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I must admit that when I first saw the Keeley Electronics D&M Drive, I wrote it off as just another dual overdrive pedal in a crowded market of such pedals. Even knowing that it’s a product of Robert Keeley’s renowned expertise at crafting outstanding overdrive and boost pedals and a collaborative effort with a couple guys who know thing or two about great guitar tones, I initially passed it over without giving it a second glance… that is, until nearly the end of 2017 when we were rounding up the Best Guitar Pedals of the Year, and our readers gave a massive show of hands that this was most definitely one of the year’s best pedals.
So I decided to try the D&M Drive largely on the merit of knowing that our readers are some of the most informed and knowledgeable effects aficionados around. And I’ve gotta say, you all spared us the shame and regret of possibly overlooking one of the best overall overdrive pedals to come along this year. So what’s the story here? Why is the D&M Drive such a big deal? Let’s put together a picture of the names behind this pedal; the reasons will become clear.
Drive to Perfection
Mr. Robert Keeley has had his fingers on the pulse of the boutique guitar pedal market for over 15 years. Since 2001 he and the Keeley Electronics crew have been modding and building custom pedals for guitar heroes including John Mayer, Brad Paisley, John Petrucci, and countless others. Any major style of boost, overdrive, and distortion pedal you can think of has probably been on Robert’s workbench at some point or another, and many of these classic circuits have been overhauled and refined into all-new Keeley Electronics pedals. While it could be argued that there are really only so many ways you can clip a diode and build a circuit around it, this is a pedal builder that has consistently found countless ways to squeeze every bit of sweet tone possible out of a box of wire and resistors.
Now enter Daniel Steinhardt and Mick Taylor, the two guys from whom the D&M Drive gets its namesake. Dan is the founder of The GigRig, a UK based company that specializes in building high-end effects switchers and utility products for professional musicians. Guitarists including Radiohead’s Ed O’Brien, Andy Timmons, Noel Gallagher, and many other touring pros have relied on Dan’s careful attention to detail and tonal purity when crafting pedalboards that are would tour ready. Mick was previously an editor of UK’s Guitarist magazine, a gig which no doubt contributed to his own expertise when it comes to great guitar tones. Together Dan & Mick host That Pedal Show, one of the best resources for pedal related content on the Internet. If you have any doubt about the integrity of their ears for tone, head on over to their YouTube channel and peruse a few of their videos. If you love guitar effects pedals, you’ll likely be hitting the subscribe button before you leave.
So long story short – Robert Keeley, Dan, & Mick made a pedal. And it’s a good one. Here’s brief rundown of the D&M Drive’s features before we get into the nitty gritty.
- 2 independent drive circuits – Boost & Drive
- Boost & Drive modes may be used separately or together in either order (Boost → Drive or Drive → Boost)
- Gain, Tone, & Level controls and bypass switches for each side
- Order switch flips order of Boost & Driver channels
- Top-mounted I/O and power jacks for minimizing pedalboard footprint
- Optional TRS mode allows Boost & Drive to be routed to separate loops in an effects switcher.
- True Bypass
- Powered by 9VDC 55mA+ center negative power supply.
Sound & Performance:
Let’s start from right to left. The Boost is Mick’s side of the pedal. It’s essentially a boost and low to mid gain overdrive. But it has a surprisingly wider range of use than is characteristic of your typical 3-knob overdrive. You often hear of overdrive pedals having specific sweet spots and applications that fulfill a specific purpose yet lack in overall versatility. Well, the D&M Drive’s Boost circuit is no slouch, and this side alone has plenty to write home about.
