Reader Charles H requested that I do a roundup of Clean Blend Overdrives - which resulted in the following selection. Most Bass Overdrives have Clean-Blend by default - while all the ones I have selected here are more specifically Guitar Overdrives. I personally don’t find myself needing to use Clean Blend so much - but I can totally understand why so many players find this functionality useful or even essential. The Blend knob is variously labelled Blend, Clean, Dry and Mix. I’ve tried to choose as broad a selection as possible - with a good mix of mainstream and boutique pedals at various different price points.
There are two in this list that I personally own - the BYOC Crown Jewel Multidrive, and Dr Scientist’s The Elements - while the EHX Overlord, Origin Effects RevivalDrive Compact, Pettyjohn Iron MMII, and Walrus Audio Ages are all on my infinite wishlist - actually with the Iron MKII the likeliest next acquisition. All of the ones selected seem to be at medium to high gain, across a number of different types and classifications / genres of overdrives - with a certain slight concentration of TS808-style circuits too.
It would be cool to hear which ones have found your favour, and how exactly you are deploying them. There are of course various ways to get Clean Blend working - and you can use something like TheGigRig’s Wetter Box Parallel Mixer to give you a clean blend element along your signal path.
I actually use clean blend somewhat more on Distortions and Fuzzes - as a means to just temper the distortion very slightly without losing the core tonality and texture. Of course Clean Blend gives you enhanced articulation - which is why it is so essential in Bass drive-units - as otherwise you can get overly muddy or boomy low-end.
I feel there are primarily technical reasons for deploying this function, while some players use it to achieve very specific tones and textures - and as mentioned, it’s a great fine-tuning agent if you mostly like how things are sounding but you just wish to soften things a little or else tighten them up.
Pedals are arranged in alphabetical order by brand as usual :
This is my favourite ever Multidrive pedal alongside the Chase Bliss Audio Automatone Preamp MKII. I learned so much from this unit as to how different overdrive and distortion voicings are generated and how the different clipping elements impact a circuit. Also the importance of Parametric EQ, Presence and Q-controls. This is just an extraordinary sort of every-drive pedal - in particular with its different boost modules which can further differentiate and colour the tone.
Here the Clean Blend is usually sold as an optional extra - and typically gets added to the right-hand edge as indicated in the above visual. As I mention in the intro - I don't really use the Clean Blend much at all - and the mix is almost alway at full-wet for me. I guess it depends on the nuance of the tone you are trying to achieve. Currently these are waiting for a supply of enclosures as they've been sold out for a while - Keith tells me that more should be in stock again very soon.
The Crown Jewel has no less than 14 controls - including 4-Band EQ with Parametric Mids + Q and Presence, and multiple clipping options. The Clean Blend sits on the right-hand edge of the pedal.
Most are familiar with the Cornerstone Gladio D-Style Dual-Channel Drive unit - where this extracts the Left / Channel I circuit into a single-channel stand-alone pedal - as reinforced by the Compression control - it also adds in a Clean Blend knob!
For most this is the favourite more versatile side of the pedal - and it fully justifies itself with this particular enhanced configuration. If you really like that Left-hand Channel - this gives you that with somewhat enhanced and refined control.
Controls are Tone, Clean, Volume, Gain and Compression toggle-switch
DMB's Americana is a triple-transistor take on that classic 6L6 Brownface / Tweed Fender tone - delivering a well-articulated and dynamic sparkly overdrive. This is one that's not in wide distribution any more and so may be a little tricker to get your hands one - particularly outside of North America.
It has 4 simple controls - Drive, Level, Tone and Clean.
Along with the Crown Jewel, this is another long-term favourite of mine which has been in my chain a lot over the years. It's a very natural amp-like overdrive / distortion, while it can have quite a significant noise-floor when Gain is cranked in High Gain mode. So I would not necessarily recommend using this pedal without a noise-gate for those higher gain levels.
Other than that proviso - this is a hugely versatile and capable overdrive with significant extended range delivered courtesy of those cleverly conceived 10 controls.
The Controls are Gain, Volume, Mix, Gain Structure Switch, Clipping Switch, Bass Cut Switch, Mid Frequency Switch, Bass, Mid, and Treble.
EHX's Operation Overlord is a beautifully harmonically textured overdrive with some very slight fuzz characteristics. And rather extensive controls. It's only about a year since EHX shrunk this down to compact / nano dimensions - and they've near enough retained all the functionality - bar losing a second Boost Footswitch with Level Control - rendered on the smaller unit via a single push-button.
I don't see why they could not have preserved the entirety of the larger pedal's functionality and equipped this version with dual-footswitches. So despite a significant innovation streak - that't one area / avenue that EHX has yet to go down - surely that's only a matter of time now.
Controls are Boost push-button, 3-way Input Level toggle-switch, and then Volume, Dry, Gain, Treble, Mid and Bass.
The key differential for the Lumen is really how it's tone-stack operates. In place of the usual passive frequency sweeping controls we have instead tree different filters which target and shape frequencies in a far more articulate fashion - meaning that this overdrive circuit delivers a lot more clarity and articulation - which may be a boon for some, and a curse for others.
You for sure get a heightened degree of clarity in the tone-shaping, which is further underlined by the Clean Blend. The end result is more clarity and presence than other similar overdrives are able to deliver.
Controls here are Drive, Clean and Level, then High Pass Filter, Band Pass Filter and Low Pass Filter.
