6 of the Best Butler Tube Driver Style Pedals

Electric Guitar Guitar Ownership Guitar Pedals Effects Pedals Butler Tube Driver BK Butler + -
2018AfBlg6TubeDrivers700-min

The 1983-designed B.K. Butler Tube Driver famously used by David Gilmour, Eric Johnson, Billy Gibbons and Joe Satriani to name a few. The core of the pedal is a hand-selected 12AX7 tube - which gives you a lovely sort of fuzz-drive sound than can sound amazingly smooth and textured in the hands of masters like David Gilmour - who still features 2 of these within his rig.

 

These were off the market for a while, then manufactured under licence as Chandler Tube Drivers - but they are now being made to order in limited quantities by the originator himself. A couple of obvious downsides are the significant size of the pedal and the built-in power-lead / power supply. This is in effect a mini tube pre-amp, so it has a significant power requirement which does not necessarily sit comfortably on modern boards. Obviously pricing and availability may be an issue for you too!

 

I have picked 5 really decent alternatives here - one of which - the TC Electronic Tube Pilot is actually powered by a 12AX7 type tube too. The other 4 pedals featured reproduce the same sort of sound via transistor-style circuits.

 

All of these sound pretty decent and I’m even tempted by the Tube Pilot here even though it has no tone controls, and is not as smooth as the others here. For a long time I have had my eye on the Buffalo FX TD-X - but that’s slightly larger than I would normally like. The similarly sized Fuzzrocious Dark Driving pedal is now discontinued, which makes my most likely acquisition either the Lovepedal / Hermida Audio Dover Drive or MXR FET Driver.

BK Butler Tube Driver - $299 (Standard 4 Knob) or $424 (+5th Bias Knob) (BK Butler)

I know this pedal best as a Pink Floyd and David Gilmour fan - where this is one of David's longest serving signature tones. As reported in the intro, he has had 2 of these in his rig for the longest time - and when I hear this pedal it immediately brings back memories of 'FLoyd. As also stated, it's a significantly larger format pedal in every dimension and features its own US-style power-chord which is fixed to the inside of the pedal. If you can stand the size, power requirement and waiting list - then this is still a great buy - is you like this lush tone. As most know already, I tend to look for more modern easy-to-use / easy-to-maintain alternatives - which makes this one an unlikely buy for me.

Buffalo FX TD-X - £199 (Joe's Pedals)

Ever since I first heard this pedal I've really liked it, and have considered it an exceptional viable alternative to the original Tube Driver. You get essentially the same controls - Hi + Lo EQ, with Level and Drive - where on the TD-X Drive = Gain. It's smaller, lower cost and more widely available than the original, but still a touch larger for me - would prefer it in a more compact enclosure.

Fuzzrocious Dark Driving (discontinued) - c£120-200 (Reverb.com)

There are various versions of this pedal, and the pictured one is the last version - which features a second Bright/Dark Footswitch - along with 2 x 3-way diode clipping mode toggles - which give you 9 different possibilities - plus the obvious Tone / Volume / Gain dials. This pedal is loved by bass players in particular, but sounds great on all types of guitar. 4 have been sold this year on Reverb.com - all second-hand. These were $200 when new. Note that the one in the video demo is one version behind the one pictured above - and has the Bright / Dark footswitch, but not the two 3-way toggles.

Lovepedal / Hermida Audio Dover Drive - £149 (Andertons)

This is one of my 2 current favourites here, reasonably priced and with a single Tone control. It still has a lovely Tube Driver tone, but I would probably have wanted more tone-sculpting ability. Very reasonably priced too and worthy of consideration.

MXR FET Driver - £122 (Various / GAK)

Possibly my favourite alternative here - really delivers the creamy drive of the original with the full tally of controls, and an additional Hi-Cut button / switch if you need it. It sounds great, but I feel that the Buffalo TD-X sounds just a smidge better.

TC Electronic Tube Driver - £49 (Various) (Note - 400mA input)

Easily the lowest cost here, and sounds great for what it is, but is not quite as smooth or versatile as these others. It certainly gives you a flavour of the original, but possibly not quite the range - even if you can sculpt the tone with your guitar's dials. It's the rawest one here and has a significant current draw, but still plenty of appeal.

Final Thoughts

I'm actually torn between a few choices here - you really can't loose if you want to experiment with the Tube Pilot at £49 and I've seen people get decent tones out of it. I still think the nearest match to the original is the Buffalo TD-X, while the most likely acquisition for me here is either the Dover Drive or MXR FET Driver. I may still be tempted to swing for the TD-X or else wait for something better to come out. I'm in no particular hurry at the moment!

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