For this particular selection I tried to get in as diverse number of types, along with all the usual favourites - every year I have readers asking me why I left this one or that one out - so this year is the time for including Menatone in the selection. Obviously between years some pedals rise in prominence while others fall - my intentions are always to provide as broad a selection as possible while still covering all my own personal favourites.
There are a few new entrants since 2018, and a couple of NAMM 2019 pedals here too - one of which I already have and the other which I intend to acquire. Like most others I have plenty of overdrive pedals already of all shapes and sizes and I don’t necessarily need any more - although it’s always been my intention to have at least one representative of each distinctive type - which means a Hot Cake, Red Snapper and Timmy are all on the cards too for some time in the future - obviously pending other priorities and preferences.
16 of these are already in the collection one way or another - and the next marked for acquisition is the ThorpyFX Peacekeeper, then Timmy, and then probably the new Tsakalis Six - and that will probably do for this year for overdrives - I have near enough an equal number in the collection which did not make the cut this time!
Pedals are listed alphabetically by brand:
The irony here is that I always intended to get this over the larger King of Tone, but then I had the opportunity to acquire the latter in its really cool JHS 4-Star Modded edition - which now means this one is much less of a priority. I often have both the King of Tone and Wampler Pantheon in my chain - both Blues Breaker derivations - so I don't necessarily need this one, although I really would like to add one at some stage. It is a touch higher gain than the King of Tone overall - and has the really useful 3-way toggle-switch to change between Boost, OD and Distortion modes - which I already have with the JHS Mod on the King of Tone x 2. This pedal is hand-made in China with the same key components that go into its bigger brother - possibly the Snouse BlackBox 2 and Wampler Pantheon offer a little more tone-shaping - but this one is also most definitely worthy of consideration.
This is a really nicely tweakably neutral and rather smooth overdrive with 3 handy clipping options. The core tone is sort of Tube-Screamer-esque / MOSFET style overdrive but without the pronounced mid hump - you get a much more even EQ profile which you then ramp up in degrees with the clipping dial - going from Soft LED Clipping, through Hard Clipping with 4 to 5 Low Threshold Silicon Diodes, and on to Hard Clipping with 2 High Threshold Silicon Diodes. There are a further 2 internal switches for tone range and compression, as well as 2 trim-pots that impact core voicing and intensity. I've seen some reviewers say this is like the Prince of Tone - in terms of flexibility and versatility yes - but this does not feel exactly like a Blues Breaker voicing - more it's own thing for me. All in all just a fantastically tasteful dynamic drive pedal - with all the customisation options you might need.
As I've related several times on this site, my very first 'Blues Driver' was actually the mini Mooer Blues Mood which I still love - in fact a clone of the Keeley Phat modded Blues Driver. The 'Freak Fuzz' mod is a rather rarer beast and contains both the Phat Mod toggle switch, as well as the Two Germanium Transistors and Square Wave Fuzz switch to activate that circuit. The Phat mod upgrades a number of the Boss components, adds in asymmetrical clipping and adjusts the tonal profile significantly with much richer low-end frequency content and somewhat tamed higher frequencies. Even at stock settings with both switches off - the pedal sounds significantly different and better in my opinion to the original, not that the original was any sort of slouch either - in fact I recommend all Boss variants of the Blues Driver - which include standard version, Wazacraft Edition, and JHS Angry Driver collaboration. The Freak Fuzz Mod pedal though is a really special kind of drive, and it's unlikely it will ever leave my pedal-chain - it's just one of my all-time favourite drive tones - beautifully rich and harmonic. (Note that I could not find a demo of a Keeley Freak Fuzz Mod - so I went with a more typical Phat Mod demo instead).
One of only a couple of Internationally known New Zealand effects brands - alongside Red Witch, Crowther Audio has just 3 pedals to its name - including the compact Hotcake featured here, the doubled-up Dual Hotcake, and Prunes & Custard two-stage harmonic generator-intermodulator distortion. The Hotcake is another of those celebrated more neutral overdrives, and while it has its own frequency profile and character, it does come into the ballpark of the OCD too - which is probably its nearest cousin. There are a number of distinct flavours of natural overdrive - and alongside the likes of the Lightspeed, Red Snapper and Timmy - the Hotcake is often the overlooked option - it has only the 3 most basic of control knobs - Level, Presence and Drive - which is not dissimilar to the Lightspeed, where most others offer further clipping and tone-shaping options. For many players though - this is their secret weapon.
