Italian company Costalab offer clones of classic Gilmour related pedals and their Natural Drive promise to be a faithful clone of the Pete Cornish SS2. The familiar Wall motive covering the pedal is an obvious attempt on a cheap marketing stunt but it did the job at getting my attention. Hereâ€™s my review.
The Pete Cornish Soft Sustain appeared in Davidâ€™s rig around 1993 during the Division Bell recording sessions. It was also featured in the 1994 tour/PULSE stage setup and later in the 1999 Pete Cornish MKI All Tubes pedal board used for the 2001/02 acoustic shows and On an Island recording sessions. The pedal is loosely based on the old MXR Distortion + circuit although with a distincly more sophisticated tone.
The Natural Overdrive is housed in a rather large box aprox the size of a TRex but about twice as deep. It has controls for volume, drive and tone and runs on 9V adaptor or battery. The pedal is offered in both a true bypass version and a buffered true Cornish clone version. Iâ€™ve tested the buffered version (MKII) for this review on my main stage rig (Reeves Custom 50 with 4×12â€ Weber Thames 80w speakers) and my home practice rig (Laney Cub12 15w stack with 2×12â€ Weber Thames 80w speakers) and a Strat with EMG DG20 pickups.
Iâ€™ve always had a struggle with overdrive pedals. They seem to be much more demanding that the average distortion or chorus pedal and often change character completely with different amps and guitars. When I first tried the Natural Drive it sounded dark and muddy and didnâ€™t do much to convince me that this was a keeper. However after some tweaking it started to come alive and I must say that it was a huge positive surprise! Itâ€™s been anwhile since I used a SS2 but based on my memory alone the Natural Drive is very similar. Perhaps a tad darker with a hint more gain. The tone has a distinct mid rangy flavour with a smooth break up and a well balanced lower end. What I do like the most about this pedal is the natural compression that adds a nice smooth attack to your tone making a compressor almost redundant.
Although the pedal is capable of producing a punchy clean boost it doesnâ€™t really open up that well on lower gain settings. Compared to the Colorsound Powerboost and Tube Driver it sounds quite muddy and harsh. The tone knob could also have been more dynamic with a wider tonal range. Itâ€™s pretty useless in my opinion below 12:00 (oâ€™clock) but increasing it to around 2:00 produces an incredibly right character with a crispy attack and creamy lows making the pedal cut through nicely in a band situation. The strength of this pedal becomes evident when you set the gain past 12:00 and use it as a dedicated overdrive. The smooth character and warm creamy crunch really stands up to the Tube Driver and nails those classic PULSE tones.
I must admit though that the pedal hasnâ€™t found its way to any of my boards but the reason is basically because it sounds too much PULSE for my taste and thatâ€™s never been my preferred Gilmour era. However, combine this pedal with an analog chorus, a mild delay and the EMG DG20 pickups and itâ€™s hard to not drift away to Earlâ€™s Court one October night in 1994.