There have been countless effects pedal makers over the years seeking to emulate the sought-after tones of the legendary Marshall Super Lead and Super Bass amp heads. And now after the runaway success of the EP Booster and SP Compressor, guitar pedals inspired by the Echoplex EP-3 preamp and famed Ross Guitar Compressor, respectively, Xotic Effects have decided to tackle these holy grails of guitar tone with the brand new Xotic Effects SL Drive. Is this the best Marshall Super Lead/Bass pedal available? You’ll find out in our Xotic Effects SL Drive review.
The Marshall Super Lead and Super Bass amp heads need no introduction as they just might be the most famous guitar amplifiers ever made. Look up Marshall 1959, Super Lead, Super Bass, and Plexi for a history lesson about why this amp is so famous and the tone so sought-after. Legendary players such as Pete Townsend (whom we have to thank for the Super Lead’s existence), Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jimi Hendrix are a few of the noteworthy greats that played through Marshall 1959 Super Lead Plexi heads.
Capturing that sound in a pedal may seem impossible as there are so many variables that factor in to emulating this legendary amp. But the idea to me seems to be able make a great amp sound as close as possible to that famous Plexi sound at a tiny fraction of the price of an actual Marshall 1959, new or vintage. And there’s also the idea of just wanting to infuse your tone with a hint of that classic Marshall tone for a cutting edge modern, yet classic tone. The Xotic Effects SL Drive may be the key to all of that and more.
Let’s run down the features of this pedal, and test out the Xotic Effects SL Drive for a full review.
Tone, Drive, and Volume control knobs.
4 internal dip switches for adjusting between Super Lead and Super Bass modes, adjusting high/mid frequencies, and providing a +6db boost.
True Bypass for letting signal pass unaffected when disengaged.
Powered by 9-volt battery or 9VDC power adapter. Can also be run at 18-volts with the Xotic Voltage Doubler.
Sound & Performance:
I was waiting to try this pedal for months before its late Summer release. For my testing I played a Fender American Standard Stratocaster and a Gibson SG and started with a clean, flat amp setting.
With the Volume, Tone, and Drive controls set to noon, I activated the SL Drive and was projected into instant Marshall territory. There is a surge of Volume as this setting which you can roll back if you want a signal closer to unity gain.
The sound of the SL Drive is very Plexi-like, although its authenticity will vary depending on what you plug the SL Drive into. There’s a very distinctive character to that classic Marshall sound that every guitarist is familiar with whether they know it or not. This pedal will certainly hijack your tone with that characteristic Super Lead flavor. It makes you instantly want to bust out your best Jimmy Page licks.
The Drive knob gives you the full range of gain control expected from the classic Marshall head. You can roll back the knob for just a bit of overdriven warmth or push it up around noon for that distinctive Marshall crunch. Pushing the Drive knob towards 3 o’clock and beyond brings the gain to its peak for a fully saturated Marshall drive sound. On any of the grittier Drive settings, the SL Drive cleans up smoothly when you roll back your guitar’s volume knob.
While not complete with a full row of EQ knobs, the Tone control on the SL Drive will allow you to hone in the area of your sound that you want to accentuate with the pedal. Since the SL Drive is meant to be used with an amp, you can combine this pedal with your amp’s EQ section for maximum tonal flexibility. But you mustn’t underestimate the deep tonal shaping this pedal offers. Xotic Effects added 4 internal dip-switches inside the SL Drive to achieve the sound of the Super Lead and Super Bass heads with flexibility to tweak the high/mid frequencies to your personal tastes.
After spending a lot of time comparing the sound of all possible dip-switch combinations, I ended up settling on the original default position. The factory setting of the SL Drive seems to provide the most well-rounded character and is still adjustable with the Tone knob if you want to boost the highs or darken the overall sound.
If you treat this pedal like a preamp for essentially transforming your amp into a Marshall Super Lead infused hybrid, you can use boost and overdrive effects in front of it with an expected amp-like reaction. I found it especially pleasing to use Xotic’s own SP Compressor, BB Preamp, and EP Booster pedals to achieve some great sounds. Definitely try your overdrive of choice to create your own original sounds.
While the selling point of this pedal for many people may be to capture an authentic reproduction of the Marshall Super Lead or Super Bass, I find the SL Drive most interesting when used to infuse a different amp with some Marshall character for all-original hybrid amp sounds. Try it in front of your favorite tube amp or digital amp simulations. The SL Drive offers some great drive tones that might make it your Marshall-style distortion pedal of choice.
It seems like everything Xotic Effects puts into one of their micro enclosures is of the utmost quality. Not to be confused with the cheap, low-featured and sonically underwhelming efforts of many pedal makers trying to cash in on guitarists on a budget, the SL Drive, like the EP Booster and SP Compressor, is a top quality pedal for the most demanding professional musicians and tone connoisseurs.
UPDATE: I had a chance to got back and test the Xotic SL Drive with the Xotic Voltage Doubler (see video above). Essentially, running the SL Drive at 18-volts produces a slightly “hotter” sound. It gives the pedal added bite if you’re into the more aggressive or “hot-rodded” Marshall sounds. Definitely worth trying. If your power supply has an 18-volt output, try it with the SL Drive, or get an Xotic Voltage Doubler and run the pedal at 18-volts from a standard 9-volt output.
Let’s have the final result.
The Xotic Effects SL Drive continues the Xotic tradition of offering high quality effects for guitarists on any budget. If you’re looking for the best Marshall Super Lead/Bass sound in a stompbox format, definitely check out the SL Drive. The SL Drive is perfect for infusing your amp with Marshall-like character or using as your drive pedal of choice in front of a clean or dirty amp. The deep tonal contouring available in such a small pedal will ensure you find the perfect Marshall-style tones for your needs. If you’d like to add some of that classic Marshall sound to your rig, definitely check out the SL Drive.
That concludes our Xotic Effects SL Drive review. Thanks for reading.
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