4 Best Boutique Overdrive Pedals (2022)

Fender Amp Close-Up

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It’s a very good time to be a nonconformist. Sure, we as a society are pretty deep in the mass manufacturing and cheap imports phase of modern industrialization. Yet this soulless consumption has bred a wonderful counter-culture.

Over the last couple of decades, an amazing small artisan scene has bloomed across many disciplines. Anyone sick of Budweiser and Heineken can visit Denver, where there are 72 craft breweries and counting just in the metro area. I live in LA, and I am able to blissfully avoid Starbucks in favor of dozens of small cafes and coffee roasters. (I’m writing this from Augie’s, a great little chain!)

And this trend goes far beyond good beer.

Musicians are treated to an ever-growing maker and boutique scene which includes some exceptional overdrive pedals. Overdrive pedals can often be dialed down so they are doing barely more than raising the gain, or up to the point that they melt faces. This means that an overdrive pedal is an asset to almost anyone. Overdrive pedals can add depth to your tone, no matter what kind of tone you seek. More harmonics, more presence.

And there are some amazing boutique, craft, and smaller makers that are creating exception overdrive pedals off the beaten bath. We’ll talk a lot more about overdrive pedals and how they can help you find your tone but if you just want to skip ahead and see my favorites you can check them out here:

Best Overall
JHS Morning Glory
9.9
  • Can be subtle and transparent or dirty and smooth depending on your settings
  • Easy to use but with plenty of room for experimentation
  • More than 800 five-star reviews on Amazon
Best For Transparent Tones
RYRA Klone
9.7
  • Modeled after the legendary Klon Centaur overdrive pedal
  • Improves sound without overpowering it
  • Made in a barn in Texas so it's definitely got the boutique feel
Best For High Gain
ThorpyFX Gunshot
9.6
  • Built like a beast, this pedal uses an interesting knob-shielding design and heavy duty components
  • Mimics the sound of a high-end tube amp fully cranked which will be perfect for some guitarists
  • Great history and is a true boutique pedal

Now let’s get into it!

Using Overdrive To Your Tone

If you’re a guitarist, your tone is your voice. Beyond the technique, the notes, anything else. A unique and recognizable guitar tone can instantly distinguish you, and immediately remind everyone that YOU are here. Nobody is ever going to hear a Brian May guitar solo or Hendrix wah and mistake it for any other player.

Not to mention more rhythm-oriented players whose signature sound was integral to their band’s overall tone. Like The Edge with his spooky delay or oh my god, what can I even say about Johnny Marr’s tone that it doesn’t already say for itself:

So what better way to find your guitar’s tone, your voice, than by diving into some boutique pedals? And when it comes to crafting your tone, overdrive is killer! Overdrive is a fascinating, deep, complex animal. But it can still be so subtle that just about any guitarist can benefit from adding it to their pedalboard!

Understanding Overdrive, Distortion, and Fuzz

To explain this further, I think it’s helpful to untangle the differences between the three most common types of tone-exciter pedals, for lack of a better categorizing term. They basically form a continuum, with overdrive on the mellow end and fuzz on the other.

Overdrive Pedals

The aim of overdrive is to create, or imitate, the sound of a tube amp that’s been cranked to the point of clipping. In the days before solid-state amps, the only way to get that aggressive rock guitar tone was to push your amp past the point of comfort. After all, an amplifier was originally intended to be just a speaker that made the clean guitar tone louder. It wasn’t long before rock bands realized they could overdrive the amp, take the sound to new places, and let the music follow.

Some “boutique” brands (many of which became the big brands we know today) figured out how to simplify this process and the first overdrive pedals entered the mainstream in the 1970s.

Compared to distortion and fuzz pedals, overdrive pedals are subtle, nuanced, and dynamic. The harder you play, the more distorted your tone becomes. They enhance the guitar and amp’s original tone. Adding to it, while still allowing it to be recognizable. So much so that overdrive pedals can be dialed down so tight that they are barely noticeable. Of course, you can still crank them up and achieve those face-melting riffs.

That also means that almost any guitarist can make use of an overdrive pedal, assuming they still have room on their pedalboard. Overdrive pedals can add depth to your tone, no matter what kind of tone you seek. More harmonics, more presence.

Distortion and Fuzz

On the other hand, distortion and fuzz pedals don’t just enhance your tone- they intentionally destroy or replace it. They are less dynamic and more aggressive. With cranked distortion, or especially fuzz, playing hard or soft yields just about the same effect. Unlike overdrive pedals which ebb and flow with your playing style, distortion and fuzz pedals tend to take over the sound.

