Pedals

Here’s a can of worms to chew on: what’s your favorite Overdrive?

1

I've tried most of the major OD families: Tubescreamers (Fulldrive and DIY), Rats (DIY), Klon (DIY), Electras (Earthquaker and DIY), Bluesbreakers (King of Tone and DIY), Nocturnes (Brain and Atomic Brain), FET amp-alikes (Box of Rock, Formula 5, and DIY), et al (Deco, Fuzz Face, and various other DIY pedals). Conspicuously missing, I've never tried the Blues Driver or the Timmy. Looking for my next drive, what's your poison?

2

I got the Chase Bliss Preamp MKII recently. I am really happy with it. It is a bunch of the overdrives you mention all in one with programmability.Not cheap but continuously satisfying!

3

Inevitably, my favorite is always the most recent I've acquired. So at the moment, it's the Chase Bliss Preamp MkII Automatone - which, on the face of it, is Too Much Money. But it may actually be a good value proposition, if the proud new owner divests himself of other drives it can demonstrably replace. (See the Anderton demo for living proof.)

It's big, and it's deceptively simple, with six big sliders for infinite variations of gain, bass, parametric midrange, treble, and volume. Then it gets deceptively complex, with four pushbuttons for further options (complexity dramatically eased by backlit rings to indicate active mode): midrange pre- or post-gain, 3 bandwidths for midrange "Q", a silicon or germanium clipping diode to add dirt to whatever else is going on, and an open/full fuzz or a gated/sputtering fuzz.

The spaciousness of the layout keeps all the controls big enough and far enough apart to access quickly. And then there's its two-fold headline trick: you can (ridiculously easily) save 30 presets (hundreds if you connect MIDI, which you totally don't have to do), AND the sliders are motorized so they instantly jump to the active settings when you change patches. The importance of this feature (which seems at first a gimmick) is so self-evident it's easy to overlook until you play with it awhile: you just never have to guess or remember where the knobs are set. The current status is visible at a glance. Need to tweak it? All the controls are right on the top, no tiny twiddly toggles or hold-this-press-that voodoo. It's extreme WYISIWG for a pedal, and it's brilliant in its simple way.

Which would be meaningless if it didn't sound great. But it does sound great. It pairs a tweaked version of the Benson preamp with the parametric mids function from Chase Bliss's Condor pedal, and the addition of the clipping trannies, movable-position midrange, and dual fuzz engines add up to a box that can do everything from clean boost (LOTS of it) to slight hair to every range of dirt and drive to distortion to amp-in-box to pretty wide-ranging fuzz. And all the tweakability - especially in the midrange - lets you match the tonal curve of any mere mortal box you like.

All of which would make it a nightmare - except that it's so easy to use. It comes loaded with 10 presets, which are named and documented in the manual (or on the site) to give you starting places - but they're hardly needed. You slide around and push buttons till you get what you're after. I suppose that means you have to have the other pedal there to try to copy its curve and gain structure, or maybe there'll be a user community that posts their settings to emulate particular other pedals, so OK. But maybe it means it's just easy for you to dial in exactly what you think your ideal overdrive is

And that's usually about the specific EQ curve (and especially the midrange), as well as the front-end responsiveness of the pedal. The curves are there - and the front-end sensitivity is unreal. For maximum response to the guitar, the pedal really likes to be first in the chain - or in any event before any compressor. But then you get cleanup that really is cleanup. Great dynamic range when you bear down, and a wide-open huge sound no matter what settings.

I suppose it's odd to call a drive/dirtstortion/fuzz pedal "hi-fi," but that's what this one is. It's like a great channel strip on a mixer - if a channel strip had all those gain and dirt options. (Which, I guess, is why they call it a preamp.)

While you can step through 10 programs in each of three banks using the left footswitch (one bank at a time, hold down longer to switch banks), there's also a provision for setting up "jumps" from particular presets to others. I haven't dug into that yet - ain't giggin' with it - but it means instant one-stomp access to at least two presets, and maybe more (without the minor annoyance of multi-tapping to scroll the list).

