The Top 10 Best Distortion Pedals Available Today
Turn up the gain to create crunchy riffs and singing leads with our Top 10 Distortion Pedal selection.
Although fuzz, overdrive and distortion effects are sometimes used interchangeably, the distortion pedal has some subtle but significant distinctions. Distortion effects have less attack dynamics when compared to overdrive, but it offers consistent response throughout its gain range - making it easier to tame for performance and recording purposes. Also, distortion does not have the wild "bite" of fuzz, but it has enough clarity to let your original tone seep through, making it ideal for creating personalized tones. Keeping these distinct features in mind, we were able to single out the best distortion pedals that are currently in production.
When looking for effects, it is important to keep in mind that we all have different tastes. Your favorite distortion may appeal to you, but it may not please everyone, including your future-self. These popular and reliable distortion pedals will point you in the right direction in the never ending quest for great tone.
After more than 30 years since it was first released, the transparent sounding Boss DS-1 is still at the top of the heap. Guitar virtuosos like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai have used it to create their cutting edge instrumentals while big name artists like Kurt Cobain used it to produce some of the most memorable distorted guitar riffs! There's no denying that the DS-1 has helped shape guitar music and influenced many of the modern distortion pedals that are available today.
The DS-1 is beloved for its transparent and dynamic distortion, and for its affordable price tag. Beginners will find it very easy to setup and use, while experienced players will appreciate how easy it is to integrate into existing rigs. It has three basic controls - Tone, Level and Dist which you can tweak to create bare bones distorted tone that will not overshadow your guitar's voice. The DS-1 comes in the familiar Boss single effect pedal shape with rugged metal exteriors, and it has been known to last longer than the rockstars that use them. Retail Price: $49 | Get the latest price & reviews at Amazon.com
Electro-Harmonix Big Muff PI Distortion/Sustainer
The Big Muff PI is the pedal that launched the Electro-Harmonix brand into world wide acclaim, thanks to the pedal's reliability, affordability and aggressive tone. Iconic guitarists also played an important role in popularizing the pedal, Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, and Frank Zappa are just some of the big names that stomped on a Big Muff PI to create great music. Up to this day, experienced guitarists that are looking for rough and aggressive distortion will go for the Big Muff PI.
The current production Big Muff PI pedal bears the same vintage distortion tone as the original '70s era Big Muff PI, with three basic controls - volume, tone and sustain. The pedal's harmonic distortion and violin-like sustain makes it ideal for cranking out sweet and meaty solos. The Tone knob is also commendable, allowing you shape your tone in a straightforward manner. Finally, this pedal comes in a rough metal housing that will surely get you through your busiest gigs. Retail Price: $80 | Get the latest price & reviews at Amazon.com
Boss BD-2 Blues Driver Overdrive and Distortion Pedal
The Blues Driver is another pedal from Boss that ranks high among the best distortion pedals. Although it technically is an overdrive that can do distortion , it deserves a spot on this list because of its tube-like dynamics and feel, even at higher gain settings. Because of its classic flavor , this humble pedal continues to be a staple in many blues guitarists rigs.
The BD-2 pedal will give you classic blues guitar tones at lower gain settings, sounding warm and mellow, and responding well to nuances and volume changes. Turn up the gain some more and it goes beyond what other classic overdrive pedals can produce, adding more harmonics and sustain. With the advent of pedal modifications, this pedal gained even more popularity, Keeley's mod is the most popular, adding a Phat switch that increases the low end of single coil pickups. Boss themselves released a special version with improved tone shaping controls called the BD-2W. It you are looking for great blues guitar tones, then this distortion pedal is the best place to start your search. Retail Price: $99 | Get the latest price & reviews at Amazon.com
Wampler Triple Wreck Distortion
This Best Distortion Pedals list would not be complete without mentioning a Wampler pedal, specifically the Triple Wreck, a high gain pedal that has satisfied legions of metal and rock players. The company boasts that this pedal is the tightest and thickest high gain distortion on the market, and we have to agree with the majority in saying that Wampler is not bluffing.
Hailed by many as a 5150 amp-in-a-box, the Triple Wreck is designed to provide you the highest gain possible, while giving you extended tone shaping controls via its 3 band EQ and its flavor bending Cream-Crunch knob. Further flexibility is provided by its two voices - Vintage (thump) and Modern (sparkle). For even more extreme distortion tones, just step on the included boost switch! Although this pedal is a bit on the premium price range, the wide array of distorted tones that it can produce makes it a worthy investment. Retail Price: $270 | Get the latest price & reviews at Amazon.com
Blackstar HT Series HT-DISTX Tube Distortion Pedal
The distorted tone of tube amplifiers is still the most preferred by professionals, unfortunately not all of us have expensive tube amps at our disposal, or if we do, it's not the easiest and sturdiest gear to carry around. Because of this, stompbox builders have been trying to incorporate real tubes into their distortion pedals. The most notable of these genuine tube equipped pedal is the Blackstar HT-DISTX, featuring 2 cascaded ECC83 (also known as 12AX7) triode stages and feature true high voltage (300V) circuitry.
