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Empress Effects Multidrive Pedal Review

Empress Effects Multidrive Pedal Review

With a parallel, rather than stacked—circuit, the Multidrive offers a lot more flexibility than a stacked multipedal or even a set of stompboxes in series.

If you’re a pedal-crazed tone chaser who has a hard time making decisions (is there any other kind?), Empress Effects might have just made life a little less difficult for you with the Multidrive. The Multidrive is three pedals in one—a fuzz, overdrive, and distortion. That’s far from a revolutionary concept. But with a parallel—rather than stacked—circuit, the Multidrive offers a lot more flexibility than a stacked multipedal or even a set of stompboxes in series. This all-analog device effectively produces panoramic tone-shaping power that’s more akin to what you’d get from simultaneously running multiple amps. And the end result is a stompbox that’s significantly easier to control and tailor to multiple needs.

Driving Under Control
Housed in a gray, die-cast aluminum box that’s bedecked with 10 knobs, five 3-way toggles and two stomp switches, there is a lot happening in a relatively small enclosure (3.5" x 4.5" x 2"). The controls are separated into the three drive sections—Fuzz, Overdrive, and Distortion—followed by a master EQ and output section. The Fuzz, Overdrive, and Distortion sections each use the same three controls—Volume, Gain, and a 3-way filter switch (Low Pass, None, High Pass), as well as a corresponding LED (fuzz is red, overdrive is yellow, and distortion is green). The Distortion section adds another 3-way toggle for selecting between Crunch/Mild/Lead distortion types. The master EQ section has Hi, Mid, and Low knobs that cut or boost a given frequency by 10 dB. In addition, a super-useful toggle determines which midrange frequency—500 Hz, 250 Hz, or 2 kHz—is the zero position for the Mid control. At the bottom of the pedal are stomp switches for Select and True Bypass, as well as a blue LED.

Another very important control set lurks behind the back panel. Six DIP switches configure the Select switch presets and dictate which combination of distortion, fuzz and overdrive are activated for a given state. Switches 1-3 are dedicated to State and switches 4-6 are assigned to State A.

Triple Play
Running the Multidrive into a 3rd Power British Dream on the ’68 Plexi channel and with my Hamer Korina Special at the ready, I set the pedal up to combine all three gain channels at once. This allowed me to dial in as much or as little (or none) of each channel, as well as fine tune the tone of each channel individually.

I tackled the Fuzz mode first. With the filter switch off and all settings at noon, the Fuzz channel coughed up a thick, gain-heavy, stoner-rock chunk. Maxing the gain thickened the tone considerably and created sustain that seemed virtually endless. Low notes on the 6th string held up well, though they weren’t necessarily as tight as you might find on the Distortion channel. Engaging the Low Pass filter darkened the tone considerably— like shaving the top off almost completely—though you could effectively dial some highs and mids back in via the master EQ section. Switching on the High Pass dropped out the bottom almost entirely and made the fuzz sound like it was coming through a telephone—a great potential effect setting for an intro or breakdown in a song.

The Overdrive section is perfect for pushing a Stratocaster to the edge and getting that extra punch to cut through a track. This gain channel is the most dynamic of the three. It cleans up beautifully by rolling off the guitar’s volume control, and it’s inspiring, spanky, and expressive. In the highest gain settings it has enough headroom to feel powerful, but not over-saturated. Engaging the Low Pass filter and cranking the mids from 2 kHz I was able to get a killer, Ty Tabor “Gretchen Goes To Kansas” rhythm and lead tone.

With my Les Paul running through the Distortion channel, I set the distortion type to Lead and pulled down the mids (500 Hz) to get a Montrose “Rock Candy” sound. And with a few tweaks and a bit of treble, it wasn’t hard to get into modern metal territory, even though the bass isn’t voiced quite right for super-aggressive modern chunking. Too much bass made the sound a little on the tubby side, but that could also be attributed to the Celestion Alnico Gold in my signal chain, which is not a metal speaker by any standard. Switching to mild distortion shaved off a ton of gain and sounded fairly tame in comparison. But my favorite setting had to be the Crunch position. Diming the Gain control in Crunch mode resulted in a little collapse of the signal, but backing off this control ever so slightly resulted in a smoking tone that was the very definition of heavy-rock rhythm guitar. Malcolm Young would have been proud.

Combining the three channels is a process of investigation that could occupy many happy hours. Over the course of my time with the Multidrive, I was able to pull out convincing takes on classic tones from Kansas’ “Carry On Wayward Son” to Soundgarden’s “My Wave” to Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing.” Having the Low Pass/None/High Pass filter for each gain channel is a super-effective way to carve out a distinctive sonic space for each gain section. For instance, I engaged the High Pass filter on the Fuzz channel, left the Overdrive channel set to None, and the Distortion channel to Low Pass. The extent to which the 3rd Power took on the expansiveness of a three-amp setup was remarkable—each pedal channel claimed its own frequency spectrum without stepping on the toes of another.

With the fuzz searing on top, I could mix in just the right amount of bottom-heavy distortion and blast the overdrive to give body to the guitar’s basic voice. Even though I’ve used pedalboards with multiple drive units extensively, the Multidrive made balanced blends of mixed-gain tones easier than ever, thanks to its filters alone. The highly functional tone-shaping with the master EQ section is icing on the cake.

My quibbles with the Multidrive are very few. The Output knob is situated directly above the Bypass switch and given the easy travel on the knobs, more than once I bumped it, and either pushed up or dropped my volume by quite a bit. It would also be nice to see the DIP switches on the exterior of the pedal, where they could be accessed more easily, and a few extra preset states would be nice.

The Verdict
To say I’m impressed by the Multidrive would be an understatement. It’s a genuinely fun pedal that will take your playing in many directions. Given that it packs exceptional versions of the three most popular gain effects and myriad options for combining them into such a small footprint, it has the potential to be the only pedal a lot of gigging guitarists will haul to a show. The dedicated filters for each channel make tailoring them to a multi-gain environment easy, and the master EQ section is a handy tool for shaping the collective output. Powerful, smart, and compact, the Multidrive will be a serious contender for the number-one pedal on a lot of boards in the years to come.
Buy if...
you want Fuzz, Overdrive, and Distortion in one pedal, as well as the ability to combine or switch between them.
Skip if...
amp overdrive is all you need or you already have a channel-switching monster of an amp.

Street $299 - Empress Effects -