Soft Clipping Overdrive Pedals

Overdrive is often considered a must-have tool for any guitarist’s gig bag, as it can completely transform your tone if you know how to use it. Soft clipping overdrive pedals are the most popular and most used type of drive pedals, due to their ability to produce a natural, warm growl often reminiscent of a saturated tube amp.

As you delve into the vast world of gain pedals, you’ll probably find that they not only enhance your sound but also inspire creativity and expression. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about soft-clipping overdrive pedals and which ones to look out for. So, plug in and strap up! It’s pedal time!

What Is A Soft-Clipping Overdrive Pedal?

A soft-clipping overdrive pedal provides a subtle, amp-like distortion reminiscent of a saturated tube amplifier at higher volumes. This is accomplished by boosting and slightly compressing the sound wave.

Understanding Overdrive Pedals

Overdrive pedals are arguably the number one component in shaping your guitar tone, providing a range of sounds from subtle warmth to crunchy, amp-like distortion. They allow you to tailor your sound to fit various musical styles and genres.

In simple terms, an overdrive pedal will take your clean, boring guitar signal and dirty it up a little bit, give it a “punch”, sprinkle in a little “edge” and tidy it up with a touch of EQ. Heck, it can even hide subtle imperfections in your guitar playing.

Anyone and everyone you can think of used or uses overdrive. From the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton, John Mayer, Brad Paisley, Derek Trucks, and Kingfish Ingram, to Joe Satriani, Tim Henson and John Petrucci – they all use overdrive pedals. Now take those guitarists and add just about anyone in between – they probably use an overdrive at least sometimes.

When deciding on an overdrive, you’ll want to start by deciding between soft-clipping and hard-clipping pedals. Depending on your desired tone, you may find the warmth and nuance of soft-clippers to be more fitting for your needs.

The great thing is that, if you can’t decide, you can add both! That’s where pedal stacking comes into play! As a matter of fact, many guitarists will have multiple gain stage pedals on their board.

Soft Clipping vs. Hard Clipping

At this point, you realize that there are two primary types of clipping methods: soft clipping and hard clipping. Let’s look at the key differences between the two.

Soft Clipping involves a gradual reduction of the guitar signal’s peaks, resulting in a smoother, more rounded sound. This is accomplished by introducing a double-diode shunt in the feedback loop of the gain stage, as used in popular pedals such as the Tube-Screamer, and the Bluesbreaker. Again, this emulates the natural breakup of a tube amplifier when it’s pushed to its limits, producing a warmer and more responsive overdrive tone.

Some features of soft clipping include:

  • Smoother, more amp-like tones
  • Generally more transparent and articulate
  • More dynamic response to pick attack

Hard Clipping, on the other hand, refers to a more aggressive reduction of the signal peaks, resulting in a sharper, edgier sound. This type of clipping is often associated with distortion or fuzz pedals rather than overdrive pedals. There are exceptions, however, like the Klon pedal.

Hard clipping is accomplished by cutting the waveform more abruptly, flattening the peaks and producing a more saturated and compressed sound.

Characteristics of hard clipping include:

  • Sharper, more aggressive tones
  • Increased sustain and compression
  • Higher levels of harmonic content

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Examples of Soft Clipping Pedals

When it comes to soft-clipping overdrive pedals, there are two main types: transparent and non-transparent. Transparent pedals are typically based on the Marshall Bluesbreaker pedal, while non-transparent pedals are inspired by the Tube Screamer.

In the following section, we’ll give you the cream of the crop for the best soft clipping pedals. These, however, are some of the most popular pedals you may have heard of.

Tube Screamer-Inspired Pedals

Tube Screamer-inspired pedals use soft clipping and boost the mid frequencies to provide a saturated guitar sound that cuts through the mix. Some popular Tube Screamer style pedals include:

  • Ibanez Tube Screamer (various models like TS808 and TS9)
  • JHS Bonsai Overdrive
  • EarthQuaker Plumes
  • Seymour Duncan 805
  • Fulltone Full-Drive
  • Electro Harmonix East River Drive

These pedals can add a distinctive warmth and character to your guitar tone which makes them a popular choice among guitarists of various genres.

Blues Breaker Inspired Pedals

Transparent soft clipping pedals like the Bluesbreaker aim to allow your guitar’s natural sound to shine through while adding a touch of overdrive. Some examples of Bluesbreaker-based pedals are:

  • Marshall Bluesbreaker
  • AnalogMan King of Tone
  • JHS Morning Glory
  • Wampler Pantheon (includes hard-clipping setting)

The transparent nature of these pedals allows for a more subtle and dynamic overdrive, suitable for a variety of playing styles and settings.

The Best Soft-Clipping Overdrive Pedals

When it comes to soft-clippers, there are a few models that stand out from the rest. These pedals are reasonably priced and of very high quality. I’m sure you’ve heard of some of them!

Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer - Classic

Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer 

(View price on Amazon)

This is the iconic pedal popularized by the great Stevie Ray Vaughn and it inspired an entire category of soft-clipping overdrives. The Tube Screamer is famous for its distinct midrange-focused sound, making it perfect for blues and rock. It’s extremely versatile and can be used in a number of different scenarios.

Wampler Pantheon Overdrive Guitar Effects Pedal

The Pantheon by Wampler

(View price on Amazon)

Ok, I have to admit. We cheated with this one! Technically, this pedal can be a soft-clipper or hard-clipping pedal…

Inspired by Marshall’s infamous Bluesbreaker, the Pantheon by Wampler is an absolute gem of an overdrive pedal. They took some liberties in modding the Bluesbreaker circuit and adding some extra features. They broke the tone control up into two separate controls (Treble and Bass), and added a presence knob and two 3-way toggle switches.

One switch allows for 3 gain levels and the other allows you to control the clipping level – Soft Clipping, Hard Clipping or both. So, whether you want to use this as an always-on overdrive to color your clean sound or to take the paint off your bedroom walls with the high gain in hard-clipping mode, the Pantheon has you covered.

MXR Duke of Tone Overdrive

Duke of Tone by MXR

(View price on Amazon)

MXR partnered up with Analog Man to offer this drive pedal modeled after Mike Piera’s King of Tone (Well, technically it’s modeled after the Prince of Tone, which spawned off of the King of Tone.)

The King of Tone is one of the most sought-after drive pedals on the planet. In fact, as of this writing, the wait list is about 5 years to obtain one from Analog Man. It’s a boutique pedal that was modeled from the Bluebreaker’s transparent, soft-clipping circuit, but they stacked 2 overdrives in the same pedal housing.

The Prince of Tone was then released cutting that pedal in half, basically, being just a single overdrive. Then, MXR said to them “Hey! We can make these Prince of Tone pedals in bulk, still keep the quality high and make us both a ton of money!” and Analog Man said, “Prove it!” And that’s exactly what MXR did (at least that’s how I imagine the conversation going).

The result is the Duke of Tone – a smaller version of the Prince of Tone… and you can actually purchase one at the store. Even though the Duke is a single pedal, it’s kind of 3 pedals in one. With a 3-way toggle switch, it can operate as a boost pedal, overdrive or distortion pedal (Yes, I know. This one has a hard clip setting also.)

A lot of people were excited when this little pedal came out and it did not disappoint!

JHS Pedals JHS Morning Glory V4 Overdrive Guitar Effects Pedal

Morning Glory V4 by JHS Pedals 

(View price on Amazon)

If you’ve been playing guitar for any period of time, you’ve likely heard of JHS Pedals, the boutique pedal brand by Joshua Heath Scott. And for good reason.

Being one of his earliest builds, the Morning Glory is known for being a transparent overdrive that adds grit and sustain without coloring your guitar’s tone. It’s designed to emulate the sound of a cranked vintage tube amp for either adding a touch-sensitive overdrive to your clean tone or boosting an already overdriven amp.

The V4 version offers a redesigned circuit with enhanced clarity, lower noise, and an additional gain stage that can be activated via a switch on the pedal.

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Adjusting Your Overdrive Pedal

Whether you have a soft clipping or hard clipping overdrive, the pedal will operate with 3 basic controls. Often times there will be more, but you can count on knobs – Gain, Tone and Volume.

Understanding the role of these settings is essential as they will determine the shape, tone, and response of your drive pedal.

  1. Gain (or Drive) is the amount of signal amplification applied to your pedal’s input. In an overdrive pedal, adjusting the gain affects the level of signal clipping, which in turn, influences the amount and character of distortion in your output. For softer clipping, lower gain settings offer a cleaner and smoother sound.
  2. Tone is the EQ setting of your overdrive pedal. Clockwise rotation will give you more Treble (high-end) and counterclockwise rotation will give you more bass. You generally want to start with the Tone knob at 12 O’clock and adjust from there.
  3. Level (or Volume) is the volume level of your entire sound as it leaves the pedal. You’ll want to balance this with other pedals on your board so that when you toggle the pedal on and off, there aren’t any sudden volume boosts you didn’t intend.

To fully explore the potential of your overdrive pedal, take the time to experiment with the gain and drive settings. By adjusting these parameters, you can achieve a variety of tones, from a subtle warm breakup to a more aggressive crunch.

Conclusion

Soft-clipping overdrive pedals offer guitarists a diverse range of natural, responsive overdrive tones that are not only perfect for blues, rock, and country but also have applications in nearly any other genre. With their ability to emulate the warm saturation of a tube amp, these pedals add dynamic richness and harmonic complexity to your sound.

Choosing the right overdrive comes down to determining your tonal needs and playing style. From versatile classics like the Ibanez Tube Screamer to the boutique transparency of the JHS Morning Glory, there are a ton of legendary options.

Understanding key elements like gain staging, clipping, and EQ can help you sculpt an overdriven tone that will send chills up your spine. Equipped with this knowledge, you are well on your way. My last words of advice, when it comes to gain staging, less is usually more.

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