First Impressions: Websmufer’s Champ Drive Pedal

Long-time readers might well remember me raving over a pedal I called the Little Pink Wonder (LPW for short) over on my personal Twitter feed. (As far as I know, it doesn’t have an official name). That’s a high-quality clone of a boutique boost pedal, and the clone is made by a local pedal builder and sold directly on eBay UK.

Ever since I bought the LPW, I’ve kept an eye out for his stuff on eBay, and tried to win as many of his pedals as possible. Well, except for the fuzz pedals, because fuzz isn’t my thing, and traditional fuzz pedals don’t go well with the dirty power supply we have here in the Welsh valleys.

The Champ Drive is the latest of his pedals that I picked up. From the name and control layout, I was expecting a Lovepedal Champ clone. How did I get on with it? Read on for my First Impressions.

tl;dr

The Champ Drive is a fixed-gain overdrive pedal sold by websmurfer on eBay UK. It’s a tweed-tone pedal that sits somewhere between a Honey Bee and a Sweet Honey Overdrive; far closer to the Honey Bee than the Sweet Honey OD in sound, and closer to the Sweet Honey OD in the amount of overdrive.

It’s only got the one control – an output volume control. To get the most out of this pedal, you’ll need to be someone who’s willing to turn down your guitar’s volume and tone controls to taste.

It isn’t a clone of the Lovepedal Champ. If it’s a clone at all, I don’t know what it’s a clone of. If it’s an original design, I think he’s got a winner here.

My Signal Chain

This morning, I’m playing:

  • Smokey (my 2012 Les Paul Classic Plus fitted with OX4 Hot Duane Pickups)
  • into the Champ Drive pedal
  • and into my Synergy rig using the BMAN preamp on the green (clean) channel.
  • I’m using the Two Notes CAB M to run a variety of impulse responses,
  • and the Two Notes Captor as a load box at the end of the chain (so that I don’t blow my amp up).

The Champ Drive is in its own loop on my Gigrig G2 pedal switcher. That allows me to compare it to other pedals, and to see how it reacts to being stacked with my Klon KTR, without those pedals colouring the sound when I’m not using them.

As always, I’m playing my Les Paul mostly in the middle position. The neck volume varies between 4 and 7, and the bridge volume between 8 and 10.

Websmurfer? Who’s That?

Websmurfer is his eBay account name. He makes and sells pedals direct on eBay here in the UK. He advertises them as being his own custom-made PCB designs, hand-assembled into plain-coloured, powder coated pedal enclosures.

And they’re cheap. Really cheap. But that doesn’t mean they’re not good. Far from it.

This is the 10th pedal that I’ve bought from him over the last three years or so. It might just be the most interesting one (for me!) that I’ve tried to date. Why? Because it’s first pedal of his that I’ve tried that doesn’t seem to be an outright clone.

Champ Drive? A Lovepedal Champ Clone, Perhaps?

Honestly, when I bought this, that’s what I was expecting. All the pedals I’ve bought from him have been clones of other pedals, and I bought this fully expecting that trend to continue.

It definitely isn’t a clone of the Lovepedal Champ. I have one of those, and the two pedals are nothing alike.

This is a nice surprise for me. Yes, I do like having high-quality clones of my favourite pedals, especially as it looks like Lovepedal currently isn’t trading (their website has been showing a 404 error for a few weeks). But I also like coming across pedals that give me something new.

I look at pedals like an artist looks at paint. I’m into pedals because they’re a cheap way of colouring the sound of my amp in many different ways. I like having unique shades, unique textures to try out. I really like having different options to reach for. And I’m a big believer that recordings sound better when parts are double-tracked using different yet complementary sounds.

So if it’s not a Lovepedal Champ clone … what is it?

What Is It?

I know Websmurfer’s own copy says that it isn’t an overdrive, but, for me, it is a drive pedal with a fixed amount of overdrive. There’s just one control, and all it seems to do is affect the output volume. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t even affect the EQ as you crank the volume (other than the usual way that sound changes as it gets louder).

This is definitely a pedal for people like me, who like to use their volume and tone controls.

If I dial back my volume control, I can reduce the amount of overdrive that the pedal puts out. That also softens the attack of the overdrive too. If I want the pedal’s full overdrive but the softer attack, I can roll back the tone control instead.

