Posted by: worshipguitarguy | April 20, 2007

Layered Overdrive

Ok, I know I’d been promising that article on leading worship in small church settings… next week I’ll get started on it. 

When I play, I get asked about my overdrive settings quite a bit.  I handle OD a little differently than some guitarists do, and lately I’ve been seeing alot of touring guys doing the same thing.  I borrowed this concept after seeing Stu G’s rig (from Delirious) from the early 2000’s, and it involves layering overdrives to create a more smooth and saturated, (or crazy and gain filled tone.)  I know Daniel Carson does the same thing on Tomlin’s tours.

So what is layering overdrive? 

It’s actually real simple, although it involves spending a little bit of money for multiple OD pedals.  The ones I’ve had the most success with are Tubescreamer clones, like the Fulltone FD2, Visual Sound Rte. 66 (or Jekyll and Hyde), Voodoo Labs Sparkle Drive, Maxon, or Ibanez vintage (and vintage reissue pedals)  The basic concept of layering overdrive is having two (or more!) pedals with differing layers of gain, which are on at the same time.

To explain my approach, on my board I have the following pedals in this order

> Fulltone Fatboost
> Fulltone FD2 (with the Comp Cut, Flat Mids, and Vintage setting… I run on Flat Mids.)
>  Voodoo Labs Sparkle Drive

The Fatboost is almost always on when I’m playing, unless I’m approaching electric playing more like an acoustic guitarist.  It fills out my sound and brings greater sustain and warmth to my tone so I cut through better with single notes or simple chords. 

Although it’s third in my chain, the Voodoo Labs Sparkle Drive is a super pedal, because it allows you to blend between a clean boost style OD and a grittier sounding setting.  I usually run mine about 3/4 clean, and you’ll find it on about half the time I’m playing.  Again it adds another layer of thickness and sustain (and a solid presence) to my signal.

Second in my chain is my FD2.  The Fulldrive is the best OD pedal I’ve ever played because it has a smooth and pleasant vintage sound.  My FD2 is usually used in a more gritty setting to give me a vintage rock OD.  The cool thing about it is the FD2 also has the boost channel, which really isn’t a volume lead boost as much as it adds a thick and slightly punchy sound to the standard OD sound. 

So how does this all work?
Well, if my playing is more of a strumming style with several notes, and I want a clean sound, I’ll usually have my Fatboost on.  (My strumming is usually never quite acoustic style, because it would become muddy real quick.)  Now on a slower song, where I don’t want an OD sound, but I want a little more punch, (say on a chorus) I may kick in the SD to carry things a bit. 

Now if I’m looking for more of a vintage OD sound (70’s rock, southern rock)  I can just kick on the Fatboost and FD2, (with no SD).  Here the Overdrive will ring pretty clean, but will have some bite to it. 

The real fun comes when you want an overdrive sound that is flat out messy and wild.  To do this, I’ll kick both OD’s on at the same time, and if I’m feeling particularly out of control, I can kick the boost on the FD2 makinig my tone really out there.  A word of warning though, you may not want to be strumming too much when doing this because stuff can start sounding real bad real quick.

 Another Little Trick
Have you ever heard a guitarist playing an overdriven sound on a chorus then have it go into a smooth sustain’y style feedback (Not Eddie Van Halen squealing, more like the chord very slowly drops out.)  Well how do they do it?  through delay.  What you do is look for an analog style delay sound with some character, and when you hit the end of the chord, engage it, then bend down and turn your repeats up.  It’s a very delicate balance so be careful with it, but you can create some sweet ambient overdrive effects with it. 

One of my favorite guitarists, Alex Nifong uses a variation of this trick quite a bit. 



  1. i’ve been a fan of the “tube screamer for rhythm sounds plus big muff pi for lead” layering thing for a long time.

    you’re right, though, have to be careful with that much gain. can get out of hand…

  2. Good tip regarding the Fatboost. Leaving it on adds a little front-end sparkle without changing the tonal characteristics of the guitar. Two other boxes I’ve loved using in the past are the ProCo Rat and MXR Distortion +. (showing my age….)

    Nice post. Keep up the good work.

  3. I stole your idea a few months ago and now have the Sparkle Drive and the FD2. Strangely enough, I have the SD on all the time! I crank the clean, and use the volume control to allow me to have a volume boost. It just seems to make my guitar sound a bit more full. The FD2 has a lot of tonal options, especially with the comp cut feature, that really makes those two pedals work great together. Have you ever experimented with a compressor to add some sustain and smooth out your tones? A friend recommended it to me, but I have never thought it was necessary. Your thoughts?

  4. I use an Electro Harmonix LPB-1 booster pedal for leads with my FD2. Cheap ($40) and works great. Also, I use an MXR DynaComp with great results. Very affordable and simple compressor. I use it with a very small amount of compression (9 o’clock) and the level very high (3 o’clock). Really helps with single coils (more punch and power, but still retains the chime), adds sustain to solos without the need for more gain, evens out arpeggios, and lets you get a great country sound if needed (increase the compression and decrease the level and it’s chicken pickin’!).

  5. Also, I wanted to recommend the MI Audio Crunchbox for a great distorted tone – I have a ProCo Rat like Daniel Carson (Tomlin’s guitarist) uses. This is better. More punch, definition, bottom end – nice Marshall-in-a-box type distortion pedal and very affordable. I place it after the Fulltone Fulldrive II in my chain – with both pedals engaged, the tone just smokes! Using it in my AC30 and Orange Rocker 30 combos.

