It is used in so much more than rock and any sub-genre you can think of which is why it is one of the most in-demand pedals going. Being able to recreate your favorite bands’ tracks or making your own is not the same if you do not have the option of a quality pedal. With a high-gain distortion pedal, you can make a memorable riff or a solo worth nodding your head to.
This is only when you purchase a decent product as bad distortion can get you booed off the stage and for good reason. If you are changing into the chorus and want to make an impact or are heavy metal through and through, only the best will do. This is why we have created the following list of the best distortion pedals. Each one is going to do more than put the heavy in heavy metal and is likely to become the most trusted part of your rig.
Quick Summary of Distortion Pedals
BOSS Distortion Guitar Pedal, Single Mode (DS-1)
It looks as iconic as it sounds, this option from Boss is the best distortion pedal on the market. The durable construction means it will last a long time even after several switches between your light verse and heavy chorus as you tap the pedal on and off. Used by some of the biggest legends on music including Kurt Cobain and Steve Vai and has classical tones to make it suitable for a variety of genres.
The attack and sustain combine well to give it a distortion that is unique to this pedal. You can use the gain to your advantage to give a riff its crunch and all at a reasonable price. Because of this, many consider it a must-have distortion pedal and it’s easy to see why. Although there is a light to show you when it’s on you will definitely know it by the sound.
- Great value
- Classic sound
- Compact design
- Suitable for a variety of genres
Pro Co RAT2 Distortion Pedal
One of the most popular distortion pedals available and the sound almost matches the stripped-back yet dark design. It is best used as the primary pedal on the rig as it makes for rasping rhythm and memorable lead sections. There is built-in aggression to it that is pushed out with a smooth tone to ensure you are getting quality sound.
The basic features make it fuss-free but if you are after a fuzzy distortion then this is up there with the best. It is good value for the price and can be used to give your riffs an extra kick or take over completely if you desire. The filter control means you can switch between the brightness and high frequencies to make yourself stand out.
- Unique fuzzy sound
- Good value
- Filter control
- Lots of gain
- Not everyone is looking for this type of distortion
Fender Pugilist Distortion Pedal
Everyone knows Fender but when you get to know their Pugilist Distortion Pedal a little better you’ll see why it is such a popular choice for many rock guitarists. You get lots of control over the gain via the dual gain engine controls that let you combine the or switch between the two. It also allows you to blend them so you can have more of one than the other to capture the levels you like best.
This means you can use less of the more intense B but still let people know its there are recreate the sound of running your rig through two amps at the same time. The knobs are all backlit so it is easy to see the levels even on stage and has a durable feel to it to make it ideal for the toils of touring.
- Dual gain control
- Backlit knobs
- Durable feel
- Reasonable price
- More controls means you have more to get to grips with
Wampler Sovereign V2 Distortion Guitar Effects Pedal
With plenty of customizable settings, this is one of the most versatile distortion pedals on our list. The tone control is one of the best as you can create an aggressive sound or lessen the intensity a little. There are two gain stages and you can take your pick of a bright or even sound.
This means you can switch between the features and dial just about any type of distortion for a modern sound or something that is more like how they used to make the classics. It also features one of the most tweakable EQ and offers high gain and a crunchy sound that is befitting of its reputation. The top-mounted jacks are conveniently placed so when you’ll find it easy to create space on your pedalboard.
- Versatile features
- High gain
- Quality components
- Can be used to recreate almost any type of distortion
- Might be a little pricey for some budgets
KHDK Dark Blood Distortion Effects Pedal
If you are looking for the best heavy-metal distortion pedal then look no further. We found the ability to control the gain useful for sending the pedal into overdrive and the distortion to make your palm-muted riffs worthy of any mosh pit. When using it with your stack you can adjust the doom knob to up the ante of the bottom end in true Metallica style.
The treble control gives you the chance to play with the tone and the built-in noise suppressor helps to keep a hold on things. If you’re not after a distortion pedal for metal then it might be too intense for you but otherwise, it is an excellent option. Kirk Hammet is proud enough to put his name on it so if it’s good enough for him…
- Ideal for heavy-metal
- Gain control
- Doom knob for equalization
- Not everyone wants the heavy metal sound
TC Electronic Electric Guitar Single Effect
One of the most intense sounds going this has all the makings of a death metal guitarist dream distortion pedal. The fuzzy distorted sound can be taken that step further via the gain control to send it through the roof and because of the true bypass feature it ensures you get a quality sound.
