Overdrive pedals are incredibly popular among guitarists as they offer a unique way to boost your sound and dial in very useful tones as well. Typically, these pedals enhance your tone rather than transform it, although some units are capable of great versatility that go beyond just overdrive.
As expected, the right overdrive pedal depends on your situation and context. It is not uncommon for guitarists to have several overdrive units in their collection, in order for that player to have the best choice to serve the musical tasks at hand.
In this guide, we’re going to explore different types of overdrives. We’re confident that you will find the right pedal for you below, one that fits your particular needs and preferences. Read on.
- Top 3 Overdrive Pedals
- Best Overdrive Pedal Reviews
- How To Choose The Best Overdrive Pedal
- Final Thoughts on the Best Overdrive Pedals
Top 3 Overdrive Pedals
The Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini Pedal was Our Top Pick winner. This pedal belongs to a family of arguably the best-known overdrive in history, and this version features a compact form factor but with the quality, functionality, and durability that the Tube Screamers are known for.
The Behringer TO800 Vintage Tube Overdrive was our Best Budget Pick. This pedal is a great start for anyone looking for their first overdrive pedal, as it features all the controls for learning how to shape your tone, as well as saturation that goes from light to heavy.
Finally, the Rockett Audio Designs Archer Ikon Boost is our Editor’s Choice. This is the best clone of the highly sought after Klone Centaur pedal, which became a staple since the 90s for its very transparent nature. This pedal allows you to add warmth and gain to your tone but without coloring it.
Best Overdrive Pedal Reviews
Legendary distortion in a compact form factor.
With this pedal, you're getting a miniature version of arguably the best-known overdrive units in history. The lineage of Tube Screamers runs deep and features many versions. The saturation this pedal offers is warm and dynamic and remains one of the most sought-after sounds to this day.
The Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini Pedal is a fantastic reissue of the classic and beloved Tube Screamer overdrive pedal. This version features a compact design that can easily fit on the most cramped pedalboard, to offer you that legendary TS9 tone.
We tried this overdrive pedal using a Les Paul and a Strat, taking turns connecting into a Fender Twin Reverb amp. The saturation we got was unmistakably analog. It featured that growling overdrive with incredible sensitivity for very expressive playing that the Tube Screamer is known for.
Although this mini pedal features small tone and level knobs, the overdrive knob retains the original size. In other words, the main knob on the pedal looks gigantic and takes up a good portion of the upper area. The footswitch also retains the same dimensions as featured in the normal-sided Tube Screamers.
By keeping the original size of the overdrive knob, you get a pedal that is easier to operate on the fly. At the same time, you get that midrange-rich growl in a very small pedal that is as easy to operate as the original Tube Screamer.
Another great feature that comes from the bigger Tube Screamer units is the LED light on the top part of the unit. This lets you know whether the effect is activated or not, which is especially useful in live situations with dim light.
This pedal is quite durable and features the sturdy aluminum chassis that Ibanez provides with all Tube Screamers. You’ll feel comfortable tossing this pedal on your backpack and bringing it to just about any gig as it is road ready and built tough.
Verdict: The Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini Pedal is a wonderful reissue of arguably the most famous overdrive pedal. It is lighter, easier to carry, and fits just about anywhere. Despite its small size, this pedal offers you a warm and touch-sensitive overdrive for a variety of playing situations.
Vintage inspired overdrive at an affordable price.
This Behringer overdrive pedal is a great option for those getting started with saturation. You get a fully operational saturation unit with a vintage-inspired tone at a very affordable price. It is easy to use and a great choice for students and beginners alike.
The Behringer TO800 Vintage Tube Overdrive offers you various levels of distortion, from sweet overdrive to aggressive and heavily saturated tube-like tones.
This overdrive pedal features a dedicated Drive knob as well as tone and level controls for dialing in the tone you are after. If you have never used an overdrive or distortion pedal before, the T0800 is a great way to start.
With this pedal, you can begin to learn how to dial in different types of distortion and how each can benefit your playing. This comes in a full-sized stompbox form factor and is very easy to use.
We started our tests with some saturation, with the drive at about 10 o’clock, the level at 9 o’clock, and the tone in the middle. Here we got a vintage-like tone that was good for playing some open chords with attitude and a bit of growl.
