We Review And Compare The Best Overdrive Pedals On The Market Today
Musicians are always after the perfect effects for their instruments. I know this too well—customizing my effects setup is almost as important as writing the actual music, giving me the tools I need to create my music. There are also certain effects that you simply can’t compromise on, such as Overdrive (OD).
Finding the Best Overdrive Pedal is essential to any guitarist’s setup, which is why we’ll be reviewing 5 of the industry’s most notable products and giving you a rundown of what to look for so the next time you are in the market for an OD device, you’ll be prepared.
Our Top 5 Overdrive Effects Pedals
Joyo JF-02 Ultimate Overdrive
If you’re on the lookout for a budget OD device that will give you a vintage sound for not that much money, you should consider looking into the JF-02. This is because the device, priding itself on providing the player with a true-to-form “70s overdriven tube-amp” sound delivers, giving you just that. A downside to this product is that it appears to have customization options (high/low passes, level, tone, gain), but the nuanced options are not really high quality. For example, the gain does not sound that clean, taking away from the general allure of getting the vintage sound.
However, if you avoid using the gain and focus solely on the other aspects of this product, it’s pretty strong. The OD tones it produces are pretty smooth to the ear, something that is tricky to find with many products of its kind. Especially when you’re not shelling out a ton of money for the right device, it might seem almost impossible to have something that truly doesn’t sound too abrasive. For those people who are trying to achieve the rich, lush sounds of OD used by bands such as The Microphones, this is a great start for something affordable.
Weight: 9.1 ounces
Power options: 1 9V battery
Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer
As a company, Ibanez is pretty well-known within the instrument world for making some pretty high-quality products, and with their TS9 Tube Screamer – Classic OD, they show that they are just as competent within the effects circuit as well. If the TS9 Tube Screamer is anything, it is durable. Regardless of how much you travel with it and how aggressive you are with it, it gives you a high level of quality and retains its form well. This is largely due to the very large and intuitive foot button included on the top, highlighting the well-designed nature of this device. This could be a setback for somebody who is looking for a more compact product due to the design’s upward curve, but overall it provides a really great experience whether you’re in the dark at a gig or under good lighting at your home studio.
If you’re looking for a more nuanced product, you might want to avoid the TS9 Tube Screamer. The three options to adjust, Drive, Level, and Tone, all provide you with some good customization options, but ultimately do not give you as much as products such as the Fulltone Fulldrive2 mentioned later in this article. However, what the TS9 Tube Screamer truly excels at is sound quality. The Tone knob gives you an especially wide variety of sounds, while cranking up the drive allows you to control the grit in the sound without it getting excessively dirty.
Weight: 20 ounces
Power options: 1 9V battery or A/C Adapter
Fulltone OCD Obsessive Compulsive Drive Pedal
Those who are looking for a very traditional OD sound will take solace in the amount of times a Fulltone OCD has been used in music history. For example, the OCD was used by Metallica’s James Hetfield while recording their seminal album Kill Em’ All, adding another notch to Fulltone’s belt in terms of making some of rock music’s most reliable and classic OD products.
The reason as to why so many people are known for using OCD products, though, is largely due to their reliability and strong sound that are also accessible and affordable for what you get. As a Fulltone product, you know that the device will last you quite some time. It should be noted that since I’ve had my Fulltone, there have been no significant blemishes to the product’s paint or buttons. That’s quite impressive especially given how much I use it, often dragging it from show to show while on tour.
The quality of this product’s overall sound should also be taken into consideration. It is a true bypass and has great tone to it. In the event that you’re not comfortable with a specific aspect of its tone, though, you can easily adjust it through the highpass, lowpass, drive, or tone options. Those who might want more nuance with your OD products might be longing for more, but if you’re looking for a quality OD device that can get you a reliable, consistent sound, you shouldn’t look much further than this Fulltone OCD.
An added benefit of Fulltone products in general that is worth pointing out is also the customer service. When writing the company, your emails are always answered promptly, sometimes even within 30 minutes. Though I didn’t have many questions when initially using this product, having prompt responses to any shipping questions I had was particularly helpful.
Weight: 8 ounces
Power options: 1 9V battery
Source Audio L.A. Lady Overdrive
When compared with the other pedals in this review, the Source Audio L.A. Lady looks very similar in terms of options. It appears to have a similar amount of customization options to some products on this list, but there are subtle details that distinguish it. For example, the switch for adjusting between the Classic, Crunch, or Smooth options can help bring your sound to another level without much additional effort. I also loved playing around with the Treble and Bass knobs. The design itself is pretty durable as well, offering you a classic design that doesn’t need much adjustment.
