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Would the most famous blues solos sound the same without that touch of slight distortion? It’s hard to say for sure, but you can be sure they wouldn’t have the same potency.
Overdrive pedals are largely responsible for giving blues guitarists this hint of grit. If you’re looking to throw some dirt on your tone, you’ve come to the right place.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the best overdrive pedals for blues guitarists.
Wampler Tumnus – Best Overall
The Klon Centaur is by far one of the most famous overdrive pedals in the guitar world. These fabled pedals often fetch prices close to that of a used car.
With the Wampler Tumnus (see price on Amazon or Sweetwater), you can get this iconic tone for yourself. The best part is that the price is only a fraction of what its source for inspiration typically costs.
This pedal boasts analog circuitry in a small 3.5 x 1.5-inch form factor. It has a classic rugged gold color with a hoofed centaur for artwork.
There are 3 controls onboard the Tumnus. These include:
The Tumnus aims to be more of a transparent effect in your signal chain, similar to the Klon Centaur. You can add a fair amount of dirt (by adjusting the gain) to the signal if that is your desire.
Having treble control allows you to shape your tone after being affected by the pedal. Darker tones can be had by turning it low, while brighter tones have the knob turned up.
These pedals work exceptionally well with tube amps by pushing tubes into overdriven territory.
The Wampler Tumnus is powered by a 9V DC connection, using 20mA of power. It has buffered bypass switching.
Overall, the Tumnus is an ideal choice for getting that classic Klon transparent overdrive boost without the cost. It’s so silky smooth you might even forget you have it on.
This is one of those pedals that you’ll likely leave in an “always-on” position. You’ll find that there are legions of guitarists who swear by this pedal as it’s integral to their overall tone.
Item Weight: 7 ounces
Package Dimensions: 7 x 7 x 4 inches
JHS Bonsai – Best Premium
If you have extra to spend, you really should consider the JHS Bonsai (see price on Amazon or Sweetwater). This is especially true if you are a fan of the many shades of Ibanez Tube Screamer overdrives.
Is the Bonsai worth the price? You should be the judge yourself, but to help, you should know about its features.
The Bonsai really shines as an overdrive pedal because it gives the guitarists many options for tone. With this pedal, there are 9 different presets available to replicate famous overdrives from years past.
One very important thing to note here is that the JHS Bonsai is a completely analog guitar pedal. There is no digitization involved in replicating the tones of these famous overdrives.
Essentially, the Bonsai has the same circuitry as each model featured on the pedal. When you switch to a preset, the pedal is using the same schematics as its source of inspiration.
The 9 different types of overdrives featured on the Bonsai include:
- Ibanez TS808
- Boss OD-1
- Ibanez TS9
- Exar OD-1
- Ibanez Metal Screamer (MSL)
- Ibanez TS10
- Keeley’s Mod+ TS9
- Ibanez TS7
- JHS Overdrive
All of these modes can be accessed by turning a simple rotary dial.
This will feel like home if you’re used to the original Ibanez Tube Screamer models. Like the famed Tube Screamers, the Bonsai has controls for Volume, Drive, and Tone.
The Bonsai has a standard form factor size of 4.8 x 2.6 inches. It is powered by a 9V DC power supply and has true bypass.
Overall, the Bonsai is a definite upgrade from the standard Ibanez Tube Screamers. Seek this out if you desire to have loads of options.
Item Weight: 7 ounces
Package Dimensions: 6 x 3 x 3 inches
TC Electronic Spark Mini – Best Budget
At a basic level, the Spark Mini is essentially just a boost pedal. In fact, you’ll find that the only control knob to be found controls the level of the pedal’s output.
If this only controls the boost of the signal’s volume, how does it get overdriven? The answer lies in the circuitry of a tube amplifier.
When tubes are presented with a heavy/louder load, the sound will start to break up. This is what gives a guitar that velvety dirt sound.