I figure most players use maybe 3 or 4 core dirt tones - and if they're using more, they're likely to switch with MIDI anyway (in which case the Automatone could handle hundreds, to provide THE perfect drivestortionfuzz (and output level) for every part of every song, with the instant color-and-texture morphing magic of an octopus. (And the animation of the moving sliders to boot.)

What else? Expression input! Hook up a pedal, configure it to any combination of any of the controls, different settings for heel and toe if you like, so you can gradually slide from one set-o-settings to another, or stop anywhere between. And remember that parametric/Q-adjustable midrange? Use that to make it a wah. Or the ultimate cocked-wah.

If a guy wasn't just hopelessly enamored of (but not addicted to, I can quit anytime I want) pedals, I'm confident this could be the only dirtbox on the board and cover pretty much anything (including a sizable range of quirky-personality fuzzes). Given the huge 3D quality of the tone, the ease of use, and the vast range of tones available, the price of 749.00 actually starts to look pretty good.


So I'm still deciding what I'm going to do with the rest of my old favorites.

My previous premier top-dog blow-of-mind crazy-good "overdrive" (for over two years) has been the Origin Effects Revival Drive. It comes in several flavors, from the Compact (one drive engine) to two versions of a Dual. I have the plushest dual version (Custom, I think), which - at the time - was the most I'd paid for a dirt box, north of 600.00. (Don't panic, the Compact is half that, or less.)

The Revival Drive's shtick (and it's brilliant) is that it replicates the architecture of tube amps from end-to-end with FET technology. So it's not really intended as an overdrive pedal, per se, nor as a single-personality amp-in-box. It's an amp emulator without modeling, with controls that respond like similar controls on amps.

But, clearly, that functionality can be used in a overdriving way. The Revival drive lets you "replicate" the tonal and response characteristics of both American and British amps (you know the code), and also to morph across them. But unlike the Automatone, which is a transparent shape-shifting octopus, the Revival Drive aways has something of its own tone. It's a delicious tone - rich and textured and juicy, the grinnin'est drive I'd ever used, with a super smooth transition through the treacherous clean-to-dirty no-man's-land which separates OK pedals from great pedals.

In the realm of truly emulating the response and feel of an amp, it's deeper than the Automatone, while equally touch-sensitive; it just doesn't have quite the sonic breadth.

I also found it harder to learn - but more than worth the effort.


So those two are the end-point (for now...) of my quest for the ultimate final dirt solution. Prior to the Automatone, I had the drive structure of my pedalboards nailed down (or, you know, Temple Quick-Release-Plated down), and was entirely happy with my options. (More on that in a moment.)

The Automatone threw it all into a species of uncertainty, and I intend(ed) to kick some pedals off as now redundant. I still probably might or not. I'll probably keep the Compact version of the Revival drive - even along with the Automatone - because it's just such a killer box. (And I'll sell the big one. Though I love it. A horrible example of decadent first-world problems.)

But even being happier than a pig in every gradation of overdirtstortfuzz slop, I spect I'm self-indulgent enough to hold onto a few other dirters I've discovered my way into during the journey. (A long and arduous journey; I've surely had a least a few dozen overdrives and dirts over the last 30 years.)

As you mention types of drives, those you've had and those you haven't, I'll just list my vetted favorites across some other types you should probably audition in the search.

1st and 2nd Timothy. I have a Tim, which was my favored solution back when the search for transparency was the unexamined quest of the assumed ideal, and which was indeed a favorite for a couple of years. I keep it because it's still the best of that breed to me (though just barely: see Wampler Euphoria). If you're looking for that transparent thing...there it is. Some internet buzz says the Tim still sounds better than the Timmy; never compared'em, don't know.

(A morless transparent drive I'd try if I was still looking is the JHS Morning Glory. Everything I hear from and about it sounds good, and at anything under 160.00 they sell on Reverb within hours. You can't go wrong: if you don't like it, poof.)

I had a Keeley-modded Blues Driver for a few years, always kinda liked it especially by comparison to the Tube Screamer, which seemed the alternative then - but it didn't have staying power for me. There was always some fizz in it that I couldn't dial out, and whatever ideal tone I was searching for always seemed somewhere between the positions on the dials it provided. (There's that voicing/EQ issue again, more times than not the insoluble conundrum when comparing pedals.)

