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Overview

The Emerson EM-Drive is at the vanguard of the don't-mess-with-my-tone movement made popular by the increasing accessibility of boutique amp tone. In a world where transparency rules, this small company from Oklahoma has become royalty with their hand-wired overdrives.

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Product Specs

Brand
Model
  • EM-Drive Transparent Overdrive
Finish
  • Turquoise
Year
  • 2010s
Made In
  • United States

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The Emerson EM-Drive is one of only two overdrive pedals and a handful of kits made by this Oklahoma family of hand-wiring wizards. The fact that it has gained so much market attention in so little time since the company's creation in 2009 is a testament to the EM-Drive's claims about transparent tone. As the desire for transparency in overdrives seems to swell, pedals such as the Emerson EM-Drive and the Paul Cochrane Timmy are emerging as new favorites to use solo or in conjunction with other more colorful overdrives as a gain stage.

It's a bold move to put the words "Transparent Overdrive" right on the casing of your pedal, given that so many overdrives have that word orbiting around them in the form of heated debates on message boards and forums. But the Emerson team is a confident and detail-oriented bunch (just check out their site for a rundown of the materials they use). They aren't worried about not delivering on the promise. They even took away the tone knob seen on most overdrives. There isn't any fiddling with the settings to dial in the feeling of transparency with the EM-Drive. No matter where you turn the gain knob, you're going to hear your guitar's natural character coming through the amp, pushing in the natural way your amp would break up on its own.

For those who are stilling building their amp knowledge, it should be pointed out that this pedal is intended for use mainly with quality tube amps. The whole point of transparency is to preserve the great organic results of how the tubes in your amp are getting pushed by your guitar signal. There is really no substitute for the warmth and openness of tubes slightly breaking up or the way a dimed tube amp sounds like a living thing. With the affordability of modern tube amps, there really is no excuse not to try them if you haven't already. And when you do, the Emerson EM-Drive should be front of mind when your pedal itch needs to be scratched.

How does the Emerson EM-Drive compare to the Paul Cochrane Timmy?

The first obvious difference is that the EM-Drive has only a volume and gain control, while the Timmy adds on separate bass and treble controls. The EM-Drive also seems to have a fuller sound with more inherent headroom. There are plenty of head-to-head comparison videos you can find to help you figure out if that's something you prefer. Both are good, transparent overdrives, with one a little more straightforward than the other.

How does the EM-Drive differ from Emerson's other overdrive, the Paramount?

Emerson embraces the concept of gain-staging, or chaining multiple overdrives together to have tiered options of blended or independent drive tones. The EM-Drive was designed to be more of a clean boost and low-gain overdrive when turned up. The Paramount is designed to be a medium-gain, second stage overdrive in the chain. It includes a tone knob as well, allowing a bit more shaping ability while offering a higher ceiling for your volume.

I've heard that these pedals can be touchy with cheaper power supplies, like the One-Spot. Does this mean I'll have to get an expensive isolated power supply, too?

It is true that power sources like the One-Spot can bleed noise into your chain with very sensitive circuits like those used in the EM-Drive, especially at high volumes. Emerson Custom does recommend using an isolated power supply, and we tend to agree that these are good investments anyway. They provide some insurance that you're getting the best performance from each of your pedals and won't ever make you afraid to connect a pedal to your board for fear that you're going to ruin it with a cheap power supply.