Click here to download a jam recorded by the reviewer using both pedals.
Hard gigging pros who live on the road know that good tone can come and go with the wind. Venues change, back lines rotate, and equipment that breaks gets replaced or repaired, sometimes with unintended results. The idea of carting around expensive or irreplaceable boutique amps begins to take on a questionable logic. For all but a few players, it is the pedalboard, not the amplifier, that becomes the reliable backbone of a signature sound. Second only to a few trusted guitars, the pedalboard is your sound. And even the most renowned players, who can afford to carry road cases full of one-off handwired amps, still largely rely on the pedalboard to define their sound.

The folks at Visual Sound have an uncanny understanding of the road warrior musician, and what makes him tick. They seem to really get the degree to which guitarists lean on their pedals for their signature tone. Visual Sound’s latest salvo into the extremely competitive stompbox market is their Truetone Clean Boost and Open Road Overdrive pedals. Let’s hit the road, and put the pedal to the metal—and the pedals to the test.

Download Example 1
Open Road Overdrive
Visual Sound’s newest overdrive unit is a refinement of the company’s earlier Route 808 Overdrive, which itself was a wellcrafted clone of the classic Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer. The Open Road Overdrive is a new animal entirely, primarily because it addresses the shortcomings in its predecessors. One of the most frequent gripes about stompbox overdrives is their overabundance of midrange frequencies. The midrange spike can really build up in the studio come mix time, and it can take its toll on stage, even though lots of mids are a natural outgrowth of the way an overdrive clips the incoming signal.

The Open Road does well to preserve the fundamental frequencies—the bottom end—while delivering the flavor up top, and the Tone knob adds sparkle to the top end when turned clockwise, but without adding an overabundance of midrange. At no time did the tone become obnoxious or overbearing. The engineers at Visual Sound have done a nice job here, making this dial more than just the sonic equivalent of choosing between a fine or coarse cheese grater.

With the Drive dial cranked, the Open Road oozed with plexi goodness, especially when goaded by a Les Paul Custom loaded with humbuckers. With an American Strat packing traditional single coils and the Drive knob set less aggressively, we found ourselves squarely in classic Fender Twin territory. The one thing the Open Road doesn’t do is the over-the-top shred fest; if you’re looking for a box to deliver apocalyptic metal mayhem, this is not it.

The Volume knob allows you to control how hard you hit the amplifier’s preamp stage, and thus further invites you to dial in more tone. I tested the Open Road with a Line 6 Spider Valve 1x12” amp, which has a tube preamp, a tube power amp, and 12 digital amp models. We set it on the “plain Jane” vanilla clean setting, the least forgiving setting for a unit like this (in fact, the sound clips were recorded entirely from the Line 6’s high-Z line out and the clean amp model). The Volume control helped beef up the output nicely.

Larger boxes, like the Visual Sound housing, do take up more space on the pedalboard,and if they’re made with the requisite robustness that roadwork requires (this one is), they’re also heavier. I favor the larger boxes for their ruggedness. Moreover, the Visual Sound Open Road has a substantially wider button, which looks like mil-spec hardware left over from the Soviet space program.

Above all else, I came away with the sense that the Open Road was more of an amp simulator than a distortion box. The Tone knob took on many characteristics of a tube amp’s presence control, while the Drive knob acted like an amp’s hot channel preamp gain stage. Lower settings produced the smokey sounding onset of clipping that is normally heard from a tube amp on the brink of breakup. It was easy and fun to flirt with that edge with some dynamic picking, or by rolling into the guitar’s volume control. The Open Road Overdrive has a fat, ballsy tone that doesn’t shortchange the often-neglected bottom end. It’s got a presence that shimmers up top, without sounding plastic or transistorized. It’s going to give you a reliable, organic, authentic tube-amp tone from even the cheesiest solid-state ’80s amp.
Buy if...
you're looking for a well-rounded, organic tube-amp-style overdrive.
Skip if...
death metal is your thing, and you consider yourself the spawn of Satan.

MSRP $119 - Visual Sound -