Earlier this week, Mad Professor announced a limited run of pedals: custom modded versions of three of their popular pedals. [Ed: they’ve added a fourth one since]. It was right at the end of the month, I had a bit of cash spare, so I ordered one the same day.
I’m a complete sucker for tweed-tone pedals. Tweed-tone? Tweed-like? What is the right collective noun for these pedals that aim to give us the sound of old Fender amps from before the brownface era?
Once it arrived, I had to wait 3 days to be sure it was safe to open and handle, which brought me to Saturday morning. As that’s just before Sunday, I thought I’d use this week’s #CoffeeAndKlon column to share my first impressions of the pedal.
Normally, #CoffeeAndKlon is written as a Twitter thread, and then copy-and-pasted over here to the blog. This week, I’ve done it the other way around. I’ve spent Saturday writing this up, and on the Sunday, I’ll live tweet a version of it out.
I can’t tweet the whole thing, because this has ended up being a long article. I’ve tried it with three different boost pedals, and compared it to something like nine other tweed-type pedals from my pedal shelf.
A Few Important Points To Start With
Before I get into the sounds and comparisons, there’s a few things I want to document first, just so that there’s a record of them somewhere.
Factory Made, Not Handwired
These are a limited run of ‘factory made’ pedals, to use the common Mad Professor parlance. That means that they’re PCBs inside, and not handwired. As a general rule, Mad Professor ‘factory made’ pedals are more affordable than their handwired versions.
Does it matter? Do they sound the same? In this case, it’s irrelevant. The original Big Tweedy and this Custom version are only available as ‘factory made’ models as far as I know.
The ‘Custom’ Moniker Is A Sticker
These pedals are the regular ‘Big Tweedy Drive’ pedal cases. They have a ‘Custom’ decal on the case itself, and on the front of the Mad Professor box. It’s just a sticker that’s been added.
If these drives become highly sought after, this might be a problem in trying to authenticate them.
What’s Custom About It?
(Oh, that’s completely mad. I’ve just googled for Mad Professor’s own words on the Big Tweedy Drive, and Google ranks the HomeToneBlog higher than Mad Professor’s website. It shows you just how broken Google is these days. There is absolutely no way that my little blog should appear before Mad Professor’s own website in search results.)
“Some people have asked us to bring in some of the lower powered tweed qualities poured in: more gain and little bit more compression, also bigger bottom end but still not falling apart at all. Now we have done it! Big Tweedy Drive with Super Tweed Mod. Easier to play version with more gain and more bass, but without losing the low gain qualities! Almost like your high powered tweed twin got a master volume to be able to reach out those highly saturated sweet harmonics with more ease.”
What On Earth Is A Super Tweed?
Over here in the UK, these old famous Fender amps are incredibly rare. You want Marshalls? We got plenty of old Marshalls kicking around. But old Fender amps? You’ll have an easier job finding rocking horse droppings.
As usual with old amps, “Super Tweed” doesn’t seem to cover one single circuit. Fender released several “Fender Super” amps during the tweed era. From what I’ve read, it appears that when people say “Super Tweed”, they might be referring to Fender’s 5F4 model.
Relying purely on reading is iffy at the best of times, and it doesn’t help that nearly everything I’ve read is either a second-hand account, or is talking about modern boutique amps that are based on the 5F4 design.
As best as I can make out, the “Super Tweed” is a smaller version of those old big Fender Twin amps. The 5F4 circuit was designed to overdrive earlier than other Fender amps of the era. It came with 2×10 speakers, not 12 inch speakers, and used 6L6 power valves rather than 6V6 valves.
If we look back at Mad Professor’s own description, are they really describing a Fender 5F4 amp? “more gain and more bass … almost like your high powered tweed twin got a master volume …” Those are not characteristics that I’d associate with an amp that has 10 inch speakers. There again …
Does It Sound Like A Fender Super Amp?
I’ve never played one, and I don’t have access to one. It’s impossible for me to answer that question, sorry.
Personally, I don’t actually care. I appreciate that many people chase the tones of their guitar heroes. I’m just not one of them.
