Over the years, I’ve tested and played and owned several overdrive pedals, from TubeScreamer types to transparent, to amp “simulator” types of overdrives. Not knowing the exact number of overdrive pedals on the market, I’d venture to guess that are probably at least a couple of hundred overdrives from different builders from which to choose that are available to guitarists today. And new overdrives continue to hit the market each year; granted, the rate at which they’re popping up seems to have slowed over the last couple of years, but people are still building them.
But given the literal glut of overdrives available to us guitarists, I continually ask myself if the new overdrives arriving on the market are relevant; or are they just a “copy cat” effort meant to capitalize on the success of previous products?
To answer that question, I’ve had to look at the landscape, as it were, of the overdrives out there (mind you, we’re talking overdrive as in “soft clipping,” not distortion or fuzz). In general, to me, overdrives fall into two camps: TubeScreamer-type overdrives, and non-TubeScreamer-type overdrives. This has more to do with history than anything else. Back in the early- to mid-70’s, Maxon came out with the OD-808, which was then picked up by Ibanez and eventually called the TubeScreamer (it was simply called Overdrive and Overdrive II before that), though early versions had the TubeScreamer brand, but the “Overdrive Pro” designation. All that aside, that original pedal, which used the JRC4558D OpAmp chip, created the foundation for several follow-on variants; but the “style” was marked by the mid-range hump that the JRC4558D chip produced. On the market today, you have several TubeScreamer variants from all sorts of builders including Danelectro and DigiTech for mainstream builders, to boutique builders such as Doodad Guitars and Tone Freak Effects.
In non-TubeScreamer land, it’s almost impossible to name builders purely because there are so many that offer so many different approaches. Some, such as Creation Audio Labs and Paul Cochrane or even TC Electronic go for transparency; other builders such as GeekMacDaddy build overdrives to simulate amp stacks; still others build pedals based upon entirely different vintage circuit topologies from the TubeScreamer such as the ColorSound Overdriver. Still others try to push the limit by combining an overdrive circuit with something else (Pigtronix comes to mind here).
Now given that, I think I’ve answered my own question. I believe that despite the shear numbers of overdrive pedals on the market, new overdrives are always relevant purely based upon their variability. Moreover, not all overdrives work well with some rigs. The reason I have so many overdrives in my possession is that depending upon the amp I’m using, some pedals just work better than others, though I do have to say my Timmy pedal works with everything I have; even my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe, which is actually a pretty finicky amp.
The only problem with having so many overdrives available kind of boils down to the classic fable: You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find the prince (or princess). That doesn’t reduce the relevance of new overdrives, but it does make it harder to find the right one for your rig.