5 Killer Dual Channel Overdrives

For guitarists who like to keep their amplification uncomplicated, preferring the toneful simplicity of a single-channel amplifier with some basic EQ controls, putting an overdrive pedal in front of the amp often serves the function of a second channel. This works great for switching from clean or barely-breaking-up tones to something dirtier, and a good overdrive pedal can often provide a transparent, "more amp" kind of tone that one rarely gets from the fizzy, uninspiring gain channels that are so common on run-of-the-mill multi-channel amps.

Taking this concept even further, a dual-channel overdrive pedal can offer both that second channel, plus a third one for solos and other higher gain applications. What a spectacular idea! Many players stack multiple overdrives for this kind of thing, which works very well provided that the two pedals play well together, but as most who have attempted this before can attest, stacking dirt pedals usually requires a bit of experimentation and luck before finding two that have complementary tones. High quality dual-channel overdrives eliminate the need for all the guesswork, offering a perfectly matched pair of dirty channels purpose built to work in tandem. Of course, all two-channel drives are not equal, so let's take a look at some of the best.

Fulltone Fulldrive

One can't really discuss dual-channel drive pedals without mentioning the Fulltone Fulldrive, the (according to Fulltone) "most popular boutique overdrive ever made." I see no reason to doubt this claim, as the pedal has been around for as long as I can remember and remains as ubiquitous on pedalboards as ever. The Fulldrive's design takes the basic Tube Screamer template and runs with it, adding more of everything, including drive, output, tone control, and, of course, channels. It offers cleans boost, mid-heavy classic Screamer tones, and flat, transparent, uncompressed drive that just sounds like more of whatever amp it's plugged into. The second channel on the earlier versions of the Fulldrive, despite being labeled "Boost," added more gain rather than volume. Some players took issue with this, so Fulltone addressed it on the newest version, the Fulldrive 3, adding a toggle switch for selecting whether the boost section comes before or after the drive. Fulltone also has added three switchable clipping modes and a germanium-powered limiter function on the FD3's boost channel, all features that should keep this venerable old warhorse relevant in the modern boutique world.

Analogman King of Tone

The KoT is another pedal that would be heedless of me to not mention in an article on dual-channel drives, as it is widely considered to be amongst the finest overdrive pedals ever made, regardless of the number of channels. It has an uncanny ability to become one with just about any amp it's plugged into, offering sounds that range from edge-of-breakup grit to gorgeous, dynamic drive. The pedal's design was conceived of in the early 2000s as an improvement upon the Tube Screamer, though Analogman says the circuit is, in fact, NOT based on that green, cloned-to-death classic. The King of Tone has less gain than the Screamer (the latest KoT version does have a distortion mode, however), but much more volume, and its tonal profile is noticeably flatter, without the truncated bass frequencies and characteristic mid-honk. Both channels of the King of Tone are proper, independent channels, and any one of its three modes can be assigned to either channel using the internal DIP switches, making it incredibly versatile. Unfortunately, the KoT is known for its lengthy waiting list and hefty price as much as its tone, so finding one can be both challenging and expensive.

Oddfellow Caveman

Oddfellow Effects is new company out of California, and thus far it only has one product, the Caveman Overdrive, but that product has created quite a stir among pedal nerds. The Caveman is a dual-channel overdrive that has been cleverly packaged in a standard-size pedal enclosure turned sideways, making room for two footswitches, a pair of LED's, and knobs for volume, tone, and drive. The layout is not all the Caveman has going for it though, as the main thing is the tone, which is as fat and creamy as a chocolate shake. This Oddfellow has a robust low-end and smooth, dynamic gain quality that serves well to distance it from its Tube Screamer-based brethren. Its second channel is a fixed gain and volume boost, designed to give the player the perfect amount of extra juice to push a solo out in the mix. This fixed setting makes it somewhat less versatile than other two-channel drives, but the function works very well, and the huge tone and compact size more than makes up for any perceived lack of versatility. Also, the Oddfellow Caveman comes in a faux-fur-lined cardboard box.

TC Electronic Nova Drive

Guitarists have a reputation for being somewhat technophobic. When the '80s wrapped up and the vintage revolution hit its stride, there was a resulting backlash against all things digital that lingers on today. For players that can get past that prejudice, there are some incredible pedals that can help you sound better, while also making your life easier. One of these is the TC Electronic Nova Drive, a superb-sounding dirt pedal that marries a warm, all-analog signal path to a comprehensive digital control set, giving guitarists the best of both worlds. The Nova Drive can store up to 18 presets, from classic, mid-boosted Tube Screamer tones to chunky crunch sounds, and its two channels can be sculpted, linked, and routed any number of different ways, giving you an incredible palette of dirty sounds instantly available at your feet. It features switchable true bypass or buffered modes, MIDI compatibility, and seamless integration with TC's G-System. Also, it is very affordable.

Blackstone Appliances MOSFET Overdrive 2S

Blackstone Appliances MOSFET Overdrive 2S

The MOSFET Overdrive 2S from New York City's Blackstone Appliances takes a unique route to achieving dynamic, amp-like drive and distortion tones. Rather than using just a pair of diodes to produce clipping, like many drive pedals, inventor and guitarist Jon Blackstone designed the MOSFET Overdrive around a quartet of small-signal MOSFETs, with each of them generating just a tiny amount of soft clipping. This stacking method tends to produce lower order harmonics than the standard topology, with the end result being a thick, ampy overdrive with tremendous perceived width and girth, and absolutely zero high-end fizz. In addition to the one-of-a-kind tone, the dual-channel MOSFET Overdrive comes in an extremely compact, beautifully engineered package that's about the size of an MXR pedal. It can be true bypass or buffered, and it features two footswitches for selecting either its mellower Brown channel, or its crunchier Red channel, with each channel having independent gain and volume controls. A fifth control is a post-distortion mid-range cut. The gain control on the Red channel is also sort of a tone control, staying flat at noon, but getting fatter and more distorted as it goes clockwise, or getting tighter and adding clarity and gain in the counter-clockwise direction. As you might guess, the fatter setting is tuned for single-coils, while the tighter setting is tuned for 'buckers. The cool thing about these controls is that they are not knobs, but small, countersunk screws that can be turned with a pick or fingernail. This is cool because once your setting are dialed in, you can throw the Blackstone in a bag or case and not have to worry about them being inadvertently altered in transit.

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