Pedals that push your tone into the zone
Before we answer the question of ‘which is the best overdrive pedal’ let’s firstly look at the importance of this often-understated effect. We’re all familiar with modulation effects, reverbs, and delays, and the huge impact they can have on your sound. Yet the simple overdrive is critical when it comes to creating the basic foundations all the other effects have to work with. They differ from distortion pedals in that they assume you’re coming from a place where there’s already a base level of grit to expand on, as opposed creating a base dirt tone from scratch.
A little bit of oomph…
The majority of players use their amplifiers to create an initial sound. Particularly when the amp in question is a valve amp, with all that glorious harmonic goodness on tap. But it always helps to have something extra in your arsenal. This is where a good overdrive pedal can help. Think of it as an afterburner switch. You have a great tone to start with, but who wouldn’t want the chance to light a rocket up it?
There are a couple of scenarios where overdrives really shine. Often, they’re used as the ‘tipping point’ between a standard tone you’d use for a verse, perhaps, and a slightly heavier, more pushed tone you’d use to embellish a chorus riff or a solo. Alternatively, a lot of players use them as ‘always-on’ pedals to add a boost to their existing tone.
We’ve chosen some of the best overdrive pedal effects from our range. Each of these pedals shares a lot of similar characteristics, yet each also brings its own tonal flavour and potential to the mix. Let’s explore.
1. BOSS BD-2 Blues Driver
The BOSS BD-2 Blues Driver is one of the longest serving, most established pedals in the list. For years it’s been the tonal backbone of many players, both within the blues genre and otherwise.
Its speciality is that warm, smooth overdrive which has sustain to burn. Paired with a neck pickup – ideally a ‘bucker or a P90 – the Blues Driver gives you glorious, thick tones. It’s not a one-trick pony though; despite its demure appearance and name, this little box can provide some serious filth if required.
2. Ibanez Tube Screamer
Another icon in the world of overdrives, the Ibanez Tube Screamer is the go-to drive pedal for players looking for a clean, transparent boost to an existing tone. Particularly favoured in the world of metal players, the Tube Screamer has a legacy which is unmatched.
A great example of how the Tube Screamer is used comes from players looking for that tight, surgically precise metal tone. While they’d rely on a high gain amp to get the texture and flavour of the tone, the Tube Screamer is the tool which sits at the front of the signal chain tightening everything up.
3. Fender Santa Ana
A newer entry in the list is the Fender Santa Ana overdrive pedal. While Fender’s amps are famous for that bell-chime clean sound from amps like the Fender Deluxe Reverb, they also know how to add a bit of grit. Its tweed valve amps, like the Fender Blues Junior, are notoriously hairy when pushed, so it’s fair to say Fender knows a thing or two about overdriving a valve amp.
That heritage shines through in the Santa Ana. Offering the versatility of a standard overdrive with the practical utility of a clean boost, this pedal covers a lot of bases.
4. BOSS/JHS JB-2 Angry Driver
There’s nothing we like more than a cheeky collaboration and the BOSS/JHS Pedals Angry Driver is the stuff that dreams are made of. Designed to commemorate BOSS compact pedals’ 40th Anniversary, this little ripper is an absolute powerhouse for those who want a plethora of unique overdrive tones in a pedalboard-friendly stompbox. As well as your standard input/output there’s a remote connection that allows you to independently trigger the JB-2 via an external switch (a rather nice addition for those with eclectic signal paths).
Though it’s been around for a bit of time the JB-2 was only released as part of a limited run so, grab one whilst you can as when they’re gone, they’re gone!
5. Electro Harmonix Crayon
If you’re still in any doubt of the importance of overdrive, allow us to point you in the direction of Electro Harmonix. The New York-based pedal maker extraordinaire has approximately 74,302 different overdrive pedals in its range, each with their own unique foibles and tricks.
We’ve opted for the Electro Harmonix Crayon, an account of its superior tone-shaping potential. With independent controls for bass and treble, this is a pedal which can happily shape your sound on its own, yet really comes to life when paired with other pedals. You can think of it almost as a hybrid overdrive/EQ tool.
6. Strymon Riverside
Strymon is the cool kids of modern pedal design. Their range – which admittedly isn’t cheap – offers the peak of engineering, tone, and design. The Strymon Riverside is their core overdrive pedal and, in keeping with the overall ethos of the company – is a technological wonder. Seriously; if you can’t find an overdriven tone here that you like, you probably never will.
The Riverside offers full-spectrum EQ control, along with a footswitch input allowing modular control over your chosen parameters, and a boost input which provides an additional +6dB of clean drive.
7. BOSS SD-1 Super Overdrive
BOSS know a thing or two when it comes to building a pedalboard standard stompbox, and their SD-1 Super Overdrive falls right into that category. Having graced the stage of many a guitarist in its lifetime, you can tackle anything and everything with the SD-1 from anarchic garage punk to soaring blues leads. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using a solid state or tube amp, the SD-1 takes all-comers under its wing and relishes a challenge.
Not only that but you can’t really fault the price tag either. Super affordable, super flexible, SUPER OVERDRIVE!
8. MXR Custom Shop Il Diavolo
Another collab here between the MXR Custom Shop team and the legendary Italian pedal designed, Carlos Sorasio of LAA Custom, in the form of the excellent MXR Custom Shop CSP036 “Il Diavolo”.
The simple control layout belies the impressive, highly responsive circuitry awaiting your input. From sweet to saturated you can infuse a slight or dramatic level of overdrive into your signal path. The Hi-Lo switch is extremely interactive with the Drive setting and delivers either asymmetrical silicon clipping in the Lo position or symmetrical LED clipping in the Hi position. In the Centre position you get open diodeless clipping for an intense boost to your gain. Therefore, whatever musical style you wish to turn you hand to, the Il Diavolo is ready and waiting to paint the town red.
Get in touch
Head to the Dawsons website to check out our extensive range of Overdrive Pedals. Alternatively, head to your local Dawsons Music Store where our instore specialists will be more than happy to help you out.
To conclude, below are quick links to the best overdrive pedals to check out:
- BOSS BD-2 Blues Driver
- Ibanez Tube Screamer
- Fender Santa Ana
- BOSS/JHS Angry Driver
- Electro Harmonix Crayon
- Strymon Riverside
- BOSS SD-1 Super Overdrive
- MXR Custom Shop Il Diavolo
Jon is a multi-instrumentalist with a passion for inspiring others to get involved in making music. After spending many years playing venues here, there and – pretty much – everywhere, he joined the Dawsons’ Music Web Team before progressing into his current role managing the Dawsons Blog.