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9 Unsung Boss OverDrive and Distortion Pedals

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Boss is of course famous for its many legendary gain pedals - including the OD-1, SD-1, BD-2, DS-1, HM-2, and MT-2. There are however a number of lesser-known varieties which are somewhat more under the radar, and never really got their full due.

 

Boss has as many discontinued as active pedals in its range, and a significant number of those are worth hunting down. This feature covers 6 discontinued, and 3 currently active pedals that I personally still like - and have designs on those which I don’t yet have in my reference collection.

 

I’ve only just recently added the OS-2 and DS-2 to the collection - while I’ve had the MD-2 and MZ-2 for quite a while now. That means I still need to get the SD-2 - whose topology was a forerunner to the JB-2 Angry Driver, OD-2R, DF-1, PW-2 and DA-2 - the last mentioned of which was the forerunner really to the DS-1X.

 

Here follow a few more details on each :


OS-2 OverDrive/Distortion 1990> : $103 | €81 | £79

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Controls - Level, Tone, Drive, Color (Gain character).

 

This is sort of a further evolution of the OD-2 where the 2-way Off/Turbo mode switch has been replaced by a variable Color dial which changes the Gain character - at the core you still have your 3 original - Level,Tone, and Drive Controls. It's one of Boss's lesser-known pedals but obviously popular enough to sustain a production run nearly 30 years straight so far. There's nothing here to dislike really apart from the vast number of superficially similar OverDrive varieties Boss has to offer - yet they all have their distinct variations - as to whether those are more or less to your liking is entirely down to your own personal preferences. I personally quite like this one too - but would probably more likely go for am OD-2 because of the Prince connection. As it happens - this was one of the Boss drive pedals added most recently to my reference collection!


SD-2 Dual OverDrive (discontinued) 1993-1998 : c£100 equivalent for lightly used example via Reverb.com

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Controls - Crunch : Level, Tone, Drive, Lead : Level, Tone, Drive, Mode : Crunch (Remote Switching) / Crunch/Lead (Alternating).

 

I've actually featured this one a few times on this site as it's a pedal I've always been intrigued by, even though it has inspired somewhat different responses. It is the first pedal to feature the 3 x dual-concentric knobs, as latterly seen on the JB-2 Angry Driver - here you get to set separate Level | Tone | Drive for Crunch and Lead Modes - and you can use a Remote switch to toggle between the two - or the Mode Selector. This is why I've always felt the latched-plate design of the compact Boss enclosure has been a limiting factor to a degree - as this pedal would be perfect with dual standard footswitches! This is a pedal I still intend to get - while I'm struggling to find one of the appropriate quality on Reverb.com - it will surely happen some day!


OD-2R Turbo OverDrive (discontinued) 1994-1999 : c£65 equivalent for lightly used example via Reverb.com

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Controls - Level, Tone, Drive, Turbo : On (Remote Switching) / Off

 

The OD-2R is a slightly enhanced version of the 1985 OD-2 Turbo OverDrive - with added 'Remote' input for easier switching of the 'Turbo' mode. No doubt Boss has updated some of the internals too as components are always wont to change slightly between iterations. Tone-wise it is possibly a little more articulate, but otherwise much the same as its predecessor in most ways - and it commands similar prices on the second-hand market / Reverb.com. Prince used the original OD-2 a lot - and partly for that reason I really want one of these. Much like the other discontinue varieties here - it's all about finding a decent second-hand one in reasonable condition and at the right sort of price. A lot of these examples tend to be somewhat battered and significantly worn!


DF-2 Super Feedbacker & Distortion (discontinued) 1984-1993 : c£175 equivalent for lightly used example on Reverb.com

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Controls - Distortion : Level, Tone, Distortion | Feedback : Distortion, Overtone.

 

This is a suitably grungy sounding distortion which feeds back beautifully when you press and hold the footswitch. The distortion has the 3 usual controls - Level | Tone | Distortion while you control the degree of feedback with the 4th OverTone knob. This is a pretty unique effect long since discontinued, but which several players still really like - and while there are more modern pedals available like the DigiTech FreqOut - here you get the feedback element combined with a lovely rich sounding distortion. I see this pedal probably as a nice-to-have rather than essential, although certainly one for the reference collection. And if one ever materialised at the right time and with the right combination of condition and price - I would quite likely snap one up. That hasn't happened quite yet!


DS-2 Turbo Distortion 1987> - $103 | €69 | £65

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Controls - Level, Tone, Distortion, Turbo : I / II (Remote Switching).

 

As famously featured on many a Prince official pedalboards - I really need to do further digging to figure out exactly which tracks he deployed this on (still not got any further with that!) - Prince also famously deployed the Boss Turbo OverDrive, Blues Driver and yes even the Metal Zone! The Turbo Distortion seems to have a slightly different tone stack to the classic DS-1 with a less harsh filter sweep on the Tone control - and which retains more lows in the frequency profile. It also has 2 Turbo Modes, with the first Mode adding in a significant mid-boost. The gain structure here seems slightly more even-tempered than the DS-1 and in many ways more satisfying at higher Distortion levels and with the Tone dial set higher - while for those same settings the DS-1 can sound harsh - where the rawer character of the DS-1 makes it more suitable slightly lower down the gain scale! It's not a pedal I feel I personally really definitively need, but the Prince connection kind of makes me want one. In fact - this has also been added recently to the reference collection.


PW-2 Power Driver (discontinued) 1996-1998 - c£85 equivalent for lightly used example on Reverb.com

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Controls - Level, Fat (Lows), Muscle (Mids), Drive.

