between an overdrive pedal and a distortion pedal? i've tried to figure it out, but i can't, seeing as i don't have either one... TIA
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Overdrive pushes your tube amp over the limits, sets its power to max. distortion is something you put over a clean amp to get a heavy sound.

Schecter Synyster Gates Custom
Marshall amp, crate powerblock, 2 peavy cabs
( W/ Vintage 30's)

VOX wah, Ibanez flanger,
Danelectro echo, R.a.t. Distortion,
Monster cable.
Generally speaking, an overdrive pedal produces a smoother sound, more reminiscent of that of an overdriven tube amp, whereas a distortion pedal has a harsher sound. That said, the distinction is largely subjective, as a lot of pedals can be seen as either, depending on where you have the gain knob set.

Both pedals can be used to boost an amp, though overdrive pedals are more commonly used for that.
Last edited by indrek13 at Mar 5, 2007,
Here, just one more opinion - seems there's mostly agreement on the subject.

A distortion pedal does almost all of the waveshaping and sound altering itself. They always have some clipping or distorting component. There will be clipping diodes in feedback loops and / or from the output of a gain stage to ground. Usually, there will also be an overdriven gain stage to add that form of distortion. You can plug one in and have a heavily distorted, gained-out sound even running into a clean amp that isn't overdriven at all. That isn't necessarily their best sound, but the point is that it does add as much distortion as anyone's likely to want.

Overdrive pedals are expected to work with the amp to get it to distort more and better. They start by amplifying the signal so that it pushes the front end of the amp more than the bare guitar could. It should also alter the frequency response of the signal going in and add a touch of distortion of its own that is going to nudge the amp into making the most of it. This is a very broad range of pedals, some do sound good as mild distortion pedals into a clean amp, others don't. OD pedals often have some sort of clipper circuit, others get their mojo by overdriving an internal gain device a transistor or opamp and then lowering the output level to not push the amp too hard.

These distinctions and differences are not hard and fast. It's not like this is a technical thing with science behind it, its just a difference in the way a pedal is designed and used. There's a lot of overlap with a lot of pedals being impossible to categorize as one or the other. Hell, some overdrives and distortions get confused with a fuzz. If you check the link in my sig you'll hear very different things coming out of the same "overdrive" pedal.