Review: MXR Custom Shop Raijin Drive

Tonehounds of the world rejoice! MXR is now serving up aspirational sounds in collaboration with a boutique mastermind.

MXR Raijin
This is not a transparent OD, it beefs up your sound for modern thick crunch

Tokyo-based Shin Suzuki has been Japan’s Dumble amplifier repair technician of choice since the mid 1990s and his own Dumbloid pedals have been whetting the appetites of well-heeled stompbox connoisseurs for almost as long.

Suzuki has entered the pantheon of exalted names alongside Alexander Dumble himself, Toshihiko Tanabe, Alfonso Hermida and others, and this new Raijin Drive pedal, (Shin’s second collaboration with the MXR Custom Shop – the first being the Shin-Juku Drive), promises legendary quality at a less eye-watering price point.

The Raijin Drive’s uncluttered control layout, bright-blue LED and stylised Monshō graphic make for a visually pleasing pedal, while the knobs feel solid and smooth. The jack sockets are high quality, but we’d have welcomed top- rather than side-mounting for improved pedalboard feng shui.

In use

Approaching the Raijin Drive with a Strat, we begin in overdrive mode with all the knobs at noon. While engaging the pedal certainly adds some hair, the sound is a little dark on impact, even on the bridge pickup. There’s definitely a vintage-tweed flavour to the rhythm tones that we coax from the Raijin Drive at lower levels – it may not chime, but it will grunt!

As we wind up the tone and drive knobs, we find that with a clean amp, there is a definite ‘biting point’ at around two o’clock where the sound really starts to come to life. Once it does, we are presented with an archetypal soloist’s overdrive, smooth and fat and responsive to a bare-finger approach as much as to a plectrum. From an overdriven bark to all-out heavy crunch is a relatively short journey on the drive knob and at full chat, we unleash a soaring, mid-heavy lead sound that reminds us in no uncertain terms of this pedal’s sonic pedigree.

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MXR Raijin
Flicking the mini switch (with a corresponding click) engages the distortion circuit

As we explore further, we come to the conclusion that the Raijin Drive works best as a way to kick an already gritty amp over the edge. This is especially true when we flick the mini-toggle switch (with a resultant pop) and slip casually into distortion mode, where things go up a notch with added intensity and aggression. It’s a modern distortion, reminiscent of Soldano/Armani-era Clapton and while powerful, you may find it’s a little fizzy when pushed to extremes.

Particularly impressive, however, is the way complex modal soloing beloved of the likes of Robben Ford and Larry Carlton (who arguably brought this sound to the fore) comes through, with strong sustain and a nuanced and immediate response to expressive bends and vibrato. This is not a particularly cutting sound – the initial attack is a little blurred at times and you may find yourself reaching for the level knob in order to power through the mix. Thankfully, there is a lot of headroom available, should that be an issue.

While it’s unlikely that the Raijin Drive will be the only overdrive you’ll ever have on your board, it’s capable of some very characterful and expressive tones, the likes of which are normally only encountered in pedals at several times the asking price.

Key Features

  • PRICE £140
  • TYPE Overdrive/distortion pedal made in the USA and designed in collaboration with Shin Suzuki
  • CONTROLS Level, tone, drive knobs. Mini-toggle switches between overdrive and distortion
  • DIMENSIONS 59 x 47 x 110mm
  • CONTACT Westside Distribution westsidedistribution.com, jimdunlop.com

Like this? Try these

  • Vemuram Jan Ray £339
  • Hermida (LovePedal) Zen Drive £239
  • Tanabe Dumkudo £350
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