My buddy Steve Bright told me about a spanking-brand-new, hand-made distortion unit crafted in, of all places, Placerville, California-which used to be called "Hangtown" back in them Gold Rush Days. It's called the ScaryDrive and Steve told me that even though he just got it in the mail, he'd be willing to lend it to me for a week. "Why would you do that?" I asked. Then I quickly realized, "Right. The whole get-your-name-into-Tape-Op thing. Got it." Well, it did look like a pretty good distortion unit, all metallic yellow with black striping like a Transformer-ized zebra, so I took him up on the offer. Funny thing is, it's not really what you'd think you'd get from a drive called "Scary". I was expecting an over-the-top, hi-gain grunge sound (do the kids still call it that?), but it really sounds more like a Texan bluesy, Stevie Ray Vaughan-ish, classic rock sound. More TS-9 than Metal Zone, for sure.
The ScaryDrive is built like a tank and simple-reminiscent of the Fulltone products or other high quality, handcrafted pedals. The housing is all metal, and you've got your input, your output, and your three chicken knobs for volume, tone and gain. There's a stompbox button with an LED to let you know it's on, and if you keep the gain low, it'll work just fine as a booster pedal. You can run it on two 9 V batteries, but I used the DC adapter myself. For the first few tests, I ran it into my Mesa Boogie Mark III, and with volume and gain cranked but the tone knob on the bassy, barky side, I got a nice New Pornographers sound out of it. When I switched to Tele and cranked the tone over to the treble side, I got a twangy, biting "Funk #49" type sound.
But here's the best use I found-putting it in front of my Gordon preamp, then into the Lavry Blue to the Pro Tools rig, and then, believe it or not, adding the Native Instruments AC Box Combo plug-in. Alone, I find all software amps lacking body, but when I put the ScaryDrive in front of the AC Box Combo, it came alive. I didn't push the ScaryDrive too much-kept the knobs straight up and my Strat volume at around 5-but that's all I needed to get a big sound. The ScaryDrive features true bypass, and every time I bypassed the pedal, I was disappointed with the thin sound of the software amp; but every time I kicked it back in, I was amazed at how full and fleshed-out the sound was. Out, knife myself. In, knife you. Just like a guitar player should feel. It is a ScaryDrive. In the Clean Country preset of the AC Box Combo I got an Eagles-like "Already Gone" sound, and on the Liquid Glass preset a nice Stevie Ray sound. I tried it with NI's Twang Combo, and it worked well there too. In The Twang preset, I got a great "Crimson and Clover" type sound (yeah, I'm old), and the Full Drive setting gave me a nice Bad Company sound. I can't stress this enough-when the ScaryDrive was bypassed, these sounds disappeared. So put this in front of your DAW and smoke it.
Each ScaryDrive is custom painted and comes stock with translucent chicken knobs. It's made by Dr. Scary AKA Chris Eschborn, a former Millennia Media employee who also makes customized, hardwood-enclosed tube amps. Although his company is pretty much a solo act, the Doc gets some key help from people such as his painter, who customizes motorcycles as well. That might explain the cost, since at 300 bucks the ScaryDrive is a pricey little unit. Still, the Doc says they're flying off the shelves as fast as he can make them, even though his only marketing is a MySpace page. Now that's Scary. ($300 direct; www.myspace.com/docscary)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.