Boss OD-2 Turbo Overdrive Pedal Review
Standard Retail Price: N/A (no longer manufactured)
Typical Used Price: $40 to $50
Controls: Level, Tone, Drive, Turbo On/Off
Power: 9-volt battery or PSA adapter
Famous Users: The Edge (U2); Bruce Springsteen; Neil Halstead (Slowdive)
Further Information: BossArea.com
Boss's OD-2 Turbo Overdrive debuted sometime in the mid 1980s, and vanished from the market in less than a decade. It's a great pedal but not without some quirks, so it's easy to see why it wasn't around too long. Still, it does what it was designed to do, and it's a great-sounding pedal. It's actually more amazing that the OD-2R, which was released around 1994 to correct some of the issues with the first version, wasn't a big commercial hit. But it, too, disappeared just a few years after hitting store shelves.
To be clear, this is a review of the first version, the OD-2. I'll elaborate on why that's important later.
There are some people who will try to compare this pedal to other common overdrive pedals, such as the Boss SD-1 or the Ibanez Tubescreamer. In truth, it's not worlds away from those units; however, if you want to get specific, the OD-2 has a character all its own. I've heard its sound described as "Marshall in a box," and especially when the Turbo mode is engaged, it's hard to imagine that Boss was aiming for anything other than that.
It's clear that by the time they designed and released this model, Boss understood that the role of overdrive pedals had changed from merely boosting the existing sound of an amplifier to push it into saturation, to the point where users were actively deriving their "dirty" sounds straight from pedals. The idea was no longer to produce a clean boost without its own character; the inherent traits of a pedal itself could make or break its chances of commercial success. The Turbo Overdrive is very obviously not meant to blend or mesh with an amp's natural character; rather, it takes over with its own sound, and when dialed in correctly, it's like having a whole other amplifier in your rig.
Ease of Use
The Turbo Overdrive's controls are very simple:
- As with the ubiquitous SD-1, there is a Level knob that controls the amount of volume generated when the pedal is engaged; turn it all the way to the left to kill the sound, turn it all the way to the right for the maximum value.
- The next knob is labeled Tone--when the pedal is turned on, if this knob is dialed to the left, the bass frequencies increase and the treble frequencies decrease; turn it to the right and the treble frequencies increase while the bass frequencies decrease.
- There is a Drive knob, which controls the amount of drive or distortion present when the pedal is engaged. Turn this knob to the left, and the sound is less dirty or distorted; turn it to the right, and the sound gets more overdriven.
- The OD-2 also features a Turbo knob, which has only two positions: on and off. With the Turbo knob in the off position, the sound is not unlike that of the SD-1. It's a fairly mild overdrive with an aggressive edge to the tone. (I have yet to determine whether the OD-2 produces asymmetrical clipping like the SD-1, but it's more jagged-sounding than any Tube Screamer-style circuit which leads me to believe that it does.) However, with the Turbo knob in the on position, the sound changes and becomes thicker and richer, and much more saturated. It's not uncommon for some OD-2 users to leave their pedals parked in Turbo mode and use it exclusively for this sound.
Turning the pedal on and off is very simple--all you have to do is step on the large black rubber pad that covers the lower half of the pedal once to activate it, as denoted by the red LED at the top of the control panel brightening. Step on it again to turn it (and the red LED) off and go back to a clean signal.
In terms of tonal character, it should be noted that the OD-2 produces two types of overdrive, accessible via the Turbo On/Off switch. With the Turbo switch turned off, the sound is reminiscient of a darker-voiced SD-1. It retains the slightly aggressive edge of the Super Overdrive, presumably the result of asymmetrical clipping, rather than the smooth sound of symmetrical clipping a la the Tubescreamer.
However, turn the Turbo switch on, and this is where the magic really starts to happen. Suddenly, the pedal produces a very thick sound bordering on distortion that absolutely saturates both rhythm and lead playing. As with the SD-1, on most settings it's not so heavy that it drowns out the individual notes in a strummed chord, but it's definitely a much fatter sound than the Super Overdrive, rich with harmonic overtones.
But just when you're starting to fall in love with the pedal, things get sticky. The OD-2 has one major quirk that you'll probably discover pretty quickly if you spend even a little time playing through it. Finding "gain unity" (or the point where the volume coming out of your amp when the effect is on is equal to the volume coming out of your amp when the off) is a very tricky prospect. And just when you think you've got it figured out, beware: I've had this pedal set so it sounds exactly as I want it to, then transported it from a practice space to a show without changing the settings at all, only to turn it on and find that the effected signal's volume is dramatically lower than the clean sound when the pedal is off. Oddly, I've never found that the pedal seems too loud--the mystery problem usually results in not being able to wring quite enough volume out of it, to the point where the clean/dirty sounds feel totally out of balance.
There are numerous modifications that can be performed to correct this issue, and in fact, Boss must have received several complaints about it because around 1994, they released the OD-2R. Part of the reason for this revision was to address the volume problem, and by all accounts, it did the trick. (As of this writing, I have yet to play through an OD-2R, so I cannot confirm this assertion.)
The other feature added to the OD-2R put the "R" in its name: users now had the ability to connect a Boss FS-5L footswitch via a second input, which could be used to toggle back and forth between the Turbo off and on modes. While this is an excellent idea, and certainly something I would enjoy having access to, I don't feel that it detracts from the original OD-2 pedal's usefulness in any way because quite honestly, I rarely turn off the Turbo mode. I feel like owning an SD-1 renders the Turbo off mode redundant, but the Turbo on mode produces such a cool, thick sound without being overwhelming that by itself, it's worth the price of admission.
Have you played through both a Boss OD-2 and an OD-2R? If so, which did you prefer?
Neither the OD-2 nor the OD-2R is being produced anymore, so you won't find either of them new in a store--at best, you may be able to track down a NOS (new old stock) unit still in a box via online auction sites. But most likely you'll just find some slightly-weathered looking yellow box of rock gathering dust in the corner of your local independent music instrument retailer's shop. If you do, I strongly suggest you at least try it out. If you can figure out how to tame the volume issues, you may find that the OD-2 is an ideal pedal for rock, alternative, or even blues.
Update 10/17/13: After writing this article, I obtained a Vox AC-30 C2 amplifier, which completely changed the character of my sound. Initially, I was disheartened by the way the OD-2 sounded when playing through this amp, and assumed it was the pedal's fault. It transpires that some of the AC-30's controls operate counter-intuitively, and the net result was that I spent about six months obtaining and trying various other overdrive pedals to get the sound I used to have with my Turbo Overdrive-powered rig. (Some of these pedals will be reviewed in the near future.)
The short story, however, is that after spending time learning the amplifier's characteristics and controls, I am back to using my battered old Boss OD-2 pedal because there simply isn't anything else on the market that sounds quite like it! This statement may be debatable because, as of this writing, Carl Martin has released a T.O.D. pedal that is based on the Turbo Overdrive (hence the clever T.O.D. name, and the nasty yellow paint job on Martin's pedal's enclosure) that supposedly improves on the original circuit. I have yet to try this unit, but I am very anxious to do so.
Suffice it to say, however, that the original OD-2 has triumphed where several other pedals have failed in my rig. I prefer it to the Fulltone O.C.D. v4 (which came close) and even to the venerable Paul Cochrane "Timmy" overdrive pedal. I have thus increased my rating of the Turbo Overdrive pedal from 4 stars to 5 because I can confidently say that the Turbo Overdrive is my favorite dirtbox of all time. I would still like to explore the possibility of modifying it to sort out the volume issues, but tonally, this pedal is perfect, in my opinion. I sincerely doubt that I'll ever play another gig without it!