Effects pedals: Overdrive, Distortion, Fuzz & Metal

Posted 28th Mar 2017 15:18pm

What is the difference between overdrive, distortion, fuzz and metal effects for electric guitar?

With electric guitar, you can use different effects pedals for different sounds. Oliver Poole, teacher at De Rosa Music, shows the difference between overdrive, distortion, fuzz and metal effects pedals.

Danelectro pedals used in this demo in order of appearance:

FAB D2 Overdrive | FAB D1 Distortion | CF-1 Fuzz | CM2 Metal


In the case of overdrive pedals, the intention is often twofold: either to provide a gain boost to “overdrive” a tube amp into distortion, or to approximate the mildly distorted sound of a slightly overdriven tube amp. In practice, most do a little of both.

It used to be that electric guitarists had to crank their amplifiers in order to get that grunge sound they wanted. Now, we can just use an overdrive pedal. An overdrive pedal essentially mimics the sound of an amplifier cranked to 11. It’s helpful, especially since dramatically stepping up the volume of your amplifier while at home usually isn’t an option. Overdrive is often used to play blues but it also has many applications in a lead guitar tone.

The Danelectro FAB D2 Overdrive provides a great crunch tone, whilst still retaining the original characteristics of the amp. It is also very useful as a boost into the front of an already overdriving amp to give a higher gain/boosted lead tone.


By definition, distortion pedals are designed to adulterate the guitar’s signal in and of themselves. Basic distortion boxes can be built around a simple network of transistors and clipping diodes, to both boost the signal and alter the waveform. All mass-market brands offer at least one distortion pedal—and often many.

Some might argue that there’s not much difference between a distortion pedal and an overdrive pedal, but I see plenty of difference. While an overdrive is designed to simply boost the signal without boosting volume, a distortion pedal is designed to purposefully clip the waveform of a guitar signal. Sometimes the two will be pushed into a single pedal, but not always. Whereas overdrive has more of a blues application, distortion can be heard in more rock and heavy metal applications. There are literally hundreds of distortion pedals so it’s hard to pick out the best, but here’s my attempt.

The Danelectro FAB D1 Distortion has a wide range of tones at its disposal. Coupled with a clean amp you are able to achieve classic rock crunch tones all the way through to a more saturated lead tone. The pedal also stacks well with an amp that is already being pushed to achieve more gain.


The fuzz pedal is one of the earliest stomp boxes on the market. A very simple circuit the fuzz box altered the guitar’s signal by transforming it into a square wave.

Other than the old cranked amp or faulty preamp channel, these are the grandaddies of distortion devices. Fuzzes were also among the first of the transistorized guitar effects being built back in the early 1960s—which is no surprise when you discover the simplicity of most of them. It’s almost pointless to describe the sound of a vintage-style fuzz tone more than the name already does.

They slather a slightly wooly, rounded, warm but sparkly distortion all over the guitar signal (see, you could just say “fuzzy”) to give more meat, girth, and sustain to the sound. More imposing units can be guilty of taking charge of the entire signal and bending it to their own synthetic demands—“brick-wall processing,” as Hendrix-approved effects builder Roger Mayer puts it himself (meaning your signal hits that wall and cannot pass through without a total transformation of its nature and character)—while those which many consider to be the more playable devices retain elements of your dynamics, touch, feel, and core tonality. In the case of “brick wall” type fuzzes, the resultant sound is still, usually, more processed and artificial than any of the preceding types of pedals in this category.

Like the distortion, the Danelectro CF-1 Fuzz works well into a clean or dirty amp. It provides a fantastic gnarly fuzz sound and when paired with an already overdriven amp, it can give a smoother fuzzy lead tone.


For heavier rock/metal a fuzz could be usefeul but you are probably going to want a heavier distortion pedal as well. Some metal guitarists prefer to use a high powered clean amp and then achieve all of their overdrive/distortion through the use of pedals. Sometimes pedals provide a more satisfying high gain distorion tone.

The Danelectro CM2 Metal pedal is not really designed to accommodate a wide range of musical styles. It has been created for a specific task. The pedal is designed to change the overall EQ of the amp slightly to give that classic metal sound. However, the user is also able to tame the high end frequencies through the use of the tone control to stop the overall sound from getting too fizzy.

The Danelectro pedals used in this demo video are of great value for the price and they offer a simple, easy-to-use introduction to guitar effects.

Useful links:

Shop Electric Guitar Effects pedals

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Guitar lessons at De Rosa Music

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