So this is one of most significant works in a while, and carries on the legacy of two of my most popular all-time articles on the 12 Degrees of Saturation - the Original that evolved in the early months of 2017, and the follow-up which materialised in September of 2018.
I obviously deal with a lot of reader inquiries pretty much on a daily basis, and one of the more popular lines of inquiry has been about overdrives. And while Josh Scott attests to the fact that there are only 5 core overdrive and distortion circuit types - I’ve always been a little more granular in my approach.
In my previous 12 Degrees coverage - half, or 6 of the 12 categories were dedicated to Overdrive types, while for this 2020 edition I’ve expanded those to the full 12 - so this piece is specifically focused on just Overdrives. These are obviously my own favourite styles of overdrive - and I reckon if it came to a push I could probably up the category to a solid 20 - while it would of course be increasingly trickier to find alternatives or fuller category selections for some of those less common types.
So in this instance I’ve selected my 12 favourite categories - and listed between 5-7 personal preferences for each of those. Some categories have much more linear ties to clones and alternatives, while the Hot Cake for instance is somewhat trickier in having only the one known proper clone as far as I could discern - meaning I had to come up with several near-match soundalikes - which I hopefully did some justice to.
The trickiest part of this particular exercise was getting to the individual mini pedal options - which I really wanted to have for this exercise. And while certain categories had numerous viable candidates some really only had one or no direct descendents - and note that some of these pedals have been discontinued as such and/or are fairly tricky to get hold of nowadays. I was delighted with how all the mini pedals came together in the end - with only the F-Pedal Damn 10 needing to be a near-match sound-alike (to Trainwreck style).
The order of the pedals is roughly in line with maximum saturation and colouring of the output - while there is some significant overlap for some categories, and individual pedals can range far beyond their own category. So as with any exercise of this type - there is a degree of best-fit-line that applies here.
I’m often bemused to see / hear people recommending often contradictory or opposite styles of overdrive to stand in place of a particular pedal where I very deliberately like to have some high degree of salience and equivalence. As always this exercise is one about highlighting choices and possibilities. Please focus on the good of what has been included rather than that which you feel has been wrongly excluded - these are obviously my own preferences and they typically lead on pedals which I either have in my collection or am very familiar and/or are on my wishlist andI intend to acquire.
I’ve seen criticisms of my site on Reddit and other discussion groups where I’m occasionally called out as being somewhat biased - and while I do of course very obviously have my favourites - I really do try to be as fair and as broad-ranging as possible. I am one that typically looks for a little more pedal flexibility and range than most - which means often that my recommended choice is not necessarily the original or most authentic variety as such. I will also try to mention and bring into play as many other relevant candidates as I feel necessary - while this is not intended to be any sort of fully comprehensive listing of everything available within a particularly category - this is very evidently a selected highlights listing where obviously some of those categories are better served than others.
So to counter likely claims of bias - I have tried to be as wide-ranging as possible - while still featuring those varieties which mean the most to me. The top-line stats are pretty impressive for sure :
Obviously USA takes the prize in having the most pedals featured here while the breakdown very roughly kind of falls in line with country-based pedal output - with the exception of China - which largely concentrates on the cheap and cheerful end of the market - and has just a few notable references here :
'King of Drives' Brian Wampler takes the honour in being most featured here - having representatives in all the relevant categories he makes pedals in. The other 'King of Drives' and funnily other Brian - Mena, takes the runner-up spot with 5 strong representatives - and then a handful of brands take up the following places - with Dave 'Pickdropper' Friesema of Function F(x) being particularly strong in the mini pedal game. There are a number of favourites of mine with a brace of pedals in the selection - albeit some with multiples in the same categories :
In trying to get a clearer understanding of where a particular Overdrive, Fuzz or Distortion pedal fit in with one another, as well as how and why they differed - I came up with a methodology at the start of 2017 to more easily identify, place and fully understand the nature of key pedal types and categories.
