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The Best Always-On Overdrive Pedals (2023)

Over the past few decades or so, guitar rigs have been getting more and more complicated. This also goes for those relying mostly on their pedalboards, anyone from enthusiasts or frequently gigging guitarists in smaller bands. However, in more recent years, things have been going back to simpler setups. And no, this isn’t only with those who prefer to replace rigs with digital modelers.

One of the more present trends today is to have an overdrive pedal that’s always turned on. The approach might feel odd to some. However, it actually yields great results if you know how to go about it. So in this guide, we’ll look into some of the best options for the “always-on” overdrive pedals.

Our Top Picks

  • JHS Morning Glory A transparent overdrive pedal with an additional gain switch and high-cut switch. Lots of options to dial in your perfect sound.
  • Electro-Harmonix Soul FoodA budget-friendly alternative to the famous Klon Centaur. Transparent but with lots of versatility.
  • Boss BD-2 Blues DriverA not-so-transparent overdrive that will help you get that high-end and high-mid punch.
  • Benson Amps PreampA versatile pedal based on Benson’s Chimera amplifier, great at replicating American-style tube amps.
  • Marshall BluesBreaker ReissueExcellent for getting that classic rock or blues rock tone of the 1970s.

In this guide, we’ll answer some questions you may have about always-on overdrive pedals and then take a closer look at our picks.

What is an Always-On Overdrive Pedal?

So what do we mean when we say “always-on overdrive pedal”? Instead of doing your usual pedalboard dancing during a gig or a studio session, you just keep the dirt box on and control everything with your guitar’s knobs or playing dynamics. And that’s exactly the topic that we’ll be exploring here.

But it’s also a somewhat tricky one to discuss. This is because no pedal is marketed with this in mind. Essentially, these are some of the regular overdrive pedal models that just proved to work well if turned on all the time. And quite often, these pedals have the gain setting dialed in near the minimum value.

There could be some exceptions to the main rule here. For instance, there are certain pedals that cannot be turned off. It’s usually some old-school stuff or preamp pedals. But they aren’t as common and guitar players who prefer to have an overdrive always turned on will

What Makes for a Good Always-On Overdrive Pedal?

Answering this question isn’t a simple task. Essentially, you’re free to choose what you want. But what you should know is that these “always-on” overdrives most commonly go paired up with tube-driven amps. They’re there to give them a little push and add some coloration.

Additionally, your guitar’s electronics will also be doing some heavy lifting. So make sure that the pots, capacitors, pickups, and all the wires and solders are in perfect condition.

A lot of guitar players who go down this path prefer to use so-called “transparent” overdrives, those that don’t add that much coloration but rather help you enhance your amp’s tone. However, this isn’t a rule set in stone.

The Best Always-On Overdrive Pedals

1. JHS Morning Glory

In their vast arsenal of awesome pedals, JHS brings Morning Glory as one of the best overdrive pedals on the market today. Currently available in its updated fourth version, it’s famous for its transparent approach to the overdrive effect.

For instance, setting the gain knob at its minimum value will keep the tone clean and can serve as a clean booster. But as you move the knob up, it helps you blend your clean and distorted tones.

Of course, there are also your usual volume and drive controls. But in addition to that, we can find an additional gain switch that takes it into harsher-sounding territories. And, on top of all that, there’s even a side-mounted high-cut switch (a simplified low-pass filter) that helps you smoothen out the tone when needed.

JHS Pedals JHS Morning Glory V4 Overdrive Guitar Effects Pedal

What’s also awesome about Morning Glory is that it can help you enhance not-so-great amps. Sure, it’s a transparent overdrive with subtle coloration. But you’d be surprised to hear how subtle changes can make a world of difference.

2. Electro-Harmonix Soul Food

With Soul Food, Electro-Harmonix made one of the most famous Klon Centaur alternatives. What’s more, we’re looking at a relatively cheap pedal. While retaining all the simple features of a classic overdrive in a simple package, Soul Food manages to bring a lot of diversity to the table. And it’s especially useful if you want to have more control over any situation while utilizing your guitar’s pots.

