Maxon ROD881 Overdrive/Distortion

Sporting a single 12AX7 and a footswitchable boost, the Maxon ROD881 Overdrive/Distortion ($350 retail/$259 street) is a versatile giver-of-the-grind that can please nearly every type of player.

In the Overdrive mode it gives you a whiff of a cranked-up Fender tweed, with tones that are spongy, dynamic, and warm—just asking you to dig in to each and every note. The 3-band EQ gets major kudos for allowing me to tame my Tele’s fierce highs or spice up the PRS McCarty with a little more sizzle.

In Distortion mode the gain structure intensifies, the harmonics get bolder, and the overall character gets more modern and nasty. I dialed in searing, high-gain sounds that turned a modest Super Reverb into a firebreather—at whisper volumes no less. Dumping the Midrange, and cranking the Bass yielded a metal tone that sported a swift, brutal attack—the sonic equivalent of a kick in the gut—without any garbled notes.

On the back of the pedal, between the Input and Output jacks, resides a Noise Reduction switch and Threshold control. The ROD881 isn’t particularly noisy, however, so I found this function most useful as an effect. For example, I could dial up a punishing setting in the Distortion mode, and then set the Threshold to create sharply cut off slabs of sound. Or, with a more a subtle overdrive setting, I could elicit cool volume-swell textures by cranking the Threshold until the front end of my pick attack was cut off. The ROD881 packs enough output to be used as a clean overdriver, and you still have the Boost function to kick on—a sadistic act that your amp’s front-end will never forgive you for.