The Colorsound Power Boost was one of the very first overdrive pedals to hit the market. It offered a wide range of tones and soon became a favourite among guitarists like Jeff Beck and David Gilmour. Both using it to create their signature sounds in the early 70s. In this feature we’ll look at the history of the Power Boost and compare some of my favourite models.
The Power Boost was designed by Gary Hurst around 1968-69 (depending on who you ask) and sold by Macari’s Musical Exchange in London, UK. Gary also designed the legendary Sola Sound Tone Bender. The early versions of the Power Boost was powered by 18V but later changed to 9V.
Apparently, the orange coloured design didn’t go well with the American distributers and by 1971 the Power Boost was repackaged in a grey box, with 9V powering and renamed the Overdriver. The actual circuit was, according to Macari’s, identical to the original Power Boost.
There has been many reissues over the years, with different features including 9V or 18V powering, leds and master volume control. See Kit Rae’s run-down of all the different models here.
Boost, overdrive or fuzz?
Boost, overdrive and fuzz was somewhat overlapping in the late 60s. Guitarists didn’t really have a lot to choose from and while you could use your fuzz pedal to create overdrive, like Hendrix, it was still a fuzz with its limitations.
The Power Boost was very much designed out of need. While guitarists demanded bigger and louder amps, there really seemed to be no limits, they also had a hard time taming these beasts. The amps had a huge headroom and proper overdrive was only produced at high volume level as they didn’t have a master control. Once overdriven, the tube and speaker compression leveled out the top end.
In this clip I’m using a 9V master volume Colorsound Power Boost for boosting a mid 70s Electro Harmonix Ram’s Head Big Muff. The Power Boost is placed after the Muff. The effect is subtle but like how David Gilmour would use his, the Power Boost acts similar to an EQ, enhancing the tone.
The Power Boost is a pre-amp booster and EQ in one. The early models didn’t have a master volume, but the 18V powering provided plenty of headroom and power. You could drive the front end of your amp and use the treble and bass controls to shape your tone or compensate for anything lacking in your amp.
The Power Boost also made it possible to achieve overdrive or distortion on smaller amps, without having to drive the pre-gain tubes.
The Power Boost has a distinctly scooped tone, meaning that there really isn’t much mid range nor compression going on. Its open and transparent tone is really the secret to be able to drive those old Hiwatts and Marshall heads for smooth, singing overdrive and distortion. The silicon transistor based circuit creates a fat low end and glassy top, with lots of sweet sustain.
David Gilmour and the Coloursound Power Boost
David Gilmour started using the Power Boost in January/February 1972. This coincided with the stage premiere of Pink Floyd’s new Eclipse suite, which was later turned into Dark Side of the Moon. The pedal was also used on the 1972 Obscured By Clouds recording sessions.
It’s uncertain whether the Power Boost was actually used on the recording of Dark Side of the Moon or not. Based on the album alone, it probably wasn’t, although this is just speculation.
The Power Boost was used on 1972-75 live performances of Time (rhythm) and Any Colour You Like as well as early versions of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Have a Cigar, You Gotta Be Crazy (Dogs) and Raving and Drooling (Sheep).
One of the best references for David’s Power Boost tones is the Wembley 1974 show released on the 2011 Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here extended versions. Another favourite of mine is the Ontario, Canada June 1975 show.
The Power Boost was heavily featured on the Wish You Were Here album, including Shine On You Crazy Diamond and Have a Cigar. It was once again used for the 1976 Animals recording sessions, notably for rhythm tracks on Pigs and Sheep. Both albums stands as some of the most iconic recordings featuring the Power Boost.
By 1978 and the recording of David’s debut solo album, the Power Boost had been replaced by a similar sounding ST-2 treble and bass boost designed by Pete Cornish. The ST-2 was used for the recording of The Wall and the subsequent 1980-81 tour.
