The best overdrive pedals for all styles and budgets

Sing the blues, send your amp into raptures or unleash hell with the best dirt stompboxes out there, no matter what you’re looking for.

Marshall BluesBreaker by Adam Gasson

Marshall BluesBreaker. Image: Adam Gasson

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Overdrive is, of course, a one of the main pillars of great guitar tone. Originally designed to get tube amps cooking at volumes that wouldn’t blow your head clean off, they’ve now evolved into an exciting universe of different styles and tones. The world of overdrives offers plenty of ways of adding character to your rig, whether you need to give an amp a gentle nude, tighten up a high-gain tone or get some more dramatic sounds and textures involved. Here are our top picks for overdrive pedals of all stripes.

The best overdrive pedals at a glance:

Our Pick: MXR Duke of Tone

MXR Duke of Tone

The King Of Tone is undeniably one of the most desired pedals out there. But due to this – and the fact that it’s still built one at a time to AnalogMan’s exacting standards, the waitlist for one is now at about four years. Surely there’s a better way? Well, yes, and it’s this: an official collaboration with MXR that shrinks one side of the pedal down into this mini stompbox format, and without the near half-decade wait. The pedal is an undeniable triumph, capturing much of the sonic magic of the full-bore King Of Tone in its compact enclosure, and even offering a bit more midrange grit in some of the modes.

Need more? Read our MXR Duke of Tone review.

Best preamp-style overdrive: Hudson Electronics Broadcast AP-II

Hudson Electronics Broadcast AP-II

You’ll see that word – preamp – a lot in the world of overdrives, confusingly used in a variety of ways. Here, its use comes from the fact that the Hudson Broadcast’s original inspiration was the sound of a Neve console preamp. This updated version of the pedal, a signature for Ariel Posen, doubles up the circuit, with a silicon and germanium side, each stackable into each other or splittable into different parts of your signal chain thanks to the two sets of ins and outs. This all serves to add some flexibility to an awesome-sounding circuit, which excels at being an always-on tone sweetener as much as it does a transparent amp-kicker.

Need more? Read our Hudson Electronics Broadcast AP-II review.

Best Dumble-inspired overdrive: J Rockett HRM

J Rockett HRM

It’s safe to say that the vast majority of players will not own a Dumble amplifier in their lifetime – which of course makes that particular sound all the more enticing to obtain. Enter then the J Rockett HRM, an overdrive based on the sound of the famous Hot Rubber Monkey-modded Dumbles, which had an extra post-gain tonestack. While this puts some serious expectations on the pedal, it succeeds in being just a fantastic overdrive, with a straightforward control layout and not an inch of wasted circuitry. The midrange push will bring most amps to life in a very vocal and pleasing way, but there’s lots of headroom and dynamic range still to be found. In all – fans of the Dumble thing and those looking for a good ol’ overdrive alike will find a lot to love here!

Need more? Read our J Rockett HRM review.

Most unique overdrive: 1981 Inventions LVL

1981 Inventions LVL

The 1981 Inventions LVL is a rare and lovely thing indeed: an overdrive pedal based on a completely original circuit. No iterative Tubescreamer or Klon cloning here! While a name like LVL might evoke a pure boost, there is in fact a light amount of clipping sprinkled into the circuitry – with the LVL knob at lower settings, it will of course function like a standard boost, but crank it and you’ll be met with an articulate and unique drive sound that’s absolutely ripe for stacking.

Need more? Read our 1981 Inventions LVL review.

Best “amp in a box” overdrive: Warm Audio ODD Box

Warm Audio ODD Box

The original pedal that Warm Audio is, er, “faithfully” recreating here was famed for its ability to replicate that most enduring of guitar lingo cliches, the ‘cranked amp tone’ in pedal format, and if you want various flavours of cooking amp-like overdrive at your feet, the ODD Box doesn’t disappoint. Also present its the US/UK switch to drastically change the character of the midrange – on the US side you get plenty of scoop, while on the UK side any amp is turned into a roaring Marshall.

Need more? Read our Warm Audio ODD Box review.

Best affordable overdrive: Walrus Audio Fundamental Drive

Walrus Audio Fundamental Drive

Walrus Audio’s Fundamental series offers some serious bang for buck. Not only do they offer top-quality metal enclosures with a very stylish three slider design, the sounds are top-notch and the three modes offer some nice variation. On the Drive we have Smooth, Crunch and Bright – all of which are based around silicon clipping diodes with varying levels of clip. Smooth is, as you would suspect, a smooth, chewy overdrive, Crunch adds a bit of bite and rasp to proceedings as the clipping gets harder, while Bright cuts the low-end before the clipping stage to give you a punchier sound that might work better in a full-band scenario.

Need more? Read our Walrus Audio Fundamental Drive review.

Best low-gain overdrive: Browne Amplification Carbon

Browne Amplification Carbon

A low-gain overdrive has its own unique appeal – rather than pushing your sound into a totally new territory, it can instead just give it a bit of a sweeten. A little bite atop an otherwise smooth and creamy experience. The sugar atop a crème brûlée, if you will. The Browne Amplification Carbon is one half of the Protein – a restrained take on a Marshall Bluesbreaker. It’s broadly transparent, especially at the lower gain ranges: up until noon on the gain control, there’s no Screamer-style mids hump or bass cut, and neither is there a flattering dip to make everything sound sweeter – just a slightly scuzzy-edged version of your bypass tone.

Need more? Read our Browne Amplification Carbon review.

Best versatile overdrive: DOD Overdrive Preamp 250

Overdrive preamp 250
Overdrive preamp 250

The DOD Overdrive Preamp 250 is an utter classic of the overdrive world, dating back to the very earliest days of op-amp distortion boxes. The pedal exerts a bit of its own tonal character while not overpowering the rest of your rig. The frequency response is somewhat tied to the gain control – with more distortion, a little bass is cut for a tighter, more controlled sound, while at lower gain settings, there’s more low end – perfect for a full “pushed clean” sound. Thanks to this, it will be just as happy giving a clean amplifier a touch more hair as it will a cranked metal tone a tighten.

Need more? Read our DOD Overdrive Preamp 250 review.

Best Klon-inspired overdrive: Warm Audio Warm Audio Centavo

Warm Audio Warm Audio Centavo

In this economy, dropping more than a few hundred on any kind of pedal purchase is hard to justify, let alone multiple thousands. So while Klon Centaur ownership may remain a pipe dream, there are plenty of builders willing to offer a similar experience for less. Perhaps none more so than Warm Audio, who last year turned its replicating gaze to the Klon with the Centavo. The sounds are all there – sparkly, transparent clean boosts to smooth germanium-clipped drive sounds, plus a bonus extra mode thanks to a switch on the back. And, yes, the large sloped enclosure offers an authentic-looking take on the original’s.

Need more? Read our Warm Audio Warm Audio Centavo review.

Best big-box overdrive: Marshall BluesBreaker

Marshall BluesBreaker

With many boutique overdrives, a line can be traced back to the Marshall Bluesbreaker from them – including a few on this list. So, when Marshall itself started offering an official reissue, the hype was real. And it stuck the landing – the faithfulness of the reissue unsurprisingly lead to a great-sounding drive pedal that’s earnt its huge amount of flattery-by-imitation. Why go with something else over the real deal? Well, the main consideration may be the size – the real Marshall deal is a beast, but, if you have the room to spare, this reissue is a no-nonsense take on one of the roots of so many modern overdrives.

Need more? Read our Marshall BluesBreaker review.

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