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Incredibly well-engineered overdrive pedal with features galore


Amptweaker is a relative newcomer to the effects world but their fame has grown quickly and they have had quite a bit of impact in a relatively short time. Their founder, James Brown, is certainly no stranger to the world of musical electronics, having previously worked as a amplifier design engineer for such notable companies as Peavey and Kustom and having contributed to the design of several very popular amps.

Amptweaker's new TightDrive Pro overdrive pedal is based on the previous TightDrive overdrive but offers several new features and improvements, many of which are directly based on user input. Like their previously released TightMetal Pro, it's a double-width pedal and slightly larger than the original TightDrive. Let's take a look at the details of this interesting and feature-packed overdrive.



What You Need To Know

  • While it starts with Amptweaker's original TightDrive pedal as its foundation, many of the additional features found on the TightDrive Pro are the result of user suggestions, which Amptweaker actively solicits on their website. Kudos to them for listening to their customers!
  • Handmade in the USA, built with discrete components and designed to be used either as a preamp, or as a dual setting overdrive pedal in front of your amp, the TightDrive Pro is loaded with features that make it more than suitable for both tasks. Painted in British Racing Green with white lettering and graphics, it has a very professional look to it, and while the number of knobs and switches makes it look somewhat cluttered, everything is easy to reach, all the labels are legible and it all makes sense; you'll be up and running with it in no time.
  • The 1/4" input and output jacks are side-mounted.
  • The TightDrive Pro is built like a piece of military hardware; the housing is made out of heavy-duty 14 gauge galvanized steel, and it's angled in such a way as to place the majority of the knobs out of the way of your foot. A sturdy metal "roll bar" at the rear of the pedal offers further knob protection. 
  • You have quite a bit of powering options with the TightDrive Pro. It has an industry-standard 5.5mm x 2.1mm center-negative power receptacle on the right side of the pedal that can take any regulated supply from 9-18VDC, with increased headroom at higher voltages. No power supply is included.
  • Prefer batteries? The TightDrive Pro has a very clever tool-free battery drawer at the front of the pedal. It uses magnets to keep it closed, and slides open easily to reveal two battery clips. The pedal can be powered by one or two, so you have 9V and 18V options even when using batteries. A toggle switch behind the main row of knobs allows you to turn the batteries off when the pedal's not in use without having to unplug your input cable. This switch is disabled when using an AC adapter.  




  • The six main black metal knobs have small indentation marks machined into the sides of them at gradually increasing heights, with the knob's middle position indicated by a slightly larger mark. The machined indentations are bare and bright metal which contrasts great against the black knobs, and since the sides of the knobs are easily visible to the player, the marks, along with individual red LEDs aimed at the side of each knob give you the ability to see how the knobs are set, even in a completely darkened room - a brilliant feature!




  • From left to right there are Volume, Low, Mid and High EQ controls, a Gain knob and a Tight control. The Gain knob sets the amount of grind, while the Volume knob sets the overall output volume. The three band EQ is very sweet sounding, and gives you a lot of tonal control. The Tight knob gives you snappier and more aggressive attack and thinner less bassy tones when turned up and beefier, thicker tones at lower settings. 
  • The two white plastic Boost knobs are located on the front angled surface of the pedal. These are turned on and off with their own dedicated Boost footswitch, and they illuminate orange from within when the Boost is active. The Boost Gain is in front of the overdrive, so adding more gives you increased grit when the boost is engaged, and the post-overdrive Boost Volume control lets you adjust how loud it is relative to the un-boosted signal, and can even cut volume in order to compensate for increased volume at high boost gain settings, which is great if you want more overdrive but not a volume boost when you switch to the Boost mode. With the two knobs it's possible to get a little or a lot more volume, a bit (or a lot) more grit or any combination you wish, making it great for solos.
  • Above the two boost knobs and just in front of the six main knobs are five small slider switches. These provide you with various tonal shaping options that considerably increase the pedal's sonic flexibility.




