An overdrive pedal is a must-have on any player’s board. In a (guitar) world of opinions and debates, that’s a statement not many will disagree with. And that’s simply because an overdrive can be a lot of things – there isn’t one single ‘best overdrive’ around.
Metalheads will use it to push the front-end of their high-gain amplifiers. Blues players will take warm, midrange-y units to add sizzle to their solos. Experimental guitarists will exploit an overdrive’s headroom and stack their overdrive pedals with their other effects to whip up crazy sounds. Even straight-up jazz players may use it as a slight boost.
So instead of coming up with a list of a dozen Tube Screamer or Klon clones, we’ve gone with a rainbow of overdrive flavours to suit any musical need. In no particular order, here they are.
1EarthQuaker Devices Palisades Mega Ultimate Overdrive Classic
For overdosing on overdrive
With that tongue-in-cheek mouthful of a name, you know this overdrive unit is ribbing all the TS808 and Klon clone hunters out there. The irony is, the Palisades is designed to be “the most versatile relative of the 808 available today”, in EarthQuaker Devices’ own words. The two-channel stompbox opens up a wide range of OD tones, all grounded on a Tube Screamer’s cherished mid-boosted charm.
- Arguably the most versatile OD unit on this list
- Deep customisation controls for all overdrive tones
- Has a footswitchable boost stage
- Retails for $249
The Palisades gives you full control of your overdriven sound. EQD has thought of almost every possible way players could use overdrive and incorporated them into an easy-to-use interface. The dials, footswitches and toggles alone mathematically yield 480 (not a typo) overdrive combinations, so you’re guaranteed to find something you like.
There are two gain channels at the heart of the pedal: Gain A is a lower, grittier gain that’s best used for plucking open chords, while Gain B is a tighter distortion channel for your palm muting needs. Pick either, and select one of five bandwidths – from thin to thick – to set the overall gain structure of the Palisades. Then, dial in one of six voices, which range from light MOSFET clipping to an 808-style OD to a loose, rangy fuzz. A pair of toggle switches, which let you activate an input buffer and go from ‘normal’ to ‘bright,’ affords even more sound sculpting.
And that’s just the start. You can set the amount of gain for each channel as well as overall tone and output volume – there’s even a footswitchable boost stage, with an independent level control, to really go overboard. Finally, EQD’s Flexi-Switch technology, which allows you to momentarily activate the effect, is integrated into the gain and boost footswitches.
2Smallsound/Bigsound F*ck Overdrive
For those who want an overdrive unlike any other
This is not a mere overdrive or distortion pedal. The Smallsound/Bigsound F*ck Overdrive is hell-bent on producing the nastiest ‘blown amp’ tones without actually obliterating your speakers. Beautifully cacophonous, the F*ck Overdrive is designed for avant-rockers, noise musicians, or anyone on the outskirts of contemporary music.
- A spectacularly singular stompbox – “overdrive” doesn’t begin to describe it
- Creates crackles, amp sag tones, overdriven tape screams, and other lovely noises
- Pairing up with other effects unlocks a Pandora’s Box of sounds
- Which other pedal can claim to be inspired by William Basinski?
- Retails for $200
The F*ck Overdrive is inspired by a series of records that’s hardly mentioned within guitar circles: William Basinski’s seminal The Disintegration Loops. It’s a run of four albums that were assembled from crumbling, decades-old magnetic tapes that the experimental musician had attempted to salvage. As Basinski transferred the tapes to a digital medium, their physical form gradually fell apart, resulting in the crackles, hisses, pops and ghostly whispers you’ll hear on the final cut.
This stompbox attempts to recreate those sounds. It has two sections: a JFET-based overdrive, as well as the aptly titled Boom, which is responsible for those decaying tape sounds. The OD portion runs the gamut from warm, clean-ish boost to woolier, fuzzier tones – it’s a very competent overdrive, with just gain and level controls and a knob for EQ. But that’s not what you’re here for.
You’re here for the Boom circuit. This is where the pedal really makes noise. Depending on your pick attack and where you set both the Threshold dial and the Light/Heavy toggle switch, the F*ck Overdrive can go from hellish, gated sputters to subtle speaker crackles to compressed note blooms. You can choose to set the Boom permanently on/off or activate/deactivate it momentarily with a footswitch.
