12 Best Overdrive Pedals in 2017
As guitar players, whether we’re out playing gigs or in the basement practicing, there will be many times when you need your tone to have a little bit of crunch and attitude. That’s where overdrive pedals come in.
If you’ve been shopping around for a “stomp box” of your own, then you know that there are a lot of choices available and they probably all seem like good possibilities. Don’t leave your tone to chance!
In this guide we’ll show you some of real top performers in the industry and teach you how to select the best overdrive pedal for your own rig.
Top 12 Overdrive Pedals Comparison Table
|Design||Name||True Bypass?||Equalizer Options?||Rating (1-5)|
|1. Fulltone OCD Obsessive Compulsive Drive Pedal||Yes||Tone Knob||4.7|
|2. Wampler Pedals Tumnus V2 Overdrive/Boost Effects Pedal||No||Treble||4.6|
|3. MXR EVH5150 Overdrive||Yes||Bass, Mid, and Treble||4.6|
|4. Electro-Harmonix Soul Food Distortion||True and Buffered Bypass Modes||Treble||4.6|
|5. Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive||No||Tone Knob||4.5|
|6. Behringer Vintage Tube Monster Vt999 Classic Vacuum Tube Overdrive||Yes||Bass, Mid, and Treble||4.5|
|7. J Rockett Audio Designs Archer Tour Series Overdrive and Boost Pedal||No||Treble||4.5|
|8. TC Electronic MojoMojo Overdrive Pedal||Yes||Bass and Treble||4.4|
|9. Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer||No||Tone Knob||4.4|
|10. Donner Blues Drive Classical Electronic Vintage Overdrive Guitar Effect Pedal||Yes||Tone Knob||4.2|
|11. J Rockett Audio Designs Dude The Overdrive Pedal||Yes||Treble||4.2|
|12. Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret Guitar Overdrive Pedal||No||Bass, Mid, and Treble||4.1|
Overdrive Pedals 101
As you can see there are many great choices in overdrive pedals on the market, but that doesn’t mean that they are all right for you. When choosing an overdrive pedal, it’s important to keep in mind the genre of music you play as well as your own playing style.
Let’s take a look at how to sort through all the options to find the best overdrive pedal.
- What Exactly Does an Overdrive Pedal Do? – Overdrive pedals and distortion pedals are often mixed up in general conversation because they essentially result in the same “distortion.” However, an overdrive pedal works by boosting your guitar’s signal and “overpowering” the tubes in your amp (or replicating that sound in a solid state amp) resulting in that classic, dirty overdrive sound.
Overdrive pedals, therefore, are most useful to players who desire a more subtle, overpowered tube distortion rather than the high-gain, aggressive tones you would get from a distortion pedal.
- True Bypass or Buffered Signal? – This is a good thing to get straight before buying any stomp boxes, especially overdrive pedals. Your guitar’s signal must pass through your pedal chain at all times, whether they are on or off. So, choosing between a true bypass pedal and a buffered one is like choosing how you want your signal to flow through your pedal. Either way you want to make sure your guitar’s signal is as pure as possible throughout your chain.
- Buffered Signal – An overdrive pedal with a buffer essentially takes the signal and boosts it when the pedal is not on so that your guitar sounds like it is plugged directly into the amp and your tone keeps its quality. This allows for quieter switching and if you have multiple pedals, it can boost your signal so that it stays strong.
However, a poorly designed buffer system, since it actively boosts your guitars signal, can have negative effects on your tone.
- True Bypass – A true bypass overdrive pedal, when it is switched off, allows the guitar’s signal to flow freely through from the input jack, to the footswitch, and out the other side, resulting in much less signal loss. This is great and keeps your tone pure, but true bypass pedals are not without their cons.
A true bypass pedal will often produce a noisier popping sound when switching and can effect the way delay pedals and reverb pedals work in your chain.
- Do You Need an Overdrive Pedal with an Equalizer? – Almost all overdrive pedals (that we have found) have some sort of equalizing (EQ) properties. This could be a single tone knob that has a sweeping EQ filter or a series of bass, mid, and treble knobs for more specific frequency cuts and boosts.
Like all things overdrive pedal, there is really no wrong answer here. Essentially, if you like to have maximum control over the tone of your overdrive, then choosing one with lots of EQ options might be best. However, there are many single tone knob overdrive pedals that don’t require any EQ to sound great.
