MXR Sugar Drive: Mini Review

Discussion in 'Pedal Pushers Forum' started by Synchro, Jul 26, 2021.

  1. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Tucson
    Admin Post
    This little pedal has intrigued me for some time, so I decided to pop for one.

    I’ve never been into heavy distortion. When fuzzboxes came into vogue, I never cared for that sound, but by the late ‘70s, I recall taking note of sounds that were along the lines of natural overdrive, which I found much more pleasing to the ear. For overdrive which retains its clarity, there’s always the Dumble Overdrive Special, which goes for around $70,000, the last time I heard. Well, I hate to spend small change like that because it’s hardly worth the ink to put in my checkbook register, so the Dumble is off the table. :) Then there’s the Klon Centuar pedal, which can easily go well into four figures. Of course finding just the right amp and turning it up will work, but even in the countryside, that can result in unhappy neighbors, although my 5 watt Typhoon works pretty well in this case.

    But I wanted to be able to duplicate some of the clearer overdrive sounds on any sized amp and have experimented with several pedals, including the Boss SD-1, the EHX Soul Food and, most recently the MXR Sugar Drive. All three are pretty great pedals, but each also has its limitations.

    The Sugar Drive is a very small pedal, about the size of a candy bar. The finish is light blue and there are three knob, Level, Tone and Drive; pretty standard fare for overdrive pedals. There is also a recessed slide switch on the side of the case to choose between “true bypass” and buffered bypass. I greatly appreciate this feature and hope that more pedal manufacturers will adopt the idea of making this not only selectable, but also easily selectable. In the case of this pedal, it’s place on the board is behind the input buffer, which gives the patch cord from the guitar a high impedance interface, to minimize the effects of capacitance in the guitar-to-board patch cable, so there’s no need to buffer, but I left the buffer on anyhow, because the next two pedals in the chain are true bypass and the lower the output impedance of the pedal, the better chance that there will be no loss of highs as the signal traverses those two pedals. I tested this board which all pedals bypassed and compared the sound to just a straight 15” patch cable and there was no apparent losses through the board, so I’m happy.

    The Sugar Drive itself was setup to unity gain, or very slightly above. The Drive control is where most of the action is. At lower settings, the Sugar Drive adds a bit of character to the sound, but it is not readily apparent that an overdrive is in use. It’s more like an amp at the point where the sound “blooms” slightly, but isn’t really breaking up, unless you play hard and hit the pedal with a very abrupt input from the guitar, such as a double stopped Blues lick played with great force. Surprisingly, this setting works quite well in realms usually thought of as reserved for sparkling clean sounds, such as Jazz. If the attack of the notes is not to forceful, the result is a sound I would associate with ‘50s or ‘60 Jazz guitar. Some Wes style octaves, picked with the bare thumb, sounded perfect. This level of Drive smooths the rough edges, chases the icepick effect straight out of town, and manages to do so without imposing a noise floor, which is something I prefer to avoid.

    At medium Drive settings, the sound is a very natural overdrive, again with no noise floor. Playing through the Custom channel of my ‘68 Custom Deluxe Reverb, which had the volume set well within the clean range, the sound reminded me for all the world of Freddie King playing Hideaway through a Blonde Showman. (I was using a Custom Telecaster FMT HH for the signal source. The volume of the guitar was at about 50%.) If you take a moment to listen to Hideaway: and Funny Bone: , you’ll get a pretty good idea of what I was hearing. The pick dynamics determine the degree of overdrive, which is very similar to Freddie King’s situation. In these examples, King seems to straddle the line between clean and overdriven, pretty much without effort, and he’s certainly not fiddling with any equipment while he plays. I believe that this is simply a Blonde Showman working for a living, but that’s not always an easy sound to achieve, unless you actually have an early ‘60s Showman and a room that lets you turn it up.

    This pedal could useful for any number of musical genres, Blues being obvious, Soft Rock, Country and Jazz-Rock Fusion, but also for just softening the sound slightly, but remaining fundamentally clean. The selectable buffer strikes me as a big plus. The pedal seems well made and I have detected no background noise or white-noise hiss. A player could do a lot worse for $119.
     
  2. TSims1

    TSims1 Gretschified

    Jun 18, 2013
    Atlanta
    Had one of those and loved it. MXR makes good stuff.
     
    juks likes this.
  3. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Tucson
    Admin Post
    Indeed they do. I really like their mini pedals.
     
