Lists updated on March 15, 2022
A Brief History of the Blues Breaker
The original Marshall Blues Breaker pedal was an overdrive released in 1991, but the history of that name dates back to 30 years earlier. Marshall took the name from John Mayall and Eric Clapton’s 1960s band, the Bluesbreakers.
Clapton’s guitar tone on their self-titled album is the stuff of legend, created from just a Les Paul plugged into a Marshall 2×12 JTM combo. The amp, which itself was based on a Fender Bassman circuit, became known as the Bluesbreaker after the album.
So the amp, the band, the album, and the pedal are all called Bluesbreaker – although the correct spelling of the pedal and the amp features a space between the two words – like in this image:
How Does a Blues Breaker Sound?
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The original 1991 Blues Breaker pedal didn’t exactly capture the iconic sound it was going for, but it did provide a nice low gain overdrive tone that some may refer to as “transparent.”
Although the trend didn’t catch on until the early 2000s, the Blues Breaker was the pedal that began the transparent overdrive craze which continues today. A new version of the pedal, the Marshall BB-2, also discontinued was released in the mid-’10s after the circuit rose in popularity.
Many players like how, unlike the Ibanez Tube Screamer, the Blues Breaker doesn’t add a mid-hump and roll off a lot of low end from your guitar tone. Instead, its sound is perceived as transparent: your tone is meant to stay intact, and all that is added is a nice smooth overdrive, reminiscent of a tube amp being pushed.
In reality, all overdrive pedals need some EQ curve to sound pleasing to the ear, so the “transparent” thing is just kind of a buzzword – check out this Brian Wampler video for a deeper explanation.
The Best Blues Breaker-Style Pedals
While the Blues Breaker proved to be a very influential pedal, there were shortcomings that many players and builders wanted to address. The pedals on this list are not straight-up clones, they all add or modify the original Blues Breaker circuit topology in some way, whether it be adding more output volume, more gain, changing the EQ, adding different clipping options, and more.
Here are the best Blues Breaker-style pedals you can buy right now.
Best Single Channel Blues Breaker Pedals
The pedal that put JHS on the map, the Morning Glory has become more famous than the original Blues Breaker, maybe more famous than even the King of Tone. And it does sound really good! Josh Scott popularized the idea of adding a JFET output gain stage to the Blues Breaker circuit to bump up the volume available. The V4 Morning Glory includes extra features such as a higher gain stage and a bright cut switch.
In the early 2000s, the King of Tone set the standard for modern Blues Breaker pedals. But If you’d rather not wait 3 years or pay upwards of 800 dollars for one, the Prince of Tone is a fantastic affordable option that is simply one-half of a KOT. Yes, it is made overseas, but the circuit is the same as its bigger brother. If you want a King of Tone with even more flexibility, just get two of these!
A hand-wired Blues Breaker with lots of customizable features. Demand for the Black Box went through the roof over the pandemic, and now there is a 2 year wait list. But this is a great sounding, meticulously crafted pedal, with boost and presence controls, and the options of external voicing switches.
As is evident in the name, Wampler is taking influence not just from the Blues Breaker, but from the equally famous pedals that have followed in its path. The Pantheon has high and low gain stages, three clipping voices, and a two-band baxandall EQ and presence control for precise and versatile tonal shaping.
Designed in collaboration with Joey Landreth, the Golden Boy is an end-all BB-style pedal. Three-band EQ, cycle-able gain stages, four clipping diode voicings, internal presence and tone controls, and a footswitchable MOSFET boost make this the most versatile Blues Breaker
on the market.
Jon Ashley of Bondi effects will tell you this is not a Bluesbreaker, not a Tube Screamer, but a combination of the best elements of both. The two gain voicings can be switched between via a central toggle. As is expected from Bondi, this is a refined modern overdrive that is hard to get a bad sound out of.
A high-end Bluesbreaker-inspired stompbox designed to provide the player with a wide array of tonal options with just three knobs. One characteristic of this pedal is that your tone will sound brighter the higher you have the gain set, due in part to the circuit’s massive output potential which allows it to be used also as a clean boost at lower gain settings. A Tone knob lets you fine-tune the low/high-frequency balance to complement your pickup/amp combo.