This was actually the first waiting list pedal I ordered - at the start of last year, and it took until that April to arrive - which was kind of per expectations - and was actually totally worth the wait. For the longest time this pedal was pride of place in the slot currently occupied by the Demon Kondo Shifuku D-Style Drive - but they are both hot favourites and will be very much in rotation, while the Kondo is enjoying its time in the spotlight right now. The TWE-1 is based on the cult Trainwreck Express amp, and imparts a really impressive range of amp-like tones through some slightly unusual controls. We have essentially 5 different tone-shaping controls which interact cleverly to give you the full scope of what you need - a Hi Cut dial, and then 3-way Cab toggle for low-frequency response, Hi/Lo Presence switch, Modern/Traditional Voice switch and 3-way 'Brite' high frequency boost options. I thought I would miss the lack of Mids control here - but the various different controls when used together give you sufficient tone-shaping abilities to pretty much achieve every tone - and the scope and range of tones available here is vast. This is a wonderfully richly harmonic pedal - just like I like my drives to be. I always felt it was perfect for that Coheed and Cambria sort of tone - or at least my approximation of it.
I truly love the tone of the Dumble ODS amp - that lovely fuzz-edged drive sound it generates I find just wonderful. To date I have acquired 4 Dumble-style pedals, and this is the first one now that matches my exact requirements - the very tone I was looking for - that lovely saturated fuzzy-drive. I've seen other reviewers complain about the number of switching modes and the trickiness of dialling in a tone - but I was very quickly able to get to the tone I wanted - and there is so much range in this pedal - it's just fantastic - and I consider it the most versatile in this compact format area - while my other 3 Dumble-style pedals - The Barefoot FX Model Hs, Mad Professor Simble, and Wampler Euphoria are all excellent in their own way - the Kondo just gives you a little bit more of what you like - well, certainly for me that is (all switches set to down)!
Foxpedal has suffered somewhat since the withdrawal of its previous figurehead Todd Billow - and the new team is still working to re-establish the dealer network - for now you need to buy direct. The City V2 though remains my favourite of the versatile compact Tube Screamers - I could have thrown in the hat of the new Ibanez/Vemuram TSV808 collaboration - but that is twice the price - and I need it to come down a level really to be viable. In any case The City - with its combination of dual footswitches, including independent boost, 5 dials and 3 toggle-switches is just about the most versatile of these Tube Screamer types. The Wampler Clarksdale and Seymour Duncan 805 do give you 3-band EQ, but overall The City has slightly more flavours. Of course if you want the ultimate Tube Screamer you would go for the rather larger triple-footswitch EarthQuaker Devices Palisades, while I will likely make do with the still incredibly versatile PLBR Effects Floral Green in medium enclosure which does much of what the Palisades delivers at half that size. In any case at the compact enclosure level I still feel that the Foxpedal is the best combination of tone and versatility!
I got this one in a hurry back in the day when I feared Foxpedal was going to go out of commission. It is essentially a Klone pedal with its own distinct character and independent boost footswitch. There are two voicing toggles at the top - the left one labelled OD is soft-clipping on/off, while the right-hand 'Clip' is the same sort of thing for hard-clipping. You then have the classic Volume, Tone and Gain dials, and two separate dials for the Boost - Boost Level and Focus. The Focus dial brings to mind the fairly recent ThorpyFX Dane pedal which has a similar thing where you adjust the EQ character of the Boost - by shifting the frequency emphasis. So even though you don't have 3-band EQ - the combination of Tone dial and Boost Focus gives you some clever tone-shaping options. Overall this pedal's core voicing is slightly darker than say either Tumnus or Golden Horse - but it's still a pleasant tone - and very versatile within that combination of controls - although it's probably easier to dial things in on the 3-band Tumnus Deluxe. (Note demo is of the older medium enclosure version).