Klon: I've kept a Klone Josh Bradshaw built for me, which provides the couple of admittedly special things it does: a particular EQ along with push which drives an already humming amp into a particular classic rock sort of ecstasy, and its own overdrive character when you crank the gain that substitutes decently for the same sort of crunch. I almost never use it (and the Automatone does it nearly dead-on), but I keep it. Reminds me of a particular Roundup when Jody Porter demonstrated its effectiveness for many hours at full tilt through a Fender combo, and inspired me to ask Josh to build it. If you haven't Klonned, you probably should - it could be what you want. I think there's a deluxe mini version of the Wampler Tumnus, which is a fair representation of that breed.

I keep a Digitech Bad Monkey because there's just something about its characteristic tone I like - and they go for so little it's hardly worth selling.

TB. Likewise, if you haven't had a treble booster (of the classic Dallas Rangemaster ilk), you should try that. It's not really an EQ pedal to enhance highs, it's more like an overdrive with more energy in the high end than through the rest of the spectrum (like a TubeScreamer pushes midrange). The result is that your highs drive and sing first, and to a greater extent than the rest of spectrum. That's a particular overdrive which works very well in many situations - and was crucial to many 60s-70s lead tones, of which Brian May's full-max-Vox example is only the most extreme. I have the Analogman Beano Boost (whose mini format is handy), but there are numerous good ones out there, many of which have full-bottom modes to make them more versatile.


Of all the straightforward "pure overdrives" I've been through, I've kept just three: J Rockett Blue Note (in the original rounded-corner casing), the relatively recent Jackson Broken Arrow, and the Nocturne Jr Barnyard. They all have a different character.

If I'm listening for a single most pleasing voicing profile, with a sufficient range from boosty light to medium drive, it's the Blue Note. I've compared it to all the best of my previous stable, and it's the one. It's not on a board...but I like it.

The Broken Arrow is always on probation, because I'm not sure I need it. But when I play through it before listing...it stays. It's kinda pitched as the most versatile/widest-ranging screamer you can find, but it’s more than that. You can read all about it here: https://jackson.audio/produ....

Short version: along with volume and gain, there's an adjustable boost function (with four distinctly different eq profiles) and a 3-band EQ. There are also four distinct flavors of overdrive, including classic Screamer (but fattable-up or thinnable-out with the EQ), two clipping styles (with different sets of silicon diodes), and a Marshall-in-a-box mode using LED clipping. (Don't panic: the boost and drive modes are easily changed.) In a final slick trick, using just the stompers, you can cycle through four gain stages for the active drive type - 25%, 50%, 75%, and max - and the pedal internally adjusts the output to keep the level consistent. It's also a beautiful build in a gorgeous box.

So it does a lot alotta stuff, all in the boost-through-hot-medium-drive domain, and is remarkably easy to use given the functionality. Very wide tonal range. Why do I keep the Blue Note? Because, with some guitars (and I don't remember if it's single coils or buckers), there's no one setting on the Broken Arrow I like as well as the Blue Note's much narrower range of characteristic voices.

The Jr Barnyard is in another category, which might be called "soft" overdrive, sounding more like the warmly fuzzy-around-the-edges octal amps of the 40s and early 50s. (It also gets drivier than those amps did.) I don't have anything else that quite captures that same character, so it stays on my board.

Totally Tubular. There's a category for tube overdrives, I guess. I've had several, but the reigning king for me - which has been on my board for at least 10 years, while literally everything else has shifted around it - is the Seymour Duncan Twin Tube Classic.

Two channels (a low-to-medium gain "Rhythm" and medium-to-super-saturated "Lead") have their own gain and level controls, sharing a simple two-band EQ. The Rhythm side can be dialed from completely clean (for boost) up through every gradation of hair to solid crunch - and the Lead side picks up there, seems to add more gain staging (maybe another tube?) and gets you all the way to Boogie and even Dumblistic saturation.