The Tube Driver has been David’s main overdrive unit since 1993 to present. Although tube driven and sonically closer to a early Marshall JTM type of amp, the Tube Driver and Power Boost do have some similarities and David often use the Tube Driver similar to how he would use the Power Boost – both for boosting and overdrive.
David is also spotted using an Overdriver during various recording sessions in the early 90s, including the soundtrack for La Carrera Pan America and Division Bell.
The Power Boost was once again spotted in David’s current home recording studio and pedal setup. Whether or not it was used for the 2014-15 Endless River and Rattle That Lock recording sessions is not documented.
The mysterious Orange
In an interview with Guitarist Magazine in 1979 David mentions an orange treble and bass boost that apparently was featured in his current setup. Everyone, including me and well known pedal makers, was searching for this mysterious holy grail. Some claimed that they once owned a booster pedal designed by Orange (obviously they couldn’t find it), while others categorically denied such a pedal.
Pink Floyd performing Have a Cigar at the L.A. Sports Arena, Los Angeles, California, USA April 26 1975. Dvaid used his Colorsound Power Boost throughout the song, including the solo, with his Black Strat and Hiwatts.
The mystery was later solved when pictures of David’s old Colorsound Power Boost started to appear. Wether or not David forgot the name of the pedal and just referred to it as orange (which indeed is the colour of the Power Boost) or if the magazine quoted him wrong is hard to tell but there’s never been an Orange treble and bass boost.
Me and my Power Boost
My history with the Power Boost dates back to 2005. I was celebrating my birthday in London and naturally, I visited Macari’s in Denmark Street. And there, displayed in the window, was this large orange pedal.
I went into the store and said that I wanted to buy the pedal. The guy behind the counter picked it up and rolled his eyes when he saw the price tag “oh, it’s £85 for this? We’re making them here in the shop! Well, £85 then.”
Mine is an early/mid 2000 reissue, 9V battery only powered, with the added master volume control.
Apparently, the guy thought it was a bit too much but keep in mind that this was a couple of years ahead of the explosion of boutique pedals and clones. Macari’s now offer historically correct 1972 versions built by Stu Castledine.
The Power Boost has seen a huge revival during the last decade, which goes hand in hand with the renewed interest for classic tones and designs. While some of the clones stay true to the original design – Macari’s also offer a couple of models – others expand on the design, with modern upgrades and extra features.
Perhaps it’s the lure of the large box or the mystique of the orange colour but I have yet to discover a clone that fully manage to capture the magic of my old Power Boost. Still, some come very close. Here are some of my favourites:
The Overdriveboost has a nice twangy character, with a lot of headroom but it can also produce a nice fuzz tone as well. An additional pre-gain booster and switch for germanium overdrive makes it one of the most versatile Power Boosts on the market. See my full review of the ThroBak Overdriveboost here.
Vick Audio Overdriver
The Overdriver is perhaps the most vintage sounding clone. The added master volume control adds the needed headroom for boosting but cranking the gain all the way produce a super smooth silicon fuzz. This one can be hard to tame on typical bedroom setups and mids scooped amps. See my full review of the Vick Audio Overdriver here.
Buffalo FX Power Booster
The Buffalo Power Booster has a huge headroom and a wide gain span from clean to fat fuzz. This one is a bit darker and overall smoother sounding than the original, making it an excellent choice for bedroom setups and mid scooped amps. See my full review of the Buffalo FX Power Booster here.
Electronic Orange Bananaboost
A favourite of mine is the Bananaboost from Electronic Orange. Like the Vick Audio Overdriver, the Bananaboost is very close to the original Power Boost, with a nice and twangy clean boost, lots of headroom and possibly the smoothest fuzz between any of the clones. It’s also one of the loudest. See my full review of the Electronic Orange Bananaboost here.
You may also want to check out similar sounding pedals like the BK Butler Tube Driver, Boss BD-2, EHX Crayon and Wampler Plexi Drive. Each of these has a tad more mid range and compression compared to the Power Boost but they can easily be set up for similar tones and may be a better choice for bedroom setups and mids scooped amps.