Overdrive pedals occupy a very special niche in the world of electric guitar. Often, they’re not bought with the intention of massively changing a tone, or altering a sound in any drastic way. The best overdrive pedals are traditionally there to add flavour or colour to an existing character of your sound, often but not always achieved from a driven tube guitar amp. Think of it like the sauce on a plate of food; the basic components are already there, but by adding one other subtle element the overall effect can be so much more pleasing.
The overdrive pedal market is, it’s fair to say, saturated – pun intended – with hundreds of models, each with their own distinct take on gently pushing a tone into the outer reaches of sonic heaven. Here’s our round-up of 13 of the best overdrive pedals available now.
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Which are the best overdrive pedals today?
Depending on your requirements, there are a couple of overdrive pedals which stand out above others. If you’re looking to augment an existing gain tone, and give it extra depth and character, then the Fulltone OCD is still one of the better options out there. It’s transparent enough to keep your regular tone intact, yet can be relied on to add warmth and range to milder tones too.
If you’re starting with a blank canvas, then the Mesa Boogie Flux Five is easy to recommend. This pedal covers the entire gamut, from gently teasing extra harmonics from a clean sound, right up to precise, almost surgical control over specific drive frequencies. The inclusion of the famous Mesa five-band EQ is a huge draw, as is the knowledge that its pedals are built to withstand all manner of abuse without flinching.
Best overdrive pedals: buying advice
When you’re looking for one of the best overdrive pedals for your ‘board, you will probably have noticed there are hundreds of different models to choose from. What makes one overdrive different from another? This is where the details come in. From the circuits used within, to the pedal’s main objective, there are tonnes of small variables that have an effect on the tone the player hears.
Typically, overdrive pedals have a far lower range of gain than a distortion or fuzz pedal. The goal isn’t to give that searing, thick sound associated with metal or punk. Instead, an overdrive pedal aims to mimic the effect of a tube amp being pushed into harmonic break-up. This is where the sound stops being crystal-clear, and instead starts to show a bit of grit. Different amps are sought for their unique tones, but true harmonic distortion is only achieved by driving the volume to boost all those electrons from the power amp tubes. With an overdrive pedal, the player can ‘push’ the amp towards those tones much more easily.
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A good overdrive pedal will react well to dynamics, be that in the techniques the player uses to pick the strings, or to the guitar’s volume and tone controls. Different pedals will offer varying levels of control over what the pedal can do, and what effect it has on your tone. Overdrive is a broad church and whether you’re after a simple boost or more accurate control over the entire frequency spectrum, there will be a pedal for you. Simple models, like the iconic Ibanez Tube Screamer, give you control over output level, drive and tone, whereas advanced pedals like the Origin Effects Revivaldrive Custom offer a mind-boggling array of knobs to tweak.
The genre of music you play also has an effect over what you’ll likely be looking for. If you normally stick to the amp’s clean channel, and just need a lift for certain elements, then you will probably opt for a pedal with more control over the colour of the gain. Metal players, on the other hand, will more likely take their base tone from the gain channel of their amplifier and will use an overdrive pedal to tighten up their sound. Tube Screamer-type pedals are favoured by metal players, who often employ them as an ‘always-on’ tool to reduce muddiness from a heavily-saturated amp.
However you use it, there are certain outcomes an overdrive pedal will deliver for anyone including an overall boost in volume and sustain. Think of them as being there to make good sound better, and loud to sound louder, and you can’t go far wrong. Here’s 10 of the best overdrive pedals around today.
The best overdrive pedals to buy right now
The OCD has a reputation as one of the best stack-in-a-stompbox overdrive pedals. The rich harmonics and responsive controls make it a great overdrive for capturing that hallowed classic-rock sound of an amp pushed to 11, while its HP/LP switch affords it considerable versatility.
12 years on from its initial release, Fulltone released a fully-fledged V2, which packs an output buffer, which stops the pedal from being influenced by stompboxes before or after it; a Class A configured discrete 2N5457 JFET input section, which raises input impedance and increases dynamics; plus an internal switch to change between Enhanced Bypass and true bypass.
For rock and metal players, Mesa Boogie is the gold standard for thick, expressive gain. The Mesa Boogie Flux Five overdrive takes the smaller Flux overdrive and adds in the five-band EQ as seen on some of Boogie’s most famous amps, resulting in a huge amount of control.
It is, it must be said, not a cheap pedal so it’s probably not advisable for players looking just to tighten up an existing tone. But if it’s precise, accurate control from one of the world’s best tone houses you’re after, then this could be the pedal for you.
The adorable TS Mini is made in Japan and packs the TS808's coveted JRC4558D IC chip. You know what to expect from a TS, and the Mini will get your mids humping and your single coils beefing up with the best of 'em. It's not the smoothest Screamer we've ever heard, but it is faithful to the '80s incarnation in that it compresses up a treat and cuts the low-end a little.
Ramp up your amp, cut the TS Mini's gain and up the volume, and it gives distorted tones extra attack – and that's possibly its greatest strength.
