Overdrive Pedal vs Amp Distortion: The Grudge Match
Second only to the buffered input / true bypass argument, the clash of overdrive pedal vs amp distortion arguments has been raging for years on various forums since the invention of shouting at people via the Internet, and in person at gigs since time immemorial (or, more accurately, since the 70s). But what’s it really all about? Is one categorically better than the other? Does one suit some players better than the other?
Let’s get this sorted once and for all.
Argument 1: Hi-Gain Rock and Metal Guitar Tones
Using a pedal for your distortion tone has gathered a bad reputation, because a lot of inexperienced players buy a decent rock / metal amp, then use a factory-made distortion unit on its clean channel. This video sums up this philosophy, though please understand that we ourselves are not making any negative comment about the Metal Zone distortion pedal:
The problem isn’t the distortion pedal itself (don’t forget that Steve Vai uses a DS-1 Distortion!) it’s the application. Using a solid-state metal distortion when full tube metal filth is available from your amp is folly. That said, the video above states that pushing this tone with a pre-amp overdrive pedal can tighten and sweeten the tone into becoming even greater. Could it be that the best way to go isn’t to choose between an overdrive pedal vs amp distortion… but to choose both?
The Best of Both Worlds
As mentioned in the video above, to achieve a truly beautiful, savage and professional rock or metal tone, it’s actually a good idea to combine both amp and pedal overdrive – to use a throaty roar of an amp’s overdrive channel, and combine it with the lower gain stages of an overdrive or distortion unit to give yourself a range of amazing, pro-grade distortion tones to choose from.
This may be a perfect time to mention that, here at Vein-Tap.com, we offer two pedals which do this perfectly: the small but mighty Little Horn Clean Boost Pedal, which can embiggen your tone and push your tube amp into sweet, tight, musical overdrive, and the Angel of Blues Overdrive Pedal, which can create a range of tones from clean boost, to tight crunch, all the way up to beauiful blues rock overdrive. Which leads us nicely into…
Argument 2: Clean & Crunch Guitar Tones
So, you’ve bought an amp (maybe a Fender) which does the most amazing, glassy, singing clean tones, but you’d like to dirty it up for a particular lick or lead part? Then’s the time to use an overdrive pedal on its upper gain settings to let your clean amp roar. Stevie Ray Vaughn was famous for this, using a Tube Screamer to boost his amp from clean to all the dirt the pedal was capable of.
The list of players who use the higher gain stages of an overdrive pedal into a clean channel is practically endless, so we won’t even try. The point of this article, really, is to state that an overdrive box is one of the safest investments to make in your tone, do to their infinite applicability in both clean and dirty amp setups.
You Can Go Your Own Way
Don’t forget that tone guides are always only that: guides. If using a roaring pedal into a roaring amp sounds good for you – then it sounds good for you! It’s always best to try a range of different options to see what speaks to your heart and completes your tone.
That’s it! We’ve ranted enough. We hope this has been useful, and you’ve had a good think about how to get yourself the best tones you’re capable of. Remember to leave us a comment if you’ve found your heaven tone – or if you disagree with anything we’ve said! What’s your taking on using an overdrive pedal vs amp distortion? Let us know!