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Guitars & Accessories

Best Guitar Drive Pedal

The ringing sound of a guitar chord channeled through a guitar drive pedal doesn’t just sound cool, it’s also the foundation for dozens of genres and styles of music. The implementation of drive pedals ultimately changed the sound of music forever. While the origin of the over-driven guitar tone first occurred accidentally when amplifier tubes were turned up too loud, the effect has since been implemented into the rigs of guitarists worldwide seeking to have notes sustain longer, showcase more character, and sometimes take on an effect that’s unable to be contained. If you’re a guitarist, you simply need a drive pedal and we’ve outlined what you need to look for in our buyer’s guide below.

Ibanez TS808 Original Tube Screamer Overdrive Pedal

Ibanez TS808 Original Tube Screamer Overdrive Pedal

The original Ibanez Tube Screamer was instrumental (no pun intended) in shaping guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan’s tone, a sound that is still emulated to this day. The TS808 reissue remains faithful to the look and feel of the original, giving today’s guitarists a cheaper and easier-to-find way to summon the SRV spirit. Like its predecessor, the design is simple with three knobs which allow players to control the Overdrive, Tone, and Level of the signal. The all-metal casing on the pedal ensures that this pedal is as tough as it sounds. The pedal’s square toggle switch makes it something of a rarity in terms of the design of guitar pedals. In this case, it not only looks great, but it also makes switching the pedal on and off much easier and more functional.

Fulltone Fulldrive 2 Mosfet Overdrive Pedal

Fulltone’s FullDrive2 Mosfet overdrive pedal takes up more real estate on the pedalboard than most of its peers, but it’s not without warrant. This pedal offers two channels of drive, a non-compressed overdrive and a switchable boost channel. The former allows you to tweak the sound without compromising your original tone, so you can go from slight grit to full-on growl. The latter offers its own distortion controls so that you can really make your guitar sound soar with greater gain and longer sustain. The pedal’s 16-gauge steel enclosure is durable enough to take on the road without fear of any incidental damage. Additionally, the FullDrive2 gives players the option to use a MOSFET mode, which adds more bottom end and roundness to the pedal’s tone.

Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive Pedal

BOSS’s SD-1 Super OverDrive pedal has been in production for over 30 years at this point, so it’s safe to say that they’ve found a formula that doesn’t need much fixing. Guitarists like Zakk Wylde and Eddie Van Halen both were advocates of the pedal, using it in conjunction with the rest of their gear to boost their already-aggressive signal. Three simple knobs for Level, Tone, and Drive pretty much explain just how you can alter the sound that this pedal produces. Like all BOSS stomp boxes, this thing is built like a tank and will be reliable whether you’re taking it on the road every night or are using it primarily in contained spaces like rehearsal halls or studios. Compared to some of its other overdrive contemporaries, the SD-1 is also relatively affordable, which makes it a great option for those working with a limited budget.

Electro-Harmonix Soul Food Distortion Overdrive Pedal

The Klon Centaur overdrive pedal served as the muse for Electro-Harmonix when they designed their Soul Food overdrive pedal. The former was a piece of gear that provided a legendarily clear sound while boosting guitar tone levels to rock-star like levels, but it was out of production and regularly sold second-hand for prices too high to mention here. EH has provided the sound of this pedal for the masses with the Soul Food, which is super responsive and offers both clean and mid-range boosts that have earned it a spot in the hearts of players worldwide. And the price on this thing is like the polar opposite of the price tag on the Klon Centaur; in fact, it’s so low that I’m not going to mention it here, either. The design is simple and it takes up very little space on the pedalboard, which makes it an easy addition to even the most cluttered of gear collections.

DigiTech Bad Monkey Tube Overdrive Pedal B Stock

I’ve never had to deal with an unruly primate (although I’ve met some humans who might fit the bill), but it seems like if you were going to introduce the monkey figure into the world of guitar effects pedals, you’d want it to be bad. A polite monkey just doesn’t have the attitude that you’d want to reproduce in a pedal. That said, DigiTech’s Bad Monkey offers a snarling boost that’s ideal for rock and blues, and is contained in a durable, rugged casing that the most irate orangutang could never break. Multiple EQ adjustments allow you to tweak the low and high end of the pedal’s distortion, while Gain and Level knobs give you tighter control of the signal before it ever leaves the unit. Dual outputs give you excellent settings to route the signal to either an amplifier or mixing board. And it’s affordable enough that even a monkey with a crappy part-time job could get one before the end of the month. Which might make the monkey a little bit happier.