    GlenP and TSims1 like this.
  4. TubeLife

    TubeLife Synchromatic

    Age:
    45
    510
    Jan 23, 2020
    Chicagoland
    Thanks for the review…

    I’ve got two of their mini’s…the Timmy and the Carbon Copy. Both excellent sounding to boot. Larger but MXR still, I’ve got the 5150 and Phase 90 as well. They all work flawlessly.
     
    GlenP likes this.
  5. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Tucson
    Admin Post
    I have a Phase 95, which is a mini. It’s not a pedal I use often, but it does a great job when I put it to use.
     
    GlenP likes this.
  6. Groutsch

    Groutsch Gretschie

    492
    Jun 9, 2018
    Maryland, US
    Thanks for the review. The online demos of the Sugar Drive always make me want one, so I'm glad that your experience confirms its place on my wish list. It's great that MXR made the buffer switch accessible. I like tweakable pedals, but not so much when tweaking requires a screwdriver.
     
  7. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Tucson
    Admin Post
    I agree. The buffer switches on my Catalinbread Topangas are internal. It’s not the end of the world, but at the very least I have to take them off the board to remove the bottom cover, before I can switch modes. The question of buffers vs true bypass is probably going to be with us for a while, so having an external switch seems like a good idea.
     
  8. LivingMyDream

    LivingMyDream Friend of Fred

    Thanks for the review, Synchro. I had my eye on the Sugar Drive recently, but decided to take a chance on a Donner Dumble pedal instead. I'm still in the evaluating mode, but so far it seems like a solid drive pedal. I don't know if it's the right drive pedal for every guitar I have, but then I might be chasing a fantasy in thinking there could be such a pedal.

    Thanks again for the review of the Sugar Drive.
     
    pmac11 and blueruins like this.
  9. Ricochet

    Ricochet Senior Gretsch-Talker

    Nov 13, 2009
    Monkey Island
    Not entirely convinced by Klon(clones) thus far but I always enjoy reading your reviews Mark.
     
  10. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Tucson
    Admin Post
    With me it comes down to dollars and cents. The real thing, according to what I’ve read, was somewhat unique in electrical design, boosting the voltage to 18 VDC to alter the behavior of the Op-Amp. It’s a fascinating idea, but it’s not worth more to me than I paid for the last used car I bought.

    Discovering a way to get that Blonde Showman sound is, in itself, worth a lot to me. The fact that it can be used as an always-on pedal, in its lower drive range, makes it worthwhile to many players. It really works well as a filter against harshness.
     
  11. Waxhead

    Waxhead Country Gent

    Aug 30, 2014
    Australia
    yeah I've never heard an MXR pedal I didn't like but I think you had the best and most versatile tubescreamer style overdrive pedal last year - Fulltone Fulldrive 3. Why'd you sell it ?
     
  12. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Tucson
    Admin Post
    Actually, I returned it.

    It just didn’t work for me. It had a great sound, but it was geared for a more modern, higher gain sound than I wanted.
     
    TV the Wired Turtle likes this.
  13. AZBrahma

    AZBrahma Gretschie

    382
    Dec 18, 2020
    Arizona
    Sounds pretty sweet. See what I did there?

    Re: True bypass, the debate will rage so long as there is internet. I've built all my pedals with true mechanical bypass, for a pretty simple reason - I want to be in control of my buffering quality and location, and not leave it up to a pedal (some pedals have lousy buffers which create tonal impacts). My preferred buffer at the head and another at the tail of my board does the trick beautifully.
     
    Waxhead likes this.
  14. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Tucson
    Admin Post
    You are a relative rarity. Very few people understand buffering.

    A well executed buffer costs nothing, sonically, but they are not always well executed. I think that MXR is fairly reliable and the fact that they have a switchable buffer tells me that they get it. IMHO, every pedal would be benefitted by having a good buffer and a selection switch.

    I use bespoke buffers. Each of my three pedalboards has an input and output buffer. Some pedals are buffered and I’m not having any problems with them, but for 3 or less pedals you should be fine. Beyond that, it depends upon the pedals involved. One thing I have learned along the way is that a simple thing like pedal order can make a significant difference. Nothing is chiseled in stone.
     
    AZBrahma likes this.
  15. Waxhead

    Waxhead Country Gent

    Aug 30, 2014
    Australia
    Too high gain and modern :eek::confused:

    I call Fulldrive 3 a low to mid gain overdrive pedal.... has barely any gain at all if you set the gain dial on 1 or 2.
    And it has the 90s or ASim switches for moving between old school and modern flavours.

    Seems it's probably a matter of terminology and preferences.
    What you (and many other members here) call overdrive I'd consider just barely broken up / almost clean.
    What you'd call distortion I'd call very light overdrive :D

    But I never play any surf and rarely anything written before 1980.

