Distortion is essential to create roaring riffs, gut-wrenching solos, and other metal sounds on an electric guitar. This is achieved by using a distortion pedal. Distortion pedals are used with clean amps, and all the gain is from the pedal itself. Nowadays, there are several distortion units with different features, including three-band E.Q.s, which helps improve control over tone and provides additional channels for the amp.
There are many brands of distortion pedals in the market, each with their unique and handy features. Find out which one works for you with our review.
1. MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion
Best Value Affordable Distortion Pedal
The MXR M75 dubbed as the “Super Badass” distortion pedal creates basic voicing with tight and inviting effects. Classified as a British distortion amp, it has a wide variety of outputs with high volume controls, large gain range, and a distortion knob that won’t fail any metal players. It is equipped with a 3-band E.Q. which gives your songs a vintage vibe. It is sensitive and operates under low noise levels.
With everything set to 12 o’clock, the Super Badass’s basic voicing is tight and crunchy – firmly in the British distortion camp. There’s a huge range of output on offer, too – unity volume lies at around 10 o’clock. The gain range is similarly impressive: three-quarters on the distortion knob yields a thick, chunky growl that will satisfy most genres of rock players. You can also employ the three-band E.Q. to up the mids for a vintage bite or cut ’em for metal thrills, all with impressive touch sensitivity and low noise levels.
- Three-band EQ – a 3-band setup lets you improve tone control and will also add an additional channel for your amp.
- Wide gain range – a wider gain range allows you to increase distortion levels. Turn the gain knob higher, and you’ll get more distortion and overdrive for extreme performance.
- Low noise – you can say goodbye to interference and other unnecessary noises that can affect your performance with this distortion pedal.
- 100% true analog
- True bypass features
- Offers treble, mid and bass controls
2. Boss DS-1 Distortion
Best Value Classic Distortion Pedals
Boss was the first distortion pedal maker and is known to create the standard when it comes to durability, quality, and good value. The DS-1 was among the very first pedals made, and this distortion pedal has remained unchanged for many years. The DS-1 was also the favorite of legendary artists like Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Kurt Cobain. This pedal comes with a saturated tone, hard clipping, and sensitive switches that will surely improve your performance. Boss also made sure that the DS-1 is still as affordable for budget-conscious players.
- Distortion sounds – offers legendary distortion outputs, the same kind of noise that legendary guitar players enjoy.
- Easy on the budget – this is a quality distortion pedal and among the most affordable in the market.
- Not enough output level – while many are happy with the distortion amount, some are not having it saying it does not have enough output power and high gain.
- Easy to install and use – this distortion pedal takes only seconds to set up, and all you need is a media cable to connect your guitar to the pedal. And it’s easy to take things down when not in use as well.
- Simple three-knob interface
- With a two-stage circuit
- Offers a wider range of distortion
3. Mesa/Boogie Throttle Box E.Q.
Best Distortion Pedals With High-Gains
The Mesa Boogie distortion pedal comes with five-band E.Q., better switch or knob placement, and true bypass. Controls are easy to tweak with dedicated knobs for high and low levels, tone, mid-cut, gain, boost, E.Q. and more. This allows you to activate or deactivate the E.Q. High modes and low modes let you switch from one smooth playing to severe harshness.
- Flexible tones with five-band E.Q. – more bands, more ways to control distortion. You can get the shrilling tunes and effects you have been looking for.
- Top-quality build and operation – although this pedal looks more complicated than simple Boss pedals, it is built to last from quality materials and is easy to tweak and play.
- True bypass – you’ll get clear, unchanged tones with true bypass features rather than other digital pedals in the market.
- With true bypass and gain control
- Comes with high and low gain modes
- 5-band E.Q. are assignable
- Measures 5.78 x 4.75 x 2.3 inches
4. Pro Co Rat 2
Best Distortion Pedal for Scuzzy Fuzzstortion
The Pro Co Rat is popular and recommended by many artists and players. This distortion pad has a trademark feature called hard clipping coming from its silicon diodes. This component can meet aggressive play and with a slight amount of fuzz. Just among the popular guitarists that trust Pro Co Rat is Dave Grohl, James Hetfield land Thom Yorke. The original version was an instant hit, while the second version was available to the public in 1988. And aside from these awesome features, the Pro Co Rat 2 is more affordable compared to other distortion pedals.
- Increased gain – a higher gain amplifies the sound better. The higher the gain knob, the more overdrive and distortion and maybe the amount you’re looking for in a heavy metal piece.