So although it appears to be a one-tone wonder, there is a bit of variety to be had as long as you’re willing to move away from just playing your bridge pickup with everything on 10.

Does It Sound Like A Fender Champ Amp?

I couldn’t tell you, sorry. It’s not an amp I’ve ever owned or spent much (if any!) time with.

It is a nice tweed-tone sound though.

So What Does It Sound Like?

Tweed-tone pedals tend to fall into two camps: they either growl or they’re raspy.

The pedals that growl have really soft attack, and are normally pretty full-bodied with a lot of energy towards the lower-mids. Raspy pedals have a sharper attack, with less bass, less lower-mids and their energy more in the upper-mids.

This Champ pedal is pretty raspy to my ears. Roll back my volume, and it can growl nicely too.

How Does It Compare To Other Tweed-Tone Pedals?

I’d say that the closest / most similar would be the BJFe / Bearfoot FX Honey Bee. They’re definitely not identical, but character-wise, they’re in the same ballpark.

The fixed overdrive on the Champ Drive is a bit more than my preferred sweet spot on the Honey Bee. I can tame that just by reducing the volume controls on my Les Paul, but I can’t match them identically.

Part of the reason for that, to my ears, is the differences in the mids. The Honey Bee has noticeably more lower mids than the Champ Drive. It’s easier to hear the overdrive of the Champ Drive, because it’s not a muddy pedal at all.

Going back and forth between the two, I’d definitely pick them as a pair of pedals to record together with. Complementary tones and all that. It’s pretty amazing that the Champ Drive can hang with the Honey Bee like this. The Honey Bee is a legendary pedal, and highly sought after.

What about the GOAT? How does it compare to the Sweet Honey Overdrive (SHOD for short)?

Here, there are clearer tonal differences, to my ears at least. The SHOD has more of that small amp / small speaker sound, with a lot less bass and lower-mid output than even the Champ Drive does. This makes the SHOD sound a little more forward than the Champ Drive; arguably, a little more vintage.

Both pedals share similar overdrive characteristics. In that regard, I’d say that the Champ Drive is closer to the SHOD than it is to the Honey Bee’s overdrive character. The Champ Drive’s attack is a little more rounded than the SHOD’s, and it softens far more than the SHOD’s does when I roll back my volume control.

I’m always going to recommend the SHOD over anything else, because it gives me the sound I’ve been chasing for decades. It’s the pedal that I always come back to, no matter how good other pedals are. All these early Mad Professor designs have the lowest noise floors of any pedals I’ve ever had, and they’re all explicitly designed to stack well with other drive pedals.

That said, I suspect a lot of home players would prefer the Champ Drive over the SHOD, because it fills the room in a way that the SHOD can’t. The slightly softer attack of the Champ Drive might appeal more too. And, assuming Websmurfer puts more of these up for sale, there’s a big price difference between the SHOD and the Champ Drive.

Does It Klon?

Oh yes. I’ve just tried it with my Klon KTR in its classic clean boost settings, and I think it sounds really good indeed. It’s a lovely mid-rich sound with plenty of texture, without being honky at all. I think it’s a very attractive rhythm tone.

The one caveat is that it’s also a little bit noisy.

Electrical Noise Can Be Heard

We’re in the middle of a sudden dry spell and heat wave here, and I always seem to get increased electrical noise during these spells. When I do, some pedals and some amps cope with it better than others. It’s not a cheap-vs-expensive thing either

Going back and forth between the Champ Drive and the SHOD, there’s a bit more electrical noise coming off the Champ Drive than there is off the SHOD. It’s not excessive, but it is there, and after the glowing report so far, I do feel that it does need mentioning.

Final Thoughts

A Honey Bee-like pedal for less than £30? Hell yes.

The Champ Drive is a very simple pedal. It’s very much in the tradition of (say) a Lovepedal design as opposed to (say) a Wampler design. There are no controls on the pedal that you can use to dial it in, to find the sweet spot that suits you and your rig. To get the most out of this, you’ll need to work your guitar, work your own picking-hand dynamics, and experiment with different boost pedals in front of it.

If it’s a clone of anything, I’ve never come across the original pedal that it’s based on. It’s got that Lovepedal vibe and voicing, but it definitely sounds different.

If it’s an original design, he’s got a winner here.

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