Overdrive pedals are often the first guitar pedal that guitarists buy.
I remember that my first guitar pedal was a Fulltone Full-Drive2 Overdrive and my second was a Paul Cochrane Timmy Overdrive. I’ve since bought and traded countless other overdrive pedals. You really can’t get enough of them, and I can say pretty confidently that overdrive pedals have the most number of different models on the market compared to the other categories of pedals.
With such a large number of models on the market, it’s easy to get confused and overwhelmed when looking to buy your first overdrive pedal.
In an effort to make things easier for you, I’ve narrowed down a list of five popular overdrive pedals across a range of different price points, and I’ve also provided some examples of popular artists who use these pedals.
Please note that this list is not arranged in any particular order, and after a certain price point, there really isn’t an objective way to say that one pedal sounds better than another. When it comes to overdrive pedals, a lot of it comes down to personal taste and the tone you are going after.
1. Ibanez Tube Screamer (TS808, TS9, Mini)
Brand New: $99.99
Used: $50 - $85
The Tube Screamer is arguably one of the most iconic overdrive pedals out there. Known for its signature “mid-hump” sound, the tube screamer has found real-estate on the pedalboards of great guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mayer, The Edge, Steve Vai, Keith Urban, and many, many more. Due to its popularity, the Tube Screamer is also one of the most copied pedals on the market and you will find many clones that attempt to copy its signature sound.
The Tube Screamer has seen countless model variations over the years, but the most popular models these days are the TS808 (the one that started it all), TS9, and Tube Screamer Mini.
I mentioned previously that this pedal has a signature “mid-hump” (a boost in the mid-range frequencies) sound, so make no mistake, this pedal will color the original tone of your guitar. However, most people get this pedal because of the fact that the pedal has a unique sound to it. If you’re looking for something that retains your guitar’s original tone, while providing a slight overdrive, keep on reading!
2. Electro-Harmonix Soul Food
Brand New: $78
Used: $50 - $70
The Soul Food Overdrive pedal is Electro-Harmonix’ attempt to clone one of the most mythical “transparent” (doesn’t color your original tone) overdrive pedals to exist, the Klon Centaur. And they managed to do it at less than a fraction of the price of a Centaur. Although the Centaur is technically no longer on the market, you can still find listings of the pedal on eBay. However, I wouldn’t bother with the Centaur, as a quick Google search will show you that most people selling the pedal have it at a starting bid of $2,000 and above.
Personally, I would never pay more than $500 for a simple overdrive pedal. Some guitarists would never pay more than $200. Thankfully, the Electro-Harmonix Soul Food does a pretty darn good job at cloning the Centaur, which explains why it was the best-selling overdrive pedal on Reverb between November 2015 - November 2016.
With the gain knob set to about 12 o'clock, the pedal can make your guitar sound like it’s going into a tube amp right at the edge of tube saturation, all while retaining the original tone of your guitar and amp. This is generally what I look for in transparent overdrives. That’s not to say that the Soul Food isn’t that great at high-gain levels. At high-gain levels, it sounds full, rich, and harmonically complex. Perfect for hard rock lead guitars.
The Soul Food can also be used as a clean boost pedal for those moments when you want to take a solo without changing your tone at all. Albert Hammond Jr (The Strokes) and Drew Brown (OneRepublic) have both been seen using this particular pedal.
3. Paul Cochrane Timmy
Brand New: $129
Used: $100 - $120
This is legitimately my favorite overdrive pedal of all time. The Timmy is yet another transparent overdrive similar to the Soul Food. However, the Timmy does not attempt to be a clone of the Centaur. In fact, the Timmy sounds and behaves in its own unique manner, which has led several other pedal makers to attempt to clone it.
Although a brand new Timmy may cost almost twice the price of a Soul Food, what you get in return is completely worth it, at least in my humble opinion.
