best overdrive pedals

14 Best Overdrive Pedals Of All Time – Top Picks For 2021

It’s not just a sound — it’s an attitude. We’re talking about the mighty, earth-shattering (and perhaps eardrum-bursting) overdrive. Or maybe not? It’s easy to confuse overdrive for something else, given the name. But the good old OD remains as elegant as ever; gritty in a very subtle way, and charming enough to find application everywhere.

The rule of thumb is that every recording that features a guitar, and which was produced in the last 6 decades, has to have applied the overdrive effect somewhere. No wonder you’re interested in finding the best overdrive pedal for your needs. We’ll get to that, but let’s first answer some of the questions you have in mind.Ready to be the king of tone?  Keep reading!

Do I Need an Overdrive Pedal?

Everyone could use a bit of overdrive in their life. The overdrive effect has, to a large extent, defined the sound of electric guitars for as long as they’ve been in existence. Well, almost. Any guitarist worth their salt will have at least one overdrive pedal at their disposal.

Not that it’s absolutely necessary, but an overdrive pedal can prove handy in many different situations. When you’re performing on stage and want to set the guitar apart from other instruments, an OD pedal is your best bet. And when you want to tone it down for some quiet practice, it still has your back. These best overdrive pedals might just be the most important effect in the world of guitars.

What Does an Overdrive Pedal do?

The overdrive effect was born in the days of tube amplifiers. These huge monsters, with their vacuum tubes and all, would sound like they were breaking up when cranked up loud. This effect would respond to the weight of your touch; the signal would distort as you dug in harder.

An overdrive pedal is designed to recreate the same effect in a saner, more controlled fashion. You don’t quite get the earth-shattering crunch, but rather a smooth, subtle effect that responds to your touch. These best overdrive pedal options achieve this with the help of solid-state transistors, diodes and op-amps.

Do I Need Both Overdrive and Distortion?

Well, yes and no. You see, overdrive pedals and distortion are two different species within the same family. Both effects are simulated electronically, but a distortion pedal will be much more aggressive than its overdrive cousin. Whereas the latter simply mimics an overdriven tube amp, distortion chews up your tone and creates something totally different. As such, each effect will have its own niche of application.

But then again, there are certain circumstances that necessitate combining the two effects (a.k.a. stacking). Like, for instance, when you want to add some sustain and volume for lead lines? Use the two pedals hand-in-hand, with overdrive coming before distortion. On that note, it’s time to look at the best stompboxes to add to your signal chain currently available.

Our Best Overdrive Pedals Recommendations

Best Overdrive Pedals Ever – Fulltone OCD V2

“Out of this innocent-looking pedal came a gritty tone that immediately lit my ears up like a Christmas tree! I was hooked and had to get one for myself” – one reviewer after having a dose of Fulltone’s Obsessive Compulsive Drive our choice for best overdrive pedal of all time.

Most people agree that the original OCD, the one just described, is among the very few pedals that can convincingly emulate an overdriven tube amp whilst providing decent headroom. Not ones to rest on their laurels, Fulltone improved it over several iterations then decided to overhaul the transparent overdrive circuitry for the OCD V2. The input section was redesigned to raise impedance, resulting in better interaction with guitar pickups.

Meanwhile, a buffered output shields your signal from unwanted influence. That is, it allows you place the pedal anywhere on your board without messing up your sound. An internal switch for changing between ‘True Bypass’ and ‘Enhanced Bypass’ has also been included.

Other than that, the Fulltone OCD V2 hasn’t changed much. It still comes with three controls like its predecessor (Vol, Tone & Drive knob), plus a HP/LP toggle. This switches between High- and Low-Peak modes; the former when you want to ramp things up, while the latter provides a less aggressive effect. That means you can sculpt your tone to fit just about any application. What more could you want from a stompbox?

Best Overdrive Pedal For Metal – Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more iconic pedal than the Ibanez Tube Screamer – our pick for best overdrive pedal for metal. This particular one, the Ibanez TS9, is a 1992 reissue of an earlier model that had been declared the best overdrive pedal by several guitar magazines. Plus, it’s inspired so many other pedals that it deserves a place on the Rock n’ Roll Walk of Fame.

