There are many words that are used to describe adding grit to your guitar’s tone. Distortion, drive, overdrive, fuzz, dirt, crunch, grit, gain, burn, saturation, clipping – and there are some that fit the sound you’re going for, and some that don’t. Today, we’re taking a look specifically at just one – overdrive.
The general consensus among present-day metal engineers and players is that a good (probably tube) amp or modeler is the best way to achieve a metal tone – but not by itself. An overdrive pedal in front of the amp is crucial to make the sound more metallic.
An OD pedal can be many things. A boost for your weak signal, some extra gain, a bit of distortion, and (the way we used it for much of this shootout) a tonal control center for your rig, before it hits your amp. I’m of the opinion that everyone should have one, especially if you play heavy music – but before you plunk down your hard-earned scratch, check out these distortion pedal reviews so you can hear what your options are!
We gave 25 pedals 2 minutes each to show you what they can do for your metal tone in:
The Ultimate Metal Overdrive Pedal Shootout!
How to use this interactive shootout
The menu on the right side of the video depicts each of the 25 pedals. To hear a pedal from the beginning, click on it in the video. To hear a pedal from a specific riff/style, open the video description for a list of clickable times for each pedal.
Say you want to hear which pedal is better for doom – the TS9 or the Palisades. Click the time next to “Doom” in the TS9 portion of the description, listen, then click “Doom” under the Palisades in the description. Repeat until you figure out which you prefer.
To hear the difference between the raw amp sound and a certain pedal, click Raw Amp in the onscreen menu, then the pedal you want to hear. We can’t show you every pedal with every amp on earth, but with the raw amp as a control, you can hear the change the pedal makes to the amp, which should be the same change to every amp.
The Shootout Process
The sheer number of possible combinations makes it impossible to truly demonstrate everything any one of these pedals can do. A knob is an infinitely variable potentiometer with constantly changing array of sounds within its circumference, and between 3-7 knobs and sometimes 1 or two switches (the Palisades has 7 knobs and 2 switches), the variations can number in the hundreds of thousands. So I tried to take the most popular uses and apply them to a range of styles, knowing full well that I was not going to please everyone (or maybe anyone, for that matter) but that you would still come away with a pretty good idea of the sounds and features of each pedal.
The sounds you are hearing are completely unprocessed. Guitar reamped into pedal, pedal into amp, amp into cab, cab into microphone into Pro Tools. No EQ, compression, or effects of any kind – we didn’t even raise or lower the volume if a pedal was louder or quieter than another. Everything is exactly as it went in.
I found myself judging each pedal based largely on the tonal range and flavor, as well as the features available. Although often the basic three-knob ones had a sound that was as good or better than the more complex ones, but sometimes it’s a different tool for a different job.
We discovered pretty quickly that on the clean channel, too much of the volume knob made the amp go “BLAT” instead of crunch, so for the clean portion of each we typically backed it off a bit. Also, to get a proper doom sound, you need a fuzz pedal, but we wanted to see how close each one could get (plus it was a good way to demonstrate what the tone knob all the way down sounded like).
Some of the pedals had other features that were not related to the overdrive. For instance, the TC Electronic Nova Drive has a whole distortion side, as did the Fulltone GT-500. In these cases, we ONLY tested the OD section. Maybe someday in the future we’ll do a distortion shootout, but for the purposes of this shootout, we’re keeping it straight up OD.
1. Ibanez TS9
Possibly the most common and popular OD, the TS9 was introduced in the early 80’s as a variation on the TS808. According to Analog Man’s history of the Tube Screamer they are nearly identical to the TS808 but for the output section, which caused them to be brighter than the 808. You’ll have to decide for yourself if you think that’s true by comparing the two. Not true bypass.
$99 on Amazon gets you this green machine.
2. Ibanez TS808
The original Tube Screamer. The one we used is the 35th Anniversary reissue, which is identical in every way to the original except they apparently used JRC4558D chips instead of the 1458 chips. If your OD is green, you have this pedal to thank. No true bypass on this one.