  6. Gerry,

    First off, AMAZING blog, keep it going I’ve learnt loads since I found it a week or so ago! Secondly, just wondering how you set your Fat Boost up? I’m just wondering as (if i am correct :S) i think its main purpose is as a volume boost, but your way of using it sounds pretty intruiging and sort of what I’m after! Do you set your amp any differently when using it to if you dont use it?


  7. Mark, Matt, and everyone else… I’ll try to write an Q&A post tomorrow talking about everyones questions and thoughs… 🙂

  8. Enjoyed this post. Alex Nifong has become one of my favorite guitarists as well. I saw him playing for Kristian Stanfill. He is amazing with his understanding of his effects (especially delays) Seemed like he may have had 3 delay pedals and was tapping in tempos to all three at different times. He was fun to watch.

  9. Just ordered the new model of Fulltone’s Fulldrive II to replace my old one (an early one without the toggle switch in the middle). I think the price dropped a bit on the new ones and they now include the MOSFET switch as a standard feature that was previously only available on the much more pricey 10th anniversary edition. Just thought I’d mention this as these new ones have gotten stellar reviews for the added flexibility.

  10. This is really a great topic to read about. I’m using a pretty stripped down overdrive setup. I have a Blues Driver and TS9 on my pedal board. I use the TS9 most of the time…even for my clean tones, just because I use it as a volume boost and to have a little extra sustain. The gain is set really low on it. When I need to get a little more gain I use both simultaneously because I’ve found that the BD cuts through. The problem with the BD is that the volume is REALLY touchy…so I run the volume really low on this one. And the gain is probably like 9-10 o’clock-ish. I also don’t like using a lot of volume on it because I don’t want to lose the warmth of my signal. I’m looking to get a new OD pedal soon though. I’m deciding between a Jekyll and Hyde or a Sparkle Drive. Any suggestions would be awesome

  11. Alex actually happens to be one of my good friends back here in GA. His set-up is pretty simple these days Tuner>Digi-tech Whammy>Blues driver>Boss dd-5>DL-4. He uses the Goodsell for smaller venues and the AC30 when he can isolate. I used his AC30 last week and i’d say he’s running it just a bit dirty, but clean enough to hear the individual notes.

    And as for the delays… the DD-5 and DL-4 at the same time is the trick my friends. Try using the Lo-res on the DL-4 with dotted 8th notes on the DD-5 for some cool sounds. Listen to Steve Fee’s “all because of Jesus” for an example. The DD-5 delivers the concrete dotted eighths while the Lo-res on the DL-4 adds a “trail off” kind of affect. Then throw in the tube echo for songs like “inside out” and stuff. But please, definitely try both at the same time… I’ve found my self doing that pretty much everytime I play, and it’s been great.

    If yall got any questions, please feel free to throw them out there. God bless!

    • Hey Brian, I just stumbled upon your post, Alex is my favorite worship guitarist and love his sounds. I have been trying to figure out for years now how he uses his rig, thank you for the insight. I would love to know more about how he approaches and uses such a simple rig to get complex and huge sounding drive tones. Does he mess with volume and tone knobs much? Also how does he run the blues driver? I desire to mimic a smaller setup but I don’t know how to get away with it like he does. Any help would be much appreciated. Thank you for your time.

  12. ahh and WGG, thanks for everything you do man. It’s awesome to see the Lord using you with the site and all. It’s been a blessing

  13. Hey Brian, any idea how Alex sets up his Blues Driver? His OD sound is very thick but still very clear. . . so it makes me think he isn’t running it with a lot of gain. Any Idea? Is that really all he uses for Overdrive now? He has incredible tone.

  14. I have been playing the ts-808 and my blues driver together and I like it cranked high on a tube amp. It’s really smooth. I like the layers.

  15. I definately agree! I got a TS-808 and found it sounded a little thin on it’s own. I keep my Seymour Duncan Twin Tube OD on on a low OD and add the TS808 over the top for some great sounding solo tones. Recently I’ve been experimenting with the delay trick you mentioned too. The Line6 DL4 does this well with the Lo Res and Analog Echo mods. I use the expression pedal to add infinate delays when I want that sound, then just rock back on the expression pedal to lower the repeats and have it fade off. Beautiful 🙂

  16. I also dig the layered overdrives. I use a Jekyll & Hyde, Tube Screamer and BD-2, along with the Keeley Katana Boost, and you can get some wonderful variations in gain. The delay trick you mentioned is also a very good one, which I use often. I use a DD5 and DL-4 for most of my delay sounds, but keep a DM-2 on the board for kicking in at the end of a chorus or bridge, with the intensity set pretty high so it will occilate…very cool sound, then I generally lean over and give the time knob a spin for a slow change in pitch. I tried it with the Dl-4 on analog setting first, but didn’t like the sound too much, so had to get a DM-2.

  17. Thanks for sharing! I’m new to this stuff and this helps with trying to match the cool tones of my guitar heros…heroes…ah…

  18. Hi, everyone. When you combining the DD5-dotted 8th with DL-4 lo-res delay, what is your setting like on DL-4? how many repeats, etc,,,,,

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