We moved on to some heavier distortion by gradually turning the drive and level knobs clockwise while experimenting with different positions for the tone knob.
One of our favorite sounds was with both the drive and level at about 1 o’clock and the tone at 11 o’clock. Here we got a nice tone for playing power chords and even some lines up high on the fretboard.
This pedal can run on either a 9 Volt battery or the BEHRINGER PSU-SB DC power supply (which is sold separately).
Verdict: The Behringer TO800 Vintage Tube Overdrive is a good option for beginners looking to get their very first overdrive pedal. This unit is very affordable and gives you all the necessary controls to dial in different types of distortion, from saturation all the way to tube-inspired growl for heavier types of music and situations.
A clone of the legendary Centaur Klon, for the modern player.
This is a warm and versatile overdrive pedal that is also capable of tube-like distortion, inspired by the iconic Klon Centaur overdrive pedals. It features a very transparent sound, which allows you to keep the tone of your instrument even at aggressive distortion settings.
The Rockett Audio Designs Archer Ikon Boost is a clone of the Klon Centaur pedal (no longer in production), which was used by David Gilmour and other stars. The unique sound of these pedals relies partly on specific diodes used in the clipping circuit.
The design on this pedal features a straightforward and simple 3-knob layout. The Output knob controls the volume level, while the treble is for taking your tone from dark to bright. Additionally, the Gain knob controls the amount of distortion you want to dial in.
Although the tone of this pedal is unique, it is also very malleable and versatile. In our tests, we got everything from warm overdrive to tube-like distortion that lets the true character of your guitar come through.
We especially liked the tone with the output knob at 11 o’clock, treble at 1 o’clock, and gain at 2 o’clock. Here we got a powerful growl with tons of sustain, fantastic for laying down riffs, and power chords in a hard rock context.
This pedal is quite easy to use thanks to its simple and unassuming design. As a matter of fact, it sounded great and very transparent in every setting we tried. What you go for in this pedal will largely depend on your taste and what style of music you play.
This pedal runs on a 9-volt power but has an internal charge pump that doubles its voltage all the way to 18 volts. In short, a fantastic recreation of one of the most beloved and now extinct pedals from the 90s.
Verdict: The Rockett Audio Designs Archer Ikon Boost is one of the best takes on the iconic Klon Centaur pedal. With very transparent tones, this pedal is capable of delivering sweet overdrive all the way to aggressive distortion. Although it features a unique sound and character, it is also very versatile and can be used in many contexts.
A compact, sturdy, powerful, and versatile overdrive pedal.
This MRX overdrive gives you plenty of control options for maximum versatility. With superb MXR quality and durability, this unit offers you four knobs and a 3 position switch to dial in your ideal amount of drive for your tone. All of this comes in a compact and durable enclosure for maximum convenience and sturdiness.
The MXR Timmy Overdrive Pedal was designed by the famed pedal builder Paul Cochrane. Mr. Cochrane produced and sold the original Timmy Overdrive, but needed the support of a larger company in order to meet the demand for this very transparent and great-sounding pedal.
In use, the MRX Timmy Overdrive functions in a very clever way. The Treble and Bass controls on this unit are only for cutting frequencies instead of adding. This prevents you from ending up with an overhyped signal.
This feature proved quite useful in our tests, as we ended up with very natural tones for both overdrive and heavier distortion. Additionally, we did not have to worry about being careful not to overhype our signal. In other words, we always ended up with a focused and natural sounding overdrive and distortion sounds.
Another great feature is that the Bass control is designed to affect your signal before it gets to the overdrive stage. As a result, you get a cleaner and more focused low end. This was also audible in all of our tests, and provided a more focused and balanced sound, particularly when playing power chords and riffs in the mid-low to lower frequencies of the guitar.
On the other hand, the Treble control affects your signal after it hits overdrive. This smoothes out grittier tones and emphasizes harmonics. Another unique feature of this pedal is the 3-way switch. Here you can select from three different clipping types, from minimal saturation to aggressive distortion.
Although this pedal sounded fantastic, it may be counterintuitive for those used to more traditional overdrive units and may take a bit to get used to.
Verdict: The MXR Timmy Overdrive Pedal is a great sounding unit for unique musicians. With unique features, this pedal will be great for those that love diving deep into their gear in order to achieve the best sounds.
A special edition of one of the most celebrated overdrive pedals ever.
Boss popularized individual stompbox pedals with a vast array of models, and the SD-1 has been one of its most popular offerings for decades. This 40th Anniversary edition features the same mid-forward tone with a slick look to spice up your pedalboard.
The Boss SD-1-4A 40th Anniversary Super Overdrive Pedal features the well-known asymmetrical clipping circuit that also came with the original unit released in 1981. Asymmetrical clipping creates even and odd harmonics, which in turn produce a clearer, more textured, and deeper sound.
Although it’s been 40 years, players still gravitate towards the mid-focused sound and natural tube-inspired overdrive traits of this legendary pedal.
For our tests, this anniversary edition SD-1-4A gave us that tightness and definition that works wonders on a high-gain setup. This pedal paired particularly well with our Les Paul, to produce aggressive distortion that was also balanced and punchy, particularly on the bridge pickup.
For a boost that works great for when your solo approaches, the SD-1 delivers a full tone with great sustain. We particularly liked it with the Drive knob right at 12 o’clock and the tone and level at about 11 o’clock.
Naturally, this pedal also excels at overdrive, producing an even yet warm saturation that can work in many contexts. We particularly enjoyed the tone with the drive at about 9 o’clock, matched with the Les Paul’s neck pickup.
Although this is a great-sounding and durable pedal, it may feel a bit too traditional for players looking to dial in more modern distortion sounds.
Verdict: The Boss SD-1-4A 40th Anniversary Super Overdrive Pedal offers you the same great tone that has been a staple in many guitarists’ tones for four decades. With an asymmetrical clipping circuit and a mid-forward sound, this pedal is among the best-known overdrive units ever made, by one of the biggest names in the game.
A classic pedal that can take you from subtle boost to raunchy fuzz.
Commonly referred to as a RAT, this unit has been around longer than most overdrives currently in the market. With an unassuming design, this pedal is easy to use, effective, and quite durable. A simple plug-and-play saturation pedal that has stood the test of time.
The Pro Co RAT 2 features the hard-clipping distortion that made it such a special unit. This version is an update on the original RAT pedal and provides a little more aggressive and crunchy sound. Additionally, it also adds a LED indicator so you know whether the effect is on or not.
We tried this legendary pedal with our trusty strat into a Twin Reverb. With its three single knobs (distortion, filter, and volume), it was quite intuitive to dial in all levels of saturation for different occasions.
Both the distortion and volume knob are self-explanatory. On the other hand, the filter knob is where you can roll off your high frequencies when you turn it clockwise. We did this to find a warm tone that sounded great for leads in a softer rock context.
When we turned the filter counterclockwise, we obtained a sound that can cut through any mix and can work great for leads for rock or blues. We got to the sweet spot for riffs and power chords by placing the filter knob right in the middle.
Besides its fantastic sound, ease of use, and versatility, the RAT is also renowned for its durability. This unit is built like a tank and is one of the most sturdy pedals you can find in the market, sure to withstand the rigors of the road or heavy gigging with its metal enclosure.
This pedal sounds great and is an absolute legend, but may feel a bit limiting for those playing in more modern contexts.
Verdict: The Pro Co RAT 2 is a simple yet effective pedal that sounds great. It is also a very durable unit, capable of producing distortion tones from overdrive to fuzz quickly and intuitively.
A simple pedal, with EHX quality and versatility.
This overdrive pedal features all of the traits that have made Electro Harmonix a lauded company in the guitar effects game. With a superb tone, ease of use, durability, and EHX uniqueness to it, this pedal is great for the modern player that values quality and simplicity.
The Electro-Harmonix Soul Food Amp offers you a wide-ranging drive control that is capable of producing a great clean boost as well as a fully-saturated distortion tone with the same level of quality and ease.
In true EHX fashion, this pedal is very musical with a touch responsiveness that can add great nuance to your playing. In our tests, the Soul Food revealed a lot of clean headroom on the volume side.
