An overdrive pedal is one of the best essentials for guitarists of all genres. It’s a versatile enough effect to make varied use of it, whether you need a bit of a boost for leads, or you want to completely change the character of your sound.
What Does an Overdrive Pedal Do?
An overdrive pedal is basically a gain boost. It helps you get more drive out of your amp; placed in front of a tube head, you can get into that overly saturated tube distortion territory a bit easier with an overdrive. Certain overdrives can even act as standalone gain pedals on clean channels, if that’s what you’re going for. Generally speaking, an overdrive won’t offer flat-out high-gain distortion, but it definitely gets dirty and broken up.
Overdrive is one of those effects that nearly every guitarist has on their board. Even metal players who already have a high-gain amplifier sometimes like to run an overdrive in front of their amp, typically with the gain control off or barely on, because it gives the signal a tighter character with more mids and less low-end. If you’re on the fence, just give it a try!
What Is the Difference Between Overdrive and Distortion?
The basic difference between overdrive and distortion is that distortion is a more extreme form of breakup. Distortion alters the signal more drastically, while overdrive is more tame.
- RELATED: Overdrive vs Distortion: What’s the Difference?
- RELATED: The Best Distortion Pedals for Live & Studio Playing
To reiterate, overdrive can be used as a boost, or as a form of mild distortion, whereas distortion kinda just does what it does — messes things up!
The 10 Best Overdrive Pedals for Guitar in 2023 [Any Budget]
1. Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer
It doesn’t get much more classic than the Ibanez Tube Screamer. This is one of those rare, often-imitated pieces that just persists through the decades because it’s simply that good. There isn’t anything fancy about the Tube Screamer, with only three basic controls, but it works so, so well to give the signal some crunch, to boost a lead tone, or to tighten up an amp for hard rock/metal riffing.
2. Fulltone OCD V2 Overdrive Pedal
The Obsessive Compulsive Drive by Fulltone is a very popular boutique overdrive. It’s known for being extremely responsive to dynamic playing, picking up all of the nuance and responding when you’re playing light or really digging in. Some of its criticisms, which have included players calling it harsh or even scooped, have been remedied in V2.
3. JHS 3 Series Overdrive – Best Budget Overdrive Pedal
The JHS 3 Series Overdrive is a super sleek pedal with a surprisingly versatile palette despite its straightforward controls. Players have found that it does what any great OD should, suitably pushing a tube amp into saturation or even working well as a primary gain pedal. The included gain switch lets users swap between two flavors of drive: one, a more saturated and compressed distortion, and the other, a more subtle and responsive standard overdrive.
4. Boss BD-2 Blues Driver
Boss pedals really need no introduction. From their recognizable, uniform format style regardless of type, to their inimitable sound and unbeatable value, Boss pedals are certified classics. The BD-2 recreates the sound of a vintage tube amp going into natural saturation, for a sound that’s old and timeless all the same. If you want a vintage-style overdrive, this would be a great place to start.
5. JHS Double Barrel V4 Overdrive Pedal
Here’s one of the more intricate overdrives we’ve seen thus far. The Double Barrel by JHS, as its name might suggest, stacks two styles of overdrive into one pedal with independent control of each. Technically it combines two of JHS’s own circuits: the Morning Glory (subtle, good for boosting and touch dynamics) and Moonshine (think Tube Screamer midrange grind). In tandem, you can achieve all sorts of awesome overdriven sounds.
6. J. Rockett The Dude V2
The Dude by J. Rockett Audio Designs imitates the sound and feel of Dumble Amplifiers — amps known as much for their remarkable sound as their astronomical prices. The controls are simple, with Treble and Deep knobs letting you dial in the right curve of highs and lows, a Level knob, and a Ratio knob for instant parallel processing. This is a killer boutique overdrive if you’re looking for a certain flavor of bluesy/rocky gain.
7. Fender Santa Ana Overdrive
Fender’s Santa Ana Overdrive is a refined pedal with a wide range of tonal capabilities. The layout is easily readable and accessible, featuring a three-band EQ with presence. The other two knobs are Level and Drive, which are self-explanatory, and the pedal contains three switches for more variety: a Level Boost toggle, Drive Boost toggle, and Voice A/B switcher. Like any good overdrive, the Santa Ana does the touch of drive thing or the saturated tube breakup thing equally well.
8. Electro-Harmonix Soul Food
Soul Food hints at perhaps more vintage-style sounds, but this overdrive is every part modern and a tonal chameleon when it comes to gain. Use it as a clean boost or for thicker saturation — it can handle any number of genres and tones you throw at it. When you push the drive higher, it responds by adding additional midrange, making it perfect for a click-on/click-off lead boost or anything in between.
9. Mesa Boogie Flux Five Overdrive Pedal – Best High-End Overdrive Pedal
Anyone who knows Mesa Boogie amps understands that these folks know their gain. This pedal has been described as achieving “liquid gain” and incredible sustain, especially when paired with the crunch or lead channel of a gainy amplifier. Flux-Drive is one of those overdrives that won’t just actively respond to your playing, but chime in with its own opinions for some seriously satisfying overdriven soundscapes.
10. Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive
Rounding out the list is none other than the Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive — a budget classic that just plain sounds awesome. Character wise, this pedal shoots for a natural, tube-style roar, and it reacts to your playing in the same way a really fancy, really loud amp would. On price alone, this would make an excellent starter overdrive pedal.