The TightDrive from Amptweaker allows guitar and bass players to take control of that all important tone and overcome any unwanted delay that can slow down the sound as it moves through an amp's circuitry. As well as LED-lit gain, distortion, volume and Tight controls the pedal also features an effects loop where onboard effects can be moved in front of or behind the TightDrive's tone modifications.

Amp design engineer James Brown knows a thing or two about sound. He's been designing guitar amps for over 20 years, first for Peavey and currently for Kustom Amps. Fine-tuning the feel of a sound, controlling gain and distortion and modeling tone, is his speciality. For a number of years he worked as lead engineer with Eddie Van Halen and later with Joe Satriani. Now he's launched a personal project named after his online presence and descriptive of what it is he actually does for a living, Amptweaker.

User input

Rather than try to guess what players wanted from an effects pedal, Brown took the unusual approach of actually asking for ideas. He told Gizmag: "The TightDrive was undertaken as a direct response to users' inputs, but rather than use one guy's idea, I'm compiling multiple things together to make products that can appeal to more people. I took the first couple of hundred ideas that came in to determine that a lot of people wanted a tighter sounding overdrive/distortion."

For some players, the search for the perfect tone is a never-ending voyage of frustrating discovery. Most amps will only allow general tone modification at best which leads to players seeking out all kinds of sound-altering additions in the form of distortion pedals, pitch or EQ changers or multiple effects units. This only adds to the problem of encountering that ever-so-slight, but nonetheless problematic, delay from when a player hits a string to when the sound blasts out of the amplifier.

Brown explains: "When you hit the strings, there are things in the circuitry that can tend to slow down the sound, similar to a delay but more related to interrelationships between EQ and distortion. It's similar to when you watch a DVD and the sound doesn't quite match the picture. The Tight control is the very phenomenon that I've spent so much time in the past tweaking for every artist I've worked with."

Leading the attack

Although the pedal can add a moderately distorted sound to an otherwise clean amp, attaching it to a lead amp takes the amp's attack "over the top so it's much heavier sounding." It can dial in varying amounts of chunk to give players access to numerous tonal possibilities not otherwise available at the amp, "from barely clean singing blues tones, to crunchy rhythm sounds, all the way up to seriously overdriving your tube amp for tight chunky lead solos. It can even reduce the gain and tighten the attack to easily convert your heavy lead tone to a chunky rhythm sound."

Rather than take the usual overdrive pedal design approach of having one stage take care of the distortion and then another handle the EQ, Brown sought tube-like distortion by having the signal go through multiple stages "that clip asymmetrically, and invert the signal each time, so the waveform goes through all kinds of harmonic changes as the note dies down." The gain structure was set up so that players could turn down a guitar's volume "so it would more or less become your rhythm channel instead of a lead boost."

In response to user input the 3.75 x 5 x 2 inch TightDrive also has effects loop jacks around the back with a pre/post signal positioning switch to the front which sees any combination sounds (such as distortion/delay or boost/chorus) controlled by hitting just one switch. Users also thought that a battery disconnect switch with indicator would be a useful feature, and a magnetic battery access door opens and closes without the need for tools. Another useful feature is the inclusion of LED lights which illuminate the control knobs when using a power supply.

Price and availability

The TightDrive is available now in both guitar and bass versions for US$180, which includes free delivery within the United States. International shipping is available at extra cost.

Brown told Gizmag that in response to lots of amplifier requests, he plans to start working on some Amptweaker amps later in the year. In the meantime, plans are in motion for another effects pedal to join the range, all that he would tell us is that he has "begun working on with a very prominent musician" and should have something ready for the next NAMM.