Best Overdrive Pedals Under $150 – Get Inspired by Your Tone
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Overdrive pedals – they come in a million different shapes, sizes, colours and prices. Although they all play the same role in your signal chain, they are frequently very different from each other. Some are louder, have more gain and tone shaping features (think heavier sounds like modern rock bands). Others are more about pushing your amp into that edge of breakup sound we’ve all grown to love by listening to artists like Chuck Berry, Rory Gallagher or Stevie Ray Vaughan.
It’s often a great advantage to be able to get this kind of sound without having to run your amp at ear shattering volumes, or to get it from amps that don’t really distort that much when you turn them up. With hundreds of options at our disposal these days, we can create a gigantic palette of sounds that will cover anything from blues to heavy rock or metal. You can even pair them together and obtain sounds that you wouldn’t get from a single pedal. The possibilities are endless, but you need to know where to invest your money in order to get the sound you hear in your head to come out of your amp.
We’ve put together a list of great options that will still inspire you to play thing.
Buffered Bypass/Enhanced Bypass
EHX Soul Food
True/Buffered Bypass selectable with internal toggle switch
Fulltone Full-Drive 3
Drive + Boost with many EQ options
1. Fulltone OCD
First up on our list is already a classic. The OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Drive) by Fulltone is a pedal you’ve probably heard on a great number of records, and that didn’t happen by chance.
Overview and Features
This overdrive does an impressive job at replicating the dynamics and harmonics of a tube amp set to produce a naturally distorted tone. It is very simple to operate: you get Level, Tone and Gain knobs, and a HP/LP toggle switch (High P00eak/Low Peak). It is true bypass, meaning it won’t color your tone when it’s disengaged. You can power it with a 9V battery or power supply, and there’s a bonus: you can run it at 18V, and that’s when it really opens up and sings.
Like all Fulltone products, this model is also made in the USA with quality components that have been made to last. It measures 2.1” x 2.5” x 4.5” (H x W x D) and weighs 1lb. The faithful tube distortion sound is made possible through a unique combination of JFET op-amp inside the pedal and a pair of MOSFETs placed later in the circuit, designed for hard-clipping. The Class-A wired JFET input raises the impedance to 1 Mega ohm, which makes this pedal pair better with all kinds of pickups. It also helps with touch sensitivity that you feel, no matter how you set the knobs. The output impedance is 10k ohms and it has approximately 8 mA of current draw. In the most recent models, Fulltone has included one of their innovations, called “Enhanced Bypass”, which is an enhanced version of the commonly used buffered bypass. This helps keep your signal alive, fresh and powerful, even if you’re running a lot of cables between your guitar and amp, while maintaining everything in phase, without affecting the EQ. The switch on this pedal is designed and built by Fulltone using only the best parts available – the Fulltone 3PDT footswitch.
You can cover a huge array of sounds with the Fulltone OCD. Set the Level knob higher and the Gain lower to get an edge of breakup tone, or turn up the gain and dive into distortion territory. You can go from blues to metal with the twist of a knob, always conserving a natural warmness that you won’t find on every pedal you pick off the shelf.
One of the things that set this apart from other dirt boxes is the fact that it’s stupendously responsive to your guitar’s volume knob and picking dynamics. Some overdrives always sound compressed and harsh no matter how you set them, but not the OCD. You can spend a very long time fiddling with the controls until you find the sweet spot that goes perfectly with your guitar, amplifier and even other pedals you may be thinking of pairing this with.
This is something you should really try for yourself if you’re looking to add tonal variety to your arsenal, or if you need a small pedal with a huge array of sounds.
2. Ibanez TS9
Overview and History
The Ibanez TS9, or “tubescreamer” has been around since the 80’s and it has been a staple on countless pedalboards ever since. Made popular by the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughan, this pedal is mostly used as a way to hit the front end of your amplifier very hard, pushing it into a natural overdrive that has sustain and cuts through the mix easily, as it is known for its mid boosting capabilities.
This pedal has other versions, such as the TS808 (which came out a little sooner in the 70’s), TS9 Mini, among others. It has been cloned and modded more than almost any other pedal. World renowned players such as Carlos Santana, The Edge, Buddy Guy, Kirk Hammet, Gary Moore, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and dozens more swear by this little dirt box. It just shows that it’s not necessary to spend hundreds of dollars on a pedal to take your tone to the next level. You’ll probably find one of these at almost any studio, as it’s a fantastic tool that can make all the difference when used properly.