This was my favourite drive pedal for quite some time back in 2016/17 - mine is the 1.7 version. This is just one of THE best 'Crunch' pedals there ever was and I thought it would never get rotated out of its slot. But then along came the Hamstead Odyssey which delivers those crunchy tones with ease and plenty more besides. The OCD has an HP/LP switch or High Peak / Low Peak - in effect Hi/Lo gain settings - I operate mine mostly in Hi mode with the drive around 1 to 2 o'clock. I still consider this an exceptional drive pedal, but it gets less in on the rotation since I acquired the Hamstead Odyssey. The OCD though is simpler to use and quicker to dial in - so will probably have a different appeal - and it's slightly less money too!
This is considered a great alternative to the Klone style pedals - not the same circuit, but near enough in that same sort of territory. This was Peter Honoré's favourite drive pedal before he had his signature ThorpyFX The Dane. It's just a lovely natural / transparent / neutral drive with a gorgeously unaffected saturation. It is one of the many understudies I have for my Klone slot - where the mini Decibelics Golden Horse is currently pride of place. A very simple pedal to deploy with a classic 3-knob control layout labelled Loudness, Drive and Frequency - just different names for Volume, Gain and Tone. This is several players's secret weapon and it's typically seen as a replacement for rather than addition to a Klone pedal - you very rarely see both on the same board.
This ended up being rotated in - in place of the Fulltone OCD much by chance and happenstance. I watched the pedal's introduction on That Pedal Show and sprung for one instantly - but hadn't put any thought what my preferred tones would be or where it would go in my chain. It just so happened that the first really pleasing tones I came across were very much along the lines of lovely textured sort of OCD-style crunch. This pedal has 5 somewhat odd tone-shaping controls - and then 3 further tone-shaping toggle switches which impact gain structure, clipping and EQ placement. You then have a sort of 2-band Baxandall Bass and Treble controls - with a separate Tone control for the Gain stage. Part of me wonders if we wouldn't be better off with 3-band EQ as I place a lot of importance on the middle frequencies - yet I believe this circuit needs to be this way to produce its sort of fuzz voicing at the right settings. As it is though you get some very interesting interactions between the controls and the pedal really works very well with the interplay of those different settings - although there is a learning curve to figure out how to get the very best out of this pedal. It also features the very best type of footswitch - the entirely contactless Optical OptiKick footswitch courtesy of Dan Steinhardt's TheGigRig. So a fantastic pedal - which is a touch quirky though but with tonnes of tones onboard.
AKA 9 different Tube Screamer circuits in one. Using a smartly multi-branched analog circuit with a digital switching control layer - courtesy of Jon Cusack of Cusack Music and Mojo Hand FX. This is pretty much every Tube Screamer you need in one box - covering classic and modded versions of TS808 and TS9, Metal Screamer and TS10 and including some unusual stepping stones like the Boss OD-1 and Exar OD-1. My favourite mode tends to be either the Exar or the JSH Modded TS9 - I use this pedal when I want to play around with different styles of Tube Screamer. If I want to play around with Tone-Shaping on the Tube Screamer style Platform I use either the BYOC Overdrive 2 or Foxpedal The City V2 - both of which give you much greater individual ranges of tones.
This is a really cool Klone style pedal; of course J Rockett is well know for its more traditional 3-knob Archer Klones. But for Steve Stevens they split the tone control out into a 6-band graphic EQ. I've always liked the idea of this pedal, and Steve Stevens gets some great tones out of this and his signature Friedman amp - but then again his whole rig is stellar. I have plenty of Klones already, but this one still intrigues me, and albeit not a priority - I may still add it to the collection at some stage just for that little more variety and more versatility in the tone-shaping department.
