Ever since guitar players first realized the new tones they could unlock by driving their amps to the brink of destruction, overdrive and guitar players have gone together like peanut butter and jelly.

With the exception of the earliest rock bands of the 1950s, overdrive has shaped the sound of rock n’ roll. From Jimi Hendrix’s psychedelic performance of the National Anthem at Woodstock to the hot blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan to ‘80s hair metal, ‘90s alternative, and beyond, the overdrive pedal has cemented an unimpeachable legacy as one of the most important pedals in any guitarist’s arsenal.

For beginners, overdrive provides new guitarists with one of the first opportunities to explore their instrument through the sounds of their favorite artists. For experienced players, overdrive offers one of the best opportunities to shape their unique personal sound.

Today, we’re going to take a closer look at the iconic overdrive pedal, and check out some of the best overdrives from top manufacturers that are available today.

What is the Best Overdrive Pedal?

What exactly is an overdrive pedal, and what does it do?

Overdrive belongs to a series of pedals known as gain effects. Distortion pedals and fuzz boxes also belong to this category. In the simplest terms, all three types of effects are designed to simulate the sound of an amp that’s cranked up to eleven. The difference between an overdrive pedal, a distortion pedal, and a fuzz box, is the amount of gain (drive) that they produce.

Overdrive pedals provide the most natural and authentic sounding drive. They’re designed to accurately mirror the tones of a cranked-up tube amplifier. These effects are synonymous with the classic rock sounds of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

A distortion pedal takes it a step further by providing a much higher gain ceiling. Distortion pedals can be set to provide tones similar to an overdrive pedal, but they also allow you to dial in much more gain, which is characteristic of today’s hard rock and modern metal.

Fuzz boxes offer the most gain of all. Fuzz boxes produce an extremely distorted sound that’s driven far beyond what you can capture by turning up your amplifier. Fuzz is usually used for a specific passage here and there to add texture and color to the music. They’re rarely used to the level that most guitarists use overdrive or distortion pedals.

What makes a great overdrive pedal?

Now that we have a basic understanding of what an overdrive pedal is and how it’s used, let’s take a closer look at the factors that separate a great overdrive pedal from a mediocre one. When shopping for your own overdrive pedal, you’ll want to make sure that the pedal you’re choosing checks all four of the boxes below.

  1. An accurately modeled gain stage
  2. Comprehensive equalization
  3. A high gain ceiling
  4. Road ready build quality

Accurately Modeled Gain Stage

Arguably the most important facet of an overdrive pedal is its gain stage. In simple terms, the gain stage is the components inside the pedal that drive your sound.

Pedal manufacturers usually start with a legendary tube amplifier as the inspiration for their pedal, and they model the pedal to provide the sort of drive you would expect from a classic tube amp.

The reason why this is such a critical consideration is that a well-modeled gain stage will mean the difference between an authentic sounding overdrive, and a poor quality one that falls flat by every measure.

It’s important to keep in mind that the goal of an overdrive pedal is to offer the smooth, harmonic distortion of an overdriven tube amp. If an overdrive pedal doesn’t capture that lively tube sound, it’s likely not going to deliver the tone you’re after. Instead, it’s likely to sound fuzzy, distorted, and not particularly pleasing to the ear.

Comprehensive Equalization

Virtually every overdrive pedal is going to provide the user with onboard equalization. Some pedals offer two EQ knobs for bass and treble, or three for bass, mid, and treble. Others offer a single knob where 0-5 provide a more bass-heavy sound and 6-10 provide more treble.

When we say comprehensive equalization, we don’t necessarily mean that you need a ton of knobs. Some of the most popular and authentic sounding overdrive pedals rely on a single equalization knob to control the tone of the pedal.

What you need from the onboard EQ is a broad sweep of different tones that you can control from the pedal to shape your unique sound. Not only is this important for your live sound, but it’s also critical to your sound in the studio as well.

How your pedal is equalized will have a profound effect on where your instrument sits in the mix. For rhythm guitar, a balanced tone with less mids and highs is ideal, while lead guitar relies upon boosted mids and highs to cut through the mix, providing your solos and lead passages with the tone they need to ascend to the forefront of the song.

A High Gain Ceiling

The gain ceiling refers to how much gain you’re able to get out of the pedal. Depending on the style you play, this may be less important to you. But, if you play a broad range of different styles, or if you play lots of modern rock, a higher gain ceiling may be a key consideration for you.

For example, pedals intended for blues players typically have a low gain ceiling. The blues guitar sound is characterized by a smooth, slightly overdriven tone, and higher gain isn’t really characteristic of the style.