I’m much more interested in finding out what the impact of the Super Tweed Mod is. What can this pedal do that the stock Big Tweedy Drive can’t? Does the mod open up new possibilities? Does it make the pedal difficult to use for some things?
Does it make the pedal as bad as the Little Tweedy Drive was? God, I hope not.
Alright, I won’t drag that one out. This pedal doesn’t sound like the Little Tweedy Drive at all. Thankfully. I’ve put a more detailed comparison between the two later in this article.
How Does It Sound?
My Signal Chain For Today
On the board, I’ve got three pedals:
- Ceriatone Centura (klon klone)
- the stock Big Tweedy Drive
- the Big Tweedy Drive With Super Tweed Mod (aka the Custom edition)
They’re running into my Synergy T-DLX on the Twin (green) channel, into the SYN-5050 (with 6L6s), and out to my audio interface via the Two Notes CAB M.
The pedals are wired into individual loops of the Gigrig G2. That allows me to hear each version of the Big Tweedy Drive on its own, without the impact of the always-on buffer of the Centura.
I’m playing my Les Paul 59RI for this one, because we’re in the middle of a pandemic where we could fall seriously ill or die at any time. If this isn’t the right time to enjoy your best instruments, I don’t know what is. Play those case queens like it’s your last week on Earth.
A Different EQ
Going back and forth between the stock Big Tweedy Drive and this Custom modded version, two things immediately stand out: gain and the pedal’s EQ. I think the EQ is the right place to start.
The Custom definitely does have more bass and more treble, just as advertised.
At first, though, what my ears noticed was that the Custom version sounded mid-scooped, more than anything else. That’s something I’ll come back to throughout this post.
(Photo #2: gain-matched)
Match the gain between the two – with a low-gain, rhythm sound – and the EQ differences largely disappear. The top-end sounds the same to me, and the Custom just sounds thicker in the low mids.
If you look closer at the photo of the low gain settings though, you’ll notice that I ended up setting both the Tone and the Presence higher on the Custom edition. That’s largely me trying to offset the bass that’s been added in this Custom edition.
[Ed: it was only at the end of the day that I realised the Tone control doesn’t quite work like that …]
Too Much Extra Bass?
Through my rig, the stock Big Tweedy Drive doesn’t lack for bass. For playing rhythm and chords, I really like it. Does it really need more bass than it already has?
The Custom edition? That extra bass is very borderline for me. It doesn’t make the whole thing totally muddy, thankfully. I do think it’s useable. But it’s a bit too much for me for rhythm work, and I’d stick with the stock Big Tweedy Drive for that.
A big part of that is that, to my ears, the stock Big Tweedy Drive sounds spot-on, EQ-wise. It doesn’t sound dull, or cold. Arguably, it could do with being a little fatter, but that’s a matter of taste.
Wind up the gain, though, and that extra bass comes into its own.
Saturated Melodic Bliss
For me, the Custom version of the Big Tweedy Drive lives for saturated lead and melodic work. That extra bass? It translates to a big sound that the stock Big Tweedy Drive can’t deliver. That extra treble? Adds a nice bit of attack and cut to single-note lines.
Although we do need to talk a bit more about that extra treble later on … [Ed: we’ll also be revisiting the bass quite a bit when we start comparing the Custom edition to a whole heap of other tweedy pedals.]
In the room, just noodling away, it’s the kind of sound that brings a smile to my face. It makes me wish I could play lead guitar. There’s a lovely, singing sustain, and did I mention that it just sounds big?
It also still sounds a bit scooped to my ears. I think it’ll work fine as the only electric guitar in a mix, or over (say) a clean Strat rhythm piece. In a mix with multiple dirty rhythm guitars? I can’t say for sure, but I’m worried that there’s a risk it will disappear a bit. Something I need to go away and try.
Does It Klon?
Using The Classic Klon Sound
The Klon is my boost pedal of choice, and I think it works best when paired with a Fender-sounding rig. How well do both versions of the Big Tweedy Drive take a Klon?