As it is I've already hit upon my perfect Dumble pedal by way of the superb Demon Kondo Shifuku. Yet Brian Mena's Dumbstruck also somewhat intrigues me - where most Dumble style pedals follow the amp control topology to a degree - with dials labelled as Accent, Contour and Sensitivity and switches for Jazz/Rock modes etc. - while the Dumbstruck goes about it in a slightly different fashion - with 4 tone-shaping knobs on top of Volume and Gain - we have Resonance, Push, Accent and Harmonic Content. The Dumble has always been about that somewhat fuzzy-style harmonic content for me, and this pedal has in effect 3-band EQ with Resonance the low-end, Push is the mid-range frequency profile, and Accent sort of the pick attack and top-end. In additional to those key tone values you then have the Harmonic Content dial which dials in the degree of harmonic saturation - which on other pedals is controlled by various clipping and gain stage switches. Menatone pedals always sound great, and I would probably have acquired the TBIAC pedal - had it followed Zvex's recent vertical format evolution. As it is I will likely acquire 3 Menatone Pedals within the forthcoming months - this one, The King., and the Red Snapper.
Brian Mena's Transparent Red Snapper Drive has fallen a little under the radar of late - I recall seeing it first on a That Pedal Show board and remember doing a quick search for UK dealers but not finding any at the time. There's little or nothing of the new models on Reverb.com either - which means buy direct or buy from Australia - as Deluxe Guitars have the whole range in stock bar the very latest version of the Fish Factory. The Red Snapper is probably closest to the Timmy in profile albeit it has its own unique character and frequency profile. Some prefer the Timmy because of the additional clipping options, but then most players have it locked in the middle / open position. Obviously the Red Snapper does not have quite as widespread a following - but it does still appear on a number of pro boards. I have resolved to get all of the 3 slightly less mainstream drives eventually - the Hotcake, Red Snapper and Timmy - with the last mentioned possibly first on the list - and also the least cost option! The Red Snapper will be going in the collection too - as mentioned previously.
Another fantastic frequently under-the radar drive pedal which I was actually introduced to by Shane Diiorio of In the Blues and Shane Diiorio Band fame. In fact I looked up Side Effects after seeing his review - but acquired the really cool Woolly Mammoth 7 Fuzz clone before I got this drive pedal. Quality here is excellent, and you get 3-band EQ alongside a 3-way voicing selector - low-to-mid gain, mid-to-high-gain, and low-end boosted mid-to-high gain. There is a huge variety of tones in this pedal and the range of the EQ dials is significant. I would say the default tone is towards the darker side of things, but the really versatile EQ can pretty much get you anywhere. This is one of the most formidable and accessible drive pedals you can get - so don't be shy to give it a try on Reverb.com. I believe the maker's name is Dimitris Pagonas who is also an excellent artist and does all his own artwork - including hand-painting the woolly mammoth pedals. There's something in the water in Greece as they have a really impressive roster of pedal builders - including Crazy Tube Circuits, JAM Pedals, Tsakalis Audio Works and VS Audio alongside Side Effects of course - probably about time I did a feature on Greek pedal-makers - I ideally need 9 to fit the grid!
Kind of like my story about the ThorpyFX Fallout Cloud - I kind of bought this one at the wrong time too - as within a year of acquisition there was a slightly better model released. The latest release is the Stage Pro Mod with 4 side-mounted toggle switches. My version is the External Switch Mod - which has one switch less - which grates rather - as I'm a sucker for versatility and variety. I know I need to get the updated pedal at some stage and it's a very fair price for what is on offer. I have a number of Blues Breaker style pedals also including the King of Tone and Wampler Pantheon. I consider the 3 best Blues Breakers in compact format to be this BlackBox OD2, the Prince of Tone and the Pantheon as mentioned - with the BlackBox and Pantheon pretty much at level pegging for top slot - both have a huge range onboard and although they come by their tone-shaping via different means - they are largely capable of achieving the same sort of range - with quite a bit more variety than the Prince of Tone which of course still sounds excellent. I've already deemed it necessary to get the Stage Pro update at some stage - which is likely to happen sometime before the Prince of Tone acquisition, but still not for a while with all the new NAMM pedal priorities in place. Note that it's quite heartening to see Wales' Prince of Tone - Chris Buck sporting one of the latest Stage Pro Mod versions on his new pedalboard - we all know that he's very precise when it comes to his tone-shaping and pedal selection - to that is a significant feather in the cap for the BlackBox.