Main Features and Purposes
Like the former pedal we’ve shown, it has Level, Tone and Drive knobs. Most people will use the Level a bit higher than the Drive, but as with all pedals, experimenting to your heart’s content is the best way of finding your sound.
It can be used for a variety of purposes. For once, you can use it on its own to push the front end of your amp and fatten up your sound. Alternatively, you can put it after your other overdrive/distortion pedal of choice on your chain, and switch it on for a boost in volume and mid-frequencies. This ensures you get the sustain you need for that blazing guitar solo. You’ll see lots of metal guitarists using this to tighten up their sound.
It isn’t exactly what you would call a “transparent overdrive” as many pedals are labelled nowadays. You wouldn’t call it an “amp-in-a-box” pedal either, like some that claim to put you into the territory of certain amps like hot rodded Marshalls or cranked Fender Tweed amps. The tubescreamer will definitely color your tone with its signature “mid-hump”, but that might be just what you’re looking for in certain scenarios.
It’s possible to power it via 9V batteries or using a power source. If you flip it over, you’ll notice you can change batteries without having to remove any screws, which could potentially come very handy in a live situation in case something unpredictable happens. It’s a buffered bypass pedal and weighs about 1.3 pounds. It measures 2” x 3” x 4.9” (H x W x D). It has an input impedance of 500Kohms and an output impedance of 10Kohms. It can deliver a maximum gain of +30dB.
Overview and Features
Electro Harmonix [EHX] has been known for decades for legendary pedals such as the Deluxe Memory Man and the Big Muff. The next overdrive on our list is a part of their offer, and it resembles a pedal that has attained a hype that very few can get, the Klon Centaur. The EHX Soul Food aims to give you a similar sound and feel without having to spend all your life savings on a dirt box.
This overdrive is quite transparent, meaning you will be able to conserve your natural guitar tone, just with a boost in volume and gain, which you can control using the top two knobs. You get a Treble knob to adjust the amount of high end on your signal. Very responsive to touch and picking dynamics, so you can use your guitar’s volume knob and picking hand to obtain multiple sounds. All of this without having to engage/disengage other pedals in your chain.
It is well built, rugged and made to endure a lot, whether at home, rehearsals or gigs. A plus point is that you can actually toggle between true bypass and buffered bypass. In true bypass mode, you’ll have it completely removed from your chain when switched off. In buffered bypass mode, you’ll take advantage of the buffer inside to prevent high end loss. This is a great feature when you’re running a lot of cables in between your guitar and your amplifier.
You can power it with a 9V battery or a center negative power source. This pedals weighs 0.55lbs and measures 2.1” x 2.75” x 4.5” (H x W x D). Its input impedance is 1Mohm, and the output impedance ranges from 650ohm to 3.3Kohm. The current draw is 22mA.
You really can’t expect the same range of overdriven tones from this one as you’d expect from other units such as the Fulltone OCD. Think of this as a lighter overdrive that you could potentially use as a clean boost after another dirt box. It will not color your tone, and it’ll be the perfect addition for a solo. Alternatively, it can be used as an “always on” pedal to push your clean tone a little. This gives it a bit of extra volume and sustain, which is how most people use the pedal that inspired this one – the uber-hyped Klon Centaur.
4.Boss BD-2 Blues Driver
Overview and History
Next on our list is one that has been around for over 20 years, and it’s made by a company that has already secured its place as one of the biggest pedal manufacturers in the history of music. It is the Boss BD-2 Blues Driver, a classic blues stompbox that delivers a truthful emulation of the blues tones you’ve heard countless times on records by artists like Eric Clapton, John Mayer, Jeff Healey, and others. Many artists have embraced this as one of their main overdrives over the years.
Main Features and Purposes
As with most simple pedals of this kind, you get Level, Tone and Gain controls. By now you’re familiar with what each of them do. You will get classic blues tones out of this, but it has also proven its worth in heavier types of music. Crank the Drive knob and you’ll get a creamy, crunchy distortion.
Since it’s quite responsive to touch as well, a quick turn of your volume knob will get you back to the edge of breakup sound, until you need to blast off into a sonic boom of sustain and rich harmonics. Pair it with one of the pedals we’ve mentioned previously and you’ll have a very wide range of tones under your feet.
