Creating unique sounds on the guitar can be a struggle. There are only so many ways you can strum the strings, pick at the notes, and slide along the frets like you are a rockstar.
Musicians are always going to crave variety, and we will strive to achieve new skills and sounds. This is why bringing a distortion pedal into the mix is a fantastic idea.
You can very easily turn your basic, electric guitar riffs into a grunge fest – just with the help of a cable and the quick stamp of a pedal button.
It seems simple enough! But how do you choose which distortion pedal is right for you and your guitar? And how do you know which pedal is actually going to work?
Read on to find our picks of the best distortion pedals currently on the market and a buyer’s guide that explains all of the features to look out for in a distortion pedal!
The Earthquaker distortion pedal is great for those guitarists who strive for simplicity in their amazing sounds.
With its 9V power source, the Gold V2 pedal has a huge amount of drive in its small container, and it can also be powered by a DC power supply in case you need the extra power push.
Interestingly, this pedal is modeled on the classic Model T (but a smaller version). It is designed to create a distinct clarity through distortion, something distortion pedals can often miss.
However, it still demonstrates how grit and crunch should sound from a pedal!
It uses its simple controls to its advantage. All it contains is a footswitch that will turn the pedal on and off, and a knob that controls the output volume. There are also two jacks on the top side of the pedal.
While this lack of control over the EQ may be daunting for some, it also provides a lot of freedom for others.
It is especially useful for beginners who may not want to rely on their musical ear to tweak a distortion pedal into creating the sound they want – this pedal simply, well, is!
Earthquaker has each distortion pedal hand-built. This makes sure that every pedal sent out will be the best quality possible, as well as ensuring that it actually works.
As is found in some distortion pedals, the pedal has been found to create a slight buzzing noise – especially when you ramp it up to a higher frequency.
While this is a common issue for these types of pedals, and you can find a noise gate to combat the buzzing, it is something to think about before investing in this pedal.
Overall, however, I would say that this is a great way to warp your heavy tones and create a truly brilliant metal experience.
- Simple controls – This uses a footswitch to turn the pedal on and off, and a knob to control the output volume.
- Can be powered either by a battery or DC power supply – This is something that not all distortion pedals offer, and it makes life much easier knowing that you have options for how to power your pedal!
- Each pedal is hand-built – This ensures that it will work correctly and that it will be of good quality.
- Impressive volume – As Earthquaker says, it can range from hazy Nashville tones to walls of distorted explosions.
- Buzzing noise – Some users have said that it creates a loud buzzing noise when you use it, especially if you use it on a higher frequency. However, this is fairly common with distortion pedals, and you can buy a noise gate to combat this.
- Modeled after a cranked vintage Model T amplifier to bring the openness, clarity, and crunch that only a dimed tube amp can provide
- Designed to keep the controls as simple as possible; the footswitch controls power, and the knob controls output volume
- This device can be powered conveniently by a 9V battery or a standard 9-volt DC power supply
- Made with care by human hands in Akron, Ohio
- PLEASE BE CAREFUL! The Acapulco Gold is extremely loud!
The BOSS distortion pedal is a classic product that has truly stood the test of time. It was originally introduced in 1978 and it is still sought after now for its durability and amazingly distorted tones.
As the top-selling BOSS compact pedal, this particular piece of kit is incredibly tough and hard-wearing. You can stomp it to your heart’s content, and it will remain in great condition.
This is definitely a bonus if you are often performing rock gigs!
Its 9V battery is more than enough power to supply its heavy attacking tones, and it is even better when paired with an overdrive to cover both high-frequency and low-frequency sounds.
The pedal comes with three distortion knobs and two jacks for your input and output. The three knobs are labeled Tone, Level, and Distortion. You will be able to travel from mild to heavy metal gain in no time with some quick tweaks!
What’s even better is that this pedal won’t over-distort your guitar sounds or cause any buzzing.
The gains you will achieve with this distortion will retain the integrity and characteristics of your instrument, without drowning anything out.
BOSS calls it low-frequency fullness, which means that it is perfect for low-end definition as well as high-frequency definition.
Some users have mentioned that it doesn’t come with a power adapter, only a battery supply already in the pedal. This could be an issue if you are planning on using it frequently without access to the right type of batteries.
When I tested the pedal out, I thought it was a particularly great pedal to highlight all of the frequencies, and no level of output was overlooked.
However, some users did find that it was better to use it as a stacker with other pedals. This is because it could sound a bit hollow compared to other distortion pedals, particularly by itself.
- Tough construction – This will help your pedal to last for a long time, which is particularly important because pressing on distortion pedals can be quite rough.
- Introduced in 1978 – This has been around for a huge number of years and is still highly sought after, so it is truly one of the best pedals around.
- Low-Frequency Fullness – This pedal doesn’t over-distort sound with buzzing, but it produces a gain that keeps the characteristics of your instrument. It is great for maintaining low-end definitions.
- Has three distortion knobs – These can easily turn a mild tone to a heavy metal tone, and it gives you the option of tweaking your distortion, which is a great feature.
