Watch the Overdrive online guitar lesson by Jeff McErlain from Guitar Effects Survival Guide
The term overdrive refers to when a tube amp is driven past its range to supply a clean tone. This is something we as guitar players have come to love and seek out. A common question is “what is the difference between overdrive, distortion, and fuzz as the terms have become interchangeable?” The short answer is not a lot, just one is more extreme as we go down the line. Overdrive can be subtle and produce warm slightly overdriven tones, think SRV. Distortion is easy to see as simply more overdrive, these tones are more saturated and compressed. The spectrum of overdriven tones is huge, from BB King’s slightly overdriven tube amp tones to Eddie Van Halen’s cranked Marshall, to Metallica’s thick distortion, to Smashing Pumpkins' fuzz tones. It is all actually the same idea is a general sense, these tones may be gotten with amps, pedals, or a combination of both but it is all the same idea, overdrive. What was considered a heavy distorted tone in the 70’s is tame to the metal sounds of today. The Ibanez Tube Screamer is the industry standard for overdrive pedals. Kicked into legendary status by the late great Stevie Ray Vaughan. The Tube Screamer TS808 was first released in the late 70’s and now catches a small fortune on the vintage market but fortunately there are reissues and many boutique clones out there. The Tube Screamer is not the only overdrive circuit of course, there are many excellent options, it is just clearly the most famous. What makes the TS so cool is the way it interacts with an already overdriven amplifier. It can add a nice amount of gain, sustain, and tonal shaping options. They do provide a bit of a boost in the mid frequencies that many people love as it helps to cut through a band. The list of TS users is extensive but Stevie Ray is the most notable.