Distortion / Overdrive

Help me understand this two type of process, what’s the difference between the two and when should I use them? In the pedal world especially (post process)

Uhm it‘s somewhat the same process, the waveform is somehow cut at a certain point, along with some EQ before and after and somewhere inbetween to further shape the sound. There‘s many electrical components that help with this, all have a little bit of a different response depending on where they are in the circuit and such.

These terms ‚saturation, overdrive, distortion, fuzz‘ all do that, but are mostly used to describe varying degrees of harshness. It‘s not an exact science I guess, just more about finding the right name, which term better fits the character of the sound.

edit: oh and also, from an audio science/engineering perspective, I think ‘distortion’ is the most neutral term? Mostly used when referring to any kind of waveform cutting.


With a audio signal being pushed to the moment a amplifiying circuit starts saturating till a amount of distorting the signal it’s overdrive. It does sounds distorted if overdone. I think distortion circuits are designed to always create a type of distortion by clipping the top of the incoming audio by the use of tubes, diodes or other components with different characters. It’s more like stages. Normal-saturating, gently distored to smashed to pieces.


Thanks :+1:t3: So the best method to understand it is trying?

Typical overdrive pedal circuits are soft clipping which in that pedal world means clean signal is present with the distorted (clipped) signal. Distortion circuits are hard clipping and usually have more gain. But then even a soft clipping pedal like tube screamer amplifies the signal 50-500x and distortions like OCD up to 1000x if i remember correctly. So theres a lot of gain either way.

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The Analog Heat descriptions are quite nice for giving an idea of the circuits from mild to mental:

Clean Boost – Boosts the signal from 0 to 20 dB, run at a high internal voltage, thus giving plenty of headroom. When fully driven, it sounds similar to overdriving old mixers.

Saturation – Reminiscent of tape like saturation. Wooly and warm.

Enhancement – The perfect circuit for adding glow and sheen to a track or loop.

Mid Drive – Mid-range focused overdrive with a solid and distinct body. Increase the Low EQ setting to add more bass.

Rough Crunch – Gritty, worn and gnarly character. Full of flavor.

Classic Dist – Pleasantly distorts upper mid-range frequencies. Ideal for acid bass lines.

Round Fuzz – Adds a lot of harmonics and alters the signal in interesting and often unpredictable ways.

High Gain – Clear sound with plenty of gain and great sustain. Probably the most aggressive of all the circuits. Very maxed out!


Well you can read about it. You can watch and listen to youtube vids, but so much depends on what you feed into a pedal - the input signal level, the impedance, the type of sound, etc - that you will never know until you try it yourself. The first pedal I purchased was the Empress MultiDrive because it has overdrive, distortion and fuzz circuits in a single pedal. I still use it on mono bass lines, but since then I’ve ended up exploring so many (too many) other boost/overdrive/distortion/fuzz/dirt pedals and my favourites tend to be the ones that do a single type of effect. Also these type of pedals tend work well stacked with others in various combinations. Its loads of fun experimenting.


There’s hundreds of techy articles online that can help you deepen the knowledge.

I think of it like this-
Distortion is exactly that, distorting the sound. Literally. Distortion means noise, lots of it. So you can use a little bit of distortion to add a bit of dirt or grit or what ever you want to call it (i use the word crunch) The more distortion, the less tone and dynamics you get. Sure its loud and exciting, but the subtle nuances can be lost, or they can be enhanced and every little tickle is rammed full bore into your eardrums. Depends what you’re after.

With overdrive you get a bit of the noise and grit or dirt or warmth, but you retain more of the inherant tone and dynamics of the sound.

I think of distortion in terms of hard cold and edgey, where as overdrive is more soft, warm and fuzzy.

Which one you like is totally down to personal taste. When to use them is personal taste also.

I’m more of an overdrive person than a distortion person. I use overdrive (or saturation) all the time, on everything. But I use it subtley.


That’s what I suspected :expressionless: because with delay, reverb and pretty much all (not ringmodulation) the other effects I can imagine what my equipment will sound but saturation fuzz dist… it’s a yes and no. And 90% of the video demo are on guitars

Nothing against guitars but the sound doesn’t translate into synth and even worst synth drums

I guess I will borrow from some friends what they have and try

I look at distortion and overdrive like a sandwich.

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Mmmm ok, like delicious but doctor say “twice a week”?

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The variety of distortions & overdrives is a wonderful rabbit hole - almost as deep as modular!

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Because they always make me hungry for more, and I like a little extra mustard on everything!

But also, let’s back up here a second. Which doctor says you can only have two sandwiches a week?

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I imagine something like elektron drive would be great for since it has so many circuits in one pedal. Or get few supercheap ones (overdrive distortion fuzz… )and upgrade those that work best for you.

I’ve never actually tried mine on anything other than synths and drum machines, but can confirm that it does offer a nice wide selection of overdrive / fuzz / distortion in one midi-controllable and preset-saving box. It lives on one mixer’s send / return loop and provides instant heat for anything that would benefit from it, particularly the DX-7; try it on an organ sound for some extra saturation.

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One pedal that worked great standalone for me on synths and samplers was the Moog MF Drive! Didn‘t get too muddy and when it did, there was some easy tweak to get it back into the sweetspot.
Various Boss pedals work too I guess, but they always seem to need some extra care for EQing or wet/dry mixing via an external mixer and such. A lot of pedals are obviously tuned towards guitar usage, but with that bit of extra care, I had some fun with the BD-2 and a modded SD-1.

Just in case you‘re looking for recommendations or something :man_shrugging:



Well A I’ve never seen you use twat and B dick is accurately used for its context whereas the other two youve referred to are not but anyway C power dynamics (“Punch up”)

But you do you my dude.

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