We look at some of the best overdrive pedals of all time, so you can drive your amp all the way to 'Tone Town'
The humble overdrive pedal is one of the most important pedals we guitarists and valve amp players can get a hold of.
If you’re using a valve amp, and you want to push your tubes into that lush saturation without having to run over to the amp and turn the gain up, then an overdrive pedal is a must-have and an integral part of many pro-level guitarists sound. They work with Blues, Rock, Metal - everything - able to retain the tone of your amp and your guitar but just giving it that extra power and mojo when you need it rather than changing it with distortion.
What Does An Overdrive Pedal Do?
First of all, if you’re reading this and you don’t understand the difference between an overdrive pedal and a distortion pedal, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with our handy guide to the differences here.
But overall, the whole purpose of an overdrive pedal is to provide you with the same dynamic and response as a driven tube amp. If you’re playing a valve amp it’ll push the tubes into that sweet spot and give you an “overdriven” sound. If you’re playing a solid state, the overdrive pedal will effectively mimic the sound of valves distorting and respond to your playing far more sensitively – the harder you play, the more the pedal will distort.
As always, we recommend playing an overdrive pedal through a valve amp to get the full effect – trust me, you’ll love it.
So if you want to know what the best overdrive pedal is, we’ve compiled a list of our favourites below. These include industry standard options and some newcomers to the world of Overdrive. Enjoy!
NB: When we use the word “saturated” we mean when your tubes are being driven to the point of break up. In case you were wondering…
The 15 Best Overdrive Pedals You Need To Try
1. Ibanez TS9 Tubescreamer - Classic Overdrive
The Tube Screamer is the industry standard overdrive pedal. If you want to know what an overdrive pedal sounds like, start here. This is often cloned, imitated and ripped off, but there’s nothing quite like the original Ibanez TS9 Tubescreamer. It’s super easy to operate and adds a beautifully lush overdrive to your valve amplifier. You can add everything from a subtle boost to all out saturation depending on what you need.
It's used by Blues, Rock and Metal guitarists everywhere as it amplifies your tone rather than changing it completely the way a distortion pedal does. Try this out - you'll love it.
2. Boss SD-1 Super OverDrive Pedal
The Boss SD-1 Super OverDrive Pedal is a little different as it not only works well with tube/valve amps, but with solid state amps too. This works in perfect harmony with valve amps, pushing your sound over the edge when you need it. However, this also reproduces the warmth of a saturated valve amp and helps your amp respond better to your playing when you're using a solid state.
If you love the sound of your amp, but you want to push it a bit harder without adding too much distortion to your sound, then this is ideal. It’s also built like a tank, covered by BOSS’s 5 year warranty and easy to use.
If you love this pedal but want something slightly warmer with a far more precise sonic offering, then the Boss Waza Craft SD-1W Super Overdrive with all analogue circuitry is perfect as you have 2 settings – Normal and Custom. This offers both the original circuit and an updated, refined, custom tone that is warmer and more responsive.
3. Fender Santa Ana Overdrive Pedal
If you’re already familiar with overdrive pedals and you want something that offers far more control over your sound than smaller pedals offer, then the Fender Santa Ana Overdrive Pedal is ideal. This is a relative newcomer to the scene of overdrive pedals offering a far more flexible sound.
We think it’s one of the best overdrive pedals as it provides the option of boosting your drive as well as your level, which is extremely handy. The option of switching between true bypass and buffered is also very useful as it allows you to choose whether your signal is affected by the pedal or not. Tone purists rejoice!
4. Landlord FX Amber Nectar Overdrive Pedal
The Landlord FX Amber Nectar Overdrive Pedal is perfect if you’re like me and you’ve got almost zero space left on your pedal board. This slim pedal, which is no bigger than a chocolate bar, fits easily on your board and provides you with 2 different overdrive sounds. The Half-Cut setting is a expressive overdrive sound that retains the core tone of your guitar and amp, whereas the Hammered setting gives you the louder, punchier overdrive that makes your tubes scream.
