The 10 Best Distortion Pedals

Updated June 18, 2017 by Brett Dvoretz

10 Best Distortion Pedals
Best High-End
Best Mid-Range
Best Inexpensive
We spent 46 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. Crank that amp up to 11 once you've connected your guitar to one of these distortion pedals. Our selection includes something in a budget range for everyone, from professional arena rockers to garage band practices. You'll also find models suited to everything from '60s rock to '80s glam to '90s grunge. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best distortion pedal on Amazon.

10. Behringer Super Fuzz Sf300

The Behringer Super Fuzz Sf300 offers you a jack-of-all-trades solution on a budget, so if you like to experiment with different genres and sounds and don't want to have to buy multiple units, this is what you need. Unfortunately, its plastic case may not stand up long.
  • three different tonal modes
  • powerful enough for live show use
  • boost mode is overly loud
Brand Behringer
Model SF300
Weight 14.9 ounces
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

9. Pro Co Rat2

When it comes to the Pro Co Rat2, simplicity is the name of the game, from looks to operation, yet it still offers a good range of distortion tones, though it does seem best suited to hard rock. It has the basic controls every unit needs: distortion, filter, and volume.
  • very sensitive control knobs
  • hits that tube amp sweet spot
  • takes up too much pedal board space
Brand Pro Co
Model RT2
Weight 1.6 pounds
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

8. Danelectro D-1 Fab

The Danelectro D-1 Fab is priced right for those on a tight budget and provides excellent tonality and overall high-quality performance at a fraction of the cost of its competition. All of this make it a smart choice for budding musicians.
  • offers a good amount of versatility
  • some may find it too small
  • foot switch doesn't click
Brand Danelectro
Model D-1
Weight 7 ounces
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

7. TC Electronic Dark Matter

The TC Electronic Dark Matter is a highly versatile option that works well with a guitar or a bass, and can range from a very light overdrive to pure distortion, so Jimi Hendrix fans should take note. It offers true bypass and has bass and treble controls.
  • built-in voicing switch
  • has a transparent tone
  • not great for modern rock
Brand TC Electronic
Model Dark Matter Distortion
Weight 16 ounces
Rating 3.8 / 5.0

6. Boss Audio DS1

The Boss Audio DS1 is simple to use, with easily accessible tone, level, and distortion knobs to shape your sound to your style, but it truly shines when going for heavy metal or grunge sounds. Its tough construction is ready for hardcore foot-pounding use.
  • can replicate an overdrive pedal
  • has some helpful preset options
  • impressive quality for the price
Brand BOSS Audio
Model DS-1
Weight 1.1 pounds
Rating 4.3 / 5.0

5. EarthQuaker Devices Hoof

The EarthQuaker Devices Hoof allows you to dial in on a wide range of tones by using its four knobs, which control tone, fuzz, shift, and level. Whether you want steady fuzzy sustains, smooth graininess, or screaming distortion, this unit can do it.
  • can nullify bass muddiness
  • pleasing aesthetics
  • easily cuts through the tonal mix
Brand Earthquaker Devices
Weight 15.2 ounces
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

4. Electro-Harmonix Soul Food

The Electro-Harmonix Soul Food is based on the famous Klon Centaur distortion box, so if you are disappointed that unit isn't available any more, this is the next best thing. It's also compact and rugged, making it perfect for taking along on road gigs.
  • can act as a booster pedal
  • good sustain on its upper end
  • two bypass modes
Brand Electro-Harmonix
Weight 1.3 pounds
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

3. Xotic Effects SL

The Xotic Effects SL has a cool vintage look and comes in a stylish and durable chassis. It operates with an AC adapter or on a single 9V battery and can create really dirty tones or clean and grainy ones depending on how you fiddle with the knobs.
  • mimics many well-known styles
  • four internal dip switches
  • has a nice warm sound
Brand Xotic Effects
Model Xot-4142
Weight 14.4 ounces
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

2. Joyo Crunch

The Joyo Crunch is perfect for both lead and rhythm guitarists who require multiple levels of gain. It's a low-cost, but reliable, option that has a layout that will be familiar to most players, and is probably best for hard AC/DC-esque style rock.
  • produces a clean tone
  • doesn't sound overly saturated
  • compact size is easy to pack
Brand Joyo
Model JF-03
Weight 10.6 ounces
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

1. MXR M75 Super Badass

The MXR M75 Super Badass can produce a huge amount of gain on demand. It's extremely responsive, has a built-in three-band EQ that really lets you customize your tone, is 100% analog, and can easily be used for playing a range of genres.
  • true bypass technology
  • sturdy build with an elegant design
  • allows notes to resonate clearly
Brand MXR
Model 11075000001
Weight 13.6 ounces
Rating 4.6 / 5.0

Sending Signals To The Chopping Block

It's hard to imagine what Jimi Hendrix might have sounded like without a lick of distortion, and the same can be said for so many artists of the 60s through to today. Distortion touched a chord with an entire generation of music lovers whose anger toward their parents, toward their institutions, toward their governments found its unique and blaring voice through the harmonic complexity and outright assault of the distorted guitar.