A lot of this involved trial and error - and no small amount of research - and I've been honing and refining that methodology ever since - which lots of readers / players find useful in their various pedal explorations - while there are and always will be some points of contention - such is always the case when you try to pigeon-hole things - as people generally can have different personal experiences and preferences. I always encourage people to call me out if they believe I've got something wildly wrong - which is pretty much a natural hazard for this kind of work. I don't really want to get into any major semantics though - and this is not about getting people to send in a long list of their own personal preferences or differences in opinion or questioning my own particular likes and favourites.
There's reams of discussion threads on The Gear Page and Reddit - asking about alternative and clone pedals within a category - and this in part services many of those questions. The main purpose though is to highlight options and choices you did not necessarily know about or consider. This is obviously an organic and evolutionary process which gets refined with every iteration. I do hope you all enjoy this particular foray - and take it within the benign spirit within which it is intended.
In many ways the Guitar Pedal X website is an acquisitions / wishlist resource for myself - to really understand what options I have and to get me over the line with the correct decisions within each category. Note that we all have our own favourite ways of doing things - and I don't expect everyone to automatically gravitate towards my own particular favourites. I do endeavour to be fair and just throughout - with no degree of hype or sensationalism. I also encourage each of you to do your own research - there is not substitute really for trying these pedals out within your own rig - and some will sound significantly better for your particular set up combination / configuration - or that mix of pickup, guitar, amp and core signal chain. So in short - go in with an open mind - and Enjoy!
NOTE that I've deliberately gone for compact enclosure pedals here to fit in as many candidates as possible - as mentioned, I also decided I had to include a mini equivalent too for each category variety!
The Klon / Klone / Transparent / Neutral / Organic / Kloneutral thing has taken on a life of its own really and is one of those categories that near enough every builder seems to have a candidate for. Some of you will have seen Tyler Larson of 'Music is Win' fame recently succumb to getting an original Klon Centaur in - for the princely sum of nearly $5,000 which really is millionaire pricing and way beyond the practical for most.
I firmly believe there are a number of superb quality alternatives which are pretty much indiscernible from the original - this core circuit has been analysed to such a fine degree now, and there are numerous exact part replicas out there - while there will of course be some who are still drawn to the originals as they seem to have some weird mythical cachet to them. They're actually really not that rare relatively - with over 8,000 being produced and in circulation. It's just rather that very few come up for sale at any one time - and so like diamonds - the prices are artificially inflated through lack of and controlled supply.
My first foray into this category was the original Mini Wampler Tumnus, and Ive gone on to collect more than 10 direct clones and several more near-match and alternative 'Kloneutral' style overdrives as I've taken to name the category - including the ThorpyFX Peacekeeper, Menatone Vertical Fish Factory and Greer Amps Lightspeed for instance. The new Walrus Audio Ages 5-Stage Overdrive is more of a multi-tasker - but fits well within this category too - that is already on my wishlist, alongside the J Rockett Rockaway Archer - those two will probably bring this category fully up to speed for me for what is currently available.
The 6 Kloneutral types featured are as follows - including the ThorpyFX which is currently in my pedal-chain :
Note that while I have undying loyalty to my good friend Guillem Vilademunt of Decibelics fame for his amazing Golden Horse Mini which I still consider best of breed, Dave Friesema of Function F(x) also does a mean Mini Klone, as of course do Brian Wampler and MXR to a near degree.
When talking about Tube-Screamers there's a few considerations we need to get out into the open - in terms of Compression and Extended Range really - as well as chosen use. I seem to be one of the relatively few that use the Tube Screamer as a proper overdrive - where many more seem to use a TS808 or TS9 as a driven amp booster. I detailed the same within my recent coverage of Sitek's Freya Overdrive, and have considered the impact of compression in detail - particularly for such low-compressing pedals as the Kuro Custom P.h.A. which is not a typical Tube Screamer at all - but still sort of sits well within that category.
As is typically my thing - my favourite candidates here all deliver considerably more than those basic 3-knob classic Ibanez and Maxon examples - and I would not want it any other way. There's also something particularly magical about using the current breed of Jackson Audio pedals - with their really smart footswitches and Level-Matching circuits which make them such a joy to deploy.
