Price paid: $ 200
Purchased from: Craigslist
Ease of Use: The Tube Driver is a "Holy Grail" type pedal, but many people, especially younger players, have never heard of it. Here are the basic facts:
It's literally a tube-driven pedal, and is very sensitive to your choice of tube. Changing it out can dramatically change the tone, and from what I've read (though I've not had reason to do this myself) you will eventually have to replace the tube yourself as it gets old.
The standard model has Out Level, Hi, Low, and Tube Drive notched-knobs (notched in that they do not rotate freely but settle into a particular spot, allowing you to easily retrieve lost settings). All four knobs work in concert to determine output volume, so cutting or boosting Hi, Low, or Tube Drive will have an impact on your overall level. Obviously, the Out Level will also control volume. Unity volume varies but tends to be around 9:00 (2 or 3 on the knob) on Out Level.
The knobs do just what you'd expect. The Hi knob boosts highs, the low knob boosts lows (and seems to add a lot of extra gain), and the Tube Drive knob controls overall distortion. Between adjustments on your guitar and on the pedal, you can get anything from a crunchy rhythm tone, to a liquid sustaining lead tone, to the "Violin Tone" of Eric Johnson, to lead lines like Joe Satriani's Hordes of Locusts. There are a lot of distortion tones in this pedal, but it sounds best to my ears when layered on top of your amp's distortion. By itself the Tube Driver is still impressive, but not "$200" impressive; layered on a good Marshally amp tone, this thing sounds like God.
When bypassed I do not notice any change in tone. I have done side-by-side recording tests of my clean tone with and without the TD in the chain and there is no discernible difference. Anyone Who tells you they can hear it is either crazy or a canine.
Getting a great sound out of the Tube Driver is difficult, but getting good or serviceable tones from it is easy: you could almost randomly set knobs and still get a good tone. Some people complain about the Hi knob being unusable above noon, but that's not the case with my unit. It's likely, in my opinion, that the tube they're using is at fault. Getting an excellent tone takes lots of tweaking. Like I said, all knobs work in concert with each other, so you're going to need to record, listen, and diagnose your tone problems as you set it up to bring out its full potential. It's worth it, though.
As for edition, this was hand-made in 2008 and is an updated version of the Original 911 versions from the 1980's.
I'm giving ease of use a 7 because you will definitely need to devote time to the pedal to reach its potential, but it's totally worth it. // 7
Sound: I'm using this pedal with a Warmoth/Fender Japan partscaster with Seymour Duncan lipstick tube pickups, and a Gibson Les Paul '60's Reissue, into the Tube Driver, followed by the Zvex Box Of Rock, followed by some delays (Boss DD-2 and Deluxe Memory Man), into a Mesa Boogie Maverick Dual Rectifier.
The Tube Driver is NOT noisy. Not even close. I mean, yes, it's distortion, so it adds some amount of background noise, but it's nothing compared to the other distortions I use (besides the BoR, a Keeley DS-1, a Little Big Muff, and Fuzz Fac to name 3 more).
The primary tone I try to get is Eric Johnson's "Violin Tone". First, I dial in a Vintage Marshall/Eric Clapton tone. I vary the TD settings depending on where I'm playing, but for recording I usually have Hi around 2, Low around 5 or 6, and Tube Drive at between 4 and 6. I then set Out Level to unity gain, so that kicking in the TD does not alter my overall volume. The tone is nothing short of fantastic, and sounds very much like EJ's Live In Austin, Tx Cliffs of Dover tone. Using the buzz words of tone, it sounds deep but isn't muddy, and the highs have an ethereal, singing sound to them that I just can't get with anything else. Pinch harmonics in particular sound brilliant, not sharp or grating like can with my Keeley.
Besides that, you can definitely dial in some good ZZ-Top to Led Zeppelin style tones, but there are so many sounds in here it's not worth mentioning. Basically, any bluesy tones you can think of can be approximated, though usually with more bass than usual (the TD is very bassy, but not in a bad way if set properly). // 9
Reliability & Durability: I would NOT want to depend only on this during a gig, because 1) It's tube-driven, and 2) it's a big, mostly hollow box. It's made of metal and seems very sturdy, but I still would never chance dropping this thing: it stays glued to my board and in a flight case when not in use. If I had the money, I'd buy two.
That said, it's never failed me, and unless I Hurt it physically I don't think it will. It's hand-wired and by reputation the designer is excellent about handling repairs. // 7
Impression: My style of music varies from things like classic rock (Zeppelin, Stones, etc) to modern instrumentalists (Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson) to things like Radiohead. While this pedal doesn't nail everything you throw at it in those genres, it really doesn't have to because it sounds fantastic and Original.
If it were lost or stolen, I would 100% buy it again. Nothing else sounds like this, period, and I spent a lot of time trying to approximate these tones on the cheap using things like the Radial tonebone series and the Voodoo Labs sparkle Drive (all bought used, which is definitely the way to go if possible). Nothing nails it, but this does.
Until other companies step up and really challenge the Tube Driver with competing products of their own, every guitarist should own one of these. // 9