In Praise of the Humble, Underrated Boss Blues Driver

More than 20 years on, the Boss BD–2 Blues Driver has become a staple for players across genres. In its time, it has inspired pedal tinkerers, builders, and even its own parent company to make the humble overdrive even better.

The BD–2 earned its place in the stompbox hall of fame thanks to those evolutions and the ways it continues to inspire new and creative applications.

In this respect, the story of the BD–2 is really a story of all of the different ways people figured out they could use this pedal. What follows is the story of the humble BD–2 and some usable examples of how this Boss classic can sound fresh on any pedalboard.

The Ongoing History of the Boss Blues Driver

By March of 1995, Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” off Vitology had been sitting comfortably at No. 1 on the Billboard rock charts for a solid seven weeks. That same month, the Boss BD–2 Blues Driver first hit guitar store shelves, targeting a different sort of player.

While grunge was going strong, the powers that be at Boss realized that blues music was about to make a comeback. For most of 1995, albums by Eric Clapton, Jeff Healey, and Stevie Ray Vaughan dominated the blues charts for longer runs than many grunge albums on the respective rock charts.

The strategic release of the BD–2 meant that fans of the new blues craze could emulate those tones on records by the greats with the help of an economical, accessible Boss pedal.

The Blues Driver not only quickly captured its targeted audience, but its versatility and character helped it to transcend genres equally as hastily. That wider use also colluded with a growing pedal mod movement, as the BD–2 was a prime candidate for tweaking due to its affordable price and solid tone.

Enter Robert Keeley. Starting in the early 2000s, Keeley developed what is arguably one of the most famous and sought–after mods to any guitar pedal, referred to simply as the Keeley Mod.

With this mod, Keeley upgraded all of the components for a warmer, cleaner tone. He also offered an optional “Phat mod,” adding a small toggle switch under the gain knob that provided players with two levels of bass response.

One mode produces a tight and clean tone, while the other sounds “phat” and boosted. Aspects of this same design eventually resulted in the popular Keeley Katana Blues Drive.

Given Boss’s past success with and continued demand for the BD–2, it was a natural choice for inclusion in the company’s new line–up of premiere pedal designs under the Boss Waza Craft banner.

Under the hood, the new BD–2W includes an all–analog circuit that both retains and refines the distinctive responsiveness and clarity of the original. On the enclosure, however, a tiny switch toggles between classic and custom modes — the latter giving the original tone fuller body and deeper sustain.

The latest chapter in the BD–2 history was written by its most hailed modder. After 15 years of tinkering with the original pedal, Robert Keeley released the Super Phat Mod Full Range Overdrive.

The Super Phat Mod is inspired by the original BD–2 sound, came with the expected gain, level, and drive knobs, as well as a flat to phat toggle that fully integrated the notorious bass boost of Keeley’s original mod.

So that’s the story so far. But with the list of countless contenders of innovative overdrive pedals on the market, is there any good reason to pick up the discontinued original?

Building Tones with the Blues Driver

As the throngs of BD–2 faithful will attest, the pedal’s overdrive architecture shines when hit with varying dynamics, attack intensities, and playing styles. And with the twist of a knob, it pivots from a subtle, tasteful overdrive to an edgy, grinding one. Those are the basics.

But beyond those conventional uses, the BD–2 proves incredibly versatile when partnered up with other gear. Those interactions are how it still has some tricks up its sleeve after two decades in rotation.

There’s a good chance that once you use it to sculpt your cleans, the BD–2’s LED will be on perma–glow."

Everyone has their favorite stompbox that adds a little pixie dust to any setup, yet few fully–featured overdrive pedals find themselves in that category. When the drive knob is dialed all the way down with the tone and level set to taste, the BD–2 can enhance the clarity and precision of your clean sound.

That means that the BD–2 can perfectly prime your clean tone for the rest of your effects chain, making it easy for that clean guitar to cut through. There’s a good chance that once you use it to sculpt your cleans, the BD–2’s LED will be on perma–glow.

You can also use the BD–2 to get more out of you amp’s natural breakup. We all love that sweet spot on an amp where the circuit and tubes are pushed right to the point where crisp cleans crumble into natural drive. That tone, however, is also delicate and easy to inundate.

Here is where the trifecta of gain, level, and tone knobs on the BD–2 proves genius despite its simplicity. By experimenting with a light dose of gain and adding increments of tone and level, you can get an even sweeter sweet spot than your amp would achieve on its own.

But the tastiest use of the BD–2 might be as a Centaur slayer, helping your guitar cut through your band’s mix at critical moments.

One configuration where the modded BD–2 or Super Phat Mod excel most is when used as a boost pedal set before another favorite overdrive. Not unlike the fabled Klon Centaur and its Klone army, the BD–2 gracefully nudges the level of other overdrive pedals without cluttering your sound.

A pedal doesn’t stay in active production or inspire countless modded versions for more than two decades without good reason. People use a variety of buzzwords when talking about the BD–2: always–on, responsive, transparent. But the BD–2 has been at it since before those buzzwords were popularized by the internet, so let’s just call the BD–2 a plain old Boss.

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