So, essentially, when using the Spark Mini, you can overdrive your tubes into break up for a tasteful distortion. That is, of course, very dependent upon a few different factors.
The first factor would be the fact that you would need a tube amp to experience any sort of distortion. Solid-state amplifiers do not react in the same way, and thus, will only get louder without distorting.
Another prerequisite factor would be that you would need to actually enjoy the tone your amplifier produces. The Spark Mini will simply allow the amp’s true character and distortion pattern to really shine.
This pedal is also incredibly small, boasting a miniature form factor size of 4 x 2.5 inches. There won’t be any real estate issues on your pedalboard with the Spark Mini.
It is an all-analog pedal powered by a 9V DC power supply (not included with the pedal).
Sometimes, the simplest solution can be the most effective in the quest for the best tone possible. The Spark Mini certainly sets the bar for simplicity.
Item Weight: 5.6 ounces
Package Dimensions: 3.66 x 2.01 x 1.81 inches
Wampler Paisley Drive
The Paisley Drive was built in collaboration with country guitarist Brad Paisley. It is his signature pedal that he uses on the stage and in the studio.
But, Brad Paisley doesn’t play blues! What’s his overdrive pedal doing on this list?
Well, any learned guitarist would tell you that Brad Paisley is truly a guitar-playing machine. He is one of the most respected guitarists in the country music world for over the last 20 years.
If you have an open mind, you’ll likely hear that guitar tones in blues and country music are very similar. Sure, the styles are completely different, but lead tones tend to be fairly clean with a slight overdrive.
That right there is why the Paisley Drive has relevance for the blues world. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
For controls, this pedal features knobs for Volume, Gain, and Tone. This is pretty similar to traditional overdrive pedals for the most part.
The Paisley Drive takes it a step further and offers 2 different switches. These include:
- Presence (2-way switch)
- EQ shape (3-way switch)
Tonally, the Paisley Drive aims to enhance the tone that comes from a guitar by being somewhat transparent. Don’t be mistaken though, this pedal can certainly produce some hot, greasy overdrive.
The Paisley Drive is all-analog with true bypass and can be powered by a 9V or 18V DC power supply. It has a standard form factor of 4.5 x 2.5 inches.
This pedal comes with a decorative design that is sure to look sharp on anyone’s board.
Item Weight: 1 pound
Package Dimensions: 6 x 3 x 2 inches
J. Rockett Audio Designs Archer
Searching for the holy grail that is the Klon Centaur, but can’t afford the cost? The J. Rockett Audio Designs Archer (see price on Amazon or Sweetwater) is one of the most respected clones available.
You can likely end your long journey in the quest to find the perfect overdrive with this pedal. However, that would require you to prefer the sound of the fabled Klon pedal.
The Archer is a great representation, featuring a modern design that is reminiscent of its predecessor. For instance, it sports a centaur design of its own and features the iconic crimson knobs found on the Centaur.
Due to the design of this, you can use the Archer as either a clean boost or as an overdrive. It will be transparent enough to allow for nearly any type of overdrive sound you are looking for.
The pedal has controls for:
So, not only can you control the levels of overdrive, but you can shape your tone as well.
The pedal itself comes in a standard form factor size of 4 x 2.3 inches. It has a metallic grey color that makes the crimson knobs truly pop out in an eye-catching manner.
This pedal also has buffered bypass switching and can be powered by a 9V DC power supply or 9V battery. The Archer is completely analog with no digitization used in providing its effect.
Overall, the Archer is a worthy representation of the Centaur, without the cost. If you prefer your guitar’s clean tone, but want a hint of dirt, this is for you.
Those looking for more extreme levels of overdrive might want to look elsewhere. This is designed with transparency in mind.
Item Weight: 1 pound
Package Dimensions: 7 x 5 x 3 inches
J. Rockett Audio Designs Blue Note OD
The Blues Breaker circuit from older Marshall amplifiers will forever be prominent amongst guitarists. It’s an easily identifiable crunch that you’ve likely heard on releases from the 1960s.
