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ModTone DynoDrive Overdrive Guitar Pedal Review

Brandon Drury —  November 8, 2009

Modtone_Dynodrive

Check it out @ Musician’s Friend

I’m doing my Jeopardy version of gear reviews again. We’ll start with my conclusions.

The Recording Man’s Conclusion
I’m playing guitar quite a bit again, but I refuse to be a guitar player. I’m a recording guy and so that means I get to sit up on my perch and look down on the lowly world of people who refer themselves as guitar players. (Okay, like 2% of you can sit at the table with the big kids). The rest of you can stay at the diaper table.

Here are my conclusions:

  • If you’ve had boxiness problems in your electric guitar recordings, tossing the Dynodrive in front of the amp is THE solution. I don’t think it gets better than this. In fact, this booster may be life changingly good! Seriously!
  • If you’ve struggled with getting this harmonically dense tone without giga-gain (and all the boring fizz that comes with it) the Dynodrive is THE solution.
  • The boxiness I’m referring to can happen on all amps. I’m talking high end amps like: Rivera Knucklehead, Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier, Hughes and Kettner Triamp, Peavey 5150, etc. This boxiness is not a flaw in a few amps I’m using. It’s more of an issue of the importance I place with boosting with the right pedal.
  • Before buying new/fancy mics, preamps, etc try tossing the Dynodrive in front of the amp. God knows I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to get this from recording equipment.
  • If you are a guitar player who frequently uses high gain sounds, the Modtone Dynodrive is absolutely required.
  • If you are a recording engineer frequently recording high gain guitar sounds, the Modtone Dynodrive is absolutely required.

Let’s Begin
I’ve been using the my yellow Boss SD-1 as a boost in front of a high gain amp since Clinton was in office. I’ve always liked the Tube Screamer style pedal in front of the amp. Up until now I’ve always felt that a Tube Screamer rip off is a Tube Screamer rip off and the differences between them are what the little fairy prince guitar wienies do on guitar forums when they aren’t arguing about Star Trek or trying to guess what “warm apple pie” feels like.

I stand corrected and I did it with out a guitar forum. (Thank God!)

Today I discovered the Modtone DynoDrive. It also takes on the yellow overdrive pedal look. However, this thing is NOT a Boss SD-1. It’s not a Tubescreamer. It’s not a Maxon OD-9. For my money it’s 10,000 times better.

My Situation
I was playing my Fender Strat USA with a Duncan JB Jr in the bridge. While I’ve always loved boosters for studio work, I always go out of my way to avoid having to press 40 pedals in a live / jamming situation. It sucks the fun and life out of playing. I set my Rivera Knucklehead to sound about right without any boosting in front of it. This tone is no slouch. It’s a tone that people shell out the big bucks for.

However, it can also be a hair on the boxy side at times. It doesn’t have quite the sustain I want and there can be a blurred middle ground between too much gain causing fizz and not enough gain causing boredom.

The second I plugged into the Modtone DynoDrive I knew I had found a mate for life (at least the next decade). The Modtone DynoDrive adds some gain and solves all the sustain issues. My Boss SD-1 does what all the Tube Screamer knock-offs do. The DynoDrive does two other big things that I’ve not heard out of a booster pedal.

Good Bye Boxiness
The Dynodrive completely pulls out ALL the boxiness. When I turned on the Dynodrive, the sound was instantly what I had always wanted. It’s a sound I’ve been attempting to EQ out or use weird mic placements to overcome. I’ve spent thousands on preamps, EQ, and mics to solve this specific problem. I’d guess I’ve lied awake in bed maybe 400 times wondering what the hell is causing this problem over the past 8 years or so. This is BIG BIG BIG for me! It’s the difference between kinda cheap tone and “Holy Shit Tone!”.

In addition to all the boxiness being kicked to the curb, the harmonics get way way way richer without any of the fizziness that a gain boost requires. This is the sort of thing that people expect from the impractical world of cranking amps to 10. It’s the kind of thing I’ve been chasing since some of you reading this were still crapping your pants.

When I first stepped on the DynoDrive with my tone on my Rivera set to mostly work without it, it immediately screamed Breaking Benjamin style modern rock tone. For my tastes, that tone is a hair scooped, but I can’t count the times I’ve recorded the kids over the years where both of us knew the tone just wasn’t quite their yet. The tone wasn’t “finished” sounding. The DynoDrive finishes it. I adjusted my settings a bit on the amp to compensate for the scoopage and I was in heaven. This pedal makes playing more fun and it’s going to make it look like I’m a genius to the guitar players I record.

