We can't think of many guitar pedal brands that don't make an overdrive. This means that the market is filled to the brim with OD stompboxes that all offer something a little different, and if you're unfamiliar with overdrive pedals - it can be really tough to know where to start!
We've condensed it down to these five must-haves for your pedalboard, so that you can form a versatile stompbox setup that covers all of the bases...
The clean boost-style overdrive pedal is one that relies on you having a decent-sounding amp in order to make the most of it. The clean boost does exactly what it says on the tin; it pushes the volume of your guitar's signal up to drive an amplifier's preamp section harder - resulting in a tighter and more saturated tone when using a distorted channel, or adding grit and volume to a clean sound.
A lot of clean boost pedals will allow you dial in gain, and even feature EQ controls (often labelled 'Tone') which alter and colour your sound. But these stompboxes are loved for being transparent and simply make your guitar sound "better" by improving the way that the signal interacts with the front-end of your amp.
These can also be used in an amp's effects loop, with this routing method causing the pedal to raise your volume without influencing the tone at all - as you're adding post-preamp gain to the signal before it reaches the output stage (power amp). Dial this in with caution though – it could blow your speaker if set too high!
ThorpyFX 'The Dane' on Andertons T.V.
The mean, green Ibanez Tube Screamer is one of the world's most renowned pedals, with a circuit that’s been copied a thousand times over and for good reason. It's very versatile and depending on where you keep it in your signal chain - it can greatly affect your tone. It’s absolutely adored as a solo boost because it shelves the low-end of your guitar signal and boosts the mid-range to allow you to cut through more effectively in a band mix.
Tube Screamer pedals work well when running into high-wattage clean amps (as proven by Stevie Ray Vaughan) as it can push them into break-up whilst retaining a clear and articulate sound. But Tube Screamers are perhaps more synonymous with modern metal guitarists! By dialling down the pedal's gain and raising its volume knob, you can push a high-gain amp into saturated bliss while tightening the bass frequencies and firming up the mids. The increased volume will push the preamp to drive more than before, but by turning the gain down - you aren’t colouring your sound so much.
Tube Screamer Pedals on Andertons T.V.
The Klon overdrive sound is just as mythical as the Centaur emblem found on the original pedal. It’s been made famous by players as diverse as John Mayer and Steve Stevens (Billy Idol), and is loved for its sonic warmth and transparency.
Its unique circuitry allows the core voice of your guitar and amp setup to be retained, whilst driving the tone into saturation and adding sustain for expressive soloing or clearly-defined rhythm tones. It works beautifully with an already overdriven amp, by adding richness and depth in spades!
The simple layout on Klon-style pedals allows you to easily dial-in a dirt tones, and most feature a dedicated treble control that enables you to directly control just how much you want to cut through the mix. This will also add more presence to a guitar with dark-sounding humbuckers.
RYRA Klone on Andertons T.V.
The Big Muff is one of the most famous fuzz pedals around. And the fact it came out in 1969 isn't a joke either... The venerable Big Muff was originally designed by Electro Harmonix and there many different iterations of the circuit that have been released in the decades since. Countless companies have cloned the pedal's internals and changed it up for different gain and EQ responses - but nothing quite beats the lovely saturation of an early Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi!
The tone knob is perhaps the most important control on most Big Muff-style pedals, as it lets you determine how woolly or buzzsaw-like your sound will be. It can take you from doomy, sub-harmonic sludge to searing high-end! Thick Big Muff fuzz tones have defined rock music in many ways, with key users including David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), Billy Corgan (The Smashing Pumpkins) and J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.).
Big Muff Pedals on Andertons T.V.
Preamp pedals are essentially overdrives but with amp-like levels of tweakability. They essentially imitate the tonal properties of specific existing amplifiers, or try to create a unique sound of their own. Marshall-style overdrive/preamp pedals are incredibly popular (like the Fulltone Plimsoul and JHS Angry Charlie for example) because you’ll be able to get that gritty, mid-range heavy British sound from any amp.
Some amp-style overdrive pedals can actually replace the preamp section of your amplifier, with examples like Victory's V4 pedals made specifically for this purpose and featuring genuine tube-driven circuitry. You can place a preamp pedal in the effects loop (so that it runs between the preamp and power amp sections) of your amplifier to completely overhaul its sound and give it a fresh voice. Neat huh?