From the very childhood, I was a huge fan of classic rock music. I would say that I was born the day I first listened to the extraordinary music of Led Zeppelin, and felt the taste of legendary bands such as Pink Floyd and Deep Purple.
Their music was so inspiring for me that I started playing the guitar to feel closer to their creations. After taking this wave of inspiration more seriously, I started looking into the techniques they used to achieve those tones and the ones I could use as a child of technological advancements.
That is when I came across my first overdrive pedal. After years of practicing, I could finally claim to have created sounds resembling the classics. If you are an admirer of classic rock music (and not only) and want to find a way to easily generate those desirable notes, this article will help you find the best overdrive pedal that will rock your world.
What’s The Best Overdrive Pedal
Do you remember Van Halen’s early performances? Those rich and saturated sounds he created? The MXR took those sounds and incorporated them in EVH 5150 pedal in collaboration with Eddie himself. It delivers overdriven tube-like tones and offers impeccable sonic flexibility. This pedal will turn you into either a young Van Halen with classic tones or an older one with high gain and super deliberate sounds. EVH 5150 is equipped with Output and Gain controls as well as an EQ section, which can shape your sound according to your taste. The Boost switch will give you extra gain and compression while the Gate will diminish all the unwanted noises. This is a versatile and powerful overdrive pedal, that will definitely change the way you look at your music.
- No unwanted noise
- Plenty of adjustments
- Great sound
- Boost cannot be controlled with foot
- A bit hard to place on the pedalboard
Euphoria has been known for its transparent sound. It is designed to vary from clean to extremely fat tones without sounding like a pedal. It is supposed to have a wide range of tones and be able to respond to the volume knob like a tube amp. This is exactly what it does and is one of the best overdrive pedals. This pedal is equipped with Tone, Volume, Gain, Voice Switch, and Bass knobs, each of it having certain unique features: Tone adjusts the number of high-ends added to the overdrive while touching up your sound with clarity, treble and punching presence; Volume determines the output of the pedal; Gain controls how much overdrive is applied to the sound, basically shaping the dimension of your tone; Bass control allows you to monitor the quantity of added bass before the gain, transforming the sound signal into a fuzzier tone; Voicing Switch can be used to control the ilk of the sound clipping, with smooth settings the tone becomes smoother, whilst higher settings make it more harmonic and add more gain. Euphoria maintains original sounds while defining and shaping it to your taste.
- Various setting
- Easy to use
- Takes time to adjust
- Can get muddy easily with wrong settings
805 Overdrive offers an array of sonic possibilities. You can just give a boost to your sound or produce a rich heavy gain with a touch of tube-like sounds. This pedal is suited for all kinds of music, including rock, metal, country, blues and more. The EQ control lets you shape your sound and go from smooth tones to metal crunch in a blink of an eye. 805 Overdrive has a reasonable amount of output and can be used for pushing a distorted amp, however, it can create clean sound with a controlled boost as well. This allows you to deafen the audience with your music, never letting the simple tones slide. Do not expect it to give you a full distortion though, after all it is not supposed to anyway.
- Flexible EQ
- Ease of access
- A bit noisy
- Too lightweight (if that is an issue for you)
Catalinbread RAH was inspired by the performance of Led Zeppelin at the Royal Albert Hall (1970). The sound created by Jimmy Page was so profound and impressive, that it led to the development of one of the best overdrive pedals. I would say that the most distinguishing part about this pedal is that it is very responsive to the sound of your guitar. You can control the saturation and crunch of your sound with just a twist of your guitar’s volume knob. RAH has captured all the unique features of Jimmy Page’s custom Hiwatt and has delivered it in the form of a pedal. Additionally, this pedal has three tone controls: Treble, Middle, and Bass, which are exceptionally interactive, and changing one of them will cause the other to adjust as well. The Volume (Master) and Gain knobs regulate the output and input levels of the overdrive effect. If you’re a Led Zeppelin enthusiast longing to capture the essence of their awe-inspiring sound, don’t hesitate any further and seize the opportunity with this pedal.
- Very durable
- Good response to the guitar
- Great quality of the sound
- Every mistake you make on your guitar will be audible
- Can get noisy easily
The Maxon OD808 was one of the first tube-amp overdrive simulators that came out on the market in 1979. This pedal generates a mild, smooth overdrive without depriving your audio signal of its original characteristics. Like most other pedals, it can be utilized as a clean boost for increased gain and it does so without interfering with the sound of your amp. Instead of clipping the signal right away, it distorts the sound within the circuitry creating a milder and more natural tone. OD808 will fill your music with those beautiful classic rock notes. You cannot go wrong with this pedal, you would really have to try hard to dial in a bad sound with this one. The Maxon Reissue Series OD808 boasts a range of features designed to enhance your music experience. With its Overdrive, Balance, and Tone controls, you have the flexibility to fine-tune the sound according to your preferences. Building upon the success of its predecessors, this improved version of the OD808 excels in capturing and responding to the nuanced dynamics of your playing, delivering a professional-level performance.