I'm a huge Thorpy fan (who isn't?), and this is almost definitely my next acquisition from his range, followed by the Veteran Fuzz. I have so far collected the Trifecta of newer compact V2 pedals - Fallout Cloud, Gunshot and Warthog - and have decreed the other two essential for the expanding full set! To be honest - all the Thorpy pedals are exceptional, but I have other pedals to which I might have a slight preference for over some of his other offerings - although I may still have a couple more acquisitions to come. Some of Adrian's pedal descriptions don't always cut to the point quick enough to again awareness of where they sit - where I always want some reasonable frame of reference for the ballpark of what area a pedal operates within. Thorpy understandably hates lazy comparisons and his pedals have a great more range than most - meaning that he is loathe to pin them down too finely, but I've heard on fairly good authority that the Warthog is inspired by a Rat, the Gunshot is sort of extended Plexi territory, and this Peacekeeper is Adrian's transparent sort of Klone type but not circuit - obviously with a well expanded range into mid-gain. The Peacekeeper's five dials are similarly arranged to that of the Pantheon - with tone-shaping delivered via Bass, Treble and Presence dials. I would love to see some 3-band EQ drives in the range in the future, as I've oft spoken about the key importance of the middle-band frequencies for me - but a lot of pedals do just fine with 2-band or a single tone dial even with extensive range and dynamic sweep.
The more compact version of Paul Cochrane's Tim Overdrive is really just known by its Timmy moniker, and its popularity far outpaces that of the original. These pedals appear in batches on Reverb.com and get snapped up within a day or two - no matter the quantity. You get 2-band EQ - Bass and Treble besides Volume and Gain knobs, and a 3-way clipping toggle - where the Middle position is the least compressed symmetrical setting; Down is a more compressed symmetrical setting; while Up is the asymmetrical setting. Most players keep the pedal locked in the most open middle setting - and there's plenty of range up the gain scale well into crunch territory. This is a really well tuned pedal, and occupies roughly similar territory to the Red Snapper, with some overlap of the OCD too to a degree. In any case - probably typically the most affordable of these key overdrive pedals.
I've been following Sheldon Ems for a while, and I'm so delighted with the rightly justified praise he's been receiving - particularly of late. I thought a fleeting appearance on That Pedal Show might have opened the floodgates for him, but it was Darrell Braun's recent demo that gave this pedal the righteous push it deserved - and which should keep Sheldon backlogged for a while. This Fender Tweed style pedal just sounds wonderfully rich and glorious - I like to run it up and down the scale with both Diode and Fat switches active - right now my settings are Drive at 2 o'c, Volume at 3 o'c and Tone around 11:30. There are other Tweed pedals available - but none really with the appeal of this one - for me at least!
This was one of my drive picks at the recent NAMM - I've already acquired the other one - the Demon Kondo Shifuku above - and intend to get this one at some stage this year. It's another pedal that is in Blues Breaker territory - in fact targeting the Timmy, Blues Breaker and King of Tone with its six modes and 18V/9V Headroom switch. The modes are best described as BS Boost, OD1 Smooth Overdrive, OD2 Creamy Overdrive, DS1 Natural Amp Distortion, DS2 Amp Distortion with Bite and OD1+DS2. There are 4 further control dials - Volume, Gain, Mood (Tone), and High (High Frequencies / Presence). The circuit removes the need for inline capacitors for more dynamics, openness and clarity. Early demos have certainly sounded pretty great, but distribution is still fairly limited along with stock. Should be a really worthwhile acquisition a little later in the year.
This was my second Dumble-style pedal after the Mad Professor Simble - even though I achieved fantastic tones on the Simble it was nowhere near as versatile and wide-ranging as the Euphoria - which though took me a while to understand its Bass dial - essentially you start with it fully off. So initially it took a little longer to dial in the perfect tones on the Euphoria, but I soon got used to it, and it became my principal Dumble pedal - I then acquired the Bearfoot FX Model Hs - Hiwatt/Dumble, and then the Custom Tones Ethos TWE-1 which were all on frequent rotation on the same slot. For many players the Euphoria is Brian Wampler's best ever pedal, while for me it's his Pantheon and Tumnus. It is most definitely still a very valid and worthy choice for your Dumble Style tones - even though longer term it will likely take 3rd billing after the Demon Kondo Shifuku and Menatone Dumbstruck - each of those pedals obviously has its advantages - and as always it's as much up to your own rig and how you deploy the pedal - results can always vary, and my favourite favourite may not necessarily match your preferences - which is why I typically try to give you a few options within each reference category.
