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All-Time Personal Favourite Boss OverDrive and Distortion Pedals

Blues Driver Style OverdriveBoostBoost and OverdriveBossBoss MonthBrown Sound DistortionDistortionDriveDual-DriveMarshall Style DistortionMetal DistortionOverdriveTubescreamer Style Overdrive+-
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Following on from my recent piece on Unsung Boss OverDrives and Distortions - I though I should also list which my own personal favourites were of all of Boss’s classic gain pedals. In fact I own multiple varieties and alternatives for all these feature ones - bar essentially for the original OD-1 - where I’ve always wanted one of the very earliest editions with the now super-rare 14-pin/leg RC3403D Chip - but not found one yet in the right condition, or at the right price! Most varieties of OD-1 feature some variant of JRC4558D nowadays, and I’ve momentarily settled on a Pettyjohn Custom edition ODI - as my representative of this variety. I really hope Boss re-issues the OD-1 as a limited edition Waza-Craft - while I feel it may be somewhat unlikely. Would be cool though to have a RC3403D-powered edition at some stage.

 

I consider each one of these tone legendary pedals - as can be seen by how often these are copied, cloned, modded and included as key flavours on multi-drive and mulit-gain-workstation pedals. Possibly the MD-2 Mega Distortion and ML-2 Metal Core are just outside iconic status - while the OD-1, SD-1, BD-2, DS-1, JB-2, MT-2 and HM-2 are all wholly legendary now - with several of those having Waza editions too.

 

I’ve noted before on this site that I’m a huge fan of the Keeley Modded variants - and slightly prefer those even over and above the excellent Waza-Craft editions - where a number of those were actually inspired by those Keeley Mods.

 

My all time favourite overdrive - as mentioned many times on this site - is the Keeley Freak Fuzz Modded Edition of BD-2 Blues Driver - which is rarely out of rotation. While the JB-2 Angry Driver and Keeley Twilight Zone MT-2 Metal Zone varieties sort of equally vie for being my favourite Boss Distortion. I do really like the whole range - and as mentioned - all of these are perennial favourites and in heavy rotation.

 

Here follow a few more individual details on each, ordered sort of incrementally by gain level and degree of aggression :


OD-1 OverDrive (discontinued) 1977-1985 - up to £840 on Reverb.com for pristine edition

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Controls : Level, OverDrive.

 

Beautifully textured original Asymmetric Clipping OverDrive - and forerunner to Ibanez's TS808 Tube Screamer. This pedal really set the ball rolling, while Roland/Boss's patent for Asymmetrical Clipping would inadvertently give Ibanez the upper hand as the masses started to favour the slightly smoother Symmetrical Clipping Tones. Which then propelled Boss to do a softer version of its OD-1 - which funnily took the guise of the SD-1. Which to all intents and purposes was Boss's response to the popularity of the Tube Screamer.

 

I don't yet own any authentic Boss OD-1 - as I mentioned in the intro - I really want and original RC3403D 14-Pin-Chip edition. Where the first taste of the OD-1 I acquired was via the JHS Pedals Bonsai Multi-Screamer, and then more recently courtesy of my Custom Pettyjohn ODI - which I love dearly - and really covers that glorious typical JRC4558D texture.

 

I'm not sure Boss will ever revive the OD-1 as a Waza Edition, and if they did - they could surely never get their hands on enough RC3403D's to make that exercise worthwhile. My best option there is probably to hunt down the chip separately - and then get someone to make a custom edition for me. Will probably need two of those chips - so the builder could make a pair, and keep one for themselves! In any case I still live in hope. Those early OD-1's just sounded glorious!


SD-1 Super OverDrive - Keeley Modded (since 1981) and Waza Craft Edition (since 2014) - $50 | €59 | £55 and $154 | €140 | £125

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Controls : Level, Tone, Drive | Level, Tone, Drive, Mode : Standard / Custom.

 

Per the intro - I feel Robert Keeley's Mods improve every Boss pedal - largely by refocusing the EQ and adding more heft and body to the breakup texture. For bedroom players in particular - those Keeley mods add some really appealing extra heft - and typically the Keeley variety is preferred for me even over the superb Waza Edition - where the Custom voicing is often inspired by the Keeley Mod. I don't think that's the case for the SD-1 Waza - where the Custom mode just adds more extended range really to each of those dials.

 

I own 3 varieties of the SD-1 - the recent 40th Anniversary Inverted Edition - which is essentially the stock type, I then also have the Waza Edition, and of course the Keeley Ge 5-Star Mod - which just pips the Waza one as my favourite here. Generally the Waza edition is slightly more refined than the Keeley variant - with a little less Bass and Body. So probably better for cutting through in a mix - while home-players will likely get more satisfaction from the extra heft of the Keeley Mod!

 

Note that the prices reflect Stock and Waza Craft Editions - while Keeley Mods sit somewhere in between typically.


