Overdrive Pedal: What Is It and What Does It Actually Do?

By  //  October 11, 2021

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An overdrive pedal is considered one of the main components of any guitar player’s rig. They are popular with a huge range of guitar players and that is one of the reasons why there are so many of them out there on the market. Why are they so popular?

Well, most of the other effects units change your tone drastically, but the overdrive pedal only enhances what is already there. It’s subtler than other pedals, adds to the grit and sustain, and a bit to volume, if it’s dialed in. There are lots of different options with different components and circuit boards out there, so we’re going to explain the types and the way they work, in order to help you choose the right one for you. 

Types of Overdrive/Distortion Pedals

Although there are more types/subtypes, we’ll talk about four sorts of pedals: distortion, overdrive, fuzz, and tube screamer. All of these work by ‘clipping’ the signal, altering it to produce a specific sound. 

The distortion pedal adds a sort of a growl to your sound, a crunch, changing it drastically. It is usually associated with rock/metal bands because it produces a heavy, gritty sound. The distortion pedal is a ‘hard clipping’ device, and it can do wonders in giving you a darker, more meaningful sound if you don’t overdo it. 

The overdrive pedal is totally different from the distortion pedal, although people confuse them all the time. This one strives toward coming near the edge of distortion but doesn’t essentially change your sound, it only enhances it. It’s probably a ‘safer’ option since it affects the guitar and amplifier much more gently.

It’s a ‘soft clipping’ device and will give you a dynamic, smooth sound, rather than the window-shattering effect the distortion pedal strives to achieve. 

The Fuzz Pedal clips your sound extremely hard. It uses so-called square-wave clipping and will push your amplifier to the extremes. This is the most aggressive style of distortion, so you should have in mind that it comes with a risk of damaging your amp.

The effect it produces is mostly used for playing lead lines and single-string riffs, because playing anything other than that may end up sounding really weird. 

The tube screamer pedal is the last one on our list and it, like the overdrive pedal, provides a bit more of a natural sound. It does push the amp to great extents but does it without increasing the volume, and without using digital or synthetic filters. This one is a 100% natural boost to your own sound and definitely worth a try. 

Why Do We Love the Overdrive Pedal?

So, an overdrive pedal is a soft-clipping device that amplifies the sound of your guitar. This pedal, unlike some of the others, is considered ‘ultra clean’ as it doesn’t change the sound almost at all.

Basically, you use the overdrive pedal when you’re already satisfied with your sound, but want to add just a little bit more flavor to it without changing the direction. It really has plenty of volume on tap but doesn’t clip your sound as much as the distortion pedal.

You’ve probably heard this pedal in action thousands of times, as almost all famous musicians use it. If we had to give our opinion on what the best overdrive pedal is, we’d have to go for Paul Cochrane Timmy. It has great equalizing controls, a great drive tone with a sound that is not too compressed. It’ll almost definitely turn your amp into a rock monster! 

How to Use It? 

So, conventionally, you use the overdrive pedal in front of the amplifier. So, you run your guitar into the input of the pedal, and output from there on to the amplifier’s input. Most people use the overdrive with their amp’s clean channel, to provide a crunchier tone when engaged.

This is how blues players do it, but also classic rock and indie guitarists. This way you’ll get great sustain and width, and gain great control over the sound. It will also give it great additional saturation. 

So now you know a little bit about the basic types of distortion pedals for your guitar amplifier. Recommending the right type is not exactly easy. What you need directly depends on what kind of sound you want to produce, how much control you want to have, and what genre you’re following.

Maybe the best advice we can give you is you should try them all at least once. In the end, music is about discovery, isn’t it? Don’t expect the road to discovering your perfect sound to be easy, have some patience and you’ll love it when you finally do.