Overdrive! An effect as old as rock ‘n’ roll, before the first overdrive pedals even existed. The sound of an overdriven tube amp has been the catalyst of many a musicians career and spawned a legion of genres. The overdrive pedal has tried to capture the sound of an amp on the point of breakup or beyond, some more successful than others in recreating that arm-hair-raising sound. We live in a golden age of effects pedals and this has created a plethora of overdrive pedals to choose from. Especially because overdrive can have so many (slight) nuances in sonic perception, being based on tones from famous amps or clones of (vintage) pedals or simply having different components (silicon, germanium, JFET, MOSFET, etcetera, etcetera), people have become very picky. At least this seems so based on the market for current overdrive pedals, judging by the amount of ‘new’ overdrive designs almost every week. I’ll admit this probably won’t make buying a new overdrive any easier if you’ve got this much options.
My experiences with overdrive have been pretty straightforward and I although I haven’t had/tried to much of these pedals in person I’m quite happy with my current assets on my pedalboard. Starting out as a bass player I somehow gravitated more towards modulation effects like flangers and delays before getting my first overdrive pedal. Actually, my first ever pedal I had was a Boss fuzz pedal but that didn’t get much use then. Relatively late I got my first overdrive pedal for use with my basses, which is still on my pedalboard. After starting out on electric guitar I needed a more guitar orientated pedal, which I found in the gray box described below.
My overdrive favorites at the moment are two boutique pedals: the Solid Gold FX Beta and the Gray Channel from Earthquaker Devices. I’m not really a boutique snob and have plenty run-of-the-mill, workingman’s pedals on my board, but these two just happened to do it for me. The Beta was my first real overdrive pedal. It is designed for bass but it works great for guitar just as well. This pedal can go from a slight Motown-like boost to a mild overdrive/distortion. It doesn’t mess up your low-end and while using it with a band it never gets harsh and always blends in with your live sound. I like the mellow tones from this overdrive, very vintage sounding, but I guess this wouldn’t appeal to everyone.
The Gray Channel is a recent addition to my pedalboard. Almost everything I have tried and heard from Earthquaker Devices is great, the Hummingbird tremolo is another mainstay on my board. Too bad these pedals are pretty pricey but they are certainly worth the extra cash. The Gray Channel is based on the DOD 250, a simple 2 knob overdrive from the 70s, ironing out some of its quirks and adding some more features. I love the 2 channel layout with the different clipping options which give very diverse overdrive types.With these switches you can approximate others overdrive pedals like the MXR Distortion+ or a Boss DS-1 (but much better). When you crank the pedal on the no-diode setting you get into op-amp Big Muff territory (Smashing Pumpkins!).
An honorable mention goes to the Way Huge Angry Troll. Technically a boost pedal, this angry mofo can go from a slight clean boost to full distortion depending on the settings. I have tried out this pedal almost two years ago but I want to get one soon. I should make room on my pedalboard first though…
Next time I will (hopefully) be completing one of the Guitar Projects. I still haven’t had any luck finding a shortscale Fender neck for the Ronald Jones Jaguar… *sigh* The Stratocaster is ready to be refinished and I’ll likely be ready to assemble everything by the end of the month. I do need to buy a Strat neck but these are very easy to find compared to the Jag. Either way I can’t wait to finish and play both after all this time!