its effect.  The exception is the clean boost setting — then, you can hear the impact of the Voltage knob, as turning it to the right decreases the voltage and makes the pedal distort more.  On other settings, you may be able to detect slight change in how it responds to pick attacks when you set the gain around the breakup point.

The literatures don’t specify this but I believe the pedal features a true-bypass, judging by the switch being used.  The back-side features an accessible battery compartment, a nice touch.

Sounds

So I had to get over my initial gripes with the lack of impact from two of its knobs — Select and Voltage — before really starting to appreciate what this pedal can actually do.  The key to this pedal is actually the Texture knob.  Unlike the ultra-subtle effect of the above two knobs, Texture has a huge effect on the overall sound and while its usable range are confined to the top half or even third of the knob, you can dial in an overdrive tone with just the right amount of harmonic content.  At the highest setting the pedal is articulate, aggressive, and saturated, and you can really tailor the tone with the Tone and Depth knobs to make it sound just right.  The Select knob is subtle but after trying various positions one does start to gravitate some of the positions.  To me, the position 5 sounded and felt most natural — other positions often have more boxier-sounding attack but not so here.  The clean boost setting with gain turned up was also nice — some pedals in diode-lift positions can sound brittle with pick attacks feeling exaggerated, but not here.  If you want a low-gain, on-the-verge-of-breakup sound, that’s where it lives.  Plus, the Voltage control actually works when in the clean boost setting.  You can really use it to adjust the amount of compression vs. dynamics.

Does it remind me of other pedals?  Not really.  With the Tone and Depth knob set to neutral the pedal doesn’t display any frequency bumps, like the character mid-range bump/low-end roll-off of Tube Screamers.  Position 1’s (which has a bit more distinct sound of its own compared to other positions) heavy saturation reminded me a bit of LoveKraft Chupacabra, which is a Rat-based pedal.  Actually at position 5, I could emulate, rather accurately, the sound of ProAnalog Dual Drive, which I happened to have at the time.  I realize that’s a rare pedal so it’s no reference to most people — but the point is that it can keep up with more high-end hand-made pedals.  Again, it’s not a modeler so this is not a case of being so flexible that you can emulate all other overdrives out there.  That said, thanks to the high tweakability Tone, Texture and Depth knob, coupled with choosing the right position on the Select knob, really allows you to fine tune your tone.

 

My Verdict

When it’s set right, this pedal sounds down right great.  It responds well to nuances in pick attack and compression is musical feels good to play.  The attack isn’t super fast, but it offers a great articulation without sounding strident.    Volume knob cleanup is quite decent without any artificial artifacts.  Tone, Depth and Texture knobs have a lot of range, so you can really sculpt your sound.  It definitely holds its own against all other hand-made boutique pedals I’ve tried.

Don’t mean to sound like a salesperson but at $100 or so, this pedal is a great bargain.  As long as you use it for what it is — a fine-tunable overdrive, not an overdrive that offers a chameleon-like variety of tones — I imagine anybody can dial in a sound that works for them.  It is not a high-gain device and it does have its own sound, as opposed to sounding like some other pedals.  For me, my quest is for an articulate-yet-smooth balancing act, and in overdrives I want musical compression while maintaining open, lively tonality.  I am happy to say that I can dial that in with this pedal.

Appendix

I found this info originally here: http://www.tdpri.com/forum/stomp-box/329299-vht-v-drive-clipping-configurations.html

If anybody knows which other overdrives use these diodes, please let me know via comments below.  Thanks!

VHT V-Drive Diode Configurations Threshold Voltage Symmetry Ratio

1. 1N34A + BAT46 (0.357V + 0.252V = 0.609V) 1.7/1
1N34A (0.357V)

2. 1N4148 (0.606V) 1/1
1N4148 (0.606V)

3. 1N916A + 1N916A (0.622V + 0.622V = 1.244V) 2/1
1N916A (0.622V)

4. 1N4148 + 1N4148 (0.606V + 0.606V = 1.212V) 1.4/1
BAT46 + 1N4148 (0.252V + 0.606V = 0.858V)

5. Infrared LED (1.051V) 1/1
Infrared LED (1.051V)

6. 2N7000 + 1N34A + BAT46 (0.622V + 0.357V + 0.252V = 1.231V) 1.4/1
BAT46 + 2N7000 (0.252V + 0.622V = 0.874V)

7. 2N7000 + 1N34A + BAT46 (0.622V + 0.357V + 0.252V = 1.231V) 1.2/1
Infrared LED (1.051V)

8. 2N7000 + 1N34A + BAT46 (0.622V + 0.357V + 0.252V = 1.231V) 1/1.4
Red LED (1.753V)

9. Red LED (1.753V) 1/1
Red LED (1.753V)

10. Red LED + 1N4148 (1.753V + 0.606V = 2.359V) 1.35/1
Red LED (1.753V)

11. (No Diodes = Clean Boost)

Measured Diode Forward Voltage Drop (Clipping Threshold)

BAT46 = 0.252 Volt
1N34A = 0.357 Volt
1N4148 = 0.606 Volt
1N916A = 0.622 Volt
2N7000 = 0.622 Volt (Drain and Gate Connected)
Infrared LED = 1.051 Volt
Red LED = 1.753 Volt

 

7 thoughts on “VHT V-Drive Review

  1. From VHT:
    “Position 1 has a 1N34A germanium diode, and it has two diodes on one half of the waveform and one diode on the other half. Some versions of the Fullxxx Fullxxxxx use a germanium diode and asymmetrical clipping.
    Position 2 uses two 1N4148 for symmetrical clipping, the famous Ibaxxx Tube-xxxxxxx pedals (and the multitude of similar boutique clones and variants) use this diode combination.
    Position 3 has three 1N916A diodes and a 2:1 clipping ratio for asymmetrical clipping, same as the Boxx SD-x (there are numerous clones and variants of this pedal too, but surely not as many as the Tube-xxxxxxxx).
    Position 4 is an unusual diode combination unique to the V-Drive.
    Position 5 has two infrared diodes for symmetrical clipping, this is unique to the V-Drive, we know of no other company using infrared diodes. This is our contribution to the advancement of the art.
    Position 6 is a very unusual combinations of diodes that are found in a popular super-smooth sounding overdrive pedal with a name borrowed form eastern religion: xxx-Drive.
    Position 7 combines half of Position 6 with an infrared diode, producing a unique dynamic response, smooth with some bite.
    Position 8 also uses the more unique half of position 6, but with a red LED for more asymmetrical clipping.
    Position 9 uses a pair of matched red LEDs for crunchy clipping, reminiscent of some things from a popular british amp maker.
    Position 10 tilts the two red LED combination towards more asymmetry by adding a silicone diode to one side.
    Position 11 has no diodes, for a clean boost, with some op amp clipping at higher drive settings.
    Hope this helps.
    Thanks for contacting VHT Customer Support”

    Still want to know how to make the “Select” knob’s settings sound more different, though.

    Cheers from Norway!

  2. I think by now, you know that VHT is not “VHT” which has become fryette amplfication. Just the name being used for china made stuff. Some of really good quality some…shitty.

Leave a Reply