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Ernie Ball Expression Overdrive Guitar Effect Pedal

Overdrive goes for the gold ...

 

by Chris Loeffler

 

 

Ernie Ball’s new Expression Series pedals debuted at Winter NAMM and quickly shot to the top of most “Best in Show” lists due to their gorgeous appearance and left-of-center implementation of an expression control into effects typically limited to knob tweaking. Of course, anytime accolades are thrown around for something “new,” there will always be detractors shouting “gimmick” or “been done before.” Removing all the hype and hoopla, what I found in both the Ernie Ball Expression Overdrive and Ernie Ball Ambient Delay (to be reviewed at a later date) was something both familiar and new to players looking to add dynamics to their performance.

 

What You Need to Know

 

The Ernie Ball Expression Overdrive employs standard Drive and Tone controls, with an added boost Boost control offering up to a 6dB boost. The Expression Overdrive runs on a standard, Boss-style 9v power supply and is one of the heftiest, most eye-catching pedals I’ve seen. There’s an audience-facing LED that indicates the pedal is receiving power that, while I first considered odd placement (especially since it is an “always on” effect), I realized serves a useful function when troubleshooting a signal chain that isn’t passing through audio. The pedal itself feels like it's made of solid steel (aircraft aluminum, actually), is extremely heavy (resulting in less slip when rocking the expression pedal), and features an art-quality polished gold surface (with matching knobs and jacks) . The attention to visual aesthetic even carries through to the retail packaging, with a stunning, trophy-like presentation.

At its core, the function of the Expression Overdrive is similar to most overdrive effects and the tone and characteristic of the overdrive circuit is tube screamer-flavored. A pronounced midrange and a bit of fuzz around the edges is the pedal's sonic signature, and it has plenty of cut available when boosting an overdriven amp as well as a warm, tube-like crunch at lower overdrive settings. The expression pedal controls the amount of overdriven signal introduced. In the heel down, resting position, the effect is bypassed and isn’t blended into the direct signal. As you slide the pedal toe-down, more and more of the overdriven signal mixes into the direct tone until it effectively overtakes it - as a standard overdrive pedal would when turned on.

 

The terminology thrown around in marketing materials and featured on retailers’ sites can be a bit confusing, so to clarify, what the Expression Overdrive's expression control does is blend the Overdrive circuit into the direct signal, not increase the amount of overdrive the circuit generates. It’s a subtle distinction, but it’s the difference between having a blend knob from Dry to Wet versus turning up the overdrive knob. This is really only important to understand in the sense that the overdrive behavior is consistent as it's blended in, as opposed to changing its breakup characteristics.

 

So...what to do with this added, hands-free control? Closer to the heel side of the sweep, the direct signal blends with the overdrive to give a bit more punch and body to the tone, resulting in a best-of-both-worlds combination of harmonic overdrive and the anchor of the clean base tone. Towards the toe-side of the sweep, the overdrive jumps forward to give subtle, interesting control over the volume and sustain of a note. The Boost control takes this even further, allowing the pedal to push a distorting amp even further for highly controlled feedback.

Limitations

 

The sweep of the pedal isn’t as large as many treadle-based pedals on the market, and there's a lot happening in a relatively small pedal sweep. As such, it takes time to benefit from the added control the Expression Overdrive offers in the “between” settings.

 

Conclusion

 

Typically when people discuss “expression” in an overdrive, they are referring to touch sensitivity and reactivity to the incoming signal. Ernie Ball is looking to take away the variances between pickups, impedance, line levels, and more and give the player manual foot control over how their overdrive snarls, barks, and bites. Everything from the specific sonic tone to the physical presentation is well thought out, reinforcing EB’s dedication to bringing something new and with substance to players. While blending dry and effected signals isn’t unheard of (although certainly underutilized in the guitar effects world of overdrive and distortion), putting that flexibility at players’ feet makes all the sense (and difference) in the world.

 

Resources

 

Ernie Ball Expression Overdrive Product Page ($199.00 Street)

 

Buy Ernie Ball Expression Overdrive @ Musician's Friend ,  Sweetwater  ,  Amazon

 

                                   

 

____________________________________________ 

 

Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer. 

 

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