What IS Overdrive? - Gearspace.com
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What IS Overdrive?
Old 27th January 2013
Gear Maniac
🎧 5 years
Red face What IS Overdrive?

Hey guys. Somebody asked me to explain overdrive to them and what the difference is between overdrive and distortion.

Needless to say I could show them examples of the two effects but putting it into words was something entirely different.

What IS overdrive exactly? What is it that gives it it's tonal characteristic and how precisely is it different from distortion? I know modern use of the words are somewhat interchangeable but there terms in years gone by have been substantially different.

Old 27th January 2013
Here for the gear
Matthew Delano's Avatar
🎧 5 years
Overdrive goes buzzzz.
Distortion goes crackle-zing-bing.

Distortion and overdrive are both forms of compression, resulting the clean signal to become louder. Overdrive is "lighter", and distortion is "heavier" on compression the signal. Going even further, overdrive can sound "bright" (think...say what?) while distortion is "dark" (think Batman from "The Dark Knight" trying to recite a nursery rhyme).


"Life's a garden. Dig it!" ~ Joe Dirt
Old 27th January 2013
Gear Maniac
🎧 5 years
Thanks mate. It was my understanding that distortion was a product of overdrive, in that we perceive overdrive (eg: inputting a too high a signal for the output stage tubes in an amp to cope with) as a distorted signal. Whereas, distortion as it's known nowadays simply provides a square wave clipped signal at any volume.

Is this wrong?
Old 27th January 2013
Gear Addict
jeffgoobs's Avatar
🎧 5 years
It's semantics.

In the guitar playing world, overdrive is the lightest form. It gives a slight 'crunch' which is used in blues and getting an overall creamer tone. The term originally comes from sending more signal to a cathode ray tube than it has the headroom for, in turn 'over driving; the tube. "Distortion" is simply a ganier form of this. And the term 'fuzz' is used for the highest form of overdriven signal, though it tends to mainly be used for electric guitar moreso than other contexts.

The line between when a signal becomes "distorted" vs. "overdriven" is subjective at best.

Hope that clears it up (pun intended,)
Old 27th January 2013
Gear Maniac
🎧 5 years
Yeah thanks guys
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