Overdrive and distortion pedals are often called gain and learn about guitar pedals or maybe crunch or dirt pedals. These pedals provide additional dirt to your guitar’s tone and they can also increase the volume when needed. Whatever the name, it’s dirt, or grit – the concept is the same. There’s a different kind of gain pedal that ought to be discussed here too and that’s the fuzz pedal because it’s part of this group of pedals. But, I’m keeping the fuzz pedal out of this discussion until the end of this piece.
Depending on the person you talk to, you may receive slightly different answers to this question on the distinction of distortion and overdrive. It is difficult to express in words what the difference is between both.
If you are still looking for the definition, I’d suggest thinking about Distortion as a hard sort of edgy sound with lots of sustain. It is the sound of classic rock groups as well as heavy rock groups from metal to heavy rock bands. Guitar amplifiers can make an incredibly rich, fat distortion on their own but the distortion pedal is usually not necessary. However, there are several amps that do not produce significant distortion, so adding an instrument that can be used to create distortion could provide a guitarist with a lot of flexibility by changing the sound of a clean tone to an incredibly loud and booming tone.
To my ears, overdrive is a hollower sound, typically with having less sustain, and a less “bluesy” sound. There are a variety of overdrive pedals on the market however, the one with the most fame associated with it is probably the Tube Screamer, by Ibanez. There are a variety of companies that make tube screamer types of pedals. Stevie Ray Vaughan used Tube Screamers throughout his career partly due to his immense influence the musician continues to exert over a large number of people. you will often see a Tube Screamer or a variation of it or another in the majority of guitarists’ pedalboards.
The sound difference between distortion pedals and overdrive pedals can sometimes be subtle. I’ve found it possible to make my distortion pedals sound very similar to an overdrive pedal by slowing down the gain a bit, while simultaneously moving the tone knob back slightly. Turning the knobs to the other direction will result in the typical high-gain distortion sound for the majority of distortion pedals.
The ability of an overdrive pedal to sound like the distortion pedal isn’t as easy to achieve, however. I’ve found that they sound best when they are set to medium gain through an amp that is clean or semi-clean. Listen to nearly any bluesier or rocker Stevie Ray Vaughan song, and you’ll often notice how he kicks into an acoustic Tube Screamer after taking an unison. The sound gets louder and the tone shifts from semi-clean deep, dirty and gritty.
Utilizing two gain pedals
Here’s a simple technique you can explore if you’ve not already tried it: using two gain pedals in tandem. It’s a great way to make a wide range of tones. I frequently use this method. I’ll often utilize the Maxon SD-9 for distortion, and then use my Boss Blues Driver for additional volume and gain. It’s perfect for playing lead instruments. Also, there aren’t any rules . Try both the overdrive and distortion pedals and explore what you discover. For instance, you can put them all together at a low gain level and yet together they provide plenty of gain. Also, you could put one in place with a decent amount of gain, while the other set up with just some dirt and perhaps a little volume increase. This will give you the ideal setup to play in a solo or lead.
If you’re considering purchasing a gain pedal but don’t have any knowledge of them I suggest you visit a well outfitted music shop and request to test an overdrive pedal along with a quality distortion pedal. Connect them together, and test a variety of possible combinations and settings. Check out the tones you prefer with this equipment.