In the world of guitar effects pedals, there are plenty of huge players out there which most any guitarist can probably name – Jim Dunlop, Electro Harmonix and BOSS come to mind. There are also plenty of other lesser known but just as outstanding boutique brands such as Way Huge, Xotic Effects, Death By Audio and Maxon. And then, there are some companies out there that made their name off of taking one’s creation, tweaking it and giving it a one of a kind feel. Of course, I’m talking about pedal mods and you just can’t talk about mods without bringing up Keeley Electronics. Sure, the company now has its own line of original stomp boxes but to this day, their main bread and butter still consists of very popular effects pedal modifications. Today, we will be taking a look at one of their more popular alterations – the Keeley BOSS BD-2 Phat Mod Overdrive pedal – but before we get into that, how about we take a quick look at the company’s interesting history.
The History of Keeley Electronics
Much like the story of Microsoft and Apple before it, the birth of what would become Keeley Electronics was born out of the garage of one man with a simple vision – taking already excellent guitar effects pedals and making them better, although it didn’t actually start out that way. According to a January 2012 interview with Premiere Guitar magazine, when company founder Robert Keeley started his business venture in his Oklahoma City garage back in 2001, he initially wanted to get into building amplifiers but quickly changed his mind once he realized that the amp market was "highly saturated and becoming more so every day." Instead, Keeley shift his focus on the growing market of hand built pedals whose only competition at the time was Mike Piera of Analog Man and Mike Fuller from Fulltone. While teaching at a small technical college, Keeley enlisted the help of several of his best students and began building and modifying old effects pedals, the first of which being an old Ross Compressor. Interestingly enough, Keeley claims to have gotten most of the ideas for his mods by taking a look at feedback and commentary on several guitar forums – pretty much listening to the people and giving them what no one else is willing to give them. Not a bad idea when you think about it. Soon after, the company Keeley created back in his garage took off, aided mainly by a reputation for high quality products and famous customers such as Brad Paisley, Peter Frampton, Jon Herington and Ike Willis. Today, Keeley Electronics is now one of the world’s leading guitar effects pedal with plenty of sought after pedal modifications along with a slew of their own popular original creations.
The Keeley BOSS Blues Driver BD-2 Phat Mod Overdrive Pedal
If you are familiar with the original BOSS BD-2, you probably won’t notice any difference from just taking a quick look at the outside (besides the added PHAT switch and the blue LED) and that’s to be expected as most of the magic in the mod takes place on the inside. Among the two biggest changes to the original Blues Driver – thanks mainly to an upgrade of several of its inside components such as several new diodes and capacitors – is its overdrive characteristics and a widened frequency range, the latter of which is by far the single best feature over the original, but more on that in a bit. As far as controls go, the Blues Driver Phat Mod is right in line with your average overdrive pedal; you have control knobs for tone, level and gain along with a flip switch labeled PHAT. The LEVEL knob is pretty much the volume control on this sucker. If you dial it in to its max setting and are using pretty heavy overdrive, you will probably get a pretty significant hissing sound but considering that at this setting the original signal is boosted at over three times its original fidelity, it’s not really the pedals fault. I found that I can have the level knob at about 70% of its max setting with some pretty significant overdrive without causing any noticeable noise which should be plenty good for anyone in my opinion.
By taking a look at the TONE knob, now we can begin to see the very big differences between the stock and mod. Those of you out there familiar with the original Blues Driver can probably recall the very “woof” like sound of the low tones and the “crystal” sort of feel of the high end. The reason for this – and a huge flaw – is that as you move the TONE knob on the stock version you are actually cutting the opposing frequency which pretty much means a limited overall frequency range (which for you means a pain trying to get a very precise kind of tone). Not with a Keeley mod and definitely not with the Blues Driver Phat Mod; this pedal is as transparent as it gets, complete with a very full dynamic range and plenty of character. Taking a look at Keeley’s site tells you that the Blues Driver Phat Mod also works very well with bass guitars and although I haven’t tried it out yet myself, I can wholeheartedly agree that the this pedal can handle the low end far better than the original.
Alright, and for another huge upgrade over the stock version we head to the GAIN control; if you like the sound of tube-driven overdrive, you absolutely have to check this pedal out – right now! Not only is the clipping of the overdrive much more harmonic than the original, its far more harmonic than most other pedals I’ve ever used. Keeley himself describes the Phat Mod as “having been modified to have a slight asymmetrical clipping – this mod gives you 2nd order harmonic distortion.” You don’t have to know much about the different orders of distortion to know that this means a much warmer, natural and tube-like sound over the original. And for all of you guitarists out there who just have to have a pedal with excellent picking dynamics, the Blues Driver Phat Mod is excellent in that department as well. By slightly altering your picking intensity, it becomes fairly obvious just how nice this added detail actually sounds in action. Along with its really nice lows and crystal clear high frequency, the added detail in the picking response just begs for some very crisp, screaming solos.
And finally, we have the PHAT switch which is pretty much intended to be used as a lower frequency booster for a much thicker sound – fat, if you will. As I flipped the switch and tried it out for the first time, I was honestly expecting a huge difference in overall sound by was a little surprised when it actually just made a very slight difference. I switched over from my humbucker equipped Tele to my Strat with stock single coils in order to see if it made much of a difference (since humbuckers already tend to have a “fat” sound). There was a difference, but not much. At first, this seemed like a negative – a throw away feature kind of – but the more I messed around with the rest of the settings the more I started to understand and appreciate the subtleness. Imagine this extra little bass boost from the PHAT switch as kind of like that cherry on top or a fine tuner type of control – it won’t change the flavor of your tone but when you need a sound just a tad bit thicker, this switch is just the ticket.
All in all, the Blues Driver Phat Mod is a very excellent pedal that is far more than just a simple upgrade over the original. With its very transparent frequency range, excellent picking dynamics and outstanding tube-like overdrive, the Blues Driver Phat Mod is definitely a pedal that every guitarist should check out. You know this pedal is doing something right if The Edge and Brad Paisley swear by it! If you would like to check out the rest of our great selection of Keeley Electronic pedals including several of their original creations, simply hit the link and enjoy!