The tone controls are nicely positioned in the frequency spectrum, with wide effective ranges, and generous cut or boost to shape the tone, but the pedal is not entirely transparent - and, for me, that's the point. It has a certain midrange emphasis that gives an amp just a touch more authority, more presence. Except for the purest of completely clean passages (almost like an effect), I've used the clean channel as an always-on for most of my playing. It's plenty touch-sensitive, dynamic, and responsive to guitar controls.

And the creamy, singing lead channel is so good I didn't realize just how good it is till I compared it to a lot of challengers. Expensive preamps like the Custom Tones Ethos and Effectrode Blackbird, high-gain speciality pedals, even models in the Kemper and the Helix. Whether because it's objectively that good for everyone, or it just happens to be voiced in a way that hits my gee-whiz spot, it keeps coming out on top.

The pedal is long discontinued, takes a quirky 16-volt power supply (no longer available from SD - but I've found specific direct replacements elsewhere), and uses miniature mil-spec tubes that are bound to fail someday. Or maybe not. Mine just goes and goes. (I do have a backup for the pedal.)

I don't know if we can call it an overdrive- though I don't know why not, because plenty of gain and output are available. What it really feels like is another two channels for the amp. It just becomes an organic part of the signal chain - both for gain and EQ - and even with the Automatone and the Revival Drive, I don't know if I'll be able to bring myself to take it off the board.

I guess I'm saying I highly recommend the Twin Tube Classic. And it's easy to get into: there are 8 on Reverb now, most priced between 75.00 and 150.00. I call it a ridiculous bargain for a premium product, and easy to turn if it doesn't please.


Fuzzerdrive? In this year's fuzz orgy, I've come across pedals billed as fuzzes which are remarkably competent (and texturally interesting) overdrives at lower gain settings. The best are the Catalinbread Karma Suture, DOD Carcosa - and a pedal designed by the same guy who did the Carcosa, in his post-DOD life, inspired by the Carcosa but with different drive engines and a different architecture, the Spiral Electric FX Black Spiral. I've used it as a dynamically responsive, nicely cleaning up low-to-medium grit drive for weeks at a time without feeling the need to switch it out. (It doesn't have a lot of low end, but an overdrive arguably doesn't need that.)

The Karma Suture and the Carcosa are very different from each other (as a caricature, the Karma Suture is stronger in the midrange, and the Carcosa has a wider spectrum), but neither is expensive, and both are well worth the try. Even in my truly excessive dirt stable, they stand out as unique, and bargains at their price. Easily the equal (and better) of many more expensive pedals.

Weally Nice Wamplers: I've had lots of Wampler dirt pedals, and for some reason sold them on because they just barely come in second. But that could be a problem with Brian's ears vs my ears, and they could suit you fine. The longest lasting were the Clarksdale (his bid for an expanded, enhanced, more tonally tweakable screamer) and the Euphoria (a transparent drive which is compared to everything from the Timmy to the Klon to the OCD). They're both excellent pedals, and a sane man could be happy with either. I really liked the Euphoria, and sometimes miss it.


Apologies for the length. (The question gave me a chance to review and solidify my dirt experience for my own edification.)

4

I sincerely never expected the first two responses to this post to be that Chase Bliss monstrosity. Impressive no doubt, but suffice to say it will not be my next overdrive. Too sleepy right now to respond to the rest of that, but I will digest it in the morning. Like I said, I've tried most of the major families, including others I didn't list, so I'm kinda leaning towards those I haven't. For me there's three major considerations:

  • Does it work with solid body and hollow body guitars?

  • Does it work with amp cranked and amp clean?

  • Does it work solo and in a mix?

Probably Joel's thing is the only one that would meet all 6 of those criteria, but I'm not necessarily looking for one pedal to rule them all (because where's the fun in that?). And let's keep it under $200 (maybe 3 hectodollars for really special peds).

But yeah, feel free to also discuss any favorites, even in they don't get me where I'm going.

5

In my preferred musical settings, a trio or a quarter with a rhythm guitarist, I don't like having a dirt pedal. I don't feel that I need it, I'm not the kind of guy that changes his sound from song to song because I am basically an idiot and just want to sound one way.