However, those who don’t have enough experience with tone and adjusting overall sounds might find this a bit complicated. This is because the main aspect of this product that makes it worth its value is the ability to digitally edit your tone via a phone app or computer. Because of this, you can add a layer of nuance to your sound that isn’t available with most products without having to reduce the sound quality overall. If you’re not using the digital effects, this product doesn’t have much for value, but combining all of its possibilities makes it well worth it. With this you also have to accept having a digital sound as opposed to a majority of the market’s analogue approach, but this is well worth it to have a very fluid type of OD sound that can’t be replaced.
Weight: 17.6 ounces
Power options: A / C power adapter
Fulltone Fulldrive2 MOSFET Overdrive/Boost
If you’re looking for a higher-end analogue product that does not need to connect to anything other devices to reach its full potential, the Fulltone Fulldrive2 MOSFET Overdrive/Boost is for you. With plenty of different ways to customize your tone, the Fulldrive2 lets you control it all directly on the device itself. This results in the product having a larger-than-usual design, but for professionals this is well worth it. Beginners or amateurs who aren’t as experienced with larger devices or increased options should consider other products, but those who want a high-quality tone that they can adjust will be incredibly pleased.
However, the most distinguished part of this product is the Boost option. By switching on the Boost Mode by simply toggling it with your foot, you can increase the power of your tone during performance without having to move any knobs with your fingers. This feature alone makes the product well worth its price point, making it the best high-end product currently available on the market.
Weight: 30.4 ounces
Power options: 2 x AA batteries
OD Pedal Buying Guide
How to Choose the Best Overdrive Pedal for you
There are many factors that can help you determine whether or not a specific OD product is right for you. In this Buyer’s Guide, we’ll be taking a look at the different types of OD, the portability of devices, their controls, the nuance behind bypass effects, whether stereo or mono is more important, and much more.
What is Overdrive, Anyway?
OD is an effect used to achieve heavier sounds without having to turn the volume up significantly. Though misinterpreted to be separate things, OD is actually a type of distortion. The difference between the two, though, lies in the approach.
OD is meant to emulate real-world examples of tube amps, typically using gain to achieve the warm sounds that are experienced when a vintage tube amp is turned up louder. The goal is to replicate a real, analogue effect, naturally distorting the sound as the volume goes up. Products such as the Joyo JF-02 device (reviewed later in this article) highlight this aspect of an OD product, focusing specifically on emulating analogue sounds over anything else.
This is much different than distortion, which is meant to play up the effects that come with gain. Distortion is typically achieved through more artificial means, getting a much harsher sound than OD. Distortion sounds will also add more harmonics to the tone, making their general amplitude greater, bringing on a much dirtier sound than OD.
Why Use OD, Anyway?
Those who seek out OD effects are typically more interested in a smoother type of distortion than what is offered with Distortion or Fuzz devices. Instead, OD adds less additional harmonics to the tone, offering a much more refined and clean sound.
The Different Types of Overdrive
One of the great things about OD is how flexible it can be. Though there are different types of OD devices, it isn’t so much about having a different type of OD as it is having a different approach. Because OD is all about emulating what is essentially an analogue sound (an amplifier being turned up much louder), all devices start in the same place. What makes them differ, though, is the level of nuance they give in the settings.
For example, the aforementioned Joyo JF-02 gives you a very standard type of OD, not allowing you to change many of the settings. Products like the JF-02 give just options for gain, tone, and high/lowpass settings, allowing you to have some say over how everything sounds, but not a huge difference from the standard. As a contrast, a more upper range product such as the Fulltone Fulldrive2 MOSFET OD/Boost will allow you to adjust settings such as the Boost, Compcut, and the Mosfet, while also giving you extra options for boosting the OD and the overall tone.
This video from Howcast goes to great lengths to analyze the difference between various types of OD settings, even highlighting the Fulltone OCD as a great example.
Thankfully, getting a decent OD sound does not require digging deep into your wallet. However, as hinted at in the previous section, it’s worth noting the different levels you’ll have access to depending on which price point you’re aiming for. For example, an entry-level product such as the aforementioned Joyo JF-02 will give you a standard sound, but you won’t be able to customize it much.
