While many of the amps, pedals, and guitars advanced over the years, many guitar lovers around the world remained loyal to the vintage sounds of the ’60 and the ’70s.
Today, you’ll see many of the newer bands going back to this sound, sometimes even recording everything with analog equipment and vintage amps.
Various manufacturers try to replicate the old overdrives, in the vein of Electro-Harmonix Big Muff or the legendary Ibanez Tube Screamer. Some of the smaller companies and pedal builders became very dedicated to this task.
In the mid-1990s, a company called Bixonic introduced one of their pedals called the Expandora Overdrive.
This piece of gear has been used by many famous players over the years, most notably legendary ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons.
The main concept of the Expandora can be compared to any other simple overdrive that you can find there, although it has some additional features.
The essential parts are there as it has the standard input and output and three basic control knobs. There’s the main switch for turning it on and off, and there are controls for volume (labeled as “level”), tone, and gain.
While we’re at switching the distortion on and off, Expandora overdrive has a true bypass, which is a common characteristic for all the vintage-styled overdrive pedals.
But at the same time, with all these basic features, there’s some variety to this pedal. It’s not only with the three basic knobs that you can get some different tones as the pedal is basically three in one kind of deal with three modes of operation, labeled as Distortion, Overdrive, and Crunch.
Now, the mode switches are not visible on the front pedal and you need to unscrew the bottom plate and find them inside. There are DIP switches inside that let you change the sound. There are two switches, labeled as “1” and “2”, which can be either on or off.
On the back plate, there is an instruction on how to pick these modes. With No. 1 off and No. 2 on, you get the distortion. With the opposite setting, 1 on and 2 off, you get the overdrive.
As for the crunch, it is achieved when both of these switches turned off. While this may seem like a chore to open the pedal and tweak it from the inside, a newer version of Expandora was released sometime in the 2000s, called the 2000R, which features the DIP switches on the front panel.
It is powered by the standard 9-volt battery you use for most of the pedals out there.
Looking at this pedal, right away you can notice its peculiar design. Put in a custom metal casing, Expandora is pretty well-built and can handle standard operation and even some rougher handling.
While it might not be of great importance, as there are only a few controls, we need to point out that the carver writing on the pedal is pretty great looking, although would be pretty much impossible to read in darker settings.
The three pots are solidly built and their caps are relatively large compared to the size of the pedal. The LED light is weirdly placed right below the tone knob. The pedal’s name, “Expandora”, is seen in custom font letters right below the center of the front panel.
One obvious visual feature is, of course, the pedal’s round shape. While it looks neat and everything, it might be somewhat annoying since the shape differs from the standard manufacturers and you might have some troubles fitting it in on a standard pedalboard.
This being an old pedal, you’ll usually find worn versions out there. At the same time, this might make it look even cooler.
This being a throwback to the vintage distortions and overdrives, you’ll get somewhat of a warmer tone out of it. But the sound is, in all three modes of operation, really thick and full, slightly bottom-end oriented.
The distortion can enter some solid high gain lead territories with the gain knob pushed over the edge. The overdrive mode is slightly tamer, although it also can get pretty wild on the higher gain setting, without making it sound too blurry or muddy.
Crunch is a bit different as it resembles a classic fuzz sound. On the lower gain settings and with the tone knob over the middle, you can get some serious Billy Gibbons sounds out of it.
But turning the gain knob up, you can easily replicate some doom/stoner metal sounds with it. We could compare it to the good old Big Muff in a way, although it is a bit more versatile.
The three knobs – volume, tone, and gain – are pretty responsive. Even with only these three controls, there’s a lot of stuff that you can do, even for one mode of operation, as they’re pretty responsive.
But while all the three modes differ, you can still recognize the pedal’s own unique tone. But at the same time, it’s really disappointing that you have to open up the pedal and mess around with the small DIP switches.
While everything works like charm, it’s really a tedious task and someone less experienced might end up doing some damage.
It’s not that hard to notice that Bixonic Expandora Overdrive is aimed at the vintage ’70s guitar tone lovers. However, it does well for other styles as well as it can deliver some sharper tones with some additional tweaking.
But despite its simplicity, it might not be the perfect solution for the beginner level guitar players. You would need some knowledge and experience to set it properly depending on what kind of an amp, guitar, and pedals you use.
But overall, you can use it either as your main distortion or as a tone-shaping and lead-boosting overdrive. In both situations, the pedal proves to be a great tool and gets the job done.