With the advent of modern technology, certain circuitry can now be built into smaller and more portable sizes. The J. Rockett Audio Designs Blue Note OD (see price on Amazon or Sweetwater) is a prime example of this.
This overdrive pedal will absolutely punish your tubes with that glorious and punchy blues overdrive. Not only will your leads soar, but chances are, you’ll always leave it on.
The Blue Note OD has 4 different control knobs onboard. These include:
Like traditional overdrive pedals, you can either rely on gain or volume for your distortion amount. The gain specifically controls the distortion, but louder volumes (if able) can help cover some of the same ground.
Wondering what the Fat control does? This essentially controls the lower EQ spectrum to deliver a thicker tone, or cut out for a more mid-range presentation.
The Blue Note OD is also equipped with a “Hot” setting, which is engaged via a 2-way switch. This “Hot” setting delivers more of every parameter to make your signal that much more driven.
Concerning its construction, this pedal has a fairly standard form factor size of 4.75 x 3 inches. It is completely analog with true bypass and can be powered via a 9V DC power supply or battery.
Overall, this is an excellent choice if you need a boost and specifically want some dirt in your tone. It is fairly transparent but does provide ample grit on tap if needed.
Item Weight: 1.37 pounds
Package Dimensions: 6 x 4 x 4 inches
The Fulltone OCD overdrive has long been a staple on the pedalboards of some of the greatest guitarists.
The OCD-Ge is an all-analog overdrive pedal that has 3 different adjustment knobs. These include:
As you would guess, the volume controls the output of the pedal while the gain controls the distortion amount. Adjust the tone knob to make your guitar heavier on the treble or mid-low ranges.
The OCD-Ge has a 2-way switch to change between hi-peak and lo-peak gain stages. As you might guess, this controls the amount of gain being introduced into the signal in a pre-set manner.
This pedal, in a sense, is built more akin to the very first original OCD pedals. It has been stocked with germanium diodes, which is quite a rare sight in today’s pedals.
Germanium is highly sought after, especially in fuzz pedals, for its unique distortion characteristics. You certainly won’t be disappointed with its addition to this pedal.
Another feature of this pedal is that it has MOSFET transistors to aid in the vintage-style crunch sound.
What’s even better is that the OCD-Ge has 2 different buffered bypass circuits onboard, Enhanced and True. This is achieved by having a Class A configuration of JFETs and helps to retain the dynamics in your playing.
The OCD-Ge, because of its limited-edition status, comes in a sleek metallic blue housing. It can be powered with a standard 9V or 18V DC power supply.
Item Weight: 1 pound
Package Dimensions: 10 x 8 x 3 inches
Boss BD-2W Waza Craft
The Boss Blues Driver has an iconic status amongst guitarists, especially blues players. And that status is certainly not derived from its name, but rather, from the gritty characteristics it can provide.
While the standard Blues Driver is still a viable pedal, today’s players could certainly use an upgrade. The Boss BD-2W Waza Craft (see price on Amazon or Sweetwater) is certainly the answer to those calls.
For those not familiar with Waza Craft, it is a sort of premium lineup of the Boss staples. Typically, these pedals will have the original circuitry, as well as modifications.
The BD-2W certainly fits in line with this modded vision. Let’s take a closer look at what’s inside.
This pedal retains the traditional Blues Driver build and interface. Controls for Level (volume), Gain, and Tone are all here.
However, this specific model has a 2-way switch hidden between the Level and Gain knobs. One side is labeled “S” while the other is labeled “C”.
As you might guess, the “S” mode runs the BD-2W in its traditional, standard manner. The “C” runs the BD-2W in the Custom mode, which provides a much thicker tone, similar to a compressor.
