Overdrive is a staple part of any guitarist’s diet, and usually one of the first effects pedals the beginner guitarist buys. In contrast to distortion, overdrive preserves some clean guitar tone but also mixes in extra crunch and volume, emulating the sound of a cranked valve amp (but at a volume that suits you and not earth-shatteringly loud).
In this article, we discuss everything about these products – from how to use them, to which products on the market are worth looking at.
At a Glance: Our Pick of the Best Overdrive Pedals on the Market
- MX3 EVH5150
- Boss SD-1 Super
- TC Electronic MojoMojo
- Wampler Tom Quayle Dual Fusion
- Electro-Harmonix English Muff’n
- Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer
- JHS Pedals Moonshine
- Fulltone OCD
- Behringer OD300
- Boss OS-2
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
Here’s what we’ll cover in this article.
- What is the Overdrive Effect?
- Buyers Guide – Key Considerations
- Product Round-up & Reviews – Best Overdrive Pedal
- So, Which is Right for Me?
What is the Overdrive Effect?
Overdrive is commonly associated with classic rock, indie and blues guitar. It is used to bring out choruses, to blast out guitar solos, or throughout a song to give it its ‘rockiness.’ Without it, the classic rock tunes you know, and love would sound weak and underwhelming. It’s difficult to imagine Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ solo coming through a clean guitar.
In terms of effect, overdrive is a low-level type of distortion and adds color and texture – but less intensity than you’d get from a distortion pedal. The effect comes from tube amplifiers when you ‘drive them’ – that’s to say, its a natural consequence of straining the tubes (or valves). Instead of relying on an amp to get this sound, the pedal recreates it at the stomp of a foot-switch.
So how is this effect used?
The main benefit is the ease with which you can access driven valve-amp sounds via a pedal. Even if you’re already playing through a valve-amp, it’s impractical – often impossible – to switch from clean to a cranked sound, especially if you’re mid-show. With one of these pedals you can play through a clean channel, then click on the overdrive when you need to ‘lift’ things and get a crunchy, biting sound for a solo.
Players into heavy tones also use overdrive in conjunction with an amp’s natural distortion to tighten up distorted sounds and to add a chunkiness that’s great for heavy rhythm parts and epic lead lines.
Buyers Guide – Key Considerations
If a pedal is beyond your budget and includes a load of features you’re not going to use like dual-inputs and overdrive/distortion switches, then it might be worth settling for something that’s a little cheaper, with features you’re sure to use.
Many of these products are stompbox-sized, allowing you to slot them into your pedalboard snugly. Some are a bit bigger however with a few extra features. It’s more likely that you’ll find things like 3-band EQ or dual inputs/outputs on a larger pedal. It’s worth considering how much space you’re happy for it to take up, and how many features you really need.
Product Round-up & Reviews – Best Overdrive Pedal
The MX3 EVH offers an exceptional amount of features and superb controllability. There’s an output level control, allowing you to decide the volume contrast between your clean and affected sound, and also a boost button to push this even further. There’s an included noise gate to eliminate unwanted sounds, and there are bass, mid and high EQ controls.
It’s quite pricey, but the amount of features it has makes it like having 3-4 pedals in one. It’s also a bit bulky, but not as big as each of those separate pedals would be.
The MX3 EV5150 will suit hard rock players who need high gain sounds and want the control over the effect that they’d have on a real amp. It will be less suited to those who are looking for a simple, stompbox.
- 3-band EQ gives you excellent control over your sound.
- Includes a gate to eliminate unwanted noises.
- Has an additional boost control for guitar solos.
- It’s bulkier than other products in this round-up.
- It’s quite expensive.
- Only one output.
The Boss SD-1 is a reliable, sturdy option that won’t break the bank. It has a level, tone and drive control and also a check indicator that flashes if your battery is low. It’s a small stompbox that is easy to insert into your pedalboard and can be powered off a battery or an adapter – it’s casing is sturdy metal, and the knobs are also secure and made of metal.
It will suit blues or rock players who want classic sounds that are easy to access and will be less suited to heavier players unless they plan on using it in conjunction with other pedals or their amp’s distortion settings.
- Stomp-box that fits easily into your pedalboard.
- Tone, level and drive knobs give you control over the shape of your sound.
- Budget-friendly and built like a brick, so will last forever.
- EQ is limited to one tone control.
- There’s only one output.
