First Impressions: Keeley D&M Drive

Thanks to its association with That Pedal Show, the Keeley Electronics D&M Drive has to be one of the most well-known drive pedals to launch in recent years.

I’ve finally taken the plunge and bought myself one. What do I think of it? Here’s my first impressions of this award-winning pedal.

What Is It?

The Keeley Electronics D&M Drive is a two-in-one overdrive / distortion pedal. The two sides are known as “Dan’s side” and “Mick’s side”, after Dan Steinheart and Mick Taylor, the two hosts of That Pedal Show.

Where Did I Buy It From?

I bought mine directly from ThatPedalShowStore.com, as a way of supporting the show. They sell it for the same price that guitar shops sell it for.

Second-hand examples do turn up from time to time, and while you can save a bit of money that way, I’ve yet to see one go for a bargain. That’s one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to get one. These are sought-after pedals.

Why Did You Buy It?

Firstly, I bought it because I wanted to support the show. I can’t think of another YouTube channel that puts out consistently high-quality, long-form educational shows for the pedal community every single week like they do.

If you want to support the show, but don’t want / can’t afford a D&M Drive, their online store has a lot of other merch to choose from.

There was a second reason. On forums and Facebook groups, people often say that Dan’s side of the D&M Drive is based on the Fulltone OCD. Mike Fuller’s awful response to black lives matter protests has led to a boycott of Fulltone products, with both brick and mortar and online retailers dropping his products.

Whether you agree with the boycott or not, his products are going to become harder to find, and possibly unavailable where you live.

That begs the question: is the D&M Drive an alternative for the Fulltone OCD?

Well, Is It?

No. Not to my ears. The mid-range, the attack and the clipping are all very different to my Fulltone OCD v1.4. I think that they’re two very different drive pedals.

If you want to boycott Fulltone – or are affected by the boycott – and need to find an alternative to the OCD pedal, you’re going to need to look elsewhere. I don’t know where, though. The various clones and knock-offs all have a reputation for not being able to recreate the undeniable magic of the OCD.

So What Is Dan’s Side?

To my ears at least, it’s very similar to the distortion mode of the Analogman King of Tone (KoT for short). If you think back to how much the KoT was featured on early episodes of That Pedal show, it’s hardly a surprise.

I guess that makes it a bluesbreaker pedal, like the KoT itself, Wampler’s Pantheon, the JHS Morning Glory, the Snous Black Box, and so on. The D&M Drive is one of the more expensive options available, but iirc, it’s the closest you can get to the KoT’s distortion mode without waiting 3+ years for the KoT, and one of the few that’s a two-in-one drive pedal like the KoT is.

The two pedals don’t sound identical (it’s not a straight-up KoT clone), but I doubt that I could tell them apart in a recording. When I switch between them, I can hear that there is a difference, but within a few notes, whatever it is has slipped through my fingers.

If you like your KoT in distortion mode but you’d rather not take it out to play gigs (it’s very expensive and very hard to replace if anything happens to it), take a look at Dan’s side of the D&M Drive. It might be the safer alternative you’re after.

Equally, if you wish your KoT in distortion mode had more output, or a wider usable gain range, or simply more gain, Dan’s side of the D&M is well worth a look.

What About Mick’s Side?

The common preconception online is that Mick’s side of the D&M Drive is based on either a tube screamer or his silver Klon. The Klon thing in particular comes from what Keeley themselves say about the D&M Drive:

“The ‘Boost’ side spans Mick’s love for high-voltage, high-headroom mid boosters and a germaniummodded professional overdrive.”

– Keeley D&M Drive promotional literature

If that’s not a description of a Klon, I don’t know what is. Right now, though, I’m honestly struggling with it a bit. My friends all keep telling me that it sounds wonderful. I keep going back to my Klon.

I’m going back and forth between Mick’s side and my Ceriatone Centura (which sounds identical to my Klon KTR), and to my ears, there’s a couple of differences between the two.

It doesn’t seem to have the Klon’s buffer. I’m of the opinion that the Klon’s buffer is a big part of its distinctive sound, and I’m just not hearing the same crispness in the top-end. Don’t get me wrong, Mick’s side isn’t dark or overly rounded. There’s just a difference in the top-end between the two pedals.

The drive doesn’t seem to warm up the tone like the Centura or my KTR does. The bass and body doesn’t disappear here, by any means, but I personally would choose the Klon over Mick’s side for clean Strat tones every single time.

