10 Best Distortion Pedals | March 2017

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. Skip to the best distortion pedal on Amazon.
10 Best Distortion Pedals | March 2017

Overall Rank: 9
Best Mid-Range
Overall Rank: 1
Best High-End
Overall Rank: 2
Best Inexpensive
The Boss Audio DS1 Guitar Pedal is simple to use, with easily accessible tone, level, and distortion knobs located on the face of the unit. It's perfect for heavy metal sounds and it's tough construction is ready for heavy metal use.
The Pro Co RAT2 is specifically made for arena rock-style rhythm tones and soaring leads. Or you can dial back the treble tone and push the fundamental frequencies of the bass, if your song is anchored to a thumping line.
The TC Electronic Dark Matter distortion pedal is a highly versatile model 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.
The Behringer Ultra Metal UM300 has reliable multi-gain circuitry that provides super-thick, tube-like distortion with endless sustain. It features a 3-band EQ and level controls for customized sound shaping.
  • high signal integrity
  • blue battery life indicator light
  • perfect for hard rock and heavy metal
Brand Behringer
Model UM300
Weight 14.1 ounces
The Electro-Harmonix Soul Food pedal contains circuitry featuring boosted power rails to provide abundant headroom and increased definition. It's compact and rugged, and perfect for taking along for road gigs.
  • includes 9.6 dc-200 power supply
  • transparent overdrive
  • has a useful buffer bypass mode
Brand Electro-Harmonix
Weight 1.3 pounds
The high quality Japanese-made Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini pedal can fit in your pocket, but it can also make your guitar roar and screech with its powerful overdrive options. It has reliable analog circuitry.
  • works with most pedal setups
  • very low background buzz
  • perfect for traveling band
Brand Ibanez
Weight 12 ounces
The MXR M75 Super Badass is a highly responsive full spectrum option that covers everything from '70s low gain overdrive to modern metal, and works just fine for all music types in between. It has controls for treble, bass, and mid.
  • features true bypass
  • complete eq control
  • it's 100 percent analog
Brand MXR
Model 11075000001
Weight 13.6 ounces
The Joyo JF-03 Crunch distortion pedal is perfect for both lead and rhythm guitarists who require a second level of gain for songs featuring sections with multiple distortion sounds. It's a low-cost, but reliable, option.
  • comes with 9v battery
  • made with quality components
  • led power indicator
Brand Andoer
Model JF-03
Weight 10.6 ounces
The Danelectro D-1 Fab is priced for musicians on a budget and provides excellent tonality and overall high-quality performance at a fraction of the cost of its competition. This is a great first distortion pedal for budding players.
  • versatile enough for any type of music
  • highly responsive unit
  • level, tone, and distortion controls
Brand Danelectro
Model D-1
Weight 7 ounces
The Truetone V3 Jekyll & Hyde overdrive and distortion pedal allows each channel to be set to either True Bypass mode or to be buffered via internal switches. The pedal's foot switch is rated for 10 million hits.
  • separate input and outputs on each side
  • relays have gold-plated contacts
  • front mounted jacks on pedal board
Brand Truetone
Model JekyllHV3
Weight pending

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: 03/24/2017 | Authorship Information