Overdrive and Your Musical Style
OD is a type of effect that goes well generally with any form of amplified music. Because of its origin being focused on the sound that happens when an amplifier is turned up too loud, it naturally has associations with blues and rock music. As a result, these are two types of music that still go well with OD devices. However, since then, any type of subgenre or offshoot of the aforementioned genres (such as metal, punk, indie, etc.) also use heavy OD effects. For example, both of the musical examples we linked above are outside of traditional rock and blues genres, giving you an idea of just how versatile the effect can be.
In recent years, OD has even gotten into certain types of techno and Electronic Dance Music (EDM), showing that using OD products doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to guitars either.
This doesn’t mean that OD is good for every type of music, though. For example, singer-songwriters that focus on acoustic music don’t often use it even when they amplify their instruments, as it does not blend as well with the music. You’d also be pressed to find a lot of OD effects used by jazz guitarists.
Size, Weight, and Portability
The versatility of OD products is also a result of their design, due to them commonly not being too large. This means that not only are they portable, but they can quickly become an integral part of anyone’s setup without taking up too much room on any given pedalboard.
Most OD products with the basic settings (Volume, Drive, Tone, High/lowpass) will be about the same size, being relatively small devices. They’re also all usually the same weight, being pretty light and portable. This makes it easy for them to fit easily into any type of setup. The only difference that would make a product slightly heavier is if it has a larger foot product instead of simply a knob, such as the Ibanez and Boss devices we’ll be reviewing later in this article.
However, if you’re interested in getting a higher-end or premium product with more nuanced customization options such as the aforementioned Fulltone Fulldrive2 MOSFET Overdrive/Boost device, it will be approximately twice as long in width as the other products and therefore require more space on your pedalboard. This is also a heavier product, meaning that it is likely better for studio or home usage rather than having to carry it around to each show you play.
In terms of accessibility, all of the products we’re reviewing in this article aside from the Fulltone Fulldrive2 are all products that work well with travel and are able to be used just as easily by bedroom players as they can be by gigging amateurs and professionals. The latter two categories might prefer the nuance of the higher-end product, but even then it’s more practical to use in a studio than on a pedalboard.
The controls of the OD products depends on the level of customization offered. 3 of the products we review later in this article follow standard procedure, giving you options to toggle the Volume/Level, Gain, High/lowpass, Bypass, and the Tone of your OD. The quality differences between each device largely revolve around how effective each control is, but all of the controls are the same.
This can get more complicated with higher price point devices, such as the aforementioned Fulltone Fulldrive2. This product adds in the options of CompCut, Mosfet, and Boosting the OD itself, all features that give you more control in different areas.
Though there is a recent trend of having many products sport onboard editing features so you can dial in specific settings to avoid having to remember your specific setup each time, this is not as common with OD products. With a setting as basic and easy-to-configure as OD, it doesn’t make much sense to shell out for these premium price products when you can instead put that money towards a better sounding product.
However, a recent phenomenon that is worth mentioning with regards to OD devices, though, is the types of products that allow you to edit settings independently via a computer or mobile device. The Source Audio L.A. Lady we’ll be reviewing later does this well, allowing you to download an app to control the effects.
When dealing with OD, unless you are specifically after a very nuanced version of the effect, it doesn’t make much sense to have a product that has a ton of nuanced customization options. This is because it can be difficult to navigate during live situations—products that have onboard editing become more complicated in these situations, not allowing you to easily switch between settings.
For those who do want to control preset settings for a device, though, using a product that can be edited via an app can be helpful. This is because a phone’s screen is more adjustable than the more pixilated screens used in products, making it more reliable to see in dark situations and change on the fly.
True Bypass vs. Buffered Bypass vs. No Bypass
Put simply, True Bypass is a term used to describe the method with which a guitar’s signal is able to travel through a product with no lingering effects or loading processes interfering with products in-between. When one is using a True Bypass product, they can expect the instrument’s signal to go directly from the guitar to the amp, giving a stronger body to the natural, original tone of the instrument. The Joyo JF-02 on this list is an example of a True Bypass device.
However, not all products (in fact, most) you’ll find are True Bypass. This is because a multitude of problems can be introduced when using a True Bypass product, such as the noise being switched and creating inconsistent sounds when the instrument is particularly loud.
Many guitarists get around this limitation by employing the use of a Buffered Bypass, a type of product that uses a buffer (a type of preamplifier) to drive the sound. Though buffers let you use longer cables and setups without worrying about the noise switching, the signal buffers before reaching the amplifier, changing slightly the tone of the instrument.
For some, finding a product that has No Bypass at all can be a way to address the aforementioned issues, but then you run the risk of the guitar not being connected to the amplifier at all.
