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There’s very little to say on overdrive pedals that hasn’t already been said.
If you don’t own any stompboxes, this one should probably be among the first on your list. Whether you’re a guitar or a bass player, a metalhead or a classic rock fan, even a blues aficionado – you need one of these on your pedalboard. There aren’t a lot of things people in the guitar world will agree on, but this is one of those things – overdrive pedals like the TS808 Screamer were revolutionary inventions that changed the face of guitar music, and they remain very relevant to this day.
To start off, a disclaimer – there is no one “best overdrive pedal”. They range from those crafted before you were born, to some thought up literally yesterday, and yet they are all still being used (and some still being made to the same specs as 30-40 years ago). An overdrive can be a lot of things, and how you choose to use it will help you figure out which one you might want to go for.
More on the specifics later – first, let’s dive into our top picks.
Ibanez have created the Mini version of their legendary Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer overdrive pedal, which means more valuable pedalboard space, and a much more convenient price (as if the original TS overdrive price wasn’t convenient enough).
Made in Japan, the Tube Screamer Mini overdrive comes with the main overdrive knob, and two smaller knobs, for tone and level. It will give you that exact low growl you would expect from its larger predecessor. Unfortunately, as with all mini pedals, it doesn’t have space to fit a 9V, but a power adapter should be used to power it up.
If you already own the original TS or another overdrive pedal – worry not, the Mini will always come in handy as an additional boost to your awesome setup, and you’ll surely be able to find space for this little guy. The lower price will also help beginners get a very nice look into what awaits them in the overdrive world.
Oh, Boss. Their products have been featured numerous times in our top pedals articles because they are so consistent at delivering new quality products pretty much all the time. You may want to check out our distortion pedals article [insert link here] where we did a short review of their signature DS-1, if you’re looking for a bit more than an overdrive.
This time we’ll be going over another classic, the SD-1 Overdrive, built to emulate an overdriven tube amp. The pedal features three knobs – level, drive, and tone – and of course, the footswitch. Easy as that. But a huge selling point of the SD-1 (apart from the low price) is the sound we all know and love. A very rich and full overdrive is where it excels, and it’ll make any rock fan happy with it’s AC/DC-ish sound spectrum. On top of that, in true Boss fashion – the pedal is built to last.
For rock fans on a budget, this may be one of the top choices. But it also works for advanced musicians looking to spice up their pedalboard. Don’t let the low price tag drive you away from this overdrive pedal, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Let’s start with one of the top affordable dirt boxes out there, OCD V2 (short for Obsessive Compulsive Drive), the second, upgraded version. Fulltone have changed very little to the well established original OCD during the first 14 years of its releases. Then, they decided to make a few upgrades and suddenly came up with the second version of this classic.
The OCD V2 comes with three knobs – volume, drive, and tone – a highpass/lowpass switch, and the footswitch, which is more than enough to get that amp going over 10, and to give you that desirable classic rock sound. As for the changes Fulltone have incorporated into the OCD V2, straight away you’ll notice two kinds of bypass – the True Bypass and the Enhanced Bypass – the latter being Fulltone’s own creation, a buffer intended to deliver a more expressive sound than you can get from regular buffer circuits.
You can toggle between these two bypass modes via an internal switch. The output buffer is the second addition to the V2, which means that your desired overdrive’s signal will remain the same regardless of the effect pedals that have been triggered after it. The third and final change making this a V2 is the Class A-configured JFET input section, increasing dynamics and making this overdrive pedal suitable for all kinds of guitars, and players.
If you’re looking for a mid-range overdrive pedal, this rather easy to use pedal may be one of the best ones out there. And various accomplished musicians from around the globe can confirm.
J Rockett Audio Designs (JRAD for short) is a US-based company famous for creating some top-notch effect pedals. All of their stompers are surprisingly affordable considering the fact that they’re all handmade, and the Archer Ikon overdrive pedal successfully made its way into our list. JRAD Archer Ikon is intended to be the closest replication of the world-famous Centaur Klon from the 90’s – well, a clone of the Klone. And JRAD may have just created the closest one.
