The Legacy of the DOD 250: Which 250 Is Right for You?

The DOD 250 Preamp Overdrive debuted in the late ‘70s, alongside the very similar MXR Distortion + and Micro Amp. While the Distortion + has a very distinct, and—dare I say?—one dimensional quality, and the Micro Amp had a very singular purpose (clean boost), the 250 was harder to pigeon hole. The Distortion + offers a thick, compressed Germanium-derived character while the 250 was transparent. Of course, it wasn’t really transparent, but its tone shaping qualities are subtle and, perhaps most significantly, it leaves the midrange alone.

The 250 fell into obscurity, but then obscurity has slowly become myth. I first picked up an original “gray spec” (so-named for the gray box that housed the 250 when it was first released) in the early ‘90s, and it was more than 10 years before I was finally persuaded to let it go (more on that below) and I’m here to tell you, brothers and sisters, the legends are true. But don’t take my word for it: here are five builders who agree the DOD 250 still has something to offer.

The (Almost) Original: DOD 250 Preamp Overdrive RI

I fell into the world of boutique pedals in part because I noticed my clean tone was a little worse when I plugged into my 250. Well, a couple of years ago, Digitech relaunched the DOD brand and solved this problem and few others with their DOD 250 reissue. The new version is true bypass, has an indicator light and a standard 9v jack but, mercifully everything is the same, right down to the seemingly crucial 741 op amp. Like the original 250, the reissue has flat mids and, as with the original, the lows slowly roll off and the highs slowly creep in as you increase the gain, creating the perfect, muscular tone for rhythm or lead lines with some heft.

To me, in addition to the flat mids, the real joy of the 250 is the way it compresses as you turn the gain up, so the low end loss is balanced by increased compression that’s reminiscent of a cranked amplifier. Meanwhile, the top end boost is just subtle enough to offset the compression. These characteristics are absolutely wonderful into an amp that’s just breaking up, but they work well with a clean amp, too. The break-up character is reminiscent of a Fender Tweed, most notably in the charming splat of the 250’s top end, a sound that could be off putting if it didn’t sound so organic (think Ron Wood with The Faces).

DOD Overdrive Preamp 250

The Team Player: Greer Amplification 390 Vintage OD Preamp

I’m not sure why Greer chose to name their homage to the 250 “390,” but I like to think it’s because they shifted the center frequency of their pedal up about 140 hz. Like the 250, the 390 has remarkably open mids. Unlike the 250, the 390’s top end doesn’t end in an amp-like squelch; it extends into an open airiness … but with hair. Meanwhile, the low end isn’t as robust as the 250s, it’s leaner but still muscular. Given the 250’s bare bones feature set (not necessarily a bad thing), the 390 answers the question “What do you do when the 250’s stout sound doesn’t fit the band?” Like the reissue, the 390 is true bypass, and imparts a really lovely “bigness” to the tone that I’ve come to associate with Greer in general.

The Rock Monster: SolidgoldFX Zeta Drive

About 10 years ago, I decided I should mod my 250 for true bypass, but my search for a tech to do so led me instead to the SolidgoldFX Superdrive, which was based on the 250 but offered a sweeter top end, a low-pass filter and more amp-like compression. Since then, the manufacturer has continued to play with the platform under the name Zeta. I’m pleased to announce here that a new version is coming imminently. This version offers the same amp-like compression but it puts a little more emphasis on the Tweed-y distortion. It also has a bass boost option which further drives the compression, and the tone control has a wider sweep. Meanwhile, there’s a slight bump in the upper mids that, while subtle, is significant, offering just enough excitement to cut through the mix when the bass boost is on, or to keep the harmonics alive in the top end when rolling the tone off at higher gain settings. For those who wished the 250 platform had a little more attitude, this is for you.

The Sharpshooter: VFE Distortion 3

The VFE Distortion 3, in true VFE fashion, is a deconstruction of the DOD 250-MXR Distortion +-MXR Micro Amp nexus. By providing access to the different factors that distinguish these pedals, the Distortion 3 allows you to emulate them or blend them to fantastic effect. Of course, you can dial in the stock 250 tone but you can tweak the circuit as you see fit. You can roll in more low end. You can expand the top end. You can adjust the compression for full-on, blown-out distortion or, conversely, to tighten up your tone for a more muscular low-gain drive. You can tweak the clipping and distortion characteristics, allowing for hairier or smoother tones. All of this is accomplished by blending in different elements of the three pedals, which is perfect for those who have their own ideas about how the DOD 250—as good as it is—can work better in their own rigs. It may seem like a lot of knobs, but I used every one of ‘em—subtly—to dial in my dream 250 tone.

The Doubleheader: Earthquaker Devices Gray Channel

With the Gray Channel, Earthquaker Devices returns to the 250 after early experiments resulted in the White Light OD. Where the White Light was effective but polite, the Gray Channel hews closer to the 250s general demeanor and uses different clipping options to accentuate different elements of its character. Between the two channels there are five different clipping options; both sides offer a no-clipping option, which, coincidentally, is a great setting for a low-gain drive, offering just a little more compression than the 250 itself which is to say, in my book, the right amount. The green channel, like the Distortion 3, offers Silicon and Germanium clipping—the former is classic 250, the latter is what the Distortion + used. The red channel offers LED and Mosfet clipping, which are a little more rock monster-y. With these options, the Gray Channel offers a lot of flexibility while essentially retaining the original 250’s no-brainer interface. It also solves the problem of whether to use the 250 format as a low-gain or high-gain OD. The answer is: both.

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