THE IMPORTANCE OF DYNAMICS
Dynamics have become very important in contemporary rock and pop music. Instrument levels and roles can change throughout a song several times, and the educated guitarist, knowing that, sets up her or his pedalboard in a way that facilitates volume and tone variations at the touch of a footswitch (or three…).
That is the main reason why overdrive and distortion pedals with an incorporated boost circuit triggered by a second footswitch have become quite popular over the past few years: the (normally clean) boost circuit placed before or after the OD/Distortion allows for an extra push in volume during solos or loud choruses without losing the guitar’s original tone.
Also, having the two effects embedded in one pedal allows for optimized stacking of the two gain stages, or extra creative routing pre/post options just a switch away.
PICK YOUR OD FLAVOR
Of course, every guitarist has different tastes when it comes to overdrive, but there are so many great options out there that no matter what sound you’re going for, in all likelihood you will be able to find a pedal that can come close to the sound in your head (and if you don’t, maybe you should look into building your own pedals, that’s how boutique manufacturers are born!).
This list is a comprehensive overview of the high-end overdrive/distortion pedals with an extra boost footswitch currently available on the market – with description and a video link to convey what kind of sounds they can get you. It doesn’t include “Amp-in-a-Box” style pedals (i.e. stompboxes that attempt to emulate a specific amp) – you can find that list here, and the list of affordable ones here.
If some models are missing, please use the comment section on this page (not on Facebook!!!) to bring it to our attention.
As usual, the pedals in each gallery are organized according to perceived popularity, and clicking on the thumbnails will open a demo video!
CLASSIC, HIGH-END OVERDRIVE + BOOST PEDALS
All of these stompboxes feature top-notch design, tone, and build quality. While they deliver what you expect, they have a simple circuit with few tonal option and no more than one toggle switch, normally for extra brightness or routing.
Paul Cochrane – Tim ($300+)
Tim is the stuff of pedal legend. It is a truly transparent overdrive with a versatile boost feature. Subtractive designed tone controls help it play nicely with pretty much any guitar/amp setup, and the bass control is pre-distortion – which keeps the bottom end intact at lower settings. The Boost section has controls for gain and tone, and internal DIP switches control the type of clipping.
Besides the clear, glassy overdrive sound, the coolest feature of the Tim is the effects loop, as pedals sent through it will only engage when the Tim is on. This opens up all sorts of routing options. Tim is a terrific-sounding, versatile pedal.
Ibanez – TS808DX ($249.99)
THE most infamous overdrive of all time (with a boost channel), the TS808DX sports a lot of desirable features. It integrates the same JRC4558 chip that makes vintage TS808’s so sought-after. A toggle switch allows you to choose the placement of the overdrive (before or after the boost). The boost channel has only a single volume knob, but it’s this simplicity of design that makes the Tubescreamer so great in the first place.
Blackstone Appliances – Mosfet Overdrive 2S ($225)
One of the most peculiar pedals on this list. Based on a mosfet design, it achieves its overdrive sound via 4 gain stages that each introduce a small amount of soft clipping. This produces a musical overdrive much like that of an amplifier. It also features a unique input, requiring a pure, unbuffered guitar signal for maximum effect. Another cool feature is that the controls are set in the pedal, perfect for crowded stages and rowdy performances.
This is a really cool pedal that might be a bit tricky to find but offers a unique take on overdrive.
Keeley – D&M Drive ($229)
This overdrive was designed in collaboration with Keeley and the hosts of Youtube’s That Pedal Show. Both channels feature Level, Gain, and Tone controls, and a toggle switch lets you choose the order. Keeley used their popular Katana boost as a starting point for that side of the circuit, but the boost channel can go all the way into overdrive territory if you like. The drive section features extra headroom.
JHS – Ruby Red ($249)
Legendary producer/musician Butch Walker designed this beauty with JHS. It’s a combination of the Superbolt pedal (Supro amp style) and a 2-stage booster. The boost can be used before or after the overdrive.
While the Ruby Red is touted as an overdrive, it really lives on the line between overdrive and fuzz. It’s rude sounding and great for many styles.
