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The Best Overdrive Pedals for Classic Rock (2023)

You might get into some pretty extreme or somewhat obscure subgenres of metal music. But ultimately, all those bands and artists owe it all to classic rock bands. In fact, classic rock, along with the old-school “conventional” guitar tone is making a massive comeback. But although many find it to be simple or even boring, it actually requires a lot of attention to get it right. In this classic rock sonic equation, overdrive pedals will be your ally.

Of course, you could also use regular distortion pedals. This comes down to personal preferences but many prefer overdrives due to their softer clipping. With that said, let’s set out on a journey to find some of the best overdrive pedals for classic rock music.

Our Top Picks

  • Wampler Tumnus Deluxe Transparent overdrive with a 3-band EQ which provides more versatility in tone shaping.
  • Ibanez Tube Screamer TS808 – A more vintage-styled Tube Screamer, excellent for playing through tube amps.
  • Electro-Harmonix Soul Food – Another transparent overdrive. The Soul Food is a budget-friendly copy of the legendary Klon Centaur.
  • TC Electronic Zeus Drive – A budget-friendly but versatile overdrive pedal with a fat switch to give your tone a punch.
  • Keeley D&M Drive – An excellent two-stage gain pedal with lots of versatility but at a higher price-point than others on this list.

In this guide, we’ll answer some questions you may have about overdrive pedals for classic rock and take a closer look at our picks.

What to Look for in an Overdrive Pedal for Classic Rock

But things are never simple, aren’t they? In my opinion, you can’t just put any overdrive pedal into your signal chain and expect it to do classic rock magic. Before we even get to the pedal, there are a few other things to consider. Most importantly, it’s whether you’re using a tube-driven amp, anything that replicates a tube-driven amp, or a solid-state amp.

From my experience, getting a good classic rock tone is much simpler with a tube-driven amp. The genre itself is, for the most part, rooted in blues. So having some warmth in the tone, along with a fair share of dynamic response, is important.

An overdrive pedal that you’ll be looking for should primarily enhance your amp’s tone rather than completely change it. Sure, there’ll always be some coloration to the tone but it should primarily boost it. The so-called “transparent” overdrives could be a great choice, but conventional ones can do the trick as well.

If you’re playing through a solid-state amp, I suggest getting something smoother-sounding. On the other hand, you might want a brighter overdrive if you prefer it that way. Ideally, I’d recommend something that helps you get some dynamic response.

However, it’s a bit tricky to fully answer what you should be looking for since “classic rock” itself covers a lot of territories. There aren’t any super-strict rules on how you should sound. So you’re free to experiment. I usually prefer for the amp to do all the heavy lifting while the overdrive just adds that extra punch.

The Best Overdrive Pedals for Classic Rock

1. Wampler Tumnus Deluxe

No matter what you’re looking for, you can’t ever go wrong with Wampler. For this list, I’d bring their Tumnus pedal and its Deluxe version. While not the cheapest one around, it’s definitely one of the best so-called “transparent” options on the market.

Wampler Tumnus Deluxe Overdrive & Boost Guitar Effects Pedal

Compared to the basic version, Tumnus Deluxe brings a new twist with additional controls. Instead of just one tone knob, it comes with a 3-band EQ which provides more versatility in tone shaping. And, on top of that, you also have “normal” and “hot” modes. So essentially, you also get something that’s close to a regular distortion pedal with it.

Tumnus Deluxe, however, is a subtle pedal. It’s more of a “sweetener” or a “seasoning,” if you will, that works really well with tube-driven amps. Despite its subtlety, it can help you get some pretty awesome vintage-like tones while enhancing the tone of your tube amp rather than changing it completely.

2. Ibanez Tube Screamer TS808

No matter where you go, what genre you play, or which kind of amp you have, it seems that you can’t escape the legendary Tube Screamer. Among all the versions, TS808 is a more vintage-styled one. So that’s pretty useful for classic rock, especially if you’re playing through a tube-driven amp.

Ibanez TS808 Overdrive Pedal

We’re looking at a smoother-sounding overdrive. For instance, the popular TS9 version is common among those trying to achieve harsher high-gain tones by stacking gain pedals or boosting high-gain tube amps. The TS808, on the other hand, is so smooth that it could also help you get that tube-like tone on a solid-state amp.

