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best transparent overdrives

Best transparent overdrive pedals: Give it a kick

Transparent overdrive rose to popularity in the early 90s, as guitarists and pedal manufacturers alike grew weary of the over-the-top high gain sounds of the hard rock of the 1980s. Everyone was seeking an overdrive sound that didn’t totally replace a guitar player’s tone, but rather would complement what was already there.

It all started with the Klon Centaur, a pedal that maintained a mystique as strong as its mythical namesake. What added to the mystery was that when the enclosure to the Centaur was opened and people tried to reverse engineer it to uncover the magic within, all they found was a glob of epoxy hiding the circuit.

Paul Cochrane’s Timmy is also one of the ubiquitous transparent overdrive pedals that is beloved in the guitar world, and while fairly inexpensive (especially compared to the Centaur) each pedal is handmade and the wait times to order one were usually months long.

This original type of overdrive caught on quickly. It was novel, sounded fantastic, and was released into the guitar world at a perfect time. And being so “clean” and precise it was the antithesis of the era of music that preceded it. But not all transparent overdrive circuits are the same. There is a lot of variety within the category as some offer more available gain, different EQ sweet spots, and unique highlights to the base tone.

These are some of the best transparent overdrive pedals available today.

Best transparent overdrive overall: Electro-Harmonix Soul Food

electro-harmonix soul food
Best transparent overdrive overall
Electro-Harmonix Soul Food
One of the best Centaur clones on the market is also one of the most affordable. Silicon diodes add brightness, internal power rails offer more headroom, and it’s a great platform for mods.
Pros
Great sounding and affordable
Silicon diodes add brightness to sound
Great Klon Centaur clone
Internal power rails increases headroom
Cons
Might be too bright for some

The Soul Food from Electro-Harmonix is probably the best combination of quality and affordability in a Klone. Due to using silicon diodes it is a little brighter, with less low end than other Klones. Some might find it to be a little thin, but at higher drive settings the mids do get a gentle lift.

The pedal boosts the power rails internally in the circuit, which increases headroom. It also provides the option of buffered or true bypass. The circuit provides a great platform for mods, the most famous being the JHS mod.

Best Klon-style transparent overdrive: Wampler Tumnus Deluxe

wampler tumnus deluxe
Best Klon-style transparent overdrive
Wampler Tumnus Deluxe
Wampler does it again. A full 3-band EQ, switch for additional gain, and selectable bypass makes this one of the most versatile transparent overdrives.
Pros
3-band EQ
Switch adds more gain
Selectable bypass
Cons
A little more expensive than other options

Named after another mythical beast, this is one of the more accurate Centaur alternatives, though it uses silicon instead of germanium diodes. There is a 3-band EQ, and a normal/hot switch for increasing the available gain. It also provides the option of true or buffered bypass.

Best transparent overdrive with Germanium diodes: Way Huge Electronics Smalls Conspiracy Theory

way huge conspiracy theory
Best transparent overdrive with Germanium diodes
Way Huge Electronics Smalls Conspiracy Theory
This is a simple and powerful circuit with an accent in the low-mids and provides amp-like sounds.
Pros
Germanium diodes add accent to low-mids
Warmer sound than other options
Amp-like sounds
Cons
Enclosure is an unusual size, but not too big

True to the original Centaur design, the Conspiracy theory uses germanium diodes to achieve its crystal-clear clipping. There is a slight accent in the low-mids under 500Hz that gives it a warmer sound than some of its counterparts. At the highest gain settings it has the lovely chime of a cranked British-style amplifier.

Transparent overdrive with the most headroom: J. Rockett Archer

j. rockett archer
Transparent overdrive with the most headroom
J. Rockett Archer
If you’re looking for a great Klone, this is one of the best. It can run at 9v or 18v for more headroom. There’s not much gain, but that’s not the point with this circuit.
Pros
Spot-on Centaur Klone
Can run at 9v or 18v
Incredible build
Small footprint
Cons
Doesn’t offer a lot of gain

The Archer is the closest you’ll get to the authentic Centaur sound without having to refinance your home to afford it. It uses germanium diodes and an internal charge pump boosting 9v up to 18v which increases the headroom and articulation of the circuit. It can be powered by supply or 9v battery. It doesn’t get very dirty, but that’s kind of the point.

Most unique transparent overdrive: JHS Morning Glory V4

jhs morning glory v4
Most unique transparent overdrive
JHS Morning Glory V4
Who else but JHS? This circuit offers features you won’t find anywhere else like a drive control that tapers EQ, a different type of tone knob, and a remote input for additional control over the sound.
Pros
Taper of drive control affects EQ
Tone control is high-pass filter
Bright cut switch
Remote input offers an interesting way to control gain and EQ
Cons
More expensive than other options

JHS is no stranger to transparent overdrives, and the Morning Glory has a few elements that other pedals don’t. As the drive control increases, it lends a slight boost to the treble frequencies. The tone control is a high-pass filter (instead of a band), so you can think of it more as cutting bass frequencies than increasing midrange.

And if the tone is too bright for your rig, there is a cut switch on the side. The remote controllable gain input is a unique feature. When engaged it adds more signal gain, low end, and presence.

