Overdrive pedals are used to get distorted sounds without cranking up the amp into large volumes. Simply put an overdrive between the guitar and the amp an dial in the amount of effect.
There are two things an overdrive will do:
A famous overdrive is the Ibanez Tube Screamer. This stomp box adds more mid to the tone and wil cut the bass a little. Stevie Ray Vaughan used it to push his amps. The circuit of this pedal is used (cloned) by many manufactures.
Some overdrives, like the tubescreamer, will color your sound. That can be a good thing. On the other hand there are guitarist who don't prefer that. They are looking for a pure sound. There are overdrives that don't affect the tone of your amp. They are "transparant" like Mad Professor Sweet Honey Overdrive, or RR Fat Drive.
The RR Fat Drive is based on the famous Klon Centaur. It works really nice as a boost pedal but is also great as a stand alone overdrive!
An overdrive is not developed to push your amp into heavy distortion. As said above, main purpose of the overdrive is to push your amp, so the amp wil start to break up. With the gain knob it is possible to add more gain to the signal before it reaches the amp.
Most overdrives are solid-state. They use diodes for clipping. Clipping means that the sound wave is flattened, which results in a distorted sound. More explanation about clipping you will find here.
Some overdrives are based on a tube circuit. They do the same as a solid-state drive. The sound of an tube based overdrive can be a little more compressed.
You can find digital overdrives to. In digital pedals the analog guitar signal is converted into computer data. Manufactures of digital pedals succeeded in modeling famous amps and pedals. This modeling is done by manipulating this computer data by using mathematic algorithm.
Digitech and Line 6 are some brands who make digital overdrives. Most guitarists are convinced that analog overdrives can't be beaten by digital pedals. On the other hand you will find digital pedals that are very good and stable.
Another advantage of digital pedals is their capability of having different presets. It can give you many different sounds right under your feet.
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