This is a regularly updated article on the best Blues Driver-style pedals. We have similar guides for other popular overdrive circuits like the Klon, the Tube Screamer, the Dumble, and the Blues Breaker – enjoy!
Updated on 12.15.2021
The Boss BD-2 Blues Driver has become a perennial favorite for beginners and pros alike searching for a solid low to mid-gain overdrive. Introduced in 1995, it delivers classic tones that, combined with an affordable price tag, regularly make the BD-2 one of the best-selling pedals in the world each year.
Circuit and Sound
The BD-2 belongs to the family of transistor-based overdrives (a quick lesson about them can be found here), using stages of FETs (field-effect transistors) to create clipping by pushing them to their breaking point, similar to the way tubes break up in amps. These amplification stages are followed by a gain recovery stage, a bass boosting circuit and buffering. You can find more info about its schematics here.
This kind of circuit doesn’t color the tone with a mid-hump typical of the Tube Screamer, while also retaining the low end of the original tone and touch responsiveness. Also, unlike other transparent overdrives, the BD-2 can veer into distorted tones at higher settings.
This warm, amp-like, touch-sensitive overdrive is a fantastic all-rounder for not just blues players, but anyone who needs a bit of lovely grit (so, everyone).
In this article, we are going to highlight both the original Blues Driver BOSS units and the various mods, clones and evolutions, and also some similar-sounding drives based on a similar FET circuit.
ORIGINAL BOSS BLUES DRIVER PEDALS
If you believe that nothing ever beats the original, look no further. The pedals in this category include the original 1995 Blues Driver (still in production) and its two-voice Waza Craft evolution from 2014.
BOSS BD-2 Blues Driver (1995)
The classic three-knob layout makes dialing in a great tone dead simple. Though many have tried, it is hard to improve upon a classic! There are very few guitarists out there who would be unhappy with a stock BD-2 on their board, although some think that the now discontinued JHS mod of the BD-2 which gives you a 3-way toggle with expended voicing, elevates this circuit to perfection.
Boss BD-2w Blues Driver (2014)
The Wava series updates old BOSS designs to modern specs, adding extra voicings. A deluxe version of the classic BD-2, the BD-2w features a revised all-discrete circuit and a new “custom” mode voicing which provides body and sustain. Just like the original, but with improved circuitry and extra tonal options.
POPULAR BLUES DRIVER MODS (USED)
In the early aughts, a business model surfaced among emerging pedal builders based on improving, through modding, existing pedals. The Blues Driver got particularly lucky in this department, receiving the “attention” of the likes of Analogman, JHS Pedals and Keeley. That business model ended before the beginning of the ’20s, but all of these mods can still be found in the used market.
A less subtle BD-2 mod than the other ones, this pedal adds a toggle switch that transforms the circuit into a heavily compressed fuzz device. The “regular” Blue Driver channel is also improved with smoother highs, solid bass response and lower noise, and an overall wider tonal range.
A mod that improves the original circuit with quality, expensive components (like capacitors) and some values to make the tone control more usable (the original one barely affects the high-end) and the low-end even tighter.
A mod that upgrades some key components for a warmer and more dynamic tone. The optional “phat” toggle (pictured) gives you a bassier voice. This is basically the prototype of what then became the Keeley Phat Mod, found in the previous category.
BLUES DRIVER CLONES
Another very cheap BD-2 clone, but with separate low and high EQ knobs instead of the traditional single tone control. Also comes with a nifty cover to make sure your knobs don’t get knocked out of position.
A very affordable take on the BD-2 style circuit from trusted TC Electronic. It doesn’t get much simpler than this, and if you’re in need of a BD-2 with true bypass and top jacks this is an easy choice.
An affordable OEM clone of the Keeley modded BD-2. The Blues Mood provides the same amp like touch-sensitive overdrive, with a bright/fat switch and a price tag every starving artist can afford.
A clone kit of the BD-2, the Blue Overdrive can be built with or without the classic Keeley Phat mod. It also features true bypass for the purists!
A somehow even simpler Blues Driver, the BL-8 features just level and drive controls inside a polished metal casing. For the musician on a budget who just wants to set and forget, this is a great option.
BLUES DRIVER EVOLUTIONS AND VARIATIONS
Used loosely here, some of these pedals directly come from the BD-2 while others simply use comparable circuitry to create similar amp-style overdrive!
Robert Keeley’s BD-2 mod was long considered an essential upgrade for the circuit. Now it is available in its own enclosure. Comes with a Flat / Phat toggle switch for a standard full-range response or the signature Keeley mode with warmth and body. There is also a Super Phat Germanium version, and a more recent Super AT Mod one from 2023 engineered in collaboration with Andy Timmons.
The JHS Angry Charlie and BD-2 Blues Driver in one convenient box! The circuits can be stacked in parallel, series, or selected individually. Three dual-concentric knobs allow for independent tone, level, and drive controls for each circuit.
A FET overdrive designed to produce clear low gain tones all the way to a sagging amp on the verge of blowing up. Designed in collaboration with boutique builder SHOE pedals. Features pre-drive bass and post-drive treble controls, a unique input filter that tames overly bright guitars and a second gain stage with the high/low toggle switch.
A modern cult favorite, the Mini excels in versatility. Using JFETs to create tube-like grit, the Mini features a bias control to create low-watt saggy amp tones and a bass cut knob for more sparkly chime.
A multi-stage drive voiced after tube amp circuitry, the Riverside uses a combination of analog and DSP to create a uniquely versatile overdrive. The Riverside can simulate BD-2 tones with ease, or it can do much more – from pushed Fender to cranked Marshall.
4 Blues Driver-Style Pedal Shootout (BD-2, Waza Craft, Mooer, Keeley)
4 Blues Driver-Style Pedal Shootout (BD-2, BD-2w, TC Cinders, Digitech Screamin’ Blues)