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The Best Overdrive Pedals for Single-Coil Pickups (2023)

The humbucker vs. single-coil pickups debate is still ongoing, even after all these decades. And the truth is — neither choice is better. It all comes down to your personal preferences. However, we all know how specific and sensitive single-coil pickups get. And this is exactly why it can be challenging to find a suitable overdrive pedal for guitars with single-coil pickups.

They always sound pretty bright and sharp. And even aside from the always-present mains hum, your guitar can be more susceptible to other types of unwanted noise. Sure, they usually have a milder output compared to humbuckers. However, they can sound too “piercing” if you don’t choose your amp and other gear wisely. So in this article, we’ll try and bring you the best overdrive pedals for single-coil pickups.

Our Top Picks

  • Fulltone Full Drive 3 A 2-stage overdrive pedal with multiple voicing options and more control over the pedal’s boost stage, allowing you to dial in the perfect tone.
  • Ibanez TS808 Tube ScreamerA variant of the popular Tube Screamer pedals. The TS808 is slightly smoother making it a good choice for single-coils.
  • JHS BonsaiA highly versatile pedal, the Bonzai allows you to choose between 9 clones of some of the most popular overdrive pedals.
  • Nobels ODR-1One of the most overlooked overdrive pedals, the Nobels ODR-1 is a natural-sounding overdrive popular with many great session guitarists.
  • Boss OD-2 Turbo OverdriveNot as smooth sounding as others on this list, but the turbo mode can make single-coils sound almost like humbuckers.

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

What to Look for in an Overdrive Pedal for Single-Coil Pickups

As I mentioned above, the most common issue with single-coil pickups, apart from the unavoidable hum, is that their tone can sometimes get unbearably “sharp” and “thin.” And while some may aim to go in this direction, things could get a bit difficult to control.

Of course, we have tone knobs, which are the most underrated component of your signal chain. By slightly rolling off the high ends, you’ll be able to keep your tone in check. However, overdrives that keep things smooth can also be used to take the edge off a sharp or thin guitar tone.

On the other hand, you can also go the other way around and double down on the bright aspect of the single-coil pickups. It’s all up to you and what you want to achieve. However, bear in mind that this could not be the most widely accepted and “pleasant-sounding” way to approach things.

One thing that I’d highly recommend is getting at least a somewhat versatile overdrive. The ability to “smoothen” or “sharpen” the tone would be up to you. But no matter the pedal, I’d always recommend something that’s capable of making your tone sound “thicker” and slightly more compressed if you’re playing with single-coil pickups.

Overall, overdrives are usually easier to pair with single-coil pickups compared to regular hard-clipping distortion pedals so you shouldn’t be too worried about anything.

The Best Overdrive Pedals for Single-Coil Pickups

1. Fulltone Full Drive 3

Although Fulltone is no more, the pedals that the company made over the past few decades or so are as relevant as ever. Among many of Fulltone’s products, I’d single out Full Drive 3 as a great choice for the list.

We’re looking at their well-known 2-stage overdrive pedal design. However, the third iteration of the Full Drive brings a few other interesting features. Of course, there are three standard controls volume, tone, and drive. But things get pretty wild with controls for voicing, boost order, and dynamics.

The voicing lets you choose between the classic 1990s Full Drive and asymmetrical clipping modes. Essentially, the latter gives a slightly “sweeter” sound. In the middle position of the switch, there’s the third option for “comp-cut” that’s a more neutral-sounding drive.

The “dynamics” control is a Germanium diode limiter circuit that essentially controls how the boost stage of your pedal acts. In practice, it can give you more dynamically responsive tones even with some not-so-responsive amps.

Using the boost stage with the right-side footswitch, you unlock this pedal’s full potential. The tone can get pretty thick when needed, especially if you’re playing through a British-style tube-driven amp and with the “Wide Asymmetrical” mode with the “dynamic” control dialed in higher.

2. Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer

Of course, Tube Screamer, in any of its forms, is almost unavoidable if we’re talking about overdrive pedals. But as far as single-coil pickups go, TS808 is a more common choice compared to the TS9. The main reason is simply that it sounds smoother. Sure, we’re talking about nuances, but even the slightest differences matter if we’re dealing with single-coil pickups.

Ibanez TS808 Overdrive Pedal

TS808 is the direct descendant of the old Maxon OD808. Technically, they’re like the same pedal. Sure, the currently produced version might not be identical like the old ones but there’s still the JRC4558D IC chip in there so there’s hardly any chance that you’ll notice any differences.

