Are you looking for the best overdrive pedal for your guitar rig?
Maybe you’re after a guitar pedal to drive your amp harder. Or maybe you’re after a great sounding analogue drive that pairs well with a clean amp.
Whatever the case – I’ve got you covered.
In this post, I’ll be sharing my top picks for overdrive pedals and reviewing each one.
You’ll find a mix of budget-friendly overdrive pedals and high-end tonal wonders that cover the spectrum of classic and more modern types of overdrives.
And, towards the end, I’ll be answering some of the most common questions about overdrives.
The best overdrive pedals for guitarists
My top pick
The ODR-1 is a popular medium gain overdrive pedal used by big names – particularly in the session world.
It’s a natural sounding pedal that doesn’t color your tone too much. It lets your amp, guitar, and playing style shine through. It’s well-built, flexible, and sensibly priced.
1. Nobels ODR-1
The Nobels ODR-1 dates back all the way to 1985 and has graced the pedal boards of folks like Guthrie Trapp, John Shanks, Micky Moody, and Tim Pierce.
If you’re looking for a great sounding natural analogue overdrive, this overdrive pedal is one of the best options around.
We have three rotary controls – drive, spectrum, and level. This latest iteration of the pedal features a bass cut switch to take out low-end (if you need it). Just note: the circuit is buffered bypass.
A battery compartment is included and unlike some other pedals, it is very easy to swap out your battery. The pedal can take 9-18v of power. Use 18v if you want more headroom.
And for those of you that are gigging guitarists, you’ll enjoy the glow-in-the-dark knobs.
2. Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini
The Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini is a compact version of what is arguably the most popular overdrive pedal of all time.
The original was released in the 1970s and has been used by the likes of Slash, John Mayer, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Kirk Hammett, Billie Joe Armstrong, Joe Bonamassa, Eric Johnson, Mark Tremonti and countless more.
This smaller iteration of the Tube Screamer is small, well-built, and extremely affordable.
The controls are simple – just a tone, level, and overdrive. And it’s true-bypass so it won’t impact your tone.
You can use it to add dirt to a clean amp, push a dirty amp or even tighten up the tone of a high-gain amplifier. There are plenty of ways you can use this overdrive pedal in your rig.
3. MXR CSP027 Timmy Overdrive
The MXR Timmy Overdrive is another small form factor overdrive pedal. Based on another classic & extremely popular circuit – the V2 Timmy overdrive by Paul Cochrane.
This overdrive pedal was developed in partnership between Paul Cochrane and MXR to make it as close to the original as possible. The original was discontinued years ago and goes for silly prices on the second-hand market.
The Timmy overdrive pedal is famed for its transparent overdrive. The idea is to give you great overdrive tones without impacting the tone of your amp.
In terms of controls, we have volume, gain, bass cut, and treble cut. What adds more versatility to this pedal is the three way toggle switch at the top – this allows you to select three different clipping options for your overdrive tone.
Whether being used as an overdrive, or a boost, this pedal sounds great. And it comes straight from the MXR Custom Shop, so it is extremely well-built.
4. Wampler Tumnus
The Wampler Tumnus is based on the infamous Klon Centaur – an overdrive pedal that has graced the boards of many big names.
We’re talking about folks like John Mayer, Josh Homme, James Hetfield, Joe Bonamassa, Noel Gallagher, Jeff Beck, Richie Sambora, and countless more.
But instead of paying over insane prices, you’re getting that magic Klon tone for a heck of a lot less money. It’s smaller and still extremely well built by the good folks at Wampler.
The controls are simple – gain, volume, and treble. This means you can get a great tone fast, and focus on playing guitar. Also doubles as a great clean boost pedal thanks to its enormous headroom.
It was primarily designed as a boost but works nicely as a low-gain overdrive. It does use hard clipping unlike many other overdrive pedals, so that is something to consider.
5. JHS Morning Glory V4
The JHS Morning Glory nails that infamous Bluesbreaker tone and takes it further.
The original Blues Breaker pedal was released by Marshall and was designed to capture the sound of the JTM45 combo Clapton used on the Beano album (with John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers) back in the 1960s.
Marshall eventually discontinued the original pedal after several iterations and the originals go for insane money on the second-hand market.
The Morning Glory builds upon the original with extra headroom, a high/low gain toggle, and a bright cut switch. Some would consider it an amp in a box. It’s based on an amp, so it makes sense.
One neat feature is the jack socket for the JHS Red Remote, purchased separately. A nice option if you ever want to make the high/low gain modes footswitchable.
This just so happens to be one of JHS’s best selling pedals of all time.
6. Earthquaker Devices Plumes
The Earthquaker Devices Plumes is inspired by that classic green overdrive pedal that a lot of other pedals on this list share their origins with.
We’ve got the usual level, tone, and gain controls with the addition of a 3-way toggle switch that provides extra clipping options.
If you want compressed & crunchy tones, select position 1. If you want an open sounding drive that works great as a clean boost, select position 2.
What about more transparent overdriven tones? Select position 3.
There’s also plenty of headroom. Everything you need in a drive pedal.
As always, you’re getting the usual great Earthquaker Devices quality – made in America. But the price is surprisingly affordable. One of the best overdrives money can buy right now.
7. JHS Bonsai
The JHS Bonsai is a fantastic overdrive pedal from one of my favorite pedal companies.
Over the years, there have been various iterations of the tube screamer circuit, and various mods. The JHS Bonsai packs all of the most popular variations into a single pedal.
We have the typical volume, tone, and drive controls as you would expect. The real magic happens with the extra selector switch.