That doesn’t mean everyone else would, though!

If you can’t hear the differences with a clean Strat, you might find it easier if you try switching between using Mick’s side and the Klon to boost another pedal. When I do that, I hear Mick’s side tightening up the bass end a bit more than my Centura or KTR does. It also rounds off the overall top-end.

I definitely think that Mick’s side boosts distortion pedals better than my Klon does.

What Are Both Sides Like Together?

It’s too early to say. It’s a new sound to me.

In the past, I’ve always avoided boosting my KoT. I’ve always felt that the KoT already has all the mid-range it could ever need and then some. It’s a pedal I’ve struggled to gel with.

Using both sides of the D&M Drive together doesn’t sound the same as boosting a KoT. It’s not … horrible. Dan’s side seems to have a gap in its mid-range that Mick’s side boosts quite nicely, and Mick’s side softens the top-end in an almost amp-like way.

I suspect the best sounds are to be found by dialling in the tone with both sides switched on at once, rather than starting from the other end. I haven’t had time to do that yet.

Oh, one last thing. Even with both sides on, this pedal isn’t noisy at all. Certainly quiet enough that, while writing this blog post, I completely forgot that both sides were on together. That’s excellent.

Can You Use Both Sides Independently?

In theory, yes. In practice, there’s one problem.

I can use both sides of my KoT independently because I ordered mine with the 4-jack mod. I can wire each side up into a pedal switcher like the Gigrig G2 using normal cables, and then just treat them as two separate pedals.

The D&M Drive doesn’t have 4 jacks, it’s only got the two. They’re stereo jacks, which means you can use something called a Y-Insert cable to split the signal out. It’s a clever idea. It keeps the size of the pedal down, and that could well keep the cost down too.

Unfortunately, they are not common cables. I can’t walk into my local guitar shop and just pick them up off the shelf; it’s not something they sell. I’ve looked, and I can’t find them for sale at Andertons. I even tried Amazon, but I could find anything that I would want anywhere near my signal chain.

Am I just looking for the wrong thing?

Does it actually matter? Not to me, it doesn’t. In what – 3 years now? – I’ve never used all 4 jacks on my KoT. I don’t feel any urge to wire the D&M Drive up that way either.

The D&M Drive is a pedal that seems to have sold pretty well. If anyone who bought it felt the urge to use both sides independently, I’d have expected Andertons to have stocked these Y cables by now.

So I guess it’s a feature that almost no-one cares about in practice.

King of Tone Or D&M Drive?

This really needs to be its own blog post, so my apologies if you wish this was more in-depth. I will do that soon.

Looking at them purely as dirt pedals, I think there’s two key questions that’ll guide you towards which pedal suits you more:

  • Do you actually like the distortion mode of the KoT, or do you prefer the KoT’s overdrive mode?
  • Are you looking to boost other pedals, or are you looking to boost your amp?

Each side of the KoT can operate as a clean boost, an overdrive, or a distortion. From the factory, the KoT is configured as a clean boost on one side, and an overdrive on the other. If you like the sound of the KoT from online demos, there’s a good chance that what you’ve heard is the overdrive mode and not the distortion mode.

Choosing which pedal suits you as a boost is a harder decision to make in advance. As boosts, they sound very different from each other. The KoT seems to work best boosting an amp rather than boosting other pedals, while Mick’s side of the D&M Drive works great at boosting other pedals too.

If you’re on the fence, I hope that helps a bit.

My advice? Get the D&M Drive now, and enjoy it while you wait the 2+ years it takes to reach the front of the queue for the KoT. If you don’t like the KoT when you finally get it, don’t worry: there’s a very healthy second-hand market for them.

Final Thoughts

If Mick was reading this, I can imagine him pulling his hair out, jabbing his finger at the screen a bit, and saying “you’re missing the point here, mate.” As usual, he’d be right.

The whole point of any pedal is whether or not it delivers the goods. The more I play the D&M Drive, the more it’s growing on me.

There’s something about the mids that makes it sound just a little more open than the other bluesbreaker pedals I have. I dare say, it sounds a little less Marshall-like. Regular readers will know that I always love finding a new option. For that reason alone, the D&M Drive is a keeper for me.

These are just my opinions. I’d love to read yours in the comments below.

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