Way Huge Electronics Swollen Pickle MKII Super Jumbo Fuzz Pedal

The Way Huge Swollen Pickle guitar fuzz pedal boasts a big, smooth low end and dynamic range of fuzz tones that are capable of being produced. Way Huge had previously unveiled its brand of stomp boxes in the early ‘90s, but closed its doors in 1999; the company’s partnership with Dunlop hasn’t just brought their products back to the market, but with new features and at a more affordable price. Loudness, filter, sustain, scoop, and crunch controls give players a hands-on experience in determining just how loud and unruly or tight and controlled they want their tone to be. Inside the pedal, players can also make more slight adjustments to their sound via Voice and Clip controls. Whether you want your tone to be thick and contained or sizzlingly unruly, the Swollen Pickle is capable of getting you to where you want to be.

Keeley Fuzz Head Pedal

Keeley Fuzz Head Pedal

Keeley’s Fuzz Head pedal draws its unique blend of overdrive and fuzz from its NPN Germanium transistor. Part of what makes this pedal stand out from the rest is its Si/Ge switch, which gives players the ability to control a secondary clipping stage by adding a pair of internal diodes (the Germanium plus a silicon) into the signal for more sustain and a smoother, more saturated sound. Switching between the two settings can result in a fuzzier, more compressed tone, or a wider, open-sounding sound, respectively. The pedal is also true bypass, which protects your tone from being sucked by having the pedal in your rig. And because fuzz tends to be a very responsive effect, rolling back the volume on your guitar can result in some pretty cool sounding clean and slightly overdriven tones, too.

Electro-Harmonix Bass Big Muff Pi Distortion Pedal

Guitar icons like Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana were among some of the earliest adopters of the Big Muff Pi by Electro-Harmonix. Decades later, the tone that they were able to pull out of this fuzz pedal are still emulated, and as a result this unit is still in production. The controls are pretty straightforward; volume, tone, and sustain knobs allow you to easily make adjustments to the color of your sound. The sound itself is anything but standard, though, as this pedal can go from just adding a gritty buzz to a full-on, singing sustain that has made the Big Muff Pi a standard in music. This pedal doubles as a distortion pedal, so the tonal possibilities in this unit are pretty wide-ranging. It is also true-bypass, meaning that your guitar tone won’t be affected when the pedal is not in use in your chain.

Fulltone ’69 mkII Guitar Fuzz Pedal

Fulltone’s ’69 mmii offers a vintage-sounding fuzz tone that is primarily powered by its dual germanium transistors. Small enough to not take up a prohibitive amount of space in your rig, the ’69 features a Contour knob that lets you tweak the sustain, harmonics, and midrange of the effect. Dialing down the volume of your guitar can result in some great cleans and slight overdrives in the pedal’s tone; it’s definitely a versatile piece of gear that, in true fuzz fashion, can be altered by the other variables that you add to the mix. The pedal also features an internal trimmer that gives players the ability to adjust tracking, harmonics, and clipping symmetry. Your tone will remain unaffected when this pedal isn’t in use, thanks to its true-bypass nature.

Dunlop FFM3 Jimi Hendrix (TM) Fuzz Face Mini Distortion

Jimi Hendrix utilized a Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face guitar pedal on classic albums like Electric Ladyland, and in the process revolutionized the use of guitar fuzz for every player that would follow after him. Dunlop’s Jimi Hendrix Fuzz Face Mini is based around the same design specs as that classic piece of gear, and in doing so have nailed many of the same sonic attributes of the icon in a unit that is both affordable and takes up very little space in your guitar rig. Like the original, this pedal features a hardwired brown circuit board with no solder mask. The Fuzz Face Mini also is built as a true bypass pedal, so your signal won’t be affected when the pedal is in your chain but not being used. Beyond its build and sonic features, this thing also harkens back tot he past thanks to its vintage turquoise hammer tone finish and original Fuzz Face knobs.

Xotic EP Booster Mini EQ Effect Pedal

The Mastro EP-3 Echoplex was a tape-delay effect utilized by guitar icons such as Eddie Van Halen and Jimmy Page; the circuit inside that unit is precisely what Xotic based their own circuit around for the EP Booster clean boost pedal. The unit itself is quite small, which is a huge advantage for guitarists who have an already-crowded pedalboard. The design is simple, as it features just one footswitch and one knob. But there’s nothing little about the way this thing will make your guitar sound; while it does increase the volume like all boost pedals aim to do, it also adds a warm, vintage-like tonal quality to your sound. The result is somewhat magical, and needs to be heard to be believed.