Part of the fun is hearing how the F*ck Overdrive interacts with your other pedals. Chain it up right before, say, a fuzz box, and the artefacts created will take on a completely different voice. Slap on some ’verb and put a volume pedal ahead of this unit to create monstrous swells that’ll awaken the Kraken. Or try it out with an octave-up unit (alternatively, a shimmer effect) and shudder as demonic wails issue out from your amp.
It’s not a ‘musical’ effect by any stretch of the imagination. Yet if you’re tired of the same-old TS clone, the F*ck Overdrive will sort out your cravings and challenge you at the same time. Now if only this works just as well on a synth…
3Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer
For just about everyone
We’d be remiss not to include this here. The Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer has earned itself a congregation of devotees since its debut in the late 70s. Four decades later, not much has changed. Ibanez’s reissue of the little green box is a faithful (and affordable) rendition, boasting the same all-analog circuitry and JRC4558D IC chip of the original icon.
- It’s a TS808 that won’t cost you more than a grand, unlike vintage units
- Retails for about $180
Designed to mimic the growl of overdriven tubes, the TS808 offers a compressed, sweet and full overdrive that rockers and bluesmen haven’t been able to do without. The stompbox, although mid-boosted, doesn’t colour the original tone of your guitar too much, allowing it – and your playing – to shine.
The TS808’s three knobs – overdrive, tone and level – make the pedal as beginner-friendly as it is essential. Keep your guitar as the main star of the show with the OD on low, or give your licks and solos a boost by cranking up the volume.
Frankly, despite its musical tonal palette, the TS808 isn’t a very versatile overdrive. But part of its beauty lies in pairing it with other gain pedals, or to drive the front-end of your amp. You’ll find that it elevates the performance of your other stompboxes, which is perhaps one good reason why every single guitarist has bought, borrowed or stole a Tube Screamer-style pedal in their playing lifetimes.
4Chase Bliss Audio Brothers Analog Gainstage
For tinkerers, thinkers and tech heads
It’s a boost, it’s an overdrive, it’s a fuzz. The Chase Bliss Audio Brothers does it all, and exponentially more, thanks to the unique design of this slim stompbox. If you love experimenting with your gear to coax unconventional sounds from your guitar, the Brothers offers a complex and interactive puzzle to solve. And its ‘regular’ OD tones are pretty ace, too.
- Not just an overdrive pedal
- Two channels that offer a total of six individual modes
- There are 33 routing options alone
- MIDI- and expression pedal-compatible
- Save up to two presets
- Retails for $349
The most expensive pedal on this list deserves its price tag for the sheer amount of thought and technical expertise that Chase Bliss Audio put into it. Going through all the features, switches and dials on the Brothers will require an essay. So we’ll focus on the main highlights: the Brothers has two significantly distinct channels, each with three modes, that you can route in series or parallel to unlock hundreds if not thousands of tones.
The downside? It isn’t exactly easy to use.
The left channel (Channel A) is a JFET-based drive unit, while the right channel (Channel B) uses a series of integrated circuits. Each has boost, overdrive and fuzz modes, selectable via a three-way mini toggle. You can cascade the channels either way or blend them in parallel with a mix knob right in the middle of the enclosure. Thankfully, you’ll only have gain and tone knobs per channel – and a master volume dial – to contend with.
The OD on Channel A is the ‘nice guy’ of the pair, emphasising transparency while giving your tone a bit of a kick in the midrange. It’s a meaty, asymmetrically clipped and harmonics-rich overdrive that’s better for the more raucous side of blues. Responsive and nuanced, the drive at low-gain settings sounds just as musical. Channel B’s OD, on the other hand, is the more aggressive sibling. Modern, highs-heavy and able to scythe through the mix, it’s a biting sort of drive with lots of presence.
And then you’ll stack ’em. Which is the real triumph of the Brothers, as you can use one side to boost a drive on the other channel, or smash two fuzzes together to conjure a sonic maelstrom. The collisions and clashes you’ll encounter will keep you twisting knobs for hours on end – and for those who welcome that challenge, Brothers is a beauty.
5Caroline Guitar Company Haymaker Dynamic Drive
For bluesier or jazzier players
Don’t let the hieroglyphic symbols put you off – this is a great pedal for classic rock, blues, country and even jazzier styles of music. The Haymaker Dynamic Drive covers a spectrum of drive tones, from a touch of grit to full-blown distortion, but its mastery of the subtle shades in-between is this stompbox’s triumph.