I’m using the Ceriatone Centura, which to my ears sounds identical to my Klon KTR. This way, I can mess about with the controls on the Centura and keep my settings on the KTR 🙂
Stock pedal first. I love this pedal with a Klon in front of it. It doesn’t add a huge amount of gain, and certainly gets nowhere near the saturated tones of the Custom version. The Klon’s mid-boost and increased treble complement the stock Big Tweedy Drive perfectly. It gives it just the right amount of lift and crunch for me. I’m really happy with this pairing. I really should make a lot more use of it than I do.
What about the Custom version? Unfortunately, this is where that extra treble from the Super Tweed Mod starts to really be a problem for me. I don’t like the top-end at all. Boosted with the Klon, it’s just too much. Maybe it’ll work well in a mix, but in the room on its own, it’s a sound that honestly I find a bit physically painful to listen to. I find harsh, bright sounds very difficult to hear for long.
I can tweak the controls on both the Custom version and the Centura to try and tame the treble, but that defeats the purpose of boosting with a Klon or klone. For me, the whole point is to be able to switch between my rhythm and lead sound simply by switching the Klon / klone on or off.
In day-to-day use, I don’t want to change the settings on the Centura in the first place. The only control I want to touch is one of the footswitches on the G2 to bring the Centura into the signal chain. So far, the Custom edition of the Big Tweedy Drive fails that test for me.
What About With The Archer Clean?
In recent weeks, I’ve really fallen in love with JRAD’s Archer Clean. It’s based on the Klon circuit, but it doesn’t include the Klon’s gain stage at all. The result is a mid-focused clean boost that really doesn’t work on clean guitars. On dirty pedals though? Sometimes it works even better than the real Klon does. (There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write, back when I first bought the Archer Clean!)
Sadly, though … I’ve finally found a pedal that sounds worse when boosted with the Archer Clean.
That extra top-end in the Custom edition of the Big Tweedy Drive still sounds nasty to my ears. Even rolling the treble back on the Archer Clean doesn’t help enough. I just don’t think the treble on the Custom is robust enough to be boosted.
And then I had a brainwave.
The Problem Is The Buffer?
The Custom edition isn’t responding just to the treble boost from the klones I’ve tried today. It’s got to be responding to the buffer circuit that these klones have in them too.
Some pedal designs – most famously old fuzz pedals – don’t sound right when they’re behind a buffer. I’m starting to think that the Custom edition might be another.
I spent a few minutes with a bypassed Archer Clean running into the Custom edition, so that the only boost is coming from the buffer. The Archer Clean is sold as a true bypass pedal, but using the G2 to bring it in and out of the signal chain, there’s a clear difference when it’s in the signal chain while bypassed. Even when the pedal is in bypass, it provides a very audible treble boost on its own. The Klon-style buffer isn’t remotely neutral.
It’s right on the edge of what I want the top-end to sound like. But we can do better. Much, much better.
This Is A Job For The OverZoid
SviSound’s OverZoid OD1 is a fantastic alternative to the Klon and klones. It its own thing. It isn’t trying to be a klone. And it’s one of my go-to pedals when the Klon doesn’t suit.
It doesn’t have a buffer, and the shape of its mid-boost effect is controlled by adjusting the volume and gain controls. They’re pretty interactive with each other. Finally, there’s treble on a dial and a high-pass filter on a switch to shape the rest of the sound.
The end result is certainly a matter of taste. It adds in the mid-range that I think the Custom edition is missing, without boosting the top-end like the Klon does. It does end up sounding a little nasally. I have a fix for that, though.
With the volume control on my Les Paul dialled back to 9, I’ve finally found the sweet spot for me. The OD1 has cleaned up the bass, and filled in the mids. I’ve got a very responsive sound with a nice mid-focus to it with a bit of attack, without being fatiguing. I can bypass the OD1 to switch back to a warmer, cleaner rhythm tone, and switch back to the stock Big Tweedy Drive for playing chords.
That’s my kind of setup.
Vs Other Tweedy Pedals
I find it’s very helpful to hear two different pedals side-by-side. Switching back and forwards helps my ear pick up on how different they might sound, and how different they might feel to play.
So I spent Saturday evening grabbing pedals of my pedal shelf and throwing them on the board alongside the Custom edition of the Big Tweedy Drive. No boosts or anything, just each one in their own isolated loop on my G2 switcher.