This is also very easy to use with simple Tone, Level and Gain knobs making changes on the fly very easy. A budget friendly, space saving option for those with small, or busy pedal boards.
5. MXR M250 Double Double Overdrive Pedal
Next up we have the MXR M250 Double Double Overdrive Pedal which has 2 built-in overdrive circuits that again, allow you to go from subtle “glowing” valve sounds, to all out screaming saturation. It’s by far one of the best overdrive pedals as each circuit is completely unique, effectively providing you with two pedals in one. The ‘Lo’ gain gives you the deep, punchy mids, whilst the ‘Hi’ gain setting forces the highs and lows together to create a sharp overdrive that really kicks you in the chest. The controls are easy to use, features true bypass circuitry and it’s built like a tank – a great combo indeed.
6. Electro-Harmonix Crayon Full-Range Overdrive (76)
The Electro-Harmonix Crayon Full-Range Overdrive (76) is a full range overdrive that busts out a really rich tone that adds so much more to your sound. The key difference between this and other overdrive pedals, is the fact it provides an open frequency range, rather than a customary mid-focused sound. You have classic controls such to sculpt the Bass, Treble and Gain as well as a Volume which offers a bigger boost to your sound when you need it.
This adds a little colour to your tone rather than just pushing your own sound harder - hence the name!
7. Boss JB-2 Angry Driver Dual Circuit Overdrive Pedal
The Boss JB-2 Angry Driver Dual Circuit Overdrive Pedal is an entirely unique pedal which combines two of the most famous overdrive pedals ever made into one. This awesome collaboration between Boss and JHS pedals has resulted in the fusing of the legendary Boss BD-2 Blues Driver and JHS Angry Charlie overdrive pedals. The result is a unique pedal with two independent gain circuits that you can use independently or in unison. Best of all you can choose which pedal is first in the chain which affects your sound differently. If you love the sound of the BD-2 and Angry Charlie pedals but you’ve only got room for one pedal – get this! This is one of the best overdrive pedals out there for players who like a unique sonic palette ranging from a subtle valve push to a high level, cranked amp and everything in-between.
8. Way Huge Smalls Supa-Lead Overdrive
Way Huge understand that pedal board real-estate is at a premium. The small, but very powerful Way Huge Smalls Supa-Lead Overdrive takes up less room, but provides a massive sound. We think it’s one of the best overdrive pedals as it responds beautifully to your playing thanks to its touch sensitivity and pinpoint response. You can dictate how much grit you want via the volume pot on your guitar – roll it back for a cleaner sound or crank it all the way up for a harsher sound.
Best of all, the pedal responds to your playing whether you’re digging in hard or just tinkering, making it great for players who just want a minimal set up and rely on the dynamics of their playing rather than effects. Pro tip: crank your amp hard and then kick this thing in for all out chaos!
9. MXR Sugar Drive Mini Overdrive Pedal
The MXR Sugar Drive Mini Overdrive Pedal is one of the best overdrive pedals for those who are already happy with their tone, but who need a little extra ‘oomph’ or ‘juice’ when they want to push their sound harder. This pedal beautifully replicates the smooth transition of a valve amp going through the stages of tube break up, but also blends your clean signal with the effect. This results in a harmonically rich signal that keeps the sound of your guitar and amp intact whilst adding a certain ‘Sweet’ sound – hence the name.
10. Boss OD-3 OverDrive Pedal
The Boss OD-3 OverDrive Pedal is another classic overdrive pedal relied upon by musicians all over the world. This is an industry standard that offers a level of sustain and compression that the SD-1 might lack. Another area where it differs from the SD-1 is the addition of a dual-stage overdrive circuit which pushes harder than most pedals. What you get is a more distorted sound than other pedals, with added sustain. You still have control over your tone and can dial the Drive right back for a cleaner sound, but the option is there to go harder if you need it, making it a popular choice for Rock and Metal musicians.