  • A Mid Boost on/off that activates with the Boost footswitch.
  • A Mid Plexi EQ switch that tweaks the midrange response for more Marshall-esque "stack" tones.
  • An Edge/Smooth switch that gives you either edgier or smoother highs - great for reducing unwanted high frequency "sizzle" and giving you smoother overdrive tones.
  • A Noise Gate on/off switch. The noise gate is also cleverly designed. It tracks the gain control so once you have the gate adjusted to your preferences, it stays effective no matter where you set the overdrive. There's an internal trim pot to adjust the amount of gating.
  • The Gain High switch sets the TightDrive Pro for either flat frequency response transparent overdrive when off, or mid-boosted high gain overdrive when engaged.  


 

  • The loops on this pedal are pretty incredible. Yes, I said "loops." There are three of them. The first is the Universal Loop; anything plugged in here will be active whenever the TightDrive Pro is. The second loop is the Boost Loop, and anything inserted here will be active only when you select the Boost. The 1/4" I/O jacks for both of these loops are found on the rear of the pedal.
  • Amptweaker calls the third loop the SideTrak Loop, and the jacks for it are located on the left side of the pedal. Whenever you hit the true bypass footswitch it routes the signal from the input jack through the SideTrak loop and on to the output jack, allowing you to add effects to the signal that only turn on when the TightDrive Pro is bypassed. This is a terrific idea that lets you kick in your "clean sound" pedals instantly and seamlessly whenever you bypass the overdrive. A green LED illuminates when the pedal is bypassed and SideTrak is active, and a red LED is used to indicate when the SideTrak is bypassed and the TightDrive Pro is on.

 

 

  • You can also use the SideTrak Loop send jack as a second output feeding a dedicated clean amp, running the signal through "clean" effects along the way if you want. For those who want an easy way to switch between two amps for clean and dirty sounds, this is a very cool feature.
  • Still not enough options for you? Open the battery drawer, flip the pedal over and you'll see not only the white plastic Noise Gate trimpot, but five additional switches.




  • A switch for setting the pedal for use with one or two internal 9V batteries for 9-18V battery powered operation.
  • Fat Rhythm and Fat Boost switches which give you increased beef on the main overdrive and boost, respectively.
  • Effects loop pre/post switches for both the Universal and Boost loops place them either before or after the TightDrive Pro's overdrive and boost circuits for pre or post distortion effects processing.




Limitations

  • This many features means a slightly larger enclosure is needed, and while the size of the TightDrive Pro isn't unreasonably large (5.625" W x 5" D x 2.125" H), any pedal of its size that uses this much heavy gauge metal is going to be fairly hefty, and the TightDrive Pro's three pounds will add noticeably to your pedalboard's overall weight.
  • The six red colored knob illumination LEDs only light up when the pedal is powered by an external adapter. They remain off when the TightDrive Pro is being battery powered. 

 


Conclusion

While it's heavy, the Amptweaker TightDrive Pro is exceptionally well built and extremely solid. It is brilliantly designed and engineered with an incredible array of really useful features and oodles of sound sculpting flexibility. In fact, it's hard to describe "the sound" of this pedal simply because it's capable of so many different light to medium-heavy overdrive tones, and they're all winners.

As a preamp, the TightDrive Pro has everything you need, including three-band EQ and a flexible, separately switchable boost. If all you want is a basic transparent or mid-boost type overdrive to slam your amp harder for solos it's a bit overkill, though it can certainly do both of those types of overdrive sounds very well. It also works very well running into a clean amp.

Those who will appreciate the TightDrive Pro the most are users who want to be able to tailor their overdrive pedal to their preferences and have it do multiple things for them, such as providing clean, overdriven and boosted lead tones, with different combinations of effects automatically switched for all three. The TightDrive Pro really shines there, and while there are many less-expensive overdrives, few if any offer the TightDrive Pro's combination of advanced features, sonic flexibility, bulletproof build and impeccable engineering. When you consider all that this unusually flexible overdrive pedal can do, the price is more than reasonable. Amptweaker backs it with a five year limited warranty, but I doubt they get many returns, or that you'll see very many of these on the used pedal market. It's a keeper, and one heck of an impressive piece of equipment.  


Resources

Amptweaker TightDrive Pro overdrive pedal ($300 "street", including shipping in the USA - available direct from Amptweaker)

Amptweaker's product web page

 

 


Phil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines. 


 

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