Stacked Overdrives/Dual OD Setup part 1: Theory

I’ve been promising this post for awhile. Now I felt like I’ve built it up so much that I cannot actually write this with the preceding hype. Yeah, hehe… hype. Whatever.
Ah, this blog was based on me having fun, learning from my mistakes and hopefully having a laugh with a few friends. Alright… lets see where I go with this!

I have always played with more than one overdrive. From my humble beginnings with my 40 Watt Epiphone solid state amp with overdrive channel, I knew I needed a distortion pedal to compliment it. I have told the story about buying a Tubescreamer, hooking it up to my amp and being completely unimpressed by it. But, I turned on the overdrive channel of the amp and WHOO! The harsh grit of the amp now was smooth and fluid with all this “sparkle.” At that time my passion for cascading ODs was born.

But you don’t have to take my word for it. Many top traveling and pro musicians use this technique of stacking overdrives. The key is for you to recreate a sound where ever you go. For example, for those in the worship movement who are reading this, the guys in David Crowder Band use a stacked OD system. See, not only are they touring musicians, but sometimes they do worship at local churches and side venues. At times all they can bring is their guitar and small pedalboard as the rest of the equipment is in Tomlin’s truck on its way to passion (am sooo making this part up). When the DCB arrive at the church, they are thankful to use the amps that the church can provide. Their main tone, main sound, comes from the guitar and pedalboard accordingly. By stacking overdrives they can get their variety of tones: light OD, high gain OD, lead tone, high gain lead tone etc.. without having to rely on the amp provided.

The necessary questions:

  • Isn’t the drive channel on my amp enough?
  • Why more than one overdrive pedal?
  • How do those guys get that rhythm distortion, then that ‘over the top’ lead tone?
  • How do you stack different drive pedals?

So basic theory:

  1. Differing OD types: For those of use who need differing drive sounds for different textures. Like a light OD for verses, and heavier for harder rhythm choruses. Or vice versa- heavy for riffs or soloing slides that need to definitive and heard, and lighter OD for the hard rhythms so it won’t over power. Having 2 distinct drives gives you so much tone control.
  2. For solo boost/sustainy drive: still using a light OD, play into a high gain OD. This is in combination to the above method, thus 2 drive boxes can give you 3 differing sounds. You can use your main light OD rhythm, into the heavier OD set to a light gain setting to give your rhythm tone, just louder with more sustain. Adjust the heavier OD for appropriate sustain.
    You can also do the opposite, as in use the heavier drive, with the lower gain drive set so as to be a touch louder and give a touch more hair and compression. This is less noticeable, less extreme than the first way presented. However it is perfect for taking your already perfect tone to put “a little extra”  sustain and volume to make a soloing tone.
  3. Use 2 drives or add a third or boost for more versatility. You can set up like #1 into differing drive textures, then the boost to make them more fuller, or louder to solo, then can go into the other OD for the #2 method. I wouldn’t recommend all 3 drives on at the same time as this can wreak feedback havoc! If you combine 2 differing ODs with a boost and the drive channel on your amp you can create, um… 9 or more sound combinations…..? Yeah, and more if you rearrange the drives into a particular permutation.
  4. In a bit of a repeat of the above: use your amp channel!! I use either my TS9 or Zendrive as the main overdrive for rhythm, and the amp for my main lead sound. For a different lead tone I use another high gain pedal, or that high gain pedal into the amps gain channel.

Basically there is almost no wrong way to stack drives. They give you a very controllable section of your tone. The reason I started using stompboxes as my main drives was that my amp had a volume for the clean channel and volume for the drive channel. It seemed that my volume on my drive channel was always too soft or too loud. I literally had to reconfig my amp EVERYtime I setup to make sure I wasn’t too loud. Too often I was too soft when I clicked on a lead. Now, Its all set in my pedals, and I adjust once on my clean channel. As long as my pedals aren’t bumped in the knobs, I know exactly what my level will be. And face it– it is easier to bend down and flick a level knob down some rather than run behind you, away from your board and microphone, and flick down your amp.

Here are my 3 main drives- stay tuned for explanation, coming soon!

Here are my 3 main drives- stay tuned for explanation, coming soon!

Part 2 will be a discussion of my personal settings with my pedals and the completely differing ways I have stacked the pedals and the varying tone resulting. Hopefully this will give you an idea of what you can achieve. There are many other opinions regarding this stacking. I know several guys who use their amps drive but have different type boosts going into the drive/clean channels creating much of the same effect I describe, just more tone transparent.

For those using a system like this, what is your preferred stacking? What do you use for rhythm, solos, texture, etc?


Again, let me state that a chain of: compressor or boost- light OD- high gain OD- amp OD can give more options than you can possibly use in one show. Unless you are doing like a 3 hour concert, than maybe. Then add a wah to the mix and you’ll have more tones than you could possibly use.
Yeah…
Wah gooooood.

5 Responses

  1. I’m using boost > Tim (light OD) > Tube Screamer (solo) > OCD (high gain)

    I mostly use the Tim on it’s own but sometimes put the boost on first for a little more. For solos or really prominent lead lines I’ll use Tim > TS. If I’m playing a rock song I use OCD and then boost > OCD for a solo.

  2. Great post, Larry! Lots of good info. And I have a couple combinations that I specifically know will produce feedback…it’s nice every once in a while for a build or something.

    And Mike…ya, doesn’t the Tim stack great? It’s such a transparent pedal that it just doesn’t sound bad anywhere. Larry, your Tim’s in soon, right?🙂 Mmm…good times with the Tim.

  3. yeah…. Tim is due sometime in Feb. He quoted me the first week estimate, but I’ll take it anytime in Feb.

  4. hey larry. stacking od sure sounds good although i tend to shy away from it. i have 3 od (sparkle drive & 2-channel sfx-03) in my board that are set to different gain levels. just got a zendrive which will also be in the board soon.

    most times i use my guitar volume and picking dynamics to vary the tone from song to song or parts of the song. for me, its just more predictable as far as the gain structure is concerned.

  5. Rhoy- yeah, stacking takes a bit of practice or you will have uncontrollable gain/volume. But the best part is- stack with 1) a low gain, dynamic pedal into a 2) high gain compressed pedal and your volume etc.. never changes. It almost acts as a compressor/limiter for you once you get them programmed right. Then with your clean amp, adjust what volume you need. It works great. The tonal differences also make you stand out in the mix, so less volume is needed.
    The key is finding the pedals that stack well to get that compressed sound.

    Let us know what you think about the zen!

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