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Learn why overdrive is an essential tool on any guitarist’s pedalboard
Learn what overdrive actually does to your guitar’s signal
See 7 great affordable overdrive options you can add to your pedalboard
Why Even Use Overdrive Pedals?
Almost every electric guitarist uses at least one overdrive pedal on their pedalboard. Guitarists figured out pretty quickly how impractical (and unsafe for your hearing) that it was to actually crank up the volume of a tube amp until the guitar signal went into overdrive, as well as the fact that when you do that for an extended period of time the amp tends to blow up and stop working.
After the advent of overdrive pedals, guitarists also figured out that they liked the way that these pedals affected the signal in their own way compared to the sound of an overdriven amplifier.
There are a couple of “styles” of overdrive pedals that will be mentioned in this list (and in pretty much anything talking about overdrive) that reference some “holy grail” designs that pretty much all overdrive pedals are based on.
The best overdrive pedal under $100 has to go to the EQD Plumes. Its versatility combined with the low price tag and excellent distortion tones make it an awesome tube screamer style pedal. Special mentions go to the Boss SD-1 and the Ibanez Tubescreamer Mini for being reputable and great sounding workhorses.
This is not a comprehensive list, as mentioned earlier there are hundreds of different styles of overdrive pedals.
With that out of the way, here’s a list of 7 great guitar overdrive pedals that you can get for less than $100 brand new (and many for less than $50 if you hunt used!)
The newest pedal to be included in this list (It was released in August 2019), the Earthquaker Devices Plumes stands as an absolute gamechanger for both the boutique pedal world and for overdrive pedals in general. The Plumes is EQD’s own take on the classic TubeScreamer circuit, which many thought would never happen.
What’s different from this pedal than a regular TS? The biggest thing to note is the 3-way mode switch, which changes the clipping style of the pedal, with the left mode being an optical diode clipping circuit, the center a clean boost, and the right a classic TS style.
This versatility, combined with its low price and EQD’s widely known quality (both in build and sound) make this pedal an awesome option if you’re looking for a “best of the best” tube screamer type pedal without dropping a lot of cash.
I’ve used one of these pedals, and I loved it, and I’ve hated every other tube screamer pedal I’ve ever plugged into.
It’s absolutely what I’d consider the best pedal on this entire list.
Another classic overdrive pedal, the bright yellow boss SD-1 has a similar tone to a tube screamer but also can be considered to fall into a category all of its own.
This pedal has a wide list of notable users through the years, including Eddie Van Halen, Kurt Cobain, Johnny Greenwood (Radiohead) and Joe Satriani.
While I wouldn’t classify this pedal as anything particularly special or unique sonically, it’s very affordable and can give you a great overdriven tone for almost any style of music. Plus boss pedals will likely survive after a nuclear apocalypse, so you know it’s sturdy enough to gig with.
Complete with the classic green paint job, and three simple knobs to dial in a wide range of tones, you'll be primed for tonal excellence with the Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini overdrive pedal in your guitar rig.
While a lot of the effects listed here have been emulations of “classic” overdrives that cost a lot more money, the Ibanez TubeScreamer mini is exactly what it says it is. The legendary and classic TubeScreamer in a mini enclosure.
I really like that it’s enclosure both pays homage to the original TS, and that they put a full-sized knob on for the gain so you can potentially turn it with your foot if you like to use multiple settings.
As for the tone, it’s a TubeScreamer. Listen to it and get the tone of literally thousands of great guitarists. Does it sound exactly as good as an original TS808 from the 80s? Probably not. But it won’t eat up much space on your board and is sturdy enough for gig use.
Another bonus of the mini is that has true bypass switching, which the full sized one doesn’t have. Seems like a no brainer to me if you are looking for the classic tube screamer tone.
The Vintage Overdrive JF-01 pedal is one of JOYO most popular effect pedals, introducing warm overtones when used as a clean volume boost, searing tone as well as the warmth of a classic overdrive tube amp.
This VERY affordable overdrive doesn’t hide anything about what it is. A super cheap copy of the legendary Ibanez Tube Screamer Pedal.
From the color scheme to the name, everything about this pedal screams (pun intended) the classic TS tone.
If you’re not sure if you like the sound of a TubeScreamer, the Joyo vintage drive is a great option to dip your toes in the water without spending much money, and it is a great sounding pedal to boot. I’ve seen pedalboards with both a real TS and this pedal side by side and while they do sound different, one doesn’t sound any better than the other.
This is the first pedal on this list that strays away from the “classic” three knob layout. This gives this pedal a huge added layer of versatility. It also doesn’t claim to emulate any particular pedal, but I’d dare to say it’s in the TS style extended family of pedals.
Having individual EQ’s for bass and treble mean you can fine tune your overdrive tone, and makes this pedal popular with bassists because they can overdrive their tone and still retain the deep bass tone they want.
The voice switch is also a nifty tool that cuts some bass out of the signal, which makes it nice for getting a cutting lead tone.
Dumble (or D-Style) overdrive pedals are a relatively new style on the overdrive market, and with such a low price the Dumbleweed might be the perfect entry point to this new style for players interested in something that isn’t another Klon or TS style pedal.
The Electro Harmonix Soul Food is their take on one of the most legendary overdrive pedals ever made, the Klon Centaur.
It is designed to give you a transparent overdrive tone, which means it basically is supposed to keep the sound of your initial guitar tone clear in the mix.
It’s not an actual clean blend, as many seem to think with the overall tone, but it’s a similar idea. Anyway, original Klon pedals are also ridiculously expensive, so the fact that there is a good approximation out there for less than $100 is fantastic for all of us normal people that want good tone without breaking the bank.
A Quick Guide On Overdrive Pedals
What Exactly Are Overdrive Pedals?
Overdrive pedals are one of the simplest of all guitar effects that most everyone uses or has used at some point in time.
They use transistors and filtering to emulate the sound of a guitar amp when its volume is cranked up, distorting the signal and adding pleasing musical harmonics.
Different pedals use different circuits and different types of transistors to create different flavors of overdrive tone, but at their core, any overdrive effect will usually have these basic controls in them:
This controls the output level of the signal after is passes through the effect.
This controls how much the signal is overdriven/distorted. Most overdrive pedals will go from a clean(ish) sounding boost at the low end of the gain all the way to screaming distortion when it is at it’s maxed setting.
Almost all overdrive pedals feature at least one band of EQ or tone to adjust the overall frequency range of the guitar tone. On a classic TubeScreamer pedal, the tone knob is essentially a Treble cut control, designed to lower the harshness of the signal after it has been overdriven.
What’s the Difference Between Overdrive and Distortion?
Overdrive and distortion are very similar effects, and in fact, they essentially use the same circuit topology to operate. The biggest difference in overdrive and distortion in any guitar pedal is the way the pedal clips the signal.
Overdrives usually use softer clipping and sometimes only add harmonics without actually clipping the signal, while distortion pedals use much more aggressive hard clipping.
These different types of clipping are achieved using different (and varying amounts) of transistors in the circuit like mentioned earlier.