- Doesn’t ship with a power adapter – You will have to buy the power adapter separately, which adds to time and cost. While you can just use the battery in the pedal, this will run out eventually.
- Can produce a thin sound – Some users say it is better as a stacker with other pedals – including overdrive.
- Classic BOSS Distortion tones for guitar and keyboard
- Reproduces dynamics of playing, from soft to hard
- Distortion, Level and Tone control to tailor overall sound as desired
- BOSS 5-year warranty
- Classic, affordable live distortion
The Fender distortion pedal is a great addition for any guitarist.
With its beautiful gold color that will help it be seen in dark gig environments and its six separate control knobs, the pedal has a huge number of features that will produce the perfect distortion for every musician!
The control knobs cover a large range of adjustments. It has two tone knobs, two gain knobs, a blend control, and a level knob.
This packed control center encourages you to tweak and play around with the distortion sound, so you can find a tone that matches your specification exactly.
The two gain controls are a rare feature on distortion pedals. It allows you to put twice the amount of power into your distortion gain, which will create a heavy and gritty tone.
However, the two knobs as separate entities on the pedal mean that you can control these two tones individually and layer them up as you see fit, without one gain affecting the other.
One of the most useful features of this pedal is the LED backlighting behind the control knobs.
This means that you will be able to spot the exact knobs you need to change while you are performing on dark stages or at night-time, so you will never have to worry about your sound lacking in different environments.
Some users have commented that the gain with this pedal is slightly milder than that of other heavy-weight distortion pedals and that there isn’t a particularly heavy build to the sound.
I would say that it does still have an impressive build and it is definitely worth trying out, but if you are after incredibly warped metal distortion, then this may not be the one for you.
- LED-backlit knobs – This will allow you to find the knobs you are looking for in dark rooms, which is especially handy if you are playing gigs.
- Magnetically latched hinged 9V battery door
- Beautiful gold color – It will look amazing on stage, and also help you distinguish it from your other pedals.
- Dual Gain Engines – These give you twice the power in your gain, and the separate knobs allow you to control your tones individually, without one type of gain affecting another.
- Six separate control knobs – This packed tone control center will allow you to tweak and change your tone to your exact requirements.
- Lightweight and durable – Even though it will be incredibly easy to carry around because of its lightweight nature, this doesn’t detract from its strength and tough exterior.
- Milder than other pedals – Some users have said it is a fairly mild gain, and that there isn’t much of a heavy build to it.
- Dual gain engines
- Discrete tone controls per channel
- Led backlit knobs
- Fender amp Jewel LED
- Magnetically latched hinged 9V battery door
The Rat2 distortion pedal is well-known in the rock community, particularly because of its ability to create heavy rock tones with a large amount of volume and distortion gain.
As a particularly lightweight pedal (it weighs 1 pound) it is strong enough to withstand some serious stomping and some incredibly distorted sound.
The Pro Co pedals are used by a great number of famous people, including members of Aerosmith and The Police, which demonstrates how efficient and professional the quality is.
While the pedal may be small, it packs a huge punch with brilliantly distorted tones.
It is also adjustable, with three EQ management knobs. These are labeled distortion, filter, and volume.
With these, you will be able to change the distortion sound to match how you envisioned your guitar sounding – to the exact tweak.
This amount of control is also great for building confidence in playing live gigs. This is because you know you are able to rely on your equipment and make it sound the best it can be!
When I tested the pedal out, I thought it created a great balance between clean and distinct tones that display riffs and melodies off well, while also amplifying the gritty and grungy tones that work so well in rock music.
However, some users found that the pedal was a bit too basic. While it may do its distortion job well, it doesn’t have any special features.
This isn’t an issue if you are simply looking for a pedal to distort sound, but if you are searching for a pedal that can do multiple effects and jobs, then this might not be the best choice.
- Great balance – The pedal manages to toe the line between clean and gritty perfectly.
- Lightweight and small – This means that it is easily transported and perfect to fit on a pedalboard.
- Used by a large number of famous people – This shows that it is brilliant quality and that it can be trusted to provide the best distortion.
- Three EQ knobs – These knobs allow you to adjust the distortion sound to your exact specifications.
- Can be considered basic – While the pedal does the basic job well, it doesn’t have any special features that make it stand out from other pedals.
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- Used as a primary distortion, it excels at arena rock rhythm tones and soaring leads
- Nails that sweet spot where a tube amp goes from sparkly clean to warm overdrive
- Use the RAT 2 as a boost for solos and get the extra kick you need
The Wampler Sovereign distortion pedal is an outstanding sound accessory. It is small and incredibly lightweight, which makes it perfect to fit on pedalboards, but its huge range should not be underestimated.
Wampler makes sure to install high-quality components that will amplify and distort sound as much as possible, while also making the pedal durable and safe for excessive use.
To help the ease and durability of the pedal, they have also put the input and output jacks on top of the pedal rather than on the sides.
