Zoom Driver 5000

Yeah, yeah… I know it’s not exactly ‘vintage’. But this is one of my favourite pedals ever.

Back in my thrash metal days, trying to get the right ‘metal’ sound was hard work. The elusive ‘chunk’ that the premier metal bands were able to get thanks to their expensive mountain of studio gear and various endorsements was impossible for a farm kid stuck in a little Australian country town. Remember, this was 1993… so there wasn’t any Line 6 Pod’s or BlackStar pedals that you could pick and choose various Mesa Boogie or Soldano sounds. You were usually constrained to using various crap Boss pedals that sounded like a swarm of angry bees. Or you could spend thousands and thousands on ordering a rack system, wait for it to arrive and hope it sounded ok.

Now don’t get me wrong, my amp had plenty of grunt… but it didn’t have the chunk. This all changed when Zoom released the Zoom Driver 5000.This was one of the first ‘digital’ pedals… a pedal which grabbed the sounds in those expensive rack units and squeezed it into a pedal.

As soon as I heard this pedal, I knew I’d found my sound. They weren’t cheap… from memory it was $350 or so. But with the Zoom I finally had the chunk.

There are six settings on the Driver… but only two of them are really any good. There’s the ‘Metal’ setting (well, duh….) and the infamous ‘Stack 2’. Have a look on Google and see what I mean… the Stack 2 setting is slightly legendary. Zoom only had this sound in this pedal, and then it disappeared from future Zoom products. No idea why.

I’ve made up a clip of the various settings so you can hear what they sound like. Excuse the bad playing… I tried to play a few different styles so that it wasn’t all chunky riffs.

Stack 1: Sounds good but is muffled. It’s like Stack 2 with a blanket over it.
Stack 2: My favourite. Sort of like Metallica’s “…And Justice For All” sound.
Combo 112: Muffled again. Even more muffled than Stack 1, actually.
R&B: Like Stack 2, but if you listened to it with a toilet roll over your ear. Has it’s moments… but yeah, not a fave.
Metal: Similar to Stack 2, but more cutting. Where Stack 2 has a late 80’s/early 90’s metal sound, Metal is decidedly early 80’s.
Zoom Box: Awful. Just awful. I think the left “… of crap” off this settings name.

And here’s a song using the ‘Stack 2’ setting as the rhythm guitar and the ‘Metal’ setting as the lead. As you can hear, the sound is slightly reminiscent of the Entombed ‘Wolverine Blues’ sound, which is one of my favourite albums. Through a Marshall, this pedal sounds huge.

There were a few handy features on the pedal which put it above the typical Boss distortion pedal. There’s the footswitch option which lets you plug in a different footswitch the activate a second saved setting (handy for kicking in for a lead break etc). This setting also is usuable without the extra footswitch by holding the footswitch down when you plug the pedal in… the light goes green, which is the second setting.

The best feature is a tiny little dial called the ‘ZNR’… Zoom Noise Reducer. This is basically a type of noise gate which quietens a lot of the hiss and spit from having some much gain. I always have it on full.

And forget about using batteries. Being digital, this things sucked ’em down like candy. Plus it took 6 batteries to power this monster.

So yeah… it’s not a vintage Big Muff or a Super Fuzz and I may be biased because I’ve owned this beast for nearly 20 years… but I think this pedal is a classic.To me it’s the sound of the 90’s.