Archer Ikon overdrive pedal features three knobs, just like the Klon – gain, treble, and output, and, not surprisingly, features a Centaur on its metal casing to give you a hint of what you can expect. You’ll also be able to get a very clean boost with this four-legged friend, just by lowering the gain knob. Start turning it, and you’ll get that well-known warm drive that’s been written into history.
You may not be able to get your hands on the original thing unless you’re ready to pay up, and by all means – if you can, you should. And if you can’t – the JRAD Archer Ikon is the closest it can get to Klon, at a fraction of the price.
Surprised to see another Boss overdrive pedal in here? Neither are we. For fans of all kinds of blues, Boss have carefully tailored an overdrive pedal intended to replicate that sound of a vintage tube amp – the BD-2 Blues Drive.
There’s a classic Boss knob composition of level, gain, and tone knobs. However you roll the knobs, the Blues Drive will give you that crunchy, yet warm and bluesy tones you’ve been striving for, just a bit darker or brighter, depending on your preference.
While primarily intended to sound bluesy, you’ll also be able to play other genres if you feel rebellious enough and pair it well on your pedalboard (ask Billie Joe Armstrong how it’s done, who uses a BD-2 Blues Drive in Green Day). As with all Boss pedals, a buffered bypass is the only option with this overdrive pedal.
Got the blues? No problem, the BD-2 Blues Drive will be a faithful and durable companion – and it also comes in color blue.
If you’re a very creative lad or lass who’d like to show his or her full potential but lacks the funds for the appropriate tools, the TC Electronic MojoMojo Overdrive pedal will come in handy, being one of the cheaper overdrive pedals on our list with it’s performance shooting way out of the price range.
Coming with analog circuitry, the MojoMojo Overdrive comes with the usual three knobs we encounter with pedals of its kind – drive, level, and treble, which has become a standard with today’s basic overdrive electronics. TC Electronic added a fourth knob into the game, the bass knob, giving you additional control over your sound. They also managed to add a voice toggle switch to this compact pedal, for mid-shift and true bypass.
In other words, this pedal packs a lot of technology, the sound is great and it even looks very cool – all for a very affordable price.
If you’re a beginner player who’d like to explore the world of sonic effects, the amount of information and the number of actual products may be overwhelming. And everything actually IS overwhelming, even for the experienced folks, considering how the industry is growing day by day, as well as needs of the artists themselves. Now back to beginners – you’re not willing or able to spend a lot of cash because you’ve just started off, and you’d like to spice up your practicing sessions. You’re in an endless search for an overdrive pedal in a sea of pedals. Behringer came up with a solution with the Overdrive Distortion OD300. Yes, it features both an overdrive and distortion in one, so let’s have a look at how it works.
First off, the Overdrive Distortion OD300 comes with a mode switch, so whether you’d like to go one way or the other, or even something in between overdrive and distortion, this knob will let you do that. For control over your desired mode, you will have the level, tone and drive knobs at your disposal. A huge variety of sounds can be achieved just by playing around with the mode switch, and the accompanying three knobs.
If you’re trying to calculate which other earthly pleasures you’ll have to sacrifice to get a quality starter overdrive pedal, you should just stop for a brief moment and take a look at the Behringer Overdrive Distortion OD300. By just skipping a night or two of drinking with your comrades, you’ll be able to save up for this quality pedal. While it certainly isn’t for performing, it will do quite well in practicing and exploration of sound.
Whether you’re an advanced player with a creative surge or a beginner who’d like to explore the world of basic guitar effects, the MojoMojo Overdrive will satisfy any guitar player on a budget.
With one of the most iconic sounds comes the English Muff’n, Electro-Harmonix’s take on those old and unique British amp sounds. It can, in fact, be used as a legit preamp, because it stores dual tubes under a protective cover on the beautifully designed casing.
