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The term overdrive comes from early amps of the 1940's and 50's. At the time most players were only using clean tones and lofi amps. As the amps were turned up to compete with the rest of the band a slight distortion was introduced into the sound. A similar sound was produced as amps picked up minor damage from regular wear and tear. It was here the idea of overdrive was born, from literally pushing or overdriving the amp harder than it could handle. This is an effect sought out by all players and can be achieved by increasing the gain on an amp. The drawback is that for some amps this breakup of sound or overdrive does't happen at volume levels that above the rest of the band, or ends with an angry neighbor at your apartment door. Luckily there is another way to achieve this effect throughout the use of
There are several categories of overdrive pedals, and endless options. It can be a little overwhelming for new players, and even guitar veterans tend to swap these out from time to time. However, while there are many options there a only a few circuits/styles of overdrive pedals. As we take a quick look at the most common drive pedals, you can begin to narrow down what you would like to try first.
A simple volume boost may be all that you need to get that little edge you need to cut through the mix. These pedals tend to add little to no gain, and may feature some basic eq options. If you run your amp just on the edge of breakup this could help give you that push you need to get a more natural overdrive from your amp. Popular pedals in this category include the Zvex SHO, the Xotic RC and EP booster, and the Keely Katana
These pedals do exactly what they say. They are designed to emulate that overdriven sound of an amp, but at a quieter volume. They also can help push an amp into that breakup zone a little bit faster since they do introduce more gain into your signal. Overdrive pedals come in all shapes and sizes from low gain to high gain or transparent to tone coloring. The low gain drives tend to sound very similar to a boost pedal with a little more bite, and high gain tend to flirt the line with distortion or even fuzz. Transparent means that there are little to know eq changes, while other pedals may change your tonal quality completely. The hallmark overdrive pedal is the TS8o8. While there are tons of drive pedals out there the majority were built with this circuit in mind and share many of its characteristics. The trademark being a nice medium drive and a slight midrange bump. Other popular circuits include the blues breaker which has taken on new life with the JHS morning glory, and the legendary Klon. One of our favorites around here is the Bondi Sick As
While overdrive seeks to maintain the tonal quality of your guitar, distortion doesn't hold back. These pedals completely color your tone, and change your EQ. Think full on rock. Distortion works to emulate a full stack at full volume. The iconic distortion pedal is the ProCo Rat.
Fuzz is similar to distortion, but different. If you want a quick lesson in fuzz check out the guitar hook on The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction". Fuzz was actually one of the first guitar stomp boxes and were designer to recreate the sound of broken amps and ripped speakers. Some of the first fuzz pedals include the Tonebender and the Fuzz Face. There are plenty of options to pick from today but they are all reminiscent of thee earlier circuits.
No matter what pedal you choose first, you'll be in good hands. If it doesn't feel like a good fit don't worry! There will be plenty of other players out there ready to trade with you!