Still, the Ibanez Tube Screamer good overdrive pedals live on as a modest green stompbox with 3 little knobs: Drive knob, Tone and Level. These help you adjust the amount of gain, tonal character, and output signal respectively. Save for the large LED battery status indicator on the unit’s face, there’s nothing to give you a glimpse of how capable the Ibanez Tube Screamer TS9 is.

But as the adage goes, you should know better than to judge by the cover. The Tube Screamer has a uniquely-bright and biting overdrive with lots of sustain. You get ample room to influence the effect through your picking style. Dig hard for a bit of character and punch, or pick light to let the effect fall back a little.

Now, don’t expect any earth-shattering, face-melting high-gain sounds, as the Tube Screamer name might suggest.  Rather, the Tube Screamer your go-to pedal for a pleasant dynamic overdrive effect.

While not a metal player, Stevie Ray Vaughn was known to use the Ibanez Tube Screamer from time to time as well.

Best Overdrive Pedal For Blues – Boss Blues Driver (BD-2)

The year’s ’95, and the indie classic ‘Wonderwall’ is taking Oasis to new heights. Meanwhile, Peal Jam’s ‘Better Man’ has been ruling Billboard rock charts for nearly 2 months, so it’s clear that grunge is still going strong. And what do Boss do? They release the blues-centric and aptly-named Blues Driver BD-2 which is also our top pick for best overdrive pedal for blues.

Now, it would be grossly misinformed to credit Boss good overdrive pedals for bringing blues back to life. But the BD-2 did bring a different tonal palette to the mainstream. And the rest, as they say, is history.

So, what makes the Blues Driver tick? At its core, the BD-2 Blues Driver is designed to provide subtle-to-moderate distortion. It recreates the soft, creamy, valve-like OD tone associated with blues and country music. However, it can also give you a good dose of grit when you turn up the gain knob. Speaking of which, the BD-2 is incredibly simple to use, featuring just 3 controls (Tone, Gain and Level). With this trifecta, you can concoct everything from subtle and tasteful to edgy and saturated.

Still, the tastiest use of this pedal could be as a pre-effects chain primer; you know, for sculpting your clean tone before it goes down the chain. The BD-2 will very likely earn a permanent spot on your pedalboard once you try it out.

Just a quick note – if you love BOSS, there is also the BOSS SD-1 Super Overdrive drive pedal as well. The Boss SD-1 is also a great drive pedal fro Boss.

This overdrive also works well with specific amps – check out this on overdrive pedals for Blues Jr.

Best Country Overdrive Pedal – Wampler Hot Wired V2 Brent Mason Signature

In a world full of digital tube screamers, the Wampler Hot Wired V2, our best country overdrive pedal, stands out for its analog circuitry. Analog circuits have a substantially broader operating range than their digital counterparts And unlike the latter, they can handle any value within the specified range.

So, what does that mean in the real world? Analog circuitry makes the Wampler much more touch-sensitive than your typical stompbox, which translates to a higher degree of control. The pedal is so responsive you can tweak the tone just by changing your picking style. Or, alternatively, it could give you a hard time getting things in line — sensitivity can be a double-edged sword.

Still, the Hot Wired V2 has another neat trick up its sleeve. It’s a two-in-one, similar to its predecessor, featuring both overdrive and distortion channels. With volume, tone, gain and bass-boost controls for each, you can craft anything from the subtle to the absurdly-outrageous. And the best part? The two channels are stackable. Crucially, Wampler have simplified the layout of the controls for the new version, making them easier to work on the fly. If that sounds good enough, the Wampler Hot Wired V2 overdrive pedals can be yours today.

Best Classic Rock Overdrive Pedal – MXR Timmy Overdrive Mini Pedal

Don’t want a pedal that costs as much as your ax? No problem — the Timmy Overdrive Mini is built by MXR Custom Shop in conjunction with Paul Cochrane and it is our pick for best classic rock overdrive pedal. As you might recall, Mr. Cochrane is the brains behind the Paul C Audio Timmy Overdrive, one of the most sought-after OD pedals out there. Partnering with MXR was his way of bringing his concept closer to the masses.