Most of the products you’ll find that give good OD are Buffered Bypass, largely because of the necessity for a Buffered Bypass to regulate the sound and process the effect before reaching the amplifier. Products such as the Fulltone OCD mentioned later in this article have this type of setup, allowing you to get a rich, full sound while compromising some of the signal’s connectivity to the guitar. The type of bypass that you want for your product depends not necessarily on the sound that you want, but instead the type of setup you want. If you have a long string of products on your pedalboard, then perhaps using a Buffered Bypass is best, but if you just want to connect directly to the amplifier, a True Bypass is almost necessary.
Stereo vs. Mono
In the context of guitar products, Stereo vs. Mono refers to the amount of channels a product can output. For example, if you use a Mono product, then it will only output one channel. In contrast to this, Stereo products will be able to output two channels, giving you a larger depth of sound. This is by using two products a product can filter frequencies into different channels, allowing to separate the sound into different portions that gives more clarity. With Mono, you can still have incredibly detailed setups, but sometimes you run the risk of frequencies being conflated with each other.
It should be noted, though, that it is possible to utilize both Stereo and Mono products within the same chain and retain their effects. To achieve this effect, though, you have to place the Stereo products at the end of the chain. If you don’t, one of the channels on your Stereo products will be ignored, causing only half of the sound to travel. As for the mono products, though, you can choose which channel to direct the mono mix to, allowing for greater customization with your sound.
Another way in which OD products can be controlled is by MIDI. This allows you to essentially pre-program your device through a Digital Audio Workspace (DAW) and use it during a performance, controlling the device through MIDI input as opposed to manually. For many, this can be a helpful way of getting more nuance out of your sound, not having to worry about the OD during a performance and instead being able to focus your energy towards other parts of your setup. The Source Audio L.A. Lady product that we’ll be reviewing later in this article allows you to do this with the additional purchase of a Neuro Hub, a worthwhile investment for those who want more flexibility with their OD sound and setup.
You can also connect many OD products with an expression device to specifically alter the prominence of OD in your sound more efficiently, but none of the pedals on this list are compatible with this form of connectivity.
Using Your OD
OD pedals are some of the most versatile and flexible out of all effects devices, so there isn’t a situation in which you can’t use it. They’re compatible with all guitars and are easily employable in any situation. The only hesitation you might want to keep track of is whether or not they’re worth using in certain scenarios, as we highlighted in the “OD and Your Musical Style” section.
A Brief History of OD Pedals
OD is an interesting effect in that it was originally thought to be an accident. When blues and jazz musicians in the 1940s and 50s achieved the effect by turning up their amplifiers, creating a heavily distorted sound. People thought this extra distortion was a mistake, leading to people dismissing it as not a valid guitar effect. Early uses of OD were also typically achieved by broken tube amplifiers, therefore cementing the effect’s label as an accident.
However, once louder forms of music such as rock and punk music began to take hold, having a grittier sound became essential to the setup of many bands, prompting the development of OD products. Since then, they’ve been specifically engineered to allow players to achieve the accidental distortion in turning up a tube amplifier significantly, embracing the incidental for one of the most unique effects that is no longer an “accident”.
Are OD Pedals Worth It?
For any guitarist who is looking for an authentic, distorted sound, OD products are certainly worth it. If you are in-between choosing a normal distortion and an OD, I would recommend going with the latter simply because the warmer sound is more fitting for many types of music and not as harsh on the ears. There are also typically more customization options included with OD products, making them a more logical choice for a nuanced effect. Unless you are a jazz or folk guitarist who will not be making much use of the device, it’s a worthy investment to have in your rig.
Final Thoughts on Overdrive
When taking into account all of the specifications listed in the Buyer’s Guide portion of this article, it’s our feeling that the Fulltone OCD Obsessive Compulsive Drive Pedal is the Best Overdrive Pedal currently available. This is because the pedal gives you the best variety in its sound, with a handful of customization options allowing you to have a very nuanced approach to your OD. It also is a True Bypass product, making it easiest to get an OD that most resembles the natural tone of your guitar. There is also a historic precedent for this product, with it being the creator of many iconic OD tones in rock music since its inception.
However, above all, the best thing about the OCD is its price. For an affordably moderate price, the OCD allows you to have all of the benefits of a highly detailed OD product while also having the grounding foundation and affordability that make it a worthwhile investment. It’s also very intuitive to use and carry around, making it an ideal product for a beginner just as much as a seasoned professional.