BD-2 Blues Driver - Keeley Freak Fuzz Mod (since 1995) and Waza Craft Edition (since 2014) - $103 | €81 | £80 and $165 | €149 | £135

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Controls : Level, Tone, Gain | Level, Tone, Gain, Mode : Standard / Custom.

 

Any casual visitor to the site over the last few years should have at least picked up on the fact that the Keeley Freak Fuzz Modded BD-2 Blues Driver - was my favourite overdrive of all time - and is very rarely off the board as such.

 

In many ways it kind of delivers a Marshall-like crunch texture - with just the most amazing harmonics and beefy richness. There's so much I love about this particularly texture and timbre that keeps my coming back over and over. And however good the BD-2W Waza Craft Edition is - it's still not quite as vibrant and textured as the Keeley variant. In this instance I believe the BD-2W's Custom Mode was entirely inspired by the Keeley Phat Mod. It comes very close to the Keeley texture - but Boss likes things slightly more refined and restrained - but close enough in most respects - and I do still rotate the Waza edition in every now and again - while the Freak Fuzz wonder is the mainstay of the chain.

 

As a huge Prince fan - I use the BD-2 a lot within my playing - and it's great for those killer punchy riffs too. As a Crunch Pedal - the Modded BD-2 is just superb. I have dozens of overdrive pedals - well into triple digits - and yet my Freak Fuzz Modded BD-2 always seems to rise to the top!


Boss DS-1 Distortion / Keeley Ultra + All-Seeing Eye Mods (since 1978) - $53 | €59 | £55

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Controls : Tone, Level, Distortion.

 

As most already know - this is Boss's most enduringly popular pedal of all-time - and the bestseller to-date - having sold somewhere in the regions of a 1 million units by now! Again my preference here leans towards the Keeley Ultra / All-Seeing Eye Mod of this pedal versus stock alternatives. There is certainly no shortage of different variants and clones here - and I must have 4 or 5 Boss originals here of different editions, as well as Modded and clone editions.

 

I'm somewhat surprised we have not seen a Waza Craft Edition of this pedal yet - possible Boss don't see any point considering how popular the stock version is. And however fine that is - I do really rather prefer my alternative versions - including Modded editions, and smart takes by Drunk Beaver and VFE.

 

When I first encountered this pedal I was a little non-plussed by it frankly - it was my first 'Distortion' pedal - and I was expecting something thicker and slightly richer. I only discovered much later that I had set is up quite wrong initially - and that the DS-1 really likes to have some degree of gain to bounce off - versus pushing something entirely clean!


Boss + JHS JB-2 Angry Driver (since 2017) - $206 | €165 | £175

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Controls : JHS : Level, Tone, Drive | Boss : Level, Tone, Drive, Mode : JHS / Boss / JHS/Boss / J>B / B>J, Parallel.

 

This pedal is all about the Parallel Mode really - where you get the perfect complementary harmonics and textures when you combine the Angry Charlie and BD-2 Blues Driver voicings. Of course you have the more conventional either way Serial Options at your disposal - and the either/or. The pedal really needs a separate tiny remote footswitch to make the most impact. And it's one of the few times that I miss having conventional footswitches - as a dual implementation of those could really elevate this pedal.

 

Those two voicings are really perfectly complementary any which way around - and the output is beautifully richly textured and well-balanced. I feel this pedal sometimes gets overlooked and under-appreciated - while this is one of Boss's very best - and a great ambassador for its 40th Compact Pedals Anniversary! This pedal gets a lot of rotation in my pedal-chain - even with the Freak Fuzz BD-2 Permanently parked in the chain too!


MD-2 Mega Distortion (since 2001) - $93 | €90 | £85

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

 

This is the one pedal that sits in both my Unsung and Favourite Boss Distortions lists - as I really like this variety, but I feel it doesn't get sufficient recognition - as it can sound a touch harsh in the top-end if you set it up incorrectly. Which is why there are a few Modded editions on the Market that seek to temper that potentially spiky profile. I've long had my eye on an Alchemy Audio Modded Edition, but decided in the end that I actually really liked the stock edition with its beautifully fat and raspy distortion. As long as you apply some due diligence you should be able to really easily dial in some sweet-spots.

 

I will probably still end up getting a Modded variety or two eventually - as that's just the way I am - and I want to try most of the key variants for myself - and figure out what exactly my preferences are. Not everyone has the same taste in distortion - and it often depends on your overall rig, and guitar anf its pickups in particular. I mostly use Humbucker guitars - so I won't really get too much of that harsh top end that can me prominent for some single-coil types.

 

I feel most will really like the Mega - or Fat Distortion as I sometimes call it!


ML-2 Metal Core (since 2007) - $103 | €120 | £109

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Controls : Level, Low, High, Distortion.