In a way, you could almost eliminate a compressor entirely if you’ve been using it for a beefier overdriven sound. The Custom mode has it all on tap, ready for you to use with the flip of a switch.
Unlike the original Blues Driver, this version has been re-designed with analog circuitry.
Aside from these changes, the BD-2W features the traditional Boss pedal form factor. It can be powered by a 9V battery or 9V DC power supply.
Item Weight: 1.23 pounds
Package Dimensions: 15.31 x 13.15 x 6.54 inches
Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer
Sometimes, there is nothing better than the tried and true pedals of yesterday’s guitar heroes. This pedal has certainly graced the signal chain of some of the most important guitarists to ever play a note.
The TS9 has a very straightforward operation. It has 3 different knobs for control over:
- Level (volume)
Tonally, the TS9 has an emphatic presence in the mid and treble EQ ranges. This, in a way, is perfect for blues for this specific reason.
The TS9 can be pretty transparent and act as a sort of clean boost with a hint of grit. Or, you can certainly dial up the tone for a saturated crunch.
This pedal is truly an icon and can be easily recognized by its green color. It has a standard form factor size of 4.9 x 3 inches.
The TS9 is an analog overdrive and can be powered by a 9V battery or 9V DC power supply.
Overall, the TS9 is a fairly basic pedal, which is likely why many guitarists today are not big fans. Regardless of opinion, this pedal remains one of the most imitated overdrive pedals on the market.
If you’re a beginner, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to pick up a TS9 for your first overdrive. It is reasonably affordable and will allow you to get your feet wet in the world of overdrive.
Plus, it has one of the cooler names for an overdrive pedal compared to other pedals on the market.
Item Weight: 1.25 pounds
Package Dimensions: 5.3 x 3 x 2.4 inches
What To Look For In An Overdrive Pedal For Blues?
The pedal market is completely oversaturated (pun intended) with hundreds of options for overdrive pedals. Because of this, navigating this landscape can be especially frustrating.
Some guitarists spend decades in search of the perfect overdrive pedal for their signal. With the number of options available, there certainly is no shortage of possibilities.
Nobody really wants to spend half of a lifetime in search of one specific pedal. The following points are going to be important to keep in mind so you can avoid a long-enduring search.
Even though there are innumerable overdrive pedals available, they tend to be built with inspiration from other circuits. So, not only are the original specification pedals floating around but so are clones.
Clones typically have the benefit of cost, providing a similar circuit to a traditional icon at an affordable price. Of course, clones also have the benefit of modifications, which add value and a different take on an old classic.
Some heavily-modded clones can fetch a hefty price depending on the features onboard. Whether these features are worth the price will be up for you to decide.
For the most part, the most famous types of overdrives include:
- Tube Screamer
- Blues Breaker/Blues Driver
- Klon Centaur
- Treble Booster
A general rule of thumb is that pedals with inspired circuitry will have a color similar to the original. For instance, the aforementioned JHS Bonsai is green, alluding to the fact that it is a Tube Screamer overdrive type.
Of course, the pedal’s color isn’t always a true indicator. You’ll need to do your own research for in-depth details on the specific circuitry.
Each of these styles of overdrive has its own flavor of coloring the tone. To give you an idea:
- The Tube Screamer is fairly mid-range tonally, with slight transparency and decent grit
- The Blues Breaker/Driver is fairly beefy with much more of a throaty growl
- The Centaur is extremely transparent, to the point of not realizing it is even present
- Treble Booster is fairly nasally in tone with a vintage-sounding grit
Unfortunately, you’ll need to try all of these out for yourself to hear how each works with your playing style. Researching what your favorite guitarists use(d) is a great place to start forming an initial idea.
Transparency is a fairly huge deal when it comes to overdrive pedals. However, if you’re unsure of what transparency is, it could seem like a mystery.
To make things simple, imagine that your tone is a large slab of wood. Now, imagine that you are going to apply stain and varnish to that wood.