Josh Scott's take on the TS808 add's 2-way High/Low Gain switch and Clean Blend into the mix for much more range than a typical tube-screamer. Josh alludes to the ease of replicating even certain Dumble-style tones here which is a bonus. In fact this pedal in concept is not much different to the Tate FX Antares - with the Gain/Voicing switch as the only notable differentiator.
Controls here are Volume, Gain±, Drive, Tone and Clean.
NOC3 is a new brand to me as of this article - first encounter really for this North Carolina, US brand. I understand that this is sort of evolved from a TS808 type circuit, but significantly enhanced with no less than 6 controls - including 3-way compression switch.
It has a tonne of extra dynamics and shaping compared to the usual candidates in that category - this is definitely an overdrive more people should be giving some consideration to.
Controls her are Volume, 3-Way Compression Switch, Gain, Treble, Clean, Bass.
Readers will know that I am a huge fan of the significantly larger original full-fat RevivalDrive pedal. Obviously in extracting that to a smaller enclosure meant inevitably that certain feature had to be cut. This means no Ghost Note effect which is one of the things that is so unique about the original RevivalDrive, and secondly it means no mids! Which I always feel are essential for getting the most out of a Marshall Voicing - getting the chewiness of those frequencies just right is what make the core Marshall crunch sound so endearing.
I was in fact a little disappointed at the final version of the compact edition at launch, but have warmed to it more recently. I may just get the Compact edition too one of these days as I have plenty of other tone components in my pedal-chain to impact and shape those mid-frequency Marshall tones.
The controls are Output, Highs, Gain, Blend, Lows, More/Presence, EQ Switch, and EQ Adjust.
I am on something of a Pettyjohn mission at the moment - having gone from 0 to 5 of Stephen's classic pedals really only in the last 5 or so months. The Iron MKII is that classic crunch drive - perfect for rhythm guitar, and it is my next Pettyjohn acquisition target. There are so many clever touches here - including the variable Clipping, and of course inclusion of Clean Blend for peak shaping.
The pedal's power supply is ramped to 36V internally for even more high-fidelity and definition - and there are a number of mods available to tune the core circuit in various ways, while on this occasion the core standard circuit is the perfect iteration for me.
Controls are Level, Variable Clipping Si>LED, Drive, Lows, Clean and Highs.
Stuart Tate's TS808 take has probably taken over from the Raise the Dead as his flagship pedal - there's no shortage of players who love this highly articulate overdrive. Not much more to say really - just a really great take on the TS808 circuit with added versatility and definition.
Controls are Gain, Volume, Clean and Tone.
Knud Møller's signature overdrive is something of an under-the-radar T-Rex classic - for not much money. I think this is probably TS808 derived too - and those extra controls really allow this to hit some pleasing sweet-spots.
Controls are Tone, Bass Boost, Level, Gain, Mix, and Boost.
Voodoo Lab's VDM Sparkle Drive Mod Overdrive is an improvement on an already great TS808 style circuit - with the added 3-way Mod selector allowing you to tune the core EQ and Gain Structure of the pedal - typically by boosting certain elements. There's plenty of players that still love this circuit - while it's not quite as much in circulation as it used to be.
Controls are Gain, Tone, Mod x 3 (Gain Structure + EQ), Clean, and Volume.
I've obviously warmed to this a lot since my original review - and while I feel that at its core it's not Walrus's best-sounding overdrive per se - it's still very much its most versatile one. In fact I've gone from sidelining this to having it on my wishlist - as I recognise its capabilities now. There are still lots of players who prefer the Mayflower (Timmy take) and 385 Overdrive though - and those are very much still in contention for me.
Controls are Volume, Dry, Gain, Bass, Mode, and Treble.
This is a really sort of interesting mix of Klone and Tube Screamer topologies - with great articulation courtesy of the Clean Blend control. The clipping switch takes it into slightly more aggressive territory - while this is a great sounding finely-calibrated and well-balanced overdrive - which is sure to find many fans. I have but a passing knowledge of Westminster Effects as I don't often encounter those in the wild - but they are certainly well made and worthy of consideration.
Controls are Gain, Clip (Symmetrical/Asymmetrical), Volume, Clean, and Tone.
It was inevitable that I would overlook one or two pedals in my roundup - I had rather forgotten about this celebrated gem of an overdrive. It's a pedal that has quite the loyal following - but tends to dip under the radar a lot - in not being so much in general circulation. This is a somewhat distinct sounding overdrive - being shaped by a hybrid mix of Silicon and Germanium Transistors for a slightly raw and yet velvety tone.
Controls are Volume, Drive, Treble, Bass and Immaculator (Clean Blend).
You certainly have a lot of choice for TS808 style circuits - but actually plenty besides. This selection re[resents quite a broad overview of overdrive circuits and several here are able to take you in multiple different directions.
All of these are worthy and valid, while some here will inevitably hold more appeal. For me I have 4 sort of long-term wishlist entries here - including the EHX Operation Overlord, Origin Effects RevivalDrive Compact, Pettyjohn Iron MKII, and Walrus Audio Ages. Would also probably look to add the NOC3 Pure Drive to the wishlist as that one certainly has me intrigued.
Prices range from €99 to £320 - with most around the $150-$175 mark. You will need to decide which brand most deserves your money - while I feel these are all decent, I would tend to lean into the more fully-featured ones typically.
Do you have any favourites amongst these, or are there some other obvious alternatives I inadvertently overlooked?