BOSS Your Tone: Overdrive and Distortion

Overdrive and Distortion: What’s the Difference?

What’s the difference between overdrive and distortion? Learn the difference and how to get great tone with either stompbox.

Get Great Tone OverDrive and Distortion

Get Great Tone With OverDrive and Distortion

As guitar players, what are we all after? What do we struggle to describe, work to attain, but always know when we hear it? And what is all that gear out there for? The answer to all three of these questions is the same: great tone. With so much equipment available today to help in creating tone, how do we go about making it do what we want? Let’s take a look at some simple and effective ways to get killer tone with overdrive and distortion.

The first question is which should you use: an overdrive or distortion? The answer isn’t quite that simple. Like many things in the tone-quest world, there aren’t too many fixed rules here. The real answer is: it depends. Maybe an overdrive is what works for you; maybe it’s a distortion. So the next question is: What’s the difference between an overdrive and distortion?

Learn how to chain your guitar effects pedals.

BOSS OD-1 OverDrive guitar effects pedal

BOSS OD-1 OverDrive

Generally, an overdrive is designed to work and sound like an old tube amp turned up loud. A good overdrive can produce the same overtones and harmonics that an overdriven tube amp produces, hence the name Overdrive. BOSS started the overdrive revolution with the legendary and very collectible OD-1.

A distortion usually goes beyond the amount of gain and harmonic crunching typical of an overdrive. They tend to get more distorted, are usually (but not always) louder than typical overdrives, and often have multiple gain stages for abnormal amounts of sustain. The BOSS MT-2, probably the best selling distortion pedal ever, is a good example of a distortion pedal with those features. Now that we know what they are, let’s look at making them do what we want: getting great tone. First, let’s start with overdrive and after you’re finished reading that check out the distortion article.


  1. Learn how to get great tone from an OVERDRIVE stompbox.
  2. Learn how to get great tone from a DISTORTION stompbox.

So there you have it, what is your preference? What do you use to get your tone? Leave us your comments.