The irony is that signal distortion is a kind of compression, a way to manipulate the signal of a given instrument so that it's got less room to flow. The very sound that set a generation free did so by confining the sound itself.

Beyond that irony lies something unexpected and altogether beautiful, though. You see, distortion takes a waveform (think of it like a steady, curved heartbeat) and adds a floor and a ceiling to it, as well as a parallel signal meant to stimulate a change in the waveform itself. The result is a phenomenon called clipping, which reduces the output at the higher and lower frequencies with different intensities depending on the device, all while changing the timbre of the original signal, creating unexpected harmonic overtones not present in the unaffected sound.

Stand across from a friend and sing a note at him. Then, have him sing the same note at you. Then, each of you sing that same note through an almost-closed fist. The parallel frequency he creates is the same, but its timbre is slightly different than yours, and the compression applied by your fists only increases the alteration in sound.

Now, this kind of experiment is meant to establish a concept more than recreate an effect, but it should start to illustrate for you the way these pedals work. In direct adjustment to the clipping of higher and lower frequencies, pedal companies will utilize internal EQ profiles to reinforce these lost tones, sometimes overemphasizing them to create a signature sound specific to a certain style of music.

Three Kinds Of Distortion

Distortion is an umbrella term. In the context of distortion pedals, it covers any kind of signal compression intended to create a dirtier sounding signal. That umbrella covers three primary kinds of distortion, and understanding how each of these alters the signal of your guitar will lead you in the right direction.

The clipping we spoke of above comes in all shapes and intensities. Very small amounts of clipping with a generous amount of space for the signal to breathe before distorting is an effect commonly referred to as overdrive. What's great about this effect is that the harder you play, the stronger your input signal, the greater the distortion effect. This is the preferred effect of guitarists trying to recreate the natural overdrive found in expensive tube amps, and its increased dynamic range preserves much more of the original instrument's sound.

If you limit the waveform to a greater degree, and increase the number of parallel tones that force the signal to bend, you reach the distortion sound. These pedals are usually preferred among harder rockers, metal bands, and shredders of all ilks. Without additional EQ, the sound is almost all in the mid-range, but most distortion pedals have significant boosts to their high and low ends, allowing the pinched harmonics and doom-inducing bass tones to prevail in darker music.

The other form of distortion available under the umbrella is fuzz. Fuzz is a lot closer to the sounds produced by Hendrix, The Kinks, and The Rolling Stones as distortion pedal technology was under development. Technically, The Kinks more famously achieved the distortion effect on You Really Got Me by slashing apart their speaker cones with razor blades, but the effect was similar.

Unlike overdrive, which seeks to maintain most of the original instrument's unique sound, or distortion, which takes you one step further away from your guitar's timbre, fuzz almost obliterates the original signal, creating a sound that could be coming from any number of instruments, identifiable only by the specific notes being played. Fortunately, modern fuzz boxes have pretty elaborate internal EQs, so your sound isn't just a wall of noise.

Distortion Used To Be Tubular

Early tube amps provided the first recognizable distortion outside of an amplifier being destroyed by an instrumentalist. As the preamp tubes warmed up, the signals moving through them encountered the same kind of soft clipping you find in overdrive pedals, but with a tremendous amount of the guitar's original timbre preserved. Some artists in the 50s intentionally pushed this sound as far as they could into a more distorted realm.

In the early 60s, Grady Martin released a few hit singles bolstered by the unique sound that came out of his amplifier's broken preamp, and other bands sought to recreate the sound however they could. Eventually, Gibson released a fuzz box called the Maestro FZ-1, which became the go-to distortion device for the likes of Keith Richards.

Distortion beyond what anyone could have imagined exploded onto the scene in the late 70s, as punk rock took over the clubs of London and New York. It took about 12 years for the early 90s and grunge to introduce a palatable distortion to the masses, unless you count the epic, obsessively compressed distortion sounds of 80s hair metal, which is an era of American music that I'd really like to forget.

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Last updated on June 18, 2017 by Brett Dvoretz

A wandering writer who spends as much time on the road as behind the computer screen, Brett can either be found hacking furiously away at the keyboard or perhaps enjoying a whiskey and coke on some exotic beach, sometimes both simultaneously, usually with a four-legged companion by his side. He hopes to one day become a modern day renaissance man.

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