The Percussive G String
The thing I really hate about not using a booster on a high gain amp is the boring sounding G string. I always find that if the G string is boring I end up sounding more like the Almond Brothers or something. (Nothing against the Almond Brothers, they just ain’t Van Halen or Dragonforce.) With the DynoDrive, the G string string becomes percussive. Palm mutes on the G string jump out just like like the do on the lower strings. 16th note palm muted leads sounds go from useless to world dominating when I engage the Dynodrive.

I would have shelled out big bucks for that years ago. This is the kind of thing Cher sang about.

Clean Tones
Here’s where it gets interesting. I have a different take on clean sounds than most guitar players. I’m a recording guy and I’ve ACTUALLY LISTENED to a few recordings. I’ve come to the conclusion that clean sounds are always a little dirty. At least the clean sounds I like are always a little dirty. The illusion of a clean guitar sound that has less distortion than a Apogee converter is hog crap. It’s flat out inaccurate in my view and it’s almost unheard of to find this squeaky clean sound.

What makes a clean tone work is not necessarily the amount of distortion, but the harmonic structure of that distortion. That chimey sound requires a little bit grit to it, but that grit has to be in the right place. If you’ve got boxiness in it, you are done. Forget it. Guess what. I just happen to be reviewing a pedal that is badass for pulling out boxiness. So yup, you guessed it. I’ve finally found a booster pedal that I can leave on all the time in a live / jamming situation.

I’ve had to be careful with this one maybe getting a hair more distorted than I really wanted. However, when the harmonic stuff is right, I could have Dimebag level mega gain on my clean and not loose sleep over it. The Dynodrive has a way of getting that right.

In real recording situations, I’d definitely use the Dynodrive on my clean tones even if I pulled the gain way back.

An Overdrive Pedal
I guess I should at least mention what the Modtone does when you use it like it was actually designed to work. I have to say that I’ve always considered my Boss SD-1 completely useless as an overdrive pedal. Taking a clean amp and expecting to get anything that doesn’t make you feel similar to reading the latest sex offender story in the local newspaper is difficult. I have emulators that sound better without a doubt.

So my luck with overdrive pedals is limited.

Once again, the Modtone has made me a believer. Running the Modtone into a clean amp was more than usable. It was very, very pleasant. None of the boxiness of the SD-1 was there. None! With the gain all the way up, you end up with something that Toad The Wet Sprocket or Counting Crows could use and it sounds legitimately good. Is it as good as a mega tube amp gain? Hell, I don’t know. Maybe. Regardless, that “harmonic structure” thing is there. As a purist, I’d be more inclined to set the amp with just a bit of grit and go back to using this thing as a booster. However, the thing does work in “standalone” mode if you want to go there.

If you dig in you can do some really cool blues rock type stuff if that is your bag.

Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of RecordingReview.com and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.
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15 responses to ModTone DynoDrive Overdrive Guitar Pedal Review

  1. I love reading your reviews. I get all the info I need plus the bonus of some great humor. You crack me up. Wonderful writing that piques my interest in the products being reviewed. Thanks, man.

  2. Oh, and I’m definitely checking out this pedal.

  3. The “Almond Brothers”???? I think you maybe mean the Allman Brothers Band……hard to take the integrity of your review seriously after that.

  4. Ha! That was an old inside joke. I wanted to see if anyone picked up on it.

  5. Uh, John, you may have missed this bit of history, but the band was originally called the Allman Joys. That’s the basis of the inside joke. Peace,

  6. I work at a music school/store and we have been carrying Mod tone effects for About a year now
    These are Great built tough and user friendly
    The duno drive and the clean boost seem to be big sellers as well as the analog delay and aqua chorus

  7. I’m borrowing the Modtone Tremolo pedal from a buddy. It’s exceptionally smooth! It almost sounds too right. But when it’s off-time and mixed with my Line 6 FM4 Modulator thing (the Purple one) it suddenly becomes completely insane!

    Brandon

  8. Actually, I’d prefer an audio engineer who didn’t know who the allman brothers are… just my two cents. Like the day they came up to Iggy Pop saying: “David Bowie wants to produce your record”, and he replied: “who the fuck is that?”

  9. Ha! It’s like that Weezer song talking about the half-Japanese chick who didn’t know who Green Day was! Sexy!

    Brandon

  10. Who is this Green Day you talk about?

  11. Almost all of the Modtone pedals are fantastic. The hidden gem to me is the Speedbox XL (Version 2), and the Extreme Metal. Both are creamy delish x 10! Esp that Extreme Metal pedal. And don’t think that just cuz it says Metal that it’s high gain fizz. It has LOTS of tones packed inside. The coolest one is a Brian May/Michael Schenker sorta tone that has that “mid-range thing” happening. The new Stutter Kill pedal is wicked cool too. I’ve tried them all, and own almost all of them, and you can’t go wrong with any of them. My least fave, and it’s only my personal preference, is the Phaser. My fave “effect” pedal is by far the Tremor pedal. It’s got classic tremolo to it, but it also has a very cool rapid on/off pulse thing that I LOVE.