Basically, what the MXR Mini overdrive pedals does is take the original Timmy’s formula and pack it into a smaller chassis, with a few budget cuts here and there to lower the cost. The Mini’s ability to recreate the transparent overdrive for which its godfather is revered can be traced to the LF5353 op-amp under the hood. A high-gain, high output piece, the LF353 helps the Mini achieve the same at a fraction of the cost.

Paul’s genius can be seen in the Mini’s clever tone and clipping controls. The EQ is tailored so that bass is controlled in front the clipping circuit, and the treble after. This helps retain the character of your signal while making it easier to achieve a clean boost. And because the pedal’s a mini, it will fit neatly anywhere on your board.

Best Overdrive Pedal For Worship – Fender Santa Ana Overdrive Pedal

It’s not often that you find ‘Fender’ and ‘pedal’ in the same sentence. Before launching the Santa Ana Overdrive, our choice for best overdrive pedal for worship, as part of six new releases for 2018, Fender hadn’t made any decent stompboxes in 3 decades. That, of course, doesn’t mean they don’t know a thing or two about pedals. This is the same company that gave us the magical Fender Blender and Fuzz-Wah, after all.

And while the Santa Ana OD isn’t half as innovative as its granddads, it still carries some weighty credentials, and thus deserves a closer look. Housed in a stylishly-folded racer red chassis adorned with silver and black knobs, the Santa Ana makes a pretty good first impression. Beneath the housing lies FET circuitry designed to give you “valve-amp style drive with none of the noise or maintenance issues.”

You get 2 switchable voices designated ‘A’ and ‘B’ — the former is bright and sharp with a percussive-like chime. ‘B’ is contrarily dark and well-suited for toning down excessively bright amps. A 3-way EQ section facilitates tone shaping, while the second footswitch offers additional clean boost for gain and output level.

Ultimately, the Santa Ana Overdrive has the potential to become a handy “Swiss-army knife” pedal. It offers everything from fat lead tones to hard rock crunch, and the switchable boost lets you add some sustain/compression. More importantly, the gain responds perfectly to the volume knob of your guitar.

Best Bass Overdrive Pedal – Ampeg Scrambler Bass Overdrive

The Ampeg Scrambler Bass Overdrive Pedal, our pick for best bass overdrive pedal, exudes practicality from the moment you pick it up. It’s packaged in an all-metal chassis for roadworthiness, while a flat-black finish gives it the mystic look that a bassist would want. A quartet of knobs marked with white lettering makes the pedal easier to work with in the dark — anyone who’s struggled on a dimly-lit stage will appreciate Ampeg’s thoughtfulness.

Now, four knobs would obviously equate to 4 controls — these are drive knob, blend, treble and volume. ‘Drive’ lets you vary the amount of overdrive from barely-audible to a hefty thump, while ‘Treble’ injects a tone ranging from warm to snarly and nasty. On the other hand, ‘Blend’ lets you choose how much of the raw signal you want mashed up with the dirt. Finally, ‘Volume’ adjusts the output level.

The Ampeg Scrambler Bass OD best overdrive pedal has no EQ section. While this can be limiting somehow, you can still cobble up tones of all shapes and forms using the 4 controls. And because the pedal inherits circuitry from Ampeg’s BA-Combo amps (known for their stellar verbal feedback), you’ll never want for fidelity.

Best Boutique Overdrive Pedal – Keeley D&M Drive

A two-in-one featuring OD and clean boost sections that can be stacked or used separately, the Keeley D&M Drive overdrive pedals are designed in conjunction with tone maestros Mick Taylor and Daniel Steinhardt. The latter took charge of the drive channel, while Mick provided inspiration for the boost side — hence the name D&M.  Our pick for best boutique overdrive pedal.

Now, if you’re not aware, Daniel and Mick have lots of experience in all things guitar between them. They even host a weekly YouTube series called “That Pedal Show”.

Back to the pedal, the Drive section is tailored to provide loads of saturated gain without sounding boxy or over-the-top. On the Boost side, you can expect a decent chunk of headroom with a pronounced mid-hump. Again, this is just enough to make your sound pop without being exaggerated.