Let’s start with the comparison I promised right at the start of this article.
Mad Professor Little Tweedy Drive
With the caveat that I got my Little Tweedy Drive second hand, and therefore it be faulty in some way … I think the Little Tweedy Drive is a terrible pedal. Honestly, the only reason I still own it is because I’d feel terrible selling it on to someone else. Let’s put it to use 🙂
At low gain, it breaks up a raspy, almost broken fuzz-like way. While the Custom edition of the Big Tweedy Drive can get dangerously close to the same unnatural overdrive sound at low gain, at least it has the upper-mid clarity and punch that the Little Tweedy Drive sorely lacks.
Once I wind the gain up, it’s absolutely no contest. The Little Tweedy Drive does sound better once its fuzzing away all the time. But the fuzzy breakup disappears very quickly when I hold a note, leaving the clean tone to sustain. I honestly don’t know what to do with it. By contrast, the Custom edition of the Big Tweedy Drive lives for saturated lead duties.
I can happily say that the Custom edition of the Big Tweedy Drive is not another Little Tweedy Drive. Now let’s move on to some pedals that aren’t going to landfill …
Next to the Custom edition of the Big Tweedy Drive, the Fender MTG:LA sounds dark. Very, very dark. I don’t remember noticing that when I got the pedal last year. Huh. Other than that, they do sound like two attempts at a very similar kind of sound.
While the distortion of the Fender MTG:LA sounds far more natural, overall I greatly prefer the sound of the Custom edition of the Big Tweedy Drive. I guess that extra treble was a good idea after all 🙂
I honestly didn’t expect that. I’m a huge fan of Fender’s new pedal range, and I didn’t expect the MTG:LA to compare as badly as this. Maybe it would fare better if I was using a Telecaster instead?
The Fender MTG Tube Distortion is one of my all-time favourite drive pedals. I’ve seen reviews stating that the MTG is a Marshall sound, but I don’t agree at all. For me, it’s right up there with the Sweet Honey Overdrive (SHOD for short), partly because it can sound very similar to the SHOD.
Dial the mids back to around 10 o’clock, crank the gain up to around 2 o’clock, and it sounds very similar to the Custom edition of the Big Tweedy Drive. The MTG’s a little warmer – the mids are just nicer overall – and it doesn’t saturate quite as much. Oh, and the MTG’s distortion again sounds far more natural than the Custom edition’s drive does.
Both sound very good, head to head. Which one is the winner is entirely down to personal taste. Or perhaps budget – the MTG isn’t a limited edition, and is quite a bit cheaper.
For playing lead and melodic lines, I’d reach for the Custom edition first. For rhythm playing, I’d reach for the MTG first.
Wampler Tweed 57
I’ve never tried cranking the Tweed 57 before. I’ve mostly used it set pretty clean as a tone shaping pedal at the end of the signal chain. This is why comparing pedals is fun 🙂
To my ears, they’re both clearly going after similar types of tone. They both end up in quite different places though, and it’s all about those mids.
No matter how much I drop the mid control, the Tweed 57 never sounds scooped. For lack of a better term, there’s always a wooliness to the tone. It just sounds so vintage. I’m really curious to hear it taking lead duties, with the stock Big Tweedy Drive handling rhythm work.
The Custom edition of the Big Tweed Drive, with its prominent mid-scoop, sounds very modern next to the Tweed 57. Both sound great, and I’m glad I’ve got both to enjoy.
Xvive Sweet Leo Overdrive
Okay, this is a little like bringing a knife to a sword fight. The two pedals chase a similar sound, but live in very different sweet spots when it comes to the amount of gain they can offer.
Just like the Wampler Tweed 57, the Sweet Leo sounds very vintage next to the Custom edition of the Big Tweedy Drive. (I really need to compare the Sweet Leo and the Tweed 57 sometime!) It doesn’t have a mid control; I’d have to use an additional EQ pedal to try and dial back the mids to get anywhere near the Custom edition’s tone.
There’s an even bigger difference when it comes to gain. The Sweet Leo Overdrive is a low-gain pedal, and cranked it doesn’t come close to the saturated lead tones that the Custom edition can deliver.
The Sweet Leo Overdrive is a good pedal, especially when you consider the price, and unlike the Wampler Tweed 57, I believe it’s still in production.
Bearfoot FX Sparkling Yellow OD2
Here’s a tweed-type pedal that rarely gets into the conversation. I thought it’d be interesting to try. That, and I had to move it to get at the next pedal in this comparison 🙂
Thanks to its pre-dirt low mid control, it gets quite close to the Custom edition of the Big Tweedy Drive. The SYOD2 still sounds more vintage than the Custom edition, but there’s nowhere near as much in it as (say) with the Wampler Tweed 57. I’d say that the main reason for the difference is in the treble, where the Custom edition has that extra presence that’s typically found in modern tones. It’s more noticeable on chords and rhythm work, and not as obvious on melodic lines.
Gain-wise, there’s a bit more of a gap. The SYOD2 doesn’t quite manage that saturated sound that I’m really enjoying from the Custom edition. Weirdly, even though the SYDO2 seems more compressed, I can’t get it to sing and sustain quite as well as the Custom edition does.
The SYOD2 has the advantage that, like practically all BJFe designs, it takes boost pedals (like the Klon) extremely well. On the other hand, if you don’t already own one, good luck trying to get one.
Bearfoot FX Uber Bee
I’m skipping the legendary Honey Bee Overdrive (HBOD), and going straight to the hot-rodded daddy of the family. Yes, the Honey Bee family is said to be based on a Supro amp not a Fender tweed, but in practice all these tweed-like pedals live in the same tone district.
Both pedals actually have some important things in common. They’re both effectively modded editions, designed to deliver more gain than their original counterparts. They’re both better off standalone, rather than being boosted, at least in my experience.
But only the Uber Bee nails it.
The Uber Bee delivers the warmth that’s missing from the low-mids of the Custom edition Big Tweedy Drive without sounding wooly or vintage. That’s the main difference to my ears, and for my tastes, it makes all the difference. Throw in that, somehow, the Uber Drive has even better clarity than the Custom edition does, plus a more natural-sounding distortion, and … yeah. The Uber Bee is legendary for a reason.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression here. Side by side, the Custom edition still sounds good. But once I’ve heard the Uber Bee, I can’t unhear the difference.
Now, I haven’t tried using pre (or post!) EQ to even out the differences. I suspect that a lot could be done there. And I really haven’t gotten to grips yet with how to shape the tone of the Custom edition just using the onboard controls.
Mad Professor Sweet Honey Overdrive
To finish up these comparisons, let’s come back to Mad Professor, and the tweed-type pedal that’s going back on my board once I’ve finished: the Sweet Honey Overdrive (SHOD).
Of all these tweed-type pedals, AFAIK the SHOD is the only one that gets cloned – like, at all. That says a lot about how good they can sound. Although BJFe continues to evolve and attempt to perfect the Honey Bee Overdrive (HBOD), I think he already did when he designed the SHOD for Mad Professor.
And it’s the reason I bought the Custom edition of the Big Tweedy Drive.
I’d love to use these two pedals together: SHOD for rhythm, and the Custom BTD for lead duties. I don’t know, though. Side by side, once again, the Custom edition sounds noticeably mid-scooped, even though I wouldn’t call the SHOD a vintage-sounding pedal.
It’s now late, and with everyone stuck at home, it’s time to stop the live guitar and give my neighbours some relief.
It may not have come across during this first look, but I am glad that I bought this pedal. As you’ve seen, I have a few pedals that do the tweed thing (whatever that might be). This one doesn’t sound quite like any of them.
That’s a good thing. I’m looking for options, not spares. This certainly gives me another option.
After a day with the pedal, I’m left feeling that I need a lot more time with it to get my head around it. I haven’t explored what the tone and presence controls can do anything like enough today. That’s normal for me. It normally takes me a week or more to figure out the tone-shaping options of a pedal.
Already, though, this pedal’s a keeper. That saturated, singing lead thing it does … that’s fun in its own right. It doesn’t just sound good in the room, it feels good to play.
Grab an amp, and maybe some pedals, and go find the tone that inspires you. Stay safe, stay well.