Pedals

MOD Kits DIY Thunderdrive Deluxe

MOD Kits DIY produces a variety of build-it-yourself effects pedal kits that use point-to-point wiring rather than circuit boards, to make it easy to swap out components or even redesign the entire circuit if you like. The Thunderdrive Deluxe is a boost-overdrive pedal with true bypass that can function as a clean boost, push your preamp into distortion, or generate its own distortion. The aesthetics are minimalist but attractive if you omit the optional (and kind-of-blah) sticker label. The fit and finish is decent, with decent quality components, although the knobs feel a bit cheap (but certainly sturdy enough). But with this rock-bottom price, you'd be hard-pressed to buy all the pieces yourself for much less than the price of the full kit, so no complaints from me there, and it's easy enough to upgrade the knobs later on if you like.

The Thunderdrive Deluxe is one of the simpler builds that MOD Kits offers (rated a 2 on a 1–5 difficulty level by MOD Kits). The enclosure is compact, which I like because my pedalboard is always crowded. The flip side is that wiring up the components inside is a little tight—tweezers or needle-nose pliers are going to be your friend here. There are two control pots, one for volume and one for distortion, as well as input/out jacks, a footswitch, an LED, and a battery holder. A transistor and a pair of clipping diodes, respectively, provide the gain and distortion. Three resistors and a couple of capacitors round out the kit, and Mod Kits includes more than enough wire to make all the connections.

A five-point terminal strip is included to help make your connections. All told there are around 35 connections to make, although in several places you solder multiple leads onto the same terminal strip location, so the actual number of solder joints is more like 20. The instructions are very clear and thorough, and include drawings of the inside of the pedal at various stages to help orient the parts correctly. Mod Kits also includes some tips on soldering technique that will help if you don't have much soldering experience. Following the instructions carefully, I was able to complete the build in about an hour and a half.

The volume knob hits unity gain around 2 o'clock with the turbo switch off, and around 1 o'clock with the turbo switch on. Turned up a bit from there, it's transparent, clean and has enough volume to use as a clean boost for solos or increasing your pickup output. Turning it up even more yields a very serviceable overdrive tone. The distortion knob is where this pedal gets fun, though. Similar to the volume knob, the distortion didn't produce much audible effect below 1 o'clock. But cranked up to four or five o'clock, I was getting some great blues and rock tones, even pushing into fuzz territory at the high end. Think Black Keys or Arctic Monkeys—with a really pleasing grind on the wound strings and bridge pickup, and smooth blues tones on the unwound strings and neck pickup. Though it wasn't terribly responsive to pick attack, it does clean up nicely rolling off the guitar's volume. 

All in all, this pedal is a fantastic value, and a fun introduction to building your own pedals. A 9V power adapter socket would be nice, but MOD Kits says this was left out to help keep the price down. Starving artists will perhaps appreciate that, but I plan to add a 9V adapter myself because I'm terrible at remembering to unplug my battery-powered pedals, so the batteries invariably die on me. And although the instructions were very clear on what to do, they did not attempt to explain how the pedal works and what each component does—since MOD Kits wants you to experiment and modify their designs, this would be a very welcome addition.

What we like: Fantastic value, fun to build, good blues/rock tone, easy to experiment with

Concerns: No 9V AC socket included; tones not tremendously versatile

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