Updated February 07, 2019 by Daniel Imperiale

The 10 Best Overdrive Pedals

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This wiki has been updated 23 times since it was first published in May of 2016. When trying to mimic your favorite musician's tone, you have to look at not only their guitar, but the rest of their equipment, too. More often than not, an overdrive pedal is an essential part of bringing those distinctive, crunchy riffs to your ears. So, for the future rock stars out there, we've assembled this selection of models that balance sound, affordability, and versatility. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best overdrive pedal on Amazon.

10. MXR Custom Badass Modified O.D.

9. TC Electronic MojoMojo

8. Boss SD-1 Super

7. J Rockett Audio Designs Archer

6. Fulltone OCD Obsessive Compulsive

5. Fulltone Full-drive2 Mosfet Boost

4. Maxon OD808

3. Maxon RTD800 Real Tube

2. Electro-Harmonix Soul Food

1. Wampler Tumnus Deluxe

What To Look For In An Overdrive Pedal

For the uncertain or newbie musician, there are even overdrive pedals which have presets built into them.

Thanks to the numerous manufacturers on the market today, choosing an overdrive pedal can be difficult. Every brand will say theirs is the greatest, but if it does not fit your specific needs, it will not be the best pick. The difference between a good effect and a bad one can mean the difference between playing music and making noise, so it is important to choose wisely.

When looking for an overdrive pedal, it is important to understand the level of control the user desires to have with their equipment. Most pedals offer volume, tone, and drive knobs to control the color and effect of the sound coming out of the amplifier. Other models will take it a step further and allow the musician to boost or eliminate treble, middle, or bass frequencies as well.

This control can also translate to increased functionality. The knobs on some pedals allow for the effect to go from a warm, true boosted sound to a grungy distortion with just the turn of a knob. Instead of requiring multiple pedals and an intricate signal path to create specific sounds, some musicians can create these same sounds from various tweaks on a pedalboard.

It is also important to consider whether the overdrive pedal needs to be a true bypass pedal or not. True bypass pedals do not color or change the signal chain in any way when the pedal is not being used. The term itself has become somewhat of a music elitist's buzzword, but if signal colorization is important to avoid because of studio levels or other songs played very clean, look for a true-bypass pedal.

For the uncertain or newbie musician, there are even overdrive pedals which have presets built into them. If remembering the specific positioning of up to six knobs for every song in a set sounds mind-boggling, look for an overdrive pedal with presets. These allows the musician to focus more on playing the instrument rather than just tweaking it with effects.

For the nostalgic guitarist, there are even some overdrive pedals specifically designed to emulate the tones of rather famous guitar amps. As the world of audio customization is vast, knowing what you want makes all the difference.

The Creation Of The Overdrive Pedal

With the invention of the electric guitar came the ability to manipulate its sound. This was not necessarily a new feature, as guitarists always sought to create unique and original sounds. It was unique in that with the electric guitar they had the ability to do so now more than ever.

This was not necessarily a new feature, as guitarists always sought to create unique and original sounds.

One man's individual style paved the way for overdrive and distortion for years to come. Junior Bernard started experimenting with creating a dirty blues sound by attaching a humbucker pickup to a small amp and overdriving its capacity. This created a louder sound and gave the signal a more rounded tone.

This directly influenced popular guitarists such as Buddy Guy and Elmore James, who were always looking for ways to recreate the soul of Chicago Blues in their music. Guitarists would deliberately increase the gain on their amps to create warm, distorted sounds. Chuck Berry would bring this overdriven amp sound mainstream in the 1950s with his iconic song Maybellene.

The early amps were much more delicate and prone to damage than modern amps are. Because of this, these damaged amps would produce distorted noises. Some guitarists began to experiment with these noises, to the point that damaged amps became a desirable thing.

Rather than seek out damaged amps or damage their own, individuals began making circuits which did this same function. The first known use of an effects box of this kind was when Red Rhodes offered the band The Ventures a small fuzz box, designed to recreate this warm fuzzy distortion. This marked the creation of the fuzz pedal, overdrive pedal, and distortion pedal, which all branched out from this device.

What Is The Difference Between An Overdrive Pedal And A Distortion Pedal?

When first discovering the world of musical effects, it can be intimidating to look at a seemingly endless catalog of effects pedals and decide which is the best for specific needs. This is especially true when it comes to overdrive pedals.

Overdrive pedals are gain-based effects pedals, in the same class as distortion pedals. In fact, these terms are sometimes used interchangeably to describe the effect they add to a guitar's signal. Each effect pedal changes the sound in a different way, and it is important to understand these differences.

The term distortion is loosely applied to any pedal which does this, but this requires clarification.

The general effect of these two pedals is to increase the signal strength of the instrument to the point where it cannot be reproduced exactly as it went in. The term distortion is loosely applied to any pedal which does this, but this requires clarification.

An overdrive pedal is designed to either generate so much signal in a tube amp that the circuitry is overloaded and the signal gets cut, or to mimic this effect in a non-tube amp. As the circuitry of audio amplifiers is already complex as it is, so most manufacturers choose to keep most effects as after-market products. The overdrive effect usually incorporates both the function of a fuzz pedal and the function of a distortion pedal as well, but not to the extent that pedals designed to generate these sounds are.

When amplifiers are overdriven in this manner, the signal gets clipped as the amp tries to deliver a current beyond its capabilities. This distorts the waves and creates the warm and crunchy sound musicians like. As this clipping can cause the amplifier to output more power than intended, this can actually damage or destroy speakers. This is one reason why the pedals were created. Overdrive pedals allow the user to simulate this effect without destroying their amps.

On the other hand, distortion effects pedals are designed to do just that – distort the sound created through the input. This generally involves both boosting the signal like overdrive pedals do, and simultaneously altering the waves created by that signal. This creates additional noise around the input signal which changes the sound entirely.

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Daniel Imperiale
Last updated on February 07, 2019 by Daniel Imperiale

Daniel Imperiale holds a bachelor’s degree in writing, and proudly fled his graduate program in poetry to pursue a quiet life at a remote Alaskan fishery. After returning to the contiguous states, he took up a position as an editor and photographer of the prestigious geek culture magazine “Unwinnable” before turning his attention to the field of health and wellness. In recent years, he has worked extensively in film and music production, making him something of a know-it-all when it comes to camera equipment, musical instruments, recording devices, and other audio-visual hardware. Daniel’s recent obsessions include horology (making him a pro when it comes to all things timekeeping) and Uranium mining and enrichment (which hasn’t proven useful just yet).


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