This is incredibly useful because it makes it so much easier to fit the pedal onto a pedalboard that already has other pedals on it, as the cables from this pedal won’t be taking space away by sticking out!
On top of the pedal, you will also find four control knobs for volume, mid contour, tone, and gain. These knobs will allow you to tweak the distortion to create the most effective and gritty sound possible.
If you aren’t so sure how to use the control knobs or if you are just a beginner to electric guitar, then Wampler has helpfully put up some guidance on their site and product description.
This shows some suggested settings that you could adjust the knobs to, which will help you learn how to use the pedal properly.
Something to mention is that users have commented on how amazing the lower frequency gain settings are, and that it does produce clearly distorted sound on low settings, but that this clarity can get lost as you increase it.
On higher frequencies, the distortion could get fuzzy. However, this is a common problem with distortion pedals that can be easily fixed with noise gates!
- Four control knobs – There are separate knobs for volume, mid contour, tone, and gain. These will help you pinpoint the exact tone you want to achieve.
- Huge range – You will be able to switch between ‘modern distortion’ and ‘classic tones’ with room for adjustment.
- High-grade components – great sound and very durable.
- Top-mounted jacks – This makes it easier to fit onto a pedalboard, as any cables won’t be pushing other pedals out of the way on the board.
- Helpful guidance – The pedal comes with suggested settings to help you find your way around the pedal, which is perfect for beginners to a distortion pedal.
- Fuzzy sound – Users say it is brilliant at low settings, but when you crank it up it becomes fuzzy – again, this is fairly common with distortion pedals and you can get other pedals to counteract this, shouldn’t stop you from buying it.
- A distortion pedal designed to be so versatile you will wonder how so much can be available from on small box
- Two gain stages, a mid contour, bright switch and tone control allow you to shape your tone the way you want
- Dial in virtually any sound from modern distortion all the way back to classic OD tones
- Built from high grade components picked for their superior sound and response
- Features top mounted in/out jacks for ease of fit on a pedalboard, as well as true bypass relay with a soft switch
If you are still not sure what product you are looking for to get the ultimate distorted sound for your guitar, carry on reading to find our quick buyer’s guide that details all of the key features to consider when buying a distortion pedal!
This is undoubtedly the most important factor to think about when it comes to distortion pedals. There are going to be so many other things that will affect how your pedal sounds – even right now in your home.
Your guitar, the size of your room, even your amp will change the sound of the pedal. No pedals are ever going to replicate the same tone.
However, if you do have a tone or a shape of distortion in mind that you would like to try and create, then different companies will try and achieve different results.
For example, the Wampler Sovereign pedal tries to cover as many different ‘voices’ of distortion as it can, while also trying to keep the guitar tune clean.
This is very different from the Earthquaker that has one volume knob and will create a massive amount of distortion with very little effort. They mainly want to achieve the grit and heavy gain of heavy metal music.
So, if you think about why you are buying this distortion pedal in the first place (for variation or for mass distortion), then you will know how to narrow down your search.
EQ Features And Management
There is no right or wrong when it comes down to the number of knobs and settings on your distortion pedal.
This is entirely up to your preference on how much control you want to have over your distortion settings. It also depends on what sound you want to achieve, and what you enjoy listening to.
If you are good at working out what your musical ear needs, then more knob options may be a good idea for you. EQ essentially lets you shape the tone to how you want it.
Quite a few distortion pedals do accommodate customization options, and they will help you pinpoint the exact sound you want.
But if you aren’t as confident with the customization and EQ management, this also isn’t an issue. A simple distortion pedal with one volume knob will still do the trick!
While size may not seem like such a big deal when it comes to distortion pedals, you do have to think about how it is going to fit on your pedalboard.
These can fill up pretty quickly, particularly if you already have quite a large collection of other sound pedals.
If you are looking at a distortion pedal that has a huge range of switching options and special features – things that would make other pedals unnecessary on the pedalboard – then feel free to size up on the distortion.
However, if you already have other pedals with a great range of features, and you simply need this distortion pedal for the one task of distorting sound in a simple way, then you might want to consider buying a small pedal so it doesn’t take up too much space.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I Need Both Overdrive And Distortion?
While you don’t need both an overdrive and a distortion pedal, it can be worthwhile to take advantage of the two together.
Distortion is great for altering high-gain tones, whereas overdrives are fairly low-gain in comparison – they help you to show the true dynamics and nuances of your music.
However, if you use the two together – also known as gain stacking – and maintain a good balance between the two (you don’t want to drown out the overdrive with the distortion), then then the overdrive can provide a really nice low-frequency tone that some distortion pedals may miss out on.
Are Distortion Pedals Good For Metal?
Since metal music is particularly renowned for its gritty distortion and high-gain tones, then distortion pedals are definitely good for metal.
They help guitarists to achieve amazing riffs with just the right amount of distorted weight and iconic ‘dirt’.
Amps are rarely enough to achieve the type of variation metal players are looking for, so slotting a distortion pedal into your pedalboard is a great way to go.