- With a unique distortion – the RAT2 excels in arena rock and in soaring lead guitars. It offers a unique kind of distortion that you need for your own kind of music.
- With filter control – this is a pre-distortion filter that filters out or controls the input so that the result is pure, amazing distorted sound.
- Primary distortion – which gives you a boost during solos and just to give you that extra oomph when you perform live.
- For primary distortion
- With designated controls for distortion. Filter and volume
- Made from reliable and durable materials
- Can work on a 9V power supply or 9V battery
5. KHDK Dark Blood
Best Value Creative Design Distortion Pedal
If there was an award for beauty, the KHDK Dark Blood wins by a landslide. This is Kirk Hammett’s signature distortion pedal that offers a tube-like, high-gain, and mid-heavy effects. The background noise is greatly reduced using an onboard noise gate. But fans enjoy this distortion pedal because of its Doom knob, which will give you a monster-crushing tone that Hammett’s band is known for. It’s a powerful, heavy-metal pedal that metalheads should check out.
- With a built-in noise gate – the built-in noise gate will filter background noise, so all you get is pure sound with zero unwanted noise, which can affect the overall outcome of your songs.
- With tight high-gain sounds – this guarantees improved dynamics and creates an overdriven tone. Doom control tweaks the amount of grunt in the tone, and thus, you’ll get a liquid, solo tune.
- Useful E.Q. controls – you can boost your highs, lows, and mids and remove all other frequencies with just a press of a pedal.
- True bypass
- Power requirements from a 9V power supply or 9V battery
- High gain, mid-heavy, and tube-like effects
6. Wampler Sovereign Distortion
Best Versatile Distortion Pedal
The Wampler Sovereign is a versatile distortion pedal that offers two gain stages as well as other advanced controls, including mid contour, bright, and tone control, so you can create the tone that you need for your music. The Sovereign is made from quality components to provide the best sound and efficient response.
- Versatile distortion pedal – this is a versatile distortion pedal that will allow you to tweak all kinds of tones and create new ones.
- From modern to classic tones – lets you dial in any kind of sound coming from modern sounds and distortions to the classics.
- Durable for top-quality sound effects – all components of a Wampler are high-quality that creates excellent sounds and quick response.
- Lots of tone options – you can tweak samples using its two gain stages, bright switch, tone control, and mid contour switches, and thus, you can produce all kinds of tones.
- Soft switches – all switches are easy to rotate and will last a long time, even if you use this pedal time and again.
- With volume, mid contour, tone and gain switches
- Comes with modern/vintage switches for the boost and gain
- Offers true bypass
- Power requirements using a 9-18V power supply or 9V battery
7. Friedman BE-OD
Best High Gain Distortion Pedal
The Friedman’s BE-OD boasts of an authentic British Overdrive sound. It sounds similar to a fully-fledged preamp, and it comes with an internal gain feature. This distortion pedal offers all-round distortion and increased output that’s very noticeable. You’ll enjoy true bypass features; sounds are enhanced with its high gain. It’s compact, easy to use, and assemble.
- British overdrive tones – get that authentic British distortion sound with this overdrive guitar effects distortion pedal.
- With individual controls – you’ll get individual controls for bass, pres, treble, volume, tight, and gain. The pedal control is very sensitive, responsive.
- True bypass – you’ll get clearer signals, with fully-intact signals with no tonal coloration and loss of frequencies.
- Unlimited gain – you’ll get extreme sounds with higher gain ranges and even with unlimited gains. The sound becomes more compressed, that increases feedback and sustain.
- Made om the U.S. – it’s made in the U.S., and thus, you can guarantee good quality.
- With bass, treble, presence, volume, gain and tight
- True bypass
- Power requirements 9-18V power supply
8. Fender Pugilist Distortion
Best Dual Gain Engine Distortion Pedals
The Fender Pugilist has dual gain engines or A and B connected to a blend knob for 100 percent A or B or choose from a mixture of both. There is a wide variation of tone for blending the different channels, as this comes with an adjustable gain and tone. A offers a milder distortion compared to B to use a touch of A with an enhanced tone to boost clarity and pick techniques for B with a saturated sound. You may also use a combination of A and B, like playing through two amps.
- Dual amp-like tones – dual engines let you choose from A, B, or a combination. It is fully adjustable to give you the best response.
- Capable of decent lower-gain sounds – for flat and low sounds, you need a good distortion pedal with enhanced lower gain capacity. This distortion pedal can enhance sound according to your needs.
- Dual distortion engines are too powerful – this may not be the distortion pedal for beginners because of the dual engines.