In all honesty, I’m not sure why everyone is chasing either original Klon Centaur pedals, or its expensive copies, while Soul Food is present on the market. Although seemingly simple, equipped with only three knobs, it’s an extremely versatile one.

Electro-Harmonix SOULFOOD

This is another transparent overdrive and it allows your amp to do most of the heavy lifting. However, as you move the gain knob higher, it will also be adding some mids to the mix. From my experience, it works great when you set it up high with a tube-driven amp and then use your guitar’s volume knob to clean up when needed.

3. Boss BD-2 Blues Driver

Boss’ BD-2 Blues Driver might not be the most common “always-on” overdrive. But although it’s not a transparent one, it still brings a fair amount of brightness to your tone. This helps you shape your tone with some tube-driven amps that work well with bright overdrives.

With BD-2, there’s the same old 3-knob interface with volume, gain, and tone controls. But what makes it special is how well it works with tube-driven amps, especially if you really want to stand out in the mix. Blues Driver will help you get that high-end and high-mid punch.

Boss BD-2 Blues Driver Guitar Effects Pedal

And, what’s more, if you push gain and volume controls up high, you can even enter some serious harsh-sounding fuzzy territories. But if you want to keep it on all the time, it works so well at low to mid-gain settings. Then you could control everything with your guitar and add another dirtbox if needed.

4. Benson Amps Preamp

Now, Benson Amps’ Preamp is exactly what its name suggests — a preamp. And, what’s more, it’s not necessarily just for overdriven tones as it can deliver much more than just that. Push the volume and gain knobs higher and you’re in for a treat.

Of course, keeping things at more modest levels will get you a somewhat cleaner tone that’s just dirty enough for that vintage-ish feel. The pedal is based on Benson’s Chimera amplifier so it really does a great job at replicating American-style tube amps. It achieves a tube-like tone with FET transistors.

Benson Amps Preamp Pedal

It’s also a fairly versatile pedal. Although its controls might seem simple, they respond pretty well and you can do a lot with its 2-band EQ. Its character is somewhat bright although you can easily smoothen it out with controls or with an additional distortion pedal. In case you’re playing through a solid-state amp and need something to make it feel like it’s a tube amp, this is the pedal you want to look into. The only downside is that it’s not that widely available but it’s still not impossible to find.

5. Marshall BluesBreaker Reissue

Marshall’s legendary BluesBreaker is impossible to avoid on a list of always-on overdrives. And, what’s more, the pedal finally got its reissue in 2023. Of course, we’re still looking at a recreation of the company’s classic Bluesbreaker amp from the 1960s and the early 1970s.

It retains the three standard basic controls that we see on most overdrives. But this isn’t a bad thing at all. These three knobs still allow you to shape your tone the way you want to. And, on top of all that, you’ll get that classic Marshall-like tone with pronounced mids.

In my opinion, this new version is great if you want to make things sound bluesy. If you’re aiming for that classic rock or blues rock tone of the 1970s, just set the drive high and then clean things up with your guitar’s volume knob. It’s one of the best options if you like to do things that way.


What’s the Best Way to Use an Always-On Overdrive Pedal?

So-called “always-on” overdrive pedals are the ones that guitar players traditionally tend to keep turned on all the time. While there’s no “best” way to use such a pedal, they show a lot of versatility when you allow your guitar and amp to do most of the “heavy lifting.” You can always control how clean or dirty your tone gets by using your guitar’s volume control. The idea is to have more versatility while using relatively simple pedals and relying on guitar knobs.

Can I Use More Overdrive Pedals on Top of an Always-On Overdrive?

If you’re using an “always-on” overdrive, you are free to add more overdrives or any other dirt boxes that you want. Just first make sure to know what kind of a tone you’re looking for.

This can also be a very useful method to create a versatile signal chain, especially if you’re playing through a tube amp. An additional overdrive pedal can further change your tone in all the parts that you want.

What Other Pedals Are Commonly Used “Always-On”?

Generally, there aren’t any rules set in stone when it comes to the “always-on” principle. But the most common types, apart from overdrives, include compressors, equalizers, and atmospheric effects like delay or reverb. Modulation pedals can be somewhat difficult to work with if they’re always on. Additionally, some effects are used to pronounce certain parts and they would lose their point if left turned on all the time.