A distorted and overdriven guitar can unleash thunder in a manner that renders other instruments obsolete. To harness this sound, you must add a distortion pedal to your setup. Distortion pedals could be used in different ways. Several guitarists run their pedals at the start of the chain. However, it’s not rare for others to do the same at the finish or even within the effects loop.
For many touring musicians, the correct distortion pedal is critical to have — particularly when incorporating backlines that local dealers or promoters provide. If you want to dial in heavy metal tones with a standard Fender combo, distortion pedals are perhaps your only ray of hope.
In this best distortion pedal guide, you’ll learn more about guitar pedals and some of the best models for a guitar player on the market.
- What Do Distortion Pedals Do For Your Tone?
- What to Look for in a Distortion Pedal?
- Info And Our Recommendations
- Best Of All Time – MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion
- Best Distortion Pedals For Metal – TC Electronic Dark Matter
- Best Bass Distortion Pedal – Tech 21 RIP Red Ripper Bass Distortion
- Best Cheap Distortion Pedal – Boss DS-1
- Best Distortion Pedals For Pop Punk – Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer
- Best Overdrive Distortion Guitar Pedal – Fulltone OCD V2 Overdrive Distortion
- Best 80s Distortion Pedal – Pro Co Rat2
- Best Analog Distortion Pedal – DigiTech DHH Hot Head Analog-Distortion Pedal
- Best Blues Distortion Pedal – Boss BD-2 Blues Driver
- Best Boutique Distortion Pedal – Friedman BE-OD Distortion Pedals
- Best Distortion Pedals Conclusion
What Do Distortion Pedals Do For Your Tone?
Distortion is an audio signal processing technique that helps modify the sound of boosted electric musical instruments — typically by bumping up their gain, yielding a growling, fuzzy, or gritty rock tone. The distortion character you get hinges on the distortion stompbox you are plugged into. Most employ transistors and diodes to push signals into the clipping region. The transistor type used — silicon, germanium, FET — has a major effect on how the in-use distortion sounds.
There are different types of pedals: boost, overdrive, distortion, and fuzz. Distortion creates increased gain and clips the audio signal in an aggressive manner while keeping things articulate and tight. In other words, it overdrives the overdrive sound by altering waveform and boosting levels. While overdrive pedals cause soft clipping, the clipping effect created by the best distortion pedal is a lot more aggressive and harder.
Thanks to the amount of gain distortion pedals are capable of, most players pair them with a sonically clean amp. However, there are some who have teamed a distortion stompbox with an overdriven amp and have come up with great results. Like overdrive pedals, a distortion pedal incorporates diodes and op-amps to achieve necessary clipping. Also, they have three or more controls — such as volume, middle, bass, treble, distortion sound, and tone.
What to Look for in a Distortion Pedal?
The best distortion pedals work in different ways. Some offer a lot more transparent boost in high gain distortion, reinforcing an amp’s characteristics; while others could do the opposite — kicking in varying distortions to give a completely different sound signature to the rig. Choosing a distortion pedal, therefore, isn’t that straightforward. If you are not sure about what you need or what to look for in the pedal, you may not like what you bought.
Each kind of distortion pedal has specific settings, a particular shape, and some special in-house mixing thrown in. Choosing one, therefore, can be truly overwhelming and confusing. Start with the pedal’s functionality. Do you fancy a fuzzy distortion’s grittiness? Or you want a more prominent attach with less crackle? If you are feeling more adventurous, you might like to stack both the types atop an existing overdriven amp, pulling in a noise gate for assistance.
Another important thing to consider is the distortion pedal’s general shape. Are you eyeing a more vintage-voiced distortion or a slightly more modern pedal? Knowing what you truly need goes a long way in helping you inch closer to the right distortion pedal. The recommendations below comprise blendable drives, amp-inspired circuits, and multi-channel offerings of different types of distortion pedals at various price points.
Info And Our Recommendations
Looking for a good starting point and a wide range of top distortion pedal choices – here you go!
Best Of All Time – MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion
The MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion offers great value for money, thanks to its sheer musicality and solid touch dynamics. It, in fact, is comparable to the feel and response a valve amp may provide and our pick for best distortion pedals of all time. Super Badass offers a lot of distortion that helps cover a range of metal and rock styles due to the three-band EQ sweeping through thick overdrives to more metallic and scooped thrills. With impressive noise levels and touch sensitivity, the M75 is a solid allrounder for pretty much any type of gain seeker.
