Learn about the key differences between overdrive pedals and distortion pedals.

A lot of ink has been spilled in the eternal quest to produce killer guitar tone. With all the stompboxes and multi-effects processors out there today, that quest has become both simpler and more complicated. Simpler in the sense there’s most likely an effects pedal that will help you achieve that holy-grail tone you hear in your head. More complicated because there are so many choices. What follows is a brief overview that should help get you into the right effects territory.

Overdrive Pedals

Most overdrive pedals are designed to produce the sound of vintage tube amps played loud. They create the musical-sounding harmonics and overtones that these amps generate when they’re overdriven. The development of overdrive pedals coincided with the introduction of solid-state guitar amps, which offered reliability but lacked the tasty overdrive guitarists lust after. Good overdrive pedals offer a range of effects from subtle breakup to a significant amount of crunch while being responsive to your playing technique and amp settings.

BOSS OD-3 Overdrive Pedal

The BOSS OD-3 OverDrive Pedal gets high marks for producing fat, throaty tone.

Distortion Pedals

Generally speaking, distortion pedals generate much more gain and crunch than overdrives. They often have multiple gain stages with the stages producing the greatest gain delivering extreme breakup effects and huge amounts of sustain. They often include a boost circuit allowing you to sonically step up when soloing. Where a blues player might find the subtler impact of an overdrive stomp a better fit, metal and hard-rock guitarists are more likely to gravitate to distortion boxes with their more extreme sounds.

Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal

The BOSS DS-1 has a broad range of sounds to choose from and is extremely wallet friendly.

Learn Much More About Guitar Effects

Our Guitar and Bass Effects Buying Guide walks you through the entire range of effects pedals that can help you shape a signature sound.

When You’re Ready to Shop…

Nobody has a bigger collection of distortion and overdrive effects than Musician’s Friend. From subtle to outrageous, you’ll find the right stomp box to match your music and budget.