Before Ibanez made the fabled Tubescreamer, the company released two overdrive pedals designed to enhance sustain and distortion at lower volume. The first was simply called Overdrive, the second was the OD-855 Overdrive II. Both were produced in the mid ’70s by Maxxon.
The Overdrive (many call it the “Orange Overdrive,” given its color) is known for delivering incredible fuzztones at high settings. Overdriven distortion sounds are also attainable, but distortion and level settings have to be turned way down. The unit has the standard three knob controls (level, distortion, and tone) and operates on a single 9-volt battery (as does the Overdrive II). Later models had a 9-volt power supply jack and LED status light.
By the late ’70s, the Overdrive II had evolved into the TS-808 Tubescreamer. And it’s easy to see the early makings of a Tubescreamer. It has the same pukey, pea soup green color, three controls (distortion, balance, and tone), and an effect on/off switch. Early models had a standard pushbutton footswitch, later ones had the small, square, silent switch like the TS-808.
The Overdrive II, at lower to mid gain settings, produces distortion tones similar to the TS-808 – definitely capturing the natural overdriven tube amp sound. Smooth, sustaining tone qualities with a slight harmonic overtone are also easily captured.
At higher gain/level settings, the Overdrive II turns into a monster, with a huge, fat bottom end. Yet it still sounds natural – not buzzy, like some distortions tend to get at higher settings. It is quite versatile.
With the balance (effect level) set at three o’clock or higher, and the distortion turned all the way down, the Overdrive II produces a very usable, clean signal boost. With a small tube amplifier, like a Fender Champ, it produces very smooth distortion. A simple, clean-sounding boost is something the TS-808 is capable of, but doesn’t do nearly as well as the Overdrive II.
By setting the balance and distortion controls at half, the pedal produces a smooth distortion with a slight sustain. The tone knob, used with these settings, will produce as much bite or softness as the player desires. This setting is great for that just-starting-to-break-up type of distortion. By adjusting the tone knob and the distortion control around the midway point, the pedal produces tones similar to the TS-808. In fact, it’s very hard to tell them apart. An A/B comparison using a Strat and a Vibrolux revealed little difference. The midway setting is perfect for blues.
When setting the balance at a midway point and the distortion at a higher setting (approximately three o’clock), the pedal produces fat-sounding distortion or overdrive that allows notes to ring and sustain, similar to a lower-gain Marshall amplifier tone.
If you attempt to run the pedal wide open, with distortion and balance all the way up, it can get pretty squirrelly. The Overdrive II is an impressive pedal for overdrive lovers. And if you like fuzz, you’ll definitely want to check out an Orange Overdrive.
The Overdrive II sounds very nice with single-coil pickups and is dynamic in the sense that the distortion will react to your picking attack. Also, rolling off the guitar’s volume will clean up the distortion sound greatly. The Orange Overdrive reacts similarly, but not as well as the Overdrive II. With humbuckers, neither will clean up the distortion as well.
Now for some bad news. Both pedals are quite rare and, therefore, not cheap. As with most early pedals, prices have been climbing. And finding either in really clean condition is tough. The paint on early Ibanez pedals seems thin, and therefore chips easier. And after being stepped on for 20-plus years, they tend to be worn-looking, but with some patience and a stroll through the occasional guitar show, they can be found.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Feb. ’00 issue.