What are overdrive pedals used for? Overdrive pedals help propel your valves to distortion points. Or, they at least simulate what the sound will be like if you were using a solid-state amplifier. An overdrive pedal’s main purpose is to emulate the sound that is generated when you turn up a valve amp to its maximum possible level. It is arguably the nearest you could come to authentic amplifier distortion without blowing your windows out.
The objective with overdrive pedals is to offer you the same level of dynamics you get upon playing a cranked-up tube amp. The resulting effect is responsive to your touch. The gain will not be noticeable if you play soft. But if you dig in, you could clearly listen to the signal starting to break up.
An overdrive pedal offers soft-clipping sounds. Therefore, do not expect some earth-shattering crunch. The goal is to add a dynamic, smooth sound instead of face-melting sounds. The style of distortion is, no doubt, gentle – which patiently waits for you to go all out before it could unleash all the sound you’re looking for.
To derive the maximum out of an overdrive pedal, play it via a tube amp/valve amplifier since these pedals are purpose-made to render your tubes function harder or better at decreased volumes.
Uses of Overdrive Pedals
Overdrive pedals are perfect for blues, country, and rock players and also people who seek a boost in gain with some flavor and without risking their amplifier or guitar’s tone too much. There are several other bands that put overdrive pedals to good effect.
Another thing worth mentioning is that overdrive pedals could be a value-add to your setup even if you’re into harder genres. An overdrive pedal could be used for increasing your distortion pedal’s gain when you position it before distortion pedals. This would help boost volume and maintain things for lead lines and solos.
Some guitarists even use overdrive pedals to boost up the volume. This also increases tube amp gain. However, it does it in a manner that the original tone of the amp is retained as much as possible. If you are considering treading this path, clean boost pedals would make you significantly happier. A clean boost pushes the volume up without coloring your amp’s tone.
Ideal Overdrive Amps
An amplifier is still preferred for overdrive. This means either turning up the “gain” knob but ensuring the volume stays fairly low or turning up the amplifier to its loudest possible level. There are basically two families of amplifiers providing classic overdrive: British-style and American-style.
The British-style overdrive comprises a classification of amps that are made in the UK and tend to have either EL-84 or EL-34 power tubes. Marshall and Vox are probably the two most renowned British amp companies. Each amp style produces its very own form of overdrive. Another British brand worth mentioning is Orange, which is up there with Vox and Marshall.
The American-style overdrives are typically based on the 6V6 or 6L6 power tube, feature circuitry originating with Fender amplifiers – the Twin, the Deluxe Reverb, or the Princeton, for instance. However, Fender is not the brand to reckon with as far as overdrives are concerned. Next-gen brands such as, Dumble and Mesa/Boogie, are given credit for having created the trademark “American” overdrive sound.
Some Of The Top Rated Overdrive Pedals
Currently, there is pretty much no overdrive without pedals. There are, therefore, hundreds of overdrive pedals on the market. Some of the standout models are Ibanez TS808, Klon Centaur, Fulltone OCD, and J. Rockett Blue Note. The TS808 Tube Screamer is truly iconic. It’s not known for providing heavy metal tones. However, if you need to add some additional girth to an amp that’s already overdriven or you’re into blues rock, you would certainly not fail to appreciate this pedal. Some players stack a couple of these in a row for layered saturation.
Klon Centaur is no longer in production. But you can get it in the reseller and/or used goods market. There are also other brands emulating it – the Wampler Tumnus and J. Rockett Archer Icon are a couple of them. The Klon, like the Screamer, will not offer you a particularly “powerful” sound. It simply offers you a more overdriven variant of the natural clean tone of your amp.
If you fancy an overdrive pedal with some heft to it, the Fulltone OCD is the pedal you should be looking at. It has a slightly darker voice compared to most other overdrives. This means the tone would be a lot more focused on bass. You would certainly notice it when you compare the pedal with a Klon or Tube Screamer. J. Rockett Blue Note, as the name indicates, is for gritty blues. The pedal would ensure your guitar makes a statement on stage without overwhelming or overpowering the remainder of the band.
Check out these specific overdrive pedals for specific applications: