Renowned amp builder James Brown is taking a 21st-century approach to designing gear for his new company, Amptweaker. Instead of guessing what products might be successful, Brown is connecting directly with players via e-mail, online forums, and social networking sites to gather ideas and suggestions on what they would most like to see in a new amp or pedal. Brown believes Amptweaker products will be stronger as a result of combining his ideas with those submitted by active members of the guitar community.

After receiving hundreds of product ideas online, Brown discovered that the overwhelming majority of guitarists were requesting overdrive/boost/distortion pedals with uncommon features. Brown incorporated a number of these into his first Amptweaker product—the TightDrive stompbox.

Lean, Green Machine
Handmade in the US and housed in a robust, 14-gauge steel chassis, the TightDrive looks sharp and feels solid. The pedal’s top is conveniently angled, allowing you to stomp on the forward-facing footswitch without hitting the control knobs. The latter slope toward the rear, so they’re visible yet out of the way.

The TightDrive boasts several unique features. For example, the battery is housed in a sliding drawer that’s secured with a magnetic latch. Cool—changing the 9-volt cell requires no tools. Also, a battery switch lets you turn off the juice when you’re not using the pedal, so there’s no need to unplug the input cable. LEDs illuminate the knobs (when you’re using a power adapter), so it’s easier to make sonic adjustments on a dark stage.

Download Example 1
Tight Knob
Download Example 2
Touch Sensitivity
Download Example 3
Download Example 4
FX Loop
Download Example 5

A handy effects loop lets you couple other pedals to the TightDrive, and with the loop’s Pre/Post switch you can place these effects either before or after the TightDrive in the signal path. When you bypass the TightDrive, effects in the loop are also bypassed. This feature is particularly useful if you use certain effects exclusively with the TightDrive, because you can turn them all on and off with one move—no tap dancing necessary. Brown points out another useful feature of the effects loop: “Although not the original design intent, an important surprise addition that the effects loop brings is the ability to further tweak the pedal by adding EQ or additional gain/boost pedals either before or after the TightDrive. Several artists who currently use the pedal have found this to be exciting since it puts the mod capability directly in their hands and lets them dial in their exact feel and tone with a single-button system—without getting out the soldering iron or understanding electronic circuitry.” Other goodies include a true-bypass footswitch and a DC adapter jack.

The TightDrive has four knobs: Volume, Tone, Gain, and Tight. The latter is a direct result of players telling Brown they wanted a way to tighten up the distortion to keep the low end from getting buzzy or floppy. Using the Tight control, you can adjust how smooth or aggressive the low end feels and sounds. We’ll see how this works in a moment.

Taking a Spin
You can use the TightDrive to coax crunch sounds from a clean channel or amp, or push a lead amp further into overdrive. Testing the TightDrive using a variety of guitars and amps, I found its response and sound differs from amp to amp.

For example, I routed a Charvel So-Cal with DiMarzio pickups through the TightDrive and into an Egnater Tourmaster 4212, and it added nice crunchy distortion to the clean channel and gave chords more attack when I played through the overdrive channel. It added highend sizzle even when I dialed the pedal’s Tone knob all the way back. To compensate, I had to substantially increase the bass on the amp.