- Controls tone, A, gain A, tone B, gain B
- Controls for blend, level, series/blend switch, bass boost switch,
- With control LED switch
- True bypass
- Power requirements using a 9V power supply or 9V battery
9. Walrus Audio Iron Horse V2
Best Value Vintage Distortion Pedal
The Walrus Audio Iron Horse is a ’70s-style distortion pedal that’s perfect for creating those Black Sabbath tunes. Aside from the usual distortion pedal features, this comes with a toggle switch that flicks three clipping diodes to provide a variety of tones. Use the toggle, distortion, and tone switches, and you’ll sound like a pro in no time. This is a versatile distortion pedal, which is also fun to mess around.
- ’70s-style distortion tones – if you love the classics, then this distortion pedal will give you punchy, rowdy, thick and riffy sounds that most metal bands love.
- Uses classic LM308 chip – despite updated distortion, level, and tone controls, inside is a classic LM308, which makes this pedal scream vintage tunes.
- A bit fuzzy for tighter distortion sounds – tighter sounds makes it easier for you to key in lower-gain tones.
- Controls: Level, tone, distortion, 3-way clipping switch
- True bypass
- Power requirements: 9V power supply
10. Amptweaker TightMetal Jr
Best Metal Music Distortion Pedals
Amptweaker was created by James Brown, who was the lead engineer of the Peavey 5150. Compared with the TightMetal, this junior has improved noise gate, lower noise levels, and additional E.Q. options to compensate for the tonality of FatMetal pedals. You’ll get powerful arpeggiated chords, and with the tight switch is powered on, the pedal will djent. This is also considered one of the best metal distortion pedals for a low price.
- Best high-gain sounds – high gains allow deep and distorted sounds, especially when you’re playing riffs. But a pedal with a lower gain for solo playing is more preferred.
- Built-in noise gate – eliminate unwanted noise with this pedal. Noise is filtered out long before this is changed by the pedal, and thus, you’ll get clear and genuine sounds all the way.
- With a flexible E.Q. – a flexible E.Q. lets you tweak sounds further, adding more or less distortion as you please.
- Controls: Gain, tone, volume, fat/normal/tight switch,
- With thrash/normal/smooth E.Q. switches
- With a noise gate
- True bypass
- Power requirements: 9-18V power supply or from a 9-18V battery
How to buy the best distortion pedals
When choosing the best distortion pedal, remember the following:
Choose from a modern vs. classic distortion pedal
Modern amps also come with multi-effects sections to stimulate your creativity. You also get multi-effects pedals to use a complete suite of effects. These effects processors have presets designed by engineers and pro guitarists to work great with just a touch of a button. In some distortion pedals, you can design your own unique sounds and keep these for easy recall.
Choose from an analog or digital effects
Many guitar players admire the original analog effects boxes and their modern reissues. Today, almost all digital effects pedals come with an all-digital body bud don’t immediately frown against w of the distortion pedals available in the market is fully digital. But don’t think of it as a disadvantage because digital effects now advanced that it is distinguished only when a certain tone is released. Professionals on their levels should prepare for its many side effects.
Many purists prefer analog effects because these don’t make use of digital conversion. The signal is less prone to disturbances and loss. While it’s true that digital conversion can lead to the loss of toms original sound’s natural artifacts to become lost, and these sounds may also appear to be processed sounds. But take note that digital effects are more precise and versatile. Also, digital signals can be utilized in larger applications.
Consider overdrive and distortion
Originally, distortion was first considered undesirable, but soon, players have come to realize that a distorted signal will increase the amount of sustain out of every note. This created a change in guitar styles to add extended notes created by a wind instrument or organ. Also, distortion thickens the signal and thus produces a heavier sound.
Meanwhile, tube amp distortion is when tubes are overdriven when more signals are received that what the system can handle. The original signal can weaken and then break up. Tube-driven amps are still preferred by some guitar players due to their warm, musical tones, and distortion effects that use actual tubes to process sound.
Selecting multi-effect pedals and processors
Multi-effects pedals are single units that provide a wide variety of effects and allow you to single out or play a combination simultaneously. Most pedals will offer basic to updated effects and many more. Some very updated multi-effects pedals have dozens to hundreds of preset effects, which are combinations of effects and different parameters that can achieve a particular sound with just the touch or step of a switch button or footswitch. And you may also save your own presets so you can instantly recall your previous work.
Multi-effects pedals have three basic formats, such as floor-based units with foot-operated pedals and switches. There are also tabletop units that come with knobs and switches and rack-mounted switches.
