It seems as if players and pedal makers will never stop searching for alternate paths to early Marshall tone—especially given what early Marshall amps cost these days. Back in 2008, Wampler Pedals introduced the Plexi-Drive, a Brit-bruiser-in-a-box that delivered much of the righteous grit of vintage plexis. A new version, the Plexi-Drive Deluxe, adds a more powerful EQ section and a pre-gain boost control, expanding its range and making it easier to tune the pedal to suit different amps.
The Deluxe replaces the original Plexi-Drive’s single tone knob with an active 3-band EQ section, while the new pre-gain circuit adds TS-like, midrange-heavy overdrive. As on the original, there’s a bass-boost toggle to simulate the low-end thrust of a 4x12" cab. There’s also a bright toggle, which is great for humbuckers or dark-toned guitars.The Plexi-Drive Deluxe draws 22mA and can be powered at either 9 or 18 volts or via 9V battery.
I auditioned the Plexi-Drive Deluxe with a Fender Stratocaster and an Orange OR50 with V30s. I set the amplifier clean and the pedal to unity gain—about 11 o’clock for level and post gain. (Raising post gain also increases overall volume, so best to adjust this crunch parameter to taste first, and then dial up level as needed.) Setting post gain at 10 o’clock yields mild overdrive just short of overt crunch. But you can also increase post gain and use your guitar’s volume knob to adjust the gain—a method that afforded me greater control.
With post gain at 1 o’clock, tones have great natural-sounding saturation, generating crunchy chord tones and glassy single notes that evoke a JTM’s reactivity and punch. Since my cab is already a closed-back 4x12", the bass boost function was a bit redundant, though it adds a nice weight to open-backed cabs like the one on my Twin Reverb.
Activating the midrangy pre-gain boost is a great way to elevate a lead over the mix. You can use pre gain without post gain engaged, but you need to crank it to nearly 3 o’clock for volume unity—which is to say, pre gain doesn’t have a ton of range when used independently. The bright switch is probably a more effective way to boost a guitar’s prominence in a mix, especially when you need to pull humbuckers from the murky low-end depths.
While my Orange’s EL34s already provide some plexi-like qualities, tests on a Fender Twin Reverb proved how well the pedal can lend a plexi quality to decidedly non-plexi amps. I can’t remember the last time I heard 6L6s sound so snappy.
The Plexi-Drive Deluxe is an excellent Marshall stand-in for backline gigs, or for players without access to real plexi tones. Its extra features add versatility and help the pedal work with many guitar/amp setups. Extra pre-boost control might have been nice, but probably not worth the clutter of knobs. The $239 price tag is pretty fair given the pedal’s excellent craftsmanship. If classic plexi tones are your bag, this double drive merits a double take.
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