T-Rex – Moller 2 ($279)
This dual drive from TREX is an update on the original Moller, with an added Bass Boost toggle switch to fatten the bottom end. The boost is a simple one knob channel, but the unique Mix control is what sets the Moller 2 apart. It is a clean/dry signal blend, giving you a variable parallel distortion. Very cool.
Oddfellow – Caveman V2 ($249.99)
The Caveman is one of the smallest pedals on the list, fitting into a standard 1590B enclosure turned sideways. Much more than the run-of-the-mill overdrive, the Caveman has lots of bottom end and thick gain tones. A single knob controls the boost level, which is independent from the other channel, and a pre-post boost switch selects the overdrive-boost order.
Wilson Ultimate Overdrive ($200)
The Ultimate Overdrive is a simple 3-knob overdrive with a boost channel, featuring a 6-position selector switch that toggles through various types of clipping.
The channels are independent, and there are a fine variety of overdrive sounds in this pedal. Everything from British crunch to fuzz to swampy Dumble-style overdrive is available.
Cast Engineering – Peace Drive ($279.99)
The brainchild of guitarist Mike Zito, the overdrive side of the Peace Drive is a standard 3 knob setup, while the boost offers Gain and Level controls. There is also a switch in the center to select the overdrive/boost order.
With the gain control for the boost, this is pretty much a 2 channel overdrive. The sounds are rich, and it has a good amount of gain but never gets super dirty. Both channels together get a solid British vibe great for a variety of styles.
HIGH END OVERDRIVE + BOOST PEDALS WITH EXTRA FEATURES
These are also top notch pedals, but they sport advanced feature sets like ways to select the type of clipping, additional EQ and tone-shaping options, and original designs.
Earthquaker Devices – Palisades ($249.95)
One of the most versatile takes on a TS808 design. It sports 6 different clipping voices, 5 bandwidth settings, and 2 channels, with a B option for channel 1. Bandwidth acts as a mode selector, ranging from thinner, lower gain sounds to fatter, higher-gain tones.Voice selects between clipping diode configurations, offering a range of drive options. A selectable buffer and normal/bright modes round out the tonal options.
This pedal is basically every type of Tubescreamer in one, with a boost. No matter what style you play or what gear you use, you’ll find a use for the Palisades.
Seymour Duncan – Palladium Gain Stage ($299)
The Palladium was designed specifically to capture the dynamics and response of a real tube amp. The circuit features 3 individual gain stages. The first controls saturation, the second handles low and low-mid frequencies, and the third is a boost stage (which is pre-overdrive when engaged). Due to this architecture, the Palladium can handle anything from sutble, bluesy overdrive to high-gain distortion. A solid 4-band EQ with bass, sweepable mid, high, and presence controls help this pedal assimilate into any rig. You can also run it at 18v for increased headroom.
Amptweaker Tight Drive Pro ($319)
The TightDrive Pro is a full-featured preamp, overdrive, and boost stompbox that can be used as a regular pedal in your chain, or as a separate preamp routed through your amp’s effect return. The pedal can be run on 1 or 2 9v batteries, essentially giving you the difference between a 50w or 100w amplifier.
A full-featured, top-mounted control scheme lets you dial in your sound. Two boost knobs allow you to boost both gain and volume, a feature missing on almost all other pedals on this list.
One of the coolest elements of the TightDrive Pro are the 3 effects loops. You can set it up so that one chain is only engaged when clean, pretty much any routing design you can think of. Also included is a noise gate so you can use as much gain as you like without using a separate pedal.
Dawner Prince Diktator ($259.95)
A unique two channel combination of clean, transparent preamp / booster (Fuse channel) and versatile andrich overdrive / distortion (Detonator channel) that can work independently. Bass and Treble knobs and two toggle switches (soft/hard and dark/bright) provide extra tonal options.
Wilson Dual Lotus Drive ($220)
The Dual Lotus offers 2 channels of thick, spanky Dumble-style overdrive. Gain and Volume set the level of each channel, and a 3-band EQ of Tone, Presence, and Low Pass dial in your sound. Each channel also offers a Clipping switch for increased gain.
Perhaps the coolest feature of this pedal is that each channel has its own input and output, opening up a world of routing options.
