The Superfantastic, Awesome-terrific ZenDrive!!!

And herein lies the mythical beast of the Zendrive. Lets take a look and see if this is as special as its nomenclature beckons…

Slim, smooth, and beautiful-- reminds me of my first date.

Slim, smooth, and beautiful-- reminds me of my first date.

First of all, what the heck is the Zendrive? First time I heard of it, I headed on over to musiciansfriend and could not find ANY detail on it. Thats because this pedal is BOUTIQUE to the finest, dear friends. This is made by a little company called Hermida Audio, run by Alfonso Hermida. Alfonso Hermida has an extensive background in tone, effects and general guitardom. You can find his handiwork in many of our “known” boutique favorites today. For example, who here likes the Analogman chorus/bichorus? Yup, thats an early Alfonso Hermida design. He also helped design the Analogman compROSSer (and possibly the Bicomp, but I’m not sure). If you research, you can find his hand in many others as well. In fact, it seems that Hermida, Analogman, and Zvex are all good buddies from years past (same grade school?). That has nothing to do with the Zendrive, just thought it was cool.

hmm… told you there was a reason I like Analogman, and now-obviously Hermida Audio…

The legend on this thing is the same as many boutique pedals-


“it rulz”

“most versatile drive i have ever pwned, and ive played geetar for 30 yrs.”

So lets discuss how to get this pedal- you have to email Alf at Hermida Audio to get on the waiting list. The list seems to vary from 3-6 months at the time of this post. He emails you when it is ready, you hit him with paypal and two to three weeks later its yours! (For some reason I received the “your zendrive is ready” email and I pay with paypal, and its another week for the “you had your package shipped with paypal shipping” email, and the tracking number shows not shipped for another week. Then add a week or so in the mail to get here. Kinda weird…really slow, but whatever.)

The Zendrive is an overdrive pedal with low to medium gain. I do not think it can get “distortion,” just really heavy overdrive. The rumor is that it can imitate a Dumble, but as your general guitar player has no idea what that means (me until about 8 months ago), I will not refer to that. All I knew going into the Zendrive juicy goodness was that Brad Paisley swears by it. I immediate stereotyped it as one of those “country effects” and wrote it off. I have healthy respect for country music, it is my heritage, but its not me. That said, I always thought Paisley had great tone, and figured he had good amps. Well, that and a couple of Zens. Thanks to our buddy Karl at guitarforworship, I checked out the Zen, because I realized that it wasn’t just a country thing.

From the box, the Zen surprised me in its about 2/3 the size of a Boss pedal, and the casing barely sits more than an inch high. Pedal board space baby! It has 4 knobs: Volume, Gain, Tone, and Voice. The difference in the tone and voice are what makes this pedal versatile and shows Mr Hermida’s ingenuity. The tone knob functions like any other tone knob…. but the voicing affects the upper range mids. It doesn’t exactly give you a mid hump, but gives a nice ‘bite’ to your attack.  In fact, by playing with the tone knob and the voicing, you can get a nice pick attack “chirp” that many “toneful amps” have as a quality. The way these knobs also affect the harmonic overtones is also pretty sweet- as your note dies it rings/feedbacks out in a harmonic.

So me, being me, before even hooking it up to the amp, I had to see what is so special about this. I grabbed the closest screw driver and took the back off. I was surprised to see such a small circuit board! It barely takes up 1/4 of the box! There is also a lovely collection of goop, which is to prevent piracy on the design by hiding all the mythical transistors and minatour teeth inside. I kinda like the goop. Proves its a real pedal!

Small circuit board, and beautiful goop. This is a boutique pedal boys!

Small circuit board, and beautiful goop. This is a boutique pedal boys!

Disclaimer: I have played with the Zendrive a month, and have used it the last 2 weeks for approximately 8 services. I may not have uncovered ALL the knacks, but I think I have broken it in now! My unspoken rule is at least a 2 week practice session before using in a performance for ANY gear.

My first impressions: (all being played through a Les Paul on neck pickup)

Sigh, you guys are going to laugh. I plugged it in, stomped on it with all knobs straight 12, and heard the output, LOUD.  It sounded like a blown Tubescreamer to me. It had the Tubescreamer feel, but with a fuzzy “speaker is going out” aftertaste. Different I guess. So I played with it, checking the range of gain from 1 to 10, etc… and realized that It does so much more than my first impression. This pedal produces a lot of gain on its own as there is a lot of volume on the pedal. Unity volume for me was always under 11 o’clock, and usually under 10, depending on the gain knob setting.

I tested this one with the idea of it replacing one of my drives on my board. So I had an ear and goal for 2 mindsets: rhythm or lead. So I tested it both ways. What I found:

Rhythm: with minimal gain settings (9 o’clock) it has an aggressive setting. I would probably go no further than this for a general church service. The gain slowly gets heavier until 1. From 1 o’clockish to full on, the sound got a bit more deeper and with the overdriven “sparkle,” but rhythm-wise it did not make a difference to me. You would not notice the slight change at concert levels with a band other than the slightly increased compression that comes with the extreme gain. So my conclusion for rhythm is that this pedal can get loud, but the the usuable range on the gain knob is about 8 o’clock to about 12 as anything over 12 would not make too much of a difference in your tone and the OD’s overall sound.

Leads: Now, the Zen shines more in this area, as the rest of the gain knobs causes a riff to go from slight blues (or country on my bridge pick-up, thanks Brad) to a nice “rock-sounding” riff. It almost reaches distortion. There is -what I would say is- less than average compression at the high gain, so the pedal retains dynamics that other pedals are lacking. Compared to some other similar pedals, this one breathes more due to less compression.