- Compact design
- Smooth overdrive
- Amazing sustain
- Switch nob is a bit difficult to use
BOSS SD-1 is a statement on your pedal board. It offers a classic tube-like overdrive, which is created by soft and asymmetrical clipping of the sound wave. You can easily dial up subtle tones, crank it up a bit and generate sustaining lead notes. BOSS SD-1 allows you to alter the picking attack the way you would with an overdriven tube amp. This pedal is very responsive to every single playing nuance, which means your sound will be perfectly audible. Its sweet tones make it a great booster for your amp (works best with a more powerful amp), but do not expect a lot of bass or fury with this one. BOSS SD-1 is a rock-hard pedal that will not break even if you run it over with a truck. If you are a classic rock/blues type of guy, this pedal will satisfy all your musical needs.
- Extremely durable
- Great quality
- Does its job perfectly
- A bit hard to dial in little crunch
- Does not show its full capabilities with small amp
Fulltone Fulldrive2 is an overdrive pedal that offers everything from a clean boost to non-compressed overdrive. It has two switchable channels. Featuring Volume, Tone, Overdrive, Boost knobs, and additional switches for Vintage/CompCut modes, this pedal can generate MOSFET/Standard overdrive styles. This differentiates the clipping types, rounding it up and creating bottom ends. The tone knob is basically a presence control, which smooths out your tone perfectly. The Boost channel, which has its own distortion control, lets you generate medium to higher-gain overdrive with great sustain. Fulltone Fulldrive2 is a true bypass, making it a piece of cake to adjust to your pedalboard. If you are looking for something that will boost your sound without compromising your original tone, this pedal will definitely be an asset for you.
- Great build quality
- Precise tone
- Easy to adjust.
- CompCut mode is a bit too loud
- Output levels are a little uneven
MXR M294 Sugar Drive is the best thing you can get if you’re looking for a sweet, well-defined overdrive. This versatile beast is based on the legendary circuitry that was utilized in the prominent Klon that is still sought after. We keep looking for clones that would resemble its sound and brands keep coming out with similar items. MXR M294 Sugar Drive is a great example of what a Klon clone should look like, or it would be more accurate to say that it’s a great example of what a badass overdrive pedal should look like. This puppy has a voltage doubler functionality, which enhances the headroom and delivers a more precise tone. But the magic behind it is all about its Drive control. You see, in other models, this knob simply adds gain to your sound. But here it amplifies your clean signal and blends it with the overdriven sound. The results will blow your mind unless you have a different taste and that whole thing isn’t your cup of tea. M294 does also accentuate mid-range, which adds an extra oomph to your music. Sugar Drive is one of the best overdrive pedals you can get, so go for it!
- Defined tones be it subtle overdrive or high-gain
- Built to last
- Might have too much midrange for those who want a Klon clone
- Not for everyone
EHX Hot Tubes Nano is based on the original EXH Hot Tubes pedal from 1978. It has a similar circuit but comes in a much more compact box. The modern version of the legendary vintage pedal has several controls: Overdrive controls the distortion of the audio signal, the Volume knob modifies the output of the pedal, and Tone lets you adjust the sonic spectrum of your sound. Hot Tube Nano features a top-mounted toggle switch, which has the function of bypassing the Tone control. This simple movement will make your tone darker and enhance the output level of the pedal. Hot Tube Nano is responsive to the adjustment of guitar volume controls. As for the sound, this pedal creates a subtle overdrive, but you can achieve a nice amount of boost, gain and sustain as well. If you have ever listened to the vintage EHX Hot Tubes and have your heart set on it, this pedal will make your dreams come true with a subtle touch of the modern era.
- Compact design
- Easy to use
- Unique tone
- Not very durable
- Might not work with heavier pedals
The Joyo JF-02 Ultimate Overdrive redefines affordability with its astonishingly low price. Its inexpensive nature might make you question its capabilities, but rest assured, this pedal delivers on its promises by producing a sound that rivals even the most expensive stompboxes on the market. Its main features are quite simple and typical – just like any other pedal it has the Gain, Level, and Tone knobs, as well as one High/Low switch and true bypass. Joyo JF-02 strives to imitate the sound of an overdriven vintage tube amp and produce rich tones, thus offering a lot of flexibility. It works best with classic rock, blues, and others of that ilk. Those sweet, beautiful tones can vary from subtle to saturated. Due to its simplicity, Joyo JF-02 lets you adjust your sound very easily with just a twist of a knob. For the cheap price, this pedal does really work wonders.
