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Amptweaker TightDrive Pedal Review

Amp guru James Brown''s debut pedal is reviewed

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.

Next, I plugged a soapbar-equipped Paul Reed Smith Starla X into a PRS 30 amp and dialed in a clean sound. By adjusting the TightDrive to deliver medium-gain tones, I was able to get a rich, classic-rock timbre that was just barely breaking up. When I dialed in a basic foundation of moderate distortion on the amp, I stomped on the TightDrive to give my power chords more definition. The PRS 30 has a classic EL34 tube sound, and tonally it lies more on the warm, dark side. With that amp, I found that, in addition to increasing the gain, the TightDrive again added brightness to my sound. Switching to my Strat, I discovered the pedal can easily raise the output of single-coils to humbucker levels.

Moving over to my Marshall half stack, I grabbed my Les Paul to test out the TightDrive with a heavier rock tone. I was able to get everything from grungy overdrive to aggressive, high-gain metal tones. My Marshall amp sounds pretty darn good on its own and I’m happy with its overdrive sounds, so in this configuration, I used the TightDrive more as a boost for playing leads. For this application, I turned up the pedal’s Volume knob instead of Gain.

As I explored different combinations of guitars and amps, I found I needed to adjust the amp settings, as well as the pedal’s parameters to really dial in the tone to my liking. The TightDrive is not a one-size-fits-all effect where a single setting works with different amps.

Turning the Tight knob to its lowest setting creates a thicker tone that, in some instances, can get a little muddy. Cranking the Tight knob all the way up delivers a sharper attack, but the tone thins out too much for my taste. It’s just a matter of finding that sweet spot somewhere in between the two extremes. I rarely turned the Tone knob past the halfway mark, because the TightDrive adds quite a bit of brightness and high-end boost. In fact, I often turned Tone down all the way for a smoother sound.

The Final Mojo
You can get quite a variety of distortion sounds with the Amptweaker TightDrive, whether you use it for a slight boost or a heavier, more aggressive distortion. It also has useful design features that enhance your playing experience. For example, if you’re adding the TightDrive’s distortion on top of an amp’s overdrive, you can take advantage of the pedal’s effects loop to add a noise gate to your signal path and control both pedals with the TightDrive’s footswitch. Considering these unique, customer-requested features and the TightDrive’s versatility, it’s definitely a pedal worth checking out.
Buy if...
you dig the unique, playerfriendly features and the ability to tighten up your distortion’s attack.
Skip if...
you prefer that your distortion has warmer overtones

Street $180 - Amptweaker -