5 Best Overdrive Pedals for Tube Amps

best overdrive pedal for tub amp

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Playing a tube amp is sort of like listening to your favorite album on vinyl, or driving a 1966 Mustang to work. It’s not the simple way or the cheap way. It’s probably not the most efficient or even effective way.

But it is the classy way. Certain things are timeless- even if they are messy or imperfect. All those characteristics- imperfection, fussiness, depth, individuality- combine to create beauty, pure and simple.

Well, almost perfect. If you ask me, the cherry on top is using an overdrive pedal to get that clear but super crunchy sound. We’ll take a close look at the history of overdrive pedals, tube amps, and amazing music along with reviewing some of our favorite overdrive pedals.

But if you just want to skip ahead and see what made the list, you can check out our favorites here:

Best Overall
Ibanez Tube Screamer
9.9
  • An absolute classic with decades of history behind it
  • Used by a long list of greats including Stevie Ray Vaughn, Gary Moore and Joe Bonamassa
  • More than 300 reviews on Amazon 
Best On A Budget
TC Electronics MojoMojo
9.6
  • Budget-friendly but still a high-quality overdrive pedal
  • More than 500+ five star reviews on Amazon 
Best Transparent Tone
RYRA Klone
9.7
  • Modeled after the legendary Klon Centaur
  • Transparent sound perseves the original sound while enhancing with overdrive
  • Carefully crafted and lovely designed

Overdrive Pedals With Tube Amps: A Perfect Pair

Enter the overdrive pedal.

Combined with a tube amp, an overdrive pedal allows you to boost your gain and enhance your tone, separately from the amp’s output level. The overdrive pedal is probably the most basic and essential pedal to pair with a tube amp, allowing you to craft your tone with the intention to deepen it.

If playing a tube amp is like showing up to work in a first-gen Mustang, then adding an overdrive pedal is like tuning up the Mustang and giving it a new coat of paint. Every ounce of class and style, but immaculately presented.

Understanding Overdrive, Distortion, and Fuzz When It Comes To Pedals

These terms bear untangling. Musicians could be forgiven for confounding them. But all three are actually distinct and worth being able to distinguish. Overdrive, distortion, and fuzz pedals basically form a continuum of mellow to harsh, subtle to extreme.

Overdrive pedals are meant to create, or imitate, the sound of a cranked tube amp. It’s a soft clip distortion. When used on lower settings, it’s barely distinguishable from bumping the gain. Pushed higher, overdrive adds layers of harmonic distortion.

The original tone of the amp and guitar is preserved but enhanced. It adds to your tone without replacing it. And much like playing through a tube amp sans pedals, the tone varies as you play harder or softer. Overdrive pedals are melodic and dynamic. They are most associated with blues, rock, country, and similar aesthetics. Though they are incredibly versatile and can add depth in just about any context.

Fuzz and distortion, on the other hand, create a harder clip. They alter your original tone, distort it, and make it noisier. These pedals have a more aggressive, less subtle tone. Dynamic expression is lost to brute power. Think more hardcore punk, metal, wailing solos, you know the sound.

Best Overdrive Pedals to Pair with Tube Amps

So if you’re a tube fanatic and you are looking for the right overdrive pedal to introduce into your chain, here are some of your best options- from the famous to the obscure, mass-produced to artisanal, we have it all covered.

Best Overall: Ibanez Tube Screamer

Best Overall
Ibanez Tube Screamer
  • An absolute classic with decades of history behind it
  • Used by a long list of greats including Stevie Ray Vaughn, Gary Moore and Joe Bonamassa
  • More than 300 reviews on Amazon 

I can’t help but begin with the Tube Screamer, the essential overdrive pedal and one of the earliest overdrive pedals in existence.

First of all, I love its look, which is dripping with the 70s techno aesthetic that is, in this case, totally authentic. I know that doesn’t really matter but I do appreciate a certain pedalboard aesthetic.

Beyond the looks, this overdrive pedal really is legendary. The Ibanez Tube Screamer is to overdrive pedals what the Telecaster is for rhythm country guitar or the Neumann U87 for vocal mics. The word “ubiquitous” or “essential” comes to mind and so it shouldn’t be a surprise when you see this on our list…or everyone else’s list for that matter.

The Tube Screamer is known for its warm mid-boost and distinct yet familiar tone. Mr. Ray Vaughn was on the forefront of popularizing it, but now its list of fans reads like a who’s-who of guitarists including the legendary Gary Moore and Joe Bonamassa.