Get the original in reissued form for $199 on Amazon.
The TS808DX is a cool pedal that combines an 808 with a boost pedal that can be put either before or after the OD with the flip of a switch. We didn’t test the boost side, only the OD. It can be run at either 9 or 18 volts. True bypass.
Double down with the DX on Amazon for $234.
4. Maxon OD808
Maxon is the OEM company that built Tube Screamers for Ibanez until striking out on their own in 2003. According to their website, the design is identical aside from a small change to reduce the pedal’s noise.
Here’s Erik Rutan of Hate Eternal talking about using an OD808:
Get it on Amazon for $129.
5. Maxon OD808X
This version of the above OD808 has a harder clipping, increased output (5 dB more), and a low-impedance buffered bypass. I found that the OD808X tone knob had an increased range, giving more low cut than the OD808, yielding more attack and clarity, especially for single note lines.
The X will cost you an extra $30, as this pedal can be had from Amazon for $159.
6. Boss SD-1
The Boss SD-1 is another early OD, dating back to 1981 (according to www.bossarea.com, click for the SD-1 history). Based on the OD-1, the only change was the addition of a Tone knob. For such an early design, it has a pretty broad range with the tone knob, and a nice smooth sound.
JHS is not a company known for making metal effects. They always have the best looking booth at NAMM, but we’ll just say they’re just as comfortable at the country-friendly Summer NAMM as they are in Anaheim in the winter. But they do make a tasty OD, brewed illegally in washtubs up in the mountains – the Moonshine.
A simple 3 knob jobber with a twist – a switch that changes the kind of clipping the pedal uses. We encountered a couple of these throughout the shootout, and we filmed the end clean bit using both clipping modes, so you can hear what each sounds like. For the Moonshine, the switch down is more distorted. It also uses internal conversion to run at 18 volts on a 9 volt adapter.
You can get the Moonshine direct from JHS online for $199.
The EHX Soul Food isn’t based on a Tube Screamer – it’s based instead on the Klon Centaur, the other most imitated (and expensive) OD pedal. Unfortunately we couldn’t get our hands on a Klon (anybody want to donate one?) but if you click here you will find several comparisons between the two. This is the first of 3 Electro-Harmonix pedals we tried.
The Soul Food is another affordable one, at only $66.95 from Amazon.
This one is a straight-up Tube Screamer clone. Pretty dead on, if this shootout is any indication.
But at $62 on Amazon, it’s a bit cheaper.
EHX’s description of the OD Glove is pretty vague, with no information regarding the Tone Shift switch other than acknowledging its existence. Rather mysterious, but it did win a Guitar Player magazine Editor’s Pick award. I was able to discover with a little research that it uses MOSFET clipping, and that it has an internal switch for 9 or 18 volts.
There was something really sinister about the Glove’s sound during the black metal portion of the demo. Tell me if you heard it too – like the howling of damned souls. See, that’s why I did this thing, for cool discoveries like that.
See if the Glove fits on Amazon for $62.
I have a bit of painful confession to make – I kinda fucked up on this one. I didn’t do my research as well as I should have. The Stardust is not like other ODs – the way the tone knob sounds is based on how high you have the drive knob. The more drive, the less high pass. I didn’t realize this and so I kept the drive very low (all the way down allowed no sound to come out), which caused the tone knob to act as an extreme high pass filter, even at the lowest setting. This, of course, caused me to think it was broken, and the subsequent performance that was recorded is one of frustration and misunderstanding of what is actually a really cool pedal. I hope to remedy my mistake with a proper demo and review of the pedal later, as it is deserving of a do-over.
With that much high pass, you had better believe this thing will djent.
Get some Stardust for Ziggy for $215 from MusicToyz.com.
Despite a kind of weak aesthetic design, the Shredder X is a formidable OD. Unlike all the previous pedals, it is specifically designed for metal, and more specifically is the signature pedal of Sonny Lambardozzi of Incantation. It has a great deal of gain on tap, and the tone knob goes a long way.
