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The Ultimate Overdrive Shootout

May 15 2021
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  • black mass electronics 1312 distortion v3
  • blue fx devices nebula
  • boss blues driver bd 2w
  • catalinbread tribute
  • earthquaker devices plumes
  • hungry robot lumen
  • jhs morning glory v4
  • jptr fx jive
  • native audio kiaayo
  • okko fx holy grit
  • smallsound bigsound mini
  • tl pedals honker overdrive
  • vaderin pedals hp x
black mass electronics 1312 distortion v3
blue fx devices nebula
volume
tone
mids
gain
boss blues driver bd 2w
catalinbread tribute
earthquaker devices plumes
hungry robot lumen
jhs morning glory v4
jptr fx jive
native audio kiaayo
okko fx holy grit
smallsound bigsound mini
tl pedals honker overdrive
vaderin pedals hp x

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a TubeScreamer, a Klon, a Bluesbreaker or any other overdrive? This is the shootout to answer that question.

There are so many great overdrives on the market today. Almost every dirt pedal I played thus far can sound wonderful for a certain genre. All of them do the thing that they do.

The only question is: What is that thing? That's what this shootout is about.

I'm trying to compare as many different types of overdrives as possible. The goal is that you can identify what differentiates a TubeScreamer-type pedal from Blues Breaker or a JFET overdrive, etc.

Whenever I get my hands on another overdrive, I'll add this to the shootout in the future.

Smallsound/Bigsound Mini

This is my go-to overdrive of choice. I mostly use it for light gain, sparkly sounds. But it's also great for lo-fi sounds and can very well be used as a fuzz.

It has a pretty flat EQ response (meaning it's "transparent"), but can be tweaked with the bass and treble knob. All controls are super interactive and I can't find a bad sound.

BOSS BD-2w

The blues driver is one of the most popular pedals on the planet. And for a good reason. It has a sweet amp-like feel due to its JFET gain stage.

I think it deserves a better name, because it sure has a great sound suited for many genres, and the blues is not really the first one that comes to my mind.

By the way, did you notice that the BD-2w and the SM/BS Mini can sound pretty close?

TL Pedals Honker Overdrive

This is a highly versatile drive inspired by the TubeScreamer. It's pretty similar in features compared to the EQD Plumes. It sounds like the tone stack is different – a little more bass in the Honker to my ears.

JPTR FX Jive

The Jive is a full sounding, "transparent" overdrive. There is not much EQing happening and there is no tone control. With all its clipping options, it has a wide gain range from light to fuzzy.

It's perfect to push an amp or stack with another drive pedal.

JHS Morning Glory

Compared to the other overdrives in the list here, I don't really get why everyone calls this "transparent". There is a pretty obvious bass cut. I think this was a conscious design choice by Josh Scott. Being a session guitarist, he knows that cutting the bass from the guitar will happen eventually during mixing.

And this is what the Morning Glory excels at: At low gain settings, it adds just enough compression, tone-shaping and character to make your guitar sit really well in a band mix.

Hungry Robot Lumen

The Lumen is a uniquely designed overdrive. I love the oversized enclosure and the big-ass knobs. The separate controls for bass, mids and treble make this a great recording tool. With the clean blend, this can be great for bass, drums or even vocals.

I also like it a lot after reverb and delay. With the clean blend and all the EQ options, it can add a lot of lo-fi character and compression to time-based effects.

It is also one of the most sensitive to playing dynamics. Picking lightly, you just feel some compression and EQing happening. Digging in hard can get you a saturated mid-gain overdrive.

NativeAudio Kiaayo

The Kiaayo feels like an old school overdrive that's based on some old ciruits from the 70s ... but it's not.

It's an original circuit design with modern features (soft switch, momentary foot switch, low noise circuit).

Sonically, it seems to live in the same neighborhood as TubeScreamers, Bluesbreakers and Klons. It's more aggressive than the Morning Glory and Sugar Drive. I hear a bass cut, but not as drastic as the one from the Morning Glory.

Vaderin Pedals HP-X

The HP-X is a Harmonic Percolator with modern features. It can be placed anywhere in your signal chain and input and output levels can be adjusted to taste.

While not really an overdrive in the classic sense, the HP-X is a fine contender in the lower gain arena. The rich harmonics really shine with a more tamed gain setting. I love this for when you want just mild crunch but with a more unique character.

EarthQuaker Devices Plumes

When somebody asks for a good alternative to the classic TubeScreamer, for sure the Plumes gets mentioned.

If you are into soft-clipping overdrives with a mid-hump, this is definitely for you. My tip: Don't be afraid to turn the tone knob way down. Especially with a Tele bridge pickup here, this seems necessary.

I like how the Plumes breaks up, especially with the symmetrical clipping or pure OpAmp breakup.

MXR Sugar Drive

It's an authentic sounding, well built and compact Klon clone. If you like the Klon sound, get this one.

Catalinbread Tribute

This a has very amp-like feel and additionally a super useful parametric EQ to fit your guitar or bass (it's great for bass) exactly into the mix.

Black Mass 1312

This is a RAT-style distortion pedal, but nonetheless is so good at low gain overdrive, that I had to throw it into this shootout.

OKKO FX Holy Grit

Although the knob says "fuzz", to me this feels like an amp-in-a-box overdrive that can also do fuzz at its extrem settings. There is no bad sound in this box. Feels great to play and can get close to those cranked tweed sounds.

blue fx devices Nebula

The Nebula is a sexy looking and sounding op-amp clipping overdrive. With the mids control, this is allows to get a pretty saturated tone while remaining clarity.

Signal Chain

  • K'mo Memphis Std. (classic T-style bridge pickup)
  • Overdrive pedal
  • Strymon Iridium (Chime)
  • Focusrite Scarlett 2i2
  • Garageband

If you like what I do, buy me a beer 🍺.

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