Tube Screamer Alternative: The BOSS SD-1

A good overdrive pedal is a must have for nearly every guitarist. You can use it against a clean amp to obtain blues and classic rock tones, or you can use it to push an already overdriven amp or distortion pedal to reach for higher gain tones.

After introducing the Xotic BB Preamp as a possible alternative to the ubiquitous Ibanez Tube Screamer, I will now leave the expansive boutique route and go for a cheaper model: the BOSS SD-1. As with my previous post, I have made a video to illustrate my point (see the end of this post).

The BOSS SD-1 - Photo by Pia Jane Bijkerk

I know that it is trendy to bash BOSS pedals and that some guitarists only use expansive boutique pedals nowadays but I find this is a bit of an extreme position. There are very good models in the BOSS line and the SD-1, which has been in production for 29 years (!), is surely one of them.

The SD-1 is quite close in conception to a Tube Screamer and not so far tone-wise. It also sports the same three knobs: Drive (amount of overdrive), Level (output Volume) and Tone (Equalization). But I find it to have a bit more grit, it has a more “rock” tone whereas Tube Screamers lean more on the “blues” side (I am over simplifying here).  Also, The BOSS SD-1 is a favorite among metal players to be used as a booster, not a main distortion. You won’t get a better and cheaper option to push an already overdriven Marshall amp over the edge.

This is exactly how Zakk Wylde used it for years before getting his own signature overdrive model with MXR. Even the almighty Eddie Van Halen had a BOSS SD-1 in his pedal board in the 90s, presumably used as a boost to give his Peavey amps a kick. In that respect, the level control is very useful on both the Tube Screamer or the SD-1. By cranking it while keeping the gain quite low, you can push any tube amp into natural overdrive.

And did I mention the BOSS SD-1 was cheap? I think I did but check out your favorite shop, you’ll know what I mean. Here in Europe, they go for for about 50€. And 29 years of production means there is plenty of them on the second hand market.

Is this the perfect overdrive? Of course not, otherwise there would be no other on the market. The SD-1 is quite noisy compared to boutique alternatives. The noise level is actually often in favor of boutique pedals when compared to mass produced models. Also, it suffers from the same “bass sucking” problem as Tube Screamers do when used against a clean amp (not so much when used against an already overdriven amp). In band situations, it is usually not a big problem as the bass frequencies are already occupied by other instruments though I can understand why some guitarists have a problem with it. Finally, when I mentioned earlier that it has more grit than a Tube Screamer, it can be a plus or not, depending on your style and preferences.

Video Demos

In this first video, I am comparing my Analogman modded TS9 Tube Screamer with the SD-1 using a Fender Stratocaster. I use various amount of gain and show at the end how it can be used to boost an amp, and a distortion pedal (a Proco RAT 2):

Gear used for the video: American Classics Stratocaster fitted with Kinman AVn blues pickups and 1974 Fender Champ. The amp was miked with a RODE NT-4. The recording was transferred into Cubase 5 to optimize the volume (compression) and add a hint of reverb.

In this second video, I show how The SD1 and the TS9 sound with a Gibson SG 61 reissue equipped with Humbuckers:

Gear used for the video: Gibson SG 61 Reissue with stock pickups and 1974 Fender Champ. The amp was miked with a RODE NT-4. The recording was transferred into Cubase 5 to optimize the volume (compression) and add a hint of reverb.

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9 thoughts on “Tube Screamer Alternative: The BOSS SD-1”

  1. Boss Super OverDrive is one of my favorite guitar pedals. I also like Boss BluesDriver, Fuzz and DS-1 pedals – but this one is something special for me. I just remember the days when I tried it for the first time and it had an old classic rock sound which was very similar to the Angus Youngs guitar tones in first Ac/Dc albums. So, I was playing their songs the whole day long – I was a happy guitar newbie!

  2. The SD-1 is a great and very underrated pedal.
    I’ve modded mine and it’s an even better pedal now. It’s a much crunchier and chunkier OD now.

  3. Love both pedals but the SD-1 is very special. I also have an OD-1 but put it in the cupboard for the SD-1 because of the tone know. They sound the slightest bit different but this wouldn’t be audible, maybe because there was 30 years age difference between the two.

  4. Enjoy your take on the uses for this classic yellow “stinger” of a pedal. I’m a big fan of the Sd-1 my self to push leads level > gain style. I truly enjoy the website data you put up as well as your YouTube video tone shaping tools. You have a pure and simple way to let the nuances show from pedal combos/placement and getting pure tone at mid level volumes. Best of luck to you as always! Peace

    Diggs5012 (YouTube)

  5. I haven’t played with it much yet and I’m already super disappointed. I bought it because I heard Eddie VH and Zakk W had it on their boards but to me, the pedal sounds more like 60’s garage band. And absolutely NOTHING like a sound from either one of them.

  6. I am interested in finding out about the different midrange spectrum each pedal respectively pushes… I read somewhere that Tube screamer pushes low mids whereas Sd 1 pushes upper mids , but to my ears Sd-1 seems to push middle mids…does anybody know anything about it?

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