There are lots of myths and mystery about the overdrive guitar pedals and distortion guitar pedals that were used by famous guitar players in the late 60s and 70s. Some are true, a lot have been made up, but despite that there were still some great pedals created back then that were designed on the fly and featured hand wiring and circuits that were help together with all sorts of stuff including glue and bits of tape. This meant these vintage overdrive guitar pedals were unreliable and never worked properly from one day to the next. This has been noted in interviews with famous guitar players of the era. Maybe that is where the mythical overdrive and distortion sounds came from? Anyway, now manufacturing methods have moved on and guitar pedals are mass produced and built to be reliable with modern components. A lot of current guitar pedal manufacturers have gone to great lengths to recreate some of the guitar tones and sonic characteristics of the vintage overdrive pedals that were used back then.
Top Ten Vintage Overdrive Distortion Guitar Pedals
It would be impossible to replicate some of the very first guitar pedals that came on the market but a lot of manufacturers did try. They took the original circuit designs, tweaked and tuned them, and created new pedals in the 70s and 80s that are now much sought after by pro guitar players and some change hands for large sums of money. Below I have created my Top Ten Vintage Overdrive Guitar Pedals list and given you some links to current models that I think are worth looking at.
Vintage Overdrive Pedal #1 – Boss DS-1 Distortion
This is vintage pedal that refuses to die. The Boss DS-1 Distortion guitar pedal is still available to buy new today. The Boss DS-1 features on a number of famous guitar player pedal boards this is mainly due to the unique distorted tone and simplicity of the guitar pedal making it a favorite with Rock and Metal guitarists. Along with this, due to the continued manufacturing this is a relatively cheap distortion pedal that can give you vintage tone for a little more than the price of a cheap Chinese clone pedal. Review the Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal page for more details. There is also a suped up version to consider the Boss DS-1X Distortion Pedal.
Vintage Overdrive Distortion Pedal #2 – Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi
Since the first Big Muff guitar pedals were used in the late 60s by players like Jimi Hendrix there have been many diffrent variations of the legnedary pedal using different components and tweaks to the circuit. Still available today, there are many Big Muff guitar pedals in the Electro-Harminix guitar pedal range. The Big Muff Pi has been a massive success for Electro-Harmonix, due to its reliability, the low price and the distinctive sound. In the 70s guitar players like Dave Gilmour and Carlos Santana shaped their guitar tone using a Big Muff Pi, today it is still seen on many famous guitar player pedal boards. The latest addition to the range is the Rams Head Big Muff Pi Reissue model.
Vintage Overdrive Distortion Pedal #3 – Boss HM-2 Heavy Metal Distortion
This pedal was produced between 1983 and 1991 and was designed by the Boss engineers to give heavy metal guitar players the heavily distorted guitar tones that featured on many 80s hard rock tracks. The Boss HM-2 Heavy Metal Distortion has a heavily distorted and biting tone and is perfect for that hardcore metal sound that is produced by those types of bands. Consider these alternatives if you cannot lay your hands on one of the originals : MXR Fullbore Metal Distortion, the Vexter Box of Metal pedal and the Boss Metal Zone pedal. Plus check out the full list of heavy metal guitar pedals available.
Vintage Overdrive Distortion Pedal #4 – Pro Co Rat
The Pro Co RAT guitar pedal was produced by Pro Co Sound of the USA and launched in 1978. The Pro Co RAT became very popular in the early 1980s, thanks in part to fame gained by its use by several artists, including Metallica, R.E.M. and Weezer. The basic RAT has changed in appearance over the years, but its tone has remained largely the same. Pro Co has also introduced tonal variations of the RAT, including the Turbo RAT and You Dirty RAT, among others. Numerous variations of the original RAT pedal are still being produced today. The Pro Co RAT was one of the first high gain distortion guitar pedals to be launched and creates a snarling, jagged guitar tone. There are a number of clone Pro Co RAT pedals on the market like the Biyang DS-8 Mouse Distortion Pedal and there is a strong collector market for old RAT pedals.
Vintage Overdrive Distortion Pedal #5 – Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer
Lanuched in the late 70s the Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer pedal has a characteristic mid-boosted tone popular with blues and rock players. The “legendary” Tube Screamer has been used by countless guitarists to create their signature sound, and is one of the most successful, widely copied, and “modded” overdrive pedals in the history of the electric guitar. The Ibanez TS-808 used a JRC-4558 chip. In 1981 Ibanez rebranded lots of pedals to the new series 9. And the TS-808 became the new Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer which was almost identical to the TS-808 but had a different frequency response being brighter than the original TS-808. This made the TS-9 very popular and original 1980s TS-9 pedals change hands for large sums. Today Ibanez still sell modern versions of the Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer and the Ibanez TS-9 Tube Screamer pedals. The TS-808/TS-9 have also created a big market in cloned Tube Screamer guitar pedals from other manufacturers. The early Ibanez guitar pedals were designed and manufactured by Maxon hence why you can still find the Maxon OD808 being sold.
Vintage Overdrive Distortion Pedal #6 – Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive
The Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive has been used by many famous guitar players as a booster into the front end of a high power valve amp like a Marshall. In this configuration the pedakl has a high gain similar to a tube screamer guitar pedal. The Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive guitar pedal is still available today at a reasonable price. Early 80s models made in Japan change hands for much higher prices.
Vintage Overdrive Distortion Pedal #7 – DOD Overdrive Preamp 250
The DOD Overdrive Pre-amp 250 have been around since the 1980s and is built around a LM741 op-amp chip. This pedal has a similar tone range as the Ibanez TS-808 and the Boss DS-1 Distortion. The DOD Overdrive 250 has been relaunched many times and is still available in a cheaper, affordable version.
Vintage Overdrive Distortion Pedal #8 – MXR Distortion+
The MXR Distortion+ was originally designed in the 1970s as part of the new MXR guitar pedal range. The name is misleadfing as this is more of a mild overdrive or booster guitar pedal than a full on distortion guitar pedal. This pedal has been cloned many times. The MXR Distortion+ uses a single op-amp and a pair of germanium diodes in the circuit that has only an Output and Distortion controls. There are no transistors in the circuit as clipping is created by the diodes. Turning up the Distortion control increases the amount of distortion and at the same time boosts the treble in the signal. This pedal is best known for its crunchy heavy metal sound and was used by Randy Rhoads, Jerry Garcia and many more famous guitar players.
Vintage Overdrive Distortion Pedal #9 – Ibanez TS-10 Tube Screamer
In 1986, Ibanez began production of their “Power Series” of pedals, which included the new Ibanez TS-10 Tube Screamer pedal. The The Ibanez TS10 had three times as many changes to the original TS-808 circuit than the TS-9 had. Some of the TS10 pedals were made in Taiwan, using a MC4558 chip. The TS-10 was not popular and due to how it was made the circuit was easily damaged and it proved to be unreliable in a gig situation. While the sound of the TS-10 was still good the unreliability killed it. Review the other Tube Screamers guitar pedals that are on the market.
Vintage Overdrive Pedal #10 – Boss DF-2 Super Feed Backer
The Boss DF-2 Super Feed Backer is a basic distortion with a built-in feed backing function. Launched in 1985, the early models that were made in Japan (with a black label on the back) are now highly sought after. The feedback effect is engaged when the foot-switch is held down creating a feedback loop that can be used during solo work. This pedal can be still found on 2nd hand sites and is a favourite of Metal and Thrash guitarists. There are not many pedals on the market like this hence why it is rare and costly.
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