Overdrive vs. Distortion vs. Fuzz

Overdrive vs. Distortion vs. Fuzz

There are many ways for a guitarist to dirty up his or her tone to get those crunchy, distorted or fuzzy guitar tones. With so many types of dirt pedals out there, it can be overwhelming for new guitarists even to know where to start. Each pedal will affect your tone in its own unique way, and one of the pleasures of playing guitar is the quest to shape your tone and discover your own voice. Before you start investing thousands of dollars into a pedalboard, however, it helps to learn how dirt pedals work so that you have your bearings before you buy.

Best Distortion PedalFirst, you should note that many purists out there do not use pedals at all, but prefer the “natural” distortion of an overdriven tube amplifier. You can get an amplifier to break up by boosting the power and volume. The amplifier will compress the outgoing signal in vacuum tubes or “valves.” One problem with this is that most amplifiers need to be played at deafening volumes before the signal will break up. Most people don’t have the luxury of a soundproof room or no neighbors, so practicing at high enough volumes can be impractical. Overdrive pedals are one way of solving the volume problem, and can be a lot of fun since each pedal gives your guitar its own unique tone. Check out our overdrive pedal reviews.

How Does a Dirt Pedal Work?

Best Distortion PedalA dirt pedal works by taking the incoming clean guitar signal and boosting it so that the top and bottom of the sound wave “clips,” causing the sound of the signal to become distorted. This clipping changes the shape of the waveform and adds different overtones. The flattened peaks in the waveform can create a “warm” tone by adding harmonics, or can create a more “gritty” sound by adding inharmonics.

What are the Different Kinds of Dirt Pedals?

There are essentially three different kinds of dirt pedals: Overdrive, Distortion, and Fuzz, though many of today’s top pedals are capable of crossing between all three categories.

Overdrive Pedals

Overdrive Pedals emulate the tone of a cranked up tube amplifier. Thus, at low volumes the signal is usually relatively clean, and only starts to break up as the volume of the pedal is increased, though it’s possible to break up the signal at much lower volumes than by going straight into the amplifier. The tone of different overdrive pedals varies depending on the type of amplifier it emulates. Popular overdrive pedals include the Ibanez Tube Screamer and the Boss Blues Driver.

Distortion Pedals

Distortion pedals, as their name suggests, distort your guitar signal rather than emulating overdriven tube amplifiers. Thus, they can produce essentially the same amount of distortion at almost any volume. Some classic overdrive and distortion pedals are the Boss DS-1 and the Pro Co RAT.

Fuzz Pedals

Fuzz Pedals aggressively clip the waveform until it is almost a square wave, which creates a heavily distorted “fuzz” sound. Fuzz pedals can also have different effects on the signal depending on the type of circuits used in the pedal (silicon or germanium). Popular fuzz pedals include the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi and the Zvex Fuzz Factory.

Shape Your Tone

Now that you have a basic idea of what different dirt pedals can do, you can start exploring the pedals by category using the links below to find the right pedal for you:

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