First Impressions: The MXR Sugar Drive

This photo shows three guitar effects pedals on my pedal board.

On the left is the Sweet Honey Overdrive pedal. In the middle is the MXR Sugar Drive (the subject of this blog post). On the right, a somewhat dusty Klon KTR.
The MXR Sugar Drive, sat between the Klon KTR and my beloved Sweet Honey Overdrive.

Back in June, I picked up an MXR Sugar Drive. How does this mini Klon klone compare to the real thing? And is it a cheaper alternative to any of the other klones that are in my collection?

What Did You Buy?

I bought a second-hand MXR Sugar Drive.

It’s marketed and sold as being based on the circuit of the Klon (which MXR describe as “a rare overdrive pedal that has acquired a mythical reputation among fanatical tone-seekers thanks to its unique circuit design”).

Why Did You Buy It?

That’s a good question.

I stopped buying klones after getting the Ceriatone Centura back in April 2020. To my ear, the Centura is the only klone I’ve personally tried that sounds identical to my real Klon KTR. At that point, I had found what I was looking for – and I was happy.

So why get another klone now?

Partly curiosity, for sure. The Centura is both expensive and physically large. I think it’s worth every penny, but I’m mindful that the Centura (and, indeed, the KTR too) rarely wins shootouts against klones. The Sugar Drive is an inexpensive option. Is it something that I can recommend to people who want the Klon thing without the cost?

And … partly because it’s time I revisited klones. Over the last few years, I’ve been so focused on finding a backup to my KTR that I never actually spent time learning what each of these not-quite-accurate klones can do for me. There’s a million and one tubescreamers precisely because not everyone wants exactly the same out of their little green overdrives.

It’s time I started looking at all the klones in that light.

What Rig Did You Try It With?

I went with my normal Les Paul rig:

  • vintage-voiced Les Paul
  • into the Sugar Drive
  • into my beloved Mad Professor Sweet Honey Overdrive (SHOD for short)
  • out into the Blackstart Studio 10 6L6

The pedals are all in separate loops on a Gigrig G2, so that I can easily switch between the Sugar Drive and my KTR (or any of the klones that I have), and still keep the unused pedal out of the signal path.

(That’s very important with klones; they normally have a non-transparent buffer built into them. Daisy-chain them together – like many YouTube shootouts do – and the first klone in the chain will impact the sound of whatever comes after, even when it’s switched off.)

I picked this rig for a reason. The guitar, SHOD and Blackstar amp together have a fair bit of low-end and low-mid action going on. These are frequencies that klones often affect, making it easy to hear the difference between them and a real Klon KTR.

As we’ll see, it was a good decision.

Is It An Accurate Klon Klone?

Not to my ears, no.

In my book, the best test for this is also how I prefer to use my KTR: in the classic clean boost configuration (treble at one o’clock, gain around eight o’clock, volume adjusted for around unity).

When I tried this, the Sugar Drive was the coldest-sounding klone I’ve personally tried to date. It shelved off a lot of bass and even some low mids. There’s no way that I can use it as a classic clean boost.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t interesting, though. Oh no, far from it. It might not be a viable alternative to my Klon KTR, but it does give me something different.

The Klone For Lead Tones

Instead of chucking the MXR Sugar Drive back on the pedal shelf, I decided to wind up the gain a bit, and try using it as a lead-tone boost for the SHOD. I’m really glad that I did.

The Sugar Drive’s attack is a lot sharper than other klones – when I dig in with the pick. It has the effect of turning my tweed-y SHOD pedal to have a more Marshall-y note attack. It makes the overall tone more cutting, adds extra grit to the signal, and feels really nice to play lead work with.

How Does It Compare To Other Klones?

I spent several evenings going back and forward between the MXR Sugar Drive and a bunch of other klones. If you want the full details, head over to my Twitter thread (and remember to click through to the separate threads on each klone!).

Here’s a summary:

  • Tumnus: a pedal with a very loyal following. Always sounds fat (it’s voiced for a Telecaster bridge pickup), with the softest attack of all the pedals in this comparison. Probably the klone that’s the most different to the Sugar Drive.
  • Tumnus Deluxe: by tweaking the bass and mid control on the Tumnus Deluxe, I got it to sound nigh-on identical to the Sugar Drive. Even with fresh ears the following day, I couldn’t tell the two pedals apart reliably. The Tumnus Deluxe is a lot more flexible than the Sugar Drive, but it’s also a lot more expensive.
  • JRAD Archer (the silver one): arguably the first famous boutique klone pedal. I had trouble level / gain matching this with the Sugar Drive; that made the comparison hard. Doesn’t seem to push the mids as hard as the Sugar Drive does. It was easy to get a smooth rhythm tone out of the Archer, something the Sugar Drive does not do.
  • JRAD Archer Ikon (the gold one): more compressed than the JRAD Archer. That compression makes the Archer Ikon feel good to play. Sounds smooth and luxurious compared to the MXR Sugar Drive. I need to spend more time using the Ikon!
  • JRAD Archer (Clean) (the white one): the Archer Clean doesn’t have a drive circuit, making this an apples-to-oranges comparison. The Archer Clean doesn’t change the character of the SHOD; the Sugar Drive does. Different tools for different jobs. As a rhythm player, I found myself playing the Archer Clean more than the Sugar Drive.
  • RYRA The Klone: a highly-respected pedal, and certainly one of the best looking! I had a lot of trouble level / gain matching this against the Sugar Drive. Noticeably less dynamics with The Klone (if the Sugar Drive goes up to 11, I’d say The Klone felt like an 8 in comparison). The Klone was also surprisingly dark-sounding.
  • Ceriatone Centura: very easy to level / gain match both pedals. The Sugar Drive had a bit more clarity, a sharper attack when I dug in, and a little more hair on the notes when I dug in. But the Centura feels like home to me (because it’s identical to my KTR), and I prefer it for rhythm work.

Not only does the Sugar Drive do something that (almost) none of the other klones does, all the other klones have something different to offer too.

Final Thoughts

The MXR Sugar Drive is a keeper. It gives me something I don’t have otherwise, and regular readers will know that I love having options.

Tone-wise, it’s not the most flexible klone out there (to put it mildly). You’ll either love what it does, or quickly decide that it doesn’t suit your rig / style / requirements. I happen to like what it does, and I like how easy it was to dial in. But if it didn’t suit my rig, I’d have been very frustrated with it for sure.

While I’m not going to use it for rhythm work, it’s going onto my board whenever I want to dial in a boosted lead tone.

Oh, and it’s about damn time that I start working out when each of these klones is a good choice in a rig. Starting with the Archer Ikon …

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