How to Know When to Use Different Overdrive Pedals

maxonIf  you play guitar, then there is no doubt that you have a few overdrive or distortion pedals.  These pedals can have a wide variety of sounds that will allow you to achieve almost any tone you can imagine.  The problem is knowing when and how to use them.

The first step in figuring out when to use each one is learning how each pedal that you have sounds.

Have you really experimented with this pedal?  If you don’t know what the sound of the pedal is like in your head, then you will never understand when to use it.

Learn Your Gear

I like using my Maxon OD 808.  Why?  Because it has a nice midrange that is similar to the Ibanez Tubescreamer TS9 but a little scooped to take the “honk” out of it.  I learned this by sitting down and playing it for a long time and comparing it back and forth with other pedals.

Another example.

The Fulltone OCD.  It’s a great pedal, but it does not have the same biting midrange that the Ibanez Tubescreamer has.  It’s more of a softer Marshall like sound.  Really full but not with the in your face midrange.

Also with these pedals, I’ve noticed that with different types of guitars they react VERY differently.  Humbuckers and single coils partner better with different pedals I believe.  This is also a matter of opinion.  

To me, the OCD doesn’t sound that great on a Strat IF you’re wanting that SRV, John Mayer type sound.  It kills the mids too much.  But, if you’re going for a more Hendrixy type sound, I think it sounds good when you add it to the Tubescreamer to give you some more gain. That is, if you’re using a Fender Style amp.

If you’re using a Marsall then that might be overkill, but it might not. You need to try it and see if you like it.

You see, the amp plays a big part in this equation as well.

What am I getting at?

To really know how to use your pedals, you need to learn them with the different guitars and amps that you have.  Yes it’s a good idea to know what others think about the pedals, but what do you think?  

Maybe you don’t agree with my assessment of the OCD.

Until you sit down for hours with one pedal and one amp and try it with different pickup configurations, changing the settings on your amp, and just experimenting, you will never find the true personality of your gear.

Just for kicks here’s a quick assessment of a few pedals I like and their personality.

Ibanez Tubescreamer TS9

Lots of midrange and very in your face sounding.  Think SRV, Clapton, John Mayer.  Sounds better with Strats and Teles to my ears.

Fulltone OCD

Marshall type sound with more “scooped” mids.  Think Gary Moore, Dickey Betts, Warren Haynes. To me this pedal works best with humbuckers but it can also sound good with single coils but in both cases you have to be careful to not use too much gain.  Your tone can get thin pretty quickly with this one. When using humbuckers I hardly ever put the volume on the guitar at 10 when using this pedal. Using single coils though it can sound fine.

Maxon OD 808

A blend of the OCD and the Ibanez while leaning more towards the Ibanez sound.  This is the most versatile one and can sound good using many types of guitars either with humbucking or single coil pickups.  I’ve gotten great results with this one trying to get a Duane Allman, Warren Haynes, SRV, and Clapton type sounds.

Boss Blues Driver

Sounds the best when you are using it with an amp that is overdriving just a bit. To me this is a really bright pedal and I like to set the tone around 30%. Also the gain can get a little fuzzy so I usually set it no higher than 50%.This pedal seems to work with any style amp as the mids are not very pronounced in this pedal.

Maybe you don’t agree with what I said above.  That’s ok.  But you know what, I tested them out and I HAVE AN OPINION after hours and hours of testing and playing.

I think you should do the same and see what you come up with.  Yes, it will take time and effort, but you will understand your gear so much better after this, and your tone will be better because of it.

I would say that many people including myself don’t really understand the gear that they have already.  It’s much more fun just to jump to a new piece of gear that’s been released.

You could be missing out on some great tones that you already have!

Need help with your blues playing.  Check out my Premium Blues Guitar Lessons.

John W Tuggle
John W Tuggle

I love teaching the blues and have created numerous training courses and lessons to learn how to play like BB King, Clapton, Duane Allman, and more. Get Started Now

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  1. The point about sitting down and understanding how the pedal interacts with your amp is a really important one that didn’t resonate with me before reading this post. I too, find my self using the Maxon more than the OCD.

    Only somewhat related – Scott Sharrard uses the Zendrive from Hermida Audio. I really like his tone and want to check out that pedal, but its pricey and stores don’t really carry them. I don’t care for the pay first, listen second method :) They do have sound clips on their webstie, but those clips never seem to do justicee.

    Thanks for writing up your thoughts on this topic.

  2. I have to agree entirely with your assessment. I have a vintage 80’s TS9 tubescreamer that I will take with me to the grave. I don’t really like the sound of the OCD alone, but when I use the OCD to overdrive the natural sound of the fender amp a little and then add the Tubescreamer to the front of it = Pure sonic bliss with a Strat.

    Love your tone and your lessons John. Keep it up.

  3. John,
    I recently picked up a Boss Fender Bassman pedal. I’m still experimenting with it and was wondering if you’ve had any experience with one. My initial plan is to use it as a pre-amp kind of thing. I have a Peavey Classic 30 (with a Weber speaker – you’re right – a worthwhile upgrade!). I plan to play plugged into the Bassman pedal, then through a Guv’nor 2 (which I power through the low power setting on a Voodoo Lounge Power supply and use for a little extra oomph) plugged into the clean channel on the amp. Any thoughts?
    As usual, keep up the great work and I’m glad to hear you’re recovering so well.

  4. On board with you here. I do strats into Abunai2 (MaXon ts clone) > OcD for great clipping options on 15 – 50watt amps. Volume nob friendly and tone options galore. Great article here. Wisdom.

  5. I play my strat through a fender blues junior. I get an incredible tone from this amp. I can get it to distort with no pedal. I also use a Gibson 335 and I’m able to get a nice distortion with no pedals. I think that the key is the right amp.

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