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.

8 Responses to Freekish Blues Alpha Drive controversy

  1. jeff makor says:

    I completely agree. I bought and played both and if i wished to modify the joyo, I’d always be wondering if everything was indeed done. It has all the hallmarks of a modification of the Joyo, but if I want any pedal done professionally, I’d send to Analogueman or keeley. They don’t always change the cosmetics but charge for professional work to be carried out to give the customer what they actually want.
    There, not unlike you, i was happy to purchase the Alpha and it is a superb overdrive and more suited to my kind of playing. It’s full of sweet spots and the subtle adjustments over the joyo won’t diminish Joyos sales at all. if anything, they will benefit by all the fuss made on the web. So, if you’re happy to pay for the upgraded overdrive, buy it and don’t look back. it’s superb.

  2. Rockbeare says:

    Thanks, Jeff, glad you agree. I gigged my ’73 tele through the Alpha Drive at a blues gig the other night and it was just fab. Mind you, so was my clean boosted sound via my Keeley Java Boost. Pity about my playing, tho! Season’s best, keep enjoying the Alpha….

  3. Mike says:

    I picked up a Joyo Ultimate Drive and I’m astonished at how well it works with single-coil guitars. I play a strat through it and it somehow is able to “beef up” the tone while still retaining the strat sound. It really does sound nice. It has way more gain than I’ll ever need, I normally keep it around 9:00. I do not own the other pedal shown here, but it looks like they modified the circuit slightly and purchased a bunch of metal boxes from Joyo.

  4. Rockbeare says:

    Thanks for this post – I agree with you. The Joyo is a fabulous pedal at any price, but for

  5. Dave Banman says:

    I just opened up my Joyo Ultimate Drive, took out the board, and the board is clearly labelled as Freekish Blues Alpha Drive II. I thought it was usually the alpha drive that had a joyo labelled board?

  6. Rockbeare says:

    Weird! Did you buy it from new, or could someone have tampered before it reached you?

    I’ll be really interested in what the Alpha Drive forum trolls have to say about this!

  7. ufo says:

    The “Alpha Drive trolls” let this issue die a long time ago. So should you.

  8. Rockbeare says:

    It takes one to know one, mate. fuck off and bother someone else.

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