When you search for the holy-grail distortion pedal, you get tangled in the interminable ball of affordable and high-end models. Most of the brands cater the options that fall into both of the categories, allowing the majority of musicians to find the pedals that fit their budget. But some companies are more renowned for their expensive products that are saturated with quality in every way. One of those brands is definitely Xotic. Their fancy electronics can be found in the rig of countless legends and guitar virtuosos. Starting as a bass-related company and moving to the electric guitar market, Xotic Effects have served us for years now, never disappointing to be top-notch. It is clear as a day that not everyone can afford their high-end devices, so they have come out with a relatively affordable pedal that gives you the taste of legendary sounds without breaking the bank. Let me introduce SL Drive, highly praised stompbox that has way more than meets the eye. If you want to find out about the features and sound of this unit, and unleash the power of all of its gems, then keep on reading!
The selling point of SL Drive is definitely its ability to replicate the Marshall sound. The way the brand puts it, you can easily turn a mediocre amp into the legendary sonic haven using this pedal. Its response is modified in a way to suit your instrument, as well as the amplifier and replicate the tone of Marshall overdrive that we all adore so much. To achieve this result, SL Drive has two modes under the hood: Super Lead and Super Bass. They have the characteristics of Super Lead and Super Bass heads and give you the ability to achieve the boost of different frequencies easily. This is what makes this pedal a jack of all trades, on the contrary to the one trick pony nature it has at first glance. SL Drive features a true bypass switching, meaning that it will not interfere with your signal when turned off. This way you do not have to worry about any hiss or noise developing in the chain. This pedal can be powered with batteries or AC adapter, making this fella usable both indoors and outdoors. I cannot help but mention that it has a very fancy exterior: its design is the combination of glossy black surface, grain-infused sides and golden accents. Everything about its shell screams quality, which is exactly what we are looking for when we pay an extra buck. And one last thing, if you are not satisfied with the headroom of SL Drive, you can pair it with Xotic Voltage Doubler, which boosts its output and adds more dynamics to its sound. But you have to purchase it separately, which is always your choice to make.
When it comes to the controls, things are not as typical as you might expect. You look at the pedal, see three knobs mounted on the surface and think that there is nothing else you get. However, SL Drive has couple more switched under the hood, but they alter your sound a great deal. Let me continue and explain what the hell this means.
I will start with the “visible” controls. The Drive knob can change the amount of distortion/overdrive added to your sound. The Tone acts as an EQ and boosts or cuts higher frequencies depending on how you turn it. And the Volume adjusts the level of the effect and balances out the output of the pedal.
In order to access the rest of the controls, you have to unscrew the bottom and expose four DIP switches that are hidden under the surface. The first three of these switches modify mid and high frequencies, while the fourth provides you with +6dB boost. They can be used to choose Super Lead and Super Bass modes and if you scan through the manual, you will easily find answers to all the hows.
From what I have discussed above, you might have already figured out the nature of the sound we have here. Yes, if we wanted to put it simply, we could say that SL Drive has the Marshall vibes. As you mess with the Drive knob, you receive all the shapes and sizes of Marshall overdrive. It starts from warm and subtle distortion with slight break up, moves to audible crunch and tops everything with heavier Marshall girth. If things get a bit muddier than you like, you can clean everything up with the help of the volume knob on your guitar. The rest of the external controls modify your sound slightly, without giving you extreme variations. The Tone works just fine, but it definitely is not a three-band EQ (you can pair it with the amp’s EQ though). To unleash the true versatility of this pedal, you have to open the shell and mess around with the DIP switches. The Super Lead has brighter tone with defined highs, reasonable amount of gain and beautiful sustain. The Super Bass, on the other hand, is a bit more compressed with underlined bass and lesser gain. SL Drive can be used as an extension to an already amazing amplifier or take your mediocre combo to a whole new level.
As you can see, Xotic Effects SL Drive can deliver some of the best distortion out there. It screams quality no matter where you look and the sonic possibilities you get are out of this world. As much as I love this pedal, there are certain limitations to its capabilities. You cannot take it on stage thinking that you can tweak everything mid-performance. The great deal of controls is under the shell, which forces you to set everything beforehand and shove it on the pedalboard afterwards. This is not that big of the deal compared to the sound it can bark up, but it is definitely something to keep in mind. Good luck!
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