- Sweet overtones
- Extremely affordable
- Easy to use
- Questionable quality
- A bit unreliable
How to choose the best overdrive pedal
If you go back in time and look at the music created a century ago, you will notice that the majority of songwriters and guitarists concentrated on maintaining a precise, clear tone. They would be devastated if their sound was dirty or impure. As time passed by and the wheel of fortune let accidents happen – damaging the amps fortuitously, first distortions were created. Several musicians started using their amps at the maximum capacity in order to achieve more fuzziness in tone. Something that started as mere will of cutting through noisy crowds, was quickly caught on by throngs of people. This rudimentary technique of overdriving the amplifier (in order to distort the audio signal) turned into pedals that could achieve a similar effect with little to no effort. Nowadays, we have an abundance of different overdrive pedals, which makes it hard to choose the right one. Luckily, I am here to help you. There are some factors that should always be taken into account while selecting an overdrive pedals. Let’s discuss some of them and determine, how to figure out which pedal screams your name.
Your Music Genre
The first thing that you should always consider is the genre of your music. This pretty much shapes the main framework of your sounds, differentiating between your desires and needs and the style of your music. This is very important, because sometimes wrong expectations can ruin the whole experience. Being a metal player, you cannot go out there and buy a typical overdrive pedal thinking that it will distort your sound a great deal and give you those heavy tones. While some overdrive pedals might be versatile enough to offer you those tones, that is not their function and aim. The whole fuss around overdrive pedals is created due to their subtle, rich, tube-like sounds that touch up your music with vintage vibes. You will fall in love with them if you are someone who plays blues, classic rock, country, funk and etc. With that being said, it is significant to note that in most cases “heavier” musicians utilize overdrive pedals to build some additional gain and boost on an already distorted amp. Overdrive pedals are quite versatile on the whole and can adapt to your music quite easily.
Your Main Goal
Sometimes we become so caught up in choices and technical issues, that we forget about the importance of our goals as musicians. You have to determine what you want to achieve with your music, only after that should you start choosing an overdrive pedal. Here are some questions answers to which will give you a general outline of your musical aims:
- Do you want your audio signal to be rich and loud or subtle and toned down?
- What kind of sounds do you want to produce: warm and saturated or transparent?
- What kind of audience are you aiming at?
From my experience, spending some time on considering all these factors will save you a lot of money and energy in the future. If you know exactly what you are striving for as a musician, choosing an overdrive pedal will become an enjoyable process. This will save you from wasting money on pedals that are not compatible with your preferences and turn sound-searching into a less risky adventure.
The features you should look for
Durability is a feature that can easily be overlooked. However, we all want to get our money’s worth and try to purchase items that will last for a long time. This is especially important, if you are someone who is always on the road. Nobody wants their favorite overdrive pedal to fall apart before an important performance or shutter into pieces in the back of the van. If we are talking about the best overdrive pedal, then it should definitely be reliable, durable and built with sturdy material. After all, we do not want to spend our lives switching between poorly built (but greatly sounding) pedals.
No matter how hard we try to dismiss price as the determinant of our choices, it still cannot be discarded completely. Affordability is the feature that plays a huge role when purchasing an overdrive pedal. Even when you go online shopping, the first thing you filter is the price range. But the lesson I have learnt is that money does not always indicate on the sound quality of the device. You can easily find an overdrive pedal that will not empty your wallet but can produce an amazing sound (take the above-mentioned Joyo JF-02, for instance). It might not be hard as a rock, so do not expect it to be built with outstanding material. When it comes to cheaper pedals, you should always prioritize the sound over the design and durability (some of them might be super durable though). As for overdrive pedals that are a bit more expensive, you have to make sure that it is a money well-spent. The biggest part of our disappointment with pedals is determined by the compatibility of price and capabilities of the pedal. If you can afford an expensive overdrive pedal, with amazing tones and all the needed features, go for it. Once again, your preferences define your choices.
Tone is the most significant of all the other features. If durability and affordability can be left out of the discussion, tone is the one feature that has a leading role in determining your choice. This is quite natural since the very aim of purchasing an overdrive pedal is to improve your sound. If it does not produce a distinct, clearly audible tone, what is the point? Listen to as many demos as you can before making up your mind. Keep in mind that the instrument itself, as well as the amplifier, have a huge impact on the output of your overdrive pedal. Figure out what kind of tone you are looking for and choose a pedal accordingly. And one more thing, the tone that is perfect for me and represents all the heavenly notes I have ever dreamt of, might be something you will loathe. There is nothing more subjective than music. Do not forget to make a good research before investing in an overdrive pedal.
One thing I love the most about overdrive pedals is their flexibility. No matter what you play, an overdrive pedal will be an asset to your pedalboard. With the right attitude and determination, you can make anything work. Life is about taking risks and experimenting with new things, especially in the world of music. After choosing the best overdrive pedal, your life (at least your attitude towards quality music) will change forever. Trust me, my friend, finding the right sound is one of the most exciting feelings and you will not regret a second spent on searching.