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8 cheap but great guitar overdrive pedal alternatives to boutique classics

(Image credit: Future)

Overdrive is the foundation of any pedalboard, due to its core sound replicating a valve amp that’s been pushed into the sweet spot of breaking up. But as well as providing the base layer of our gain sound, good old fashioned overdrive pedals are one of the most versatile choices for our 'boards too. 

It can create an always-on canvas to build on, combined with more gain in multiple stacked layers, as a way of giving us extra volume for solos, or as a low gain/clean boost to knock our preamps over the edge.

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Indeed, many Holy Grail pedals that are coveted by tonehounds are variations on humble overdrives. But with the appetite for vintage pedals growing, and boutique pedal builders tripping over each other to source long-discontinued components to perfect their better-than-the-rest recreations of these coveted tone machines, it’s important to remember us: the little guys.

Thankfully, there are plenty of pedal brands doing just that, and in 2020, ‘budget’ definitely doesn’t need to mean ‘low-cost compromise’. Here, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best affordable overdrive pedals available right now. So buckle up, we’re taking the MegaBus to Drive Town.

Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini

(Image credit: Ibanez)

Price: £69 / $79

Alternative to: Ibanez Tube Screamer TS808/TS9

Great for: Blues, classic rock, metal

Features: Overdrive, Tone, Level, /9v DC power, true bypass

The Ibanez Tube Screamer TS808 has featured on countless pedalboards, and is a favourite across pretty much every genre from blues to indie, classic rock to metal thanks to its diverse range of purposes. 

Use it at lower gain/high output settings to push the front end of your amp into break-up, or crank the overdrive control to provide the lion’s share of your drive sound. 

Review

(Image credit: Ibanez)

Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini 

One of the key features of the Tube Screamer sound is the famous inherent ‘mid-hump’ which adds clarity and punch to your signal, and in-turn makes it an ideal boost for solos. 

Ibanez’s Tube Screamer Mini sets out to give you all of the above, but in a scaled-down micro-sized pedal. Tone connoisseurs will tell you that it lacks some of the ‘creamy’ smoothness of the original, but if you’re willing to live with a little tweaking, you’ll save yourself £100 on its bigger brother. 


Tone City King Of Blues

(Image credit: Tone City)

Price: £69 

Alternative to: Klon Centaur, AnalogMan King Of Tone

Great for: Blues, classic rock

Features: Dual-channel, stackable overdrive, 2x gain, volume and tone controls, 9v DC power 

Analog Man’s King Of Tone aimed to replicate the sound of a valve amp that has been pushed into rich harmonic overdrive, but at useable settings. For such an iconic pedal, the King Of Tone isn’t unrealistically expensive - something that Analog Man founder Mike Piera has stuck to rigidly, despite used prices rocketing to double or more of a new pedal. 

The sticking point is that in order to bag yourself a KoT, you’ll need to be willing to wait for around two years. This is due to the scarcity of the discontinued components housed inside. But that doesn’t mean that sublime blues tone only comes to those who wait. Tone City’s King Of Blues is part Klon, part King Of Tone, and you can buy one, today, for £69.

Engine (channel) A gives you a lower gain, Klon-style ‘transparent' boost, perfect for when you need those neck-y Strat sounds with some added bite. Meanwhile, the B channel is more in the realm of Tube Screamer type overdrive: thick, full  but still punchy.

Purists will dispute the authenticity of the King Of Blues relative to Analog Man’s hallowed pedal, but we’d urge you to see this for what it is: a fantastic dual-drive for under £70. What’s not to like about that!  


Caline CP-12 Pure Sky

(Image credit: Caline)

Price: £26 / $34

Alternative to: Paul Cochrane Timmy

Great for: Gain stacking, full overdrive

Features: Volume, gain, bass, treble

Paul Cochrane is the man behind the Timmy overdrive, derived from Cochrane’s original Tim pedal. It’s known for being in the Tube Screamer ballpark, but minus the famous mid hump which can sometimes divide players. 

It also varies from a lot of simple ’drives by giving you dedicated bass and treble (although they attenuate rather than boost these frequencies) EQ rather than a single tone control. 

Start gain stacking

While MXR began producing the Timmy as a mini pedal earlier this year, the price tag is still above our ceiling for ‘budget’, so we’re reaching for the next best thing: the Caline Pure Sky.

This little blue box has the two-band EQ, functioning as traditional boosting EQ controls as well as the volume and gain controls. At the widely available price of just £26, and with a reputation for surpassing pedals that cost three times as much, it might just be the best bargain in this list.  


Electro-Harmonix Soul Food

Best overdrive pedals: Electro-Harmonix Soul Food

(Image credit: Electro-Harmonix)

Price: £69 / $86

Alternative to: Klon Centaur

Great for: Clean boost, gain stacking

Features: Volume, treble, drive

Review

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Electro-Harmonix Soul Food

No pedal has been the subject of as much debate as the hallowed Klon Centaur. The original Klon was made in the early 90s, with approximately 8000 pedals being produced in total. Thanks to its 18-volt op-amp, it’s able to boost the output gain with plenty of headroom, while introducing some sparkly harmonics to boot.

