2 Builders, 1 Pedal, and Why It’s Okay to Be Angry
Boss needs no introduction as the Japanese brand has become synonymous with guitar effects pedals in the four decades since releasing their very first pedal: the Boss CE-1 Chorus Ensemble. JHS Pedals, however, is a much younger brand, growing from humble beginnings as a small boutique pedal repair and mod outfit to becoming one of the fastest growing US based pedal brands thanks to their dedicated and growing fanbase. In one of the most surprising pairings in the guitar pedal world, Boss teamed up with JHS Pedals to create the JB-2 Angry Driver. The result of this unlikely pairing of companies from across the globe is one of the more unique takes on a traditional overdrive pedal that breaks the mold to offer a much wider range of overdriven dirt tones than any of Boss’ previous compact drive pedals.
The Angry Driver takes a familiar Boss pedal, the BD-2 Blues Driver, and pairs it with a variation of the JHS Pedals Angry Charlie. The BD-2 is one of the more famous Boss pedals, debuting in 1995 and still remaining in production to this day. The BD-2 is a characterized by its open and amp-like response compared to more clipped and compressed overdrive pedals and excels at a range of lower to mid-gain drive tones. The JHS Angry Charlie has been released in many iterations although it has always retained a sound that recalls a cranked British amp, a sound favored by guitarists who like meatier guitar tones. Between the two styles of dirt, the JB-2 Angry Driver looks set to offer a formidable range of drive tones.
Here’s a quick rundown of the pedal’s features before we dig in.
- All-new overdrive pedal with massive tonal range, jointly developed by BOSS and JHS Pedals
- Combines the voices of the BD-2 Blues Driver from BOSS and Angry Charlie from JHS Pedals
- Three dual-concentric knobs provide independent drive, tone, and level control for each overdrive type
- Mode selector for choosing individual overdrive types, two series connections for stacking, or parallel connection for unique new sounds
- Also includes a mode for toggling between BOSS and JHS overdrives with the built-in pedal switch
- Remote switch jack for controlling pedal modes and bypass from an optional footswitch or effects switching system
- Multi-color LED indicator shows BOSS mode (blue), JHS mode (red), and both together (purple)
- BOSS five-year warranty
- Powered by Boss PSA series power adapter (current draw: 50mA) or 9-volt battery
Sound & Performance:
The JB-2 is a box that contains a lot of tone. Let’s break it down and talk about the sounds in detail.
Boss BD-2 Blues Driver
With the Mode knob pointing straight up to noon, you’ll be in Boss Mode which gives you a sound that’s pure Blues Driver. I hadn’t played a BD-2 in quite some time, so it was nice to get reacquainted with this classic circuit. As indicated by the labels below the knobs, the lower outside partitions of the dual-concentric knobs control the 3 familiar Blues Driver parameters for Drive (Gain), Tone, & Level. With the Drive set low in the ballpark of around 9 o’clock, the Boss circuit provides a cleaner response that’s a bit livelier than your bypassed clean tone. It just seems to have a bit more attack and cutting power. You can play chords and melodic clean passages that retain definition and clarity, yet the sound pops out a bit more in the mid-range. As you dig in with a harder pick attack, you’ll get a little more bite without the pedal really breaking up much. Pushing the Drive up a bit towards 10 or 11 o’clock brings in some more dirt for slightly hotter leads. Once you take the Drive up to noon or higher, you’ll find some grittier tones suited to classic rock rhythm playing. It’s a very well-rounded circuit in itself that has a range of useful applications outside of blues guitar playing. The response of the pedal varies depending on the output level of your pickups, but you’ll have no trouble finding solid tones whether you’re using single-coils or humbuckers.
