The Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion in Retrospect

Bob Leggitt | Saturday, 22 September 2012
Boss DS-2 Turbo Overdrive

1987… “Okay guys, we got a new effect pedal. It takes the classic Boss distortion sound, and reduces unwanted noise whilst maintaining a mega-flat frequency response - allowing guitarists to clean up the drive using the guitar’s volume control. But that’s not all. With the click of a knob, the pedal adds a completely new solo mode which changes the voicing and intensity of the distortion for midrange-packed, singing lead playing! Using a remote footswitch, the guitarist can go from powerful, easy-to-control rock rhythm playing, to a perfectly balanced blazing lead tone, at the tap of a foot. In short, this, is a modern, twin-channel rock amplifier gain section, in a single pedal!”
“Fantastic! Let me pass all that over to the marketing department, and let them take it to the people!… It’s down to you, marketing guys, how do we sell this amazing new concept?…”
“Well, we’re on the doorstep of 1988. These days, it’s all about guitarists making informed choices based on the right information. We’ve got an innovative product, representing an undeniable technical advancement, and incorporating market-leading spec. We wanna get that message across… So, we think the best thing to do would be to find a leather-clad 1980s rock chick whose boobs are bursting out of her top, ask her to hold up the pedal, take a photo of her, and write “PLAY DIRTY!” across the pic.”
“Yep, that ought to sell it. Let’s go with that.”…
1980s UK Boss DS-2 Turbo Overdrive ad with '80s rock chick

Of course, the above quotes are entirely fictional, and based only on my rather overactive imagination. But the advert is real. That’s how the Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion pedal was introduced to UK guitarists early in 1988. Was it informative? Not in the slightest, unless you were looking for information on what a rock chick’s boobs look like in an ill-fitting leather top. Did the ad get attention? Well it got mine – I can’t really speak for anyone else. In fact I may even have had the ad on my bedroom wall at one point. But it didn’t sell me the pedal, and it looks from the 1988 UK sales feedback charts like the ad’s effectiveness fell short of expectations pretty much across the board.

In 1988, according to Making Music’s annual dealer feedback compilation (Jan ’89), the DS-2 Turbo Distortion was outsold in the UK by a number of distortion pedals including: the Boss HM-2 Heavy Metal, the Boss MZ-2 Digital Metalizer, the Dod US Metal, the Pro Co Rat, and most surprisingly, the Boss DS-1 Distortion from which the DS-2 evolved. Normally priced around £60, the DS-2 offered much more than the DS-1 soundwise, as well as better technical specs, for just £5 extra. Seems today like a no-brainer, and in reality it was. Or at least it would have been – if guitarists had actually known what the DS-2 did. But Roland/Boss’s full page ad gave no indication as to what the Turbo Distortion offered. It may well have been the most eyecatching ad in any guitar mag at that time, but what’s the point in grabbing all that attention if you’re not going to say anything at all about the product once you’ve got it?

Over time, however, the Boss DS-2 has been a steady success, and that’s evidenced in the fact that it’s still on the market nearly a quarter of a century after introduction. In terms of its sound, there’s very little imagination required. If you know what a Boss DS-1 sounds like (well-defined and generally bright distortion, but still full and quite smooth, unlike a fuzz pedal), you’ll have a good idea of what the DS-2’s Turbo 1 mode does. The Turbo 2 sound, meanwhile, is reminiscent of what you’d get from a Boss HM-2 Heavy Metal with the Dist cranked high and the Color Mix H control pushed well up for singing mids.

I suppose it could be said that the DS-2 was doing to the DS-1 Distortion pedal what the slightly earlier OD-2 did to the OD-1 Overdrive. Adding an extra, more extreme mode and generally polishing up the circuitry. I felt the principle worked better on the OD-2, but having said that, the Boss OD-2 is one of my favourite drive pedals of all time. It should be noted that the DS-2 Turbo Distortion has out-survived both the OD-2 and its update the OD-2r by well over a decade. So, as history confirms, there was definitely a lot to be said for the Boss DS-2, if not the genius of the original UK marketing campaign.

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