MXR Custom Shop Shin-Juku Drive

  • By David A. Evans @tonereport
  • October 13, 2016

Serious tone chasers will, perhaps after a few beers, often get into conversations about the sacrifices making music requires, and about the one that got away. Sometimes, it was a matter of money, because they didn’t have enough of it. Other times it was a matter of timing, because they didn’t act quickly enough. Whatever the reason, I’m sure Tone Report readers know this pain.

I’m talking of course, about the pain of lost tones, not people. The sounds which we struggle to obtain haunt us and sometimes cause anguish. “If only I had a few thousand dollars more,” we wail, “I could’ve won that original Dumble amp off eBay, and not be stuck with this lemon from Brand X.”

Well, we shall suffer no more, for MXR has taken mercy and provided a soothing balm in the form of its new Shin-Juku Drive. The pedal, designed in conjunction with renowned effects master Mr. Shin-ichi Suzuki of Tokyo, Japan, aims to capture the essence of the sought-after Dumble amplifier sound. Readers might be familiar with the saga of Alexander Dumble and his amplifiers. They now routinely fetch thousands and thousands of dollars on the market, and their numbers are limited.

As soon as I plugged in the little Shin-Juku and strummed a few chords, I could tell that something about this pedal was just a little different. Seriously—this thing really sings when the Gain knob is bumped up. Just strum a few D-shape chords up and down the neck and tell me you don’t think that something special is happening inside the Shin-Juku’s green housing.

In an A-B test between the off and on modes, with the Tone and Gain set to noon, the Shin-Juku darkens the tone just a tiny bit. It produces at the lower Gain levels a very mellow overdrive, with great warmth. Heck, at around nine to noon on the Gain knob, a person could easily leave the pedal on during an entire performance just for the added texture which the pedal provides. Although the pedal darkened my guitar’s tone just a bit (even at the mid-level Tone setting), I’d say that the resulting signal was still really balanced. It had just the right amount of airy breakup.

At higher Gain settings, the Shin-Juku really roars to life. It’s hard to describe the sound, because on the one hand, it struck my ears as particularly raw, but on the other hand, the major triads I played rang through beautifully. This somewhat paradoxical conjunction of tonal qualities is what makes the pedal stand out for me. People talk about “bloom,” and it’s sometimes difficult to really get a good mental image (or sound) of this phenomenon. Yet the Shin-Juku blooms like no other pedal I’ve heard. Strum a chord and, if you listen carefully, you’ll hear the overdrive grow, seemingly growing outward, as if it were, well, blooming. As it blooms, the harmonic complexity increases.

The Shin-Juku provides a really warm tone in its regular settings, but for people in search of even greater levels of warmth, might I suggest that they consider depressing the pedal’s Dark switch? The change is subtle, but welcome if one is in search of a moodier sound, one which isn’t quite as bright or airy as the standard tone. Personally, I found no need for the Dark switch, but then again, my playing style doesn’t really rely on a darker tonal palette.

Considering the price of the real deal, and considering both MXR’s and Mr. Suzuki’s bona fides, you don’t have to take my word for it. Still, I’d wager that the Shin-Juku Drive will be remembered as one of the few pedals which have really nailed the Dumble sound. Get them while they last.

What We Like: Beautiful bloom; a complex joining of a seemingly raw tone with excellent transparency.

Concerns: I found the Dark switch to be a bit subtle and not really necessary, but to each their own.

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