Right now I don't actually have a specific Screamer variety in my chain (the CBA Automatone Preamp MKII kind of covers me for that) - while the last long-termer was the Kuro P.h.A., with the Jackson Audio Broken Arrow before that, and the JHS Bonsai and Foxpedal The City V2 before that. I probably still have a couple or so candidates to get - and need to round off my Wampler collection with the Clarksdale or the Paisley Drive, the former most likely, while I'm also hunting down a particular enclosure variety of the VFE Dark Horse Overdrive - which has so far managed to elude me. Ah - I also quite want a Vemuram TSV808 - which is both a 40th Anniversary Ibanez Tube Screamer and sort of Jan Ray too in the same box - where you can lean more into one side of the voicing or the other - a pricey acquisition for sure - but one which I may just spring for some day if and when a suitable candidate swings by Revebr.com!
Here are my leading / preferred featured candidates for this category :
I could have chosen a number of different Mini Screamers - where the choice in the end was really between the KHDK Ghoul Jr and the Function F(x) Clay Jones Overdrive which is what I eventually settled on.
I've obviously just recently completed a roundup of this category and not without some controversy - with one reader criticising my overlook of the Nordland ODR-C, and another for my switching allegiance and not sticking with a specifically Nobels original - even though both are designed by the same engineer - Kai Tachibana. As a user of mainly humbucker style guitars I've always thought that the ODR circuit needed some control for the lower frequencies which otherwise can get boomy. The newest ODR-1 variety has a straight binary Bass-Cut switch - while I typically like a little more finessed control - which is why it's essential for my chosen candidate to have some sort of variable Low-end control - which all my selection do. Obviously the Vemuram Shanks ODS-1 is really pricey - so it's much more practically preferable to get the fully-featured ODR-C - ahead of the ODR-S and Wampler Belle Mini. I currently have only the one ODR-C candidate in this category - while I will likely have an ODR-S and Wampler Belle too at some stage in the future.
Here are my preferred featured candidates :
This is one of the odd-one-out categories here in not being a specific original pedal derivation - but rather a more general style of overdrive - a gorgeously harmonically rich breakup and articulation. My first acquisition in this area was the Spaceman Aphelion, then the Bogner Wessex and Greer Southland were added in fairly quick succession, and the Vick Audio Lotus 2K edition most recently. The Vick Audio Lotus is often attributed to the Tweed style, while I like it rather more suits this category with its excellent textural articulation. Pedals in this category tend to be Transistor-based, and frequently Germanium variety - as is the case with the Aphelion and Menatone Simplexity Mini. I will hopefully be doing a 3 x Menatone Mini Pedal roundup relatively soon - featuring the Hindenburg, Simplexity and Thundering Revival - so will use that as an excuse to acquire each of those varieties!
Here follow my preferred featured candidates in this category :
Obviously I've just fairly recently concluded a 28 pedal roundup within this category - featuring my new favourite Jackson Audio Golden Boy variant and all the other usual suspects. There will be some questioning as to why I left out the JHS Morning Glory - while I obviously own and have other preferences in this category - and in the end it was between the Prince of Tone and Morning Glory for that final spot - and for me I have the Prince of Tone higher on my wishlist - I've always intended to get that to supplement my well-loved full-size King of Tone - but it's one of the many things I've not gotten around to acquiring yet.
Preferred featured candidates :
For the Mini variety it was really between the Mooer Blues Crab, Snouse Electric rare BlackBox Mini and Dave Friesema's oddly monikered 'MicroFracture'. I'm a huge fan of Dave 'Pickdropper' Friesema (also of Function F(x), and a big advocate of his Mini pedals in particular - so that seemed to be the most natural candidate for me here in the end.
This is actually a more interesting category than it appears on the surface - obviously you have the 2 official versions courtesy of original Paul Cochrane compact Timmy, and recent MXR authorised Mini Timmy. But you also have the Vemuram Jan Ray refinement - which ends up in Boris Orange's BO Effects Dual TPC vs JRV pedal. And then you have the almost equally intriguing sort of Mad Professor Royal Blue take on the same circuit. I have only the original thus far, but will likely pick up a MXR Mini Timmy some day, probably along with the rather intriguing BO Effects TPC vs JRV.
