Modified Classic Overdrive/Distortion Units Reborn from Analogman, Keeley, and TWA

Not every overdrive or distortion pedal has a pedigree that begins with the influence from a Tube Screamer. Many of today’s designers look to other classics to either modify or create their own variations. Today we’ll spend time with the Analogman DS-1 Pro Mod with midrange control, Keeley’s Super Phat Mod Full Range Overdrive and the Totally Wycked Audio (TWA) Hot Sake. Each has its own unique story and tone so join us as we explore them further.

Analogman DS-1 Pro Mod with Midrange Control

This year Boss is celebrating its 40th anniversary manufacturing compact pedals and the DS-1 was one of the company’s first designs. To commemorate the event, Boss is producing a limited number of reverse orange-on-black pedals (which reminds me of the Boss HM-2 Heavy Metal colors – a pedal I owned when I was a teen).

Analogman Mike Piera first made his name famous for his company’s modifications of Tube Screamers, but then later he developed a full lineup of custom pedal designs including compressors, choruses, overdrives, fuzz boxes, delays, and more.  He and his team continue to modify pedals and have expanded their offerings over the years.

The Boss DS-1 has been a best-selling design since its inception 40 years ago, and many have used it either as a distortion box or as a boost (Steve Vai perhaps being among the most well-known user in this application). Analogman’s DS-1 Pro Mod takes the pedal to a whole different sonic level, and addresses the stock pedal’s shortcomings in some applications.

The Analogman-modded DS-1 Pro Mod does several important things when modified, first being that it adds additional low end to the signal while also tapering off some of the more unpleasant high frequencies. The sweet spot on the tone control is still generally between 9 and 11 o’clock, but it’s now smoother and much more pleasant whether using humbuckers or single coils and at higher gain settings.

The most useful modification is the inclusion of a midrange control. A stock DS-1 is notably mid-scooped in tone by design. That’s o.k. for playing at home, but if you’re running this pedal in a band setting, having mids available in the sound mix is critical. If you’re like Steve Vai (who used a DS-1 with his Marshall amps during his early career to push his amps harder for more distortion), the midrange in a Marshall was already strong and the DS-1 worked fine. However, if you were to use the DS-1 with a characteristically mid-scooped amp like a Fender blackface Twin or Super Reverb, you would definitely get lost in the audio mix. The midrange control is a fantastic must-have mod to get the most versatility out of the Analogman DS-1 Pro Mod pedal.

I also noted that the build quality of the Boss DS-1 is of the usual high standard of Boss, as it has been from day one. The Boss DS-1 is still built using a through-hole PCB design rather than many companies who have transitioned to using surface-mount technology. I’m a fan of this pedal and the DS-1 is a classic.  Analogman’s mod really transforms this pedal and makes this a very useful rock and roll distortion box.

Of the three pedals presented today, the DS-1 Pro Mod with Midrange control is definitely the one that best delivers the most classic “Marshall-in-a-box” tone. For a player like me, that’s a whole lot of fun and a great value at $135 for the 40th anniversary version ($5 less for standard orange). Visit www.buyanalogman.com for more information.

Keeley Super Phat Mod Full Range Overdrive

The Boss BD-2 Blues Driver is one of the most popular classic overdrive designs of all time, arguably just after the famous Ibanez Tube Screamer series. And for years, Robert Keeley and his team at Keeley Electronics modified the actual Boss BD-2 Blues Driver for additional warmth, tone, and versatility.

Recently, Keeley introduced the Super Phat Mod Full Range Overdrive, a pedal with the same clear Boss heritage, but with all the Keeley touches that improve the pedal dramatically. The Super Phat Mod has the usual controls for Level, Tone, and Drive, but also includes a toggle switch from Flat to Phat – Phat, provides a nice low end boost.

With Keeley’s design magic, the standard Boss BD-2 tonal heart is still there, but the Super Phat Mod now has a wider frequency response, more gain available if you wish, and of course includes true bypass. I found the Super Phat Mod equally at home whether I used single coils or humbuckers. The Super Phat Mod also includes a nice set of instructions and soft velour-style carrying bag. It’s a nice finishing touch.

The overly bright “icepick” characteristics that plague the stock Boss BD-2 when using higher tone settings are gone with the Keeley Super Phat Mod pedal. Indeed, Keeley’s Super Phat Mod has a VERY pleasant sweep available for its tone control. It’s pleasant to the ear and very usable – arguably the best tone taper capability of this group.

Robert Keeley is well known for backing up his products with excellent service and support. It’s this reputation that’s enabled his business to grow leaps and bounds over the past few years.

If you’re seeking a bluesy overdrive sound to let your rhythms cut through and your leads soar, and want something with a bit more punch, gain, and a much wider frequency response than your typical off-the-shelf Tube Screamer, the $149 Keeley Phat Mod is our overdrive of choice. Visit www.robertkeeley.com for more information.

TWA HS-02 Hot Sake Overdrive Distortion

Kevin Bolembach, president of Godlyke Distributing, which sells and distributes TWA (Totally Wycked Audio) pedals gave us the inside scoop on the TWA Hot Sake:

“This pedal has an interesting pedigree – as you probably know, Scott Henderson has used the Maxon SD-9 for many years.  We get a lot of players that buy the SD-9 and then can’t get it to sound the way they want to – one of these was Stuart Ziff from WAR, who asked for a few mods including more Gain, more Level & a mids control.

“Our Engineer did the mods and it entirely changed the character of the pedal – it became much more amp-sounding, and could get over a band very easily without sound harsh or over-distorted – very natural.  It also improved dynamic response, and the pedal cleans up beautifully…

“We dug it so much that we decided to release it as a TWA pedal, and that’s Hot Sake!”

Plugging the Hot Sake with a Stratocaster into a Mesa Boogie clean channel, we found a lot of tones and versatility packed inside the Hot Sake. Indeed, you can get mellow Tube Screamer blues out of this box with nice mids that cut through. Or you can turn up the gain, bring down the mids and increase the tone and you’ve got full on distortion-bordering on high-gain fuzz fuzz. Using a Les Paul, the Hot Sake is available with enough gain on tap to please the most scrutinizing high-gain metal fans.

Dynamic sensitivity is excellent with the Hot Sake and the responsiveness to the player’s touch is impressive. I know the Hot Sake is based on a modified Maxon/Ibanez SD-9, but I can tell you that this box does a LOT more than any SD-9 I’ve ever played.

Outfitted with controls for Drive, Level, Tone, and Mids, the Hot Sake also includes an external switch marked LB as well as a dipswitch accessible from the outside for L1/L2.

The main controls are self-explanatory, but the LB switch (“Low Boost”) switches from a standard setting to one with increased low-end response. These switches are incredibly helpful depending on your guitar and amp combination. I find I tend to incorporate bass boosts when playing a Strat and keep them off with the Les Paul.

The L1/L2 switch is a more subtle switch that selects between key capacitors in the circuit that work in conjunction with the LB switch to fine tune the emphasis at either 100 Hz (L1) or even lower at 60 Hz (L2).

The USA-made Hot Sake can be powered by a battery or standard 9v DC adapter and is covered by a 3-year parts and labor warranty.

For its ability to get low-gain bluesy overdrive, to all-out Big Muff style fuzz, the TWA Hot Sake is our pick for being the most versatile drive of this group if you’re looking for a solid all-in-one overdrive/distortion. At $189, the Hot Sake is the most expensive in this group, but it also has the widest option of tonal flavors. Visit http://www.godlyke.com/totally-wycked-audio-effects-pedals/hand-built for additional information.