TC Electronic MojoMojo
The TC Electronic MojoMojo is another small pedal, which can come even cheaper than the Boss OD-1. It has bass and treble EQ dials, a voice switch, level and drive controls. The separate bass and treble EQ dials give you an extra level of control over the shaping of your tone, and the voice switch can give you an instant mid-shift. The level control lets you decide the volume contrast between your clean and overdriven guitar, and the drive dial lets you adjust how much the sound is overdriven.
It’s very responsive to your playing, making it suited to expressive guitarists who want sweet tones with a bit of extra ‘oomph.’ It will be less ideal for heavier players.
- True bypass, so you don’t need to worry about it affecting your signal when it’s not in use.
- Separate bass and treble EQ controls for shaping the sound.
- Voicing switch enables a quick mid-shift.
- Just one output.
- Not as simple to use as some others with fewer features.
Wampler Tom Quayle Dual Fusion
The Wampler Tom Quayle Dual Fusion is designed with fusion artists in mind. It allows you to plug your guitar in twice, to two different settings, and to adjust them separately before you infuse them together. There are two inputs and outputs, gain, volume and tone controls as well as switches between throaty and natural, and smooth and fat. It’s pretty pricey, but for all of the features, that’s what you’d expect.
The dual volume and tone controls allow you to mix different sounds, giving you something that’s chunky and layered, and the throaty/natural and smooth/fat switches enable fast and significant changes in sound.
Fusion guitarists who aren’t afraid of audio technology. It will be less suited to those who are looking for something simple, to stamp on and dirty their sound.
- Dual pedal with two inputs/outputs that can be set to complement each other.
- Throaty/Natural and Smooth/Fat toggles to give you instant access to classic sounds.
- Volume and tone controls allow you to shape the sounds.
- It’s quite bulky.
- It’s very expensive.
- It might not suit those who want something simple.
Electro-Harmonix English Muff’n
The Electro-Harmonix English Muff’n uses vacuum tubes to give you an authentic amp sound. It costs around the same as the Dual Fusion above, but you are getting something special with this one. The two tubes are at the top, beneath a protective shield and there are volume, gain and EQ controls which let you shape the sound exactly as it suits you. The volume sets the output level, and the gain decides how overdriven the tone is. There are low, mid and high EQ controls, allowing you to fine-tune the color of your overdriven guitar completely.
The Electro-Harmonix English Muff’n includes vintage features that make it perfect for emulating a 1960s guitar sound. It will be less suited to those looking for a more modern, distorted sound, or for those on a budget.
- Includes vacuum tubes to give it the pure tone of an amp.
- Has volume, gain, and EQ controls so that you can fine-tune the sound to suit you.
- True bypass, so you needn’t worry about it affecting your signal when it’s not in use.
- It’s quite bulky.
- You can’t power it off a battery.
Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer
The Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer has legendary status in the world of overdrive effects units – it’s a simple stompbox and designed with the same funky green color and square footswitch button as the original. Many choose to use one of these in conjunction with a tube amp to really crank things up into sweet, screaming sounds. It’s easy to use with its three controls, and the metal casing and trusty square footswitch mean that it won’t mind getting thrown around a bit at gigs.
Heavy rock players who always play with a bit of overdrive, and sometimes need to send their guitars right over the edge. It will be less suited to players who want more control over their EQ, as there’s only one tone control.
- Controls allow you to fine-tune the tone.
- Stomp-box sized, so it will be easy to fit into your pedalboard.
- Well-built in a sturdy metal casing.
- More expensive than your average stompbox (due to its iconic status).
- There’s only one output.
JHS Pedals Moonshine
This works for both bass and guitar and gives you access to a wide range of sounds. There are the usual volume, drive and tone controls, but there’s also the addition of a clean knob which enables you to blend your clean signal into your affected output. There’s a ‘proof’ toggle which quickly flicks between high and low gain, enabling you to go from heavy rock distorted sounds to sweet blues tones with ease.
It’s a bit pricier than some of the other stomp-box sized products in this round-up, but it does come with the extra features, and the thickness of the overdrive it produces is unmatchable on both bass and guitar.
Those who might like to use it with both bass and guitar, or to those who require easy access to a wide range of overdriven tones. It will be less suited to those who are looking for a simple stomp-box, although it isn’t difficult to use.
- As well as volume, drive and tone controls, there’s a clean knob to allow you to blend as much of a clean signal as you’d like into your sound.
- ‘Proof’ toggle can quickly switch between mild overdrive and heavy, distorted sounds.
- Designed for use with both bass and guitar.
- Can’t be powered off a battery.
- There’s just one output.
- It’s pretty expensive.