Still, what really makes the D&M stand out is the sheer amount of opportunities to be had from stacking the two sections. The pedal gives you the option to put boost before or after drive — a purple unicorn in the world of stompboxes. And crucially, the input and output jacks accept TRS cables, meaning you can split the two channels akin to having two standalone pedals. Pretty neat, right?

Best Light Gain Overdrive Pedal – JHS Morning Glory

What happens when you add just the perfect bit of salt & pepper to a dish? It brings out all the sumptuous flavors without making the food taste like something else, right? That’s what the Morning Glory, our pick for best light gain overdrive pedal, does to your sound. It accentuates every note and adds the responsive nuance missing from your amp, without bringing in anything that your tone doesn’t already have.

Under the hood, the Morning Glory overdrive pedals are packaged as a low- to medium-gain OD based off the Marshall BluesBreaker circuit. Three basic controls (vol, drive and tone) were originally provided, but things improved significantly with latter updates. A bright-cut toggle was added on the Morning Glory V3 to match the EQ with one’s rig. This was then replaced with a more powerful boost circuit on its successor, the V4, and a gain-boost toggle added as well.

The Morning Glory V4 also provides more headroom which, when combined with the multiple gain stages and easily-manipulable EQ, makes the pedal extremely versatile. On its own, it will add some natural overdrive to your amp while still retaining the character that made you buy it (the amp) in the first place. And if you’re a stacker, you’ll find that there isn’t a pedal that the Morning Glory won’t pair nicely with. Grab it today and see for yourself.

Best Overdrive Pedal For Humbuckers – Electro-Harmonix Soul Food

You’ve obviously heard of the Klon Centaur, a stompbox that is as legendary as it’s brilliant. Utilizing clever circuitry, and perhaps a bit of voodoo, it was the first pedal that could boost a signal without upending its tone significantly. The Soul Food, our pick for best overdrive pedal for humbuckers, is Electro-Harmonix’s rendition of the Centaur. It sticks to the Klon motif with a compact chassis featuring just 3 knobs (Treble, Vol, Drive); plus a dual-gang control and TL072 op-amp beneath the hood.

That means the Soul Food will provide the same glassy overdrive and clean boost tones as its godfather. Although, it does make a commendable attempt to craft its own identity, unlike most other Klon clones (or just Klones). This it does by switching from germanium diodes to silicon, resulting in a thinner sound; a dirty amp might help if you find it too dull.

And now the elephant in the room — distortion/fuzz/overdrive all in one? Well, this pedal does provide loads of headroom thanks to its boosted power rails. This gives you plenty of room for tuning. Take ‘Drive’ all the way up and you’ll get a crunchy, fuzzy OD. Or just keep it down for the clean boost. Of course, it’s not to say that the EHX Soul Food overdrive pedals are a bona fide jack-of-all-trades; just a little more versatile than its price tag suggests.

Best Tube Overdrive Guitar Pedal – Friedman Amplification Motor City Drive

The Friedman Amplification Motor City Drive, our pick for best tube overdrive guitar pedal, wants to recreate the breakup of an overdriven tube amp on your pedalboard, similar to the OCD V2 you saw earlier. Unlike the latter, though, it doesn’t use MOSFET clippers to achieve that. Instead, Friedman just crammed a 220V 12AX7A preamp tube into the pedal.

Now, anyone who knows a thing or two about preamp tubes will tell you that the 12AX7A is as serious as it gets. A miniature vacuum tube with high-voltage gain, it’s typically used in advanced Hi-Fi setups and tube guitar amps. Running full power at 220 volts, the 12AX7A helps Friedman’s pedal deliver a harmonically-rich fuzz untypical of an overdrive emulator. Five knobs (Volume, Level, Drive, Mid and Bass) are provided to help you get the most sonic mileage. All controls are passive, so you can freely plug into a clean or dirty amp with no worries.

So, where’s the catch? Well, on one hand, the Motor City Drive is quite power-hungry, so much so that it even comes with a 12V adapter. That, combined with the sizable footprint, will limit you in where you can place it within the chain. Not exactly cheap but, if you want a legit tube-driven pedal that won’t adulterate your sound, the Motor City Drive will prove a worthwhile pick.