Read the full Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini review
The Soul Food is EHX's take on the transparent overdrive of the Klon Centaur, and an excellent complement to a valve amp. The Klon is beyond the means of most of us, but if you're looking for that type of touch-sensitive, transparent overdrive and boost that keeps your core sound intact, the Soul Food delivers it, with a small bump in the low-mids and a range of gain from clean boost up to mid-range drive.
Read the full Electro-Harmonix Soul Food review
Despite overdrive being, fundamentally, a simple concept there is infinite variation possible from a single pedal. JHS Double Barrel proves this, by packing in two of the company’s famous individual pedals to give the user a plethora of tone-shaping potential to choose from.
Simple boosting is possible from the Morning Glory V4 side, which adds a transparent push and increased dynamism to your tone without colouring it. On the Moonshine V2 side, there is tube-like saturation which responds well to your picking and guitar’s controls.
They say you get what you pay for, and with Strymon pedals that seems to ring true. Anticipating seemingly every user need, the Sunset not only has three distortion options with different topologies, but also three boost options and flexible routing that allows for either boost or drive first.
The two-stage drive cascaded into the ‘Texas’, the company’s take on a Tube Screamer, which is particularly powerful... and fun. When compared side by side with a real tube high-gain amplifier, it’s hard to tell which is real and which is the pedal – there’s certainly not even a whisker of dreaded digital ‘fizz’.
Read the full Strymon Sunset review
That Pedal Show's Mick Taylor and Daniel Steinhardt's signature pedal with Keeley Electronics is a dual-format design featuring overdrive and boost sections that can be used individually or stacked – with the option of putting the boost before or after the drive.
Extra flexibility comes from input and output jacks that will take TRS cables to allow the two circuits to be split, so each can be used in a different loop of a switching system, effectively having two standalone pedals. Stacking the two sections together offers more opportunity - both routing options have their relative merits, but we really like the way that the Boost before the Drive ups the saturation quota.
Read the full Keeley D&M Drive review
Just about every boutique pedal maker turns out some sort of Tube Screamer clone, but EarthQuaker has taken a radical approach to the task. While the company may have based its Palisades on the classic TS808, it's built into it a larger array of options than we've so far seen in any overdrive pedal.
There's a choice of six clipping voices and five different bandwidth settings (via a pair of rotary switches): 30 variations on the character of the effect before you even start to tweak! The result is a pedal that lets you dial in a massive range of overdrive tones – not just good impersonations of TS pedals, but much gainier drives verging on distortion and fuzz, as well as transparent boost/overdrive.
Read the full EarthQuaker Devices Palisades review
An old favourite, the BD-2 is fantastic for just boosting an amplifier that’s working and giving it a little bit more edge. But it’s definitely an overdrive pedal, not a clean boost, because a certain amount of that drive tone is being created in the pedal itself. It’s very warm and very natural. Strat players often get on well with the Blues Driver, because the pedal tends to gently balance out the Strat’s toppy sound.
It takes the spirit of Boss's much-loved OD-1 and SD-1, but adds gain, edge and bite to emulate a cooking valve amplifier. The Blues Driver responds well to picking dynamics, too.
No prizes for guessing which specific genre of player the Catalinbread Sabbra Cadabra will appeal to. This awesome-looking pedal is essentially a Rangemaster-based treble booster, with some unique tricks of its own. Volume, presence and gain are all pretty standard, but with the additional range control you have the ability to boost either high-end frequencies or the entire spectrum.
We find it works best when paired with a detuned guitar and high gain tube amp, and we unashamedly had all the fun in the world churning out those iconic riffs laden with that dense, raucous tone we all know and love.
With the RevivalDrive, Origin Effects aimed at delivering the sound and circuit behaviour of a classic amp in a fully variable and controllable format. The resulting dual-channel pedal has one bypass footswitch and a second to toggle between the channels. Each have an identical set of controls but while one channel is based on a valve rectifier, the other has a solid-state (Silicon) rectifier for the different responses associated with each.
The two channels are sufficiently different, the Silicon channel having a tighter, more aggressive feel to the squishier sag of the Valve channel. With an ability to mimic a whole range of amps, notably Marshall and Fender models, or provide overdrive that’s perfectly tailored to be an extension of your clean amp tone, it will give you a proper cranked vintage amp sound at practical stage and home levels whatever amp you are using.
Read the full Origin Effects RevivalDrive review
It can be a hard stompbox to come by, but the Timmy remains one of the definitive low-gain overdrive pedals. Its sheer transparency enables it to act as a gain enhancer for your existing guitar and amp, while retaining their essential character.
There's minimal EQ shaping, aside from what you as a player set out to achieve using the onboard bass and treble knobs, and it stacks beautifully with other gain pedals to boot. If you absolutely have to retain your core tone, the Timmy remains the obvious choice.
The guitar is a midrange instrument so why not embrace that? KMA Machines understand this and its Logan goes as far as to introduce footswitchable mids alongside parametric control for the Mid Cut/Boost and Mid Frequency, effectively offering two overdrive pedals to use at once.
The ability to place mid-EQ before or after the gain stage elevates the Logan as distinctive and versatile drive in a crowded market. You can even plug in an expression pedal and use the Logan as an auxiliary wah. The overdrive tones here cover everything from a clean boost to cranked crunch and even cocked wah. Transcendental indeed.
Read the full KMA Machines Logan Transcend Drive review