Buffalo FX has boldly tackled the Tube Driver – the overdrive that has defined the tone of David Gilmour and Eric Johnson for the past decades. So, without further ado. Here’s my review of the TD-X.
The Tube Driver has a long (and turbulent) history. Designed by BK Butler, the pedal has seen many labels (and owners) over the years. See Kit Rae’s full run-down of all the different models.
David Gilmour started using overdrive in the early 70s, with the Colorsound Power Boost. It’s featured heavily during the Meddle/Dark Side/WYWH/Animals period. After using different overdrives (pedals and amps) in the 80s, David settled with the Tube Driver in the early 90s and it’s been his main overdrive since.
Nothing sounds quite like the Tube Driver. Its design, based on a ic and tube driven preamp circuit, has the unmistakable flavour of a tube amp. Perhaps closest to the early Marshall models but its really got a tone of its own.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Buffalo FX. In that sense I’m probably biased but they really make some amazing sounding pedals, like the Patriot and the Evolution. Like many of you, I’ve really looked forward to the TD-X hoping that Steve would once again would present a fine version of a classic and deal with some of the common issues known to these pedals.
Whether or not it’s an issue comes down to taste I guess but the tube driver isn’t the most versatile overdrive out there in the sense that it needs the right amp to reach its full potential.
On brighter, mids scooped amps and typical bedroom setups, the Tube Driver can sound rather harsh, fizzy and thin. Even on a loud Hiwatt, which would be the closest match for replicating David Gilmour’s 1994 to present tones, the pedal can sound boomy and sometimes be hard to tame.
However, what I love about it – when you do hit that sweetspot – is the huge tone, the fat low end and the crispy top. Again, nothing sounds quite like the Tube Driver.
So, how does the TD-X fit into all this? First of all, the pedal is housed in the now standard Buffalo T-Rex-ish casings, with a bright led, true bypass and 9V powering. Controls are hi, lo, gain and volume.
Settings for Tube Driver and TD-X: level 2:00, lo 2:00, hi 1:00, gain 9:00
The stock Tube Driver feature a 12AX7 tube, which provides a considerable amount of gain. Depending on your pickups and amp it can be tricky to use the Tube Driver as a clean booster, without it sounding thin. One trick is to replace the 12AX7 with a 12AU7, although this dramatically changes the character of the pedal.
With the settings above, the Tube Driver sounds pretty dirty, although rolling down the guitar volume a mark or two cleans it up nicely. It’s got a nice punch and ads a hint compression to the tone.
The TD-X has noticeably more headroom, which is a plus for smaller bedroom setups and for boosting. It sounds transparent and a bit more responsive to the guitar and my picking compared to the Tube Driver. The TD-X also works nicely as a booster for other overdrives and Big Muffs – complimenting them, without colouring too much.
Settings for Tube Driver and TD-X: level 2:00, lo 2:00, hi 12:00, gain 10:30
I rarely use the Tube Driver for full out distortion or fuzz so this is my main setup for almost anything I do besides clean or fuzz.
Personally I think this is where the Tube Driver really shines. That amp-like tone, with rich dynamics and response. It needs a bit of mids boost to get that smooth sustain and rounded off high end, which is why a Hiwatt (or similar) seems to get you closest to David Gilmour’s tones.
Again, having more headroom than the Tube Driver I need to give the TD-X a bit more gain and I also think it sounds better with a tad more high end sparkle. One of the goals with this design, was to roll off some of that high end harshness you often get from the Tube Driver, which Buffalo definitely has managed to do without compromising the character of the pedal.
Once again the TD-X matches the Tube Driver perfectly. It sounds fat, a tad darker and the gain seems to have a bit more harmonics. On a smaller amp, the Tube Driver comes off as a tad harsh, while the TD-X stays smooth and dynamic.
Settings for Tube Driver and TD-X: level 12:30, lo 3:00, hi 10:30, gain 4:00
You really need a loud tube amp and a nice chunk of mids for these settings to work but when you do, the Tube Driver is hard to beat. It sounds like a cranked up plexi with a germanium fuzz in front of it, oozing with harmonics and sweet sustain. On brighter and smaller amps, it can sound pretty bad and hars.
The TD-X sounds perhaps a bit more linear and not as aggressive as the Tube Driver. Perhaps its the lack of the tube or the fact that the TD-X is meant to be tamed a bit. Still, this is by no means a negative thing. Cranked up, the TD-X is remarkably silent, which the Tube Driver certainly isn’t and the distortion sounds less compressed.
Inspired by David Gilmour, I bought my first Tube Driver in 2006 and it’s been my main overdrive ever since. For me, it’s gone from being a Gilmour pedal to one that I rely on for most of my own tones. It works nicely on my setups but I’ve always had a hard time making it work equally well on smaller amps and sometimes even recording.
The TD-X is everything the Tube Driver is and more. It’s equally huge sounding, with a distinct and unique amp-like character and quality. It’s as dynamic and responsive to your pickups and playing. Slightly darker, not as aggressive and overall a bit more well behaved.
The TD-X is an excellent choice if you’re having trouble with your Tube Driver on brighter amps or your bedroom setup – or if you think the original is a bit too pricy. If you’re a purist and Tube Driver fanatic, then you might find that it lack some of that over the top character but I guarantee that you also find it to be one of the best sounding overdrives on the market. Highly recommended!
See Buffalo FX for more details.