The transparency of the stain and varnish would determine if the underlying woodgrain appears. If the color was deep with no transparency, the natural wood would not show through much at all.
This same thing applies to the natural tone coming from your guitar. Transparency relates to the amount of coloring that takes place from the pedal.
If you like your guitar’s clean tone, but need a boost with a small hint of distortion, transparency is key. Likewise, if you want more distortion, transparency likely isn’t going to be a thing to worry about.
Because blues tends to be fairly clean without extreme distortion, transparency does play an important role.
This is often what gets guitarists started on their quest for the perfect tone. True transparency is extremely hard to come by but is also subjective to each guitarist.
Some pedal manufacturers do offer modifications that can be done to other pedals. This can be a viable option if you like a certain pedal but feel like it’s missing a certain something.
The style of amplifier you are using is going to play a huge role in determining the tone being produced. As its name suggests, overdrive is essentially making tubes break up beyond their rated capacity.
The result is that creamy velvet tone that guitarists absolutely love, especially for blues music.
Unfortunately, that distinct driven tube sound is really only available from a tube amplifier. Solid-state amplifiers do not experience this sort of overdriven territory that tubes can provide.
Sure, there are overdrive units that do incorporate the use of tubes. And you can certainly make a solid-state amplifier sound out with a crunchy overdriven distortion.
However, that distorted tone is coming purely from the pedal itself. Solid-state amplifiers, unlike tube amps, amplify accurately at any volume.
You could think of this as an organic distortion (tube overdrive) and artificial distortion (relying on a pedal).
That’s certainly not to say that solid-state amplifiers cannot get the job done. You simply need to find the right pedal with the right settings to achieve that golden tone.
Tube amplifiers also have the benefit of allowing guitarists to use boost pedals to achieve an overdriven tone. This method allows the guitarist to rely purely on the natural tone of the amplifier for distortion.
Size Of Form Factor
The size of the pedal itself is definitely something to consider. Why is this an important thing to note?
You’ve likely seen guitarists with every inch of pedalboards covered in pedals. Real estate on these pedalboards becomes increasingly harder to accommodate with every pedal added to the chain.
Don’t laugh, because you could certainly find yourself in these shoes in the future. It often ends up in sacrificing one pedal for another.
For the most part, overdrives are typically in a standard size or a miniature size.
There are some instances in deluxe overdrives that are a fair deal wider than a traditional pedal. These typically have stackable drive modes built within.
Miniature form factor pedals can be extremely convenient. Quite often, these have the same circuitry and controls as full-size pedals.
Some people prefer to have certain sizes for easier accessibility and easier switching.
You’ll have to take some time to figure out what your preference is if you don’t have one.
Some overdrive pedals can certainly cost a hefty amount of money. There are other handmade overdrives that require a 4-year waiting period before you might receive the pedal.
Obviously, the time and money spent on an overdrive pedal are going to be crucial. You shouldn’t have to spend a massive fortune for a workable tone.
Best Brands For Overdrive Pedals For Blues
The following brands have a great reputation in the guitar pedal industry. Be sure to check these companies out if you’re confused about where to start your journey.
Wampler was founded in 2007 and excels at producing high-quality guitar pedals. Many guitarists use Wampler pedals, including Brad Paisley, Brent Mason, and Andy Wood. Wampler also has a popular YouTube channel covering effects pedals.
JHS was founded in 2007 and has become one of the leading and most innovative manufacturers in the space. The company has a massively famous YouTube channel covering all things related to effects pedals.
Top Overdrive Pedals For Blues, Final Thoughts
The right overdrive is a critical component in any blues guitarist’s signal chain. You definitely want to take your time to find the right pedal for you.
Be sure to try each of these pedals out to hear how it enhances and reacts to your own playing. Many shops will allow you to try out pedals with your own gear.
Don’t be shy, pay them a visit and give these pedals a good crank. Chances are, you’ll find that missing tonal link.