As one of few Italian manufacturers making headway in the American effects market, Gurus has already generated buzz for tube-driven pedals like the 1959 Double Decker overdrive, the Echosex 2 Ltd. Echorec-style delay, and the Optivalve compressor. The Sexydrive MkII pedal isn’t tube driven, but it works beautifully with your tube amp to induce sweeter and earlier breakup for everything from textured crunch rhythms to singing lead tones.
The newest version of the Sexydrive is a medium-gain overdrive that cites no single inspiration, but delivers appealingly musical and richly saturated tone with a lot more versatility than the average OD. It also uses an interesting buffer system rather than going the popular true-bypass route, using three extremely transparent buffers—one on the input and two on the output—to keep your signal intact and help deliver it on through other pedals and long cable runs to your amp.
Keys to the Sexydrive MkII’s versatility can be found in the EQ section and band controls. In place of a standard single tone control, this pedal has a full three-knob EQ stage with bass, middle, and treble, while a balance control enables any desired ratio of dry-to-dirty signal.
This latter knob is worth paying attention to: It provides seemingly endless shades of gain from the Sexydrive MkII, plus the ability to keep your signal crisp and articulate. And some of the sounds have the dimension and definition artists achieve by using two-amp rigs in the studio.
It’s a technique that a few other makers have used effectively for several years. Truetone’s Route 66 v3, Voodoo Lab’s Sparkle Drive, and Way Huge’s Pork Loin come to mind. It’s a design move that can make a standard overdrive exceptional, and it does so here.
The Sexydrive MkII’s form factor is pretty cool, too. The original-design enclosure is quite different from any of the standard “project box” pedals out there. The custom-folded sheet-metal enclosure is topped with a Plexiglas face that lends a three-dimensional look to the legends etched below, and in addition to the on/off light there are LEDs for peak (which lights up at higher drive levels) and fuel (a weak-battery indicator). Access to the 9V battery compartment is through a plate at the bottom edge of the box, or you can use any standard center-negative adaptor to supply 9V—12V (but no more!), which is doubled internally by the Sexydrive MkII’s “twin dynamic” power circuit to provide extra dynamic range. Finally, there’s a clean level trim pot accessed through a small hole in the base plate which lets you adjust the amount of dry signal sent to the balance pot on top.
I tested the Sexydrive MkII using a tweed Fender Deluxe combo, a JTM45-style head with a 2x12 cab, a Stratocaster, and a Les Paul. If you’re looking for an easy tonal reference point, you can definitely hear elements of a modified Tube Screamer, except that it has a much more balanced voicing (there’s no mid-hump, unless you dial it in that way via the middle control). You’ll also hear more clarity, and perhaps even a sweeter and livelier harmonic structure, too. In short, it’s an extremely likeable and eminently usable overdrive, and very easy to get to grips with.
After just a short bit of monkeying around with it in the studio, I found it quickly rivaling a couple of my current favorite ODs and I stuck it on my board for a rehearsal with an original indie-rock band the next night. The MkII absolutely excelled, easily achieving a very tactile and musical medium-gain lead tone that—thanks in part to the balance control—never once got lost amid the loud (and occasionally over-enthusiastic) four-piece mix.
Versatile, sonically pleasing, easy to dial in, and adept at helping your precious guitar parts stand out in the mix, the Sexydrive stands apart. It’s not cheap for an overdrive, but it is smartly conceived, well put together, and well worth investigating if you’re in the market for new dirt-box sounds and a more flexible pedal design.