Brian Wampler's latest drive pedal also happens to be his greatest as far as I'm concerned - as the dual 3-way toggle switches (Gain Level & Overdrive Voice) combined with the five dials give you pretty much unprecedented tones right along the range - from smooth and subtle low gain overdrive to really quite saturated crunch at the top extreme. I like both the toggles to be set in the bottom position, Bass on 10 o'c, Treble at 1 o'c, Presence at 10 o'c, Volume 2 o'c and Gain 2 o'c - sounds sublime. I actually foolishly declared this the Blues Driver to end all Blues Drivers shortly before I acquired my superb JHS 4-Star Modded King of Tone which is one of the most awesome stacking pedals ever - and now I often have both pedals in the chain. I also feel that since Snouse brought out its Stage Pro version - it's bang on the money too - so all these are really valid choices and I actually like all 3 - while I would always accommodate the Pantheon and BlackBox 2 separately. I also feel that the new Tsakalis Six is in on this territory too - I never knew quite how much I loved those Blues Breaker Style tones - but looks like I will likely have more Blues Breakers than Dumbles - which are another favourite variety.
The original mini Tumnus was my first Klone pedal - I recall watching That Pedal Show and deciding that the enhanced low-end of the Tumnus was much more to my taste than say the anodyne more neutral tones of the Zendrive. So for my Klones I went from Mini Tumnus to Foxpedal Kingdom Combo, then Tumnus Deluxe, then Greer Amps Lightspeed (I know - not quite the same), and finally the diminutive Decibelics Golden Horse which is my current Klone of choice - it does not have the full range of tones that some of these others offer, but has just a fantastic default character and timbre. By the same token the Tumnus Deluxe is likely the most versatile of the compact Klones - while I still wish to properly check out the Rockaway Archer - which may enter the collection at some stage. In general the Golden Horse is my current favourite with the Tumnus Deluxe as its chief rotation partner / understudy - depends what sort of thing I'm aiming for. I feel this Trifecta of Wampler - the Tumnus, Euphoria and Pantheon in saturation order are just unsurpassed from one maker - three exceptional overdrives - and I've seen quite a few pro boards with that trifecta in effect - while I have the Pantheon as a principal, and the other two as understudies - yet frequently rotated into the chain. My tally of Wampler pedals is currently up to 9 if we include the Abasi Pathos - which I do!
As stated in the intro I've really tried to give you as broad a range of overdrive pedals here as possible - I feel that 24 is as many pedals as elegantly fits within one montage - which means not everything makes the cut - say like the Nobels ODR-1 - where I placed other pedals in preference to that even thought it's still a valid choice and was included last year.
It depend what appeals to me right now, and what is present and front of mind - there are so many pedals out there that offer really strong competition - that it's really hard to figure out what should feature and what does not make the cut. Looking at this year's selection I'm delighted with the range covered - I have 15/16 of these already depending on how precisely you apply the line.
All the pedals on this page are either in the collection or high on the wishlist - I aim to acquire a pretty solid reference library for all these key tones eventually - so it's a matter of due process, budget allocation and scheduling. Next in line are probably the Peacekeeper and Timmy as mentioned, then the Dumbstruck and Tsakalis Six, but not always necessarily in that order.
I scan dozens of resources and vendors - and if there is a significant cost saving to be had on other pedals lower on this wishlist hierarchy those will frequently get elevated in priority - so that even when we have known targets - we never really know how the year will pan out - or in exactly what order. I also get requests in to review this or that or have an opinion - which means resources being dedicated to other areas.
In the longer run I do this for my own discovery and comparative process - so as to have a better understanding of everything out there, and be able to advice players saliently on their options and choices. I will rarely recommend just a single choice within a category - sure I will likely have favourites - but I will typically try to offer up alternatives too.
If you feel I have woefully overlooked or omitted something - please let me know in the comments below.