You can power it with a 9V battery or with a power source (Boss recommends using their PSA Series adapter), and it weighs 1 pound. It measures 2.32” x 2.87” x 5.08” (H x W x D). Its input impedance is 1Mohms, and the output impedance is 1Kohms. Both nominal input and output levels are -20dBu. It has a current draw of 9mA when powered at 9V DC, and its equivalent input noise level is -118dBu.
5. Fulltone Full-Drive 3
The last pedal on our list comes from a manufacturer we’ve talked about already, but this one has a fine twist: it’s actually 2 independent pedals combined in one enclosure! The Full-Drive 3 is something you should consider if you’re looking to fill more than one spot of your board at once, or if you want to have a plethora of options at your feet. It’s not one of the traditional “Volume, Tone and Gain” pedals.
At first glance, we see 2 switches, one for the main overdrive, and one for the boost. Remember that these work independently from one another – you can use just the boost on top of your clean tone, for example. We see Volume, Tone, Overdrive and Boost knobs, as well as a couple toggle switches and a smaller Dynamics knob. We’ll get into detail shortly.
The main features that we should highlight from this tone machine are the following:
There is a Clipping Toggle Switch that will take you in between 3 different sounds, each with their unique characteristics. There’s the “90’s”, which will give you symmetrical clipping with a wide midrange. “Wide Asym” (wide asymmetrical clipping) will give you lots of harmonic overtones, similar to a Class-A tube amp. Lastly, “Comp-Cut”, the most aggressive of all 3, will give you a big, cutting volume boost that pushes your amp to the limit. This is made possible by having no diode clipping assistance.
Another feature that sets the Fulltone Full Drive 3 apart from all the other pedals mentioned before is the fact that it has two independent channels. This opens up a bunch of options. From your clean tone, you can add a little volume boost to stand out in a certain part, or engage an overdrive. On the other hand, you might already have the overdrive side engaged, and you can add the boost to give you more volume and gain for a solo or a heavier section.
The icing on the cake is that there’s a toggle switch to place the boost channel after or before the overdrive, giving you total control on how these two will sound when you combine them!
Directly underneath the bigger “Boost” knob, you’ll find a smaller knob named “Dynamics”. It controls a germanium diode limiter circuit that tames down transient spikes which could otherwise overload the amp. It can basically ensure that this pedal can be tweaked so that it’s accepted by any amp you plug it into. This circuit is an exclusive design by Fulltone.
There are other features worth mentioning about this pedal, such as the fact that you can, much like the OCD, power it with 9v or 18v for more headroom. The more recent versions are equipped with a high quality JFET op-amp buffer. This ensures that your sound will retain the high end that it leaves your amplifier with, instead of dying down after making its way through a few meters of cable.
This pedal is 20% smaller than its predecessor, the Full-Drive 2. This unit measures 2.36” x 5.17” x 4.26” (H x W x D) and weighs 1lbs 7oz. Its input impedance is 1.1 mega-ohms and its output Impedance is 180 ohms. It consumes a maximum of 13mA when both channels are engaged.
Nowadays, with so many pedal manufacturers, boutique brands, and with so much hype around certain models, it’s easy to get overwhelmed when trying to decide what will be the next addition on our pedalboard. Consequently, it’s easy to get caught up with the fact that it’s necessary to spend a lot in order to buy a quality product. The truth is there are excellent options at higher prices, some of them might be dual channel drives that can cover a lot of ground on their own, but it’s also true that a professional tone can be obtained while taking care of your wallet’s integrity!
These options we’ve presented can be yours a fair price, and all of them have great qualities that can be useful for just about anyone. As always, you should try out the pedal before buying. Try it with your own gear if you have the chance, too. The same pedal will always react distinctly with different amp and guitar combinations.
Also, think of what kind of sound you’re going for in your head. Do you want an all-out full range distortion? Are you perhaps looking for a little boost to put on top of your current favorite dirt box? Or is it more a question of cutting through the mix in a studio or live situation? It’s crucial to draw this plan in your head before investing. You might be buying a great pedal, but end up unsatisfied because it’s great at doing something you were not looking for in the first place.