If you’re looking for that bluesy twist to your classic rock guitar tone, TS808 is one of the pedals worth considering. The tone is fairly soft and can really affect a tube amp’s character significantly. It’s also a great way to soften an average solid-state amp, and it’s useful even if you implement it with an already distorted tone.

3. Electro-Harmonix Soul Food

Soul Food is one of the most underrated overdrive pedals that you can find. And, what’s more, it’s not expensive, at least not for what you get. At first glance, you see a pretty standard simple overdrive pedal with three knobs. However, Electro-Harmonix did a great job with it. And, to those who might not know, this is a complete copy of the legendary Klon Centaur.

Electro-Harmonix SOULFOOD

Some would even argue that it does the same exact thing at a significantly lower price. Whatever may be the case, Soul Food is an incredible transparent overdrive. What’s also interesting is that its controls aren’t as simple as they seem. For instance, pushing the gain knob higher will add some mids to the mix. In my experience, this works really well with the traditional American tube-driven amps, like some of the vintage-oriented Fenders today.

Generally speaking, it’s designed to work with tube-driven amps. Of course, you’re free to use it with solid-state amps as well. But from my experience, there are better options for this within the same price range.

4. TC Electronic Zeus Drive

TC Electronic is one of those companies that manage to impress guitar players with surprisingly awesome yet reasonably-priced pedals. You won’t see Zeus Drive mentioned online that often but this is a hidden gem among guitar pedals.

TC Electronic ZEUS DRIVE OVERDRIVE Legendary Dynamic Overdrive Boost Pedal with FAT Mod Switch and Optional Buffered Bypass

Although considered to be “transparent” with its original intention, it’s much more versatile. Apart from the three basic controls for volume, drive, and tone, there’s also a “fat” switch. And it does what the word suggests — it makes the tone fatter. Essentially, it adds some tight bottom ends that make you sound fuller.

The pedal’s gain control actually helps you blend unprocessed and processed signals. Therefore, it’s a better option for tube-driven amps since it lets you enhance your amp and not just change its tone. However, it could be a decent option for solid-state amps as well, especially with the “fat” mode engaged. And I’d also advise that you turn that tone knob counter-clockwise.

And what’s also important to mention here is that Zeus Drive is dirt cheap. In all honesty, it’s in the same tier as some of the traditionally praised expensive pedals on the market.

5. Keeley D&M Drive

Keeley D&M Drive is something else. Although you might be discouraged by its somewhat higher price, bear in mind that this isn’t just your average conventional overdrive. If you want to keep things more interesting and versatile, D&M Drive is something to consider. It’s a two-stage gain pedal. It has a regular overdrive with three knobs, along with a boost section, engaged with a separate footswitch.

Keeley D&M Drive Overdrive and Boost Pedal, Orange (KDMDrive)

Again, this is another pedal that’s intended to be paired with a tube amp. Nonetheless, you could use it with a solid-state amp as well with the right settings. Daniel Steinhardt and Mick Taylor collaborated on this one to make it work the best way possible.

But the most important part here is that you get the much-appreciated overdrive along with a simple clean boost. But what’s also great is that you get the option to choose the order of these two effects in the chain. This is particularly useful with tube-driven amps as it can impact the tone a lot.

To sum it up, this is a pro-level overdrive pedal recommended for experienced players. You’ll need to know how to use it but it does wonders for your tone.


How Do I Get a Classic Rock Sound?

The classic rock genre is pretty broad so there’s not one exact type of tone to aim for. The general idea is to keep the warmth and some dynamic response of tube-driven amps. A simple overdrive paired with a vintage-oriented tube amp can help you with this and is probably the easiest way to go.

Do I Need an Overdrive Pedal to Get a Classic Rock Sound?

An overdrive pedal isn’t mandatory if you want to get the classic rock sound. In fact, the genre itself is pretty broad and sometimes even open to interpretation. If you want to keep things sounding “harsher,” then a conventional distortion pedal might be a better choice for you.

What Other Effects Pedals Help Achieve a Classic Rock Sound?

Classic rock is rooted in blues which also means that you’ll need a more vintage kind of twist to the tone. When adding effects, it’s always a good idea to have something analog or analog-inspired. These days, tape-like delay pedals can be really helpful in adding that vintage twist to your tone. But other than that, it’s for the best that you keep things simple and without too many pedals.