Best transparent overdrive for use with amps: Xotic Effects Soul Driven

xotic effects soul driven
Best transparent overdrive for use with amps
Xotic Effects Soul Driven
Xotic makes unique overdrives, and the Soul Driven is a great complement to a good amp. It’s got chime and a mid-boost control to go along with the 2-band EQ.
Pros
Great complement to a good amp
Sound is glassy with a lot of chime
Mid-boost control
Cons
Sound won’t be right for everyone

Let the soul of your sound drive through with this transparent overdrive from Xotic Effects. It features gain and volume controls and a 2-band tone section with mid boost control. It is one of the lower gain options here but provides a glassy chime that suits its name.

Best compact transparent overdrive: MXR Timmy

mxr timmy
Best compact transparent overdrive
MXR Timmy
Designed in tandem with the inventor of the original Timmy, this small format pedal has a responsive EQ and a switch to choose between three different types of clipping.
Pros
One of the best Timmy clones available
Designed with Paul Cochrane, inventor of the Timmy
Small format
3 different types of clipping
Cons
Not as much gain as other options on the list

Paul Cochrane’s Timmy (along with the Klon Centaur) was the original trailblazer of the transparent overdrive sound. Being a boutique shop, the waiting list to order a Timmy was usually pretty extensive.

MXR teamed up with Paul Cochrane to release this mini version of the celebrated pedal – with a nice upgrade. This version includes a switch that offers three different types of clipping! It goes from clean boost to chimey crunch and has a very responsive EQ section and works great with a number of amps.

Best JFET transparent overdrive: Keeley Super Phat Mod

keeley super phat mod
Best JFET transparent overdrive
Keeley Super Phat Mod
This JFET circuit has an amp-like response, great harmonics, and two different sounds that work well with a variety of setups.
Pros
JFET gain circuit
Amp-like response
Two tone modes
Great harmonics
Cons
Sound might be too one-dimensional for tone snobs

Keeley’s take on transparent overdrive aims to be as true to your core sound as possible while giving it a little something extra. The sweet, singing harmonic saturation comes via the JFET gain circuit to provide a more amp-like response. There are two modes to choose from – flat and phat. Flat does just what you’d think, while the Phat option gives a lift to the lower frequencies.

Best budget Klon-style transparent overdrive: Mosky Audio Gold/Silver Horse

mosky audio golden and silver horse
Best budget Klon-style transparent overdrive
Mosky Audio Gold/Silver Horse
These are some of the most affordable transparent overdrives on the market. They’re similar, but both offer distinct advantages in tone.
Pros
Good sound for the price point
Silver Horse offers two voicings
Small format
Cons
Generic make will turn some off immediately even though they sound good
Buy From

These might be just about the cheapest Klones you can get, but they sound surprisingly faithful to the original design. Both feature the same control set (gain, tone, volume), but the Silver Horse is a bit more versatile as it features a clipping switch to toggle between hard and soft clipping.

Best mini transparent overdrive: MXR Sugar Drive

mxr sugar drive
Best mini transparent overdrive
MXR Sugar Drive
The Sugar Drive works by blending the dry signal in with the distortion, like parallel processing. EQ is focused on lows and mids, but high end is really open.
Pros
Dry signal blend is an interesting idea
EQ focus on lows and mids, open on top end
A lot of headroom
Cons
Only comes in mini format

Sweeten up your tone with the Sugar Drive, MXR’s take on transparent overdrive tones. It works by blending the dry signal with overdrive, sort of like parallel processing. It focuses the lows and mids while providing an open sound with headroom to spare. It also allows the option to choose between buffered or true bypass.

Best tone shaping transparent overdrive: PRS Horsemeat

prs horsemeat transparent overdrive
Best tone shaping transparent overdrive
Best tone shaping transparent overdrive: PRS Horsemeat
Legendary guitar manufacturer Paul Reed Smith’s take on transparent overdrive offers a good amount of gain and multiple EQ points while retaining the core guitar tone.
Pros
Multiple EQ points and voice knob
Solid circuit build
Convenient pedal size
Good range of gain
Cons
Not meant to add coloration
More expensive than other options

Paul Reed Smith has stepping into the guitar pedal game, and the Horsemeat offers one of the best EQ sections for tone shaping in a transparent overdrive pedal.

It complements the core midrange profile, enhancing it without adding too much of its own character to it. The EQ section features controls over low and high end as well as a Voice knob that works in tandem with the gain control.

If you’re looking to invest in a well designed transparent overdrive that gives you plenty of EQ options this is one of the best.

FAQ

Why use a transparent overdrive?

Since they don’t color the sound too much, they’re really versatile. They retain some of the original tone, so the better your guitar and amp combination the more of your core sound stays in tact.

What is a transparent overdrive pedal?

They’re a certain type of overdrive that is meant to add to your tone instead of take it over. Most do this by blending some of the clean signal in with the effected signal and by not introducing too much EQ.

Does BOSS make a transparent overdrive?

They don’t have one specifically. But their Blues Driver and OD-3 models are some of the closest to a transparent overdrive.

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