Close your eyes and you can notice the similarities between it and the Boss HM2 and although it might lack the features and ability to change your sound around, it is there to do a job, and it does it well. Ideal for the iconic Swedish death metal dark tones it has a simple yet sturdy build that can take a fair bit of punishment.
- True bypass
- Ideal for Death metal sound
- Gain control
- Can be a bit limited for some people
Distortion Pedal Guide
When you’re looking for the best distortion pedal going, it is easy to go with the one the guy down the guitar shop recommends but they might not know the sound you are after. Also, one of the benefits of looking online is you get access to pretty much every brand so the options are almost unlimited.
This can make it tricky to find the ideal pedal if you don’t know what to look for which is why we created the following buyer’s guide.
What To Look For In A Distortion Pedal
This is easier said than done but beware of overly expensive distortion pedals that don’t offer a lot. You don’t need all the features in the world so if your budget doesn’t stretch so far, look for something that is more stripped back. This can still deliver a crisp distortion so your transition from verse to chorus still gets the impact it deserves.
This is your way or turning this thing up to 11 and pushes the overdrive through the roof when you twist it right. This will impact the tone so if you want some then dial the gain down a little and play with some of the other dials before settling on your sound.
The Right Fit
By this we mean you need to find a distortion pedal that is going to complement the style of music you like to play. Otherwise, your classic rock sound is not going to do so well with a fuzzy distortion pedal that is better for death metal sounds.
This means you either have to buy a pedal that is versatile enough for you to configure the dials to match your preference or just choose one that is known for being able to recreate the authentic sound of a certain genre.
Some brands like Boss make multiple distortion pedals because they know that the differences between classic rock and heavy metal are not exactly subtle.
If you are in a touring band then the durability of your pedals is vital. They should be able to withstand the constant loading and unloading and use that comes with a tour.
Most pedals are built to last, they do need to get stepped on for them to work after all but it is always a good idea to check it is known for durability so you aren’t scrambling for the music store halfway through a tour.
What Distortion Pedal Should I Get?
Your choice of distortion pedal should depend on the type of music you want to play as a death metal guitarist will not get the sound they want from a generic pedal.
Still, there is something that most people agree on and it is the quality in one of the most affordable distortion pedals, the Boss DS-1 Popular with bands in a variety of genres it is simple in its set up, good value, and combines attack and sustain better than a lot of options that are several times more expensive.
Most people use it when they are starting and many continue to do so even when they’ve hit the big time which is a testament to its quality.
Overdrive Vs Distortion Pedal
Not to be confused, overdrive and distortion are two of the most popular guitar pedals available and here are some of the reasons why:
Essentially they push your tube amps into overdrive or at least mimick the sound more smoothly. This is why it does not have as gritty a sound as a distortion pedal. It has warm undertones and sounds a bit harsh if you increase the gain. It will make your amp sound like it is turned up to the max without making your neighbors want to call the cops.
Unique in its own right a distortion pedal doesn’t try to replicate an authentic sound instead it uses gain to provide a crunchy distorted feel that can be amended if your pedal has different dials.
Volume doesn’t affect the level of distortion so the sound remains true no matter how loud. You can up the intensity with a little gain and it has a heavy sound that makes it ideal for everything from rock to the heaviest of heavy metal and is even used by Jazz guitarists among others.
How Much Does A Distortion Pedal Cost?
The good news is that you can pick up a decent distortion pedal for around $50-60. These pedals might not have added features so there is less scope for customizing your sound but if you want crunchy distortion with the slam of a foot on a pedal then even the basic products provide excellent quality.
For added features, a high-level of distortion and way more than the basics you can find an elite distortion pedal for $200 and up. Still, we don’t recommend going over what feels comfortable, especially if you are hooking it up for personal use at home.
What Pedal Did Kurt Cobain Use?
One of the best things about Nirtrvanas songs was their simplicity. The verse-chorus-verse pattern was one they rarely broke from and the same goes for the pedal that Kurt Cobain used.
The only pedal you’ll fit in his set up was the Boss DS-1 distortion. It had all the makings of a classic then and his use only enhanced that. It is still one of the most popular distortion pedals today it is synonymous with that crunchy heavy yet tonal distortion that is used in some of the world’s biggest arenas and highschool band practice today.