Packing the standard volume and gain knobs, Electro-Harmonix decided to add additional control by adding three more knobs for low, mid, and high frequencies. Don’t’ let the English Muff’n influence you to think that this is only for old school 60’s fans. Playing around with highs (treble) and lows (bass) as well as the midrange will give you a huge variety of sounds and distortions, both vintage and contemporary. It’s on you to decide whether you’d like to go subtle or full-on with the Muff’n. True bypass is also present, as soon as you turn off the overdrive pedal via footswitch and the LED indicator stops burning red.
If you’re looking for a true replication of a vintage amp in terms of both sound and electronics, the Electro-Harmonix English Muff’n won’t let you down. And this muffin ain’t for dining, it will actually consume you with its uniqueness of sound – at an acceptable price.
Greer Amps have been in the sound effects industry since 1998, and they’ve developed quite a few masterpieces. If you’d like to juice up your sound, but just a tiny bit, giving it unique character, Greer Amps got you covered with the Lightspeed Organic Overdrive.
Why “organic”, you may ask? Well, it’s really simple – the Lightspeed Organic Overdrive delivers such a subtle and non-invasive overdrive, that you may think at some point that it’s the natural sound of the guitar and amp. But it’s not, it’s the low and mid-range overdrive that this carefully tailored pedal is producing. It features the standard three-knob configuration – loudness, drive, and freq, making it fairly easy to use. True bypass will also guarantee that your signal will remain untouched and organic. Greer have also thought about those folks who value aesthetics, so you’ll be able to choose between 8 color varieties for this overdrive pedal.
If you’re into country, blues, or that old rock sound, the Lightspeed Organic Overdrive is the way to go. The unique overdrive, as well as the quality casing and components, justify the slightly higher price tag.
Strymon, the US-based company, best known for delivering high-end products and combining both the analog and digital components into their music electronics. So is the case with the Sunset Dual Overdrive, the hybrid overdrive pedal – or, better say, pedals, since it has two overdrive pedals stored into one casing (named Side A, and Side B). And there’s not a single feature that disappoints, considering the price tag.
Strymon Sunset Dual Overdrive incorporates six very distinctive and well-known circuits (three on each side). Side A features the king of old school sound – the germanium circuit mode, and we don’t have to tell much about that one. The second mode is Texas mode, a soft-clipper configuration, ideal when you get the blues. The final mode on Side A is treble, actually a treble booster, as you may have already guessed. On Side B we have the 2 stage mode, which is a combination of soft and hard-clipping, giving you a complex drive. The hard mode is intended for fuzz lovers. The JFET mode will give you that desired clean boost.
It’s important to note that each side of the pedal features three knobs – level, drive, and tone – giving you endless options to play with each mode and find that perfect sound you’ve been striving for. And each side has its own footswitch as well. What’s more, with this dual overdrive pedal, you’ll be able to stack Side A on Side B and vice-versa with the use of a rear switch, giving you numerous combinations, and all of them are viable, depending on the sound you’re trying to accomplish. Another interesting switch at the back, called bright, will let you control the high-frequency output. When it comes to bypass, you’ll be able to choose between true and buffered.
The Sunset Dual Overdrive is definitely one of the most versatile overdrive pedals on our list and isn’t for the musician who likes sticking with one or a couple of sounds. On the other hand, for those who like playing a wide range of genres and styles, or for those who’d like to explore and widen their sonic approach, this pedal is one you need to be dreaming about – or earning for.
No, we’re not starting a google search, it’s just a little Drax wordplay that seemed appropriate. Once upon a time, someone decided their tube amplifier wasn’t loud enough, so they cranked it up outside of its comfort range and puff – you get some distorting sounds, nowadays known as overdrive.
