Freekish Blues Alpha Drive controversy

Having recently acquired my own Freekish Blues Alpha Drive, I was moved to join the thread about whether it was a cynical clone of the much cheaper Chinese Joyo Ultimate Drive stompbox.

I was quite shocked by the waspish and apparently uninformed nature of many of the posts, so I decided to delve deeper by acquiring a Joyo so I could make the comparison for myself.

Now that I have first-hand experience of both, these are my observations :

1 the Alpha Drive is a really excellent pedal.  Great clean boost to moderate overdrive, retains the character of each guitar played through it, responds well to pickup selection, volume control and pick attack.  A great pedal for blues/rock/fusion and certainly competitively priced in the marketplace (I paid UK£164 for it – once I had managed to find and audition one).  It compares favourably to every boutique pedal I have managed to put it up against – vintage TS9 Tubescreamer, Homebrew, Providence, Zen Drive, Keeley, Rothwell etc.  Most important, and to me the mark of a good instrument, amp or effect, it makes you want to play!

2 the Ultimate Drive is perhaps even more remarkable, because it’s also a great sounding pedal and it’s stupid cheap.  It goes much brighter, overdrives more and the switch has a more pronounced effect.  It perhaps lacks a touch of of the Alpha Drive’s subtlety but it performs unbelievably well for a pedal that only costs ~$40 (I paid UK£34 inc shipping for mine).

3 physically, they are pretty much identical.  Same dimensions, layout and external components.  Different paintwork and control knobs.  The Alpha Drive is on the left below.

4 inside, they are very, very similar, but not identical.  The Alpha Drive housing is sparkly/matt raw metal, whereas the Ultimate Drive’s is unfinished slightly-polished metal.  The Alpha’s base plate is painted black, the Joyo’s is raw silver metal.

I have not removed the two circuit boards from their housings, so I can only comment on the undersides of the circuit boards, which are similar, but different, as the pix show.    Moreover, the circuit board themselves evidence different routing.  I don’t know enough about electronics to know whether these differences in routing are significant, but they are obvious.

My judgement is that the many similarities indicate that the Alpha Drive could indeed be a rebuild of the Ultimate Drive at a hefty markup as is alleged.  A giveaway could be that both my pedals came with exactly the same brand of generic Chinese 9v battery.

But that said, I do not consider the Alpha Drive to be overpriced and for my playing I judge its voicing to make it the better product.  However slight any modifications might be, in the ‘angels on pinheads’ world of ultimate guitar tone one is not buying the cost value of the components but the maker’s/modder’s skills in delivering a sound.  And the whole history of stomboxes is about people modding other people’s designs, usually without attribution, let alone compensation!

I particularly like the way both pedals make single coils sound fat.  The Joyo is an absolute steal at the price.  I know I’m going to enjoy playing them both.

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