The sound of the Marshall heads, especially the Super Lead and the Super Bass, indelibly carved the history of rock.

JMP, 1959, Plexy, 1987x, JCM 800, are just some of the titles that contain the essence of that rock that exploded after World War II. Musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, the Angus brothers and Malcolm Young, Joe Bonamassa, Gary Moore, Slash ,… do I have to continue ..? ???? Well, these are just some of the (fundamental, musically speaking) artists who have made these titles one of their distinctive symbols.


the Xotic SL Drive is nice solid, the chassis is small size metal (Hammond standard, die cast aluminum, 1590 series, IP54, 92.6 x 38.5 x 31mm), and heavy.

Xotic SL Drive: Open package …

The external controls are the usual 3, volume (small and actually impractical to maneuver), tone and drive (nice big instead). Inside it has 4 other controls, in deep switch format. Too bad that to access it you have to remove the bottom, so during a session in the room it is better that you are armed with a screwdriver to remove the 4 screws that fix the lower cover, or … You set it directly at home and leave it like this!

Is it possible to capture the sound of the most famous (not one but some) Marshall sounds? Is it really possible to attach this pedal to an amp and pull that Marshall grid out regardless of the amp itself? Well, with the Xotic SL Drive maybe yes …

The power supply is standard 9V with central negative, or with 9V internal battery (supplied as standard). Alternatively it can be powered at 18V, with the voltage doubler supplied with the limited edition model like the one in the picture, or with a power supply. Obviously the power button is of the true-by-pass type.

Xotic SL Drive

Fortunately, once the bottom of the pedal has been removed, the instructions for adjusting the mini deep switches are found inside, so if you want to change settings on the fly but you don’t have an internet connection in the room you can easily have a reference. Otherwise, if you are from home you might as well go directly to the Xotic website:


Here comes the beauty… In the sense that the sound is really beautiful! I tried it with two completely different amps, a Marshall 3310 (transistor head, really nice) and a DV Mark Little jazz (always transistor). Why not a tube? Hahaha, easy to throw any pedal into a JCM 800, it’s pretty much obvious that it will sound good !!! But do it with a transistor amp… And then I just didn’t have a JCM 800 ????

As guitars, on the other hand, I used a Stratocaster-like – modified with SSL1 pickup at the neck and middle, and Mama Runner Tape at the bridge – and a 2004 Gibson Les Paul Standard.

Main question: does it look like or at least reminiscent of a Marshall head? Yes definitely. It can easily reproduce that grid and that typical sound of a historic Marshall tube amp. Both with the 3310 and with the Little Jazz (two amps literally at the antipodes)? Dry answer: yes.

But let’s go in order. The Xotic SL Drive clearly needs controls that are capable of really tweaking the sound at will to suit any amp well. But here’s the fun. The controls are really sensitive. An amp like the Little Jazz has a much darker sound than the Marshall 3310, so you need to set the SL Drive tone control more open. The beauty is that the adjustment range is so wide that it allows the pedal to adapt to almost any amplifier.

How much gain reserve does it have? A lot! It’s so distorted, it’s not a light overdrive, but it manages to be a perfect balance between dynamics and compression. Basically you can’t easily pull off light overdrives, even with the drive at idle. So those looking for a versatile pedal are out of the way, really. This is to simulate a packed tube Marshall, period! But that doesn’t just mean having compressed pissed sounds, you can also have great crunches. Never light overdrives though. Not even with single coils.

Dynamic? For sale! Low gain gives you a fantastic Marshall style crunch. Turn up the volume on the amp or SL Drive and you’ll have a bang to knock down the walls! Dynamics are insane, based on how hard you hit the strings the pedal responds. It always remains distorted, but still reacts in fear. You will have so much dynamics and responsiveness that, together with the fact that probably (not being machines like the components of the Compressorhead but human beings) you will not be able to always give the same strength in the picking for example in a rhythm, it will result in a truly remarkable depth of sound.

Always turn up the gain more and you will have that compromise of responsiveness / compression increasingly shifted towards compression. Attention, I’m not talking about that crushing of the mosquito sound typical of many pedals, especially cheap ones, of the beginning of the millennium. Indeed, of a pleasant softness of very creamy sound, excellent for Slash lead sounds. When you reach the bottom of the gain you will have an impressive saturation, perhaps even too much for my taste.

Xotic SL Drive internal deep switches

A mention of internal deep switches. The Xotic SL Drive comes out of the factory with the Super Lead setting. This gives a more open and more gain sound than the Super Bass. Personally I find that the Super Lead meets a greater variety of usage possibilities than the other, especially with mahogany guitars and humbuckers. With the latter, in fact, the Super Bass is more tending to mix the sound and make it perhaps too muddy. The Super Bass in fact has a little less gain, a decrease in the highs and lows more evident. Beautiful, of course, but I prefer the former.

Finally, the voltage doubler. Yes, because this edition comes with it as standard (alternatively, it can always be purchased separately). Does the sound really improve? Yes, there are no colossal variations, without voltage doubler you will still experience the same very well, especially if you only play at home at apartment volumes. But when you turn up the volume with the 18V power supply you actually get an increase in headroom and dynamics, the sound becomes more beautiful in every sense. These are the things you notice the difference more when you take them off than when you put them on. But then you don’t want to give up anymore.


Best Marshall in a box? Probably yes!

Rating: 10/10. Totally deserved.

The Xotic SL Drive is a fantastic pedal, perfect for fans of the vintage Marshall tone. You can use it alone, or with another boost / overdrive in series, placed either before (to increase the gain) or after (as a volume and gain booster). It’s not cheap, it’s an Xotic, practically a boutique pedal, but not an exaggeration for the pedal type either. Well, maybe yes, given its limited versatility, but boy, you pay for quality.

You can safely find both used and new, on music market or there are so many. Personally I would buy it used, there is no risk with a reference build quality like the Xotic one.

So, do I recommend it? Definitely yes, indeed, I have two … So with different pedals I don’t have to make sacrifices in terms of pure Marshall sound !!! ????

Published on on: 13/04/2020.