The Fulltone OCD is highly responsive with some innovative design features. It can switch between high-peak and low-peak gain settings, giving you control over the intensity of your overdrive and it also has an output buffer that stops it from being affected by other pedals in your chain. This output buffer is always in use when the pedal’s set to ‘enhanced bypass,’ and in use when the pedal’s on if it’s in true bypass. The enhanced bypass can solve any tone-sucking problems of true bypass, meaning that you always get the fullest, chunkiest possible tone.
The OCD responds to your playing so that you don’t have to keep adjusting the settings. Play softly, and it knows not to push the drive. Play heavily, and it pushes it. In that way, it works just like a quality valve amp.
It’s more expensive than some of the other products here, but it will suit those who are looking for a stompbox that offers quality, innovation, controllability, and reliability. It might not be suited to those on a budget, or to guitarists who are looking for something that offers a bit more distortion.
- Switchable high-peak and low-peak gain settings, so you can quickly alter the intensity of the effect.
- Includes an output buffer, which stops it from being affected by pedals after it in the chain.
- It offers enhanced bypass as well as true bypass.
- Quite expensive for a stompbox.
- There’s only one output.
The Behringer OD300 is the cheapest item on this list but surprisingly good. It’s a dual overdrive and distortion offering, so you can really crank it over into noisy sounds when overdrive doesn’t quite cut it. As well as the setting to switch between or combine the two, there are level, tone and drive controls to give you full control over the shape of your sound.
To reduce cost, it comes in a plastic housing which might be an issue if you’re going to be gigging a lot. However, if you’re looking for something to get started with at home, it will do just fine, and it offers most of the features of a more expensive pedal.
Musicians starting out who are on a budget who need both an overdrive and distortion. It will be less suited to gigging musicians who require something a little sturdier.
- Dual overdrive and distortion pedal.
- Extremely budget-friendly.
- Level, tone, drive, and mode knobs give you full control over the pedal.
- The plastic casing which is liable to breaking.
- There’s no true bypass.
The Boss OS-2 is also a dual overdrive/distortion pedal. It has level, tone and drive controls to allow you to shape your tone, and color control to switch between or combine levels of overdrive and distortion. As it’s Boss, it’s built extremely well in a sturdy metal housing and the quality of tone, from overdrive into distortion is of a professional level.
It’s a bit more expensive than the Boss OS-1, but the addition of distortion will be a welcome benefit to heavier players. There’s a vast variety of overdriven-ness to play with here, making this pedal one of the most versatile in terms of gain.
Heavy players who sometimes need to make things dirty while they sometimes enjoy the warm, classic tones of the 60s and 70s music. It will be less suited to those who only require a light overdrive, and aren’t interested in crossing the line to distortion.
- Dual overdrive/distortion pedal.
- Level, tone, drive and color knobs give you full control over shaping your sound.
- Built extremely well and will last forever.
- Buffered bypass, whereas some people prefer true bypass.
- There’s only one output.
So, Which is Right for Me?
As you can see, the overdrive pedal that’s right for you will largely depend on what kind of a player you are.
If you’re a blues-rock or classic rock player, the Boss OD-1, Electro Harmonix English Muff’n, TC Electronic MojoMojo or Fulltone OCD might be what you’re looking for. The Boss OD-1 offers reliability and affordability, and the English Muff’n has real valves for truly vintage tones. Both the TC Electronic MojoMojo and Fulltone OCD are responsive and reliable, with the Fulltone offering better quality but the MojoMojo promising best value for money.
If you’re looking for something that can go a bit heavier, the Boss OD-2 offers distortion as well as overdrive, as does the Behringer OD300. The OD-2 is significantly better in terms of quality, but the OD300 is not bad at all and is exceptional value for money.
The Tube Screamer TS808 reissue and the EVH MXR 5150 are also well suited to heavy rock, with their generous gain controls and compatibility with additional effects. The MXR 5150 is also exceptionally controllable, with 3-band EQ as well as a compressor and a gate.
Those who play fusion need look no further than the Wampler Tom Quayle Dual Fusion. It has two inputs and outputs which you can blend together or use separately and pre-sets which are suited to fusion but are also appropriate within other genres.
If you’re a bassist as well as a guitarist, the JHS Pedals Moonshine will work equally well in conjunction with both instruments, and it offers a thick overdrive that’s easy to adjust with multiple toggles and switches.
Whichever overdrive pedal you choose, we’re sure you’ll appreciate it. The heavy, crunchy tone that these pedals offer is one of the things that makes classic rock classic rock.
We hope that these reviews have helped you to make up your mind about which one’s right for you.
Featured image: emmoff