However I've had a few settings where it's been kind of necessary. I was in a band with a powerful lead singer who also played acoustic guitar and we had keys, bass and drums too. I had to be adaptable here, I was the lead guitarist but it was not my band and they were not my songs, I was a sideman. I went through a few different pedals to find what worked, to be honest I can hardly remember now what they were. I think a Crowther Hot Cake was one. Anyway, in the end I had a local guy build me a two for one pedal that was a ZVex Distortron on one side and a Super Hard On on t'other. This worked well with my '63 Bandmaster. Then I got sick of being on the road and left the band.

After that I had a two piece band with a pal on drums and needed something big sounding to make up for the lack of instrumentation. I played a Tele tuned down a whole step and often dropped to C on the 6th string. The same guy who built the overdrive pedal for me also made a fuzz which was basically a Russian Big Muff with more tone control. It had a mid control which I found really useful to maintain the essential guitariness when the pedal was on rather than just a big muffled blanket of fuzz. He still sells them now under the guise of Moose Electronics. This pedal combined with the low tuned Tele and Bandmaster pretty cranked made a heck of a noise. The drummer said it gave him the feeling of vertigo sometimes.

After that band finished I never had a use for it so I gave it to my brother who uses it for his Death/Doom metal band.

So now I am back in my basic setup, I get what I need by turning the amp up. I am interested in the Junior Barnyard though, that I think I can use.

6

I’m a simple bloke, the Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive is good for me. Had it since the early 80’s, used for both guitar and bass.

7

I really like the Barber stuff. Never heard one of his drive pedals I didn't like. The older big box Direct Drive is the one that never left the board since I have it. It's got a certain presence and energy that is just fantastic and great fun to play. Another drive I use is built by our own JimmyR, based on a Barber LTD Silver. This one has clarity in every setting. I use it as my second (medium) drive stage after a 1st gen Rockett Blue Note that I prefer for the slight breakup. I mostly play clean amps.

@Nick/Tsar: I still have that 'Mighty Stef' CD. Without any disrespect: The music alone doesn't sound like the healthiest lifestyle. :)

8

I sincerely never expected the first two responses to this post to be that Chase Bliss monstrosity. Impressive no doubt, but suffice to say it will not be my next overdrive. Too sleepy right now to respond to the rest of that, but I will digest it in the morning. Like I said, I've tried most of the major families, including others I didn't list, so I'm kinda leaning towards those I haven't. For me there's three major considerations:

  • Does it work with solid body and hollow body guitars?

  • Does it work with amp cranked and amp clean?

  • Does it work solo and in a mix?

Probably Joel's thing is the only one that would meet all 6 of those criteria, but I'm not necessarily looking for one pedal to rule them all (because where's the fun in that?). And let's keep it under $200 (maybe 3 hectodollars for really special peds).

But yeah, feel free to also discuss any favorites, even in they don't get me where I'm going.

– Otter

The "hollowbody" is the tricky part... I could give you a list of 50 great ODs that work with solidbodies.

Works with solidbodies and hollowbodies:
Rockett Blue Note, Wampler Belle, and even the lowly TS808/9 works if you keep the gain way down- I preferred the gain OFF for hollowbodies. Just adding a little grit.

Works with cranked and clean amp:
Same answers as above.

Works solo and in a mix: Same answers, but I can't help you with the "mix" part, I don't play my 6120 with a band.

Really can't say enough good things about the Blue Note and Belle, make sure the Blue Note is the bigger version with the Hot switch- because running that switch OFF is what makes it special. And on the Belle, the compression/clipping switch on the side is what makes it work well with hollowbodies.

9

the closest thing to an "overdrive" i use is a MXR Distortion +. for drive most of my amps have master volume. but i'm not really an uber-clean-sound kind of guy...i would be totally lost with a Roland Jazz Chorus unless i used it as a pedals platform.

10

I'm no cork-sniffer (and no offense if you are) so I have just used an un-modded Blues Driver for the past 23 years. Is it the best? I doubt it. Could I find something better? Sure, but I'm not going to try. It has always served me well, in varying degrees based on guitar/amp combo, when I've needed some dirt. And it works really nice with single coils, in particular the TV HiLo's in my Tenny.