What Exactly Do We Mean By Boutique?

The last thing we need to do is make sure we’re on the same page with what “boutique” means when we’re talking about an overdrive pedal. Compared to other industries, boutique is actually pretty well defined in the music world and the folks at Anderton’s give a great definition:

  • Made using high quality components
  • Usually features custom artwork
  • Highly exclusive with only a few pieces made yearly

That’s the same definition we’re working with but still with plenty of wiggle room.

Great Boutique Overdrive Pedals

When you combine the breadth and depth of the overdrive and boutique worlds, you are guaranteed to find a truly unique identity with a boutique overdrive pedal.

But be aware that this comes at a price. Pedals on this list will not be in the same price range as their mass-manufactured counterparts but as is often the case with music you get what you pay for.

Best Overall: JHS Morning Glory

Best Overall
JHS Morning Glory
  • Can be subtle and transparent or dirty and smooth depending on your settings
  • Easy to use but with plenty of room for experimentation
  • More than 800 five-star reviews on Amazon

If we are comparing boutique pedal-makers to craft brewers, then JHS is like Sam Adams. One of the originals and first to be recognized, now so decorated and successful that it pushes the limits of “boutique.” They build a few dozen pedal models now but check out their newest version of their original pedal- the Morning Glory v4.

Much like the Klon and its Klones, the Morning Glory is a transparent overdrive, that can be used to subtly boost and enhance your tone or drive it hard. After listening to a few demos, I am impressed with the range of this thing.

It’s like putting makeup on your tone- your guitar and amp will retain their own characteristic sound, but the whole rig will sound more impressive. Used lightly, it adds a smooth depth, effortless. Cranked, it’s not the fuzziest or face-meltingest (I stand by that phrasing!) but it creates this unique tone that is simultaneously dirty and smooth.

Hard to describe without listening, so hear for yourself:


It’s still transparent but gives a little more overdrive energy than the RYRA Klone. That’s going to be pro or a con depending on your own musical style. You can read more reviews, take a closer look at the knobs and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best For Transparent Tones: RYRA Klone

Best For Transparent Tones
RYRA Klone
  • Modeled after the legendary Klon Centaur overdrive pedal
  • Improves sound without overpowering it
  • Made in a bard in Texas so it's definitely got the boutique feel

To understand the Ryra Klone you need to understand what inspired it.

The original Klon Centaur is a funny piece of gear. This relatively obscure pedal has developed a cult following as one of the greatest overdrive pedals of all time. Yet, it was manufactured in curiously small numbers, with only about 8000 built before it was discontinued.

The Klon’s reputation is the ultimate “transparent” overdrive pedal. Meaning it boosts and enhances the guitar’s level, but leaves the tone recognizable. I’d compare it to the legendary LA-2A compressor for music production- it seems to just take whatever you give it, and makes it more musical. A “soundgoodizer” if you want to get super technical.

You’d think with the level of interest it currently commands, discontinuing the pedal goes against business sense. But people have their reasons. I just checked a few vendors, and an authentic Klon Centaur is going for $1,500-2,800. No, I did not fat finger an extra zero on there.

Enter the RYRA Klone. As you might expect, with this reputation and scarcity to leverage, a handful of boutique makers have jumped at the chance to build their own version of the original classic.

RYRA, or Rock Your Repaired Amp (how’s that for a business name?) is operated by Shane Logan and his wife Karen. He builds pedals by hand in a barn-turned-workshop on his property in Texas. The company is pretty much leveraged on the success of his original pedal, the Klone, recognized as perhaps the most authentic replica of the original that inspired it. And at a fraction of the price of an original Klon.

You can hear what all the hype is about in this great video that shows off the beauty of this boutique pedal:

As already mentioned, this overdrive pedal’s strength is transparency. You can expect an increase in headroom while still getting a more natural sound that can work with just about any sound. It’s not going to take over or totally transform your sound in most cases, but it will make it better.

You can read more reviews, take a closer look at the Atari-style design and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best For High Gain: ThorpyFX Gunshot

Best For High Gain
ThorpyFX Gunshot
  • Built like a beast, this pedal uses an interesting knob-shielding design and heavy duty components
  • Mimics the sound of a high-end tube amp fully cranked which will be perfect for some guitarists
  • Great history and is a true boutique pedal

ThorpyFX’s genesis is just too charming. According to their website, British Army Major Adrian Thorpe was encouraged by his wife to pursue his obsession with creating effects pedals after retiring. Now, Thorpe builds awesome effect pedals in order to relax and focuses on building pedals that you aren’t going to be able to find on the market.

Yeah, that’s about a boutique as it gets.

At this point, the ThorpyFX brand has more than a dozen pedals under its belt but we’ll be looking at their overdrive pedal, the ThorpyFX Gunshot.

Contrasting with the JHS or RYRA offerings, the Gunshot shines in higher-gain settings. Guitar gods take note- this pedal was engineered with the aim to create a full, saturated cranked tone, where overdrive pedals so frequently disappoint. Essentially, imitating the sound of a very high-end tube amp cranked to the max.

This pedal even sounds brilliant on soft settings, but when you push it, you get a wonderfully full tone that can be shaped to perfection. You can hear exactly what I’m talking about here:

You can feel the military inspiration behind this pedal and it’s a lot more than the aggressive name. This thing is built to handle just about anything you throw at it and I really like the protected knobs. It’s one of those things I never thought about needing but once I use it I wonder why more pedals don’t protect their knobs like this one.

This could have also easily been called our premium pick and while all boutique overdrive pedals will have a premium component to them, every detail on this pedal is made from premium material.

From the story to the construction and sound, this overdrive pedal definitely checks all the boxes we expect in a boutique offering. While players who appreciate high gain will probably get the most out of it, this pedal can help improve just about anyone’s sound. You can read more reviews, take a closer look at the unique design and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Most Complex: Earthquaker Palisades

Most Complex
Earthquake Palisades
  • A handmade overdrive pedal with a massive set of features
  • The stylish design doesn't impact the sound but does earn bonus points
  • Can be difficult to find new and you may need to check used options

If the Klon is the overdrive pedal that’s famously scarce, then the Ibanez Tube Screamer is the overdrive pedal that’s famously ubiquitous. This pedal is on the same level as the Stratocaster- characteristic, yet flexible, shining in many contexts. If you want a Tube Screamer, going boutique is a hard sell- after all, the original is still manufactured and available for mass-produced, not boutique, prices. It can also sound great in everything from a high-end tube amp to a gritty punk venue.

But then along comes Earthquaker, a boutique pedal maker in Akron, Ohio. They happily explain on their website that they like pedals so much that they make them by hand, one-at-a-time. You know, the hard way. They also go on to describe Akron, Ohio as the place where, “where the soldering smoke blocks out the sun, and the fiery Cuyahoga River pumps white-hot liquid magma into the steam engine that powers our great riff factory in the sky.”

I’ve never been to Akron but I have to say that seems a little extreme I’m up for whatever it takes to make these great pedals.

While the folks at RYRA are attempting to recreate something great with their Klone, the Earthquaker team is trying to improve on greatness and their overdrive pedal, Palisades, is a great example of that as they try to create a Tube Screamer clone that’s even better.

And I honestly think they pulled it off.

To start with, the Ibanez TS808 has three knobs, and the Palisades has seven knobs and two toggle switches.

The Tube Screamer is famous for its mid-range tonal boost. The Palisades delivers a similar overall tone, but with much greater precision. With that array of controls, you can dial between six clipping voices and five bandwidth settings. Stay in the middle for a TS808 impression, or go softer for a transparent boost, or heavier for a real tube scream. You can see a quick sample of all these knobs in action here:


Yeah, it’s nice. And that 7-minute video is just scratching the surface of what this thing can do. If the other overdrive pedals are like putting makeup on your sound then the Palisades is like cosmetic surgery.

The only downside, and it’s a common one across boutique pedals, is trying to track this thing down. When you’re making overdrive pedals but hand, you’re probably not sitting on a huge supply and it’s pretty common for this pedal to be out of stock across several vendors. For that reason, you should check the used market on places like Reverb.

But if you want to read more reviews and check the current stock on Amazon you can click here.

Closing Thoughts

Musicians are treated to an ever-growing maker and boutique scene. You can always play a Strat through an Ibanez pedal into an Orange amp. Or rock a Tele with a rare set of boutique strings.

The leviathans of music gear will always be around. But if you’re sick of having the same gear as everyone else- if you really want to curate your own collection, carve out your own musical identity- you can go boutique.

Whether you are a head-banging heavy metalhead, a soulful blues rambler, or any breed of guitarist in between. Whether you are looking to define your own distinct tone that leaves an immediate impression or just subtly enhance your tone. Regardless of whether your pedalboard is empty or full to bursting. A great overdrive pedal is never the wrong decision, especially a boutique one.

Have fun, but don’t be afraid to put the work in. Creating your tone takes time and money, trial and error. But it pays off when you hear your guitar singing to the crowd, when you can watch the faces in the audience, knowing you are causing them to feel these things! Keep working and feel the joy of the music!