Meanwhile, a pedal intended for the lead guitarist in a rock band will offer a higher gain ceiling, as they’re intended to provide a broader range of tones that the guitarist can tailor to their needs.

A pedal with a higher gain ceiling tends to be more versatile than one with a low gain ceiling. However, if you have a foot planted on each side of the fence, you’ll want to look for a pedal that can provide higher gain, but also provides great tones when the gain is lower.

Road Ready Build Quality

Another critical thing to consider is how well the pedal is built. For most guitarists, an overdrive pedal is the most often used stompbox in their arsenal. This is a pedal you’ll be relying on every time you play, presumably for many years.

Manufacturers that offer cheaper pedals often need to find ways to cut corners to deliver quality electronics at a certain price point, and usually, the first area that they skimp out on is the build quality.

Of course, if you’re a hobbyist who only plays in the comfort of your home, durability becomes less of a factor. But, for those of you who gig out, or are planning to gig out in the future, your overdrive pedal is going to get put through the wringer over the years, and only a well-built pedal will be able to stand up to the abuse.

When you’re shopping for an overdrive pedal, evaluate every aspect of the pedal to make sure it’s built to last. Start by looking for a pedal with a durable metal housing, then check the jacks and switches to ensure that they’re made from quality, durable components.

If you’re unsure what to look for, talk to other guitarists about their experiences with a particular pedal. If there’s one thing every guitarist loves to talk about, it’s gear. So, you should have no problem finding a handful of opinionated guitarists who are happy to discuss their thoughts on a particular pedal.

Overdrive Pedal Reviews – Our Top 5 Recommendations

Ibanez TS-808 Original Tube Screamer

Best Overall

What Makes It Special?

The TS-808 from Ibanez is the one that started it all. Simply put, this is arguably the most classic overdrive effect ever made. The TS-808 delivers a tube-like warmth that few other drive pedals have ever been able to replicate, and it’s probably been a staple on some of your favorite guitarist’s pedal boards.

  • Achieves a warmth and smoothness few other drives can compete with
  • Easy to use controls
  • Die-cast construction
  • Faithful reproduction of the original late ‘70s TS-808

We could keep you here all day with an exhaustive history of the different Tube Screamers that have been made since the original TS-808 first graced the stage, and still barely scratch the surface of how this iconic pedal has shaped the sounds of both classic and modern rock.

Due to popular demand, Ibanez re-issued the original TS-808 pedal about fifteen years ago, and while there are some slight differences between this pedal and the original, it still provides the characteristic warmth and signature tone of the first Tube Screamer.

Some guitarists prefer the sound of other, more modern overdrives, but few will ever be able to compete with the original. When trying out different overdrives, make sure that the original Tube Screamer is first on your list.

What Customers Like

  • Warm and responsive tone
  • Sounds virtually identical to the original
  • Produces a smoothness few other pedals can replicate – great for blues and fusion

What Customers Dislike

  • Not true bypass
  • Not as durable as the original Tube Screamer

Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive

Best For the Price

What Makes It Special?

Another classic, the Boss SD-1 provides players with a beautiful harmonic overdrive that provides tremendous tone and that signature tube amp growl that every guitar player is hoping to capture with their overdrive pedal. Perhaps best of all, the SD-1 will set you back less than half of what it would cost to buy some of the other popular drives on our list.

  • Simple controls – level, tone, and drive
  • Asymmetrical circuitry for faithful tube tones
  • Responds dynamically to your playing style
  • Strong 5-year warranty

For Boss Electronics, the SD-1 was the logical next step after their wildly popular OD-1 overdrive pedal, which has been featured on countless classic recordings, including Nirvana’s iconic cover of David Bowie’s “Man Who Sold the World”. The SD-1 offers simple controls that make it easy for even the most unseasoned beginner to dial in a hot, overdriven tone.

The Super Overdrive provides a bit more “oomph” than Boss’ original overdrive pedal, and it offers the type of highly responsive drive that allows the guitarist’s natural playing style to shine through. While this is the goal of virtually every drive pedal, most fall short in delivering the dynamic response and warmth of a tube amp.

You won’t have to worry about that with the SD-1, and as one of the most affordable overdrives on the market, it’s a great pedal to have on your board.

What Customers Like

  • Realistic tube-quality tone
  • Easy to dial in your signature tone
  • Industry-leading durability

What Customers Dislike

  • Can be prohibitively noisy unless used with a noise suppressor
  • Not as much character as more expensive overdrives

Fulltone OCD Overdrive

What Makes It Special?

