The original Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi is arguably one of the most famous distortion guitar pedals ever created. This lasting popularity has led to countless variations, spin-offs, and clones over the years, some of which have become highly regarded in their own right. The Italian-made CostaLab Sun Drive and Moon Drive pedals put their own distinctive spin on the Big Muff circuit, each offering a distinct flavor of grit for coloring your tone.
Both pedals features four gain stages, similar to the original Big Muff designs with the primary difference between the two pedals being that the Sun Drive features 2 silicon clipping gain stages and the Moon Drive features 2 germanium diode clipping stages. Similar to the original Big Muff pedals, it’s in the middle 2 gain stages where the clipping circuits are located and where the magic happens. These boutique pedals promise low-noise operation due to their carefully selected components, offer classic vintage tones, and are made entirely by hand. Are these the best “Big Muff” pedals around? You’ll find out in our CostaLab Sun Drive & Moon Drive review.
4 gain stages with 2 silicon clipping ciruits.
4 gain stages with 2 germanium diode clipping circuits.
Controls for Volume, Tone, and Sustain.
DTC (Dynamic Tone Control) that rolls off the high-end when turned counter-clockwise.
Buffered bypass for preserving signal integrity when bypassed or engaged.
Powered by 9-volt battery or 9VDC power adapter.
Sound & Performance:
Right away I have to clear up that these 2 pedals are more than mere clones. Though inspired by the Big Muff Pi, the Sun Drive and Moon Drive both have unique voices that venture away from Big Muff territory. I’ll briefly cover the tones and my impressions of each pedal and then compare the two a bit more closely.
With the Tone knob rolled clockwise for a fully open sound and the Level and Sustain controls at noon, the Sun Drive produces a decidedly vintage distortion sound that is warm and round with a full mid-range presence. As you turn up the Sustain, the sound gets brighter as the distortion increases. If it gets a little too bright for your tastes (as may be the case with single-coil pickups), you can roll back the Tone knob a bit to shave off those high frequencies. The pedal has a nice responsive feel with the bottom end striking a pleasing balance between tight and loose.
With the Sustain maxed out, the Sun Drive produces a searing distortion tone that’s full of sizzle and bite but isn’t brittle or overly harsh. It’s a very meaty tone that packs plenty of punch for aggressive power chords and ripping leads. The Sun Drive delivers plenty of higher gain crunch when that’s what’s called for. Now let’s have a look at the Moon Drive.
On the same moderate starting settings with full Tone and 12 o’clock Level and Sustain, the Moon Drive produces a mildly overdriven sound with a hint of breakup that’s more apparent when you play hard or dig into the strings. The tones produced have a depth that gives your sound an almost three-dimensional quality. Increasing the Sustain yields more saturation although the sound remains pleasingly mellow and warm. Even at full Sustain levels the sounds produced by the Moon Drive have a smoothness that compliments its vintage vibe. But while the sound is a bit cleaner than what comes to mind when you think of a “Big Muff” influenced pedal, the sound is no less huge.
Pour The Sun Into The Moon
While similar in design and style, there are a few night and day differences that distinguish these pedals apart from one another. The Sun Drive has a more aggressive in-your-face sound, characteristic of many silicon-based distortion pedals. The Moon Drive on the other hand is more subtle in its delivery, having a sound that is more “present” than potent. What I like most about this contrast in tones is how they compliment each other by being especially useful in different situations. You might find yourself preferring to use the Sun Drive for it’s aggressive, hot-rodded distorted rhythm tones and switching to the Moon Drive for a more laid back lead break with a smoother tone. The opposite works just as well with the Moon Drive producing a warmer rhythm sound with extra clarity and the Sun Drive going for broke with a cutting lead edge.
The Sun Drive has the advantage when it comes to more aggressive, higher gain distortion tones. The Moon Drive makes up for its lack of aggression with a gorgeously smooth sound that will suit guitarists who don’t really need an overabundance of gain. The Moon Drive is also a bit quieter than the Sun Drive and typically needs a bit more of a Level boost. Both pedals clean up a bit when you roll back your guitar’s volume knob although it produces a decrease in overall output volume. The dynamic range is thus a bit subtle but still more than sufficient for letting expressive playing and emotion come through. The Sun Drive and Moon Drive are both stackable and offer some great lead tones when used in front of other distortions pedals or an already overdriven amp.
Both pedals experience some high cut at lower Sustain settings. It’s more apparent when you max out the Sustain and then cut the knob back a bit to hear the difference. The Sun Drive reveals a more dramatic drop in high-end when you roll the Sustain back around 3 o’clock and further counter clockwise. You’ll probably want to keep the Tone rolled fully clockwise when lowering the Sustain to preserve some of the treble response of the pedal. The Moon Drive has a less abrupt drop in high end response when cutting back the Sustain as it has a more rounded off top-end than the Sun Drive, but it still provides a noticeable cut for a darker sound.
Another feature of the Sun Drive and Moon Drive that deserves mention is the buffered bypass. Each pedal features a buffered bypass that is active even when the pedal is disengaged that ensures maximum signal integrity at all times. While some so-called tone purists swear by true bypass switching, a buffered bypass helps maintain your signal strength when using long cables and a lot of effects. Having an overdrive or distortion pedal at or near the beginning of your signal chain with a buffered bypass can help to alleviate a weak signal, giving the Sun Drive and Moon Drive a little extra utility value. Just another reason to consider adding either of these CostaLab pedals for your rig.
These have been tough pedals to review as I find myself constantly going back and forth between which one I like best. My favorite at the time of this writing may be eclipsed by the other later. One thing is for sure: the Sun Drive and Moon Drive are both great pedals. Let’s see the current final result.
CostaLab Sun Drive
CostaLab Moon Drive
The CostaLab Sun Drive and Moon Drive are both excellent variations on the classic “Big Muff” overdrive/distortion theme. The Germanium flavored Moon Drive offers some of the smoothest saturation around. The Sun Drive has an even greater range of high end tonal range with lots of gain on tap. Both pedals provide plenty of great vintage overdrive and distortion tones, and either one (or both!) will make a worthy addition to your rig. On a quest for the best “Big Muff” overdrive/distortion pedal? Check out the CostaLab Sun Drive and Moon Drive.
That concludes our CostaLab Sun Drive and Moon Drive Review. Thanks for reading.
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