First Impressions: Xvive Sweet Leo Overdrive

Earlier this month, I picked up the Xvive Golden Brownie Distortion pedal (a JCM 800-in-a-box pedal), and I really liked it (once I got my head round it!).

With everything that’s going on right now, I wanted to buy something from my local guitar shop to try and support them, and it was my good luck that they had Xvive’s other dirt pedal in stock.

I’ve had a couple of hours with it so far. Here’s how I’ve gotten on with it.

tl;dr

The Sweet Leo Overdrive, designed by Thomas Blug, is a Tweed-in-a-Box (TIAB)-type pedal. Other notable TIAB-type pedals include the Sweet Honey Overdrive (SHOD), the Honey Bee family, Wampler’s (now discontinued) Tweed 57, and Fender’s MTG.

Unlike its sibling the Golden Brownie, the Sweet Leo seems to work great with non-Strat guitars too – although beware of the Growl control, which I’ve been calling the Smear control when I tried it with non-Strat guitars.

It’s a very low gain pedal. The main sound characteristics are the softest initial note attack that I’ve come across in a TIAB-type pedal, and most of the energy seems to be in the mids. I suspect it’ll work best in a live mix or recording, especially for lead playing – but you might want to boost it for that.

What Is It?

The Xvive Sweet Leo Overdrive pedal is a Tweed-in-a-box (TIAB for short) kind of pedal. That, on its own, is music to my ears. Over the last year or so, I’ve been learning that the “tweed sound” (whatever that is) is very much my thing.

It’s part of a series of pedals designed for Xvive by noted gear designer (and official Strat King of Europe) Thomas Blug.

What Does It Sound Like?

The first thing I noticed was just how clean this pedal is. It’s very much a low gain pedal. I would have to check to be sure, but right now, I can’t think of another TIAB pedal with this little gain.

In that respect, it’s the exact opposite of Mad Professor’s hugely disappointing Little Tweedy Drive.

Even with the gain approaching 2 o’clock, my Strat sounds only very lightly driven. With a Tele or a Les Paul, there’s a bit more dirt at the same setting, but a long way from any sort of lead territory. I really like it.

The other thing I immediately noticed was just how soft each note sounds. The general over-simplification is that Marshall-in-a-Box (MIAB for short) pedals give you sharp attack and lots of crunch, while Tweed-in-a-Box (TIAB) pedals give you less attack and more of a growl kind of thing.

Well, this pedal certainly has less attack. Even with the Tele, the attack of each note was very soft, very rounded. Again, I’d have to check, but I can’t think of any other TIAB-type pedal that has this soft a note attack.

What Does The Growl Control Do?

I think something got lost in translation (sorry, Thomas!). The “Growl” control should have been labelled the “Smear” control, because that what it does: it smears the sound as you wind it up.

Sorry, I’m not trying to offend at all. It’s the sonic equivalent of smearing vaseline all over a camera lens.

To my ears, what it’s trying to do is fatten up the guitar tone, and make the attack more aggressive. It does this by introducing a bit of a “smile”-type EQ curve, I think.

It’s especially apparent with my Strat’s bridge pickup. There’s some boosting going on that makes my Strat sound a little fizzy (not great from a line noise perspective, tbh) and a little chunkier. If you think your Strat sounds a little wimpy for rhythm work, this might be what you’re looking for.

With the humbuckers on my Les Paul, or my Tele’s bridge pickup, I’m not (yet) sold on what it does. The Tele doesn’t need the treble boost that the Growl control provides, and my Les Paul ends up with far too much boomy bass frequencies.

I’m sure that I just need a bit of time to find the Growl control’s sweet spot on a guitar-by-guitar basis.

Compared To Bearfoot FX Honey Bee?

Bjorn Juhl’s Honey Bee series of pedals is right up there in the pantheon of legendary pedals. If you’ve previously decided that you didn’t like the Honey Bee, Tweed-like pedals aren’t going to be for you (except maybe The Big Tweedy Drive …)

The Sweet Leo sounds good. The Honey Bee sounds great. Although they do sound similar, side by side it’s no competition.

To my ears, the Honey Bee sounds fuller: each note produces a wider range of frequencies. The Sweet Leo sounds more focused: much more about the mids, with less presence and less low-end.

Now, please do bear in mind that I’ve been playing pedals from the Honey Bee family for many years now. They’re my go-to sound, as it were. I’ve only had the Sweet Leo since mid-afternoon today. I’m still learning how to dial it in.

Final Thoughts

For sixty quid, the Sweet Leo Overdrive is a quality pedal. If I was gigging electric guitar, I’d be tempted to leave the Honey Bee safely at home and use the Sweet Leo instead.

It’s mid-focused nature has me curious. I want to try this pedal out for Strat and PRS lead duties. I suspect it’ll sit quite nicely in an overall mix. Sadly, I can’t try this today. I’ll have to report back when I have.

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