Try out as many as you can and in time you will get better at transforming the sound in your head into a well sculpted guitar tone coming out of your gear!
What does an overdrive pedal do?
The term overdrive comes from the effect you get by turning the volume up on a tube amplifier, to the point where it starts breaking up naturally. The disadvantage of this is that you need to crank the amp to a point where the volume can be too much for the place where you’re playing, especially if we’re talking about an apartment or a small venue.
An overdrive pedal can give you the best of both worlds. You can play at a comfortable volume, adjust it, and still get that beautiful, slightly saturated and compressed sound as you’d get with a roaring amp. These pedals can also be used to hit the front end of an amp even harder when the sound is already breaking up, augmenting those qualities.
The majority of models will have two gain stages (input and output volume) frequently labelled as Volume/Level and Gain/Drive. Additionally, there are usually controls to adjust the tone you want, such as a single Tone knob or individual knobs for Bass, Middle and Treble frequencies.
What is the difference between overdrive and distortion?
You can think of a distortion pedal as a more aggressive version of the overdrive. They have a lot more sustain, gain, saturation, and they will color your tone a lot more. Thus, this is something to consider if you are looking for something that doesn’t change the character of your instrument too much. It is also a reason to try as many different pedals as you can, to see which one best replicates the sound in your head.
As opposed to the soft clipping sound we have on overdrive pedals, distortions use hard clipping that saturates your sound to a point where it’s heavy, dirty and tight. You will experience much more compression than with an overdrive pedal, and your notes will transition into feedback much quicker. Think of grunge, hard rock and metal bands. Their sounds come mainly from distortion units, or from stacking different pedals to create a much more saturated tone.
What is a transparent overdrive?
This is a word that seems to be appearing more and more with time. You can say that a transparent overdrive doesn’t affect or change the EQ of what you put before it. If you’ve ever tried a pedal such as a Boss DS1, you will notice that it takes what you have and drastically alters it for a certain EQ curve. A very good example of a transparent overdrive would be the “Timmy”, developed by Paul Cochrane. Klon type pedals are often put into this category as well.
These pedals are known for preserving your instruments unique voice rather than making several guitars all sound very similar when played through the same pedal. They usually have high headroom and aren’t very focused on having a lot of gain.
What is the best guitar overdrive pedal?
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell you which pedal is the best of them all. There are so many types of overdrives, with so many different voices, features and purposes, that the one that works best for someone might be useless for another guitarist.
The price isn’t a good way to measure that either, as some pedals often reach ludicrous prices for their rarity or because they’ve been made very popular by a certain artist. Sometimes, a night and day difference on your sound could be less than $100 away.
Pedals such as the Analogman King of Tone and the Klon Centaur have a lot of prestige in the guitar community, but none of these have a lot of gain on tap. This could mean that a guitarist playing in a hard rock band might feel like he would be better off with something dirtier than these examples. A blues guitarist will probably feel in heaven playing one of these two.
The trick is to experiment as much as possible and see what works best for you in every situation. You might need to cover a lot of different sounds in the same gig, so having 3 or 4 flavours of overdrive might work wonders on your rig. You should also experiment with stacking. Many well-known musicians have reached their signature tone by combining elements rather than sticking to one pedal only.
What is the difference between Drive and Overdrive?
You’ll see the words Drive and Overdrive on many amplifiers and pedals. When you’re a beginner, it’s easy to find this confusing and think that they have different meanings and utilities. They are pretty much the same thing. When you have a higher input volume, it will drive your amp harder. It will get to a point where the signal starts clipping and distorting, and that’s what’s called pushing it into overdrive. The signal is no longer clean because it has run out of headroom.
Some pedals even replace these names for others, purely for aesthetics or to go along with the theme of the pedal in question. For instance, the Beetronics Overhive has the word "Honey” instead of Gain. Most of the times, if you don’t comprehend what that knob does just by reading the name, fiddling with the controls for a few seconds will let you know what it would be called in more “conventional” terms.
Is Gain the same as Overdrive?
Not quite. Gain can be defined as a general boost applied to your signal that doesn’t interfere with its equalization, it does not color your tone. You’ll see this term popping up in amplifiers, pedals, and other kinds of music gear such as audio interfaces, mixers, and so on. It’s measured in dB (decibels). Increasing the gain means you’re amplifying the signal. On an overdrive pedal or amp, your sound will start getting louder (although this isn’t a volume control!) and it will increase in saturation and sustain.
