Visual Sound Open Road Overdrive

Visual Sound's Open Road is a real sleeper in the crowded overdrive world, with incredible range of drive, tone and transparency.

The last time I ran a Visual Sound pedal through my rig was back in the old V1 grey box Jekyll and Hyde days. While that pedal sounded absolutely amazing, I still knew what I was getting: an improved Tube Screamer knockoff and a roaring black box-era Marshall Guv'nor clone. While there's nothing wrong with improving or adding a new twist on some old favorites – lots of manufacturers do it – I still felt like I was simply refining my setup/sound rather than actually adding something to it.

Well, if you’re looking to add a new tonal taste beneath your toes, the Open Road Overdrive might just fit the bill. Sound and setting-wise, I doubt you'll find any overdrive pedal out there with this much usable range and dimension.

Let's start with the all-important drive knob. Backed off to almost nothing, you'll have access to nothing but pure, clean boost that can be gently pushed with a bit of picking intensity. You won't knock out any searing blues solos here, but there is a nice warmth that thickens licks and adds a touch of sustain to picking parts.

Pushed a little further into the 9 o'clock range, there is a noticeable amount of mellow grit that surfaces. This lends itself really well to open chord crunchiness and perky lead bits.

12 o'clock is where most guitarists will start and this is where the Open Road really starts to show off. There is a perfect mix of tame and tough found here and it's all up to your own dynamics to make the musical magic happen. Digging into chords will bring out a raw and valve-ish-sounding roar that sits well in any musical genre that uses a touch of open edginess.

Twist into the higher drive settings and you'll find more of that same transparent amp-like tone, but the gain seems a hair tighter and much more focused. There aren't any weird tonal shifts or wild surprises at the extremes; just more toughness. At no point did my signal lose focus or clarity. “Predictable” might sound like a bad word here, but it's a huge compliment when it comes to the Open Road's dependable drive sweep.

Twiddle the tone knob in conjunction with any of the above drive settings and you can go from warm and wooly to savage and almost slicing, and everything in between. Unlike many other drive pedals, at no point in the tone knob's travels will you ever lose low or high end definition; it always sounds musical and is always easy to dial things in. Seriously, this is one of the few tone knobs that shapes from the very top to the very bottom.

Delicate adjustments between all three knobs can yield a wide variety of boost, bite, crunch and even subtle hints of muff-like fuzz. It's also worth mentioning that the level knob has plenty of headroom on tap – pushing (or is it punishing?) the front-end of your favorite tube amp is easily accomplished – and to great effect.

From a construction and design angle, the newer V2 Visual Sound pedals are a nice step forward from the old V1 days. You get a tough die-cast housing, an easy to stomp switch (rated at 10 million cycles!), a slick and easily accessible battery compartment and a stylish shape that actually protects the settings on the three adjustment knobs. Everything is where it should be; there are no design or functionality issues that get in the way of rocking, so to say. My only personal suggestion was that I wish the profile of the pedal – at least in the front  – was slightly lower, or at least angled to make for easier stomping. The Visual Sound switch is a real joy to stomp on and it would be great to have a little bit easier access to it.

Some things that struck me while playing the Open Road was how lovely the low-end definition was, how clearly the mid-range came through and how much the top-end sparkled without ever sounding shrill or thin. I never got the sense that the Open Road was robbing any of my guitar's true tone – all of "my sound" made it through the pedal's circuitry and actually sounded more robust on the other end.

Let's face it, most overdrive pedals have a very limited range of tones and venturing too far from the standard "high noon" settings is usually pretty disappointing. Not so with the Open Road, it's very interactive and should provide not only a wealth of workable tones, but hours of sonic exploration.