Preferred featured candidates :
This has long been one of my favourite categories of overdrive - with first the Mad Professor Simble, then Wampler Euphoria, and most recently the Demon Pedals Kondo-Shifuku taking on the principal role. In fact I so love the Kondo-Shifuku I can't right now see anything I would want to replace it with. That said I've still to acquire the forthcoming new version of Menatone Dumbstruck, and the J Rockett Melody - which is an enhanced version of its well-loved Dude pedal. Mini pedal selection here was really between the OneControl Golden Acorn - which I still haven't got around to getting, and another Dave Friesema mini pedal special - Zen Drive Clone. I will actually probably end up with both of those minis at some stage - while I really don't like the new mini-pedal redesigns at OneControl - and will try to ensure I pick up one of the earlier versions of Golden Acorn.
Preferred featured candidates :
This is another somewhat odd-one-out category in that I was only able to find one direct derivative - in the form of the super rare Japanese Pedal Diggers HC32 Mini candidate. The V2 Hot Cake just emerged somewhat stealthily this year - and covers off a couple of earlier varieties including the limited Blueberry edition - via a couple of additional toggle-switches. Note that the labelled Presence knob was originally a 'Mid Lift' and actually accentuates the 800Hz frequency as far as I'm aware. I'm obviously down to get that Hot Cake some day soon - but was waiting for Joe's Pedals to get them in stock - while they can be acquired in the UK already courtesy of Hot Rox.
As for these others here - they are really near-match sound-alike alternatives which have some significant degree of overlap to the original Hot Cake. I can't vouch for whether they will work as magically with Vox AC30's as the Hot Cake does, but they certainly seem to hit similar sonic territory to my ears. I've long been meaning to get an MI Effects Super Blues Pro and Barber Gain Changer - and that will surely happen eventually. While the Sarno Music Earth Drive is somewhat new to me. The Montreal Assembly Positive Overdrive is of course another very interesting candidate - and quite close in structure to the very original Hot Cake as far as I'm aware. I will for sure get some blow-back on my selection here - so by all means point out some more suitable alternatives to me if you feel there are others more apt here.
Preferred featured candidates :
Note that I've still not come across a demo of the newest Hot Cake iteration - so the demo is of an older version obviously! Note 2 - is that I have come across another decent Hot Cake clone in the meantime - the Schu-Tone Hotcake - which may or may not be discontinued now!
The Fulltone OCD is one of my very favourite long-term overdrives and sat in my chain for a very significant period some years ago. That then got ousted by the Hamstead Odyssey which I just happened to dial in accidentally to an almost identical OCD voicing when I first got it, but offers quite a bit more range and versatility. My fairly recently arrived Vick Audio Tree of Life kind of straddles Zen Drive and OCD territory at either ends of the Gain Structure scale, while I've always fancied it more as a slightly differently voiced OCD style overdrive rather than an enhanced Zen Dumble. I obviously also love the other main variety of OCD - the Custom Shop Ge Germanium edition which I felt had to feature here too. While the Joyo Ultimate Drive is one of my few concessions to budget pedals as it really does sound pretty darn fine - and all for around $30/£30 - by some margin the cheapest pedal in this listing. While the excellent Mooer Mini Hustle Drive is slightly higher at $50/£40 typically.
Preferred featured candidates :
This is another category I've gotten much more into recently - particularly courtesy of Sheldon Ens' excellent True North Tweed Drive. Considering how great that sounds - it's somewhat challenging to advocate for the DanDrive Tweedy at twice the price of the Tweed Drive - both are undeniably great sounding though. I believe my first Tweed-aligned pedal was the Bearfoot FX Sparkling Yellow OD3, while I've always liked the sound too of Menatone's Dirty B, and Wampler's now discontinued Tweed '57. Also the Zvex Vertical '59 Sound. In fact there's no shortage of great Tweed-style overdrives currently - including the very suitably impressive Mini Mooer Micro Preamp 006 US Classic Deluxe.
