What is the Best Transparent Overdrive Pedal?

Jan 17 2024
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bondi effects sick as mkiii

We've heard it all before: transparent overdrive, clean boost, amp-like overdrive, clean drive. But what does it all mean? Let's find out! And let's find the best transparent overdrive that's right for you.

What is a Transparent Overdrive?

The term transparent describes overdrive pedals that don't change your sound. More specifically, they don't add or remove any frequencies.

Well, all that is a bunch of baloney. Every overdrive pedal will alter your tone. That's the whole point of an overdrive pedal. If you want to hear your guitar and amp, turn the pedal off 🤷

By clipping the signal you will inevitably add harmonics, cut some bass and change the midrange.

Here is my interpretation of transparent overdrives:

It provides saturation and compression that feels natural. Sure, there is added harmonic content. But, the player perceives it as a natural extension of their guitar and amp.

Think of it like increasing the saturation of a photo. We don't add any new colors to the photo. We make the existing colors more vibrant.

With all the buzzwords out of the way, let's get to the pedals.

Bondi Effects Sick As MkIII

The Sick As is the best Klon-style drive I've ever played. Klons have a slight midrange bump. The Sick As has active BASS and TREBLE EQ controls.

I can dial in a tone close to EQ-neutral. The more gain you introduce, the more focused the sound becomes.

Whenever I want an articulate edge of breakup tone with my neck pickup, I reach for the Sick As. That's a match made in heaven.


Plain Speak Calamity Drive

The Calamity Drive is a TubeScreamer-style overdrive. It has a few clever extras that give it a unique character and a bit more versatility than a regular TS.

The ART toggle controls the clean bleed. + means a little bit of clean signal is mixed in. ++ means a lot of clean signal is mixed in. o means no clean signal is mixed in.

GOOSE is a dirty boost that you can turn on with a separate footswitch.

VOICE controls where the midrange bump occurs. We can go from emphasizing the lower mids to the upper mids.

The Calamity Drive and the Sick As are the least transparent pedals in this shootout. They cut a little more bass than the rest of the bunch. Still, at lower gain settings, you can dial these in pretty neutral. Most of the time, a little bass-cut is healthy for the whole band mix.


Electric Love Aquatone

The Aquatone has its roots in the Boss Blues Driver* circuit. It has two gain modes. In the shootout above, I've only showcased the low gain mode. You can hear the high gain mode in the full Aquatone demo.

The low gain side is a modded Blues Driver with added 3-band EQ. You can go as non-transparent as your heart desires. Yet, the Aquatone shines in that low to medium gain range with uninvasive EQ settings.

It definitely has that special Blues Driver crunch character. This does what the transparent label calls for. It provides natural feeling compression and character that meshes with your existing tone.


Snouse Electric Company BlackBox 2

The BlackBox 2 is a Blues Breaker-style overdrive. Not only does it feel transparent. The compression and saturation is so pleasing. It's hard to stop playing guitar when the BlackBox is on.

There is quite some hype around this pedal. Usually, there is a waitlist for it on Snouse's website. And I can see why. This thing rules.

The BlackBox has this very specific compression and feel that I haven't found in any other pedal. It's hard to describe. I can probably get all pedals in this shootout to sound very similar. But every single one feels different when playing.


Twilight Pulse Audioworks Konstante

The Konstante completely fulfills its mission of being a transparent overdrive. There is little EQ-altering going on. Only the EP-style preamp boost adds a little bit of bass.

This is a great example of a very natural feeling overdrive. It's simply enhancing your tone. It adds a tasteful amount of grit and compression.

The Konstante can sound and feel pretty close to the BlackBox. I especially love it's internally stacked sound. It adds oomph and meat to my playing while remaining polite, articulate and natural feeling.


Signal Chain

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