- Three modes with distinct drive characters
- Very responsive to your playing dynamics
- Great for natural, ‘amp-like’ tones
- Retails for under $200
The Haymaker has three modes, in increasing levels of gain. Mode A is a classic, TS808-leaning overdrive, Mode B a higher output, less clipped and more ‘open-sounding’ drive, and Mode C pushes your tone to the fringes of fuzz. In all three modes, this pedal is extremely responsive to your attack – hence the “dynamic” in its name – which also suggests it’s an OD geared towards more seasoned players.
Most of the Haymaker’s flexibility lies in its Shape knob (the one marked by an overlapping circle and square). It governs the amount of grit or ‘hair’ in your signal, so you can go from a buttery smooth overdrive to something sharper and crisper – even on one mode. There’s also a Punch knob (the clenched fist) for gain, Highs (the pyramid) to adjust your trebles, and the self-explanatory volume (the speaker).
Mode C is the most striking one. It’s a distortion, veering close to fuzz, that sings and sizzles. Tweak the Punch and Shape knobs, and you’ll hear a range of dirty tones that not many single-channel boxes can rival in terms of variety. And no matter how much gain you dial in, the Haymaker ensures the nuances of your playing shine through the fuzz.
Bluesier players will probably always leave Mode A on. It yields a classic, soft-clipped OD that can get pretty raunchy depending on where you set the Shape and Highs dials, but its low-gain settings recreate the ‘amp breakup’ tones so beloved by blues players. And, finally, Mode B is the Klon-iest voice of the three. It isn’t clipped, meaning you can use it as a coloured boost to send your amp into raptures.
6Boss SD-1 Super OverDrive
For beginners or those with tight budgets
Like the Tube Screamer, the Boss SD-1 is a classic overdrive pedal used by countless guitarists both professional and amateur. Not due to stunning tone, but for its affordability, indestructibility, simplicity and availability. So if you’re looking for a tried-and-trusted overdrive that doesn’t stray from the norm and will set you back about five packs’ worth of strings, the SD-1 really has no equal.
- Dead simple to use
- Competent low- to medium-gain tones that mimic overdriven tube amps
- Retails for under $50
The petite yellow stompbox has plenty to offer for guitarists of all genres. Used alone, it offers that subtle tube-ish warmth that blues, classic rock and jazz players will dig. But deploy it to boost an angrier distortion box (or a cranked-up amp), and even metalheads will find a home for it on their boards.
Its trio of knobs is identical to the TS808’s, letting you tweak only the gain, output level and tone. And that’s about it. The SD-1 is a proudly unfancy workhorse seemingly designed for one purpose: to do a good overdrive job cheaper than anything else.
7Old Blood Noise Endeavors Fault Overdrive/Distortion
For straightforward rawk-out tones
From the adventurous folks at Old Blood Noise Endeavors come this surprisingly tame – by their standards – overdrive and distortion pedal. The Fault is built to rock. And it offers great depth of tone-sculpting controls to help you dial in a swathe of OD/distortion colours: AC/DC’s bark, Cream’s light crunch, Jack White’s bluesy swagger, Earth’s doom-laden guitar prophecies… they’re all within arm’s reach.
- Two cascading gain stages (one can be used as a boost)
- Three-band equaliser section offers lots of depth
- Best-looking pedal on this list? We think so
- Retails for under $200
So long as you use distorted tones in your music, you’ll find little to fault with the Fault. There are two cascading gain stages, each with an independent control. The first stage ranges from mild to mid-gain overdrive, and is controlled via the Gain 1 knob; the second stage has a much wider distortion range and is pegged to the Gain 2 dial. The second stage can’t be engaged on its own, though. Which means you can use the first stage to set your tone, and the second to send it blasting off.
But where the Fault really shines is in its powerful three-band EQ section. The Low dial is a 100Hz shelf filter, Mid is a 500Hz bell curve, and High is a three kHz shelf. So scoop the mids for metal, hump it for blues, or bump up the bass frequencies to shudder the ground. The only small catch? Both gain stages share the same EQ section.
Similar to the EarthQuaker Devices Palisades, the Fault lays out a massive palette of dirty tones. But where the former wins when it comes to the sheer number of preset voices and bandwidths (and an extra boost stage), the latter just nips it if you’re more into fine-tuning your EQ to nail specific sounds.
