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The Smoothest Sounding Overdrive Pedals (2023)

The search for a good guitar tone is an endless one. No matter how much effort you put into it, there’s always going to be something new that you’ll want to tweak, add, or remove from the equation. And no matter the genre that you’re into, a smooth-sounding overdrive is something that you’ll always need.

Now, when we say “smooth,” there are two sonic components that we’re thinking of. One is about smooth clipping which is the main trait of all overdrives. And the second one is about the parts of the audible spectrum that the pedal covers.

A smooth clipping, which pretty much defines overdrive, means that the distortion process itself is smoother. The second component is the overall tone so that will be our main focus here.

Our Top Picks

  • Nobels ODR-1While it does add some sparkle on top, the ODR-1 brings a very thick, fat, and juicy twist to the tone.
  • Suhr Shiba DriveSuhr Shiba is designed to help you drive your tube amp over the edge and add some character to it. But on top of that, Shiba adds warmth and sustain to the sonic equation.
  • MXR M193 GT-ODThis pedal focuses mostly on the bottom ends and lower mids, giving your tone some tightness in the bass zone.
  • Ibanez TS808 The TS808 brings a slightly smoother twist to the classic Tube Screamer overdrive, making it a great option if you want to take the edge off.
  • TC Electronic MojoMojoA budget-friendly overdrive pedal offering lots of control and versatility.

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

What to Look for in an Overdrive Pedal for a Smooth Sound

Although we could spend days arguing and not coming to a consensus about what makes for a great tone, it’s kind of true that the market is filled with bright-sounding overdrive pedals. The smoother tone is, for the most part, old-school-focused so that’s probably one of the reasons why it’s not as popular.

However, in case you’re looking for a smooth overdrive, things could be a bit tricky. Rarely any pedal is promoted as a “smooth”-sounding one and most brands focus on brighter or so-called “transparent” overdrives.

What you could look for, however, are pedals with versatile controls. This way, you’ll at least get more options to get a smoother and darker tone. Especially look if a drive comes with a specific switch or control for a “soother” or “fatter” tone.

Lastly, I would also consider how responsive the pedal’s controls are. If a specific drive is known for having responsive controls, you’ll most likely be able to get a smoother sound out of it.

So most drives tend to sound brighter. It’s either that or a generally bright-sounding drive that allows you to smoothen out the tone. Other than that, don’t obsess too much about features or, as some even suggest, a pedal casing’s color that’s a supposed “promotional trait” that will reveal its sound character. It’s mostly not the case.

The Smoothest Sounding Overdrive Pedals


1. Nobels ODR-1

Apart from being one of the most underrated pedals on the market today, the Nobels ODR-1 comes with a pretty smooth tone overall. While it does add some sparkle on top, ODR-1 brings a very thick, fat, and juicy twist to the tone. And this is especially the case if you’re playing through a tube-driven amplifier. If you’re using a guitar with single-coil pickups, especially something like the P90s, this pedal will be your best friend.

Nobels ODR-1 Overdrive Effect Pedal

Essentially, this one is inspired by the legendary Fender Bassman. The most interesting thing about it is the “spectrum” control. Instead of acting like your usual tone or treble cut-off, “spectrum” helps you shape the EQ curve with just one knob.

It’s also incredibly useful if you want to add a boost to your other pedals or overdriven amps. It will manage to keep things smooth all while pushing your amp over the edge.


2. Suhr Shiba Drive

Known for their impressive guitars, Suhr also has great pedals to offer, like the Shiba Drive. With just three knobs and one switch, this one helps you bring a whole wide variety of great tones. And, most importantly, the switch is labeled as the “smooth” control.

John Suhr Shiba Drive

Essentially, this is a 3-way toggle switch that controls the high-ends. Apart from the middle neutral position, the two other options are sort of like low-pass filters. In other words, they cut off the high-ends, the right position more than the left one.

Of course, like most overdrives, Suhr Shiba is designed to help you drive your tube amp over the edge and add some character to it. But on top of that, Shiba adds warmth and sustain to the sonic equation. It’s a great option for all types of pickups, but I really love how it works with passive vintage-oriented humbuckers.


3. MXR M193 GT-OD

Despite what its appearance might suggest, MXR M193, also known as GT-OD, isn’t entirely like that one super-famous green overdrive pedal. Although the basic idea is the same, GT-OD brings a slightly smoother twist to the output. You can notice this even when you pair it with some traditionally bright-sounding amps.