People are still doing this today and it is said that the sound produced is the most organic of overdrives. The louder the guitar signal into the amp, the harder it pushes the preamp tubes. The louder the preamp tubes the harder it pushes the power tubes, and so on. So what you get is a cascading effect of overdrive that produces the overall amp “breakup”.
The actual breakup is caused by the volume threshold of the component. So your preamp tubes have a limit to how much volume they can handle, and when they reach that point, anything more will distort. The power tubes and speakers work the same way. The distortion of each component will sound different, which is why most people adjust the volume settings on their guitar and amp to find their own sweet spot of breakup.
Now, a lot of people don’t want to strain their amps to such an extent every day, so manufacturers found a way to zip this effect into what’s we know today as an overdrive pedal.
We’ve written something on this topic in our distortion pedals article[insert link at bolded text] – but let’s elaborate on it a little bit. Even though overdrive and distortion are in the same category – they are not the same thing. The biggest difference between them is the amount of gain – overdrives use soft-clipping circuits and thus produce a small amount of gain, while distortion pedals clip the signal more severely and can pack a ton of gain.
Both have their advantages and disadvantages but ultimately overdrives can’t give you that thick distortion sound if that’s what you’re looking for. This is something a lot of new players get confused about when buying a pedal and ultimately come out unsatisfied (in fact, this exact thing happened to me at 16).
In essence, using an overdrive pedal is very simple. You plug it in, crank on the gain and it’s all very straightforward from there. But is that the only thing an overdrive pedal is good for?
No, there’s more to it if you get just a bit creative. We’ll mention a few well-known uses based on what you want your pedal to do for you.
Say you don’t own a boost pedal yet, and you want your clean tone to sound a bit richer? You can easily get this done with your overdrive pedal. Just turn the drive down to very low, and get the level knob to a point where you want it to go (in the case of a boost, probably before you reach a breakup effect). You can play around with it to get as much boost as you want.
If you own an amp with natural overdrive, you can use your pedal to enhance it in a few ways. One way to go is to boost your signal to give you some more color. The most common use is to add more gain to your signal chain.
Whichever way you choose, you might want to start from the lowest settings on your overdrive pedal at first (so you don’t blow up the amp), and work your way up to your desired tone.
Sometimes you just really love the sound of your overdrive pedal, and you don’t want to mix it up with anything else. This is the simplest plug and play approach, where you use your pedal with a clean amp and play with the settings on the pedal as much as you want.
Given how practical and versatile the overdrive effect is – how you’re going to use it will mostly depend on what kind of music you’re playing. You can use it in blues, jazz, any rock or even country and folk music.
In the dankest reaches of the underworld – I mean some niches of the guitar world, there’s a discussion between whether vintage overdrive pedals can compare with reissues, though this usually applies to the most popular models out there. In actuality, the differences are so minute that only those with the sharpest of senses (and a ton of experience) can tell them apart. For most people, it’s not worth the effort and you should just go with what you like within your wallet range. With that, we’ll be talking about prices a bit more.
Overdrive pedals can range from dirt cheap to I-don’t-know-who-buys-this expensive. Fear not – most of the models you’ll ever need to use are in the cheap-to-affordable range. Some of the best classics like Boss or Ibanez that will fit most of your needs are in the $50 – $150 range, so it’s definitely worth going for more than one as you’re gearing up your pedalboard.
Boutique designs are more expensive due to complicated analog circuitry and some niche effects. What also adds to their price is the fact that most are handmade rather than mass produced.
We’ve made it to the end of this best of series along with a little bit of how to overdrive. These are some of the truly best overdrive pedals currently on the market, not just in terms of quality but also enduring the hardest test for any gear – the test of time.
Jason Swartz is CEO of Alliance Talent, he’s helped stars like 2 Chainz, Lil Jon, and Ludacris earn anywhere from $150 to $500K a year in passive income through this proven methodology.
Both guitars have been played by guitar legends such as Eric Clapton, David Gilmour, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Root, and Keith Richards.