In today’s guitar pedal market, options for overdrive are truly endless and easily overwhelming. Whether it’s your first foray into the distortion game or you’re on the prowl for another gritty stompbox, where should you start? This week on TPS, Dan & Mick worked through a simple workflow of questions to land you at your best pedal pick.
As always, in most cases these questions come back to knowing your playing context as well as understanding the relationship of guitar pedals with other items in your rig. Here’s four questions that will help you navigate your tonal quest.
Are You Looking for a Foundational “Always-On” Tone?
Even if you’re in love with the base sound of your guitar and amp, chances are the right overdrive pedal can make a good thing better. Here’s where that buzz word “transparent” often enters the equation. Simply put, this typology of overdrive aims to elevate your sound without overlaying it with something foreign to your core tone.
The king of tones here has to be the fabled Klon Centaur, which has since spawned a clone army. For Dan & Mick, the RYRA Klone Overdrive Boost pedal comes as near to that sound as possible. Alternatively, if the core tone you’re going for is gritty and edgy, as Mick noted, “one of your core questions will be: ‘Can an overdrive pedal make my rig sound like a gainy amp?’” In this case, the JHS Sweet Tea took them most of the way there with its cranked Marshall type sound.
As Dan summed up, the bigger issue behind all of this is that “it’s important to understand what you want that always-on tone to be.” Knowing this will help thin the pack of pedal options for your always-on option.
Do You Need an Overdrive for Solo Boost Situations?
If you’ve already established your foundational tone but you’re looking for a way of standing out in the mix during key parts of the gig, overdrive strategies become increasingly important but perhaps less intuitive. You might think that more gain is the answer. Yet as Dan & Mick demonstrated, turning up the taps of distortion is the best way to fade into the background in your big moment.
In this case, they recommended using an overdrive pedal that allows for EQ sculpting so you can tailor your tone to push through in the right frequencies. Typically, this entails leveraging the upper-mids and treble range so your playing sits atop all else rather than linger in the background. For these uses pedals like the RYRA Klone or Wampler Tumnus Deluxe will give that enhancing capability as well as the necessary EQ options to press through in the right moments. Similarly, a treble boost stompbox can also provide the launchpad you need.
As Dan explained, in these instances part of the solution is also found in experimenting with pedal order. Your solo sound can have a different character depending on whether your boosted EQ pedal comes before or after your main overdrive sound.
Are You Targeting an Artist-Inspired Specific Tone?
Chances are, most of our guitar journeys began with the inspiration of a specific famous player. If that sound continues to inspire, then it’s also likely that your gear journey is in some way influenced by their playing strategies and rig elements. There are, however, at least two major caveats in the quest for securing artist inspired tones via guitar pedals.
First, it’s about more than the pedal. As Dan underscored, “it’s really important to understand that the pedal is part of that setup and arguably the guitar and amp you use will give you even more shape of that sound.” So having a sense of the other elements that went into that tone is essential.
Second, it’s about style that goes beyond gear. As Mick highlighted, gear is only part of the equation. “It’s not even about saying ‘tone is in the fingers,’ because it’s not—it is all about the interaction of the human playing with every other piece of gear in the setup.’”
In short, be inspired, find the gear that gets you in the tonal ballpark and then make the sound your own. Your success as a player isn’t in mimicking every detail of your guitar hero — it’s in drawing on their style as you sculpt your own.
Do You Need a Do-It-All Distortion Pedal?
Let’s say you’re at a session or gig and need a Swiss Army-style solution for a variety of songs or styles. Ideally, you want to do this with minimal tweaking and without tap dancing across your pedalboard.
As Dan & Mick pointed out, in such settings a dual-sided overdrive pedal is ideal for the multiple combinations and configurations of boost, overdrive, and even fuzz they offer. In recent years, the options in this category have expanded to include: the JHS Sweet Tea, Boss/JHS Angry Driver, Keeley D&M Drive, Chase Bliss Audio Brothers, and Strymon Sunset, to name a few. Having a pedal with multiple faces of overdrive in one box not only means you’re set for separate gains sounds but also well-positioned to open up new gain structures by internal stacking options.
Whether it’s your first overdrive pedal or your next gain box in a collection too numerous to count, stop in to see us at Riff City instore or online so we can help make your best pedal pick.
TPS Rig Rundown:
Guitars: PRS DGT, Fender American Vintage ’62 Stratocaster, Fender Custom Shop ’63 Telecaster.
Pedals: TC Electronic PolyTune 2 Mini, Tru-Fi Colordriver, JHS/Electro Harmonix Muff Illuminati Mod, Keeley Java Boost, Ibanez TS808 (Keeley Mod), Xotic Effects BB Preamp, JHS Sweet Tea V3, RYRA The Klone, Wampler Tumnus Deluxe, Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man 1100-TT, Xotic EP Booster.