Although a bit more pricey that your average distortion pedal, HT-DISTX is sought after because of it retains great dynamics and feel even at higher gain settings. Another plus that this pedal brings is its simple yet extensive tone shaping capabilities, thanks to the 3 band EQ and Blackstar's impressive "ISF" tone-shaping knob - which covers everything from crunch to singing lead. Housed in a sturdy casing, this tube-driven dirt pedal is ready for some stomping. Retail Price: $199.99 | Get the latest price & reviews at Amazon.com
Pro Co Rat Distortion
The original Pro Co Rat became very popular in the '80s, thanks to big name artists that stomped on this pedal during their live performances. The list of artists that used the pedal include the who's who of rock guitar, including Jeff Beck, Joe Walsh, Bill Frisell, John Scofield, David Gilmour, Dave Grohl, James Hetfield, Joe Perry, Nuno Bettencourt, Kurt Cobain and many more. What started out as an obscure pedal quickly became a household name.
Although many consider the "Rats" produced in the mid-80's to be better, the current production model Pro Co Rat 2 is generally the same, albeit built outside of the US. It carries over the same circuit that made the original Rat popular, while adding modern elements like improved reliability and true bypass switching. It is interesting to note that this pedal shares the same scheme as the Boss DS-1, with some adjustments that gave the Rat its own flavor. Retail Price: $69.95 | Get the latest price & reviews at Amazon.com
Dunlop M75 MXR Super Badass Distortion
With each new release, the quality of modern production distortion pedals are continually refined. A great example of this is the MXR Super Badass Distortion, with its truly "badass" tone and impressive flexibility. What makes it even more impressive is that it manages to retain a simple interface while covering various shades of dirt, from classic low gain to modern "scooped" high-gain metal distortion!
By tweaking the Super Badass' 3-band EQ, output and gain knobs, you can put the pedal to good use regardless of the type of guitar or amp you use. Dunlop actually tested the pedal with various guitar types an pickup combinations to ensure that it will work well with your single coil Strat and with your active-pickup equipped custom guitar. As expected, this pedal is built for lifetime use, and features 100% analog circuitry with true bypass. Retail Price: $82.15 | Get the latest price & reviews at Amazon.com
Mesa/Boogie Throttle Box EQ
Mesa/Boogie's 5-band EQ, as seen in their amps, played an important role in popularizing the "V" shaped scooped-mid setting that is as associated with metal and hard rock. Now this same 5-band EQ was bundled with their brand of high-gain friendly distortion and turned into a new pedal, the Throttle Box EQ pedal.
You are basically getting the "dirty" channel of a Mesa/Boogie amp, along with its powerful 5-band EQ, all in a compact stompbox format. To start with, the distortion section already has a foot-switchable Hi/Lo mode, which gives two distinct voices. Then add to that the tone-shaping capabilities of the five-band EQ - and you have for yourself a very flexible distortion pedal that can easily handle various styles of high-gain. Also, this pedal is not limited to just high-gain tones, just set it to low-gain and adjust the tone and mid-cut controls, to get more classic rock tones. Retail Price: $299
Suhr Riot Reloaded
The original Riot, released back in 2009 was Suhr's most popular effects pedal. Its classic distortion tone was well received and garnered rave reviews, even guitar wizard Guthrie Govan was impressed. But Suhr is not done with the pedal just yet, as they recently released the 2nd version called Riot Reloaded. It features more "riot" with increased saturation and upper harmonics, 30% more possible gain, and enhanced sonic quality. This improved gain range allowed the pedal to cross over into high-gain territory, ideal for metal and drop tuning styles.
What you'll notice when you first try the Riot Reloaded is its refined distorted tone, which never sounds harsh or ear piercing. The upper mids are better emphasized, allowing it to cut through a mix like an overdrive pedal at higher gain settings. Also equally noteworthy is the appearance of the pedal, its translucent knobs and spiral faced enclosure will easily set it apart from other pedals in your board. The only concern about this pedal is its premium price tag, but it truly is a worthy investment. Retail Price: $200 | Get the latest price & reviews at Amazon.com
Bogner Uberschall Distortion Pedal
The Bogner Uberschall Distortion Pedal is truly an amplifier in stompbox format. It is built following the design of the actual Uberschall amp, utilizing discrete Class A gain stages instead of the usual op-amps or diode clipping design of other dirt pedals. The result is impressive touch response, clarity and note separation, it will truly make you feel like you are plugged in to another amp!
What's particularly impressive about this pedal is how it retains clarity at higher gain settings. You can then shape your tone with the built-in 3-band EQ to taste. Like the amp that it is based on, this distortion pedal is perfect for high-gain tones, but it is in no way limited to just that. Turning down the gain knob will give you overdrive-like low gain tones with amp-like touch sensitivity. Finally, the pedal has a footswitchable boost with independent volume control, great for mix cutting lead lines. If you are a fan of metal, or if you are looking for a premium distortion pedal, the Bogner Uberschall Distortion is well worth saving up for. Retail Price: $249.99 | Get the latest price & reviews at Amazon.com
If you know of a distortion pedal that you think our readers should also consider, you can write them down at the comments section below, together with why you think they are worthy.
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