what do distortion pedals do

EXPLAINED: What Do Distortion Pedals Do For Your Tone?

Distortion pedals, more commonly known as overdrive pedals, are a common part of any guitar’s signal chain that many players use. But the question is, what exactly do they do to the tone?  So, what is the point of a distortion pedal?

What Makes A Guitar Distortion Pedal Distort?

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 pedals. 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.

Learn more about using a distortion pedal here.  Or take a look at our article on choosing between distortion and overdrive pedals.

Do All Distortion Pedals Sound The Same?

No, they do not. There are many different types of distortion and different pedals produce them differently. For example, the two most popular types are fuzz and overdrive. Fuzz creates an in-your-face sound that emphasizes the low frequencies and can make your amp clip (which is not good). Overdrive simulates tubes getting pushed to their maximum potential – allowing for a warmer sound with more harmonic content.

Other distortions include distortion, fuzz and overdrive pedals all sounding slightly different. Once you start to understand what your options are, it can be easier to find the perfect tone.

Read more – types of distortion pedals.

Do I Need A Distortion Pedal?

Look here for more info, but the answer to this question depends on what type of guitar you have and how you want your sound to sound. If you’re not sure what kind of distortion pedal will work best for your style, there are some pedals that are marketed as distortion pedals, but they actually produce a more overdrive- or fuzz-type effect.