5 Crucial Fender Overdrives

The blackface Fender amplifier of the 1960’s was the result of Leo Fender working tirelessly to create an amp with a bright cutting tone that would stay clean as bands were getting louder and louder. As a result, it has lots of high end and a scooped mid-range. This was a great advancement at the time as it helped guitarists be heard on the crowded band stand. For the modern player, this can be a problem. Those same bright cutting highs can make many overdrive pedals sound less than stellar.

Below is a list of overdrive pedals that will perfectly complement your Blackface Fender amp.

Ibanez Tube Screamer

You already know what the first pedal in this list is going to be. Ever since Stevie Ray Vaughan strapped on a Fender Stratocaster and ran it through an Ibanez Tube Screamer into a blackface Fender, the Tube Screamer has been the epitome of modern blues tone. But it's a combo for more than just "blooze wannabes." Sure, with the gain control cranked, the Tube Screamer adds plenty of dirt to your tone, but it also works great as a boost for pushing your amp into overdrive. And because the Tube Screamer cuts some of the low frequencies coming out of your guitar, it can hit the front end of your amp without creating boomy, mushy, bass-heavy sludge.

On the flip-side, the mid-hump of the Tube Screamer adds the perfect punch to fill out the scooped sound of the Fender. Running a Strat in either of the combined pickup settings into a blackface Fender is a beautiful sound, but it’s also very hollow sounding and won’t cut through in a dense mix. Step on your trusty Tube Screamer, and you instantly get a tone with more heft and more cut. It’s perfect for going from a backing rhythm to an upfront lead. You can use the dirt provided by the Tube Screamer or use it clean on its own or stacked with another dirt pedal. Either way, it will punch your guitar through a dense mix.

It’s no secret that the market is flooded with Tube Screamer clones. The Ibanez reissues are great pedals. My personal favorites though are the Electro Harmonix East River Drive and the Visual Sound Route 66. The East River Drive is voiced slightly darker than some other Tube Screamers and is great for warming up bright single coil guitars. The Route 66 features a switchable bass boost for those that don’t like the amount of lows that the TS circuit cuts.

Bearfoot Sparkling Yellow Overdrive 3

Bearfoot Sparkling Yellow Overdrive 2

The Bearfoot Sparkling Yellow Overdrive 3 is the newest member of the Sparkling Yellow family and has a switch for choosing between the voicing of the SYOD1 and the SYOD2. Both settings sound and feel like a vintage amp breaking up into sweet power tube distortion, but the SYOD2 setting is geared more towards going into American-voiced amps, so it’s a great match for your blackface Fender. It’s always hard to quantify, but to my ears, it has the sound and feel of a Tweed Deluxe. As such, it might seem like an odd choice to pair with an amp that Leo Fender designed to be an improvement on the old 1950’s tweed Fenders. But there is a reason Neil Young and countless others still play through Tweed Deluxes—they are the antithesis of the blackface sound: Wild, ragged, unhinged, with a smoother top end and lows that are anything but solid. By using the Sparkling Yellow Overdrive 3, you can have the both ends of the spectrum at the stomp of a switch.

The Sparkling Yellow Overdrive 3 does more than just Tweed Deluxe though; with a pre-distortion mid control and a post-distortion treble control, it’s an extremely versatile drive. The mid control is really more of a “low-mids” control and as a result it pushes some bass frequencies as well. Turning it up all of the way brings on a borderline fuzz tone. By following the distortion part of the circuit, the treble control allows you to roll off any harsh upper frequencies. This is especially nice for a Telecaster or Stratocaster bridge pickup. Because of this versatile voicing, the SYO3 melds perfectly into the sound of your amp and it has enough output to push your amp over the edge. Even better, the pedal is very responsive to your input signal. Playing with a lighter touch or rolling back the volume on your guitar serves to clean up the tone just like playing into a real amp.

Fulltone Fulldrive II

Sure, it's no longer the reigning king of "boutique overdrives;" in fact, it has recently been supplanted by the Fulltone Fulldrive III. However, not that long ago, a quick Google search for "pedalboards of the pros," would find more boards with an FDII than without. This is for good reason. The FDII picks up where the Tube Screamer and Boss SD-1 left off. There have been a few models of the Fulldrive over the years. For our purposes, we will focus on the Fulldrive II MOSFET. This version provides clipping options for “CompCut,” “Flat-Mids,” and “Vintage.” In the Vintage setting, the Fulldrive II provides a juicy mid-hump (like the aforementioned Tube Screamer). The Flat-Mids setting is just as it sounds. Rather than having the mid hump of a Tube Screamer, this setting has more natural transparent EQ. While the mid hump is the perfect tool for beefing up single coils, it can be a little too much for humbuckers. Finally, the CompCut setting is much louder and less compressed than the other two. As such, I usually run it with the tone control at 9 o’clock.

Another cool feature of the Fulldrive II is the asymmetrical clipping whose design comes courtesy of the Boss SD-1. Asymmetrical clipping means that the waveform is clipped differently at the top than at the bottom. To my ears, this sounds a little more ragged (in a good way) and adds a certain snarl to your tone. Unlike the other pedals in this list, the Fulldrive II also provides an onboard switchable boost. But because it comes before the distortion portion of the circuit it adds distortion as well as a volume increase.

Fairfield Circuitry Barbershop

If you like the inherent EQ of your Fender but just want more grit and a "saggier" tweed-like playing feel, you should check out the Fairfield Circuitry Barbershop. With controls for Drive, Sag, and Volume, the Barbershop serves up plenty of dirt with a neutral EQ to keep the tone of your guitar and amp intact. Cranking the sag takes you from faster Blackface attack to a compressed and slower attack characteristic of Tweed Fenders. Crank the Drive and Sag and you get into Neil Young territory. However, the Barbershop isn’t a one trick pony. With the Drive control turned down all of the way, the Barbershop works as a wonderful clean boost. Like the Sparkling Yellow OD, the Barbershop is very responsive to your touch and the output of your guitar.

Analogman Prince of Tone

You’ve seen the old joke of a pedal called the Talent Booster. Every guitarist needs one of those. While the Prince of Tone can’t be called a Talent Booster, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call it the Happiness Booster. No matter where I set the controls on this pedal, running a Telecaster through it and into my Princeton Reverb brought a huge smile to my face. Set to OD, with the Volume and Tone at noon and the Drive around 2 o’clock, you get the sound of the Princeton on 7 or 8, at 2 on the dial. I can rock out without disturbing the family or the neighbors. But it’s not just for the bedroom and basement set; at gig volume, it works as an amazing boost into your already cooking amp. The King of Tone (father of the Prince of Tone) is rooted in the old Marshall Bluesbreaker pedal. It’s also probably the least compressed of the pedals in this list, especially in the OD and Boost modes. As a result, it can take some time to dial it in correctly and it doesn’t hide sloppy playing as well as the other pedals in this list. But when it’s dialed in right, it just sings.

What’s better than a Prince of Tone? The aforementioned King of Tone. It is two Princes (sorry to get a Spin Doctors song in your head) in one box. But it has a waiting list over a year long. If you want an audience with the King, be prepared to wait or shell out upwards of $400 on the second hand market. Princes on the other hand show up on the Analogman website in small batches just about every Wednesday afternoon. They sell out quickly. Check often and be ready to pounce.

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