For those of you who follow my rantings you will know just how much I love these little yellow boxes. I've written about them before when I made my clone of my favorite "version" after re-discovering the beauty of these as one of the great, original OD pedals.
Since becoming so obsessed with them and making variations and versions in all the forms I can find I thought it might be cool to do a "shoot out" of sorts between these versions I like to give you some idea of what I think you could look for if you're after a "nice one" ? Since I don't believe in online video/audio demos and, of course, this is just the ravings of a lunatic, feel free to take it or leave it as you see fit.
Let's start at the beginning. The pedal appeared in about 1977 and is VERY similar to the MXR Distortion + which I believe was introduced around '74. While being similar circuits they both have qualities that are great and individual. I make copies of both these pedals in my favorite versions as, depending on what day it is, I prefer one over the other. It's usually dependent on what actual pedal I'm playing at the time.
So, the original grey version is probably the most illusive (and most expensive) and while I don't own one, I have played them and I own a 1980 yellow version that has essentially the same circuit as the '78/79 "grey box" version. They're a VERY nice OD but, to be honest, not my favorite version. I know there's people out there shaking their heads and saying they're not going to read on after that bombshell, but just 'cause it's old (and expensive) doesn't mean it's the best .......... for me anyway.
I actually prefer the early 80's yellow box version in both 741 and 351 op amp versions. They're both VERY similar in tone through most of the pot ranges with the 351 being a little "fuzzier" on the treble frequencies, but, very similar. The earlier grey/yellow version has a less defined, slightly more "muddy" bottom end, especially when damping the strings on anywhere near full gain settings. As you roll the gain off it cleans up these edges and get's nicer. The later yellow version which ran from around 1980 to it's deletion before the Chinese reissue, to me, is the nicest of the lot. Luckily, it's also the most common and are pretty readily available.
Apart from the op amp, these don't vary over the whole production period so anything from this period is good to go. These are discernible from the Chinese reissues mainly from the knobs but fonts/artwork is also slightly different. The original US knobs are slightly smaller and a different shape to the more common knobs used on the reissues. The originals also have a "wrinkle finish" paint job compared to the "smooth" finish on the reissues. Both have the "female" 3.5mm (ie: not BOSS) power adapter jack near the output jack (not on the very first grey version) and none of them have true bypass or an LED.
Here's where I'm going to be controversial again. I REALLY like the Chinese reissue, which is even better because they're cheaper than the 80's yellow ones. They're not exactly the same as the original yellow version, and they run a different chip again, but they're really close in most settings and I would absolutely use one live where you wouldn't even notice the difference in tone. Into most amps I've tried in A/B tests, with most guitars you can "almost" dial a Chinese reissue into an original 80's, AND ............ I would take one over an original grey version, mainly because a grey box could cost you around $600 and a reissue might run you $80. Sounds good to me.
There's another version in here that, personally I don't rate which is the YM308, Yngwie Malmsteen signature version. I'm not a fan of it at all as it sounds too "thin" for my liking and basically sounds like a 250 with no ......... balls.
So, that brings us to the new DOD reissue. I heard about them a while ago and thought, great, they're actually going to do it right. Why wouldn't they just reissue THE great version of their great pedal ? For the same reason that most manufacturers don't. To save a cent .........
I waited for the new reissue to turn up and unfortunately, I was disappointed. First thing you notice, even before opening the box is how light it is. The original DOD (and the reissue) are actually deceptively heavy for their size. I could tell, even without taking it out of the box, that this wasn't the same pedal. Taking it out it instantly "feels" cheap. The new enclosure is a light alloy made "approximately" close to the original size and shape, with the nice little stepped down ends that DOD pedals had over say, the standard MXR enclosure. Sure, it's aesthetics, but it's nice ?
The new one has an LED, true bypass and a BOSS style power adapter, which is all nice features over an original. Plugging it in again feels cheap. The jacks don't have the nice "clunk" of quality Switchcraft (or even the reissues) sockets. Then there's the tone. Like all the 250's .......... it's there. It has the tone of the great OD, but a little more ....... sterile ? It's a little "cleaner" on the treble frequencies without losing gain and has good bottom end. It's tight and clear and sounds good. Just not as good as the others.
I think this version, and the 308 are my least favourite versions of this great pedal. Having said that, I would still use on of these at a pinch as the tone is almost there and it' such a great little OD that even in this form is still ....... nice, just not great like it should be.
My ODP666 is based on my favourite early 80's ('81) version which to my ears is the pick of the bunch. It's got a clarity even when cranked. The bottom end is big and tight and it has a bite that cuts through nicely. Good freq response in the distortion and reacts nicely with the pots. It doesn't go back to a "clean" pedal, but who wants a "clean OD", that's what a boost is for. This little yellow box reacts well to pick up and amp set ups and sounds AMAZING through any old Marshall with anything with a P-90 in it. It can get a little "messy" with high powered humbuckers but usually can be dialled into something nice, and works well with single coils, especially into a nice fat amp.
I'm now only making the small box ODP as it seems to make sense. The PCB fits in and real estate on pedal boards these days is at a premium. Mine has true bypass, and LED and BOSS style adaptor and is about the same size as the original, but in a slightly different footprint.