Featuring sliders instead of knobs, this is a specially tuned, low to mid-gain BB style drive circuit feeding a very flexible yet unusual sculpting section consisting of a Tone and a Contour sliders, which allow for a variety of tones ranging from black panel spank to Vox-ey chime and British growl. It works with up to 18v for extra headroom.
JRAD reliably churns out quality pedals in the most compact and sturdy builds on the market. This simple take on the Blues Breaker features a Fat control in addition to the standard Gain, Tone, and Volume, which tailors the low-end trim, useful for different pickup and amp combinations. The Hot toggle switch adds extra gain and mid-range.
Another well-liked pedal that takes inspiration from the King of Tone, the Magpie is a touch-sensitive transparent drive with a three-way clipping option. Up is crunch, middle is boost, and down is overdrive, for a wide range of gain options.
A Greek company to watch out for, VS Audio makes high-quality pedals inspired by classic designs with modern ease of use. Their Straight Flush is a Prince of Tone-style transparent overdrive with a toggle-able extra gain stage.
Veteran pedal makers Rockbox have a predictably strong take on the Blues Breaker, with standard controls as well as four toggle switches to change EQ boosts and drive modes, all in a compact enclosure with top jacks.
Best Dual-Channel Blues Breaker Pedals
The “transparent” nature of the Blues Breaker, along with the fact that some guitar heroes like John Mayer love to stack their transparent drives with other flavors, make the Blues Breaker an ideal candidate for one half (or both halves) of a dual-channel overdrive. Here are the best ones on the market.
Mike Piera of Analogman was the first pedal builder to take the Marshall Blues Breaker circuit and rebuild it from the ground up to his liking. As a result the King of Tone was born, a dual overdrive with 3 different clipping options on each side: Overdrive, Clean Boost, and Distortion. The King of Tone is arguably the most sought-after pedal on earth, with a waitlist over 3 years long at the time of writing this.
The gorgeous Protein is well known amongst pros and pedal nerds as a heavy hitter. On one side there’s a finely tuned Blues Breaker with more gain, more volume, and more clarity than the original. On the other side, you have a modified Nobels ODR-1 with less bass and more mids. Together you get a seriously versatile overdrive whose channels sound fantastic on their own or stacked.
A higher gain option than most pedals on this list, the Duellist is a tone-tweaker’s delight. The “Heavy Hand” side is a highly refined Blues Breaker while the “String Singer” is a modern Tube Screamer. Each channel features “Fat/Stock/Glass” voicing switches for a variety of tonal options. Using TRS cables, the order of the drives can be switched or other pedals can even be placed in between each channel.
Josh Scott combines his Morning Glory (Bluesbreaker) and Moonshine (Tube Screamer) into one compact enclosure, with order switching and all of the features of the individual pedals intact. The TS side comes with a clean blend for more “transparency.”
On one side, a Blues Breaker, on the other, a Klon. Two of the most famous overdrive circuits of all time come together in this highly effective dual overdrive, with order switching and buffer or true bypass options on the Klon side. These are not deviations; they are the original circuits down to a T, with all their charms and quirks.
It doubles down on the original, including stereo and MIDI I/O and some other useful features. Each channel sports the same controls as the single version (4 knobs and two 3-way switches for various gain and voicing options) but the Presence knob is shared by the two and at the end of the chain. The second channel has a slightly different voice, and the order of the channels can be configured via a toggle switch.
The same winning Klon and Blues Breaker combo, but pushed to extreme levels of build quality. The BB side features a 3-way Lows toggle for bass response options, and the Klon side features a 2-way diode clipping toggle. TRS split mode rounds out this boutique dual overdrive.
The bigger brother of the Straight Flush, the Royal Flush takes its inspiration from the King of Tone. The low and mid-gain channels are put into a dual channel enclosure and can be stomped on individually or stacked for a third gain stage.
The bigger brother of the Straight Flush, the Royal Flush takes its inspiration from the King of Tone. The low and mid-gain channels are put into a dual-channel enclosure and can be stomped on individually or stacked for a third gain stage.
Other Recent Blues Breaker-Inspired Pedals
There are a lot of pedals out there inspired by the Marshall Blues Breaker. The ones in this interactive gallery are other recently released ones that offer an interesting take.