First Impressions: Marshall DriveMaster Distortion Pedal

At the start of March 2023, I picked up all four of Marshall’s vintage reissue drive pedals, and I’m gradually working my way through each of them.

The DriveMaster is (basically) Marshall’s legendary The Guv’nor pedal, just in the same housing that they used for the Bluesbreaker and ShredMaster pedals.

And if you love the sound of Marshall amps, you’re going to want one for yourself. It’s that good. That’s what I think, anyway. Read on for a bit more detail in my First Impressions.

What Did You Buy?

I bought a Vintage Reissue edition of the Marshall DriveMaster distortion pedal.

The vintage reissue series was released on 24th February 2023. The series is made up of exact reproductions of Marshall’s four classic drive pedals.

Why Did You Buy It?

At the time of ordering, it wasn’t clear whether Marshall is going to keep these in production long-term. They’re not marketed as Limited Edition reissues, so there’s hope. But still. The collector in me won out; I didn’t want to find myself without the full set.

If you’re getting The Guv’nor (and you’re not trying to Pokemon them), do you need to get the DriveMaster too? Almost certainly not.

To explain why, let me explain what the DriveMaster is.

What Is It?

I think the best way to answer this is to recommend one of the many (so so many!) product demo videos that came out when the DriveMaster was reissued:

Sweetwater’s demo video of the Marshall DriveMaster

(Btw, if you don’t follow Sweetwater on YouTube, I highly recommend it. Their videos strike a great balance between selling products and educating home-tone guitarists like me. I’ve no affiliation with them – I’m on the wrong side of the pond to be a customer – I’m just a fan of their approach to their YouTube channel.)

Yes, It Is The Sound Of Stadium Rock

A very quick bit of fiddling with the pedal, and I feel like I’m back in the days of bad perms and classic rock:

Charvel > DriveMaster > Axe-FX 3

I don’t know what else to say. For me, it’s “the” sound. I only wish I’d had one of these pedals when they were first released. I didn’t know they even existed back then!

Turn The Gain Down To Get The Best Tones

I remember playing through a JCM 800 amplifer back in the early 90s. The band that I was in used to hire a rehearsal studio every week, and the owner used to leave his amp in there.

It didn’t have much gain at all.

If you listen to classic rock tracks of the era, the guitars on there are cleaner than you might suspect. Go listen to Appetite for Destruction (the single-greatest rock album ever made), and pay close attention to the rhythm guitar tones. They are not that overdriven.

The DriveMaster / The Guv’nor has plenty of gain available, far more than I need for classic rock songs. I’m running the gain at 11 o’clock or lower, and I’m very happy with the results.

Fatten The Tone Using The Lazy J Cruiser Deuce

If I’ve got one concern about the sound of the DriveMaster / The Guv’nor, is that the pedal doesn’t produce a big tone. The waveforms on the recorded audio aren’t bad – this isn’t a thin-sounding pedal – but it doesn’t quite have the thickness that a real tube amp produces.

Enter the Lazy J Cruiser Deuce.

I got the Lazy J Cruiser Deuce to act as a boost into the front of my Synergy valve amps. Which, it has to be said, it’s fantastic for. (I need to get that written up on here soon!)

Even though I’ve switched back to using the Axe-FX 3 as a pedal platform amp, I’ve still got the Cruiser Deuce on the board. And if I run the DriveMaster / The Guv’nor into the Cruiser Deuce, I get this:

Charvel > DriveMaster > Cruiser Deuce > Axe-FX 3

You might not hear a lot of difference, granted. What it’s doing is adding a little bit of that amp-like compression that’s missing from the DriveMaster itself. To my ears, it’s also knocking just a bit off the top-end of the signal. The tone still has bite, but it’s not quite as cutting as the first demo.

I prefer it.

Are The Guv’nor And The DriveMaster Really The Same?

They’re supposed to be. The only difference between the two circuits is that The Guv’nor has the effects loop feature. And there’s plenty of product demos showing that both reissue pedals sound identical (allowing for parts tolerances).

Are mine the same? I can’t say for certain. I just haven’t had time to put both on the board together and A/B them. So I’ll save that for another blog post.

Final Thoughts

Why didn’t I buy one of these sooner?!? Vintage DriveMaster pedals are nowhere near as expensive as vintage The Guv’nor pedals, and they’re easy to find. I’m kicking myself there, for sure.

Paired up with my old Charvel, it’s the sound. Sorry if it sounds like I’m jumping on the hype train here, but for me, the DriveMaster / The Guv’nor has to be the benchmark that all other Marshall-in-a-box (MIAB for short) pedals are judged by.

It’s simply that good.

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