The inaugural pedal from Summer School Electronics prioritizes simple and clear overdrive above complex tone shaping.
Cost & Overview: $149.99 from SummerSchoolElectronics.com
Hailing from Syracuse, NY Summer School Electronics is led by a part time teacher/part time punk rocker whose first release to the world of pedals is an updated take on the DOD 250 and MXR Distortion+. The Gus-Drive, named after his loveable dog (as if there was an unlovable dog) is a two knob overdrive with volume (Bark) and gain (Howl) controls. With an impressive range from subtle to saturated, the Gus-Drive can be both distortion and overdrive, depending on how you want to use it. Convenient modern features like top mounted jacks help make the Gus Drive pedalboard friendly, and the pedal is powered by your standard 9v supply.
Review & Opinion:
I really favored the Gus Drive with the gain turned all the way up, leaving volume at unison with the amp. This creates a very crisp distortion that sounds full and amp-like, with no extraneous compression or muddiness. In fact, it is a relatively treble-rich gain, as opposed to the bass heavy sounds of many dirt boxes. I suppose that is where the DOD 250 gets its reputation as a “crispy” overdrive/distortion. But in this case, it works very well with humbuckers that I might otherwise find a bit too bass rich.
While I’m not very educated on the internal diode and clipping schematics, it seems this is one with quite a bit of headroom, as there is a lot of boost and light drive sounds in the Gus Drive. Specifically, it has a very wide range of overdrive just within the sweep of the Howl knob. I think many players would find this to be an exception treble boost even, though I definitely think it comes alive at the highest gain settings for garage and punk rock power chords. Another nice feature is the sensitivity of the volume knob, which doesn’t drastically jump up in output once you move past noon. While some people love their pedals loud, it does bother me when a pedal only has a “quiet-unison-way too loud” form factor. This is not the case, with a variety of subtle volume jumps to help dial in the right tone based on the pickup choice.
While I don’t have much experience with the circuits that inspired the Gus Drive, this feels like a very nice take on the idea of the smooth, preamp overdrive associated with ’70s music. The ability to add sustain with the flexible gain level also seems well suited to play nicely with tube amplifiers. And while I record my demos with amp/cab sims for simplicity, I was really loving how this accentuated the natural gain in my Vox AC15.
Conclusion & Final Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Overall I’m very impressed with the Gus Drive and only have mild comments on the pedal as a whole. I do love supporting local builders, or atleast domestic builders, but $150 is a bit steep when there is no shortage of 250s/MXR Distortion+ pedals ranging from $75-$100. However, a vintage one will definitely set you back quite a bit, and this feels like a bit more solid than whatever import reissue of the 250 is probably floating around right now. So if you want that classic, preamp gain with sizzle, I do think this is a worthy investment. Though it is overflowing with “value” points all the same.
You can definitely tell though that this pedal was built by a player, because it is convenient, quiet, and honestly just a lot of fun. I would say it really works best as a distortion, though it has a no shortage of room to find your favorite low gain/high volume tones for pushing a tube amp. And there is something to be said for pedals with stripped down controls, there’s no room to hide bad sounds or poor wiring! And fortunately, the Gus Drive possesses neither of those two features and is a really great introduction into the pedal world for Summer School Electronics.