With the Tube Screamer’s history, respectability, and friendly price point, it makes an ideal first overdrive pedal to pair with your tube amp. I listened to some folks use this pedal played through tube amps and was impressed. You can hear this classic in action in this quick video:

When the pedal is activated, the tone remains recognizable, but its character changes. It’s like changing the guitar’s tone from a mild-mannered suggestion to an assertive command. The Tube Screamer gives that tube amp sound serious presence, but maintains that gorgeous tube quality.

However, that doesn’t mean the TS808 can’t get gritty and match the modern rock tones that a lot of folks are looking for. You can even create a djent sound that’s so popular in modern metal if adjust the settings the right way. This pedal has also found its way into the world of modern pop punk too.

In other words, this pedal is versatile enough to handle just about any overdrive sound you want to create. It also pairs perfectly with the tube amp which makes sense considering this overdrive pedal was made in the era of the tube amp. You can read more reviews, take a closer look at the vintage green design and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best On A Budget: TC Electronics MojoMojo

Best On A Budget
TC Electronics MojoMojo
  • Budget-friendly but still a high-quality overdrive pedal
  • More than 500+ five star reviews on Amazon 

There’s not much competition when it comes to the best on a budget category which makes the MojoMojo the clear winner. I’m honestly surprised by how good this overdrive pedal sounds and you can hear what I’m talking about int this video:

Yeah, it sounds great. And as much as I love this pedal, I’m not going to pretend that this overdrive pedal is quite as brilliant, or versatile, or distinct as the others on this list but that’s exactly what you should expect from a budget option.

Still, it does sound great and really shines with a tube amp. The MojoMojo has a delicious mid-60s tone that seems to sing with your playing. It’s particularly rich and full, especially if you dial the bass knob all the way up.

Even at its budget price, this little overdrive pedal punches way above its weight class and you only need to look at the reviews online to see that. It doesn’t really matter what part of the internet you go to or what vendor you look at, people are pleased with the Mojo Mojo, and Amazon alone has more than 500 five-star reviews to check out.

You can read some of those reviews, take a closer look at the specs and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best Transparent Tone: RYRA Klone

Best Transparent Tone
RYRA Klone
  •  Modeled after the legendary Klon Centaur
  • Transparent sound perseves the original sound while enhancing with overdrive
  • Carefully crafted and lovely designed

You may have heard about the legendary Klon Centaur and how it’s (literally) the world’s most expensive guitar pedal, overdrive or otherwise.  Because of that, it’s also probably the other most famous overdrive pedal, alongside the Tube Screamer, but in a vastly different way.

The Klon Centaur was known for a gorgeous “transparent” overdrive tone, meaning it preserved the original tone contour while magically enhancing it. But only about eight thousand were made before it was discontinued, and its cult status has only intensified since. Go on any website that sells rare gear and wonder how any pedal could be worth over $1500.

Or, thank your deity of choice that boutique pedal makers exist to fill the gap. And that’s where RYRA and their appropriately named Klone overdrive pedal enter the picture.

RYRA, or Rock Your Repaired Amplifier, is a husband-and-wife team working out of a barn-workshop deep in Texas. With the appropriately named Klone they have crafted an impeccable Klon imitator for a fraction of the price and you can hear this beautiful overdrive pedal here:

Adding the Klone is like adding salt to food. It’s like turning on a light in a dim room. All of a sudden, the entire experience is just more vibrant and just like the overdrive pedal that inspired it, the Klone is a transparent overdrive pedal so it really does feel like magic. This overdrive pedal retains the bass while increasing the headroom giving it a more natural sound that honestly pairs perfectly with a tube amp.

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

Best For Modern Sounds: Fulltone OCD

Best For Modern Sounds
Fulltone OCD
  • Walks the line between overdrive and distortion for a more modern sound
  • Unique sound that some musicians will love
  • More than 400 five star reviews on Amazon

Contrasting with the warm, traditional tone of the Tube Screamer, maybe you want something a little more modern. More bite, more power. If you’re playing through a tube amp, this kind of context is not really where the amps shine- it’s more a task for a hefty solid-state amp, usually.

But if you pair your tube amp with a Fulltone OCD, prepare to be pleasantly surprised. This pedal has a character that borders between overdrive and distortion. Played through a tube amp, the tone maintains the characteristic warmth and depth, but with the tone knob cranked, the pedal adds a deliciously aggressive edge. The result is a deep, powerful tone that would sound particularly at home in alt rock. Great for marrying a trad and modern approach.

And with the separate volume and drive knobs, you can get lost in the tone possibilities. Unfortunately, when it comes to style, this pedal is going to be a little hit or miss. It doesn’t come close to the vintage green of the TS808 and if you look closely you’ll see that, yes, the pedal is indeed labeled with comic sans font. Try to ignore it, or find the humor in it. The choice is yours.

Joke aside, this overdrive pedal has a sound that’s all its own and I’ve found it’s better suited for creating something more unique instead of trying to mimic someone else’s overdrive sound. You can see exactly what I mean in this video which shows the difference between the OCD and our best overall:

 

The OCD isn’t going to be the first overdrive pedal most people come up with when they think about tube amps but those people are also missing out. The sound is great and the biggest downside is small but the switch can be noisy. I know, not a big deal but it can be an issue for the perfectionists out there.

It’s still worth checking out and you can see more reviews, take a closer look at that beautiful comic sans font and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Fuzziest Tones: Xotic SL Drive

Fuzziest Tones
Xotic SL Drive
  • Perfect for the "almost fuzz" overdrive sound like Led Zeppelin and other 70's rockers
  • Super small and compact which could be a pro or a con depending on your preference
  • Simple and easy-to-use thanks to it's Super Lead mode

Back to the aggressive end of the spectrum, but a different approach from the Fulltone OCD. The Xotic SL Drive is somehow very aggressive and very musical. And that’s exactly what I want when I’m using overdrive on a tube amp. Unless you’re playing for a specific genre like punk, we still want to keep a clean sound.

I also know that I made a lot of effort to clarify the differences between fuzz, distortion, and overdrive and so the category I gave this pedal might be confusing the situation. But honestly think it’s the best way to describe this pedal and while it’s distinctly not fuzz, it is fuzz adjacent which some musicians will absolutely love.

Overall, the tone reminds me of Woodstock and late-60s fuzz players. It’s big, saturated, in-your-face. Yet it has these surprisingly subtle warbling undertones, and still carries your tone’s initial character beneath all that saturation. If you’re after a hard-rock or blues-rock tone, with one foot in the delta and the other in the stadium this could be your pedal.

However, just make sure you have a precise foot because this pedal is small…like really small. If you have a jam-packed pedal board that could be a life saver for you since the compact size means that you can squeeze just one more in. But for other folks, this pedal might actually be too small and the small size can make the knobs a little tricky to use.

Speaking of knobs I love the simplicity of the settings and you may never need to move it out of Super Lead mode which is between 6 o’clock and 8 o’clock on the drive knob. You can hear just how good this “default” setting sounds in this video:

Are you feeling those Woodstock vibes? I know that I am and of course, it helps when there’s a highly skilled player behind that sound! If you want to learn more, you can read more reviews and check today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Why Overdrive Pedals Work So Well With Tube Amps

Fender makes solid-state amps that sound nearly indistinguishable from their classic tube models. Solid-state amps make so much sense in so many ways. Cheaper, more durable, more flexible, louder. But still, musicians fall over themselves to pay 5-10x as much to buy a reissue Fender Deluxe, or an original 1960s Fender Deluxe, rather than a solid state amp. Even if they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference in a blind listening test. Even though they are committing to a relatively high-maintenance and delicate amp.

When it comes down to it, nothing compares with that beautiful, rich, organic tone of a tube amp. And the “imperfections” and limitations are all part of the musicality. A tube amp doesn’t just make your guitar louder, even if that is the task it was designed to accomplish.

A tube amp must be “played” as an extension of your instrument. Depending on the exact combination of settings, and the way you play into it, the tone will vary infinitely. Simply put, a solid state amp shouts, and a tube amp sings.

However, taming a tube amp’s tone is a bit like riding a wild horse. Sometimes you want to get lost in the moment and let the amp take you along. But if you are trying to actually make some music, sometimes you want to take control. Overdrive pedals are a great attribute for tube amp players for this reason.

Overdriven tones from tube amps are really a happy accident- one of the happiest in history. A guitar amplifier was designed to do just that- take a clean guitar tone, and make it louder. Don’t forget, they were designed with swing and country bands in mind, predating rock and roll by a decade or two.

But rock and roll history could arguably begin with the first person to turn up a tube amp “too far.” You know, far enough to get distortion, a brand new, exciting, rebellious tone.

But that’s just it- natural overdrive in tube amps is relatively uncontrolled and unpredictable. In terms of gain, early tube amps only had a single master volume knob. So the only way to crank the overdrive tone, was to crank the overall volume. Many modern tube amps provide much greater flexibility with separate gain and master volume knobs- so you can play loudly and cleanly, or quietly and fuzzy.

Conclusion

When you marry an overdrive pedal to your tube amp, you’ll probably never divorce them! You’ll wonder how you got by before. With the right overdrive to complement your style, prepare to get lost in the world of shaping your tone to perfection. Like a perfectly seasoned broth, your new rig will spice up anything you play through it.

So don’t be afraid to put the time into finding your pedal, because the payoff is so worth it! Keep working, and feel the joy of the music!