The mind behind some of the best Peavey and Kustom amps of the last decade has struck yet again. James Brown, the tonal guru out of Georgia has created a new and upgraded version of his well-loved TightDrive, in the form of the TightDrive Pro. Like all Amptweaker pedals, its bulletproof design, insane tweakability, and top-notch sound make it feel like a premium choice among those who love that classic overdriven amp sound.
The TightDrive Pro is incredibly versatile, similar to many of Mr. Brown’s pedals. Like the TightFuzz Pro we reviewed earlier, it features the same three effects loops (Universal, Boost, and the Side Trak, which is like a dedicated A/B switch to engage different effects when the pedal is either on or off), three-band EQ, Boost section, a slew of switches, and Amptweaker’s exclusive Tight control. This pedal stays true to the philosophy of Amptweaker, providing many different controls for many different tones and responses, allowing you to dial in the sound that you want, like a sculptor with a lump of sonic clay. There are five different switches on the front, which help you further tweak the response and character of this pedal. The first is a mid-boost switch that is activated when you hit the Boost footswitch. Instead of just giving your signal a general lift in all the frequencies, it adds a nice middy punch when the Boost footswitch is activated. The second switch is the character of the EQ curve. When switched to the left, it is a normal midrange response, which is quite warm and punchy. Set to the right, the EQ curve changes to more of a Plexi sound, where the curve is a little more scooped in the lower mids, and just slightly boosted in the high mids and highs. When activated, the Edge switch smooths out some of those upper frequencies, and adds just a hint of silkiness to the bottom end. The noise gate is quite self-explanatory, and works fairly well at high-gain settings; reigning in some of those stray harmonics you can get with higher gain tones. The three band EQ is quite nice, and I found myself really enjoying the more bassy side of the spectrum.
The character of the pedal is undoubtedly Marshall-esque, with that familiar big midrange tone that many guitar players lust after. With pedals like this, most of the downside lies within the fact that they aren’t transparent and they force you to play a certain way, without taking into account your guitar and amp. While (in some settings) the TightDrive can take over your tone, it is designed to be transparent as well. Specific settings (like the PlexEQ) can sound a little artificial, but can still achieve to the tone of cranked JTM45 quite well, if that’s what you’re after. I really wanted to drive the preamp tubes in my amp, so I set it as flat as possible to try and achieve that almost “clean distortion” that comes from driving a high-headroom amp. Adding a nice helping of bass, engaging the Smooth switch, and adding a fair amount of volume and gain gave me Marshall-like edge-of-breakup sounds with added midrange breath. There was a hint of crunch on the lows and highs, and chord work on the neck pickup of a Strat sounded big, warm, and balanced with just a sprinkling of crunch that sounded very Hendrix like, only bigger. As I got into higher-gain territory, the midrange got noticeably breathier, and seemed to move with the signal. The Tight control really came in handy here, taming those unruly upper and lower extra harmonics that can really muddy up your tone.
The TightDrive Pro wants to be the heart of your rig. Whether it is used as a clean boost, dedicated effects loop, crunchy drive box, or high-gain distortion, this pedal can do it all. While it does have a certain character that can’t really be equalized out, it still remains to be an excellent choice for those wanting loads of versatility and a solid conviction in their tone.
What We Like: Incredibly versatile, can handle a wide range of guitars, pickups, amps, and styles. Great Marshall-esque tones.
Concerns: Can be a little one-dimensional at times