11. Fulltone OCD V2 Overdrive Distortion Pedal
The Fulltone OCD V2 Overdrive Distortion Pedal is another industry standard that couples an overdrive circuit with a distortion, making it a great live and studio pedal. This pedal provides far more touch sensitivity than its predecessor as well as more complex overtones without ever changing the tone of your amp. This is basically the sound of your amp but with better response and a grittier drive!
One of the key benefits of this pedal is the Enhanced Bypass which eradicates the phase issues and tone-loss that the V1 can sometimes suffer from. This ensures that any lost dynamics and tone (often caused by cables) is restored. Fear not though, you can change it back to True Bypass via an internal switch should you want to.
Finally, the HP/LP switch provides increased distortion (High Peak) whereas the LP (Low Peak) gives you a sound that’s faithful to your amp without adding too much colour. Try it out and see why pro-level guitarists love it.
12. Maxon OD-808 Overdrive
Maxon are the team behind the original OD808 overdrive circuit - the tone that made Stevie Ray Vaughan famous, which later became the Ibanez TS808 Tubescreamer – arguably one of the greatest overdrive pedals (only improved upon by the TS9) ever made. Unfortunately, an original OD808 will cost us the price of a small car, which is why were so happy that Maxon decided to re-release their legendary pedal which started the entire overdrive conversation in the first place.
The Maxon OD-808 Overdrive improves on the original OD808 circuit by reducing all the unwanted noise that sometimes crept in on the old model. You get the same warm and creamy overdrive tones and response, without any unwanted interference – just a load of boost that sends your valve amp into lush saturation.
13. Electro Harmonix Hot Wax Dual Circuit Overdrive Pedal
If you loved the vintage Hot Tubes overdrive pedal, but don’t want to pay a fortune for the now out of production model, then this is your next best thing. The Electro Harmonix Hot Wax Dual Circuit Overdrive Pedal combines the most recent Crayon overdrive (above) with the awesome Hot Tubes overdrive (a reissue of the classic 1970s CMOS overdrive). This is two now classic pedals in one chassis.
The key benefit here is that you can stack the overdrives together to make some incredible sounds – something which Blues guitarists love to do. You can play each pedal independently as well, so there’s plenty of tonal options. This offers up some seriously raucous tones and really pushes your amp hard without giving you too much ugly distortion. Finally, the Blend control also allows you to dictate how much of your original signal you want to keep – ideal for guitarists and bass players who want to keep the characteristics of their amp and guitar as well as the low end.
14. Strymon Sunset
When one overdrive pedal isn’t enough you need the Strymon Sunset Dual Overdrive. Although it’s a dual overdrive pedal, the Strymon Sunset has six drive circuit topologies with custom tuned voicing for each drive type. That’s a lot of different sounds! You can even stack each drive circuit for some seriously unique sounds and have them in series, reverse series and parallel.
If you like your sound a little more on the darker spectrum but want to switch to a brighter sound at a moment’s notice, you’ll love the Bright switch, which instantly adds an injection of high-end to your sound and helps cut through the mix. Finally, the Analog class A JFET input gain stage maximizes headroom and adds up to a whopping 20dB of pure analogue gain to your signal. This is one of the best overdrive pedals for pro-level players and tone purists.
15. Keeley D&M Drive - That Pedal Show Signature Drive Pedal
Last but not least we have the Keeley D&M Drive - That Pedal Show Signature Drive Pedal. This has been designed in conjunction with Keeley Electronics and Mick and Daniel over at That Pedal Show. This was borne out of Dan and Mick’s need for an all in one overdrive and boost pedal that would satisfy the most ardent of tone snobs – and it certainly doesn’t disappoint.
Both the drive and boost functions have independent controls for tone sculpting and you can even dictate whether you want the boost or drive first!
The Drive circuit features multiple gain stages so you can notice the difference with each knob tweak and the boost provides a tonne of extra headroom and allows for a distinct midrange voice. It works perfectly with any amp or rig!
And that’s our best overdrive pedals list! Let us know in the comments below if you think we’ve missed anything. But for now, check out the full range of overdrive pedals over at PMT online today or call in to your local PMT store to try out a bunch for yourself.