overdrive vs distortion pedal

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Learning guitar and wondering the difference between overdrive vs distortion pedals? No need to worry, we are here with a guide that includes everything you need to know to select the best type of effects pedal.

Guitar pedals are an essential part of any guitarist’s pedalboard. They offer a variety of effects that can be used to shape your sound or add texture to your music. One type of pedal you might consider adding to your board is the distortion pedal, which is typically used for heavier tones and solos in songs. Another option would be the overdrive pedal, which offers more vintage sounds with added gain stage.

So what’s the difference between these two types? Distortion pedals typically use a low-pass filter to offer a more heavy and crunchy tone, while overdrive pedals are used for creating more vintage sounds with an added gain stage. Which one should you choose? It depends on what kind of sound you want to create.

Two Pedal Types with the Same End Game

There are many different types of pedals, but they all have the same goal: to make your guitar tone better. Each type of pedal does this in a different way, so it’s important to understand which one will work best for you. Read on to find the details of the difference between overdrive vs distortion pedals.

When to Use Distortion Pedals

While the distortion pedal is a great tool for creating some of the same overdrive-like tones as an overdrive pedal, it does so much more aggressive and with greater amounts of clipping. Distortion pedals tend to be used during solos and require a higher gain setting for that extra boost, while overdrive tends to work better with clean tones and lower gain settings. This is accomplished through clipping the signal.

Distortion pedals typically use a low-pass filter to offer a more heavy and crunchy tone. These are perfect for solos or heavy metal players who want their pedalboard to sound as dark as possible during their lead work.

There are a no shortage of great distortion pedals on the market to achieve any type of distorted sounds imaginable. My personal favorites are pedals that mimic the sound of a real overdriven tube amp and fills the room with saturated sound. For a budget distortion pedal with an aggressive sound you can check out the Boss DS-1 Distortion pedal. 

Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal

Amazon.com
as of April 30, 2022 3:52 pm

When to Use Overdrive Pedals

Overdrive pedals, on the other hand, are used for creating more vintage sounds with an added gain stage. This makes them perfect for adding that extra bit of grit to your rhythm playing, or for replicating the sound of a classic tube amplifier. The overdrive pedal will add distortion to your guitar signal, in addition to boosting it but is not as aggressive as a distortion pedal.

The tone of this pedal is best suited for the blues, punk, and classic rock. It can produce a very tight compressed sound with lots of distortion. Some people use it as a rhythm guitar amplifier because it has an extremely natural tube amp like sound. I love to use overdrive pedals to get that bluesy sound out of my guitar amp.

There is a wide variety of overdrive pedals available on the market. Two of our favorites are the classic Ibanez Tube Screamer and the Fulltone OCD. Both provide great overdriven tones that are rich in harmonic-content.

Fulltone OCD Obsessive Compulsive Drive Overdrive Guitar Effects Pedal

Amazon.com
as of April 30, 2022 3:52 pm

What About Boost and Fuzz Pedals

The boost pedal and fuzz pedal are both in the same wheelhouse as overdrive and distortion pedals.

Boost Pedals for Boosted Amp Original Tone

A boost pedal is normally used when we want to boost the signal we are sending to the guitar amp. They differ from the other pedals discussed as they do not they usually do NOT contain a clipping. We typically use a boost pedal to add pure gain to our guitar signal.

A guitar boost pedal can be used to add more volume and presence to your sound. It can also be used to drive the amp harder and create a more distorted tone. If you’re looking for a louder and more aggressive tone from your tube amp, a guitar boost pedal is a great option. Need a new to boost, checkout our Best Low-watt tube amps.

For boost pedals I like neutral sounding boosts that take full advantage of the vacuum tubes in your guitar amp to achieve some classic rock music vibes. The Xotic EP Booster Mini Boost Pedal is one of my favorite effects pedals.

Xotic EP Booster Mini EQ Effect Pedal

Amazon.com
as of April 30, 2022 3:52 pm

Fuzz Pedals for Distorted Signal Fuzz Tones

On the opposite end of a boost pedal is a fuzz pedal. A fuzz pedal was initially created in the ’60s to imitate the sound of the signal chain being broken or malfunctioning, hence the name and fuzzy tone.

A guitar fuzz pedal is often used in conjunction with an overdrive to produce a much thicker and more aggressive tone (aka fuzz tones). Some players will use the fuzz pedal when they are looking for a more industrial, noisy sound. The fuzz pedal is also great when you want to imitate the sound of a dirty amp or if you want your solos to cut through the mix in style.

Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Big Muff Fuzz Pedal will give you all sorts of nasty fuzz for days.

Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Big Muff Fuzz Pedal

Amazon.com
as of April 30, 2022 3:52 pm

Which Pedal is Right for You?

Before you purchase any guitar pedal, it’s important to determine what types of sounds you want to achieve and the genres of music you wish to play so that you can make the right choice. Experiment with different pedals and see which one works best for you. Add one or more of these pedals to your pedalboard today and start shaping your sound!

Pedal Selection Overview

Below we have listed the four types of pedals in order of aggressiveness. We listed some general tones for each although the sounds can overlap between types of pedals. The best pedal for you is going to mostly depend on your playing style and type of genre you are focused on.

Boost – Use to get a more aggressive sound from your natural amp sound.

Overdrive – Great for blues, punk, and classic rock. It can produce a very tight compressed sound with lots of distortion

Distortion – perfect for solos or metal players who want their pedalboard to sound as dark and dirty.

Fuzz – use the fuzz pedal when they are looking for a more industrial, noisy sounds.

The great thing about all these pedals is that they are available in a variety of price ranges and styles. So, no matter what your budget is or what type of music you play, there’s sure to be a pedal out there that’s perfect for you.

Difference between Overdrive vs. Distortion Guitar Pedal Conclusion

Pedal selection is a decision that can have significant impact on your tone. It’s important to take the time, experiment with different pedals until you find one that sounds best for you and matches your budget. In addition, you will want to see how the saturation of the pedal does with your specific amp.

Overdrive and distortion pedals are very different tones. Overdrive is a more compressed tone that produces blues, punk and classic rock sounds. Distortion can produce dark-sounding solos or metal sound for those who want their pedalboard to be as dirty as possible. Both of these effects will work well with the right amp settings so make sure you experiment before making your decision!

Love effects pedals and want to learn more, check out our History of the Reverb Pedal next.

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