Arguably the most popular overdrive on the market today, Fulltone is well known for going the extra mile for those who use their products. Offering both true bypass and exclusive enhanced bypass technology, the OCD provides a sonically beautiful overdrive without affecting your signal whatsoever. Unlike many popular drive pedals, the OCD is manufactured in the U.S.A.

  • True bypass operation
  • Boutique quality construction
  • Includes high pass/low pass filter
  • Made in America

The latest OCD overdrive from Fulltone provides the same warmth and character that the OCD has always been known for. New additions like enhanced bypass operation allow players to explore the full spectrum on overdriven tones without any effect on their signal, or the other pedals in their rig.

Two operation modes (high pass or low pass) allow players to further color their tone, and each mode is great for rhythm guitar and lead guitar, respectively. Thanks to its true bypass construction, players will also be able to avoid the obnoxious “pop” that’s characteristic of pedals that don’t feature true bypass.

What Customers Like

  • Two mode operation for both rhythm and lead
  • EQ control (tone knob) provides an incredibly wide range of potential tones
  • Industry-leading build quality

What Customers Dislike

  • Loses some of its tone when you crank the gain
  • Some players find the high pass mode too bright

Donner Blues Drive

Best for Beginners & Students

What Makes It Special?

The Donner Blues Drive is an ideal pedal for beginners based on its ease of use, affordable price, and unbeatable portability. While it may not deliver the nuances that more experienced players are after in their drive pedals, it does do a great job at providing convincing overdrive at a price point that’s impossible to beat.

  • True bypass construction
  • Compact size packs away easily in any case or gig bag
  • Easy to use controls
  • Warm/hot mode provides two unique sounds in a single pedal

Donner has quickly become one of the leading pedal manufacturers in the company, thanks to their unbeatable prices and true bypass construction. The Blues Drive is a compact overdrive that’s able to capture convincing tube tones that other pedals more than three times the price have difficulty replicating.

Dialing in your tone is simple, with controls for gain, tone, and level. A warm/hot switch provides both warm, classic overdrive tones, and hotter, higher gain tones that are more typical of a distortion pedal. True bypass construction ensures that the pedal won’t color your tone in ways you don’t want it to.

What Customers Like

  • Easy to dial in classic and modern overdrive sounds
  • True bypass construction
  • Compact size takes up ½ the space of standard pedals

What Customers Dislike

  • Not as dynamic or responsive as more expensive drives
  • Not as smooth or warm as more expensive drives

Behringer TO800 Overdrive

Best on a Budget

What Makes It Special?

Modeled after the classic Ibanez Tube Screamer, the TO800 provides some of that signature TS tone without the high price point. This pedal provides better response than most of the more affordable drives on the market and a higher gain ceiling for capturing modern lead tones.

  • MA150 distortion diodes for vintage style overdrive
  • Easy to use controls

Behringer may be best known for their pro audio equipment, but they also make affordable guitar pedals and accessories designed to help guitarists on a budget capture their signature tone.

Just like a classic Tube Screamer, the TO800 has controls for level, tone, and gain, so dialing in a great tone is as easy as fiddling with a few knobs.

While this pedal doesn’t offer the characteristic smoothness or dynamic range of more expensive drive pedals, you could buy four of them for the price of most other drive pedals. So, this pedal is ideal for players on a budget, as well as anyone who’s searching for an overdrive for occasional use.

What Customers Like

  • Affordable
  • High gain ceiling allows you to capture a variety of tones

What Customers Dislike

  • Mediocre build quality
  • Not as warm as more expensive overdrives

6 More Really Good Overdrive Pedals

Maxon OD808

To make a long story short, when Ibanez first developed the tube screamer, they did so in conjunction with a Japanese company that also brought products to market under the brand name Maxon.

The early tube screamers were made completely by the Maxon company, and they were then rebranded with the Ibanez logo. The OD808 is a faithful reissue of their original Tube Screamer, and some purists argue that the Maxon OD808 produces an even more faithful overdrive than those original Tube Screamers from Ibanez; you’ll need to be the judge of that.

This pedal is identical in every way to a TS-808 and it offers a smooth, balanced overdrive that can add chunkiness to your rhythm playing, while also taking leads and solos to a new level. The controls are familiar, and allow you to easily take control of your own personal sound.

Fender Santa Ana Overdrive

You probably recognize the name Fender as one of the leading manufacturers of electric guitars and amplifiers. They’re less known for their effects pedals, but they’re certainly changing that with their latest line of pedals.