Emerson Custom – Pomeroy ($299.99)
2 independent, fully-analog channels of overdrive, distortion, and 24dBs of boost are at your feet with the Pomeroy from Emerson Custom. The channels can be used independently or together, but when they are stacked the boost comes after the gain section.
A 3-band active EQ shapes your tone, while a rotary switch selects between 6 different clipping options. There is a Clean knob to balance the parallel clean signal as well, and an effects loop to help further develop your sound.
The Pomeroy runs only on AC power, but it’s versatility makes it one of the must-try pedals on this list.
JHV3 – Ghost Drive ($225)
The Ghost Drive is a very smooth-sounding low-medium gain drive. While not considered an “amp-in-a-box” design, it provides an articulate overdrive – not unlike that from an amp.
The drive channel features a clipping toggle switch for a tight or loose sound, much like an amplifier. The boost channel offers 25dB of clean volume, with an internal trimpot to tailor the gain. 3 internal level adjustments set the gain for the boost channel, and there is a good range to the drive knob, as it never seems to get smeary or too fizzy.
By far the coolest feature is the clean blend, with an internal trimpot that controls the presence. The boost can be set before or after the overdrive, adding versatility.
Foxpedal The City V2 – ($229)
A handwired tubescreamer clone with extra clean boost and tons of flexibility, including two clipping options (LED and Mosfet), tone knob, and body and presence switches. The clean circuit is independent and based on the company’s Ebenezer pedal.
OVERDRIVE + BOOST PEDALS WITH TUBES
Tubes still possess a charm all of their own over distortion lovers. Here is the list of boost + overdrive pedals that use them in their circuits.
MAXON RTD800 Real Tube Overdrive ($349)
Maxon has been a favorite flavor of overdrive for many players for a long time, and perhaps their most versatile overdrive offering is the RTD800, a combo overdrive/distortion with boost based around a vacuum tube.
The tube comes after the overdrive/distortion circuit, lending an even more amp-like feel to the pedal. There is a standard 3 band EQ, as well as a built-in noise gate to keep your signal in check.
While not great for heavier styles (by itself anyway), the RTD800 sounds great with pretty much any other style. The overdrive/distortion sounds it produces are round and warm, almost fuzzy.
Kingsley Jester Overdrive / Boost ($375)
The Jester is a hand-wired, tube-powered overdrive that runs off of 2 12ax7 vacuum tubes. There is a 3 band EQ for the overdrive side, as well as gain and volume controls. A 3-way voicing switch changes the amount of gain, so the pedal can do everything from slight breakup to heavy metal tones.
The boost side of the Jester features a level knob and 3-way switch that selects between boosting the bottom end, the mids, or the high end. It can be used separately or stacked with the overdrive side. This pedal sounds good with pretty much any rig. It’s an “amp-in-a-box” style pedals.
Aspen Pittman – Duo Tonic ($349 approx. used)
The Duo Tonic is a hybrid tube-solid state pedal. Due to this design, it offers a genuinely transparent overdrive that plays well with whatever guitar/amp setup you rock.
The marriage of tube and solid-state technology is a great hybrid. It might sound bland to some, but this is one of the most interesting options on this list due to its circuit design. The main channel features controls for drive, tone, and volume and the boost channel is quite versatile. It runs at 12v for a little more headroom, and though the solid-state section comes first, you can really push the tubes and get Channel 2 cooking. While the boost has no footswitch, it blends well when engaged.
Bad Pixel Fuck Fuck Overdrive-Boost ($350)
A low-medium gain overdrive based on a dual 12au7 tube design, the Fuck Fuck is part fuzz, part overdrive, and all vibe. It features point-to-point wiring, and a fine attention to detail in the build quality – especially the quality of the components used.
The overdrive sounds it gets are definitely a little more squared, which may turn off some players. At lower gain settings it’s more of an overdrive, it’s when you crank it that it begins to get really fuzzy.
BOOST + OVERDRIVE & MORE!
The Chase Bliss Audio Brothers and Strymon Sunset are two more high-end pedals that can deliver a Boost + Overdrive combination (and a lot more than that, since they feature several gain circuits). The legendary Analogman King Of Tone also belongs to this category thanks to internal dip switches that allow each circuit to act as clean boost, overdrive or distortion.
– by Brandon Stoner and Paolo De Gregorio