Beginners guide to using an overdrive pedal

Let’s talk about your standard overdrive pedal. These boxes can be tough to wrap your mind around at first, so let’s look at the basics of how to use an overdrive pedal.

You’re going to want you overdrive pedal to be in front of your amp. What this means is you want to plug your guitar directly into the overdrive pedal and the pedal into your amplifiers INPUT jack. We are not going to even think about the FX loop- that’s a much more advanced conversation.

Before your first power-up, we need to figure out what we’re trying to accomplish with your overdrive pedal. Are you trying to add more grit and girth to your current overdriven tone, or are you looking to replace your amps dirty tones for that of the pedals?

If you’re shooting for option ‘A’- more grit and girth, then leave your amp settings where they are.

Option ‘B’- replacing your amps dirty tones- switch to your clean channel and find a volume level suitable for your surroundings.

1st thing you’re going to want to do is turn the pedals volume down- ALL THE WAY. This protects us from the possibility of a very large amount of sound being pushed at our ear holes- that doesn’t always feel nice… better safe than sorry. With the volume knob all the way down, set your tone knob to the center position- we call that 12:00, and set your gain knob at about 9o’clock. Kick the unit on, and gradually bring up the volume until it reaches the same volume with the pedal on or off. You’ll need to toggle the pedal a few times for reference.

Now here’s where we get fun- if you’re looking for option ‘A’ you’re probably going to want to leave your gain knob where it is, and just use the volume knob to make the signal going to your amp a little hotter. This will push the amp into some tasty overdrive and possibly distortion, depending on your make and model of course.

If option ‘B’ is where you want to go, then from here you’ll leave the volume knob where it is and we’ll start adding the gain knob. You might need to back the volume off as the gain is increased in order to keep the overall volume at a comfortable level.

Once you get close with your volume and gain settings you can move on to the tone knob. In many distortion pedals these are little more than a simple tone sweep that will either cut the bass or cut your treble. My personal favorite tone knob setting is at about 2:00. I have not come across many pedals that don’t respond well at this knob point. It gives just enough treble bit while maintaining a solid low end.

After setting your tone knob some minor tweaks may need to be made to your gain or volume settings- this is perfectly normal. Find their new sweet-spot, and have fun!



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