Buying Guide:Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive MOD
A classic overdrive gets a versatility upgrade
By Jon Chappell, Senior Editor, Harmony Central
Almost everyone I know with a pedalboard has a Voodoo Lab power supply. Voodoo Lab has been manufacturing guitar-based products—like switching systems, power supplies, and effects pedals—for over 20 years now. One of their most enduring and versatile contributions on the effects front is the Sparkle Drive—an innovative take on the Tube Screamer 808-style overdrive. Now the company has produced the logical successor to the Sparkle Drive, the Sparkle Drive MOD. What Voodoo Lab has done should be a lesson to all companies that upgrade: leave alone what people love and give them improvements that make sense. That’s what they’ve done with the Sparkle Drive MOD, right down to the aesthetics.
The Sparkle Drive MOD is Voodoo Lab’s most recent entry into the guitar effects arena, and it offers bold new choices for guitar players to combine the traditional and the new with sounds distorted and clean. At the Sparkle Drive MOD’s heart is a Clean control circuit that effectively layers the clean-boosted version of your signal with your individually sculpted distorted sound. But first, the back story.
If you’re a little foggy on your effects history, suffice it to say the original Sparkle Drive is a classic—right up there alongside the MXR DynaComp and Arbiter FuzzFace. The Sparkle Drive brought a natural overdriven sound to any guitar signal, and was perfect for everything from electric blues to classic rock to country twang to fusion edge to soaring arena-rock lead. Not only were the sounds instantly classic and musical, the Sparkle Drive introduced an intriguing way of working: it offered a unique Clean control that dialed back in your clean sound as you turned the knob clockwise. This seems counterintuitive at first (you crank something and it becomes cleaner?)—until you start using it. You realize that you can first craft your distortion and then mix back in just a touch of clean for even more complexity and tonal nuance. It was like having two amps, one with warmth and sustain, the other with punch and sparkle—but the signals were organically related to each other.
As complete, thought-out, and popular as this was, tone freaks couldn’t resist some tweaking. Getting your Sparkle Drive modded by any number of local pedal gurus was common practice. The guys at Voodoo Lab weren’t insulted; they had modifications of their own that they’d done for over a decade. With the Sparkle Drive MOD, we now have an effect pedal that contains not only the original, classic 808-type circuitry, but three additional modes that provide the most popular modifications created by the Voodoo Lab team—thus the “MOD” in the unit’s name.
Voodoo Lab also made some upgrades to the Sparkle Drive MOD internal components. The single On/Bypass footswitch controls a true-bypass gold relay that’s used for its sonic transparency and high reliability. And to differentiate the MOD from the original, Voodoo Lab has enlarged the lettering and put a slick-looking clear plexi faceplate over the top. Cool!
Those familiar with the original Sparkle Drive will be right at home on the MOD version. The four main continuous-control knobs are laid out in the same left-to-right order: Gain, Tone, Clean, and Volume. What’s different is that the knobs are redesigned with the new aluminum ones being thinner and taller, allowing for more room in-between and less chance for you to accidentally move an adjacent knob.
Four modes—or is that mods?
Also new is the pedal’s added four-way MOD selector riding above the four tone-shaping controls. This allows you to choose among four entirely different modified versions (mods) of the Sparkle Drive, each with a different distortion character. The four settings are as follows:
1. Dot. This is the stock, or unmodded, original circuitry of the classic Sparkle Drive, with its awesome-sounding 808 emulation. I actually prefer the Sparkle Drive MOD’s version to the device it’s emulating because I hear (and feel) a more articulated low end. I used the Dot setting for all things blues—from classic Clapton to Stevie Ray rhythm/lead hybrid riffing.
2. Mod 1 is called Lead, and it exhibits a pronounced low end, upper-mid peak, and smooth high end—good for beefy single-note work in styles ranging from classic-rock to arena-filling melodies. Playing in this mode inspired my best David Gilmour homage—sweet, creamy, and fat.
3. Mod 2 is dubbed “Punch Mid Cut,” useful in lead or rhythm contexts. It kicks out from the gut and tightens up the bass and mids. This mode was, in many ways, the most versatile mod for lead and rhythm (and going between), because it worked both for distortion sounds a la Metallica and other classic metal sounds, and for funk, garage, and straight-ahead rock (think Pete Townshend, Keith Richards, and the Kinks).
4. Mod 3 is the High-Gain mode that covers everything from Blackmore to Gibbons and the modern melodic lead players playing through Mesa Rectifiers and Soldanos. If you bury the Clean control, you keep it edgy and slicing. Dial in Clean to varying degrees, and you can coax out full-frequency layered creations for those huge, Eric Johnson Cliffs of Dover treatments.
It should be said that the Tone control affects only the distortion sound and that you can use the Clean sound three ways: 1) to color your distortion content (restoring a shimmer for highly compressed sounds), 2) to create a nuanced, two-amp, layered effect, and 3) as a Clean boost. (Using the Clean control as a boost when the Gain knob is down creates a different quality—more of a shimmer—than simply turning up the Volume.) These qualities were all true of the original Sparkle Drive, but the additional modes give you a different voice, or launching point, from which to craft your sounds, supporting the viability of having separate Gain and Clean controls.
Voodoo Lab has upgraded a classic effect pedal by giving it additional modes, a robust switching and relay mechanism, and a new stylish look. But they’ve also done much more: enabled the Sparkle Drive to stay true to its roots while incorporating the best mods that history and experience have provided. If you want the option of adding distortion, layering, and a clean boost for hitting your amp’s front end a little harder—all within a single pedal—you will find a voice and plenty of tonal territory to explore it in the Sparkle Drive MOD.
To add new dimensions to your overdrive sounds, check out the Voodoo Lab Sparkle Drive MOD, featuring four mods of harmonic magic and a dedicated Clean control. Order today from Musician’s Friend and get our 45-Day Total Satisfaction and Lowest Price Guarantees.