Hands-On Review:Boss OD-20 Drive Zone, Rocktron Rampage, Tech 21 NYC Double Drive, Guyatone Flip Series MM-X Metal Monster and Akai Professional G-Drive distortion pedals.

by Eric Kirkland


Guitarists tend to agree: the best way to create organic distortion is by pushing the volume of a great tube amp to its upper limits. Unfortunately, doing so doesn’t leave much room for dynamic playing, and prolonged exposure to high volume can ruin your amp—to say nothing of what it will do to your hearing.


So instead of cranking our amps to 10 and waiting for the cops (or deafness) to arrive, most of us supplement the front end with some sort of distortion or overdrive. This month, we take a look at five new boxes that put their own unique sonic spin on the sonic nasty. From classic overdrive to ratty fuzz, these pedals have the sound you’re looking for.


Click HereBoss OD-20 Drive Zone
Built for the distortion enthusiast, the OD-20 Drive Zone features digital models of 16 classic overdrive/distortion pedals like the Boss MT-2 Metal Zone and the Klon Centaur, and six new sounds of its own. Powered by a sextet of AA batteries or a Boss PSA adaptor, the OD-20 features a 1/4- inch line out with amp simulator (the jack doubles as headphone out) and an amplifier control output that can be used to switch your amp’s channels. The pedal’s internal memory allows you to save four settings, then switch among them and a manual mode.


The OD-20’s controls—drive, bottom, tone and level—are designed to optimize the sound of each model and provide a wide range of possibilities. Drive and level respond very much like the controls on the pedals being modeled, and pushing the drive control into its turbo zone adds an extra dose of distortion. The bottom and tone controls adjust low-end resonance and EQ, respectively.


Along with this solid platform, Boss has included a few additional goodies. The attack shape knob changes pick attack from smooth and round to excessively aggressive, while the heavy octave knob adds girth to upper and lower registers, although the resulting thick sound worked best when used sparingly.


The OD-20’s build quality is typical of Boss’ high standards, and its sounds are nearly as big and present as the pedals it mimics. With so many standout features, the OD-20 could easily replace a row of distortions and overdrives without compromising the average rocker’s sound. Rocktron Rampage.


The aptly named Rampage is a straightforward pedal with one mission: to produce massive amounts of distortion. Inside its heavy-duty housing is enough power to punish your amplifier with 75db of amazingly quiet preamp-style gain. While the Rampage sounds like a pedal, there’s practically as much gain here as in a 5150 or Soldano, with all of the ease of play and impressive overtones. Its controls—bass, scoop, treble, level and sustain—are mounted on a ledge located lower than the footswitch, thereby preventing your foot from hitting the controls and causing unintentional changes.


Cranking the bass and sustain and setting the treble at half produced a huge distortion—probably the most authentic metal sound I’ve heard from a pedal. With this setting, two-handed tapping, squealing harmonics and screaming bends were effortless. Wanna get wicked? The scoop control will suck out 30db of useless midrange for some real Hades-approved shred and dread tones. With enough distortion for anything from big Eighties metal to modern industrial sonic destruction, the Rocktron Rampage will transform any amplifier into an angry gainzilla.


Tech 21 NYC Double Drive
The Double Drive distortion pedal is another great offering from a company that consistently builds groundbreaking tube emulation products. It features 100 percent analog circuitry, a low-impedance output and a buffered bypass that will drive long cable runs without compromising high end. Controls include tone, level and two drive knobs that are specifically designed to emulate the output stage distortion of classic tube amps.


Drive A creates the even-harmonic power amp distortion of a Vox AC-30, while drive A/B is voiced more like a Fender or Marshall, with odd harmonics prevailing. The signal of the first drive runs into the signal of the second for a multiplication of—rather than an addition of—gain. The result is as close as I’ve heard to Gary Moore or Eric Johnson in a pedal. Dialing both of the drives near the maximum settings yielded buckets of gooey harmonics and sweet sustain for arpeggios and squishy legato scales.


Adding to the richness, the tone knob utilizes a high-pass filter that lets you remove highs without losing mids and low end. And, at settings above the three o’clock position, the control produces a musical fuzz quality that perfectly complements the distortion—it’s like adding malt to an already great chocolate milkshake. Through smart design and a commitment to tone, the Double Drive demonstrates that analog circuitry still provides a more realistic tone and feel than anything digital has yet to offer.


Guyatone Flip Series MM-X Metal Monster
Prophesizing a renewed interest in classic metal tones, Guyatone has created the Metal Monster as part of its new Flip series. Featuring a number of quality parts in a hybrid tube/solid-state circuit, the Metal Monster delivers a range of high-gain tones while providing extensive control over the all- important midrange, an approach taken in the design of the Boss Metal Zone pedal. Midrange control is provided via a dual-function parametric knob: the outer ring of the dial controls the midrange frequency (from 200 to 5kHz), while the inner dial adjusts the midrange level at that specified frequency. Other controls include distortion, level, high and low.


Although the pedal has plenty of output and utilizes a 12AX7 tube for improved tonality, it sounded very transistorized with some tubelike feel only occurring in the lows. No matter how I set it, I could never get rid of the squashed AM radio–like sound, which was more similar to a wah’s filter effect than a tube-generated distortion. The Guyatone may not be the hot new metal weapon, but keep this one in mind as a cool lo-fi effect.


Akai Professional G-Drive
With its new G-Drive, Akai has taken a long-overdue approach to the distortion pedal by incorporating two six-band EQs labeled “character” and “color.” Additional features include true-bypass switching, solid build quality, easy battery access and an extrawide frequency response that’s even suitable for bass. A single drive control lets you set the amount of distortion, and the output knob controls the unit’s volume. The character sliders preside over the tonal quality of the distortion, while the color section, located at the output of the circuit, changes the unit’s overall sound.


To eliminate guesswork, each slider has a number of initials alongside it that correspond to the first letter of the Akai presets: Fusion Solo, Radio, Wild Fuzz, DS Metal, Modern Blues and Crunch. So if you want Akai’s version of the best crunch sound, simply set each of the sliders to line up with the letter “C”—it’s that easy. The quality of the G-Drive’s distortion is very good but not extraordinary. It’s the finite control over its tone, rather, that sets this pedal apart and makes it a useful tool among a sea of familiar pedals.



The Bottom Line
Each of these uniquely voiced pedals has the ability to turn a mild-mannered amplifier into a high-gain machine. The Boss OD-20 excels at reproducing the tones of several well-known overdrives and distortions, while producing several new tones of its own and offering incomparable tonal control via its attack and octave features. The Rocktron Rampage pumps a sucked-mid shredder’s delight of high gain, while the Tech 21 Double Drive produces Dumble- esque harmonic complexity. For a new level of specific control, there’s the Akai G-Drive distortion. And if a buzzy, low- tech distortion fits your needs, the Guyatone Metal Monster may be your box. Like a trip to the ice cream stand, there’s no wrong choice. Just pick your flavor.