This can be a lot to take in, but armed with this knowledge you should be able to go out and start experimenting with overdrive pedals. Here’s a closer look at some of the overdrive stomp boxes from our list:
Top 5 Best Overdrive Pedal Reviews
Fulltone’s OCD overdrive pedal was designed for people who are obsessive about their tone. Best for those of us with tube amps, the OCD has the power you need to shred and the subtlety to maintain your guitar’s individual characteristics. Why should you be interested?
- True Bypass – As a true bypass pedal, your guitar’s signal flows freely meaning that when you go clean, you won’t lose any of your dry signal character. Since it is true bypass, best to leave near the end of the chain.
- Power Supply Options – The OCD overdrive pedal comes with a 9v battery. However, you can purchase separate power supplies up to 18v to get different tonal qualities and power. There are lots of tonal variation possibilities with the OCD.
- Low Volume Performance – Even at low volumes, the OCD overdrive pedal can still put a little grit in your rig. Not all overdrive pedals work well at low volumes.
For our money, Fulltone’s OCD stomp box is the best overdrive pedal available for the money and would be a great place to start your tone journey!
The Wampler Tumnus V2 overdrive pedal is an update to the original Tumnus (mostly cosmetic in nature as the circuit remains the same) and it is quite the versatile pedal. We can use it as a standalone overdrive or use it to shape the overall tone of our entire pedal chain. Here’re some more reasons it would be great for your rig.
- Compact Design – It may seem arbitrary but the size of this pedal does matter! We love the fact that we can get such great overdrive out of a pedal that takes up minimal space on our board.
- Treble EQ – Instead of a sweeping tone knob, the Wampler Tumnus V2 has a treble knob for dialing in the high frequencies of your overdrive.
- Gain and Volume Controls – The gain knob can boost your signal (or not) to your liking as far as tone goes. If you like the overdrive you get from a low gain setting, you can boost that signal using the volume knob so you can still cut through the mix.
Although a little pricier than some of its competitors, the Wampler Tumnus V2 overdrive pedal has the gas and tone control of any great overdrive pedal all wrapped up in a compact, minimalist package.
If you are looking for an overdrive pedal that was made with the help of a legendary guitar player, look no further than the MXR EVH5150 overdrive pedal. Inspired by Eddie Van Halen’s iconic tone, this overdrive pedal doesn’t leave a lot to be desired.
- 3-Band EQ – The 5150 overdrive has one of the most expansive controls of all the pedals on our list, starting with a 3-band EQ. You can take full control over your overdrive’s bass, mid, and high tones.
- Built in Noise Gate – A noise gate works by only allowing certain levels of noise to come through the pedal. This means your notes shine through but the buzzing and other noises in the quieter moments on stage won’t be heard. You usually have to purchase an entirely new noise gate pedal for this so the fact that it is built-in is a huge plus.
While the MXR EVH5150 overdrive pedal might not help you play like Eddie Van Halen, we think it can put you well on your way to sounding like him.
Electro-Harmonix is a well-known pedal manufacturer and their Soul Food overdrive is a great example of their engineering. Built to emulate the Klon Centaura overdrive pedal, the Soul Food delivers a transparent overdrive at an affordable price.
- Sturdy Design – At any cost, an overdrive pedal needs to be able to stand up to a certain amount of rough housing. This pedal is as strong as they get.
- Boosted Circuit – The circuitry of the Soul Food overdrive pedal has boosted power rails to really increase the potential for a crunchy, powerful tone.
- True Bypass and Buffer – You can switch back and forth from true bypass to buffer. It’s always good to have that option.
Electro-Harmonix’s Soul Food overdrive puts expensive tone into an affordable package. That, plus its true bypass/buffer option make it easy for us to recommend.
Boss Audio is a prolific pedal manufacturer and their Super overdrive pedal is probably their most well respected overdrive. The SD-1 has all the great ingenuity of Boss plus some other characteristics that make it stand out.
- Great Tube Distortion at Low Volumes – To get true tube overdrive, you have to really get them hot and loud, which isn’t always possible. The SD-1 has the power to overdrive your tubes without blasting away the crowd in a small bar.
- Pick-Attack Responsive – This tube overdrive sound is very natural. Unlike a distortion pedal that may have the same level of distortion regardless of how hard you play, the Boss SD-1 responds to your pick attack and the overdrive acts accordingly.
It may only be number five on our list, but if you are ready to buy today, you really can’t go wrong with Boss Audio’s SD-1 Super overdrive pedal.