Differences Between Overdrive – Distortion – Fuzz
Distortions on the electric guitar are the most famous effects among electric guitarists, they are one of the main reasons why one decides to play the electric guitar, to get a good jet of distortion, no?! and although there are hundreds of options on the market when choosing a type of distortion, initiated guitarists can be confused by the wide range of pedals, amplifiers, and effects in general.
Let’s go with a basic distortion guide, then we will nuance between distortion-overdrive-booster-fuzz to understand and above all differentiate with our ear what kind of distortion we are listening to. This will also help you to choose the most appropriate distortion.
We are not going to go into technicalities of sound engineering or if such a pedal is better than another one in distortion issues, the goal is that you have a sound idea of the kind of saturation you are listening to or that you need according to your musical context with your guitar.
Although it could be said that all pedals are distortion pedals, we will use the word saturation to encompass all of them since distortion is a type of pedal within this world.
Where do we find these saturation effects? Overdrive and distortion can be found integrated into the amp (they also use the word again) and in pedals, while booster and fuzz are usually found in loose pedals. There are pedalboards with all kinds of effects and almost all of us have had an effect of this type as they are the kings of the crown in the world of effects.
First of all, we all know or imagine a guitar in clean, without any saturation, it is usually the clean channel in the amplifier and you can hear them in thousands of records; listen to any classic jazz record for example.
* There are certain amplifiers that with the clean channel at maximum “saturation” a little giving the impression that you have an overdrive at 2-3 for example.
In a sound saturation line where on the left side we would have the most absolute cleanliness and on the right side the most animalistic distortion, the overdrive effect would be located more to the left than the distortion effect. The overdrive is a cleaner, more pleasant type of saturation, while the distortion is harder, more saturated, heavier, to understand us!
* This doesn’t mean that a light music context can’t use a hard saturation, it all depends on the style and musical context.
A good example of the use of overdrive/gain taken to the limit is the English band Oasis.
The group could either employ an overdrive type gain or saturation at a high level 7-9 on the potentiometer or distortion at a level 2-4 on the potentiometer. This is a subjective approach; depending on the overdrive/distortion pedal or amplifier the potentiometer will go up or down. What I like to think is that if your roll is playing open chords with distortion, that is to say, that the 6 strings are identified and that it’s nice, the overdrive is your thing.
The overdrive can also be used at a low level, potentiometer 2-3 to break up the sound a bit, it’s essentially a clean sound, but that little layer of overdrive helps you get that crunch. An overdrive at a medium-high level is perfect for Blues-Rock styles.
Distortion is the most extreme kind of saturation. Guitarists who like to play in the middle of the day usually pull the distortion from the amp, brands like Mesa Boogie, English, Randall, Orange, Diezel, etc.are just a few brands of amps with quite a lot of pineapple, and there are also specific pedals for such purposes; but this is like everything else, a matter of taste, preferences and musical styles.
Music genres such as hard rock, metal, and its derivatives, are clear examples that if you are a hard guy you are the one with the distortion.
Let’s imagine you have a good tone with any overdrive, you love the sound you project, it’s saturated but clean at the same time and it’s time for your solo and you want to raise your volume a bit to stand out a bit more, since it’s a guitar solo and well, there’s already enough fuss with the drums, bass, organ, etc., but you don’t want another layer of overdrive because it would make the sound too dirty, what can you do? A booster. It salutes but doesn’t muddy up. (looks like a booster slogan).
You can find specific booster pedals, even in certain amp models. Famous guitarists who use a booster can be, among others: Rory Gallagher, Tony Iommi, Ritchie Blackmore, Brian May, Marc Bolan. A mix to play rhythmic and quite strong solos but without reaching the level of distortion. It is perfect for Blues and Rock.
Due to its musical character, a very fat sound is achieved, perfect for lines or riffs with a lot of saturation. The sound you get from your guitar becomes so saturated that it becomes a kind of fat ball, with some bass turned up and that can create magic in your musical lines.
Jimi Hendrix was already called the Master of Fuzz in the 1960s. This was the hardest thing at the time, although it doesn’t seem so hard now.
The famous I Can’t Get No Satisfaction riff by The Rolling Stones is another good example of the use of fuzz.
The good thing about today is that you have a review of great instruments and accessories on Youtube (they are usually Anglo-Saxon) and you can always get out of it when it comes to deciding or buying anything.