If you are new to playing electric guitar and are just starting out explore what pedals do it can be an overwhelming endeavor. There are more choices today than ever and it seems that new products come out almost every day. With a little bit of knowledge and experimentation you will be able to identify what kind of sounds you like and what to purchase. There are three main categories of getting a dirty non-clean sound with guitar pedals: overdrive, distortion and fuzz pedals. I will discuss the first two leaving the third into a category all itself for a later discussion.
Overdrive pedals can function in two ways. The first way is to take an amplifier and overdrive it to the point of having more gain. This is done usually at louder volumes of the amplifier where the clean sound begins to break up and distort. The additional volume level and gain given by the pedal pushes the amp into having more gain or distortion. This is the traditional use of the pedal prior to having amps that had high gain distortion built into them. The other use of the pedal is to simulate the sound of a clean amp starting to break up or distort slightly at loud volume but have it be at a lower volume. Typically overdrives try to preserve the natural sound of your amp and allow more saturation.
Distortion pedals on the other hand have no regard for your amps natural characteristics. They are voiced and have increased levels of distortion that make the pedals sound very similar in any quality amp. They are really good at having high levels of distortion without ever having the amp loud at all. These pedals are extremely popular in the rock and heavy metal styles of guitar playing.
The reason there are so many different choices between overdrives and distortion units is that each pedal is set up to accentuate different frequencies of the guitar signal. This is done because there is so much variety in what is considered a “good” sound that manufacturers are responding to many different demands from the consumer market. One of my favorite things to do is to try using combinations of two different pedals to create a new sound that each cannot create all on its own. Running two different pedals that are focused on emphasizing two different sets of frequencies and interlacing those sounds together is a lot of fun. Chain them together, listen, then switch the order. They will sound different depending upon the order too
As you can see both types of pedals are similar but yet different and serve different functions. Go to your local guitar shop and experiment with different distortion and overdrive pedals. Hearing them is the only you can decide if one is a good fit for the sound you are trying to create
Author notes: Mark Turko has over twenty five years experience of playing, performing and teaching guitar in Connecticut. Contact Mark If you are interested in electric or acoustic guitar lessons in North Haven CT.
Overdrive vs. Distortion
By: Mark Turko