Overdrive for Beginners: Boss OD-3—Consistent Sound On Any Amp ??!!—

For this article a short brief about the Boss OD-3 overdrive pedal. My main goal for this article is the question: “How well the OD-3 performs using various amps?” Will the pedal sound the same when played through a small amp compared to using a bigger amp? What about using different speakers, any difference there or will OD-3 still perform the same?

The sound of an amp is defined by the kind of valve, speaker and the pre/and poweramp.
Most beginners will have a simple set-up like one guitar and,usually, a smallish amp. Often the clean sound on these small amps is fine. Nothing too great, but we are talking small, cheap practise amp, so you would not expect amazing, complex sounds, just something which will work for now. The distortion/overdrive often is not too good: lacks controls to vary the sound ect. Often the sound is boxy and thin.
The average beginner does not have any experience with different kind of sound, logical as they only know the sound of the amp they have.
The sound of that boxy overdrive can often be improved with the help of a small pedal. Often this pedal can get a much bigger sound out of the amp with the result the amp becoming a inspiring bit of kit which will keep you playing your guitar for much longer than you normally would.

Now we have our goals in place let us look at the character of the OD-3’s overdrive. The Boss OD-3 is a overdrive pedal which is based roughly on the sound of a Marshall JCM 900, an amp which came out late 80s early 90s. Why did Boss duplicate the sound of the Marshall JCM 900? Because that particular sound is versatile and can be used in many, many musical situations. The earlier Boss overdrives, like the OD-1 and OD-2, were also based on the Marshall sound, but more on the sound of a JMP 70s style amp, which sounds darker.
Marshall keeps changing their ampsounds according to the needs of musicians and musical trends, logical for Boss to copy the sound of a JCM 900.

The sounds of OD-3 are more of overdriven blues and rock kind. Nothing too radical. The actual JCM 900 amp can go much further soundwise!. The OD-3 does only give you a general hint of the sounds the amp contains.

The guitars I used for the tests were Les Paul style guitars equipped with Humbuckers and Single coil Strat style guitars. Most of you will have a guitar which comes close soundwise. These guitars tend to be the most used ones with pick-ups being not too hot and not too weak.

One of my first tests was to play the OD-3 through an actual Marshall JCM 900 connected to a Celestion 12 inch speakercabinet. With the amp on clean setting and the OD-3 in boost mode –drive all the way down– and using a Les Paul, the amp still distorts a bit. Basically, the OD-3 will not clean up with Humbucking pick-ups! Logical, but I whish the pedal could. Single coils do better with this, but I still hear some kind of artifical sound here which I do not like.
Using same setting on amp, but now using mild overdrive on OD-3, the amp starts to sound a lof fuller, just like when you were to push the volume on the actual amp itself. With both Les Paul and Strat you can get that Marshall sound: Play powerchords on the bottom E and A and the strings actually sound creamy, just as what you would expect when you push a Marshall. But remember, I am still playing through a Marshall, but only on low volume setting while the OD-3 is set-up for overdrive sounds at higher volume.
As with many pedals you get a better sound if the volume of pedal is just above unity level of the amp. You can alter this to obtain more radical sounds, but more on this later when I get to the small amps.
Switching pedal of, and pushing the Marshall into overdrive, how does this sound compare to the pedal its sound? Much better! More detail in the highs and lows, more complex sound. I do prefer the sound of the amp without the pedal but the OD-3 is cetainly good at coming very close! 

Next amp: The Twin as you can see above in the image. Using the Twin on a mild, clean setting —these amps only give you clean, or mild broken up sounds— and using the booster mode on the OD-3: Similar results as with the Marshall: No cleans on the Les Paul with Humbucks, you get a bright, trebly sound which does not sound too good. Strat is a bit better, but still, there is a artifical sound underneath the overal sound.
Pushing the pedal into overdrive and you get Marshall-ish sounds from the Twin. Good if you want this, if you would like to augment the sound of the amp with a little bit of push the OD-3 is not your ticket here!
The Twin I used does have stock speakers, which have more treble than the Celestion speakers, something to bear in mind.

Next amp: The small red Marshall you see in the image above. This amp is 12 watts, but does have a 40 watts 10 inch speaker instead of its original 25 watts. This means it needs to be pushed harder to get overdriven-and distorted sounds. Also means the amp does have more headroom and does sound less trebly compared to using the amp with its original speaker (I do have several of these amps, and some of the others still have their original speaker, so I can compare their sound)
The booster trick is similar: No cleans with the Les Paul and the artifical sound still being there when a Strat was used: Very consistent!!
On clean setting while pushing OD-3, I get overdriven sounds at much lower levels. Pushing the amp into overdrive without using the OD-3 creates better distorted tones. The OD-3 is able to augment the distorted sound of the amp: add a bit more body and treble, it can also create a more radical distorted sound if that is what you want.

Last amp: The smallest of them all, a small, no name practise amp with a tiny speaker.
This amp does not really give me any pleasing sound when I use the same scenario as above: Clean amp and pushing the OD-3: I do get the Marshall sounds, but the overal sound remains tinny and boxy.
The overdrive/distortion on this amp is kind of fuzz. Maybe Boss HM-2/MT-3 kind of sound?.
Using this overdrive on a mild setting and pushing the amp with the OD-3 gives me a much better sound: Ratty with much better sustain. With the help of the OD-3 I can create totally different distorted sounds compared to the sounds which were originally in the amp. The level of the  OD-3 was well above the level of the amp to get even better, fuller sounding sound. 
Maybe this is the way to go?: Alter the distortion of you practise amp with the sound of an overdrive pedal to ceate new tones.
Pushing small amps to the limit with overdrives is nothing new, and for those of you who only have small amps, this may be to way to keep your inspirational fire burning.


I am impressed with how well the OD-3 performs over various amps: It does keep putting out a consistent sound. I am not pleased with the boosting capabilities of this pedal: Whatever guitar I tried, I did not hear the natural amp sound in a boosted form.
Most of the time I do prefer the hear the overdriven sound of the amp on its own, all depending on quality of the amp. A pedal like the OD-3 is best used for augmenting the natural overdriven tones of the amp: Adding more treble, or body to the overal sound at lower volumes.
The OD-3 excells at pushing the distortion of very small amps to their limits to create new sounds. Most of these sounds will be brutal and radical, nothing like mild, creamy and bluesy sounds.

For those of you who do like the sound of the OD-3 I would suggest to check out any Marshall, as most amps will give you the sound of the OD-3 plus a lot more. Pedals do have their place, but when it comes to it, their is nothing better than the sound of an amp on its own without the use of any distortion-or overdrive pedals.
The sounds you get are usually more complex and detailed compared to the sound of a pedal.
There are pedals which are neutral and just augment your amp, no matter what you do. The trick is to find such pedals, they are the real winners here.

Keep on playing and hope to catch you soon again!