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Metal guitarists have a huge range of overdrive pedals to choose from.
After face-melting distortion or just a satisfying crunch?
Here are the best overdrive pedals for metal.
From death metal to thrash metal, rap metal to progressive metal, nu-metal to Celtic metal, there’s a lot of ground to cover when it comes to metal guitar tones.
Whether you’re after a pedal that can provide all the distortion you need, or one that works best when paired with your amp’s distortion, there’s a wide range of overdrive stompboxes available to you.
What Are The Best Overdrive Pedals For Metal?
It wasn’t an easy choice, but our best all-around pedal for metal goes to the Fulltone OCD. The unique circuitry, super musical tones and option to use true or enhanced bypass switching make it a dream to use. If you’re on a tighter budget, you can’t go wrong with the Boss SD-1. If money isn’t an issue, look to the Horizon Devices Precision Drive.
With the short version out of the way, let’s dive into the full list below.
The original OCD is a classic overdrive pedal with a sound that's unmatched. The revamped OCD Version 2 is stocked with inimitable OCD tone, unique circuitry, and the option to use true or enhanced bypass switching.
Here is my personal favorite overdrive pedal – the Fulltone OCD. They’ve been around for more than a decade, and many guitar players in a wide range of genres consider them to be one of the best distortion pedals around.
This pedal sounds like the ‘sweet spot’ on a high-quality tube amp.
It just gives you this warm and full overdrive/distortion tone – it’s surely the richest overdrive you can get from a pedal.
Many fans of this pedal (including myself) also use it to sound like an amp. If you have an amplifier that you don’t think has enough gain or power, use this pedal as a starting point for your tone and stack additional distortion and overdrive effects to achieve the perfect sound.
A few guitarists who frequently use the Fulltone OCD are Jamie Cook (Arctic Monkeys), Jonny Buckland (Coldplay), Eric Johnson, Joe Perry, Lee Malia (Bring Me the Horizon), Greg Howe, and Al Di Meola.
Richard Zven Kruspe of Rammstein uses the Fulltone OCD in this live clip from Madison Square Garden:
Just like the pedals above, the SD-1 comes with three simple but powerful control knobs – level, tone, and drive. This SD-1 emulates the sound of a tube amp that has the gain turned all the way up. It adds a powerful kick to the sound, and really does sound like BOSS fit a huge amp inside of a pedal.
Like all BOSS pedals, the construction is super sturdy. You can drop it or even throw it at a wall and it will still work! It’s a pedal that you can definitely rely on for the rest of your life.
Overall the tone is warm but edgy, and rich in harmonics. The three controls are very sensitive and precise, allowing you to explore many different distortion types.
The BOSS SD-1 has been adored by many guitarists in all sorts of musical styles, from John Frusciante, Jimmy Page, Prince, Mike Stern, and Mick Thompson.
Horizon Devices is a company that was co-founded by none other than Misha Mansoor of Periphery. In its conception, the Precision Drive was actually an overdrive pedal that Misha Mansoor “always wanted but was shocked no one had made it”.
This is the ultimate overdrive pedal created with metal and hard rock tones in mind, and it’s considered the new standard of modern overdrive pedals.
First off, Precision Drive has the usual Volume, Bright, and Drive switches to control the overall volume, the amount of treble, and the amount of gain. But it also has an “Attack” knob, which is rather unusual for a pedal of this type.
When this knob is turned counterclockwise, you get more low end and punch. When it’s turned clockwise, you get a tighter sound with more attack. There is also an additional “gate” knob, which is a simple noise gate for taming noise and hum.
For metal players, this pedal works best when you already have a strong metal sound from the amp. You can then use this pedal to control the overall punch, gain, and tightness before your amp’s distortion.
Here is Misha Mansoor himself talking about the pedal and demoing the pedal.
Horizon Precision Drive at a glance:
Designed by Horizon Devices with Misha Mansoor.
Adjustable Noise Gate knob.
Volume, Bright, Drive knob + Attack knob.
Modern overdrive pedal.
4. Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer
The Ibanez TS808 is a legendary pedal that has been around since the ’70s. It is one of the most popular pedals in rock music, and for good reason.
With an extremely simple design and just three controls (overdrive, tone, and level) you can go from a warm & beautiful crunch to an all-out death metal shredding tone real quick.
This pedal is great at boosting the mids and helping your guitar cut through a sea of loud noise. The new version is a reissue of the classic, and it hosts the same chip and analog circuitry as the original one from the ’70s.
Or, you can use it for warm overdrive sounds – perfect for blues and rock. Another way to use this pedal is to crank it all the way up to get a fully distorted sound that is perfect for metal! It screams without turning things into complete mush.
The OD808 is famous for the inclusion of the original JRC4558D chip, which is the very same chip used in the original Ibanez 808s.
It comes at an affordable price of around $150, and you would’ve heard countless guitarists like Joe Satriani, Misha Mansoor, Devin Townsend, and many more using it.