The pedal is compact, sturdy, and showcases high-level craftsmanship. It’s a completely analog true bypass medal that offers a natural and organic tone for an affordable price. The stomp box is very responsive and employs a nifty feature — a full-blown EQ for tone control. Besides that, you get an input jack, an output jack, an on/off foot-switch, and a LED status indicator. There are five control knobs: distortion, output, mid, treble, and bass.
The output knob adjusts the distortion effect level that gets infused into the audio output. When cranked up too high, your final mix would be fraught with the less clean and more distorted guitar signal. The distortion knob adjusts the gain level, which is critical to overdrive and distortion effects. It ascertains whether you get vintage rock distortion or an all-out modern metal groove. Long story short, the MXR M75 Super Badass distortion is highly versatile.
- Great amount of character for the price
- Three-band EQ
- Low noise
- Broad gain range
- Low-gain sounds could be better
This option is my favorite among all these best distortion pedals.
Best Distortion Pedals For Metal – TC Electronic Dark Matter
The Dark Matter by TC Electronic is a classy Brit, valve-like rock and metal distortion/overdrive pedal that sounds quite natural making it our top pick for best distortion pedals for metal. The range runs from an amp that starts to break up to a complete throaty roar. The sound reacts to pick pressure well and cleans up when you’ve rolled off the volume. The midrange response could be tweaked using the voice switch, with a focus on the higher or lower mids. These are great metal pedals!
The pedal is extremely affordable, compact, and yet quite effective. In fact, it should be your distortion pedal of choice if you’re on a tight budget. Unlike other makers, TC Electronic doesn’t show interest in recreating the classic vibe. The Dark Matter 80’s metal distortion pedal is yet another TC Electronic offering that has a more futuristic and practical outlook. The objective has always been to encompass a maximum level of performance into the most compact chassis possible. The Dark Matter is undeniably simple, small, and extremely rugged for heavy metal distortion.
The control selection and layout go well with the true characteristic of this pedal. You have four knobs — of which two are your conventional ‘gain’ and ‘volume’ controls. The other two knobs create a two-band EQ without mid controls. This, however, does not impact sound significantly. There is also a small toggle switch that changes the low end. In other words, it provides the sound some girth. As far as performance goes, Dark Matter covers a complete array of sonic profiles, ranging from modern metal to classic rock distortion and hard rock.
- Natural sound
- Handy tone controls
- Easy access to the battery
- Decent price
- The two voices lack a bit of distinctiveness
Best Bass Distortion Pedal – Tech 21 RIP Red Ripper Bass Distortion
Tech 21 is a brand known for its well-designed best bass distortion pedals. The RIP Red Ripper is its popular model and also an extremely capable choice available on the market. From the look of it, the Red Ripper means business. It’s wider compared to your traditional stompbox, without breaching double-wide model territory. The color scheme is quite striking — the sharp red hue over white is attention-grabbing. It’s not just colorful but also built well — on par with distortion pedals known for their durability or ability to take some abuse.
The Red Ripper stays true to regular guitar distortion pedals layout conventions. In other words, the ‘gain’ and ‘level’ knobs and the three-band EQ work as a team. There is a R.I.P. knob too that lets you choose between different kinds of distortion. For bass guitars, this could come in quite handy, considering how difficult it could be to dial in solid tones that will not muffle things within its vicinity. There is also a low pass filter to clear the response a bit.
The RIP Red Ripper offers solid range — it’s something you would get introduced to upon hooking up everything and pressing that true bypass switch. The basic combination of level, EQ, and gain should be good enough for the Red Ripper to sound great. However, when you add R.I.P. control and low pass filter, things go from solid to excellent almost instantly. When set to default, the pedal adds an abrasive texture to your guitar signal. However, when you add distortion modulation, you realize how far Red Ripper bass distortion can keep things articulated.
- Excellent sound
- Loads of gain
- Built like a tank
- Attractive color scheme
- Synth settings could have been better
Best Cheap Distortion Pedal – Boss DS-1
Boss makes a range of guitar effects pedals for both bass and electric guitars. The DS1 is a simple, yet robust distortion guitar pedal making it a great choice for best cheap distortion pedal. Having been up for grabs for more than three decades, the DS1 is a true classic. It’s well-built and quite capable, despite being fairly tiny in size. As mentioned earlier, the pedal is easy to use and also comes bundled in with a user manual that covers the pedal’s basics and some preset options so that you could get rolling with it quickly.
The three knobs — level, tone, and distortion — situated on the front help you shape and tune your sound in ways you wish to. However, more than the controls, it’s the sound output quality that truly shines. You could even use the pedal for keyboard and bass. As far as performance goes, you could traverse from high gains to low ends, choose a song of your choice, or compose your own tune from scratch.
