Its okay, I didn't know the difference at first either.

Distortion and overdrive give you different sounds.

Overdrive has a rounder, thicker sound. You hear this mostly in most kinds of rock, some punk, and in sometimes in metal.

Distortion has a rougher, "crazier" sound. It sounds sharper and has more "attack" then overdrive usually. You usually hear this in metal, and sometimes punk.
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EDIT: When I say pushed I mean sending higher signal strength into the tubes, aka increasing the volume and gain. not physical pushing :P

Overdrive is the natural process that happens when a tube is pushed inside a guitar amp setup. It is the natural flattening of the peaks and valleys of sound waves. Normally overdrive is contributed to a rough dirty clean bluesy sound that when pushed harder can reach led zeppelin crunch and maybe iron maiden, dio, and maybe other classic rock bands.

Distortion is when through some process of either purposly clipping the waves to make flat tops or pushing the tubes so hard that they actually become naturally flattened.

Technically overdrive is just another word FOR distortion. This confusion leads to problems. I always consider pedals and amps has having either soft clipping or hard clipping.

In your situation, a classic 30 has soft clipping and a b-52 would have harder clipping. Not saying that the c30 can't get to hard clipping, but its tubes need to be pushed harder. In the b-52 and other high gain hard clipping amps; the tubes are setup so that the signal runs through them at a hotter amplitude so that it gets clipped easier.

This image is self explanatory. Soft clipping is normally attributed to overdrive and the natural process of driving tubes hard but not crazy. The red wave would be attributed to distortion as the cut is sharp.

Its also really easy to hear the difference at extremes.

This is Pantera performing "walk", extreme distortion is being used in dimebag darrels amp. Through a whole host of techniques he is using; he gets a very harsh disgusting chainsaw sound. Its heavy its hard and it ****s peoples faces and ears up.


Zepp performing "Black dog" is a good example of an overdriven marshall amp. There's a limit to how much push an amp can offer simply by pumping the volume. Its just the limit of how far the amp can actually go before it hits its ceiling.


I mean if you can't tell the difference then I don't know what to tell you.

From another thread. Much better than I can explain it.
origionaly overdrive was just cranking everything up to 11 and the sound would naturally distort.
it's difficult to describe unless you understand signal clipping.

overdrive is soft-clipping, where when it reaches the maximum amplitude, it squashes the sound wave peaks down smoothly, rounding off the edges, compressing the signal and the harmonics produced that we perceive as a clipped signal are very musical sounding producing a sweet tone.

Distortion is hard clipping, so when it reaches max amplitude, it just flattens off the peaks of the wave, and the harmonics created by this are somewhat less musical and more grindy sounding, producing the harsher sound.
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yeah, pretty much answered already. generally distortion is just a more extreme version of overdrive, with harder clipping, a harsher/harder tone, and more gain/distortion, while overdrive is a softer, warmer sound. depends on the pedal, too, there can be some overlap.
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