This was inspired by http://www.instructables.com/id/Simple-overdrive-effect-pedal/, however I could not get it to work right so I did some research and made my own. The similarities are there because I made this (mostly) from parts I had purchased for his project.
Feel free to make your own improved version and post the instructable, but it would be great if you could put a link back here somewhere in the 'ible. Thanks!
Stay tuned for a video of my playing it.
Step 1: When to Use Distortion
There is nothing I hate more when a beginner, or even advanced guitarist steps out with the distortion cranked all the way up and starts playing chords. But you may like that. If you do, ignore my opinions.
If you have no idea what distortion is, start out by listing to a few songs.
Compare the song Jimmy Olsen's Blues by the Spin Doctors to Master of Puppets by Metallica. As you can probably hear, Jimmy Olsen's Blues has a very clean, well, bluesy sound, while Master of puppets has a rough, cutting sound. If you are still have trouble, listen to the song Around the World by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. That intro is a highly distorted bass, played by the master Flea. If you want, compare that to Blues For Mingus by Stanley Clarke. That is clean bass.
Now that you know what distortion sounds like, you should learn when to use it and how much to use.
In my own opinion, even if you are playing metal, never turn the distortion up so high that you can barely hear the chords you are playing. There is another no-no. High distortion with chords-too loud. In my opinion it sounds great with individual notes, but not with chords. But feel free to do whatever you like.
If you play jazz, your band-mates might not like the idea of you playing screaming distorted riffs, so go light on the distortion for jazz. Blues is the same way, but if you put a little bit of "tube scream" it sounds great. But as I said before, do whatever you like.
For all you bass players like me, distortion is even more fun! I personally like a medium amount of distortion, which this design makes. If you like more or less, by the end of the instructable, you will know how to alter it to your liking.
And lastly, other than the "rough" scream of distortion, what else will you notice?
First of all, distortion has some MEAN sustain... the notes keep ringing and ringing until you mute them. The other large thing is, HARMONICS. You can play harmonics with distortion incredibly easily, and they are as loud as the note. They have many different harmonics in them too. Great sound if you like harmonics like I do.