11

I really like the Barber stuff. Never heard one of his drive pedals I didn't like. The older big box Direct Drive is the one that never left the board since I have it. It's got a certain presence and energy that is just fantastic and great fun to play. Another drive I use is built by our own JimmyR, based on a Barber LTD Silver. This one has clarity in every setting. I use it as my second (medium) drive stage after a 1st gen Rockett Blue Note that I prefer for the slight breakup. I mostly play clean amps.

@Nick/Tsar: I still have that 'Mighty Stef' CD. Without any disrespect: The music alone doesn't sound like the healthiest lifestyle. :)

– sascha

Sascha, no it definitely wasn't too healthy. Too much drink and fast food, I never partook of the other stuff but it was definitely going around.

12

I'll be the whipping boy for the Tube Screamer.

14

For an added boost the occasional Tube-screamer but I still prefer my Joyo American. It's more of an amp modelling pedal but it does some really sweet dirty amp emulation.

15

Well, since the title didn't specify just pedals.... my favorite is really a JCM800, breathing hard with the volume on my guitar dialed back to where there is just ever so much hair on it. Glassy and fuzzy all at the same time.

16

I submit that the SD Twin Tube meets all the criteria - and cheap to find out.

17

I submit that the SD Twin Tube meets all the criteria - and cheap to find out.

– Proteus

I have a Twin Tube Classic. Excellent. I hesitate to call it a pedal despite the form factor. They did a great job with those.

18

Blues Driver. It always finds its way back to the board. Nearest I can get to sounding like my amp when turned up.

So I got a Barber Burns Unit, a Wampler 57, Boss FB1, Soul Food plus others... all for sale. Any takers?

19

Well I just traded one of my Klon clones for a Timmy, so we'll see how that goes. I see lots of love for the Rockett Blue Note, which appears to be pretty similar to Timmy in design, so if I like one, maybe I'll like the other. In my experience, having the pre-clipping Bass control is key to using drive pedals with a hollowbody.

20

Blues Driver. It always finds its way back to the board. Nearest I can get to sounding like my amp when turned up.

So I got a Barber Burns Unit, a Wampler 57, Boss FB1, Soul Food plus others... all for sale. Any takers?

– Vince_Ray

Vince, is the Barber Burn Unit the 2-channel version? What are you asking for this incl. shipping to Germany?

21

I see lots of love for the Rockett Blue Note, which appears to be pretty similar to Timmy in design

Hmm. To me they sound nothing alike. The Tim (and, I presume, the Timmy) have a harder edge, a barkier more explosive bite and attack. The Blue Note is softer and rounder - though not so much as the Jr Barnyard. Maybe a little more compressy than the Tim/my. In no way is the Blue Note a Screamer - but it's closer to that in its attack and overall note envelope than the Cochranes.

To my ear.

22

To me they sound nothing alike.

Interesting, the circuits are nearly identical, though Timmy has a little less bass (but a greater range on its bass pot), and its treble cut is accomplished slightly differently. Nevertheless, your characterization of the Blue Note as "softer and rounder" gives me confidence that I've made the right choice in the Timmy. I find the Bluesbreaker-style pedals (like the King of Tone) to be soft and round, and I really dislike it.

Definitely want that harder edge, crunchy clipping.

23

Oddly enough, I've never owned an overdrive pedal, nor been tempted to get one. I have a MXR Distortion Plus, which I've used occasionally with synths, but not for guitar. And I have two Morley Distortion/Wah/Volume pedals, one for my keyboard road rig and one that lives in my home studio. And again, the only time I've used the distortion for guitar is to experiment with placing it in line before a Uni-Vibe.

Other than that, I've always been happy with the overdrive sounds I can get from my amps. Mostly the just-starting-to-break-up mode, but even on the rare occasions when I want to go full scream.

24

Definitely want that harder edge, crunchy clipping.

I hesitate to say it, but you'd love the Automatone. The attack is dramatic. Tones just leap out of the thing.


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