Since its creation in 1995, the Boss BD-2 Blues Driver has been a staple for blues guitarists the world over.
It’s an economic solution to getting Stevie Ray Vaughn and Eric Clapton tones in a stomp box.
While the Blues Driver has earned plenty of critical acclaim over the years, I’ve noticed that it is talked about less and less by guitarists today.
It is my hope to change that and to show you that this classic and underrated circuit is for more than just the blues.
- The BD-2 blues driver pedal delivers the creamy, yet crunchy sound associated with great blues guitar
The Boss Blues Driver holds a special place in my heart, because it was the first overdrive pedal I ever played. My dad got me a Keeley modified BD-2 Blues Driver with the Phat Mod, which is now considered to be a pivotal turn in the pedals’ history. This is the same pedal that I’m using in this Hands-On review.
While there are many modified versions of this pedal, such as the updated Keeley Super Phat Mod (essentially the same pedal I have in a new enclosure), the Boss BD-2W Waza Craft Edition, and miniature Mooer Blues Mood, they all share the core characteristics of the original Blues Driver.
This is an overdrive pedal built with blues players in mind, with its “tube amp-like” crunch and natural sounding compression. According to Reverb.com, Keeley calls the Blues Driver a “Fender Super in a Box”.
However, as I’m sure all of these builders will attest, the Blues Driver is much more versatile than its name implies. It is one of the few overdrive pedals that can deliver fantastic sounding boost, overdrive, distortion, AND fuzz tones all in one, simple pedal. Like all Boss pedals, the BD-2 Blues Driver has buffered bypass, making it a great buffer pedal to place at the beginning of your signal.
Finally, the Boss BD-2 Blues Driver is an accessible and affordable overdrive that can be found just about anywhere. I would argue that if the Blues Driver was a limited run pedal, it would have the same notoriety as the Klon Centaur.
While some modified versions of the pedal may cost a little bit more, the original pedal will only cost around $100 brand new (or less used) and it will absolutely deliver killer tones for any genre. Not to mention, the pedal is built like a tank as all Boss pedals are.
For being such a versatile pedal, the controls on the Boss Blues Driver are super simple. There are just three controls: Level, Tone, and Gain.
Level: Adjusts the Volume of the effect. Unity gain is usually around noon-1, with a substantial amount of volume on tap beyond that.
Tone: The BD-2 has a much more usable Tone control than most other Boss pedals of its time, and I think this is one of the secrets to unlocking the pedal. Even the most extreme settings have their time and place. Setting to the Left darkens your tone and setting to the right brightens the effect.
Gain: Distortion/Overdrive. Every position on this dial can be used. All the way to the left add slight breakup and setting all the right hits borderline fuzz type gain.
If you have a modified pedal or the updated Waza Craft edition, there is likely some kind of switch that revoices the pedal slightly. These modifications typically add a small amount of bass boost or asymmetrical clipping (for added harmonics and a more open, warm sound).
Just like all Boss pedals, the BD-2 runs off a Boss PSA adaptor at 9V. It has side mounted input/output jacks and has the classic Boss stomp footswitch to turn the pedal on/off.
This is the most “bluesy” setting that I use, especially when paired with a Strat-style guitar. However, this setting can also be used as an “always on” effect like any great boost pedal. Just adjust your guitar’s volume control if you need to quiet down.
Set the Level control beyond unity gain, around 2:00 , to push the front end of your amp. The Tone control is set to boost high end frequencies, also around 2:00. And finally, set the gain all the way off. This still adds a slight amount of hair to you sound and is great if you’re using a crystal clean amp setting that you want to add a slight amount of tube breakup.
You may want to dial in the Tone control depending on what kind of guitar/amp pairing you use, as some modern amps can be bright enough as is. The idea is to add some high-end frequencies to cut through the mix for solos or to brighten up a neck pickup.
The Blues Driver does higher gain rhythm sounds well too, adding punch to your sound without overpowering the rest of your band.
For this kind of sound I set the Level at unity gain or just past, around noon. I then roll the Tone off to about 11:00 for tonal clarity, without boosting the high end too much.
These Volume/Tone settings set you up for really versatile gain settings. Turing the gain to 10:00 gives you a crunchy overdrive sound that is perfect for classic rock or heavy blues sounds. However, if you need more, the Blues Driver has your back. Push the Gain to 2:00 for rich, overtone filled distortion sounds.
The Blues Driver remains tight in the low end, even to the point that some may want more (hence the Phat Mod options on modified pedals). Whether you’re riffing on the low E or A strings, or playing up on the higher strings, the Blues Driver remains as punchy and dynamic as a cranked tube amplifier.
Refined Fuzz Face
This is my favorite sound to use out with this pedal. While most overdrives sound mushy or sloppy with the Gain pushed to the max, the Blues Driver pushes into what Robert Keeley calls a “Refined Fuzz Face” sound.
With the Level set past unity, around 1:00, turn the Tone control down to about 9:00. This really warms up your sound. Then crank the Gain all the way up. If you have the ability to add a bass boost, even better.
What you get is a massive, distorted, wall of sound. This works even in front of clean amplifiers. If you’re going in front of an already driven amp you might want to turn the Gain down some, but I’d argue there isn’t much need for this.
Cranking the Gain introduces an almost octave type effect that makes your guitar sing when playing single notes. There is sustain for days with this setting, so keep this in your back pocket for your guitar solos.
- Versatile Tone and Gain structure
- Low Cost
- Easy to acquire
- Fun to modify
- Plays well with all pickups/amp types
- Original circuit can sound thin at certain settings
Final Thoughts on the Boss BD-2 Blues Driver
The Boss BD-2 Blues Driver is a pedal that I have played with for over fifteen years and it remains one of my favorite circuits to this day. Admittedly, I have a modified version of the pedal, but the original Boss Blues Driver pedals are still great on their own.
The fact that these pedals are near perfect for so many is part of their charm and lore. How many pedal manufacturers started off modifying Boss pedals, specifically the Blues Driver? If you pick up a Blues Driver and you love it, but there are some minor changes you want to make, this is a great pedal to learn how to modify on.
The fact that the pedal sounds amazing and is readily available at an attainable price point only makes this pedal better. If my Keeley Mod malfunctioned on the road, I could walk into any guitar shop and pick up a brand new Boss Blues Driver off the shelf, and I would know that I have a reliable, and incredibly versatile pedal.
Whether you already own a Blues Driver, or you’re looking to purchase your first, just try out these settings I’ve recommended, and you’ll get it. The Boss Blues Driver is more than just an overdrive. It is a diverse, amp-in-a-box, tone sculpting machine.
I hope that this article shed some light on a pedal that you have probably seen but may have overlooked due to its name. Or maybe this article will encourage you to dig up your old dusty blue pedal.
The Boss BD-2 Blues Driver is not just for blues players. It can be used in just about any genre when paired with the right amp, guitar, and player.
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Davis Wilton Bader is a professional guitarist/writer based out of St. Louis, MO. He plays in the bands Lumet and The Outskirts.