As seen before, overdrive is the sound effect obtained when a tube amp starts to break up and compress naturally. You hear the sound clipping as opposed to having a clean and pristine tone. Overdrive pedals mimic this so that you can obtain the same effect without having to turn up your amp to uncomfortable volumes.
What is the best overdrive pedal for blues?
When you're playing blues, you usually don't need a very dirty and distorted sound. Think of artists like Buddy Guy, BB King, Muddy Waters or Stevie Ray Vaughan. Their guitar tones weren't drowning in gain, even though they could sustain notes well enough. The secret to obtain this tone is taking a pedal like the Ibanez TS9 or the Electro Harmonix Soul Food to push the front end of a tube amplifier, giving you a natural breakup that should be just enough for this style of music. Since dynamics are very important in blues, it's often best to have a less compressed sound rather than a blaring distortion when it isn't necessary. Remember, sometimes less is more!
A good way to setup your sound for this would be to have your guitar's volume on 10, adjust your amp and pedals to have as much drive as you'll need for a solo, and then lower the volume a little on the guitar for a rhythm section of a song. This way, you can control everything from your guitar. Alternatively, you can setup your amp to break up a little, and engage a pedal like the Boss BD-2 Blues Driver to boost it into distortion. Like we've discussed earlier, if your amp is usually clean, even when at high volumes, you could start with the BD-2 straight away, and use something like a clean boost if you need an extra push.
As always, there isn't a universal rule. Some people like to use fuzz pedals for blues, and others enjoy stacking pedals to obtain a unique combination of sounds. There are hundreds of options on the market, so experiment to your heart's content and you're bound to find something that inspires you to play things you would never play before!
What is the best overdrive pedal for tube amps?
When choosing an overdrive pedal to pair with a tube amp, there are a few things to take into consideration. What is your objective? Do you want to obtain all of your dirty tones from the pedal alone, or do you want to use it as a means to push your amplifier into distortion? Is your amp very clean, even at high volumes, or does it break up easily? Knowing how to address this key behavior of tube amps is crucial when deciding which pedals to use. The same model would sound different through a solid state amplifier that doesn't have the same kind of organic response.
For instance, if you are playing through something like a Fender Twin Reverb, you will have a hard time pushing it into overdrive, as it has a very high wattage and a lot of headroom. If you wish to get a nice compressed and dirty tone out of it, you're probably better off with a pedal like the Full Drive 3, rather than the Soul Food. Many people opt for the so called "amp-in-a-box" pedals. These are supposed to be plugged into a very clean amp, and give you a very specific sound on top of that clean base. Good examples of this type of pedal are the JHS Angry Charlie, Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret, MXR EVH 5150, Friedman BE-OD, among many others.
However, if you're connecting your guitar to a low wattage amp such as a Fender Princeton, you'll notice that it will start to break up a lot sooner, at a lower volume. Because of this, you could use a pedal with less gain and still obtain that filthy overdrive sound we all crave.
In summary, it depends on where you are and on where you want to end up. This is why it's important to know the capabilities of the pedals we consider buying, as some will be perfect for a certain job, and others will be miles from accomplishing it.
What is the best overdrive pedal for metal?
Metal music is known for having guitars with aggressive, distorted tones. Many players opt by getting an amp more focused on distorted tones rather than clean tones. Amps like Marshall, Peavey, Soldano, Diezel, for instance.
However, it’s possible to achieve this type of sound with pedals. As stated earlier, there isn’t a universal “best pedal” for a specific genre, but there’s one thing we should say. In order to obtain the filthy, compressed sounds of metal guitarists, you should consider stacking a couple of overdrives, or think about getting a distortion pedal instead, which will give you a lot more gain by itself. Taking a couple examples from our list, using the Fulltone OCD as a base tone and stacking the Ibanez TS9 to increase gain and tightness makes for a mean combo. Alternatively, you could replace the OCD for the Full Drive 3, which also has more available gain than some of the other examples we’ve given.
If you want to go with one pedal only, we recommend checking out models such as the JHS Angry Charlie, the Friedman BE-OD or the Wampler Triple Wreck. These have more gain on tap when compared to the pedals on our list, so you won’t feel the need to crank that knob!