8J Rockett Audio Designs Archer Overdrive/Boost
For those who need a little boost
If all you need from your overdrive is to boost your solos, to slam into your amp or a touch of gain with plenty of responsiveness, then the J Rockett Archer Overdrive/Boost strikes the bull’s-eye. And, nope, we’re not going to rip into the whole Klon clone debate here.
- Can be used as a clean boost or overdrive pedal
- Sweet, transparent tones that you’ll want to leave on all the time
- Easy to use, hard to find a bad setting
- Retails for $189
The Archer is far from your one-size-fits-all overdrive. It’s designed to do one thing extremely well: push the front-end of your amp into breakup via a clean boost. So if you’ve got a small practice or desktop amp that doesn’t already sound good, J Rockett’s stompbox isn’t gonna fix that. After all, there is a fine line between clean and bland.
But with the right goods, the Archer will elevate and refine your tone. The magic lies in its gain control: It acts as a ‘mixer’ between the clean boost and the gain. So with the knob at zero, you’ll have only the clean boost, controlled via the output knob. Bring it up, and rich, responsive and harmonic overdrive starts seeping in. Thanks to a high headroom, the pedal can get really loud, though, so watch those dials.
9Horizon Devices Precision Drive
You’ll often see a Tube Screamer-style overdrive on a metal guitarist’s board – but they don’t use it the same way a bluesman would. It’s there to tighten up their tone and push their amp even further into distorted territory. And Horizon Devices’ Precision Drive is engineered for that exact purpose.
- Designed specifically for boosting a modern, high-gain amp
- Tightens tone, eliminates muddiness and adds punch
- Has a built-in adjustable noise gate and “Attack” knob
- Retails for $220
Ordained by djent god Misha Mansoor himself, the Precision Drive is a sleek, slim stompbox that’s true to its name. It offers modern metalheads meticulous control over their rhythm and lead sounds and has a far wider range than your standard OD pedal. However, it isn’t for everyone. Use this only if you want that aggressive tone for staccato palm muted riffs, shrieking solos, and other djenty fretboard acrobatics. Or, if you have an extended-range guitar.
The Gate and Attack controls set the Precision Drive apart from the bluesy OD flock. Attack is a six-step dial that yields more bite and tighter bass the further up you go. And Gate is a built-in noise gate that cleans up low-end rumble and upper-frequency sizzle – turn it up to force the gate to kick in faster. The combination of both controls lets you coerce a finicky amp head (or different guitars) to deliver the sound you hear in your head.
Besides those, the Precision Drive’s Bright knob allows you to better cut through the mix, while the Drive knob gives you sustain that’ll sing for days. A volume knob functions as your clean boost, so you can crank this up and keep the drive low if all your amp head needs is a coaxing nudge – or an assertive shove.
10Wampler Tom Quayle Dual Fusion
For modern, progressive players who need transparent tones
The clue is in its name. The Wampler Tom Quayle Dual Fusion is designed for modern fusion shredders – like the British guitarist whose name is stamped on the stompbox. It’s a two-channel overdrive, with flexible routing options, that’s best employed for buttery, low- to medium-gain tones.
- Touch-sensitive, creamy and articulate OD tones
- Has two contrasting gain channels
- Both channels can be stacked either way or used as separate pedals via individual I/Os
- Retails for about $260
The Dual Fusion takes Wampler’s Euphoria and Paisley Drive models, tweaks them a little, and plonks them into one chassis. It has two channels that Wampler calls Vintage and Modern. The former is brighter, more responsive and natural enough to please blues guitarists, while the latter is darker, more compressed and has more gain.
Both sides have the typical volume, gain and tone knobs, but they have different mini toggle switches to alter their voices. The Smooth/Fat switch on the Vintage channel lets you pick from responsive, amp-like presence (Smooth) and a louder, less gritty and more ‘forward-sounding’ tone for rhythm playing (Fat). Meanwhile on the Modern channel, the Throaty/Natural toggle goes from a loud, upper-mids boost (Throaty) to an open, sweet timbre (Natural).
The Dual Fusion differs from other dual-footswitch OD pedals, such as the Palisades and Fault, thanks to the routing options it offers. Through another mini toggle, you can stack both channels – in either order – or use them as separate pedals. Each channel has its own I/O jacks, so placing other stompboxes between both channels is as easy as plugging in more patch cables.
Update: An earlier version of this article stated the Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer was released in 1958. It has since been amended. The pedal was first developed by S Tamura in the late 70s.