Almost all tabletop and mounted equipment have pedals as well as knobs and switches, while some have menus that are accessible from the device control panels. Some pedals and footswitches are assignable to different users, so you can use various effects, and other presets by just pressing on the pedal.
Other more advanced equipments have a host of tools including rhythm track generators, sound models according to vintage amps, microphones, speakers, preamps for the microphones, and many more. Many have MIDI and USB connectivity, including XLR and ¼ inch inputs and outputs. These are present so that the device can work with computer and iOS-based software and apps for music and sound processing.
High-end multi-effects processors may require instructions. The device’s many types of sounds and functions require users to check out multi-layered menus to find what they need. Good processors are intuitive with ergonomic user interfaces to easily access basic functions using special knobs and switches.
The most common sound effects provided by distortion pedals include time-based effects, sound conditioning effects, and bass guitar effects. You should choose the distortion pedal that has the type of effects that you want to use.
Time-based effects can dissect guitar output into two similar signals—one signal allowing the other signal to play in real-time. Then, the two signals are combined back into one output. For these effects, it can be a challenge to control the delay length as well as the signal that is affected by those that are unaffected.
When it comes to sound conditioning, some pedals don’t just alter the sound, but also add subtle elements to the input signal to develop a pleasing sound. You might find this a less exciting or not as fun as dramatically altering sounds, but these can make the difference between good and truly amazing sounds.
Meanwhile, bass guitar effects are designed for the use of bass guitarists. These pedals are used to create signature sounds that may be mashed with the sounds that are played by the entire group.
Between a guitar and an amp is the distortion or effects pedals, and this can change the sound in between songs or in between verses. A pedalboard is a tool that will help manage and transport pedals or stompboxes.
With a long effects chain made of different distortion pedals, the more you need a pedalboard. A pedalboard will keep all the pedals and gadgets in one place so you’ll be more organized and be more consistent with your work.
Most of the pedalboards in the market require their power source. These need D.C. power, and this is taken directly from the board to the pedals. This reduces the need for frequent battery changes or using external power adapters.
A pedalboard will simplify your setup and reduces the need to use power outlets or extensions. Some pedalboards come with a combo amplifier, which makes this a good practice and jamming equipment. So if you have more than one distortion pedal or you want to expand your setup soon, it’s best to use a pedalboard to simplify and make your setup more efficient.
Create your own sound
Distortion pedals encourage creativity. These can help you define your signature sound by searching for the right effects to define the sound that’s right for you. As you look for the right sound, you’ll be check. Along the way, you’ll find stompboxes and various multi-effects processors that provide long hours of entertainment. With these pieces of equipment, you’ll be testing, fine-tuning, and experimenting in all kinds of tunes day in and out.
How does a distortion pedal work?
Distortion pedals add a crunch or that gritting sound to your music. Compared to overdrive that takes the original tone and takes it further, distortion pedals change the sound totally by saturating the signal. With a distortion pedal, you’ll get the same amount of distortion no matter how soft or how hard you play.
Do you really need a distortion pedal to play well?
While some professionals recommend it, you don’t really need a distortion pedal if you’re okay with the amount of distortion that your amp gives you. A distortion pedal is simply a piece of equipment to give you the tone that you need. A distortion pedal may also be used to give you a variety of tones.
Can you use a distortion pedal on all kinds of guitars?
Yes, you can use a distortion pedal on all guitars, but it’s best to use an electric guitar as a source. A sound from a digital source will be easier to transform compared to an analog source. Still, there are dedicated acoustic guitar pedals and preamps to check out like the Ibanez Chorus Mini, BBE Acoustimax, TC Electronic Polytune 2, and many more.
How to install a distortion pedal?
The first step is to set the amp for the cleanest sound and set the gain at the ideal level. Add the distortion pedal. Another technique is to gain stacking, which gives an advantage to the pedal route. With a pedalboard, you can stack different distortion pedals, overdrive pedals, and fuzz pedals, so you can enjoy different gains.
The MXR M75 is our best distortion pedal. It is not called “Super Badass” for nothing. This distortion pedal has unique features, including basic voicing and creating tight and inviting sound effects. Appropriately called a British distortion amp, the MXR M75 comes with a wide variety of outputs with high volume controls, and large gain range and distortion knob to the delight of many metal sound players.
It comes with a 3-band E.Q. to produce that vintage vibe and is sensitive and will work on minimal noise levels. All these amazing features of a distortion pedal make the MXR M75 a good first time and seasoned distortion pedal.