“I really just want that classic dirt sound, ya know? Which one of these things gives me that?” Anyone who works in a music shop, studio or any place where guitar based advice is metered out will attest to just how long the ensuing conversation can be. Dirt is, after all, literally everywhere in the world with many different combinations and permutations responsible for what is all too often lumped in under the one roof. Between the few different types of fuzz, the dense thicket of distortions and the seemingly unreachable horizon of overdrives, the answer is almost always, “How long is a piece of string?” Sometimes a design will hit that nail right on the head and stand the test of time as a sought-after sound, and pedals like the often imitated Tube Screamer and its ilk become the things of legend. In the Santa Ana Overdrive, Fender has plunged into the deepest water in tone town and come up for air with what may prove to be the next Excalibur.
Released at this year’s NAMM conference, Fender’s new line of stompboxes has pricked the ears of the majority of players. While the company’s chief competition flounders in a mire of its own mistakes, Fender has done well these last few years to keep their eyes on the prize and not put out anything that could be misconstrued as too great a risk. Aiming their gaze at the floor at this point might seem like the widest swing they’ve chanced in a while, but this determination to avoid the fate of their peer seems to have driven a range of pedals that is very much up to the challenge of what has become a particularly saturated market. Of all the pedals in this new line, the overdrive is by far the one with the fiercest and most convoluted competition.
The Santa Ana Overdrive is every bit the working players’ pedal. The whole line comes in a roomy but stylish folded steel chassis that is finished off nicely by blue slivers of LED atop the knobs. Candy Apple Red in appearance, it is simultaneously one of the simpler yet more flexible drives I’ve tried in a long time. I personally have a lot of time for twin pedals, and the fact that you can change the order of boost-into-drive or vice versa is always a massive boon. It allows you to fully explore the tone-stacking options by driving one side harder with the other, meaning there is much more tone on tap than even the most tricked up single stomper. As with all ODs, the only thing you really need to know is what the clip is like and this is where I was most impressed. With the Tone knob at noon and the front end hammered, it has all the crystalline chime of an OCD or a dimed AC30; however, at the bottom of the dial it’s as clean a boost as they come. You can even dial in that horrible 808 mid hump if you’re that way inclined.
Fender is clearly taking care to limit their output to sure things and their batting average is through the roof as a result. The Santa Ana Overdrive is not only one of the more flexible examples now on the market, but it is as close as you’ll get to that classic dirt sound no matter whose ears you’re listening with.
Hits and Misses
Unparalleled flexibility coupled with the choicest clip in town