REVIEW: Seymour Duncan 805 Overdrive

IK Multimedia's MODO BASS

805overdrive

Overdrive pedals are a funny thing: some of us like to use them to get crunchy, amp-like warmth. Some of us like to use them to boost an already overdriven amp channel into the next level. And almost everyone defaults to a certain green box when they think of analog overdrive pedals. The Seymour Duncan 805 Overdrive was designed with those classic tones in mind as a starting point but this pedal has significant differences from the Tube Screamer, beginning with the chip that powers its sound. While early development focused on the same chip, SD engineers eventually ended up with the MC33178 due to what they felt were superior sonic characteristics (along with a lower noise level and longer battery life). Click here to buy one.

While most overdrives come with three controls – level, gain and tone controls – the 805 has Level and Drive as well as three small tone controls (Bass, Mid and Treble). This interactive three-band EQ is the key to its tonal flexibility, while the gain range is greatly expanded compared to traditional overdrives, starting with 8dB up to 36db, nudging up into the reaches of ‘distortion’ territory but also giving you a great range of clean tones as well.

Battery access is via an easily removable door on the back of the unit (inside which you’ll see your pedal’s serial number and build date), while inside the box you’ll find hook-and-loop and non-slip rubber pads (attach whichever one you need) as well as handy little red arrow stickers that you can use to make out your preferred settings. And the included User’s Guide gives you a few handy suggested settings, including one suggested by Mr. Keith Merrow. In the interests of full disclosure, I was one of the lucky folks who got to test the 805 Overdrive in prototype form back in January, along with Keith, Wes Haunch and some other players of quite diverse backgrounds. Of the prototypes we tested, one had noticeably more detailed, three-dimensional tone compared to the other; almost like the difference between hearing a distortion pedal and a cranked amp! And it was this design that went on to become the 805 you see today.

Alright, so how does the 805 sound? Let’s start with the cleans. The beauty of the 805 is that it can be quite transparent and flat unless you want it to be otherwise. You can use it as a boost with minimal colouring or for extreme tone-shaping. Zero out the bass and mids and blast mids and treble for a cool ‘megaphone’ effect for dramatic emphasis before a chorus. Increase the highs but dip out the mids and reduce the output a bit to clean up an overdriven preamp. Push the mids and roll back the treble a little while turning up the gain for a Strat-friendly SRV tone.  There’s enough gain here to get some nice classic-rock crunch tone happening and some nice singing fusion-style leads.

With an overdriven amp you can use the 805 for all sorts of fun things: tighten up an aggressive metal rhythm tone by increasing the pedal’s highs and lowering the bass. Beef up the chunk factor to take a Countdown To Extinction tone up to an Endgame one. Or perhaps my favourite trick: max out the gain and midrange controls to get a big, fat, sustaining, honky, Robert Fripp-meets-Vernon Reid lead tone which sounds like nothing else you’ve ever heard. This pedal will happily get out of your way when you ask it to, subtly working its magic around the edges, or you can really let it take over your sound – in a good way – by taking advantage of that midrange control. And let’s not forget that the bass boost/cut control lets you really fatten up the low end if that’s what you need, or to take the boom out of the bass frequencies if you’ve already got a little too much heft in those frequencies.

The 805 is one of the most versatile overdrive pedals I’ve ever played, and I’m continually finding new things I can do with it. Plus that seafoam green is so damn attractive I just wanna lick it. That’s normal, right?

Click here to buy an 805 Overdrive.