Maxon OD808 at a glance:
Original JRC4558D chip.
Simple design with overdrive, balance, and tone.
Classic warm overdrive sounds to metal tones.
Boosts mids to cut through the mix.
6. Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer
The Ibanez TS9 is one of the most imitated overdrive pedals ever. It has a distinctive sound that has been heard on countless records. Making their debut in 1981, the TS9 Tube Screamers are a later version of the TS808. Although very similar to the original Tube Screamers, the TS9 houses slightly different electronics than the TS808.
While the TS808 has a smooth, vintage sound, the TS9 sounds more modern and edgy by comparison. The TS9 is also $50 cheaper than the TS808. Both are equally great overdrive pedals, but to find out which you like more, you really have to try them both out at the end of the day.
The TS9 is really perfect for most genres – rock, metal, blues, and country. There is not much of a learning curve to the pedal, and the slight nuances make it an incredibly versatile pedal. You would’ve heard this pedal used by John Mayer, James Hetfield, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ray Toro, and Buddy Guy.
Ibanez TS9 at a glance:
Incredibly popular overdrive pedal heard on countless recordings.
The Mjolnir is a tweaked version of one of the most sought after overdrives, and the latest version offers some updated tonal changes. The Gain control has been tweaked for more clean headroom and a sweeter drive sound. It still features a buffered bypass.
This “boutique overdrive pedal” is an amazing stompbox produced by Mythos, who are based out of Nashville, a city that is synonymous with rock music. This pedal is essentially a clone of the Klon Centaur. True to the name, the Centaur is a mythical beast of overdrive pedals, and they certainly weren’t cheap in their day.
They are considered legendary to guitarists across the globe due to its transparent overdrive circuit. The Centaur allowed the natural sound of the guitar and the amp to come through so that it did not dominate the sound.
This feature makes it the perfect choice for guitarists who want to retain the natural sound of their guitar and amp, while still adding just a touch of magic.
With a vintage-looking gold color and font, the Mjolnir Overdrive comes with gain, tone, and output knobs. Each control is very sensitive and you can really go to town refining your tone. The tone knob controls the treble of the overall sound and the pedal automatically adds quite a bit of boost power when turned on.
The Mjolnir Overdrive also has a buffered bypass to maintain signal fidelity.
Although this pedal might not be enough to add all the distortion you desire for your metal sound, using this pedal alongside other overdrive and distortion effects can make a world of difference to your tone.
Mythos Mjolnir Overdrive at a glance:
A great clone of the legendary Klon Centaur.
Transparent overdrive sound.
Gain, tone, and output knobs.
Fat, gritty, and biting tones with lots of boost power.
8. Electro Harmonix Soul Food
Electro Harmonix is a well-known pedal company out of New York City, and they too have their own version of the mythical Klon Centaur.
The Soul Food also has options for both true and buffered bypass, and you can easily switch between the two. With its rugged and attractive look, it produces gorgeous tube amp tones. This transparent overdrive pedal provides a nice volume boost with a slightly overdriven blues tone, to hardcore rock’n’roll sounds when pushed to the max.
The industry’s FIRST overdrive pedal designed for modern, progressive metal guitarists… and fans of all things djent. More low-end control, a player-friendly price and all the crushing tone you’ve come to expect. Making it the best overdrive pedal for djent.
This switch directly controls the low end, which is crucial for sculpting the bass in metal guitar tones. Using this dial, you can easily carve out the low end of a boomy 7-string guitar. Alternatively, you could turn the dial the other way to fatten up your low end.
The Attack Overdrive pedal comes with Attack, Tone, and Drive knobs. Hand-wired in the USA, this pedal works beautifully with tube amps, solid-state amps, amp sims, and DAWs.
Here’s a demo clip of the pedal:
Pro Tone Attack Overdrive at a glance:
Attack, Tone, Drive knobs with Attack Frequency switch.
Specifically designed for metal, progressive metal, and djent.
10. MXR Sugar Drive
Last but not least, we have MXR‘s Sugar Drive mini-pedal. This little blue monstrosity really packs a punch! If you don’t have space on your pedalboard for a full-sized pedal but craving chunky tones, you should definitely check this one out.
If you’re looking for a pedal to add that extra kick and boost on top of your existing metal tone, the Sugar Drive could be what you need. Overall, it’s a surprisingly high-quality pedal for something so small!
Although not a metal guitarist, here is Christone “Kingfish” Ingram demoing the “high gain” sound of MXR Sugar Drive at 6:19.
MXR Sugar Drive at a glance:
Small, conveniently sized overdrive tone with a lot of power.
Another successful copy of Klon Centaur.
Beautiful open high-gain tones.
As is often the case with music gear, and especially guitar pedals, there’s no reason to just settle on one thing. Metal relies on extreme distortion, so maybe you can find your perfect tone by carefully combining a few pedals or incorporating your amp’s inbuilt distortion.