- 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 in 2020.
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.
In this article, we look at the best overdrive pedals for metalheads of all stripes.
1. 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 for a good reason.
The TS808 has been the go-to for legendary guitarists in a number of different genres – from Stevie Ray Vaughan, Gary Moore, Noel Gallagher, Andy Timmons, to Slipknot’s Mick Thomson.
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.
The TS808 comes at an affordable price at under $200, and it’s a pedal that almost every guitar player will benefit from. If you think one isn’t powerful enough for your metalcore cover band, then you can always stack multiple TS808s in a row!
To give you a taste of this legendary stompbox, here is a video of Slipknot’s Mick Thomson shredding with the TS808.
TS808 at a glance:
- Simple design with three knobs – overdrive, tone, and level.
- Same circuitry and chip as the original TS808.
- Great for boosting mids.
- Affordable price.
- Versatile tone options suitable for blues and country with low-gain settings, to hard rock and metal when cranked.
2. Maxon OD808
The Maxon OD808 is the counterpart to the Ibanez TS808 or TS9, mainly because the main parts and sounds are similar. After all, Maxon was actually the manufacturer for Ibanez from 1994-2002, and this pedal shares many similarities to the TS808.
Like the TS808, the OD808 has three simple controls – overdrive, balance, and tone, but the options for different guitar sounds are endless. You can use this legendary pedal as a clean boost – it’ll boost the mids and make the guitar tone stand out without any noticeable distortion.
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.
Here is the one and only Misha Mansoor playing with the Maxon OD808 on his pedalboard backstage!
Maxon OD808 at a glance:
- Original JRC4558D chip.
- Simple design with overdrive, balance, and tone.
- Affordable pricing.
- Classic warm overdrive sounds to metal tones.
- Boosts mids to cut through the mix.
Boss SD-1 (Budget Pick!)
Adding to the list of legendary metal pedals, here is another historical overdrive effect that has been around for more than 30 years. The SD-1 (Super Overdrive) is known for its extremely cheap price for a high-quality overdrive stompbox.
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
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.
If the tone still isn’t heavy enough for you, the SD-1 pairs easily with other pedals or your amp’s inbuilt distortion for screaming metal tones!
Here is Rob Zombie’s guitarist John 5, demoing the pedal in action.
- Legendary pedal for blues, rock, and metal for well over 30 years.
- Extremely cheap – around $50.
BOSScasing – sturdy and iconic.
- Simple level, tone, and drive controls.
- Effective emulation of tube amp overdrive.
- Unique symmetrical gain circuit.
4. 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.
Like many other pedals on this list, the TS9 has three simple controls – drive, tone, and level. The sound is edgy, elegant but also very controlled. It’s a must-have pedal for every guitarist’s pedalboard, and it will help you cut through the mix for both lead and rhythm guitar sounds.
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.
James Hetfield used this pedal in the ’80s – here is a video of the TS9 in action.
Ibanez TS9 at a glance:
- Incredibly popular overdrive pedal heard on countless recordings.
- Drive, tone, and level knobs.
- Very affordable at around $100.
- More modern and edgy sounding than the TS808.
- Great for rock, metal, blues, and country.
5. Mythos Mjolnir Overdrive MK IV
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.
- Buffered bypass.
Electro Harmonix Soul Food
It’s a high-quality, transparent overdrive pedal with great touch and response. When activated, it adds a lot of power with a generous amount of headroom.
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 Soul Food is a touch brighter than the Centaur, but the amount of available gain is almost identical at the end of the day. That being said, for the low price, the quality certainly surpasses all expectations.
Overall, this is a fabulous pedal that does so many things! The
Here is a video of Lee Malia of Bring Me the Horizon playing through the Soul Food:
- Affordable clone of Klon Centaur.
- Transparent overdrive pedal.
- Great for tone shaping, and boosting power.
- Selectable true bypass or buffered bypass.
7. Fulltone OCD (Our Pick!)
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.
The controls are similar to the previous pedals – volume, drive, and tone but it also has a one-of-a-kind HP/LP switch. HP and LP stand for High Peak and Low Peak. LP mode has relatively less distortion and gain, while HP mode adds more punch and distortion, making it perfect for metal.
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:
Fulltone OCD at a glance:
- Volume, Drive, Tone and HP/LP switch.
- Warm and full sound with lots of presence.
- True and enhanced bypass options.
- Sounds like a finely tuned tube amplifier.
8. Horizon Devices Precision Drive
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.
9. Pro Tone Pedals Attack Overdrive
Here is another overdrive pedal that is specifically designed for modern metal, djent, and progressive metal guitarists. Similar to the Precision Drive, the Attack Overdrive pedal features an “Attack Frequency” switch.
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:
- True bypass.
- Attack, Tone, Drive knobs with Attack Frequency switch.
- Specifically designed for metal, progressive metal, and djent.
MXR Sugar Drive
Last but not least, we have
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
- 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.
If you’re interested in overdrive pedals but are sticking to a budget, you can check out our guide to the best overdrive pedals under $100.
If you’re after a distortion tone that is closer to a fully cranked amplifier, we’ve also put together a guide to the best amp-in-a-box pedals.