Overall, the TS808 is well-known for its smooth and “full” kind of overdrive. Plug your Strat or Tele or anything with single-coils in any form, and you’ll make them sound “thicker.” At the same time, the brightness and “twanginess” of single-coils will still be present. However, the TS808 will help you keep things in check. If you’re not sure what to get, I’d say that TS808 is the “safest bet” on the list.

3. JHS Bonsai

These days, JHS are one of the leading pedal brands on the market. Although not as nearly as big as some major players on the pedal market, and even though they’re not conforming to the (somewhat overhyped) “boutique” labeling, they are a force not to be reckoned with. And for this list, we’re bringing in JHS Bonsai.

Of course, the color of the pedal obviously implies that this is another one of the Tube Screamer clones. However, what’s really exciting is that Bonsai is like a collection of different Tube Screamers and other classic overdrives in one device. Nine overdrives, to be more precise.

JHS Pedals Bonsai 9-Way Screamer Overdrive Guitar Effects Pedal, Green

Apart from three basic controls for volume, tone, and drive, there’s a 9-way switch for different overdrive types. You can find replicas of Boss classic OD-1, then there’s TS808, TS9, and even replicas of rare TS10 and TS7 pedals.

As far as single-coil pickups go, the best of these 9 modes would easily be the “Keeley” one. This is a replica of Robert Kelley’s well-known modification of the TS9 Tube Screamer that makes things sound smooth yet very powerful. The 808 as well as the TS10 mode are also great options for single-coils. It’s an incredible and super-versatile pedal.

4. Nobels ODR-1

Nobels ODR-1 is easily one of the most overlooked pedals on the market. While everyone focuses on all of the Ibanez Tube Screamer variants, this little bad boy manages to do more than most overdrives on the market can.

One of its most interesting features is the “Spectre” knob that’s in place of the usual “tone” control. The main thing here is that it doesn’t cut off high-ends but rather alters the treble and bass while keeping the mids intact. Another interesting thing is that you can operate the pedal at 18 volts as well, giving it more headroom, or, in other words, making it cleaner.

Nobels ODR-1 Natural Overdrive Pedal (bc)

Then there’s also a “remote” jack on it that makes it super-useful for more complex rigs. It’s maybe not the first thing that you’ll need but more options are definitely welcome.

But its biggest advantage for single-coil-loaded guitars is that it keeps things thicker and smoother, all while allowing the pickups to shine when needed. Of course, just like any other overdrive, it works best with a tube-driven amp. But in my experience, it can even do wonders with solid-state amps.

5. Boss OD-2 Turbo Overdrive

Now, this one is a bit of an odd choice. I know that Boss OD-2, also known as Turbo Overdrive, has been discontinued for a very long time now. Its original intention was to replace the classic OD-1.

Its “turbo” mode switch was a pretty exciting addition. While still keeping things within the smooth clipping territories, it added more gain. So it was a pretty great choice for anyone driving tube-driven amps over the edge.

But no matter the mode you chose, the pedal did wonders for guitars with single-coil pickups. In some cases, you could make a bridge pickup on a Tele or a Strat sound almost like a humbucker.

The tone, however, wasn’t as smooth as some other overdrives on the list so it’s a bit difficult to put into words. I could say that it keeps sharp-sounding single-coils in check while allowing them to shine.

Although discontinued for a long time now, Boss OD-2 can be found through online retailers. It’s not a super-rare find and if you get your hands on one of these, you won’t regret it.


How Does Overdrive Affect Single-Coil Pickups and Humbuckers Differently?

It’s not that easy to explain how a particular overdrive affects different pickups since there are other parts of your signal chain and it all sums up in the end. But if a pickup type is the only variable in your signal chain, we can notice some differences.

Since single-coils are brighter, that particular sonic trait would be pronounced with any type of distortion pedal in the chain. Meanwhile, humbuckers will keep things slightly smoother and more controlled.

How Can I Make Single-Coil Pickups Sound More Like Humbuckers?

There are a few ways to do this. The simplest one is to slightly roll off the tone knob on your guitar. Depending on your guitar’s electronics, this can sometimes be very effective. Adding dynamic compression to your signal chain can also help by making your guitar sound “fatter” and “thicker.” Finally, using an appropriate overdrive or distortion pedal can help, especially if it tends to make the tone smoother.