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Overdrive is smooth and warm. Like when you push power tubes. Distortion is clipping the signal to add dirt to the sound.
 

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overdrive in a pedal is more of a clean boost than anything. its meant to push your amp into distortion by running more current through the tubes than they can handle.

distortion is doing them same thing through a silicon diode or other semi conductor
 

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overdrive is warmer, distortion is sharper.
 

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Overdrive
Led Zeppelin
ACDC
Stevie Ray Vaughn
Jimi Hendrix
Some Pink Floyd
etc.

Distortion
Megadeth
Metallica
Slayer
Van Halen
Pantera
Nirvana (grunge distortion)
Guns n Roses
Children of Bodom
etc.

Overdrive sounds like a halfway distortion IMO. Make sure you have both though.
 

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Lester B. Flat said:
Overdriving is the cause of which distortion is the effect.
I agree, but I think he's asking what's the difference between a distortion pedal and an overdrive pedal.


If you go to the boss site, they have a virtual distortion grid, in which you can very clearly hear the difference between an overdrive pedal and a distortion pedal.:food-smiley-004:
 

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Overdrive is designed to replicate a tube amp being pushed hard.


A distortion pedal is a higher gain sound just shy of fuzz.


That's how I interpret the two.


So really, in simple terms, a distortion is like an overdrive with higher gain capability. I know there's more to it than that but that about sums it up.
 

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I always thought of them as just labels put on by the marketing geeks. Overdrive for the guys who like to say, "Gosh darn it." and distortion for the guys who like to say, "**** it."....................
 
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