  12. I just got this pedal for $63 off of Amazon. I think mine is broken. The tone and level dials seem to work, but the drive knob does not add any noticeable level of distortion/overdrive even when cranked up 100%. I detect no difference in drive when the dial is at 2% vs 100% when playing through the clean channel of my Fender Twin. In addition, if I turn the drive dial all the way down to 0 I get a pop noise and no more sound coming out- essentially it’s a volume off switch. In addition the level knob does not seem to be loud enough in output to add any kind of clean boost. It can take volume away, but at 100% pretty much matches the guitar pickup volume of my Tele. Basically, this thing is only working as a tone knob- one knob eq. I thought it was adding a little subtle sparkle but I kind of think it might be a placebo effect. It isn’t really doing much of anything- maybe just a trace of added sustain. Not sure about the quality control going on in the factory in China where it is being produced. I played a Fulltone OCD a couple of weeks ago and was quite impressed. The one thing I can say about this pedal is that it is not making the guitar tone any less clear the way some cheap overdrives do. I think I have a dud. Hopefully, Amazon makes the return process easy. I’ve never had to return anything I’ve bought for that site before.

  13. Well, it turns out Amazon makes returning things very easy and they sent out a replacement faster than I could ship mine back. The first one was broken all right.

    My first impressions of the pedal are very good. It does a very good job of overdriving the lead channel of my Fender red knob, all tube, The Twin. I think I find the sound preferable to my Ibanez TS9dx at this. The Ibanez is at the place I practice, so I couldn’t do a direct comparison.

    I also liked the sound on my clean channel. It sounded very natural, like amp distortion- better than my TS9dx. I’m not sure I liked it as well as a straight on overdrive on the clean channel as I did the Fulltone OCD I played a few weeks ago. However, this is $63 and that was $150. In addition, I’ll mostly be using amp distortion on either my Twin or Marshall VM head and this will just boost it.

    I even tried it as a preamp for my Fender Tele with SCN pickups into my recording interface while running GTR3. I decided to just run it in with tone at zero, gain at zero and level at full. It gave this sound a little more presence and sustain (dare I say, liveliness?) without any added noise.

    You’re probably saying, well, it slightly increased the volume, but it seems to be more than that. In fact, the SCN bridge is very high output, so I dialed it down to 9 or 8.5 and backed off the tone control slightly as well because it was just too sensitive on the GTR3 program and seemed to be overly amplifying pick attack and finger noise, hand rubbing strings on palm mutes, etc. Anyway, turning the guitar volume knob up to 10 did not give this same sustain/presence (brightness) boost. It was subtle, but it was definitely there.

    The point is that it made a nice little preamp before the UA LA610 into the Firestudio Mobile I have. It was subtle on chords, but fairly obvious on leads and single note stuff- brighter artificial harmonics, etc.

    I’ve owned a lot of distortion pedals, but had stopped buying them a few years ago. Basically, my idea had been that if I got enough distortion pedals then I could make my Fender Twin sound like any amp- like a modeler without the microprocessors. That idea was obviously flawed, but I only discovered that after trying out more amps and speakers.

    So, I thought I was done acquiring pedals a few years ago, but Brandon’s review got me interested because of how emphatic he was and because the price was low. I think I will definitely use this and I think it is a great value. Hopefully, this one keeps working and they don’t double the price.

  14. Well, I ordered the first DynoDrive in July 2010 and it arrived broken. The Amazon.com affiliated business promptly sent me a new one and it worked and I was satisfied. I liked using it to boost my tube amp overdrive. It made my Fender red knob Twin sound like a more modern amp- Mesa like- and less Stevie Ray Vaughan vintage sounding. SRV has a great sound, but most of what I play doesn’t have that tone. Anyway, the second one just broke and it’s only December- a little over 4 months old. I have it on a daisy chain with a One Spot. I don’t abuse it or leave it on all the time. All of the other pedals have lasted for years. I don’t think these pedals are built all that well. I can see why an OCD might be worth the money. I definitely prefer this pedal for overdriving my amp to my TS9dx tube screamer. I like using this even for getting hard rock rhythms out of non hard rock, vintage amps. I’ll contact ModTone to see if they have a warranty. Nothing is mentioned on the box. I have a receipt.