Hello All. Since we released our new (and dare I say great?) distortion kit, the Dust Bowl Distortion kit, I figured I would talk about distortion effects for the new pedal builders out there. I was trying to think of how to talk about distortion without doing the “distortion vs. overdrive” thing but they are so intertwined it is almost impossible. So here it goes. Distortion effects are basically the extreme versions of overdrive effects. Now some fairly consistent differences between distortions and overdrives that I have seen over the years are these (Note that these are not absolutes! I’m sure there are overdrives that can get insanely distorted and distortion pedals that can clean up perfectly. Feel free to list those in the comments below!)
- Distortion pedals don’t usually clean up as well as overdrives. Basically if an overdrive effect is designed to go from 0 to 10 on the amount of distortion it can produce, a distortion effect is geared to go from 4 to 14. Since their circuits are usually made to give the most distortion possible, even when the distortion control is turned all the way down, it will still be a little distorted. Or it just won’t sound very good. Normally an overdrive with the drive control turned all the way down will still have a pleasant, useable tone.
- Distortions usually emphasize the midrange a little less than overdrives, or have a “scooped” sound as in they cut the mid-range frequencies. This gives many distortions very buzzy highs and very chunky lows, which makes for heavy rocking action! On the other hand, overdrives tend to emphasize the mid-range frequencies, often described as having a mid-range “hump”. This gives it a very smooth, easy on the ears sound that cuts through well and is good for leads.
- Circuit wise (and as stated before, this is not always the case) it seems like a lot of the time, distortion pedals create their clipping via diodes after the signal leaves the IC. In overdrives, that diode clipping usually occurs within the feedback loop of the IC. I’m sure there are a myriad of exceptions, but in general, this seems to be true. Other circuits achieve the distortion without diodes at all by just pushing ICs and transistors to the point of distortion.
The good thing about distortion kits for new builders is that they are usually not very complicated. They normally don’t have very many parts, very much hard ware, or any complex wiring. So go check out our Dustbowl Distortion kit or any of the awesome distortion kits from GuitarPCB or Tonefiend. Now go build your own distortion kit and go rock someone’s face off.