 

This is a really great and evenly Balanced Metal Distortion - which unfortunately has to sit in the shadow of the two Metal Heavyweights - the HM-2 Heavy Metal, and MT-2 Metal Zone. While a lot of metal players prefer the more even output of the Metal Core - versus the versatility of the Metal Zone, and Spiky Twin Peaks Distortion of the Heavy Metal. The Metal Core can't help that it has two much more famous siblings - while it's certainly not the runt of the litter.

 

I use 4 Boss Metal varieties regularly in my rotation - the 3 higher gain varieties in this selection, along with the discontinued MZ-2 Digital Metalizer - those are my 'Boss Metal Section' and where I view each of them sort of equally within context - while the Twilight Zone Metal Zone is my favourite over all. I still often prefer to go with the simpler Metal Core in the rotation - sometimes it is just spot on for the required context.

 

I feel more people would really like the Metal Core if they just gave it a chance - while most of the noise is still around those two more famous behemoths! This is supposedly Chappers' favourite distortion variety too.


MT-2 Metal Zone - Keeley Modded (since 1991) and Waza Craft Edition (since 2018) - $103 | €96 | £99 and $154 | €135 | £125

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Controls : Level, High / Low, Middle / Mid Frequency, Distortion | Level, High / Low, Middle / Mid Frequency, Distortion, Mode : Standard / Custom.

 

This pedal is so unfairly maligned by those that don't have the patience to operate it properly. It has always 'suffered' from rather sensitive Parametric Mids - where you really often need to move the dial just a fraction of a millimetre to hit that perfect sweet-spot. As ably and aptly demonstrated by Biffy Clyro frontman Simon Neil - who gets some absolute killer tones out of his Metal Zone - which in fact forms the core of his signature sound.

 

The newer Waza Craft edition has further desensitised those mids controls somewhat - which means it's slightly less fussy about how you move those dials - while I guess there's just too many ham-fisted players out there.

 

This pedal follows my usual format - where I slightly prefer the Keeley Twilight Zone edition over the Waza Craft variety - it just has an amazing thunderous bottom end which sounds immense. The Waza edition is no slouch either and both get regular rotation in my Chain - Most certainly think this is one of The classic heavy metal voicings - which should be celebrated for how successful this pedal has been - coming only second in the best-seller chart after the DS-1!


HM-2W Heavy Metal Waza Craft Edition (since 2021) - $180 | €179 | $159

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Controls : Level, Low - Colour Mix - High, Distortion, Mode : Standard / Custom (on rear).

 

I don't really need to say too much more about this one as I've featured it so many times recently, and there is still a further Capsule Collection article to come on Monday. This is of course that unique Signature Profile Twin Peaks Swedish Death Metal / Chainsaw Distortion - with those iconic 4 controls fully maxed out.

 

This has always and will always be the signature sound of this pedal as it sounds distinctly glorious. The Waza Craft edition improves on the original in every way - and adds a Mode switch on the rear of the pedal - to keep the silhouette the same - for anyone who has gone to the lengths to apply a tattoo of the legendary pedal - and yes there are more than you would think!

 

The Custom switch ramps up the range on each of those controls - and allows you to very finely shape your distortion - where I prefer the Custom Mode set to a somewhat low-end 'Doom Thunder' texture - with still plenty of punch. This pedal just sounds viscerally glorious and is always a joy to deploy - and even though the Metal Zone can sort of go heavier is some ways - I still classify this as the Metal Extreme - because of its spiky frequency profile!


Final Thoughts

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There are 3 distinctive types here really - Overdrive, Mainstream Distortion and Heavy Metal Distortion, and not everyone will like each of these like I do. While I feel each of these pedals is a proper bona fide classic in its category.

 

The Metal Zone has more memes than pretty much any other pedal - and is unfairly maligned by untrained ears and fingers! That pedal is capable of so many great things - while not everyone can coax the very best out of that pedal as it is a little sensitive in its Mids in particular.

 

I look forward to seeing a DS-1W at some stage, and hopefully we will get some sort of decent vintage revival of the OD-1. I will still likely need to procure my own RC3403D 14-pin chip and commission someone to build me a custom edition as close as possible to those original specs - but take a leaf out of Stephen Pettyjohn's playbook - and include a Badandall EQ!

 

All of these are in heavy rotation - with the MZ-2 Digital Metalizer and a few others sort of on the fringes of that. I feel this selection of 9 is as strong as any - and you're unlikely to find anywhere near the same degree of coverage within another single brand. Ibanez is close in some ways, but not quite close enough - Boss for sure has the most significant number of signature drive circuit voicings. Brian Wampler makes a few too - but those are near enough all based on other key genres.

 

Boss pretty much invented the OverDrive with the OD-1, and no other brand has as much depth in coverage when it comes to signature gain pedals!

 

Which are your own favourites?

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
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