So we’ve already established that both the Soul Food and Timmy are transparent overdrives, but what sets them apart is the unique EQ knobs on the Timmy. While the Soul Food only has one knob for setting the overall overdrive tone (displayed as a treble knob on the pedal), the Timmy provides us with two knobs for setting our tone: one labeled bass and another labeled treble. This gives us the ability to really carve out a very specific overdrive sound with the Timmy. You can go from a completely transparent clean boost/overdrive tone, to a full-on Tube Screamer mid-hump tone with just a few quick adjustments. Talk about versatility. My main problem with the Timmy is that I can’t find someone selling another one in Singapore.
Another thing I’d like to point out about the Timmy is that it doesn’t have a lot of gain on tap. What that means is that even with the gain knob set to max, it will sometimes leave you wanting more. You’re not going to be playing much AC/DC with this pedal, but when it comes to low-to-mid gain settings, there isn’t another pedal in my mind that can sound better than the Timmy.
Notable artists that use the Timmy include Wayne Sermon of Imagine Dragons, and Audley Freed (Black Crowes, Sheryl Crow, Cry of Love).
4. Fulltone OCD
Brand New: $127.20
Used: $85 - $120
The Fulltone OCD is my current second favorite overdrive pedal.
What I found to be lacking in the Timmy (not enough gain) was easily filled by the OCD. This pedal can truly provide some crazy grit and drive to your tone, especially when stacked (chained before or after) with another overdrive pedal. On its own, the OCD is also touted as a transparent overdrive that can authentically replicate the sound of an overdriven tube amp. With its gain set way up, it goes beyond overdrive and steps into the realm of distortion. Playing some hard rock or even metal is not a problem at all with this beast, and you will find that at high gain settings, you may even have to control some feedback that may occur.
The OCD also responds extremely well to adjustments of the volume knob on your guitar. Even with the gain set to max, simply dialing back the volume knob on your guitar will clean up the dirt on the pedal, and if set low enough, you may even begin to get clean sounds. Just like a real tube amp.
Fulltone pedals are some of the most popular pedals on the market with a large number of artists who swear by their products. Notable artists that have used, or are currently using, an OCD includes Keith Urban, Eric Johnson, Gary Clark Jr, and Joey Santiago.
5. Fulltone Full-Drive2 Mosfet
Brand New: $127.20
Used: $80 - $120
Here is another highly regarded pedal from the Fulltone family. The Full-Drive2 may have a rather large housing compared to the other overdrive pedals on this list, but it has two very unique features that none of the previous pedals have: a separate boost channel, and a toggle to switch between three different drive modes. In terms of versatility, this pedal stands above the others and it’s no wonder that it’s a common sight in many recording studios.
On the main overdrive channel, it can provide overdrive tones similar to the Tube Screamer (mid-hump), or it can provide a great clean boost depending on where the toggle is set.
There are three settings on the toggle switch: Comp-Cut, FM, and Vintage.
- Comp-Cut is essentially just a clean boost, but you can add a little bit of dirt by bringing the overdrive knob up.
- FM is a transparent sounding overdrive similar (but not exactly) to the OCD.
- Vintage is a classic Tube Screamer-style overdrive with an obvious mid-hump.
Just these three different modes alone justify the bigger housing, but that’s not all this pedal offers.
The other footswitch labeled “boost” does exactly what you think it will. This additional channel provides a gain boost going into the overdrive channel that can bring the pedal into distortion. This will result in a nice mid-range growl and a longer sustain (depending on where the boost knob is set).
It’s easy to see why this pedal is the most popular of the Fulltone family, and it may very well be the most popular boutique overdrive pedal in the world. The Full-Drive2 essentially took two pedals and combined them into one and with all the overdrive modes, it may be one of the most versatile overdrive pedals out there.
Notable artists that use, or have used this pedal include John Mayer, Mike Sullivan, Keith Urban, and Tom Petty.
And countless more…
And that’s my list of five popular overdrive pedals. Of course, there are thousands of other models out there, but I decided to stick with pedals that I have experience with. I do not doubt that I may have my own biases considering the type of music I play and listen to asks for a certain overdrive tone, but I know for a fact that these five pedals are some of the most popular overdrive pedals in the world. At the end of the day, the best judge for what overdrive tone fits your need will be yourself, so spend some time checking out YouTube demos to get a good idea of what every pedal sounds like. There are thousands of demo videos out there!