There’s good news and better news. The good news is that if you’re a Bonamassa junkie, you already love this pedal. The better news is that if you’re not a Bonamassa junkie—you’re going to love this pedal, too. I happen to fall in the latter group.
Like many guitarists, I’m stuck in a perpetual Goldilocks scenario when it comes to overdrives… this one is too muddy, this one is too bright; I can never find a dirty tone that I’m completely happy with. When I sat down to review the MXR Custom Shop CSP265 Joe Bonamassa FET Driver, I had no preconceived notions of what the pedal was supposed to be or do, which is probably a good thing because I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.
The pedal looks great as expected in the classic Bonamassa-Black-n-Copper color scheme and has the requisite 9vDC power jack in addition to a battery terminal, if that’s your thing. It’s true bypass, if that’s your thing. There are controls for level and drive, as well as HI and LO knobs to cut or boost those respective frequencies. A high-cut push-button switch rounds off high frequencies when playing at high volumes. Oh and did I mention that it was designed by Jeorge Tripps? Instant pedal pedigree right there.
FET overdrives have been known to sound a little crispy—this pedal erases that stigma from FET pedals, producing an extremely smooth, organic overdrive (yes, yes—it’s CREAMY, okay? I said it) that can work in a variety of sonic applications. You can dial in a sound that is just on the edge of fuzz—a smooth, musical fuzz a la Pink Floyd (MXR even includes a sample “Floyd the Pig” example setting in the literature); you can run it in front of a clean amp (I used a Fender HRDx) and get a great breakup tone; you can run it in front of a dirty amp and use the FET driver to push it into singing sustain territory. This pedal is never going to be used during a song that inspires a mosh pit—there’s nothing super gainy about it—just perfect boost-y breakup where and when you want it. The ability to cut and boost hi/lo frequencies is a major plus—it really lets you dig in and fine tune your tone, mixing the pedal’s tone controls with those on your amp and your instrument.
At the risk of saying something completely redundant, I couldn’t see myself using this for rhythm playing (!) but for leads, this is a sweet, smooth choice. MXR has the pedal priced pretty competitively, which means I’ve got to decide whether I’m going to add one to my board or not. Since it’s limited to 500 units, I better figure it out. And soon.