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Guitar Distortion & Overdrive Pedals

Whether you want to play rock, metal, or some other genre, having a good distortion or overdrive pedal for your guitar makes a critical difference to your sound. Depending on the pedal, such as those by TC Electronic, MXR, and Electro-Harmonix, you can get anything from a warm, rich overtone to a harsh and brutal sound. Doing some research is key to ensure that you get the right pedal with the right sound and the right price.

What is an overdrive pedal for?

An overdrive pedal is a tool that changes the tone of your guitar. You connect it to your guitar and your amp so that the sound will travel through the pedal on the way to the amp. You can turn them on or off, or adjust them with pedals and switches that you can tap with a foot. OD pedals work in two main ways: They can add gain to a signal to break up the tone of a tube amp or simulate that same effect digitally. Modern pedals often do both.

What is overdrive on a guitar?

Overdrive is a specific type of distortion. In a traditional amplifier, the sound is boosted by vacuum tubes. Overdrive involves saturating the signal going into these valves, and the amount of saturation determines how bright, warm, sharp, or otherwise altered the sound will become. Modern digital amps and pedals can also digitally process the audio signal to mimic this effect without needing any actual tubes.

How does an OD pedal work?

An overdrive unit will oversaturate the audio signal so that it becomes distorted when it hits the amp. Some guitar effects pedals, like the Ibanez Tube Screamer, have their own tubes while others rely on the ones in your amp. A digital pedal doesn't need tubes, but it won't be able to replicate the exact same sound.

How does a guitar distortion pedal work?

A distortion pedal, like the Boss DS-1, can create distortion using a power valve located inside the pedal itself. The alternative approach is to use a digital technique called direct injection to alter the audio signal. This won't produce quite the same sound as the distortion pedal, but it does protect the speaker of the amp from damage. Adding too much analog distortion can risk overloading the speaker because it pushes the speaker past its limits. This is not the case with the digital approach because the signal enters the amp safely while creating some distortion sounding for the guitar.

What is a guitar fuzz pedal used for?

A fuzz effects pedal is similar to a distortion pedal. It produces a warm guitar sound. Fuzz first appeared in the 1960s when rock and blues guitarists experimented with broken equipment and electronics to create distortion or fuzz. Modern fuzz pedals can capture the fuzz effect digitally without requiring misaligned tubes or other altered electronics.

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