The Santa Ana overdrive is the perfect solution for guitarist’s who can’t rely on their amplifier for great sounding overdrive. This pedal includes a boost circuit that allows you to unlock an extra stage of gain, making it ideal for providing the extra “oomph” you need during solos and leads.

Unlike other pedals which rely on a single tone knob to control the EQ, this pedal features a 3-band EQ that allows you to tweak the bass, mids, and highs to your heart’s content. Presence, level, and drive controls allow you to further dial in your signature sound.

Other handy features like switchable voicing modes, switchable buffered/true bypass, and LED knob indicators raise this pedal from Fender to the forefront of cutting edge pedal technology. However, it’s also one of the most expensive overdrives on the market, so if you’re shreddin’ on a budget, this one may be a bit out of your price range.

MXR 5150 Overdrive

MXR crafted this signature overdrive especially for Eddie Van Halen, and it does an impressive job of capturing the signature Van Halen sound, which was made famous with the help of the Peavey 5150 amplifier, which revolutionized high-gain amplification when they were released in the ‘80s.

Like Fender’s Santa Ana overdrive, this pedal is perfect for players who need their pedal to deliver all the tone their amp can’t. The 5150 features a 3-band EQ for shaping the treble, mids, and bass, as well as gain and level controls.

The 5150 also features a boost function for when your sound needs an extra push and hardwired true bypass construction. What sets this pedal apart from its competitors is it’s smart noise gate feature which gates out unwanted noise so you can deliver your truest sound, without worrying about buzz or feedback.

Boss BC-2 Combo Drive

The Combo Drive from Boss is a great option for anyone who is looking for a moderately priced overdrive that delivers the crystal clear, punchy tones characteristic of rock n’ roll’s golden age.

The Combo Drive provides heavy-duty build quality, and easy to use controls. A 2-band EQ allows you to shape bass and treble, while a level knob controls the amount of drive that’s added to your signal.

The ‘sound’ knob is what sets this pedal apart, and it allows you to achieve everything from the bell-like clean tone made famous by California-style boutique amps, to the crunchy, punchy sounds of classic rock. Turn the sound knob all the way up, and you’ll be able to replicate the high gain sounds of today’s modern rock and metal.

Tom’sLine Engineering MAB Signature Overdrive

Crafted especially for one of the fastest shredders in the world, the Michael Angelo Batio signature drive from Tom’sLine Engineering delivers impressive sound that’s inspired by boutique pedal manufacturers at a much more attractive price.

This easy to use pedal features volume, tone, and gain controls which allow you to tailor the volume, equalization, and drive level of the pedal to your needs. There’s a metal safety bar just below the controls, which is an ingenious solution to the problem of accidentally changing your settings because your foot bumps into the controls.

This pedal’s compact footprint and heavy-duty offset input and output jacks make this overdrive ideal for players who don’t have much room on their pedalboards, and the gold sparkle finish is beautiful to look down at.

Ibanez TS9DX Tube Screamer

While the TS-808 is the Tube Screamer that started it all, the TS9 which followed it in the early ‘80s is arguably the most popular variant of this popular overdrive. The TS9 stripped away some of the smoothness associated with the TS-808 which paved the way for the higher gain sounds of the ‘80s and ‘90s.

The TS9DX is the most recent re-issue of the TS9, and it includes a number of improvements that have made it popular with guitar players of all styles. The DX version adds a fourth knob which provides three distinct voicing modes that allow you to cover a broad range of styles.

These voicing modes include the classic TS9 mode, as well as a ‘hot’ voicing which provides a bit more gain and presence, and a turbo mode which provides even more gain and presence, making it perfect for lead work and solos.

5 FAQ’s About Overdrive Pedals

How do you use an overdrive pedal?

When it comes to using an overdrive pedal, one of the best things you can do is go in blind, and experiment with how each knob on the pedal shapes your sound. For anyone looking to create their own signature sound, this is perhaps the best way to help yourself find it.

To get started, first find a clean sound you’re happy with. Tweak the volume and EQ on your amp until you’ve arrived at a starting point you feel good about.

Next, turn every knob on your overdrive pedal halfway up, and engage the pedal. There’s likely to be a major difference between the volume of your amp with and without the pedal engaged, so you’ll want to adjust the level or volume knob on your overdrive until you’ve achieved unity between your clean and overdriven sounds.

