This is probably the most hotly contested area of guitar pedalology - which is the ’best’ overdrive pedal you should get - should it be a mid-bump Tube Screamer type, or a more neutral so-called ’Transparent’ version, and should you go with something closer to the original inspiration or something which evens out and tackles its inherent flaws and weaknesses. The guitar world is a strange place - full of staunch traditionalists who persists with ancient tropes despite their often inherent flaws - for many of these having a Les Paul which requires tuning 10 times a day is a badge of honour!
I say find your own way and make your own decisions, and none of these are really like-for-like - they are all quite distinct flavours - and within flavours you will have your own preferred interpretation - for sake of comparison - not all chocolate ice cream is created equal - there will be certain varieties you find texturally and nuance-wise much more appealing to your pallet - so it’s not a matter of either/or, but more what your preferences are, and how many flavour options you want ti have at your disposal on your board.
I personally have 5 key OD pedals in my chain - a Klon-type = Tumnus, a Tube Screamer = Foxpedal City, Dumble = Euphoria, Blues Driver = Blue Mood, OCD = OCD! Those for me cover most of the essential OD varieties although of course I am aware that there are still further nuances - and yet more flavours available.
This is such a personal thing really that it’s hard to make recommendations - as everyone focuses on slightly different aspects of the tone, and it matter if you are mostly playing within a band or playing on your own. All I can say is what I like - I cannot always say why, I also don’t think you can entirely discount an entire genre of pedals as there are so many variations available - that there is likely a variety that will appeal to you - if you can find it.
Of all the pedals listed I have 6, and 5 of those are in my active chain as already mentioned. 4 of the others are high on my wishlist - the Analog.Man Prince of Tone, Buffalo TD-X Tube Driver clone, the BYOC Crown Jewel - analogue modelling pedal, and the brand new J Rocket Rockaway Archer. If you know guitar - you will probably recognise most of these, there aren’t really any way out left-field choices listed really - and this is just a tiny part of what is available.
As always I’ve tried to give you a variety of sizes and prices - the listing ranges from £57 to £649, and is in alphabetic order by brand.
The larger two-channel King of Tone pedal is still one of the most coveted boutique vintage-style pedals, is still made by hand, and has a waiting list / delivery time of up to one year. A lot of people are not aware that this much loved pedal is based on an early version of the Marshall Bluesbreaker pedal. It is in one of the quintessential 'Transparent Overdrive' pedals which is mooted to have the least 'colouring' impact on your core guitar + amp tone. The larger pedal comes in at $245 and has a plethora of internal dip-switches and trim-pots for assigning different voicings to each channel. My own preference here is for the regular-size / smaller 'Prince of Tone' pedal which obviously does not have the boost channel option, but has a neat 3-way mode toggle - allowing you to switch voicings between - OD | Boost | Dist. The Prince of Tone is purportedly hand-made in China (obviously VS USA for the larger one), but from the same core components as its bigger brother, it does also have a slightly higher output stage and a little more grunt on tap. I don't really need a separate boost channel, I have plenty of boost options already in my pedal chain - so this would be perfect for me to get the experience of that same legendary tone.
I was for the longest while a big fan of a number of tube-driven pedals (1 or 2 x 12AX7) - like most of the Kingsley ones - e.g. The Jester, and the Tube Driver from Butler. Yet I don't really want to be faffing around with valves all the time - it's enough that half my amps require tube maintenance. So it's a blessing that Buffalo produce their own analogue / transistor based clone of that beautiful sounding pedal - in the shape of the TD-X. The pedal gets top marks from Gilmourish.com, and is definitely on my wishlist for further progress. Although it is quite undeniable that valve-driven pedals can produce the most amazing of tones, there is a huge downside with their fragile and often temperamental nature - they also suck huge amounts of power and generate unwanted heat etc. It's surprising someone has not come up with a more accurate and modern way of replicating a tube's principal modes of behaviour. I like a lot of the modern DSP stuff, but I also love warm and lush analogue components - I really don't understand why someone has not cracked this sooner. There are of course the Korg Nano-Tubes which Vox have started to use, but these to my ears still don't get you close enough - hopefully someone will crack it soon - to make our guitar playing lives easier. There has to be a better substitute than having to lug your tube amp around for a valve service!