 

With falling sales of 'Metal' pedals in the wake of the Grunge movement - largely around the early to mid 90's, this was Boss's attempt to capture the sound of Grunge and appeal to that new generation of players, which by and large is considered one of its least successful ventures / experiments. This is a sort of Big-Muff style sounding pedal with some oddly named controls, and which could have really done with a further Treble or overall Tone control. The 4 controls are - Level | Fat (Lows) | Muscle (Mids) | Drive - with the Mids frequency around the 800kHz mark which leads to some rather unusual tones if you dime that. The Muscle control works fine - but you really need something to control the high end frequencies - particularly in the higher gain register which just isn't possible. I believe this pedal could be resuscitated / further rehabilitated with a modification or two or if deployed with a GE-7, but in its stock version it's just a touch too flawed to be of significant use for most. I of course want one - just to figure out what are this pedal's sweet spots - there have to be some. It's somewhat ironic that an existing Boss pedal - the DS-1 came to be more associated with Grunge - as Kurt Cobain's signature pedal of choice! The PW-2 on the other hand barely lasted 2 years in service. It's for sure one of the the most short-lived Boss pedals - but weirdly - I still want one!


DA-2 Adaptive Distortion (discontinued) 2013-2018 - c£119 equivalent when new

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Controls - Level, Low, High, Adaptive-Distortion.

 

This was the sort of evolution and follow-up to the DN-2 Dyna Drive pedal - using an early version of what I believe became the MDP (Multi-Dimensional Processing) DSP technology. It kind of follows on nicely from the Power Stack and Combo Drive also in having a very similar control topology which is named just slightly differently - Level | Low | High | A-Dist - the 4th control once more adjusting several parameters around gain structure and character. It was sort of supplanted one year later by the DS-1X Distortion which surely was just a more refined version of the same technology - in a more shiny enclosure. I've tried to seek these out on the second-hand market - but there are just very few to be found - so either way if you are thinking of getting one of these you may be slightly better of just going for the DS-1X as its so much more available! I feel that the DA-2 is a little rawer and comes with a touch more bite - which I really rather like. Later version of MDP were slightly more rounded and refined! Some will argue that the DS-1X entirely supplanted the DA-2 - while I still feel that the former has some merit - in its slight differences! Not sure where this is currently on my priority list - which tends to be rather adhoc and opportunistic for these kinds of pedals.


MD-2 Mega Distortion 2001> - $93 | €89 | £85

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Controls - Level, Tone / Bottom, Distortion, Gain Boost.

 

This is another one of those really great rasping Boss distortions - here generated via two gain stages - Distortion and Boost, you also get Tone and Bottom (Highs & Lows) control for EQ-shaping and extra body definition. This is a much underrated pedal in the current range, and there are a few decent modified version of this including one by Alchemy Audio which I have had my eyes on. I was about to pounce a couple of years ago, but other priorities took precedence then. I thought I would most likely snap up an Alchemy Audio edition of this if it came around again - but there is nothing really wrong with the Boss original either - a really lively sounding thick and rich distortion. Some feel the top-end is slightly spikey / brittle - which is what the modded versions seek to round off - while I quite like that extra bite. So much so that in the end I actually settled for an original Boss edition rather than one of the many Modded versions that I had been eyeing up! I may still get one of the modded ones later - but I really like the original for now!


MZ-2 Digital Metalizer (discontinued) 1987-1992 - c£150 equivalent for pristine example via Reverb.com

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Controls- Level, Tone, Drive, Mode : Chorus : I / II, Doubler : I / II / III, SGL (Stock).

 

This is a totally underrated and under-the-radar distortion pedal which is by default thick and rasping in its stock 'SGL' Mode (SinGLe / Solo Distortion) - you then have 3 Doubling / Double Tracking Delays and 2 Chorus modulation modes which significantly boost and thicken the tone. The distortion circuit is all analog, the modulations are digital, and it actually can sound tremendous if you tune it just right. I've had one of these for a while now and I really like it. A lot of the time the distortion sound not that dissimilar to a Rat tonality - and this is not really the full-on Metal-style distortion of the other similarly named Boss pedals. There are some really cool tones to be found here - and this is a secret weapon for quite a few players.


Final Thoughts

I am a rare eclectic - where I like all flavours of gain - from soft and subtle, to overblown and pretty much harsh - indeed a proper 'Gainiac'. I think most players will have more of a set range or niche within Boss's Gain Pedal selection - and stick largely say to Blues or Metal at the other extreme. While I really rate and value all varieties - and seek out their individual personalities / characters, and sweet-spots.

 

Not all these pedals are equal - as some are really easy to dial in, while others require a little more patience and nuance and are all too easy to make sound horrible. Also there is a difference in the variety and versatility of each pedal. Where some have several different modes - which suggest several different playback contexts, while some you will tend to set-and-forget in a single preset position. All are valid and worthy though as far as I am concerned. And I will look to add most of these over the coming months and years - to-date I have just 4 of this selection - which are the three currently available ones - OS-2, DS-2, and MD-2, alongside the MZ-2 Digital Metalizer. All the others I will look to acquire opportunistically - which is largely dependent on pricing and timing!

 

I will next be listing my all-time favourite Boss Drive and Distortion pedals - so it will be interesting to compare and contrast those two selections. There may even be some degree of overlap!

 

As for people starting off with Boss gain pedals - generally I recommend you try the various perennial classics first - before exploring Boss's outer fringes. Some of this underrated selection will rather be 'Nice-to-have' for many, while I believe the OD-1, SD-1, BD-2, DS-1, JB-2, HM-2, and MT-2 are Bona-fide classics and absolute Must-haves!

 

Do you have any favourites amongst these?

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
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