If you’re in the area of music production and want to perform your tracks live, you’ll likely need a distortion or overdrive pedal, and this is especially the case if you’re using a guitar or bass and want a deeper and fuller sound.

So the big question here is which of the two pedals do you need, and what does a typical set-up look like, as you may be starting or trying to get your set-up to the next level?

And how do both of these effects work in the sense of the sound that comes out of the output, whether an instrument or an amp?

In this article, we’ll discuss both effects in detail and whether these pedals are a good idea for you or not. Read on to find out how you can learn and improve the quality of your music production setup.

What Is Distortion?

Before we go into this term, it’s a good idea to talk about clipping, and this is where the input gain is louder than a certain threshold, and if this sound goes over, any extra volume gets clipped out.

You can get hard clipping and soft clipping, which can either limit the signal or round it off, and once the volume passes that threshold, you’ll notice that it becomes limited and creates a lot of upper harmonics.

Now when we talk about distortion, we could be referring to anything that causes a sound to overload, but this can also mean hard clipping if you were to use a distortion pedal.

The initial transients get cut out while the sustain gets brought up, which can sacrifice the bite that comes from long notes that are slower to ring out.

You will also notice this effect is more noticeable than an overdrive, as the harmonics can add a very abrasive or aggressive tone to a sound that is much sharper and is noticeable in a mix.

How Does A Distortion Pedal Work?

When using this type of pedal, you find it is possible with any audio signal, and the compression you can get from switching the level or tone of the audio is something that guitarists look for because they can get an authentic and more abrasive sound if used right.

This effect can be achieved by turning up the volume on the amp to the point that causes the tubes to overdrive, and the amp can be used to overdrive the input signal at a lower volume.

This is possible regardless of the type of amplifier the pedal is connected to, and so it becomes less about creating the optimal environment to make the effect possible.

What Is Overdrive?

This is referred to as a type of distortion that applies to soft clips and tries to emulate the sound of a tube distortion from an amp, which requires a full and warm tone to create a crunchy sound that some may be looking for.

This clipping slightly compresses the sound, but interestingly, the transients are still intact, and each overdrive is different and doesn’t make a massive difference to your tone but rather exaggerates the one you’re already producing.

Overdrive as an effect is surprisingly versatile, as you can use this in conjunction with a distortion channel if you decide you want to tighten up your sound or you want to put more focus into a particular aspect of the track.

To experiment with this effect, a good idea is to set your volume to low, so you notice only a slight bit more gain, which is going to be easier to manage, and you’ll notice an immediate shift in tone from here.

How Does An Overdrive Pedal Work?

You can use an overdrive pedal as a means of not wanting to blast your audience with too much volume, so they are generally popular with people who are performing in wide-open areas or live performances.

These pedals create this effect by producing a clean tone that stretches to that crunching sound, which is dependent on how you have set it or how hard you pluck your guitar strings.

This works simply by running your guitar into the pedal’s input, with the pedal’s output running straight into your amp’s input, giving you more control over the control and how it comes out of the amp.

Which One Should I Use For My Mix?

You should definitely go for a distortion pedal if you’re looking for a significant change to your tone, as an overdrive pedal or amp is going to either boost your amplifier or mimic a sound, and you don’t have to play your instrument aggressively with distortion to get the effect.

However, you might want to go with an overdrive pedal if you want a more responsive dynamic that boosts the various parts of your sound.

So you have distortion for heavy rock and overdrive for blues or country music as examples, but there aren’t any distinct rules you have to follow here for the genre of music that you play.

You could use distortion with a lighter instrument or genre, as there’s really no limit to what you can do, and there are many pedals on the market that you can choose from to suit your needs.

It might be best to consult with an experienced sound engineer or someone who has experience with live performing to give you the low-down and give some recommendations as to which ones you should use.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s The Difference Between An Amp And A Speaker?

This might sound pretty simple, but you’ll find that an instrument amplifier will have limited frequencies compared to a regular speaker, and the amp will generally produce lower-quality and muddier sound.

A speaker is crisper and has a direct sound that doesn’t modify or project specific frequencies that an amplifier does and can change the electrical energy transferred from an amp into acoustic energy.

If you’re worried about the tone of the sound, you should make your speakers more of a priority, as you can generally get away with a slightly above-average amp that can do well with 0.1% distortion.

The sound may not be on your list of priorities, but you can make this effect as low as possible, so it’s not as noticeable, giving you more control over your recordings.

Can Either Of These Pedals Ruin An Amp?

The only way you could theoretically damage an amp is if you were to use a high-output boost pedal which most people probably won’t need, or there’s the possibility of not hooking up your pedal to the correct slots on your instrument or your amp.

You can check to see if your amp is working by turning it on with nothing plugged into it and see if there is any humming. You can use a decimator to see if there is any compression going on in the background.