I followed the development and evolution of this pedal from some of its earliest days, and it's long been on my radar as a wishlist favourite. When I acquired the Empress Multidrive - I got that at a significantly better price than this one - plus the necessary delivery and customs charges. I also kind of decided that the Multidrive way of layering up voicings and teaking tone was quite a bit simpler thant the BYOC approach - which utilises various clipping options plus replaceable boost modules - all of which can colour your signal in unique ways. If you want to replicate the best tones of all your favourite specific pedal types, then this is probably the best tool for that task. Yet for me it falls down in versatility as there are no presets here, and not a channel switch like on the Multidrive - which means you can have a core tone + boost, or a more distinctive boost module to give you slightly more exotic flavours. What I have considered though is that instead of getting the full-fat King of Tone - you could probably dial the key sound here if you use the right clipping components - which would give you an even more versatile version of that pedal in a slightly more compact enclosure, and for slightly less money. This pedal is in effect a total chameleon, yet it still includes lots of the DIY pedal attributes which means it may not be as user-friendly as some need it to be. There is a great video demonstrating different tonal possibilities as above - which makes the process look a little fiddly. Possibly you would need a full manual showing you how to get close to all those core tones - Klon, Tube Screamer, Dumble, OCD, Bluesbreaker, Blues Driver etc. I still kind of want one, but have yet to decide exactly what I would use it for.
The classic and much loved transparent OD oddly comes from New Zealand, but has found huge support over the years with many pro players having this as their favourite OD. I've pretty much featured all the obvious ones in this listing - for you to make up your own mind. I have already kind of decided which my favourites are and don't as yet have any particular desire to add this one to my flavour options - you really can't practically accommodate them all. There are just 3 dials here for tone-shaping - Level | Presence | Drive. It's yet another elegant natural sounding OD - for you consideration.
This is the first of 3 'Dumble Overdrive Special' pedal clones here and probably the most full-featured one ever made - with its 11 dials, 9 toggle switches, and 3 footswitches - yet though still not quite the largest. The legendary amp made in very limited quantities currently sells at around six figures currently, so it's understandable you might want a smaller and more cost-effective alternative. The Dumble's sound is pretty unique as the EQ section comes before the drive circuit - and to my ears gives the tonal pallet a wonderful rich kind of saturation with some really delicate fuzz-type accents on the edges. If you are dedicated to arriving at that perfect Dumble tone, then this is probably a good place to start - it's obviously quite a massive pedal, has a larger amount of tweakable settings (like the amp) and a few optional extras on the pricelist. For me personally - I cannot countenance such a large pedal for just one core flavour of tone - albeit the Dumble does have some beautiful variations in tone at different gain levels - it's still just too big for me - an incredible pedal for sure though.
This is one of the classic 'Klon Centaur' clones, which sound I've always found a bit thin really - and obviously so in the £76 stock version. I prefer the JHS modded version with its additional 'Meat' knob - which gives you extra body to the tone, as well as an additional 3-way Germanium clipping pedal - all of which help you get closer to the original Klon, as well as counter some of the weaknesses of the stock pedal. For this slot I still actually favour the mini Wampler Tumnus which beautifully enhances the original 'Klon' tone with more low-end definition and more defined mids. There are literally squillions of Klon clones available, yet I don't really like those which match it too closely as it's not a particularly rich or well-rounded tone - unlike what the JHS Soul Food and Tumnus can deliver - which to some Klon advocates is quite obviously heresy!
I've been through various Tube Screamers - mostly mini versions, my favourite original flavour is probably the TS808 version which is listed separately here, but it does not have a lot of controls, nor is its output quite loud enough for my liking. The Foxpedal City pedal takes a leaf out of Chase Bliss's playbook with two footswitches on a regular enclosure - giving you an additional boost stage (via built-in Ebenezer boost) - a beautifully and entirely clean boost. You then have 5 dials - Drive | Tone | Level | Boost | Body and 3 toggles - Clip | Flat | Presence to give you the maximum versatility Tube Screamer type in a regular enclosure. In many ways it's almost the equal of EQD's huge Palisades Tube Screamer workstation pedal, but not quite. But to have near that functionality at one third of the size is incredible. The Palisades is without a doubt the most versatile Tube Screamer currently available, but the Foxpedal runs it really close at almost one third of the size. This makes 'The City' a really practical versatile choice - and I can even use the boost for other pedals further downstream in the chain.
This is one of the rarer and more left-field choices for core OD pedal, but a number of pro players are still giving this one pride of place on their boards. This pedal has a smart Input Z (impedance control) button as well as a Gain Boost for significantly added versatility over some of the other core ones covered here. Even though I am unlikely to want a Hot Cake or Timmy any time soon (actually I quite like the Timmy still!), the Gigs Boson is a more appealing proposition for me - this one has been on the wishlist for a while now, but like the Fulltone Plimsoul - it seems to get bumped quite a lot. Even when I have decided to buy it, something else happens and I end up with an entirely different pedal. Great unique Japanese OD - with superior components and some really smart switching options - for those who aren't afraid to go their own way. On further review though, and in current mind-state I would probably take the Timmy over this!