With the Boost side’s Gain knob turned all the way down, you can kick on the Boost and get a pleasing clean boost of volume. There’s plenty of volume on tap, so you can easily push an amp, another dirt pedal, or the Drive side into further overdrive. The mid-range is clear and not overly pronounced, yet it seems to have to enough subtle character to impart a little bit of pleasing extra flavor to your guitar signal. This makes the pedal surprisingly suitable to use as a tone enhancer, kind of like setting an Xotic EP Booster to unity gain for some extra tonal mojo. The Tone knob comes in handy here for attenuating your treble response to either add some extra sparkle on the top-end or warm things up by rounding off those highs, particularly useful for taming any harshness from a hotter single-coil bridge pickup.
One peculiar aspect of the Boost side is how the circuit seems to descrease in high-end response as you increase the Gain. This helps give the Boost side a warmer, more mid-focused boost when using it for typical overdrive purposes. I think most players will appreciate this subtle characteristic of the Boost circuit. The Tone knob works sufficiently enough for opening up the top-end a bit, but I second the notion of another publication’s review in wishing for some kind of Presence control. I’d be curious to hear how a Presence parameter placed before the Gain control might help keep that top-end open before it hits the dirt. But aside from that musing, it must be stated that the D&M Drive’s Boost circuit is very well developed and is likely to be the favored circuit among many discerning guitarists. As it stands, it’s easily one of my personal favorite boost/drive circuits.
Now while Mick’s Boost side covers a few different bases, Dan’s side is primarily focused on delivered one thing: big, meaty drive tones. You could try to argue that there’s a few flavors in here, but it’s really all about big ‘ole dirt overdrive and distortion. You’ve just gotta decide how much you want.
The beauty of the Drive side is that it can provide all the dirt you need if all your your amp has is a clean channel, but if you pair it with a slightly hot and cracklin’ amp sound, you can get some beautiful drive sounds by pushing your crunch channel with this bad boy. That’s probably my favorite way to use it. Of course, if you are running into an amp with at least two channels, you can still find a middle ground setting with the Drive side that will work well with both.
The really great thing about this pedal is that the circuits play off each other well. Just like how the two hosts of That Pedal Show bring different perspectives on gear with some overlapping tastes and an understanding of what they’re each bringing to the table, Dan & Mick have a pair of complementary circuits in the D&M Drive that offer something greater when their merits and strengths are combined.
A common setup in general and with this pedal is to run Boost before Drive. With the Boost First option you can get great results by keeping the Drive side to a more moderate setting and then slamming it a bit harder with the Boost to add some edge when ripping into a solo. Reverse the order of the circuits and a whole different set of possibilities opens up. You could just set the Boost for a lighter or moderate boost and get a really saturated lead tone when kicking on the Drive in front of it.
D&M Drive + Effects Switcher
The D&M Drive offers another very unique feature that sets it apart from other dual circuit drive pedals that came before it. Many professional guitarists have adopted pro-grade effects switchers (like the Free The Tone ARC-53M or Boss ES-8) to handle effects switching during live performances. This offers many advantages for gigging guitarists, most notably being able to control all of your pedals from a single condensed area rather than having to tap-dance all over your pedalboard. Dan came up with the clever idea of using TRS I/O jacks to allow guitarists to patch each circuit to separate Send/Return loops in their effects switcher. This lets you use both sides of the pedal from your switcher as you would from the pedal’s own foot-switches. This approach can also allow you to spread out the D&M Drive’s 2 circuits in your signal path with, say, a different favored overdrive pedal in between the D&M Drive’s Boost and Drive sections.
The Keeley Electronics D&M Drive is a top-tier dual overdrive pedal with two distinct circuits that work well together and are each capable of standing on their own. While many such “overdrive & boost” combo pedals feature solid drive circuits with a generic boost also on board, the D&M Drive boasts a roaring, hot-rodded Drive circuit and a Boost section that can cover a range of clean boosting and mid-gain overdrive sounds. Whether or not you’re a previous player of Keeley Electronics’ pedals or are familiar with That Pedal Show and its hosts, if you appreciate great overdrive tones, the D&M Drive has more than enough great tones to spare.
That concludes our Keeley Electronics D&M Drive review. Thanks for reading.