 Due to the limited availability (and skyrocketing used prices), Klon Klones have become big business for pedal manufacturers. Electro-Harmonix know a thing or two about making iconic pedals, but they also know how to build gear for the everyman too, so the Soul Food gets our stamp of approval. 

It reacts with touch sensitivity to your playing dynamics, keeps your original signal intact and pushes your amp into the red while keeping your bank balance in the black. Certainly one of the most affordable and usable clones out there.


Joyo Ultimate Drive (OCD)

(Image credit: Joyo)

Price: £35

Alternative to: Fulltone OCD

Great for: Amp-like overdrive, solo boost

Features: Gain, level, tone, hi/low gain switch

Fulltone’s OCD is seen by many as the quintessential amp-in-a-box overdrive. It’s also (perhaps fittingly for the name) been through a whopping 8 revisions over it’s relatively short 15-year lifespan, culminating in the most recent OCD V2. 

While each revision brings its own variations: tweaked midrange, level differences, even LED colour, the ballpark of what draws players to the OCD is its ability to give convincing cranked Plexi-like overdrive sounds from a pedal. 

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The FX files: Fulltone OCD

Now, in a world where legendary pedals are fetching more than our guitars, the OCD isn’t exactly ‘expensive’, but even with an off-the-shelf price of around £125, it’s still a weighty investment for many. Enter Joyo with its Ultimate Drive, which for £35 bags you tones way beyond its price tag. 

The Ultimate Drive features an identical control set to the OCD, with straightforward gain, tone and level controls, plus the built-in high/low peak select switch for fine tuning the range of your drive. With the switch in the ‘high’ position you’ll get more drive and output with a bump in the high mids, while in the ‘low’ setting, the pedal reacts more like a standard overdrive/boost, giving you more of your amp’s front end colour. 

As with many of the pedals on this list, the Ultimate Drive represents a low-risk investment in your board that’s hard to fault.


Mooer Green Mile

(Image credit: Mooer)

Price: £45 / $70

Alternative to: Ibanez Tube Screamer

Great for: Main overdrive sounds, clean boost, lead boost

Features: Volume, tone, gain, warm/hot switch

There’s no shortage of Tube Screamer homages out there, and they can usually be spotted straight away by their green paint jobs. But the reason there are so many is because the iconic TS is considered the benchmark for overdrive just like your dad used to use. You plug in, and get exactly what you were expecting. 

If an Ibanez unit is still out of reach though, consider the Green Mile from Mooer. This mini-pedal will fit on even the most cramped of boards and comes packing the three amigos of the original: gain, tone and level. 

On top of this though, you get a toggle switch to take you between warm and hot, allowing this to be a versatile little pedal for always-on use, gain stacking, or the main gain source. You can pick one up for £45, and we think it’s the best affordable non-Ibanez TS pedal around.  

Joyo Taichi

(Image credit: Joyo)

Price: £50 / $53

Alternative to: Hermida Audio Zendrive 

Great for: Dumble-style amp overdrive

Features: Volume, gain, tone, voice

The Zendrive was originally designed to emulate the legendary tones of a Dumble Overdrive Special: the elusive amps built by Alexander Dumble cloaked in mystery and played by the likes of Larry Carlton, Carlos Santana and Robben Ford. 

It’s easier (and about as affordable) to get yourself on the property ladder than it is to purchase one of the 300 ODS amps in existence. So, we were all ears when we heard that Joyo had delivered their take on the classic Zendrive. 

Is the tone lost in translation through an approximation of a pedal approximating an amp? In all honesty, it’s impossible to tell. What we can go by is the common thread in the tones we’re aiming for: fat, smooth sounding overdrive that the players mentioned above deliver in spades. 

The Taichi certainly delivers on that front. You get volume, gain, tone and voice controls to play with, giving you plenty of tonal options to dial in the Dumble’s famous pre-gain EQ section. At £50, you’ll still have plenty of cash left for that house deposit too. 


Boss BD-2

Best overdrive pedals: Boss BD-2

(Image credit: Boss)

Price: £71 / $99

Alternative to: Ibanez Tube Screamer/Marshall Blues Breaker

Great for: Thick rock overdrive

Features: Volume, tone, gain

Much like the Tube Screamer, the Boss BD-2 is more of a classic than a ‘boutique’ overdrive, but its status as one of the biggest-selling overdrive pedals in history has earned it a place on any ’drive fan’s shopping list. It’s very much a similar vibe to the TS too, working alone as an amp-in-a-box sound, or equally as well as a boost to get your amp cooking a little hotter.  

The smooth drive and tone circuit will knock the edge off over-hyped strats, or pair it with a humbucker to get rich, open overdrive. Feature-wise, it’s Boss business as usual with a straightforward level/tone/gain control set, input and output, and your choice of battery or mains power. It’s pushing the top end of our price limit here, but for a bonafide classic it’s still a bargain.