Released in 1992, the Marshall DriveMaster was the English brand's first real attempt to enter the effects pedal market, dominated at the time by Boss, MXR and a few others. Released at the same time as the BluesBreaker and the ShredMaster, it adopts a circuit almost identical to that of the Guv'nor but a little more gain available. The goal is to recreate the "Marshall in a box" sound with great versatility and a typically British grain. It's not for nothing that Jeff Buckley and many other guitarists used it! In 2023, Marshall is re-releasing the original model with an extremely faithful MK2 version.
Aesthetically, we have a chassis that could be described as indestructible. The pedal offers classic controls: Gain, 3-band EQ and Volume. Inside, 2 handwired PCBs, identical in every way to the original version. The Marshall DriveMaster benefits from a simple but perfectly designed circuit: a double OP-Amp amplifies the signal using the Gain button, then it passes through 2 LEDs which will distort the signal which is sent to the tone stack then to the output stage. Compared to the Guv'nor, except for the absence of a loop, we have generally the same circuit with just a few variations in components (filter cap, and an additional resistor).
Plugged into a super clean amp, because the aim of the DriveMaster is to transform any amp into a Marshall, we attack everything at 12:00 with a Les Paul. Well, let's just say it right away, the EQ is Marshall, so not really progressive. The Mid button is very effective, the Bass knob corrects in a slightly more linear manner than the Guv'nor and the Treble has a correct travel. Each knob interacts enormously with the others and heavily impacts the frequency curve. So you have to fumble around a bit to find the sound, but once you do, it sounds!
The attack is a little straighter than on the Guv'nor, the dynamics quite "mellow", we don't have a percussive or very articulate attack here. We also have a little more thickness at the bottom than with the Guv'nor and a little more gain in reserve. We will therefore recommend it for 70's blues-rock-hardrock registers (Guns, AC-DC...)
We are on a very open drive, which delivers a solid level of gain with a British color to the very marked high-mids. The harmonics fuse, the drive is relatively “pinched”. It is very “forgiving” because it is easy to play, fluid and versatile. For fans of big English sounds or Gary Moore-style leads, it works great.
In conclusion, Marshall brings out his legendary pedal identically with its qualities and its faults. We prefer it with humbuckers on a good Les Paul, a super-strat or an SG. The good news is that it sounds very good and will allow fans of the brand to obtain the legendary sounds that so many appreciate.