If I had to pick a favourite favourite OD pedal it would be a hard-fought fight between this one, the Mooer Blues Mood and the Wampler Tumnus - each have very unique voicings that I really love - I use each for different things. I also have a mini OCD clone in the shape of the Mooer Hustle Drive - for backup and alternating purposes. The OCD has wonderful higher frequency breakup and really pushes up to a nicely gritty kind of distortion - it very much has its own voice, and one I've loved it since day one. In fact really the same could be said also for my own flavours of Dumble and Tube Screamer - every pedal has been very carefully and highly rigorously selected and I am always on the lookout for improvements. Notably of all my preferred ODs - the only fully original one I am using is the OCD! For all the others I prefer their various clones. There's a reason so many like the OCD - also HP setting for me all the way.
So there are numerous varieties of the classic Ibanez Tube Screamer, including the more TS9-voiced mini which I have. All different shapes and sizes - yet the classic 808 variety initially developed by Maxon is my favourite flavour over all. It has slightly more high frequency sparkle and more overall body - it just somehow sounds mores subtstantial to me than the other flavours. I have a problem with its slightly low volume output though - which means I am more likely to favour the clones for now. I also have a really neat Keely Red Dirt Mini - which is based on some of the key Tube Screamer mods Robert Keeley has done over the years. However - it does not quite capture the sparkle of the 808. My One Control Persian Green Screamer is closest in tone to that, but I currently prefer Foxpedal's The City because of its much greater versatility. I always find it strange when the original brands can't produce a Palisades or Muffuletta type pedal for their own core tones. Why can't Ibanez have one killer Tube Screamer pedal in a regular enclosure with different voicing options and a boost switch - like the Foxpedal. The more innovative pedal makers are really stealing a march here...
This somewhat mysterious pedal has often caught me out - as some JHS pedals frequently do - with no brand marker appearing - just a fairly anonymous sparkle fountain graphic in this instance. This is another classic transparent / natural amp OD with 3 dials - Volume | Drive | Tone; it has an additional gain/boost toggle which can also be activated with JHS's mini red remote footswitch. Finally, there is a hi-cut slider switch on the side for taming high frequencies if you feel the need. This pedal has some superficial similarities to the Gigs Boson previously mentioned - it is up to you again to decide which one of these tones you have a preference for, and which features you think you might benefit from. I feel that the boost switch could be handled in so many more elegant ways than having to use a separate switch - e.g. just press the main footswitch for a couple of seconds versus a rapid touch for on/off - that could work just fine. This is another worthy pedal for sure - and there's really not much in it to decide between this and the Gigs Boson - decisions decisions...
So the Tumnus is pretty safe for now as my current Klon clone of choice - by dint of its amazing voicing and diminutive size. Yet I am also a huge fan of Steve Stevens' core tone - and his preferred Klon is the brand new 'Archer' type pedal with built-in 6-band EQ. This in theory should be able to give you a very similar tone profile to the Tumnus - with all kinds of other flavours easily achievable too - check out Steve's wonderful tone in the above video. I will probably get this one sometime anyway - just as another flavour of Klon - and something I can swap out to compare and contrast with my current much-loved Tumnus.
Surprisingly, this is the pedal I find myself stomping on the most often. Mooer's mini version of the Keeley-modified Boss Blues Driver. It has a wonderful range of tone as you can see in the above Mike Hermans demo, although I tend to play it quite saturated - with fat-mode engaged and gain at around 1 or 2 o'clock. This is really a great little pedal and one that I would most definitely not wish to be without - currently probably the safest pedal on the board! And yes I know there is a little compression in there and it's not necessarily the most natural sounding - but it sounds full and rich and complex to my ears, and usually makes quite a wonderful sound particularly on chords - highly recommended.
This is a different kind of mid-boost pedal to the Tube Screamer and very much has its own voicing and tone profile. It lends itself very well to twangy sounds - which has made it become really the Nashville pedal of choice. It owes its continued existence largely to the armies of chicken-pickers centred in and around the country music heartland of Nashville, Tennessee. I've often considered getting this to compare/contrast with the Tube Screamer - to see what I might be missing out on, I've never got around to quite acquiring one of these yet - they are generally relatively inexpensive, and you get a fair few of them on the second-hand market too. Well worth a look-in. I will likely check this out some day, but there are lots of other pedals above this in the priority list.
Another one of the legendary and much loved 'Transparent OD' pedals - there was a time when the larger Paul Cohcrane 2-channel 'Tim' pedal was the most used version of this pedal, but you don't see that so much on boards any more. You are much more likely to see a Timmy - which comes in a whole variety of different colour enclosures, but can usually be found in fairly reasonable numbers. Much like the Crowther Hot Cake - this warrants inclusion and consideration, although it's also not a pedal I am rushing to buy any time soon. I have pretty much figured out my favourite OD sounds so far, and this one does not currently feature. I am of course open to changing my mind - such is the way with this game that you all of a sudden hear a particular song or lick and find out it was recorded entirely with just one particular flavour of pedal. Up until the next time that happens I'm giving this one a pass for now - for the serious tone-chasers amongst you, you will probably want the check this one out too - such is its following - there really is quite the complexity of choices available - and you are most definitely entering option paralysis territory here with so many great choices available.