This allowed us to boost the front end of our Twin Reverb amp and drive it really hard while preserving the tone of the guitars we used for this test ( a Strat and a Les Paul). This pedal is quite versatile, and we tried it as a clean boost, an overdrive, and went all the way to an aggressive distortion tone that gave us lots of growl and sustain.
Another great feature is that you can choose to either boost or cut high frequencies via the treble control. This allowed us to dial in the tone we had in mind with great precision, keeping it natural when we wanted, or overhyping it a bit when necessary.
While trying different setups, we pushed the Drive knob up and noticed how our mids really thickened to produce a very modern distorted tone that was also balanced.
This pedal is built EHX tough and is powered via a 9V power supply that is included. Although it is easy to use, versatile and great-sounding, it does have that EHX uniqueness that some more traditional users may not feel comfortable with.
Verdict: The Electro-Harmonix Soul Food offers you a simple solution to all of your distortion needs. It is capable of acting like a boost, an overdrive, and can provide full distortion for use in modern contexts.
How To Choose The Best Overdrive Pedal
When it comes to purchasing the best overdrive pedal for you, it is crucial to ask yourself the question “what do I need it for?” This is often the strongest starting point for making the decision not only regarding pedals but music gear in general.
In the case of overdrive pedals, asking yourself how much gain you actually need is also important. Overdrive and distortion pedals run the gamut of offering a simple boost a mild saturation all the way to all-out insane fuzz and very aggressive distortion.
Are you looking to play some metal? Do you just want a booster for when it’s time to solo with your jazz project? Are you looking for a pedal that you can use for the solos on your classic rock cover band?
Answering all of these questions and more will help you narrow your choices. For instance, if you want to play blues, a fuzz pedal with scooped mids is not the way to go. Instead, go for something that offers overdrive and regular distortion. This brings us to our next consideration.
What’s the difference between overdrive and distortion?
Some tend to use the terms overdrive and distortion to describe the same thing, and that can be quite misleading. Naturally, they can be considered versions of the same effect as both rely on saturation (another name for distortion). However, overdrive and distortion are used in different musical contexts and situations, and can result in very different playing experiences.
Although a distortion pedal typically provides a similar amount of distortion regardless of its volume, an overdrive pedal behavior tends to behave in a manner that resembles a vintage tube amp. This means that the amount of gain and grit does not come only from the level of gain that you dial-in, but also from where you set the input and output volume controls.
Besides the fact that overdrive and distortion differ in how the volume affects them, a distortion pedal tends to provide a lot more aggressive saturation than an overdrive pedal.
As a result, most distortion pedals tend to be used for more aggressive types of music, for instance, metal and its subgenres. On the other hand, overdrive pedals are very popular among blues, jazz and classic rock guitarists.
Different types of overdrive pedals
Although some think of overdrive pedals as a tool to enhance their tone and add just a bit of grit, some overdrives do add their tonal qualities to a player’s sound.
Other overdrive pedals are known for letting the sound of your guitar and amp come through, and just give you a bit of grit and attitude. This type of overdrive pedal is usually referred to as being transparent because it lets the true sound of your gear shine.
If you want an overdrive that adds its own character to your sound, look into pedals that offer more tone-shaping controls than others. There are many varieties of these pedals. Some can have more EQ controls which will allow you to fine-tune your sound and even remove troublesome frequencies from your sound.
Overdrive pedals can also be of great use to cut through the mix, particularly when it’s time for you to solo. Dialing in more high-mids and top-end on your overdrive pedal can help your sound come through in a busy live mix, and this is a technique that many guitar players use when it comes to soloing.
Final Thoughts on the Best Overdrive Pedals
An overdrive pedal is among the very first a guitar player will typically buy. They are quite useful in a number of situations and have remained popular for decades. As a result, there are many models available today, and they can differ greatly.
As a recap, The Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini Pedal was Our Top Pick winner. This pedal belongs to overdrive royalty and delivers the goods on a compact size. The Behringer TO800 Vintage Tube Overdrive was our Best Budget Pick, and is a good choice for beginners. Finally, the Rockett Audio Designs Archer Ikon Boost is our Editor’s Choice, a fantastic clone of the Klone Centaur pedal, renowned for its transparency and warmth.