Lunastone have now built up quite a portfolio of different drive pedals, the common factor being that they use cascaded gain stages rather than clipping diodes to achieve their amp-like distortion. New to the range this year, the Smooth Drive 1 claims to deliver vintage tones that are just on the edge of break-up, rather than full-on distortion. Construction follows the familiar Lunastone drive pedal pattern, with three rotary controls for drive, volume and tone, and a large status LED to leave you in no doubt as to when the pedal is active. The footswitch offers true bypass and operates quietly. The chocolate-coloured die-cast casework has metals jacks for the ins and outs plus a standard 9V power port on the top edge. Battery power is supported, though you’ll have to unscrew the base (four screws) to access the battery compartment. A peek inside reveals seriously tidy engineering.
The world is awash with drive pedals, but I soon found myself warming to this one — it has the ability to make a ruthlessly clean amp sound rather more lively, with a gentle edge to the sound. At up to halfway, the drive control keeps the sound almost clean, especially with single-coil pickups, but there’s still a little compression and some subtle harmonic manipulation going on to keep the sound interesting. With the drive up full you can still get a clean single-coil sound by backing off the guitar volume, and even flat out the sound never gets too raunchy, just nice and bluesy. Switch to a guitar with powerful humbuckers and you can achieve more break-up, but this pedal is all about finding a sweet spot that works with your amp — it’s the kind of thing you could leave on all the time, and then cascade another drive pedal with it for a more gutsy sound where desired. What I particularly like is that if you set the tone control just right, the core guitar tone doesn’t change as you add drive — the sound just grows more ‘hair’. There’s also enough level boost on hand that you could use the Smooth Drive 1 to push the front end of your amp, to force it to contribute to the driven tone.
Bass players might find a useful role for this pedal too, in making a solid-state amp sound a bit more organic. And there’s also the option of processing a keyboard such as an organ or electric piano, for which I find a hint of dirt often enhances the sound. You could even route a DAW signal through it as an alternative to a software warmer...
All in all, then, this is a very nice pedal that does its very best to keep you from reaching for the off switch!
£149 including VAT.