Here’s somebody’s demo of it with a Soldano – sounds damn good.
You can only get the Shredder X direct from ReVolt for $169.
We actually demoed this pedal last year, and it’s another one that’s designed for heavy music. It’s the basis for the design of all the myriad of Pro Tone’s signature ODs for their metal artists. This is another one with two clipping modes accessible via the Diode switch, and we demonstrated both modes accordingly. I actually found it to be similar to the Shredder X, although as always, you’ll have to compare them in the video to decide for yourself. True bypass.
Beat this Dead Horse for $219 direct from Pro Tone Pedals.
This is another real simple one, but still one of the better sounding 3 knob pedals. Lower gain than some of the others, the Frank is an LED-based OD with a slightly different tone that I liked. Hard to put my finger on it…. It just sounded nice. I know that’s not particularly objective, or scientific, but whatever. You’ll hear it.
Here’s where we start getting into the 4+ knob pedals, which were a bit trickier to change on the fly – but are generally a bit more flexible. The Ibanez ST-9 variant was one of the first to have four knobs, but for some reason are incredibly rare. On the ST9, the fourth knob was a Mid Boost, on the Mayflower we have individual Bass and Treble controls instead of a Tone knob. This one doomed out especially nicely due to the 2-band EQ. True bypass.
According to the website, the 805 was based on the 808, but they decided on the MC33178 chip rather than the JRC4558D. It also has a 3-band EQ, giving it a great deal of tonal shaping.
Here’s a bit of Keith Merrow using the 805 in a similar context:
Grab one on Amazon for $139.95.
This is an interesting one. An extra knob for volume acts as an input gain section that is similar to guitar amp circuits to allow level compensation for pickups of differing output as well as boost. It’s also another pedal that internally converts the 9v to 18v for increased headroom. The most intriguing thing, however, is the Fat switch, which compensates for the lost low end when turning up the Tone knob. This allows for a sound that cuts while still maintaining a thumping low end. This is great for leads, because I found that in order for your lead sound to be smooth it needs a fair amount of low end (if smooth is what you’re going for). But because of this, it djents poorly, and didn’t give me the crunch I was looking for in the rhythm department.
It has something called SCT – “S.C.T Circuit – In standard”true bypass” circuits the instrument signal passes through two switch contacts when bypassed. The ROD-1 Single Contact True Bypass configuration ensures that the signal only passes through one switch contact when bypassed, for unmatched signal quality as well as reliability.” according to the website description.
Get one direct from Providence for $199.
18. VFE Ice Scream
The Ice Scream, like the Focus pedal we reviewed from VFE, has some very powerful high and low cut knobs that allow for extreme tone shaping. The Ice Scream adds a Mid knob and a drive level into the mix for even further control. It also includes 9v-18v conversion (I’m starting to see a theme), and a cool feature called dual mode switching, where you can turn the pedal into a momentary switch (the effect is only on when your foot is on the button). This one is a shoo-in for djent or anything that requires really really tight sounds.
Here’s Kirk Harris giving you a taste:
Get a big scoop of Ice Scream direct from VFE for $199.
The Talons is a unique unit, the only one in the shootout with a Presence control like an amp might have. Normally you find a Presence knob on the power section of an amplifier, so having it on a pedal is a bit unusual, but I say, the more control, the better. And that’s a Presence control in addition to a 3-band EQ. All-analog, true bypass.
The Talons can be had directly from EarthQuaker (they have been known to send a bag of coffee with your order too!) for $195.
This is the top of the line for MXR. Designed by guest Custom Shop engineer Carlo Sorasio, Italy’s premier boutique amp and pedal builder, it uses MOSFET technology to imitate tube amp preamp distortion. It features a Boost/OD switch to use the pedal in different modes, and a 3-band EQ. It uses a form of buffered bypass called a Class A Low Impedance Output Driver. It’s also sparkly blue!
Get the Il Torino for 119.99 on Amazon.