Best Creamy Overdrive Pedal – Tone City Sweet Cream Overdrive

Maybe it’s because it has ‘Sweet Cream’ in its name. Or perhaps it’s down to the unbelievably-low price tag. There’s just something that makes this Tone City stompbox irresistible and our pick for best creamy overdrive pedal.

A look at the specs reveals that it has an input impedance of 500k, while output stands at 10k. So, pretty much low-gain territory. Experienced gearheads will tell you that a low-gain OD pedal can be an invaluable friend in the tone workshop. It’s what you turn to when you want to roughen up a clean tone just a little bit, or improve the harmonic response of other pedals. You know, the knotty stuff that sometimes ends up with you throwing up your arms in frustration.

With the Sweet Cream OD, you’ll be spending less time fiddling with knobs, and more with your fretboard. Actually, you won’t be working any knobs at all — not in the traditional sense anyway. The pedal comes with a more modern ‘touch’ control knob that adjusts overall feel and response. If you’re a particularly-fastidious tone chaser, with more knobs on your pedalboard than digits on your limbs, the Tone City Sweet Cream OD can be a lifesaver.

Best Dual Channel Overdrive Pedal – Suhr Eclipse Dual Channel Overdrive Distortion

The last few years have witnessed a huge swing towards the “amp in a box” concept. You know, pedals designed specifically to turn any clean amp into a roaring, overdriven monster. Suhr deserves credit for bringing this idea into the mainstream with the release of the Riot a decade or so ago.

At first glance, the Eclipse, our pick for best dual challen overdrive pedal, looks like it’s designed to drive on the legacy of its older stablemate. Featuring two channels with independent volume, gain and tri-band EQ, the pedal will instantly give you a 3-channel rig when you pair it with a clean amp. Both channels, while sonically identical, can be voiced independently to suit almost all of your playing needs. This unique voice control lets you fine-tune the pedal’s top end response for the specific amp you’re playing through.

Suhr have designed the circuitry in such a way that you can power the pedal with 9-18V depending on how much headroom you want. As such, Eclipse will provide enough gain to take low-output pickups into maximum sustain and liquid compression. Granted, the upper reaches will sound a little over-saturated with poweful humbuckers. But because the Eclipse employs passive circuitry for the EQ, it will still sound amp-like and natural.

Best Overdrive Pedal For Marshall Amp – EarthQuaker Devices Palisades

You’ll recall that Ibanez’s Tube Screamer concept has inspired lots of pedals over the years; the EarthQuaker Device Palisades, our choice for best overdrive pedal for Marshall amp, is one such TS variant. It’s modeled off the TS-808, a moderately low-gain OD stompbox with a light bottom end and a potent boost in the upper mids. But unlike most Screamer wannabes, the Palisades tries to make a statement of its own. And that statement takes the shape of 2 rotary switches, 2 toggles, 3 footswitches, and 5 knobs.

Wait, hold on a second… Don’t EarthQuaker know that Tube Screamers are supposed to be simple? What are you supposed to do with all those controls? The Rotary switches are for voice and bandwidth; the knobs for volume, boost, tone, Gain A, and Gain B; Toggles for buffer on/off and normal/bright; footswitches are for bypass, boost and Gain B.

If that seems like too much of a handful, you’ll be glad that it equates to over 30 variations on the effect’s character. That means you can dial in just about any dirty tone you’ve ever dreamed of. And not just a bunch of Screamer knockoffs, but also a whole new load of gravelly effects bordering on distortion and fuzz. Not to mention the good old transparent overdrive.

Best Overdrive Pedals Conclusion

Isn’t it funny that what was once taboo is now encouraged the world over? The idea of overdriving your amp was originally seen as a mistake but, thanks to the efforts of the pioneers, overdrive has grown so popular that everyone wants a piece to create the sound and be the king of tone. As you can see, the best overdrive pedal come in all manner of forms. Some promise to leave your tone unadulterated, while others will let you push the boundary of what can be considered a good guitar sound. The choice is all yours; be sure to choose a pedal that provides the flavor you want, for the kind of money you’re comfortable forking out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *