What Sounds Better? OD pedal & amp or an Amp in Overdrive or Overdrive Channel?


Tone is Paramount
Gold Supporting Member
:rollThis is a question I battle with all the time....
Can a great overdrive pedal..[pick your favorite...Zendrive,
Jetter, Menatone, Eternity, TS ect.] AND amp, sound as good as a great amp tuned in to overdrive??...[pick your favorite...Rivera, Aiken, Two Rock, Fuchs, Top Hat, Fender, ect]
......What has been your expierience with this??
......OD Pedal & amp, versus Amp in overdrive, or overdrive channel ??
.......thankx fellow guitarists....Rod from Santa Fe

Guitar Josh

Resident Curmudgeon
Gold Supporting Member
Lord no. The BEST sounding distortion comes from the amp itself. No pedal will get you where cooking tubes will.


Sure. Just listen to Robben Ford with a Super Reverb and a Zendrive. I think it sounds as good as his Dumble sounds.



I've found it both ways depending on the amp and the pedal. :YinYang

I would prefer finding it in the amp. :cool:

That's why I have about 30 overdrvie pedals.:NUTS


It really depends on the amp and type of tone you are going for. For instance, no pedal will do hard rock like the sound of a cranked Marshall or metal like a Dual Rec. But, I have found a lot of pedals will do light to medium gain OD better than some amps and some amps seem to be sweeter when boosted by a pedal.

I had a Mark III that was great for higher gain lead tones but I much prefered my OCD into the clean channel for medium rock tones. On the other hand I had an Egnater TOL50 that seemed to break-up so nicely that it really didn't need a pedal for those same type of tones. Now I seem to prefer pedals for the light to medium gain becuase I can get a lot of different flavors at my feet without touching the controls of my amp.


Gold Supporting Member
It is often hard for me to get the tones I want at reasonable volumes strictly from the amp. Some of the best amps that we talk about are great when they can be pushed, but don't sound any better than a good amp with pedals when played at lower volumes (and often sound worse IMO). I still meaning gigging volumes, but low volume gigs. We often keep the stage volume fairly low and mic everything.

That led to some of my favorite higher volume amps being let go. For example, I have yet to love a Dumble style amp at low volumes. Definitely can save money and great a very good clean/gritty amp and push it with pedals for some great tones. I almost always like to have a pedal like a Tim around to push an amp even if I am getting the gain from the amp.



Wild Gear Hearder
Platinum Supporting Member
I've had plenty of amps that sounded great when overdriving. And I've had plenty of amp/pedal combinations that sounded as good. In a perfect world, I could play at the volume at which the amp performed best and I could use a multi-amp rig and have someone drag it around and set it up for me and keep the levels adjusted appropriately in the PA.

But I don't live in that world, so I prefer to use an amp that has a real big, really excellent clean and responds well to pedals. I've got several of them at this point and a nice little coral of pedals that gets me a variety of overdriven sounds at reasonable levels. I love this kind of rig and have never been this happy using an "amp only" rig.

To me, the idea is you do what works best, not what you think should work best based on some silly, no-value constraints.


Platinum Supporting Member
Most of this discussion revolves around what you consider 'good' overdrive or distortion.

Many on this forum seek out the sound of a tube amp pushed into overdrive. Most amps with overdrive channels or distortion channels DON'T sound like that. They use primarily mulitple preamp stages or cascaded preamp stages that overdrive PREAMP tubes. That sounds much different than an organic single channel amp pushing its POWER TUBES into saturation. That requires volume... usually lots of it.

That said, some don't prefer that organic power-tube saturation for an 'overdriven' sound. Some prefer the sound of a great pedal producing a signal that appears to be overdriven and then amplified by a clean amp.

All these factors determine what is going to 'sound better' to some.

For my taste, there is little that sounds better than a vintage tweed amp (or decent clone) pushed into saturation. If the amp were a blackface-style, or a Marshall-style amp, my preference would be to keep the amp clean and put a really good pedal in front (Zen, Direct Drive, LTD, BB, etc..)

Too many variables (as is usually the case with these types of threads).

John Phillips

I use both amp overdrive and/or pedals, for different types of tones. Neither is better, they're just different.

I did some recording recently, and the engineer was a bit funny about my preferred method of running all my effects (including distortion pedals) while recording, at first - he thought that I should be using just the overdrive from my amp, because obviously it would be better. We agreed to differ and record things the way I wanted - which was some of each, and one or two together - and afterwards when we were mixing the tracks he picked one particular part as the 'best sound you got with that amp'...

... which of course was one which was a distortion pedal into the clean channel :).

It's also quite funny to see just how close you can get to that "pure power tube overdrive" sound of a cranked amp using a good MV amp at lower levels. Sometimes, so close it's difficult to tell them apart. If you don't believe me, you just haven't spent enough time with the right MV amps and learning how to dial them in.

It's a total myth that nothing sounds like "pure power tube overdrive" (which almost never occurs BTW, and when it does it may not sound at all like what you expect... a great example is a Fender SF Twin). That special sound you get by cranking up a tube amp all the way is more to do with speaker characteristics and the compression and frequency response of your ears than it is to do with where the distortion is coming from.

It's possible to prove this by recording various different types of sound and playing them back at the same final level. Some of the most highly-regarded tones on records were actually done with pedals or even small solid-state amps...


I can be fairly happy with non-mv amp distortion for my lead tone if I bring an amp sized for the room. As an example, I played a couple of weeks ago with bass, drums and another guitarist in a smallish room using a Siegmund Midnight Special with a 5Y3 rectifier and an EL37 power tube to put out about 8 watts of power. When dimed, the amp produced a very appealing lead tone with some sustain. My Aiken Invader, slightly attenuated for the room, can also do this. I went with this setup so I could travel with just a guitar and amp and make one trip from the car.

More often than not, I play my Deluxe Reverb (or a Princeton Reverb) fronted by OD and Delay pedals. This rig is more flexible for me because I have enough power to get great cleans to slight crunch with the amp and then hit the OD and Delay for my lead tone at whatever volume I choose. This is my favorite lead tone for most of the venues I play.

If I were to use a delay pedal in front of the Siegmund or Aiken and cranked them to distortion, the Delay would interfere with the quality of the cranked amp tone.

I will say that I have achieved even better lead tones without using an OD or Delay pedal but it has been while playing with more power and more speakers at outdoor gigs with the amps completely cranked and standing with the guitar at the apex of a good feedback spot so the walls were shaking, the earth was quaking, my mind was aching and we making it . . . .



Silver Supporting Member
Ok Rod, I will bail you out on this, cause well you taught me the answer to this problem many years ago.

You said, "Rick, there are three amps, a Marshall, Fender, and Vox, everything else is a copy". So I take any one of those above clean sounds and put the right pedal in front of them, and bingo! Everything but the convenience of not having to string up your pedals. The problem is chasing tone is like fishing, you always think there is a bigger, better fish to catch, so sometimes we are looking for something that doesnt exist.

You also have back issues, so big heavy amps are not an option. The perfect setup is two small combos, a Marshally one, a Fender one, a pedal or two and its over. There is no charge for this consultation, and others will happily disagree, its all good.

And just so you know, its going to snow 16 inches tomorrow, and I will be thinking of you in Sante Fe, while shoveling.......bastid:rolleyes:


I've gotten nifty distortion from the following w/o any extra pedal help:
Fuch ODS-50 combo
Bogner Shiva (EL-34) combo
Mesa Stiletto Ace (EL-34) combo
Mesa Lonetar Special (EL-84) combo (not exactly shred or heavy but nice)
CAE OD100 Standard head (oh boy!)
Adding a little pedal slime can push any of the above into, as my tech likes to say: 'hairy-scary territory'.


Gold Supporting Member
They are different, but all satisfying. As John points out, an overdriven amp usually includes contributions from all stages being overloaded (preamp/power tubes/OT/speakers/cab) and it's hard to get that level of complexity from a pedal. So, for pure touch sensitivity I prefer the crunch of a cranked amp. The problem is, that magic only happens at one volume, which makes it impractical for most amps in most rooms. I can get some very satisfying sounds, and a lot more flexibility setting up the amp for clean or light crunch and using pedals. Preamp overdrive (like on a Mesa or Dumble) has a very useful place, too. Maybe it's 1/2 way between the pedals and the cranked amp in organicity? Hard to argue with the fact that the sustain/crunch on my Fuchs is a killer sound too. I love and use all three, but I suspect my desert island amp would be a tweed Deluxe or Tremolux...

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