Ok, so clearly this is not technically an OD pedal. TC were kind enough to send us a MojoMojo OD, which conveniently arrived a couple days after we shot the shootout. The Spark Booster had arrived some time before, and had a surprising amount of gain for a boost, so we went with it. It features an active 2-band EQ, a mini-toggle Fat/Clean/Mid (we mostly left it on Fat), 26dB of boost, and true bypass. And kind of a lot of gain for a boost, did I say that already? Like, it might be kind of mislabeled.
The Spark Booster is currently on sale on Amazon for eleventy-one dollars ($111).
This one is easily the most sophisticated of the bunch. If nothing else, it has far and away the most knobs. switches, and buttons. It has 2 separate gain knobs with a footswitch to go between the two, a footswitchable boost, tone knob, a normal/bright switch, a buffer switch, 5 bandwidth settings, and no fewer than 6 different clipping modes.
The bandwidth wheel was my favorite part, and it essentially makes your tone tighter the lower the number. This is great for tightening up rhythm tracks and can actually get too tight if you want it to. Used in conjunction with the tone knob you can really dial in monster tones. When I was saying earlier that the possible combinations could number in the hundreds of thousands, I was speaking mainly of this pedal.
I blew it a little bit on the djent portion of the demo, only because I was trying to demonstrate how you could use the bandwidth knob to incrementally tighten your tone, but I did it too slowly and the effect wasn’t as I’d hoped. But rest assured, it tightens the living crap out of your tone if you let it.
It wound up getting the most screen time because I wanted to show the difference between each of the 6 clipping modes. It’s rare in metal that you would use the OD clipping as your primary distortion sound, mainly because there just isn’t really enough of it. But using it conjunction with your amp’s preamp distortion can yield tasty results.
23. Fulltone GT-500
This one is a OD/Boost and Distortion pedal in one, with a switch that can place either effect before the other. This would be handy in a live situation to be able to have the switchable combination of each at your feet. It was about at this point in the shootout that I decided I prefer a single Tone knob to a 2 or 3-band EQ, even though it’s less flexible. It seems different somehow, that a Tone cranked up had more low cut and mid boost than turning down the bass knob on an EQ. Is there any reason it shouldn’t have both?
It’s unclear whether this one is true bypass – it’s not indicated anywhere on the website.
Get it on Amazon for $119.
24. Morley JD10
There is actually very little info I could find on this pedal anywhere – the JD stand for Jerry Donahue (a country guitarist from the Hellecasters), and it’s not just an OD – it’s also a direct recording DI box, complete with cab simulation. Swedish power metal keyboard master Jens Johansson also uses the JD-10 on his distinctive lead tone (more on that later). The design is by a British company called Award-Session, for whom I believe Morley was manufacturing the pedal. It’s based on a rackmount pre from 1991 called the Sessionmaster.
I found a pretty fascinating article detailing the history of this pedal/preamp here, with all the details of the pedal itself. Also here is a post from designer Stewart Ward talking about the differences between the MKI and MKII.
I thought it held up pretty well for such a weird design that’s all but discontinued (Morley no longer makes them). The only drawback I found was that this thing is, like, whatever the opposite of true bypass is. Always on? Not quite, but it had a significant effect on the signal even when bypassed. It could be because this was an older unit, but who knows.
You can get an Award-Session branded one from Atomic Guitars who is their US distributor here for $199.
This one is unique in the lineup – an all-analog signal path that is digitally controlled. This means you can store presets in the pedal and select them from the footswitch or via MIDI. It can also be integrated into TC’s G-System effects processor and be controlled by that.
It’s another one with both OD and distortion sides, and the OD side had one control that was unique – a mix knob for blending direct and overdriven tones. This isn’t something we explored in this but I think it could be extremely useful – cranking the tone knob to get a really tight, cutting sound, but also blending in some of the unaltered tone to preserve some low end in your signal. You can also run the distortion into the OD or vice/versa, and control it with an external switch. True bypass.
Get it on Amazon for $249.