Though the DS-1 is a cheap distortion pedal, it can also play the role of an overdrive. However, to get it to work like an overdrive, you should know more than a thing or two about guitar pedals. The takeaway is that the pedal would impress you in ways you may not have expected it to. You can even do modifications to this pedal for increased sound widening and depth. Long story short, the DS-1 is a best-selling and best distortion pedals option that is versatile enough to be your very first pedal or complement your existing collection of guitar pedals.
- A best-seller at a good price
- Easy to use
- Different mastering options
- May not work with certain setups
Best Distortion Pedals For Pop Punk – Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer
The Ibanez TS9 is an iconic guitar effects pedal that offers warmth, gain, and crunch to your tone. Unlike other overdrive pedals, this pick for best distortion pedals for pop punk complements your guitar tone and not tries to reinvent the wheel. With just three controls — drive, level, and tone — the TS9 is your low-fuss and simple effects pedal. The controls are simple but the quality, nuance, and subtlety under the hood prove the pedal is a lot more capable than what its looks might suggest.
The TS9 works for guitarists who do not want a gain-saturated overdrive tone. This is certainly not your searing death metal tone. The TS9 would offer you anything from a warm crunch to a mean and clean tone, to a guttural growl. If blues and rock is your kind of music, you would enjoy this pedal a great deal.
The tone you receive from the TS9 would vary based on the primary instrument being used. Instead of creating a fresh tone, it emphasizes the existing tone. This is unlike some other pedals that make your tone sound the same regardless of the instrument being used. This explains why the TS9 has been used by renowned and budding artists across the globe for so long.
- Excellent sound quality and range
- Works great on its own and also when teamed with other distortions and overdrives
- Multiple potential uses
- Affordable price
- The green could be polarizing
Best Overdrive Distortion Guitar Pedal – Fulltone OCD V2 Overdrive Distortion
The Fulltone OCD V2 is among the best overdrive distortion pedal stompboxes. It’s among the few guitar pedals that get an overdriven tube amp’s sound and response right. This is the second version of the original Fulltone OCD. And with this model, Fulltone has managed to one-up the original in pretty much every way imaginable.
Just like its predecessor, the OCD V2 comes with controls for drive, tone, and volume. It also features a 3PDT footswitch and a toggle switch to manage high and low peak. The newer features it brings to the table are an “enhanced bypass” switch and a selectable true bypass. The enhanced bypass switch helps return tone loss and dynamics from the different effects and cables, in addition to pop-free switching. The tone control, based on your pick attack, works best between fully clockwise and noon, allowing for increased clarity or edge.
A fresh output buffer lets your sound to stay consistent irrespective of where the OCD goes in the guitar signal chain. It also decreases hard-clipping stage loading for increased sustain. The OCD V2 seems like it finds the right chord on an amp. It churns out overdriven resonances that sound full and warm, with an authentic tube-like response. There is zero usable drive shortage, which means it boosts overdriven grit dynamically, from saturated distortion to dirty overtones.
- Great sound
- Amazing build quality
- The HP/LP switch is convenient
- Extremely versatile for what it is
- Plain Jane looks
Best 80s Distortion Pedal – Pro Co Rat2
Released in 1988, the Pro Co Rat2 is the second variant of the Pro Co Rat that was known for some truly high gain levels and our pick for best 80s distortion pedal. The original Rat pedals had trademark hard clipping, thanks to the two silicon diodes producing a distortion that was aggressive and smooth at the same time. The Rat2 is budget-friendly distortion pedals that offers a range of sonic diversity and plenty of room to work with different styles.
Designed to be utilized as a primary distortion, Rat2 is a sturdily built pedal in a stealth grey casing. It has three very responsive and sensitive control knobs, which let you dial in pretty much anything from metal crunch to lighter drive. The zones that the Rat2 finds itself extremely comfortable in are hard rock and massive rock tones. Besides these knobs, you get your standard on/off foot-switch, which makes the pedal sleek and clean in terms of its design.
Besides looking good, the Rat2 80’s distortion pedal is highly practical as well. It’s lightweight, easy to use, and fits pretty much any pedalboard. Coming back to the control knobs, they are basically your controls for distortion, filter, and volume. The distortion knob controls distortion and gain effects level. The filter control works slightly differently. It retains a certain base of all frequencies. In other words, extreme values won’t be useless super-wet or super-dry sounds. Those will be tones you could actually use. Also called the level knob, volume control adjusts the distortion effect level that goes in the audio outputted.