This is the second of the Dumble-ish clones covered, although intended as a more universal solid-state but tube-drive-alike overdrive, and not with the same specificity as the Ethos OD above. This is the largest pedal featured here - being slightly wider and taller than the Ethos - note also that the £649 does not get you an included power supply either, but it can take 9, 12 or 18V regular power cables. Mick Taylor of That Pedal Show has one of these and speaks very highly of it - but you could really fit in a good 4+ separate pedals in its place - so you really need to be committed to this concept. There is no doubting this is a wonderful pedal with the very best components used and some wonderfully expressive internal circuitry. The heft of this though is really quite something - check out the above That Pedal Show video for a proper frame of reference. I'm not entirely put off by the price - even though it is stratospheric - it's the size here that's really the biggest hurdle for me. I like a lot of different flavours - and no matter how good this one really is, I'm really not sure I would want to sacrifice all that pedalboard real estate for it. Probably fine for studio use, but somewhat of an encumbrance on the road.
And so to the 3rd and final Dumble option listed here - Wampler's triple voiced Euphoria with lovely picking sensitivity. This bumped out my much loved Simble pedal - by virtue of the 3 separate voicings available and the greater degree of versatility therefore. I still have yet to dial in quite the same magical tone I achieved with the Simble. I will persevere with the Euphoria a little more, but I may return back to the Simble again at some stage for a change. I had narrowed my Dumble choices down to 3 - the J Rockett 'The Dude', Mad Professor 'Simble' and Wampler 'Euphoria', I decided that the Simble gave the absolute best tone for me, while the Euphoria gives you a lot of extra flexibility through its additional voicings. I may still check out 'The Dude' at some stage too. Note that the original Dumble OS amps are highly complex beasts with a variety of flavours, and only the Ethos gets you close to most of those. For these other clones it's a matter of capturing one or two of its key tones - so you need to decide what kind of tone your are after, and then which pedal gets you there the closest. As in my case it's often a matter of proximity vs versatility - as is the case with the Euphoria - in that The Simble gets me closer to the core Dumble tone I like, but the Euphoria gives me a tonne of extra flavours that I kind of like using too, but are not necessarily bang on the original target. This comes back to the whole question of where you are going with your ToneQuest - simply trying to match the original inspirations, or trying to forge your own path evolving out of those core sounds.
And last but not least is my much loved Tumnus - nearly everyone actually seems to love this, and it seems to have become one of the most popular Klon clones of late. Its diminutive size obviously helps somewhat, but more than that its the incredible tone profile that Brian has developed here - tweaking and improving in my opinion the frequency curve from the original inspiration. Some of the steadfasts detest the Tumnus for the same reason - in that it is significantly messing with the formula - but to me ears it just sounds all the more glorious for it. I really don't see the point in buying one of those original larger Klon Centaur-alike enclosure pedals - get a more regular-sized J Rokett Archer version if you must, or go one better and get the Steve Stevens Rockaway Archer or this little fella right here! You can use it both as a really dynamic drive, or a boost - anywhere in your chain, a lot of players just use this as a distortion boosted for lead tones as it stacks so well. Definitely a great pedal all-round.
In summary therefore - you have quite a number of overlapping choices here and many stay on this quest for their lifetime - just trying to find the best / perfect neutral / transparent OD, or the one with the best frequency profile / response etc. I am very happy with the selection I have included here; would have loved to have included the Lovepedal Amp Eleven too, but kind of ran out of space, and as with my other Fuzz and Distortion overviews thought I should limit the selection to 18. Of all the pedals listed here that I don't have, I would really like to get my hands on a Prince of Tone, Buffalo TD-X, Crown Jewel, and Rockaway Archer - the others can wait!
I mention above that I regret having been unable to include the Amp Eleven within the overall 18 pedal listing. But this is such a great pedal that I've had to add it as an addition here for your consideration. Wonderfully neutral / transparent overdrive with really natural amp-like warmth. Would sit in the Klon-alike slot for me - where I currently have the Tumnus, with the J Rockett Rockaway Archer as a likely second. This one slightly looses out by its landscape orientation - it's not a larger pedal, but does in effect take up the real estate of a couple of pedals - but then it also does have a separate boost channel. This pedal has much to recommend it, and is very reasonably priced. If they could update their pedal format to be closer to a Foxpedal or Chase Bliss dual footswitch version - this would be even higher in my estimation.