Marshall DriveMaster review: the underdog of the Vintage Reissue group has no shortage of pep
It’s essentially a revamp of the Guv’nor, but does this medium-gain overdrive deserve more recognition than the original version ever received?
Marshall DriveMaster. Image: Adam Gasson
This review might be a bit shorter than the other three. Why? Because, through no fault of its own, the new DriveMaster is surely doomed to be the least interesting pedal of Marshall’s 2023 range.
- READ MORE: Marshall The Guv’nor review: the great amp maker’s first ever overdrive pedal gets a faithful reissue
One of the three ‘second gen’ units launched in 1991, the DM was essentially just a tweaked Guv’nor. The idea was to take the same concept and give it some internal upgrades to make it a better all-round overdrive – but the fact that it was gone by the end of 1992 suggests this was not a wholly successful mission. Shame… but we’re here now, so might this one be due a reappraisal?
The DriveMaster does have at least one advantage over the Guv’nor, and that’s the shape of its enclosure. That raised section across the middle shields the knobs from accidental kickings, while allowing the control panel to be flat so those knobs are facing straight upwards. This makes the position markers a lot easier to see than the down-angled ones on the Guv.
You might also consider it an advantage that the DM doesn’t have that daftly redundant loop socket on the back – but what might be a little more pertinent than that is the battery cover, which unclips with a push of the thumb rather than requiring a screwdriver. Of course, most of us are using adapters instead of batteries nowadays, but every little victory counts.
Anyway, the only thing that really matters here is tone, so let’s power up the black and red wedge and see how it gets on.
We begin with all five knobs pointing straight up – well, apart from anything else, it looks neater like that. And what comes out is, predictably, strikingly similar to what we get from the Guv’nor at the same settings: medium-gain crunch with plenty of bite but a broadly neutral EQ response.
You can see what Marshall tried to do with this one, though: the treble is a little more open and airy, which makes for a slightly more ‘hi-fi’ sound, while there’s also less congestion at the lower end of the spectrum. Now take that starting point and add the flexibility of an excellent three-band tonestack, and in theory this is a definite improvement on the hoary old Guv.
In practice, though, it doesn’t necessarily work out that way. Some players will prefer the DM, for sure; but it can stray into fizziness, it doesn’t feel as good for tight and choppy chord work, and you may well conclude that it simply isn’t quite as nice.
We’re talking fine margins, though – it’s still a fine Brit-voiced overdrive, and not one that you should rule out without giving it a spin for yourself.