TS808? TS9? TS10? Check. You’ll even find the popular Keeley Mod Plus, and JHS Strong Mod, and a few other variations.
Most importantly? It sounds awesome.
8. TC Electronic Mojo
The TC Electronic Mojo is a dynamic overdrive pedal with a very “amp in a box” type sound.
It sounds fantastic and it has been used by the likes of Steve Lukather, Paul Gilbert, Boz Boorer (Morrissey), and more.
One of the reasons I particularly like this pedal is that it should retail for a lot more money but TC Electronic slashed the price to better compete with other pedal manufacturers.
The upshot of this is that you get a much higher quality pedal than the price tag would suggest.
The controls are simple. Drive, level, bass, treble, and a voicing switch. There’s a 9V battery compartment, plenty of headroom, and the pedal is true bypass.
9. JHS 3 Series Overdrive
The JHS 3 Series Overdrive is part of JHS’s range of more affordable guitar pedals. Still made in the USA. Still great quality.
There are plenty of great tones to be had in this pedal. It’s not quite as straightforward to dial in as other pedals but that is a good thing because it means you’ve got a larger range of tones at your fingertips.
The 3 Series Overdrive has noticeably more bite than many other overdrive pedals on this list. So, if you’re looking for that edge to help you cut through the mix, whether in the studio, or live, this is well worth checking out.
On this overdrive pedal, you’ll find volume, overdrive, body, and a gain toggle switch. The body is like your EQ but doesn’t work exactly like that. It controls the overall brightness of the pedal.
The gain toggle switch takes you from saturated and compressed to open and crunchy in the up position. From saturated overdrive to clean boost. You can get a lot out of this pedal.
10. Way Huge Green Rhino MKIV
The Way Huge Green Rhino MKIV offers tube screamer inspired tones with extra tone shaping options.
The original version of this overdrive pedal was released way back in 1994. Since then, it has undergone numerous iterations.
There is a MKV version of this pedal but I’m including the MKIV because it is more flexible and includes an easy-access 9V battery compartment.
Aside from the typical volume, tone, and overdrive controls, we have two extra tone controls. One will cut/boost 100hz by 12db. The other will cut/boost 500hz by 12db.
There’s also a toggle switch so you can get the tone from the original 1994 Green Rhino pedal.
Overall – this is one seriously great sounding overdrive pedal.
11. Joyo Vintage Overdrive
The Joyo Vintage Overdrive is based on that classic green overdrive pedal that I’ve already discussed far too much in this article.
There’s nothing too remarkable about this guitar pedal – it does everything you’d expect and includes the usual volume, drive, and tone knob.
The big difference? The price. It is the most affordable overdrive pedal on this list.
12. Danelectro BP-1 Pride of Texas
The Danelectro BP-1 Price of Texas is a light overdrive pedal that is best for blues and country players. Sorry metal players – this pedal likely isn’t going to be for you.
While it doesn’t offer up too much gain, it does provide large amounts of headroom. This means it can double as a boost pedal with EQ shaping and extra grit. The way the circuit clips sounds fantastic.
Unlike a lot of overdrive pedals, you don’t just have a single tone knob – you have separate treble and bass knobs.
It’s a simple guitar pedal that stands out in terms of looks.
What is an overdrive pedal?
Often confused with distortion pedals, an overdrive pedal is designed to make the tubes in your amplifier work harder and lower volumes.
They’re typically quite dynamic and touch sensitive. Usually using soft clipping as opposed to the hard clipping used in distortion pedals.
There are some exceptions – the Klon pedal is a light-medium overdrive that uses hard clipping, for example. It’s most commonly used as a clean boost or “always on” pedal.
Overdrive pedals are great for blues, rock, and country players. And certain types of overdrive such as the tube screamer are commonly used by metal players to tighten up their tone.
Should I get a distortion pedal or overdrive pedal?
Generally, distortion pedals are thought of as being more aggressive, higher gain and having a harder edge to them. Overdrives have a more gentle tone and lower in gain (usually) so they’re usually favoured more by guitarists playing blues, funky, etc.
Generally, overdrive pedals work best for those who want to drive an overdriven amp harder, or those who want to tighten up their high gain tone. Overdrives make for good clean boosts and are usually more transparent.
However, rules are meant to be broken so try experimenting. You may find that what works best for your tone is the opposite to what you think. And think about your signal chain.
But don’t forget fuzz pedals! On my pedal board, I usually include an overdrive pedal, distortion pedal, and fuzz pedal.
Wrapping it up
Overdrive pedals are a wonderful addition to any pedal board. And in a lot of cases, they’re entirely necessary.
But the best overdrive pedal is subjective and depends on your tonal needs, your guitar rig, and your signal chain. Some overdrive pedals sound best when stacked with another overdrive, or even a fuzz or distortion pedal. Some require clean amp to sound good, whereas others are best used with an amp that has the gain cranked already.
Your guitar amp has a significant impact as well. A nice tube amp with a decent clean channel will be important. Although, some overdrive pedals sound great when pushing a distorted amp.
So, my best recommendation is to start with the tone you want to recreate. Then look at features and build quality/quality of components.
For example, there are loads of cheap Chinese made overdrive pedals out there but most of them have bad QC’s & sub-par components. And they’re built by brands that usually disappear before your warranty expires.
I’ve had far too many issues with these types of pedal companies.
This is why I typically go for higher quality pedals. You pay more now but they last longer and they hold their value better.
Which overdrive pedal will you choose?
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Featured image credit: Adam Connell // Tone Island.