Blackstar HTBT1 HT-BOOST Pure Valve Clean Boost Pedal

Finding a pedal that can boost your signal without changing the sonic qualities of your tone can be a bit of a challenge, but Blackstar’s HT Boost definitely makes the job a lot easier. This clean boost pedal is designed to work with tube amps that already have a slight overdrive; activating this pedal in the chain adds compression and sustain and really turns things up, without coloring or adding unwanted distortion. It can also be used as an additional tube EQ, as it features Cut and Boost controls for bass and treble frequencies. Country, blues, and indie players will be especially enamored with this tool, as it really increases volume in a way that still fits in with the character of the music.

BOSS FB-2 Feedbacker/Booster Pedal

BOSS’s FB-2 Feedbacker/Booster gives guitarists a quick and easy way to subtly improve the tone and sonic quality of their signal without compromising its character. The Booster component of the durable stompbox offers a wide range of tonal possibilities, ranging from a flat, clean boost to other settings that enhance the mid-range and high-end which are perfect for solos and other prominent parts. Even with the signal boosted, the signal is still sensitive to other forces like picking nuances, which makes the playing sound natural. The FB-2 also features a Feedback effect, which gives players the ability to instantly produce a naturally sustained feedback that is controllable but still adds the extra, often ethereal element that this function has without making it a totally uncontrollable monster. This pedal is also covered under BOSS’s five-year warranty.

Electro-Harmonix The Mole Nano Bass Boost Guitar Effects Pedal

Electro-Harmonix’s Mole Boost guitar pedal is designed after the pedal of the same name from the 1970s, which guitarists used to add a rich, bass-heavy character to their tone, along with the 20dB volume boost that the piece of gear offers. Like a real mole, this pedal is tiny and won’t take up much space in your rig. It’s true bypass, meaning that it won’t color your tone when it’s not in use. With a very simple setup (we’re talking one knob here, people), you’ll be able to dial in the tone that sounds best for you within just a few seconds. And its die-cast chassis makes it a durable piece of machinery that can handle most situations it might encounter on the road.

Fulltone FB-3 Fat-Boost 3 Boost Pedal

Like any good clean boost guitar pedal, the Fulltone Fat Boost 3 is capable of increasing your signal up to 35dB without introducing any changes to your tone. But if you want to make some adjustments to the sound coming out of your amp, it can also be used to add color and changes to your tone. This pedal can be used to brighten up the sound of your signal, fatten/distort it, add or subtract bass, and add harmonics. As a true bypass pedal, this unit won’t affect your tone in any negative way when it’s not being used. A bright LED light also makes the pedal easy to see when it's being used.

Boss DS1 Distortion Guitar Pedal

Everyone from Joe Satriani to Kurt Cobain have been staunch advocates for the rock-star-igniting powers of the BOSS DS-1 distortion pedal. Its bright orange design makes it easy to spot, and the fact that it’s a BOSS means that it is built to take a beating and still keep on fighting the good fight, thanks to its rugged metal enclosure. Three simple knobs are all you need to get cooking with the DS-1; the Tone knob allows you to brighten or darken the signal, while the Distortion adjusts just how much overdrive your signal gets. Level, meanwhile, adjusts the output volume of the signal; playing around with all three of these controls will give you an idea of just how this pedal can be used. Whether you want to add a little bit of grit to your rhythm parts, crank your solos out to jaw-dropping, soaring levels, or use the pedal to kick an already ramped up amp signal to the next level, the BOSS DS-1 is the little pedal that’s there to get the job done.

Pro Co RAT2 Distortion Pedal

The RAT pedal family has become something of a staple in the world of rock music, as Pro Co has made many units that are perfect for driving guitar tones into the distorted zone. The RAT2 distortion pedal continues that tradition, and adds some cool new additions that make it stand out from the pedals the preceded it. A distortion knob controls the overall gain level, while the filter control allows players to roll off high end frequencies to summon a darker tone and the volume knob controls overall output. The RAT2 offers an On/Off LED light that wasn’t previously included in the old RAT model. This pedal is also a True Bypass, which means that your guitar’s tone won’t be affected when this pedal is not in use in your rig.

Electro-Harmonix Bass Big Muff Pi Distortion Pedal

Guitar icons like Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana were among some of the earliest adopters of the Big Muff Pi by Electro-Harmonix. Decades later, the tone that they were able to pull out of this fuzz pedal are still emulated, and as a result this unit is still in production. The controls are pretty straightforward; volume, tone, and sustain knobs allow you to easily make adjustments to the color of your sound. The sound itself is anything but standard, though, as this pedal can go from just adding a gritty buzz to a full-on, singing sustain that has made the Big Muff Pi a standard in music. This pedal doubles as a distortion pedal, so the tonal possibilities in this unit are pretty wide-ranging. It is also true-bypass, meaning that your guitar tone won’t be affected when the pedal is not in use in your chain.

Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer Overdrive Pedal

The Ibanez TS-9 Tube Screamer guitar distortion pedal is built to emulate the company’s classic product of the same name. With a simple design that’s housed in a bright green, all-metal chassis, you’ll have no problem catching peoples’ eyes with this piece of gear, and won’t have to worry about doing any damage to it while playing – after all, what good is a stompbox that you can’t stomp on? The tone range that this pedal provides is great, too; turn up the Drive slightly to provide a subtle crunch, or crank it all the way to make your guitar really scream. Though the TS-9 does slightly compress your guitar signal when played at higher levels, it doesn’t seem to be as prevalent when played at lower volumes.

DigiTech Hardwire Series TL-2 Metal Distortion Guitar Effects Pedal

The DigiTech TL-2 HardWire Metal Distortion guitar pedal is designed for players looking to unleash their tone in ways that are perfect for high-octane genres like hard rock and metal. The pedal features a Tight/Loose mode switch; the former offers a tight, percussive low end, while the latter thickens it up a bit for a real grinding effect. Either option works great for heavier styles. Tone controlling knobs allow you to sculpt the full frequency range of the pedal’s effect, giving you a more hands-on approach to getting the type of tone you’re looking for. Because the TL-2 is a true bypass pedal, it won’t affect or alter your signal when the pedal is not in use.

Buyer's Guide

 

Guitar Drive Pedal Buyer's Guide

Because guitar drive pedals have played such a significant role in the music to emerge throughout the last 60+ years, there are many options to choose from. There are different branches of drive pedals that exist, each one providing an alternate approach to giving your guitar signal an extra bit of growl. Guitar players tend to be pretty picky when it comes to choosing a pedal that best fits their style and works well within their pre-existing rig, so trying them out for yourself is a must. But before you do that, there are some things you should know about when it comes to selecting one of these iconic pedals.

Overdrive

Overdrive pedals provide the most subtle form of drive. The very first overdrive pedals were designed to work in conjunction with tube amplifiers, pushing a greater amount of signal into the amp to create a slightly dirty, more powerful tone. With the popularity of solid state amps, more overdrive pedals have been designed to provide the same sound without having to rely on the amplifier’s actual tubes.

With a warm and “pushed” sound that’s still under tighter control than some of the more extreme versions of drive pedals available on the market, the overdrive pedal has played a significant role in the signature sounds of players such as Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Johnson. Through the tweaking of the pedal’s knobs and settings, guitarists can use the pedal to craft a sound that is distinctly their own.

Distortion

If overdrive pedals played a huge role in the sound and direction of popular music starting in the middle of the 20th century, the distortion pedal specifically would have to be the poster child of that movement. Due to their prevalent use in nearly every incarnation of rock music since the genre’s inception, there may be more distortion pedals on the market than any other type of guitar effect.

Taking the overdrive pedal concept to an over-the-top extreme, distortion pedals provide their own tone rather than enhancing the sound of an amplifier and/or tubes. With a sound that’s more “in the box”, distortion pedals allow players to tweak both EQ and compression settings to sculpt sounds that can be described as jagged and metallic. If you’re looking to bring an unstoppable fury to your guitar sound, distortion pedals are the answer.

Fuzz

Taking the distortion pedal concept a step even further is the fuzz pedal. The fuzz effect thickens up a guitar tone to such extremes that it’s typically used sparingly and often as a slight addition to a distortion or overdrive pedal to boost a guitar part just over the edge. With controllable parameters for the effect’s volume level and “fuzz”, the sound produced with fuzz pedals is also very responsive to external factors, such as how a guitarist utilizes pick attack and how loud the instrument is turned up.

Although it’s place in the hierarchy of drive pedals may make it seem like some sort of unmanageable wrecking ball, fuzz pedals are remarkably malleable to performance and interaction with other effects pedals in a guitar rig. If you’re looking for a classic example of fuzz guitar in its most realized glory, you don’t need to look any further than many classic songs and performances by Jimi Hendrix.

Boosters

The booster is a drive pedal that’s truly the most simple of all, as it effectively just functions as a preamp placed before an amplifier’s input. By design, they don’t add any color or tone; instead, they simply take the sound of a guitar and boost it (hence the name).

Although they are often just used to make the signal louder (a technique often necessary in rigs using either several guitar pedals or cables that stretch out for many feet), some of them have been known to add a slight mid-to-high-end boost that’s desirable for lead guitar parts. Legends such as Brian May of Queen and Eric Clapton all used booster pedals to really make some of their guitar parts soar and stand out in the mix.

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