These thoughts are with the volume never going above 10 o’clock to keep everything at a moderate level.

I had specific purpose in mind when I bought this.  I wanted 1 of 2 things: 1) a low gain drive that does not scream “he just clicked on the overdrive” when I play it, and can strum the basic G,C,D pattern without my tone being lost in the drive, or 2) a pedal to replace my Tubescreamer. I love my Tubescreamer, but seems like they have too much midhump at times, and guitar snobs are anti-TS9 right now. When I practice at home, its nasal sound does get a bit old, but on stage, it blends perfectly. So I love/hate it.
This pedal didn’t cut through the mix quite enough to justify my TS9 being taken off, but low gain chord stuff it did perfectly. I originally bought the Bluesdriver for this purpose, but it did not fit the light dirt sound I needed.

I have my Zen set with the volume about 10 o’clock, gain 9, tone 12:30, voice about 2 for a small midhump, but not as extreme as the TS9. I adore this thing for rhythm! With my guitar volume about half, it only has a slight sparkle. With volume at 3/4, there is definite dirt, and full-on with power chords gives a solid overdrive with full chords not going muddy.

Soundwise, I really enjoy the fact it cleans up, but still has slight compression to it. I do not think this pedal is incredibly dynamic, but really captures your playing. Tone wise, it spits out what you put into it. It has very little flavor of its own. It feels very natural, very organic.
This circuit sounds like a mix of a Boss SD-1 (or a Tubescreamer without the midrange hump and with asymmetrical clipping) and distant Fuzz sound. I know I alone have overused this phrase, but it is “Amp like” in its response and tone. It thickens up your sound, and the way I am using it, it doesn’t cut through the mix, but blends-in great. I was able to do some great ambient work with my delay and verbzilla as this is smoother and cleaner and more sparklier sounding than my TS9. However, with the adjustable Tone and Voice you should be able to dial in which ever sound you are looking for. The scooped sound, with the voice all the way over counter-clockwise, is great for a darker, more progressive rock tone.

Again, I am amazed at how transparent this is. Every OD I have ever owned has had its own tonal flavor, its distinguishing feature. Which is fine, but it is weird to hear your pure signal, just overdriven.

So my setup is this for lighter OD, happy songs, or in a song where we start with lighter OD and build into a heaver distortion- then primary OD still the TS9, set at a nice crunch setting, with the two in combo for sustained chord work, or light leads. For a heavier, louder, more sustained lead I am using the Zen or TS9 into the DS1 or Big Muff. Basically, a low gain OD, high gain OD and lead boost OD/Distortion.

I think I covered it all there. If you have a question, as always, ask! I do see this being/becoming my primary drive. I may have sounded more harsh with this, but my expectations were high. I really like this thing.  My next post should be on stacking overdrives or dual/tertiary overdrives. I learned this technique from a guy, this one time, in a place, and it hasn’t failed me yet.

I was looking for a clip on youtube so you can hear an idea of what this sounds like the way I have it. The vid I had was deleted by the user today! So, if you go to iTunes, search “David Crowder Band” and then go to “Remedy Club Tour” and check out the video “Oh, Praise Him”— the opening chord strums from the Les Paul (but a touch thicker sounding) are what I have. Its easiest to hear at the beginning, but if you can pick out the Les Paul from the Strat on the free preview clip, it is what the Zen sounds like when my volume is all the way up on my guitar and I am strumming hard. If you can find this clip on youtube, let me know and I’ll post it!

“Super-bien” as they say here in Puerto Rico,

edit: Here is a clip that I think reflects my sound here in Puerto Rico with the Zendrive. He emailed me a reply and said his settings are all at 11 o’clock, with drive being at 2 o’clock. Enjoy!


5 Responses

  1. I did a little research myself on this pedal last night after seeing your sweet post and I’m diggin’ this pedal already. Looks like it might be a replacement or alternative option to my xotic ac booster.

    I have that Crowder DVD but have yet to take the time and sit down and listen to it. I’ll be sure to pay attn to that song for the tone you’re describing.

    Where did you get your ZD? I’m seeing them on eBay so that’s an option.

  2. Thanks for stopping by!

    I wouldn’t recommend buying it from ebay. The wait is about 3 months now I think. I ordered directly from Alfonso Hermida and it was $188 (with shipping). They go for crazy amounts on ebay, so if you have a bit of time its worth it to wait. I really enjoy it. I will be doing a review of the other pedal “Mosferatu” the higher gain brother of the Zen- look for it in about a months time or so (once I get over exams and have gotten used its tone).

    In fact- hate to admit this- but i like the low gain so much, and the mild compression, I am almost using it like a compressor now. I was a bit shocked that for clean jazzy riffs I only used it and my guitar’s volume knob when I usually use the compressor. Interesting, huh?
    Is this website, shoot him an email and he’ll get to you when its ready!

  3. […] Les Paul Player Doctor–this is Larry’s blog. (No, not Larry Mullen Jr…that would be just a little too awesome.) Larry is an extremely gifted guitar player, and has some of the best and most informative gear review posts on the internet. His blog is also a huge advocate of striving to make the overall music sound good, not just your instrument. He’s got great gear, loves Analogman, and has a great writing style. Here’s his latest review: […]

  4. […] Zendrive (previous post: HERE): This a smooth ‘wannabe’ Dumble-ish overdrive. I have heard various comparisons from […]

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