    If I want edge of breakup I use a versatile tube amp with gain set at 2, but I understand most of the members here only have clean amps that you have to crank the volume dial to 8 to break up just a touch. And your amps don't even have gain dials :)

    I only use pedals to deliver a different flavour of overdrive/distortion that my tube amps can't produce. With most Mesa amps that only leaves Marshall flavoured distortion and SRV tubescreamer type tones. The amps do another 100 plus flavours much better than any pedal can
     
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2021
  16. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Tucson
    Admin Post
    That’s fine for you. I tried it and didn’t find a sound that I cared for. I play very little that was written after 1980; I play the music which appeals to me and the sound of the Fulldrive doesn’t strike me as appropriate for that sort of music. It’s a good pedal, I have nothing against it, but it’s not the sound I care for.
     
    Waxhead likes this.
  17. TV the Wired Turtle

    TV the Wired Turtle Gretschified

    Jul 25, 2009
    Sandy Eggo

    Dont forget that Freddy played with a plastic thumb pick and a metal finger pick like a banjo player, this really affects the attack and sound. Early Freddy was a gib LP w p90s and a gibson G-40 amp if you dig that hideaway sound. The earliest G-40 was octal tube ..for what its worth I nerd out on that sound :)
     
  18. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Tucson
    Admin Post
    He was one of a kind. That metal finger pick surprised me. My favorite recording of Freddie King playing Hideaway was on a TV show and I’m pretty sure that was a Blonde Showman, which was sort of a hybrid, which sort of bridged tithe gap between the Tweed amps and the Blackface. That’s pretty much my favorite Fender amp, but ghastly expensive, these days, and too big for most of my gigs.
     
  19. AZBrahma

    AZBrahma Gretschie

    382
    Dec 18, 2020
    Arizona
    Even further down the rabbit hole, there is the difference between mechanical and electrical (relay) bypass. In theory they should both leave the signal unmolested, but relay bypass still has components in the signal path. I haven't explored this much since I just use mechanical bypass by default. I tell people (if they care) the easiest way to tell if their effect is mechanical or relay bypass is to have the effect turned off and then pull the power plug. If your signal is intact, that's mechanical bypass. If it cuts out, relay bypass.

    Then there is the issue that if even if you have a single pedal turned on, it is acting as a buffer. People go through a lot of trouble setting up a board very specifically without giving thought that their 'always on' pedal is in fact a buffer.
     
  20. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Tucson
    Admin Post
    It all depends on what the definition of “is” is. There are buffers, and then they’re are buffers, and on and on it goes. A buffer should be a perfect copy of your input signal with a high input impedance and a low output impedance. Sometimes people don’t like the idea of their signal being copied, but that happens at every step along the way where an electronic device is in the signal path, with electronic being defined as any time a semi-conductor is present. So the first preamp tube in an amp copies your signal which hits the grid, and replicates it at higher gain out the plate of the tube. Every pedal in between replicates your signal, and a properly designed buffer should have no effect, other than having your signal hit a high impedance input and spit it back out at a low impedance. However, not all buffers are “properly designed”.

    As you mentioned, one thing that is easily forgotten is that every pedal, in a sense, acts like a buffer when it’s on. My Catalinbread Super Chili Picoso has an input impedance of 10 meg ohms and IIRC, the output is around 5k. You could have one heck of a long patch cable in front of that and as far as capacitance is concerned, it wouldn’t even know that there was a patch cable present. But it’s not guaranteed to be unity gain, and in fact the gain is completely controlled by the level of boost selected. Serves as a buffer, but it’s not truly a buffer, by strict definition.

    The devil is in the details, and there are no blanket statements that cover every piece of hardware. If a pedal actually uses mechanical bypass, it should have little, if any effect on the signal when it’s switched into bypass mode. The biggest question would be the capacitance between the two conductors of the circuit path in bypass. Assuming that the capacitance is not too high, we should not lose much in the way of highs in a mechanical bypass system.

    But you can invert this and if buffers are properly designed, they should not harm the signal and, within reason, stacking buffers shouldn’t be a problem. Looking at my largest pedalboard, there are a lot of buffered pedals and I’ve tested and don’t hear any loss of signal, or loss of responsiveness going through the board, as opposed to simply plugging directly to the amp. It is, however, designed with care and I did some testing along the way to make certain that I wasn’t losing any signal quality.

    The debate doesn’t seem to be going away, anytime soon.
     
    AZBrahma likes this.
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