- A lot of gain on offer
- Handy filter control
- Unique distortion trait
- Handy knob controls
- Fuzzy sound may not appeal to everyone
Best Analog Distortion Pedal – DigiTech DHH Hot Head Analog-Distortion Pedal
The DigiTech DHH is your friend when you require some grit and our pick for best analog distortion pedal. These versatile or multipurpose distortion pedals come with flexible controls, letting you dial in correct tones for your rig. The Hot Head will do the job whether you need some dirt or want to amplify your sound to the next level. High and low tone controls offer you the option to cut or boost the treble and bass frequencies. The ‘level’ control or knob boosts your signal’s output level. The ‘gain’ control dials up wild to mild distortion.
If you like the Boss DS-1, you would like the DigiTech Hot Head too since it’s a faithful recreation of the DS-1. Besides incorporating much of what the DS-1 packs in, the Hot Head adds a few features of its own too. The two-band EQ comes in quite handy, particularly when compared to DS-1’s tone knob. It also has more gain and volume compared to DS-1. With some dialing, you can easily discover great distorted tones. This pedal should, in fact, offer good bass presence and solid chord definition with a Telecaster.
The Hot Head analog distortion pedal is quite a solid proposition. It’s quite versatile — heavy enough for most music styles. Since the pedal borrows a lot of inspiration from the DS-1, it tends to get overlooked quite often. If you choose to overlook the DS-1 connection, you will realize that the DigiTech Hot Head offers a lot of pedal for the money.
- Looks and feels nice
- Churns out great sound
- Great EQ controls
- Solid value offering
- Not enough gain for metalheads
Best Blues Distortion Pedal – Boss BD-2 Blues Driver
The Boss BD-2, particularly when compared to the DS-1, is a much tamer Boss family member and our top choice for best blues distortion pedal. Despite primarily being a boost/overdrive pedal, it does offer a solid level of grit when you turn up the gain knob. Like all Boss products, the BD-2 boasts high-quality build. The quality construction might pleasantly surprise some buyers since the BD-2 is a fairly affordable offering. Not to mention, the solid build gives the pedal a certain amount of heft and premium feel.
Boss describes the BD-2 as a pedal that offers a kind of emotive distortion and warm overdrive that are usually synonymous with classic tube amps. While the BD-2 does lack some responsiveness and warmth most players identify with tube amps, the BD-2 makes up for that by offering a surprisingly broad range of moderate to subtle distortion.
The BD-2 blues distortion pedal is a clean boost guitar pedal that lets you use its level knob for either boosting or cutting the signal volume. The fact that it’s durable, affordable, and quiet makes the BD-2 a solid boost pedal, perhaps edging several dedicated boosters due to its capability to add on-demand distortion.
- Great sound
- Well built
- Solid value offering
- Sound needs some variety
Best Boutique Distortion Pedal – Friedman BE-OD Distortion Pedals
The Freidman BE-OD is the pedal version of the BE-100, which itself is inspired from Marshall amps. It is also our choice for best boutique distortion pedal. The BE-OD oozes with thunder and class on all fronts. It, as expected, packs in some gargantuan tones into one tiny box. There is a significantly pronounced bite and enhanced output — the tight control helps with a more delineated attack. Then, there is the irresistible vintage gain.
For controls, the BE-OD offers a nice knob suite: volume, bass, gain, tight, treble, and presence. There is an inner gain pot too, which helps with sound customization. The BE-OD has been built to look and work like a high-quality guitar pedal. The chassis is diecast metal that can easily take some beating. The knobs feel sturdy and nice too.
Once you learn how each knobs work, using the BE-OD boutique distortion pedal becomes a breeze. And once the right kind of gain has been found, finding your desired tone is then just a matter of time. Treble and bass must be set to preferred levels. If you have used a Marshall Plexi or Freidman 100BE before, you should feel at home with the BE-OD.
- Truly growls when pushed
- Close to unlimited gain
- Great value considering the tones provided
- Solidly built
- Takes some getting used to
Best Distortion Pedals Conclusion
If your intermediate or beginner-level guitar amp is producing annoying and not good distortion sounds, a pedal is a cost-effective way in price to upgrade the sound. In fact, even an otherwise dud guitar amp can be turned into a ‘tone machine’ with the right pedal. And if the guitar amp is sweet already, you could make it sound even better. Kindly note, there is no perfect pedal or the best distortion pedals that’s capable of doing it all. In other words, the best distortion pedals is the one that suits your requirements. If you know what you’re looking for in the pedal, you should be happy with your best distortion purchase.