Preferred featured candidates :
The Trainwreck category is the least populated here and the one I somewhat struggled to find candidates for. Obviously the Custom Tones Ethos TWE-1 has served me faithfully for a long while and I fully intend to get the new Menatone Wreck'T when that version is formally out. The rarest of the rare here is Björn Juhl's 5-knob BJFE Model R which is in very short supply. I've seen a few of the 3 and 4 knob models hit Reverb.com over the years, but have so far not noted any suitably 5-knob candidates - these tend to be very expensive in any case. For the Mini variety I was unable to find any direct derivations, but though the F-Pedal Damn 10 had some overlap into Trainwreck territory. By all means let me know what you feel about that selection - and if there art other varieties you believe are more closely matched.
Preferred featured candidates :
Obviously no Overdrive overview would be complete without my favourite of all time - actually the pretty rare Keeley Modded Freak Fuzz edition of the Boss BD-2 Blues Driver with 2 Germanium Transistors fixed to its surface. This has a superb textural complexity and richness to it which I just haven't found anywhere else - it also cleans up beautifully with you guitar volume dial and is incredibly touch-sensitive with the volume dialled down in that fashion. A lot of players use the BD-2 with drive on 0 as sort of tone-sweeting boost - where it does a similar trick to a Germanium Fuzz Face. I just love my Freak Fuzz BD-2 and would have that over any other variant, with the Keeley Phat Mod BD-2 in second place - and both well ahead of the BD-2W Waza Craft edition or JB-2 Angry Driver edition - although that too has its strengths. The CMATmods Signa Drive is another great dynamic overdrive which can go full-blooded and rich, while the Keeley Retro Super Germanium Phat Mod Overdrive is my favourite version of his own Blues Driver derivatives. Before all those compact pedals though I had the humble Mooer Blues Mood in pride of place for the longest time - it does not quite reach the lofty heights of the Keeley Modded editions - but comes plenty close enough - to an extent that this is my most recommended Mooer Pedal.
Preferred featured candidates :
I do hope this will be well received within the spirit of how it was intended - as a sort of pedal travelogue through some of the key overdrive categories - with some of my own significant milestones along the way. You should use this as a rough guide to navigate your way through the various options and choices available.
Some of these pedals are rare and discontinued and some can be a little pricey. There will for sure be some readers asking me to recommend more budget options - while the truth here is that I feel the ones I selected are the best candidates - the ones that give you more goodness, and by contrast therefore most of those not featured here I consider somewhat lesser - while there are still worthy candidates within what I have excluded too.
If you buy sensibly you can get some fantastic pedals from around £120 upwards - below that it's mostly a case of diminishing returns - in that the quality of output is not quite up to the very best offered higher up the pricing scale. There are some exceptions of course and my readers can continue to hit me up for hints and advice within the individual categories. But by and large this is the selection I fully stand by - and I'm proud to have been able to rustle up this key reference resource as such.
There are of course plenty of complementary and relevant reference articles to most of these categories on this site, as well as a number of features on '12 Degrees of Saturation' where the most pertinent of those will be related to this article.
By all means let me know where or if I've erred somewhere along the way here - and I will of course look to take on that feedback and incorporate it in future articles. I'm contemplating on doing the next '12 Degrees of Saturation' focusing on Distortions - in a similar way to 12 distinct categories of Overdrive here - which will likely take on a few Fuzz varieties too including Rat, Big Muff and High Gain Fuzzstortions alongside more typical categories of Top-Boosted Vox, Plexi, Brown Sound and Rectifier - we'll see what the exact selection will turn out to be early next year - or conceivably later in this one - depending on other priorities!
Each of my principal recommendation here is a great gateway into that category - but typically gives you a little more. Also you will note that there are some discontinued, limited and rare examples here - which you will need to hunt down on Reverb.com and Ebay. Some of these only turn up very sporadically - so you should definitely pounce if you see one - before someone else snaps it up.
I have representatives in most categories here - while I really need to get my skates on and land a Hot Cake some day soon - so Joe Light - please can you order some in of the latest edition!