If you are in the market for a guitar overdrive pedal, this list will point you in the right direction.
For many of us, the overdrive that is built into our amplifier, even if it is a good one, can become stale and restrictive over time, thus leaving you looking for something more. An overdrive pedal can be the perfect solution. Pedals are usually much cheaper than a new amplifier, and much less bulky. There are so many overdrive pedals available that it won’t be too hard to find one or more that you like, thereby leaving you free to create for yourself a truly custom sound that is unique to you.
Right now we’re going to look at some of the best guitar overdrive pedals available out there, and we’ll talk about why they are so great, and also what makes them that way. We’re going to take a look at vintage designs as well as modern overdrive pedals, to see how things have changed, and how they have remained the same. These are all going to be Overdrive pedals, so we will probably see a few tube emulators, and pedals designed to sound like an amp naturally breaking up. You’ll get some good crunch and even distortion out of many of these pedals, but these are not Fuzz pedals or Metal distortion pedals; those are for another time.
Fulltone OCD Obsessive Compulsive Drive Overdrive
The Fulltone OCD Obsessive Compulsive Drive Overdrive is a new version of a classic pedal. It’s designed to have all of the great tones of the first version, but with a few modern updates. The OCD has been created to give guitar players a tube-like sound in a pedal format. Three rotary knobs control the unit: Volume, Drive, and Tone. With these controls it is possible to get a wide range of tones and overdrive levels. There’s a center-mounted High Peak/Low Peak switch. The high peak switch gives more overdrive and more midrange, and the low peak switch is accurate to the sound your guitar and amp with very little coloration.
It’s equipped with a Class A discrete 2N5457 JFET input section, and the input impedance has been raised from the previous 330K to one mega ohm, for an increased dynamic range. The output section of the OCD uses Fulltone’s unique “Enhanced Bypass,” an FET output buffer that helps the pedal sound the same no matter where in the effects chain it is placed. The pedal features true bypass or enhanced bypass via a switch inside the pedal. ThOCD, like all of Fulltones pedals, is built with a strong emphasis on solid construction and durability.
Wampler Tumnus Deluxe Overdrive
The Wampler Tumnus Deluxe Overdrive pedal, created Brian Wampler, was designed to not only give a player a wide range of overdrive tones, but to also serve as a signal booster. It features a Level control to adjust the volume and a Gain control to adjust the level of overdrive added to your signal. There’s a center-mounted switch to toggle between two levels of gain and a three-band EQ for fine-tuning your tone. The EQ works a little differently than standard three-band EQs in that the Low and MID controls are active filters capable of adding boost or cut, while the Treble is a more common passive filter that only allows cut.
The Tumnus features a transparent buffer amp that delivers a nice, clean boost to your signal. On the side is a convenient switch that allows you to turn the buffer on or off. With the switch in the on position, the buffer amp adds boost, even when the pedal is off. With the switch in the off position, the pedal has true bypass for uncolored sound. The Wampler Tumnus Deluxe Overdrive runs on a 9-volt battery, or a 9-volt power supply.
The Fulltone Full-Drive2 MOSFET is a two-channel overdrive pedal housed in a very sturdy, powder-coated Blue 16-gauge steel enclosure. The first channel is Overdrive, giving the player a clean boost, or light to medium overdrives while retaining your guitar’s tone. The Tone control is similar to a presence control, allowing you to boost, or smooth, the high end frequencies. The second channel is the Boost, with its own separate distortion control and delivering medium to higher gains, and adding sustain to the signal.
There are two mini toggle switches. The first toggle switch changes between a VINTAGE mode, for heavy tones with a boost to the mids, or a FM mode, for flat mids and a more transparent tone. The second toggle switch changes between MOSFET and Normal overdrive types. Normal mode is brighter and more open, while MOSFET is a little darker, more like a Big Muff overdrive. There are two foot buttons, both with super-bright LEDs to let you know what is selected, and both feature Fulltone No Pop, No Thump, switches. The first button turns the unit on and off and the second switches between channels. It is powered with a 9V-18V DC power supply or two AA batteries.
Pigtronix Fat Drive
The Pigtronix Fat Drive pedal is designed to have a tube-like overdrive. It creates a modern, 100% analogue style overdrive by using multiple gain stages that round and compress a signal in each stage as it begins to clip. This more closely resembles the way that tubes operate, giving this pedal a more tube-like sound. The Tone Control is a variable low pass filter, and turning it all the way clockwise removes it from the circuit completely, leaving uncolored, pure tone. Turning the filter to the left rounds off the high frequencies while leaving the mids and lows largely intact. The center mounted More switch toggles between a low amount of overdrive, and a huge boost to the amount of overdrive added to the signal.
The Pigtronix Fat Drive features true bypass switching and with a blue LED indicator. The inside of the pedal is too packed with circuitry to allow room for a 9-volt battery, so the pedal is powered with an 18VDC 300mA power supply that they include. Pigtronix states that you can use your own 9 volt power supply to increase the amount of gain delivered by the pedal, but at the cost of losing headroom and signal transparency.
Electro-Harmonix Hot Wax Multi-Overdrive
The Electro-Harmonix Hot Wax Multi-Overdrive is a combination of two other pedals created by Electro-Harmonix and it is also one of the few that is designed to sound good on bass guitar as well as electric guitar. The right side of the pedal is the Crayon, which is a full range overdrive, different than most overdrives that emphasize the mids. The left side is Hot Tubes, a reissue of the classic 1970s CMOS overdrive, capable of heavy delivery. The circuit is based around a CMOS FET chip, just like the original. You can use each side separately for two unique sounds at the press of a button, or use them both and have the Crayon drive the Hot Tubes for even more tone options.
Each side has its own Volume and Gain control, and each has its own quiet, pop-free, foot switch. The channel you’re using is signaled with a bright LED indicator. Both channels share a two-band EQ with Bass and Treble controls. Both channels also share a Blend control, which is a mix of the wet and dry signal. The Electro-Harmonix Hot Wax Multi-Overdrive uses the included EHX 9.6DC200mA power supply.