MXR Micro Amp+
Whether you’re after subtle boost or furious fuzz, from big brands or boutique manufacturers, we round up the year’s best dirtboxes.
All of the gear here was reviewed in Guitarist magazine from January 2014 onwards, representing outstanding performance, build quality and value. First up, it's the MXR Micro Amp+...
MXR Micro Amp+
Many a lacklustre amplifier has been juiced up by the original Micro Amp, sending clean channels into drive and drive channels into meltdown.
The downsides of the pedal’s first incarnation were a lack of EQ control and a less-than-brilliant bypassed tone, so this Custom Shop ‘+’ model has true bypass switching, plus bass and treble tweakability with its 26dB boost.
Electro-Harmonix Soul Food
A Klon Centaur on a budget? The Soul Food is no clone, but for the measly asking price it makes more than a fair attempt at that particular kind of mid-rich drive, with edge and clarity aplenty.
One key selling point is that it has boosted internal voltage that really helps with delivering such a big, open sound.
Keeley Luna Overdrive
Robert Keeley says that the Luna Overdrive is “the sum of my ideas and thoughts on overdrive and distortion” - that’s quite something when you look at his pedal CV.
What you get is soft and smooth drive, right through to harder, edgier, almost fuzz-type tones if that’s what you want: it’s much more interesting than a straight overdrive.
Xotic SL Drive
Hendrix, Page, Kossoff, Blackmore and co in a tiny box?
That’s the aim, as this pedal sets out to ape the drive characteristics of Marshall’s late 60s/early 70s Super Lead and Super Bass amps. Four internal DIP switches offer lots of variation and, importantly, it takes a battery, despite the tiny case. Rock!
Skreddy Hybrid Fuzz Driver
Silicon and germanium transistors give you an interesting blend in this fuzz-meets-overdrive/ distortion.
There’s a ton of variation on tap thanks to an additional mid-boost pot and dedicated controls for presence and bottom-end resonance (tightness). The tones span vintage rock, à la Beck and Page, through to Foos/QOTSA contemporary rock.
MI Audio Effects Super Crunch Box
Aimed at balls-out Marshall-style crunch and drive, this updated version of the original Crunch Box has three types of clipping for different feels, plus hi and lo modes and tone controls on the outside.
Rock, rock and more rock: Page, Angus, EVH, Mötley Crüe... go and thrust thy riffage unashamedly forth!
BUY: MI Audio Effects Super Crunch Box currently available from:
UK: Andertons Music
Free The Tone Red Jasper
So then, a Tube Screamer is too compressed and mid-focused? A fuzz too sludgy and weird? Distortion too fizzy? Boost not driven enough?
We understand: you want a great ampy-type overdrive, not too much gain, not too tonally coloured, with good clarity and plenty of harmonic richness.
Well, this is gunning hard for your cash with a blissfully simple layout, yet a wide range of low- to medium-drive tones that feel friendly under the fingers. Nashville country rock and Americana are really well served, as are lighter classic rock and blues.
One thing that we really like about many Free The Tone pedals is the HTS (Holistic Tonal Solution) circuit that helps keep clarity and presence in your whole signal chain, with a superbly low noise floor. Like, like and like again.
BUY: Free The Tone Red Jasper currently available from:
Boss OD-1X Overdrive
Boss has taken a market-share hit from the seemingly endless new boutique brands in recent years, but the Japanese giant is still developing apace and selling tons of pedals.
This one continues the much-loved OD-1’s proud legacy with a new circuit and ‘Multi Dimensional Processing’.
It’s designed so that the feel and drive characteristics change with how and what you’re playing; there’s plenty of clarity and definition through chords, yet lots of fatness to high notes - things that can be difficult to achieve with many single pedals.
The gain range works across blues, rock, country and pop, but if you’re after hard rock and metal, seek out the DS-1X. This is a great all-rounder for anyone who wants a simple drive box, and isn’t hung up on analogue purity or true-bypass.