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What exactly IS overdrive?

Discussion in 'Amps and Cabs [BG]' started by powellmacaque, Apr 28, 2010.

  1. So I searched, didn't really find too much that fit my particular question, but I have been know to be a horrible search engine user so forgive me.

    What is overdrive? Well, I know what it is, it's an amp driven more than it "should" be (well back in the day). But what does it sound like?

    I've heard it described as warm and fat. (Motown Recordings)

    I've heard it described as face melting (SVT fridges)

    I've also heard it called grind (GK amps)

    Are these all just different types of overdrive (for instance, in the guitar world there is a "Fender" overdrive, a "Marshall" overdrive, and a "Mesa" overdrive) or am I just thinking certain things are overdrive when they are in fact something else?

    I ask because I was discussing with a friend how I overdrive my GK 700RB (mk-I) by grinding out with my volume and boost turned up, and the friend looked at me when I played and said "doesn't sound like overdrive to me".

    Just confused haha.
  2. nostatic

    nostatic Supporting Member

    Jun 18, 2004
    lost angeles, CA
    Endorsing Artist: FEA Labs
    the opposite of underpark.
  3. Punny sir. Real punny.
  4. Fuzzbass

    Fuzzbass P5 with overdrive Gold Supporting Member

    "Overdrive" is another word for clipping/distortion. It can be bright and edgy, warm and fat, or anywhere in between.

    That said, overdrive is most frequently used to describe light distortion: the sound of a tube amp being lightly to moderately overdriven. The terms "fuzz" and "distortion" usually refer to heavy clipping/distortion from either an effect unit or a tube amp run wide-open.
  5. maybe you get more from this

  6. Overdrive is exactly as you imagine. It sounds like your friend might be a guitar player who equates overdrive with a very distorted sound....maybe not.

    Anytime you push your amp or speakers past it's clean operating range, it produces a certain amount of distortion. This can be subtle, such as turning your G-K's front end gain controls up to produce a little grind, or extreme (try turning them way up and you'll see). This can also be done by operating a relatively high powered amp into a speaker. At some point, the speaker will start distorting. This is overdriving the speaker.

    So, as you can see, overdrive can produce a minute amount of distortion that is pleasing to the bassist's ears, or a lot of distortion that guitar players seem to like. In the end, it's all "overdrive".
  7. bongomania

    bongomania Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    As people said above, overdrive is clipping. Here's a short article I wrote that explains clipping (you'll mostly just want to read up to the point where I start talking about square waves): http://www.ovnilab.com/articles/clipping.shtml As to what specific "sound" you get from one device clipping versus another, it's all over the map. That's why we have all the different adjectives like "grit" or "in your face", and the loosely-interpreted categories of overdrive, distortion, and fuzz, and arguments about whether an overdrive pedal's tone or effect can be as good as an amp being overdriven. But in nearly all cases, it's clipping.

    (I say "nearly" all because there are a few distortion effects that do not use clipping circuits, in both analog and (of course) digital domains.)
  8. experimental bassist

    experimental bassist

    Mar 15, 2009
    Here's a good example of tube overdriven bass:

    Live at Leeds

  9. OK. Thanks for so many explanations. Really helped.

    For a kind of related question, what kind of Overdrive can one get with an SVT? I've only been able to play them at relatively low levels and to me they just sound more warm and compressed as they are cranked. But I've heard people talk about SVTs as distortion machines.

    For instance, is this an overdriven SVT:

    (warning, may be offensive)
  10. Sharko


    Jun 18, 2009
    Washington, DC
    I don't know if the equipment in the video is what they actually play, if so, the Orange amp is his. It may not be an SVT, but you can get a sound like that with an SVT if you want.
  11. Hmm. I guess I just haven't been able to crank an SVT enough.

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