Do you love the tone that you’ve finally dialed in with just the right combination of guitar, pickups, and amplifier, but feel that it just needs a bit more “oomph” to take it over the top? Do you love your high-gain distortion or fuzz pedals, but wish there was a way to accentuate leads on them while not adding too much more gain? It may be time to add transparent overdrive pedals to your setup.
Reminiscent of the legendary and high-demand Klon Centaur, transparent overdrives trend toward higher headroom, which is the threshold just before your amp starts breaking up. They also excel at “dynamic pick response,” letting your sound stay mellow when you lightly strum, but adding a satisfying crackle with more aggressive picking.
Here are some of the best transparent overdrives out right now.
1. Fulltone OCD ($159)
Fulltone’s OCD was an innovator of the transparent drive in the 1990s. The pedal’s hard-clipping Mosfet transistors make it excel at dynamic pick response. You’ll go from soft cascades to biting drive with just a bit more attack in your right hand. Although it features a tone knob, the OCD’s main strengths are lush overtones that don’t really alter the hi/mid/lo settings of your instrument or amp.
You can set your transparent drive at Low Peak, which is more of a Fender-esque clean boost, or High Peak, a more drive-oriented Vox or Marshall sound. Also, version 2 of the OCD features a switch allowing you to choose from True Bypass, a standard for most boutique pedals today, or Fulltone’s proprietary Enhanced Bypass, which keeps a natural warmth going through your signal chain even when the pedal is switched off.
2. Electro-Harmonix Crayon Full-Range Overdrive ($63)
Electro-Harmonix (EHX) does not market their Crayon as a transparent overdrive pedal per se, but the unit’s touted “full range” of EQ and drive controls make it possible to dial in a very transparent gain. EHX even markets the Crayon as an “alternative to customary mid-focused overdrive pedals” like Tube Screamers. This unit is a nice introduction to the magic of transparency, and you can get it at less than half the price of most other units listed here.
There’s a lot of potential to dial in your own tones with this unit. Not only do the bass and treble knobs do a great job at cutting or boosting their frequencies, but the drive control itself can add a bit of tonal coloration itself. Bottom line: if you want a transparent, barely there boost, you can get it, or you can flood your sound with more translucent drive as well. This pedal is incredibly versatile.
3. Paul Cochrane Timmy Overdrive Pedal ($235-395)
This handmade boutique pedal is, along with the OCD, one of the original heavy-hitters in the world of transparent overdrive. It features the same treble/bass tone knobs as EHX’s Crayon, but the Timmy is much more subtle in its tonal range—its knobs function as cut-only controls.
This pedal excels at making your playing more pick responsive, and it adds body and sustain when stacked along other drive and distortion pedals in your chain. There is usually a wait time when you order one new from Cochrane, but used models abound at prices that are a fraction of a vintage Klon. You can also try Cochrane’s recent collaboration with MXR, the mini Timmy.
4. JHS Morning Glory ($199)
Arguably JHS’s most popular overdrive pedal, the Morning Glory is confident in its inability to change the tone you’ve already dialed in with your amp. In other words, it’s truly transparent. The increased headroom will give your guitar sustain for days even with the drive dialed way back. Turn the drive on, and you’ll swear that your little practice solid state amp is a tube-powered monster.
New to v4 of the Morning Glory are toggle switches for high-gain and bright-cut, both of which are foot switchable with the addition of JHS’s separate Red Remote unit. Thanks to the latest update, the Morning Glory almost approaches 2-in-1, dual pedal territory. For a transparent tone enhancer and overdrive unit, it doesn’t get much better than this.
5. Wampler Euphoria ($199)
Like all great transparent drives, Brian Wampler’s Euphoria (formerly the Ecstacy) enhances your tone rather than changing it. In addition to incredible pick response, Wampler recommends that players experiment with different volume knob settings on their guitars, just like great tube amp players did in the 1970s.
It’s the three-way gain-stage toggle that really sets the Euphoria apart. The topmost “smooth” setting recreates the tone of rare Dumble tube amps, all creamy and mellow. The center “open” position allows ample drive when the gain is turned up, or it gives a true transparent boost when dialed back. Plus, the bottommost “crunch” setting just barely crosses the line into fuzzy territory.
- It’s hard to think of a situation in which you won’t need a bit of transparent boost, and these pedals span a wide range of options and directions for your tone.
- If you’re not exactly sure why you need transparent overdrive, but could use a versatile drive pedal that goes beyond a Tube Screamer, it’s hard to go wrong with the EHX Crayon.
- If you value classics with a deep pedigree for your transparent drive but don’t want to break $200, Fulltone’s OCD or the MXR Timmy are excellent. Or, spend a few hundred more for a boutique Cochrane-made Timmy.
- If you want a solid foundation of transparent overdrive, but with options for higher-gain settings, both the JHS Morning Glory and Wampler Euphoria function as multiple pedals in one.