Once you have the pedal volume set, you can begin experimenting with how the other settings affect your tone. Starting with the EQ, dial in a tone that sounds pleasing to you. Once you have the EQ set to your liking, experiment with the gain knob to dial in exactly how much (or how little) drive you want in your sound.

That said, few things are more fun than approaching your new pedal by dialing in a tone you know is going to sound great right out of the box. That way, you can jump right into playing instead of spending hours trying to get a handle on how the pedal affects your tone, and how the pedal’s controls can be manipulated.

Every overdrive pedal is going to behave differently, so there’s no one-size-fits-all way to set up your new pedal out of the box. Fortunately, every manufacturer provides some suggested settings in the manual so you can dial in a great tone right out of the box and get to work.

Where do you place an overdrive pedal (in the chain)?

One of the biggest mistakes guitar players make with their effects is setting them up improperly in the effects chain. The effects chain refers to all of the different pedals you have hooked up in between your guitar and the amplifier.

As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to place any equalization effects at the very beginning of the chain. Next comes any filter effects you may have, like a wah or envelope filter. From there, you’d place any gain effects such as distortion or overdrive followed by modulators like chorus, flanger, or phaser. Finally comes time-based effects, such as delay and reverb.

If you use a volume pedal, that can be placed virtually anywhere within your chain to achieve slight variations in how the volume pedal affects your sound. Most guitarists generally place their volume pedal right after their EQ, but there’s no hard and fast rule on where to place this effect.

What are the top overdrive pedal brands?

With so many different manufacturers on the market, it can be hard to weed out the cream of the crop from the bottom of the barrel options. This list of top brands will help steer you in the right direction. That said, don’t be afraid to try out pedals from outside of this list in order to find the best overdrive for your sound.

Boss is one of the oldest and most respected pedal manufacturers in the business. Their pedals are competitively priced, and countless guitar players rely on them for their signature sound. While some guitarists will outgrow these pedals in search of more boutique quality options, Boss remains the favorite of most beginner guitar players.

Ibanez is best known for their eye-catching guitars, but they also produce arguably the greatest overdrive pedal of all time in the TS-808 Tube Screamer. The Tube Screamer, in particular, has been immortalized on recordings by some of your favorite guitar players, and every guitarist should try out a Tube Screamer at some point in their lives.

Fulltone offers boutique quality pedals at affordable prices, and they produce some of the most notorious overdrives on the market. Their OCD overdrive pedal is widely accepted as one of the best overdrive pedals on the market.

MXR is another well-respected effects manufacturer, and they produce an impressive array of different overdrives, including the Eddie Van Halen signature drive pedal.

Beyond these brands, others such as Marshall, Maxon, and Behringer also make popular overdrive pedals. There are also countless small manufacturers who make great pedals but don’t have the same pedigree as these major brands.

How much does a good overdrive pedal typically cost?

Overdrive pedals run the full spectrum when it comes to price, and the price of the pedal isn’t necessarily indicative of its quality. You’ll find great overdrive pedals for as little as $30, and you’ll also find overdrives in the $150 and up range, too.

Since there’s such a broad range of price in this category, it can be helpful to start at the bottom and work your way up. There are $30 overdrives available that produce great tones that any guitarist is sure to love, and there are also expensive options, like the Ibanez Tube Screamer, which command a higher price point based on their position as the leading overdrive pedal for forty years strong.

You’re also sure to find overdrives in the $200+ range. These pedals usually include onboard tubes and other bells and whistles designed to provide an incredibly saturated and tube-like tone. These can usually be avoided, unless you need your overdrive pedal to compensate for a poor quality amp.

Where can I learn more about overdrive pedals?

Thankfully, there’s plenty of solid resources out there to help you on your quest for the perfect overdrive pedal. Beyond this site, you’ll also want to check out:

Guitar Fella is a quality resource for everything from overdrive pedals to guitars to amps and anything in between.

Reverb is another great resource, and it’s one that every guitar player needs to be aware of. From the history of gear to tone tips and comprehensive gear reviews, Reverb has you covered.

Sweetwater is another great site for any guitarist. Sweetwater is one of the nation’s largest music stores, but they go above and beyond to provide buying guides, instructional videos, and dedicated customer support to help you find everything you need for your sound.

Conclusion

In addition to overdrive pedals, guitarists often consider adding these pedals to their rig as well:

  • Chorus
  • Delay
  • Flanger

With the exception of the guitar itself, a quality overdrive pedal is one of the most important tools you can use to shape your tone. Using the tools and tips above, you should have no trouble finding an overdrive pedal that allows you to explore every aspect of your instrument and your own unique sound.

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