From time to time I find myself in the predicament of hunting down a decent overdrive pedal, that sounds good and won’t dent the bank balance. This usually involves many hours reading review websites, watching countless videos on YouTube, often leaving me none the wiser.
…with the rise of the more accessible boutique pedals over recent years, I’m as guilty as the next man on looking down on some BOSS products in a somewhat snobby nature…
Purchasing an overdrive pedal can be a bit hit and miss, especially if you purchase a pedal online without actually hearing it in the flesh (some YouTube clips give a good idea, but aren’t entirely sufficient in my opinion). I’ve spent a fair few quid over the years buying and reselling overdrive pedals, so I thought I’d compile a short list of my favourite overdrive pedals that retail new for less than £100. The price limit pretty much rules out a large majority of boutique manufacturers, however, you may be able to purchase used modded/boutique units on eBay if you’re patient (and somewhat fortunate).
In no particular order…
I owned one of these pedals for a while and I was very impressed by the overdrive tone. The DigiTech Hardwire range is good, featuring true bypass and a solid construction. I really liked the versatility of this pedal; guitarists can dial in anything from mild overdrive, to a crunchy rhythm or a nice saturated lead sound.
The Ibanez TubeScreamer is a classic pedal that allows for a juicy overdrive tone. It can be found on the pedalboards of many gigging guitarists. Adds a slight midrange bump when engaged and maybe a slight loss in bass – the midrange bump is handy to cut through the mix when soloing. A firm favourite for many.
The BOSS BD-2 Blues Driver sounds good straight out of the box. I particularly like the fact that the pedal is fairly transparent and doesn’t colour your original tone too much. It can sound fairly fuzz like when wound up, which is quite fun. Take a look around eBay for a used modified version, as a few of the modded versions add additional bass, smoother gain and true bypass.
The BOSS OS-2 gives users the ability to blend overdrive with distortion. For a ballpark figure of £59 RRP, this pedal will suit a large majority of guitarists, not just for financial reasons but down to the versatility of the unit.
I was really surprised by the MXR Zakk Wylde overdrive. I used it a few times into a Marshall Silver Jubilee combo and I was surprised by how good the overdrive sounded. The amp (obviously) sounded better but I was taken aback by the authenticity of this pedal. Definitely worth checking out.
The Visual Sound Route 808 is a take on the classic TubeScreamer but with the addition of a (much needed in my opinion) bass boost. I’m a huge fan of Visual Sound pedals, and all the VS units I’ve owned have been brilliant. Built like tanks and sound great – I’ve played through the Double Trouble version of this unit and it sounds really impressive. An additional bonus; the Visual Sound customer service is some of the finest in the business.
OK, so I’ve snuck this pedal in at the end. Although it’s been superseded in recent years, there’s a lot of love for the original “Marshall in a Box”. I’ve enjoyed the times when I’ve played through this pedal as it provides authentic overdrive, is fairly versatile and is great for dirtying up a cleaner sounding amp. You should be able to pick them up on eBay easily for under £100. Sorry for adding a “used” pedal to this list, but I couldn’t resist!
The pedals listed above are just some of the pedals I’ve experienced over recent years and isn’t a definitive list by any means; there’s such a wide range of pedals available to choose from. With your £100 budget, it’s worth considering scouring eBay or the local paper for used pedals from time to time, as some real gems are to be found (if you’re patient) – for example, guitarists could pickup a used Visual Sound Jekyll & Hyde (a great pedal) that gives you the best of both overdrive/distortion options in a self contained box, or even a used Boss/Ibanez pedal modified by effects gurus such as from Keeley, Monte Allums or Analog Man.
If I had to purchase a new overdrive pedal though, I’d either go for the BOSS BD-2 or the Digitech Hardwire CM-2. The Digitech has some very impressive overdrive tones and is very flexible. It can be used for rhythm/lead and features a toggle switch to provide users with even more overdrive flavours. This pedal sounded great with my Marshall Vintage/Modern (using the LDR setting).
The BOSS BD-2 really is a great pedal, straight out of the box. BOSS have come in for a bit of stick over recent years, certainly with the rise of the more accessible boutique products and I’m as guilty as the next man on looking down on some BOSS products in a somewhat snobby nature. I’ve owned 3 or 4 BD-2’s over the years, as it always seems to be the pedal that I revert to; it just suits my needs and style of playing. Push your £100 limit to the maximum, and you may be fortunate to find a used modified BD-2 from Keeley, Monte Allums or Analog Man, where in my experience, they take a good pedal and turn it into a great one.
Finding a decent overdrive, at a relatively low price is quite challenging and so many factors need to be considered; amp/guitar combination, style of playing, used for rhythm and/or lead playing – the only advice I would give (based on the experiences I’ve had of purchasing the wrong pedal), is to “try before you buy”, ideally on a guitar and/or amplifier that is the same or similar to your own setup. This may sound obvious but I know what it’s like to spend hours on the Net, checking out reviews and pressing “Buy Now” hoping that the pedal I’ve just purchased will end my overdrive quest, only to be really let down that it’s doesn’t sound that great with my rig. I think that’s why I like the Boss BD-2 (especially modified versions); it sounds good, responds well to the volume control but crucially for me, it’s fairly transparent and retains the original tone of your amp/guitar combination.
What overdrive pedal do you recommend that cost less than £100? Please share your thoughts and experiences with the guitarist community by adding your comments below.