Jim Dunlop GT-OD Overdrive Guitar Effects Pedal

The pedal’s control layout is pretty standard, coming with volume, drive, and tone knobs. But the pedal focuses mostly on the bottom ends and lower mids. This gives your tone some tightness in the bass zone. Sure, there are some high ends in the mix as well. But this pedal will keep things smooth and vintage-oriented.

I especially love how well it works with single-coil pickups. If you roll off the tone knob, add more gain on this pedal, and play through a tube-driven amp, it can really make things sound fat. And it can even help you smoothen out a solid-state amp and make it feel a bit like a tube-driven one.


4. Ibanez TS808

Although TS9 is the most popular version of the Tube Screamer today, TS808 shouldn’t ever be underestimated. What’s more, TS808 brings a slightly smoother twist to the classic overdrive, making it a great option if you want to take the edge off.

Ibanez TS808 Overdrive Pedal

Just like any other Tube Screamer variant out there, the 808 is especially useful for driving a tube amp over the edge. Of course, it will also rely heavily on the amp that you’re playing, but that’s to be expected from classic TS overdrives. Nonetheless, it still manages to bring its own twist to the tone.

In all honesty, I feel like the 808 brings more to the table compared to the TS9. Sure, they’re pretty close and they come with the same controls. However, TS808 isn’t as sharp and feels much more controlled. Maybe it isn’t the smoothest overdrive around but it brings a noticeably smoother twist to the Tube Screamer family.


5. TC Electronic MojoMojo

It may seem like a controversial opinion. But TC Electronic’s MojoMojo is hands down, one of the greatest dirt boxes on the market today. And it’s far cheaper compared to most of the pedals that you’ll find. And no, it won’t ruin the tone of an expensive tube-driven amp. It will only help you add a new twist to it.

TC Electronic MOJOMOJO OVERDRIVE Exceptional Overdrive Pedal with Extra Headroom, Precise Controls and a Voicing Switch

Compared to most of the other simple overdrives, MojoMojo comes with four rather than three knobs. The difference is that it has bass and treble controls instead of the usual tone control. But in addition to that, there’s also a switch for two voicing options. Essentially, the switch controls the midrange and can help you get a punchier tone character.

Overall, MojoMojo is a dirt box that helps you keep your tone in check. There won’t be any unnecessary high-ends bleeding out and piercing your ears, even if you set the treble control higher. Plug it into a tube-driven amp and you’re in for a treat with a variety of smooth yet harmonically rich tones.


FAQs

How Else Can I Achieve a Smooth Tone?

As far as the “smoothness” of a tone goes, some of the main factors include your guitar’s pickups and the amplifier that you’re using. Additionally, you’ll want to look into smoother-sounding strings.

For the most part, humbuckers will sound darker and smoother compared to single-coil pickups. Passive pickups will also be darker than active ones. Nonetheless, you’ll always be able to use your guitar’s onboard tone knob which plenty of guitarists tend to ignore but has a lot of potential in helping you sound smoother.

Which Guitarists are Known for a Smooth Overdriven Tone?

Guitarists have usually preferred to have more sonic options rather than just focus on smoother tones. Nonetheless, some big names are associated with a smoother overdriven tone, including John McLaughlin, Jeff Beck, Eric Johnson, Carlos Santana, David Gilmour, Steve Lukather, and many others.

Some other guitar players, like Steve Vai, have used both bright and smooth tones to a great extent and are known for both. Other such examples also include Joe Bonamassa and Billy Gibbons.

Which Overdrive Pedals Should I Avoid for a Smooth Tone?

Most of the overdrive pedals today are versatile enough in helping you get some sonic variety. However, certain overdrives tend to always push for a brighter tone, no matter how much you smoothen them out. These include Boss BD-2 Blues Driver, Boss OS-1, Fulltone OCR, Joyo JF-02, JHS Morning Glory, EarthQuaker Devices Plumes, or anything that’s promoted as a “transparent” overdrive.

What you should also bear in mind is that there’s a lot of conflicting information about pedals online. And it may not be due to the lack of knowledge or experience but rather personal experiences with overdrive pedals in different settings. It’s always the best idea to try out as many overdrive pedals as you can.