JHS Pedals Angry Charlie
With the Mode knob fully clockwise to the JHS circuit, you’ll get a taste of Boss’ interpretation of the Angry Driver. This mode really excels at dirtier drive tones, and this is the setting you’ll go to when crunchier sounds are called for. The JHS side has a noticeably darker tone that will find favor with guitarists who prefer warmer and woolier flavors of dirt. I personally like how the JHS circuit has a very present lower mid-range, yet the pedal retains plenty of articulation in that area and doesn’t get muddy when chugging out palm-muted riffs. While various JHS releases of the Angry Charlie circuit benefit from additional eq or presence controls, the iteration presented in the Angry Driver still does a solid job at reproducing the essence of what makes the Angry Charlie loved by its fans. The Tone knob will let you color the sound as needed for the typically dark or a relatively brighter sound.
The real benefits of the Angry Driver are found when using both of the circuits together. The JHS/Boss Mode lets you use the pedal’s bypass foot-switch to toggle from JHS to Boss Mode and vice versa. The pedal is always active in this mode, so you’ll have to plug an external foot-switch in the Remote jack to bypass the pedal. (Another way to utilize both circuits in this mode would be to put the JB-2 in a loop of the Boss MS-3 Multi Effects Switcher, activating the pedal when its loop is active and using the MS-3’s CTL OUT with the JB-2’s Remote jack to alternate between JHS and Boss circuits.)
There’s also a pair of modes that allow you to use the two circuits in series in either order: JHS → Boss or Boss → JHS. Running the Boss JB-2 circuit into the JHS Angry Drive is akin to slamming a British amp with an overdrive pedal, a common technique that’s well represented in this convenient mode. Reversing the order is a bit novel and unorthodox, but you can still get some interesting sounds if experimental dirt tones are what you’re after. If you want the ability to break away from traditional dirt sounds, the JB-2 encourages you to do so.
The last Mode option is the Parallel Mode which lets you blend both circuits together side-by-side for layered overdrive tones. I really like the textures you can get from this mode. Try setting the Angry Charlie circuit to the kind of darker, dirtier grit it’s known for and add in a cleaner, brighter Blues Driver tone to the mix. You’ll have a chimier top-end with a bottom that’s like warm velvet. Then try brightening up the Angry Charlie circuit with higher gain and let the BD-2 circuit emphasize the lower frequencies. More great tones abound.
An external foot-switch will come in handy in the modes using both circuits simulataneously in case you want to bypass one of the circuits to use the other one by itself. The manual details which circuit can be bypassed in the 2 series modes and Parallel Mode, and several useful options are available.
It’s hard to find any serious faults with the Angry Driver. The closeness of the dual-concentric knobs might be a bit tight for larger fingers, particularly when adjusting the parameters of the Boss circuit. Also, the Angry Charlie circuit is sometimes a little dark for my usual tastes, but for a pedal this size, the sheer amount of quality tones onboard greatly exceeds the norm. Since there are so many useable settings, some users may wish you could access more than one or two sounds at a time, particularly during a live performance. But having too many great tones is hardly a thing to complain about. And even if the JB-2 doesn’t find a home on your pedalboard, you’re still likely find plenty of use for the Angry Driver as a studio tool or bedroom jam machine. But if you need a drive pedal to achieve one great sound (or two if you use an external foot-switch), the JB-2 will happily fill the spot of another compact drive pedal that has limited tonal options.
The Boss/JHS JB-2 Angry Driver has a wider range of tonal options than most single stomp compact overdrive pedals, and guitarists looking to replace another pedal that isn’t pulling its weight on their pedalboard will find a lot to love in the JB-2. The classic BD-2 Blues Driver is still as good as it has always been, and the JHS Angry Charlie inspired circuit is a suitable companion that greatly expands the drive tones offered in this unique pedal. While you may wish you could easily access more than one or two sounds during a performance, the sounds of the JB-2 are worth exploring on stage, in the studio, or at home. Boss’ first collaborative pedal is a winner, and I hope we see the esteemed builder doing more such partnerships in the future.
That concludes our Boss/JHS Pedals JB-2 Angry Driver review. Thanks for reading.