The B.K. Butler Tube Driver: Tube Powered Guitar Overdrive Pedal
Updated: Jul 13, 2022
BK Butler Tube Driver
Hello fellow gear enthusiasts and guitar lovers one and all!
I wanted to write a blog post about a recent acquisition to my effects arsenal: The B.K. Butler Tube Driver! I got this pedal last week when I was going around Dallas on one of my guitar safari’s.
“Guitar Safari”: Noun, 1. “An expedition to observe or hunt vintage and rare guitars, or related items like amplifiers or effects, in their natural habitat."
I like to go on guitar safaris as often as I can. It’s a great way to keep up with what’s selling on the vintage black market, learn what players are currently into using, and hopefully get some great deals on pieces for my collection. For me, it’s how I satisfy the Gear Acquisition Syndrome (G.A.S.) itch whenever it comes up.
“Gear Acquisition Syndrome, or G.A.S.”: Noun, 1. “the all-consuming desire to expand your collection of musical gear ... Bank balances have been battered and marriages destroyed, but by god there’s been some lovely gear bought."
Last week I stumbled upon an original B.K. Butler Tube Driver at an undisclosed location where an older musician was looking to trade his out for a newer overdrive pedal. No one had been interested in this pedal for some reason, so I took up his offer to come over and check it out. I brought my own guitar, cord, and used his Fender Twin Reverb a la Eric Johnson when I tested it. It sounded absolutely glorious with my Fender Stratocaster, and the range of tones I could coax out of this little box was unreal. I could go from a subtle boost, to a thick overdrive, to a raging heavy metal inspired crunch. I could even get close to Big Muff tonal territory! Needless to say, I just had to have it, so after a quick haggle I opened my wallet and $100 later it was in the car cruising back to the studio! After a quick Google search, it turns out this is a vintage original pedal and they can go from anywhere from $350 to $550. Score! Good Deals are out there if you just look!
What Exactly is the B.K. Butler Tube Driver and How Does it Work?
The B.K. Butler Tube Driver is one of those “holy grail” pedals in the lore of guitar enthusiasts like myself. The legend of tone surrounding this pedal is of mythic proportions, whether it’s because of the infamous guitarists like David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, the reverend Billy F. Gibbons, Joe Bonnamassa, Keith Urban, one of the Kings of Tone Eric Johnson, or the countless threads on internet forums of average joe guitarists saying how the Tube Driver revolutionized their tone, it’s of the pedals that has name recognition for sure.
The Tube Driver is unique compared to other overdrive pedals in that it utilizes both traditional IC circuitry for overdriving gain stages, and plate voltages controlling a single 12ax7 preamp tube like in a traditional guitar amplifier. Yes, you read that correctly. There is a preamp tube, just like there is inside your guitar amplifier, inside this pedal. And it works. This blew my mind the first time someone explained this to me.
Basically, when you run your electric guitar through a Tube Driver to your amplifier of choice, it is essentially acting as if you are running through a small overdriven tube amplifier and sending its overdriven tube signal to your guitar amplifier. If you know the sound of turning your tube amplifier up and getting the tubes to sag and create distortion, then you’ll understand the general concept of this pedal. The IC chip overdrives your guitar’s signal and then sends it to the tube to “color the sound” identically to tube overdrive. Inside the pedal, the tube is set to work at only 12 volts (much less working voltage than what tubes are hit with inside a guitar tube amplifier) in what is referred to as “Starved Plate” voltage. By starving the tube of voltage and controlling what low voltage it operates at, you can force the tube to distort at much lower volume levels than what is traditionally possible in guitar amplifiers. The really cool part of the pedal’s design is that you can switch tubes inside the unit to give the pedal different styles of distortion. This can lead to a whole other realm of experimentation for your guitar playing!
BK Butler Tube Driver (Inside)