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Most of us can’t image playing guitar without distortion pedal. Something about transforming spotless cleans into delectable dirt still thrills us every time. Fortunately, we live in a golden age of guitar pedals, with small-scale boutique stompbox manufacturers competing against industry titans like MXR, TC Electronic, and Boss, which means there’s more choice than ever before if you’re looking for the best distortion pedal to help you achieve tonal bless.
There’s nothing like the roar of an amp being completely shredded by a distortion pedal when played correctly, and as a result, it’s come to characterize various genres, from metalcore to Swedish death metal, hard-rock to punk. This hard-clipping effect has won the hearts of many players, whether they’re bedroom warriors fantasizing about the sound of a completely dimed Peavey stack or giggers trying to push their gain tone into the stratosphere.
The difficulty is, where do you even begin? The honest answer is to “try a ProCo RAT and go from there,” but if you prefer a longer read, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favourites below. Our clever price widgets have, of course, scanned the internet for the finest bargains.
We’ve added some detailed purchase recommendations at the conclusion of this guide, so click the link to read it. Continue scrolling if you want to get right to the products.
OUR FAVORITE DISTORTION PEDALS
The Fender Pugilist Distortion is an extremely versatile dirt box because to its dual distortion circuits, which allow you to blend two channels for enormous high-gain tones with greater clarity – equivalent to playing through separate amps at the same time. As a result, it’s one of our current favorites.
Alternatively, with all manner of gain variations at your disposal, you might spend days (weeks) dialing in numerous tones, each steeped in harmonic-rich distortion and crunch, with the Wampler Sovereign Distortion on your pedalboard. It’ll perform metal wonderfully, with tight low-end, but the mid-contour may give your chords the punch of a young Mike Tyson as well.
PRODUCT GUIDE FOR THE BEST DISTORTION PEDALS
Here’s a selection of 5 best distortion pedals in 2022 on Amazon:
- Dual gain engines
- Discrete tone controls per channel
- Led backlit knobs
- Fender amp Jewel LED
- Magnetically latched hinged 9V battery door
|Item Dimensions LxWxH||5.45 x 4.85 x 3.25 inches|
|Item Weight||1.3 Pounds|
Fender has loaded the Pugilist with all the gain you’ll ever need, and even if it takes some effort to dial in your ideal setting and negotiate the two gain channels via the mix, there’s so much fun to be had.
Yes, it can be used as an overdrive, but we’re looking for the greatest distortion pedals, and the Pugilist has plenty of gain that can be tweaked to react to your pickups.
Mode A provides more overdrive/crunch, while Mode B saturates the tone for a more current metal tone, and the bass boost is great for fattening up single coil tones
- 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
|Item Dimensions LxWxH||7 x 4 x 7 inches|
|Item Weight||0.34 Kilograms|
Brian Wampler has crammed a lot of functions into this compact box. The Sovereign could certainly compete in the overdrive category, but its gain structure is so beefy that it goes far beyond.
The settings on the Sovereign have changed names over the years, from “mid behaviour” to “mid contour,” but their mastery over the pedal’s midrange and highs remains consistent. The spirit of the pedal is in that mid contour.
The even/bright switch allows you to pick between a more mid-heavy sound and a more top-heavy treble, while the standard/boost lever allows you to choose between responsive overdriven tones and more nasty levels of gain.
- Highly responsive full spectrum distortion
- Bass, Mid & Treble controls
- 100% Analog
- True bypass
|Item Dimensions LxWxH||4.5 x 6 x 2.75 inches|
|Item Weight||0.2 Pounds|
The M75, like the Sovereign, features a standard voice that talks in British EL34 tube crunch. To preserve that sort of equilibrium, keep everything at noon, but if you’re after heaps of ugly-delicious metal gain, move it ahead to 2 o’clock.
When it comes to modifying the nature of the M75’s gain, the three-band EQ is everything. Take some of those mids away for late-’80s Metallica scooped crunch, and raise them for a ’70s flavor.
When it comes to the greatest distortion pedals, the M75 is a no-brainer – an indestructible little powerhouse of adaptable analogue distortion that takes seconds to find the tone you want. It’s also worth noting that it works very well with the MXR Phase 90, one of the best phasers of all time.
- 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
|Item Dimensions LxWxH||4.8 x 4.5 x 3.3 inches|
|Item Weight||1 Pounds|
The ProCo RAT, developed in 1978 and mass-produced from 1979 onwards, can lay claim to being the first real mass-market distortion box. Its harsh, aggressive sound and precise, focused clipping set the standard for what distortion sounds like today. The RAT is a good choice if you want the punchy tone of musicians like Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood. They did, of course, utilise a Marshall Shredmaster, which is now long out of production, but the RAT can cover much of the same ground.
Although it sounds best at higher gain levels, it may also be used as a lower-gain boost, albeit it never entirely cleans up like an overdrive.
The only major disadvantage of the contemporary ProCo RAT is that the op-amp at its heart is no longer the original LM308. At higher gain levels, the sluggish slew rate of the op-amp produced a distinct, almost triangle-wave pattern. However, because of the harsh clip of the diodes, the difference in actuality is more negligible than some say.
- This dark legend has been told for thousands of years. An old creature, full of grief and malice, it will bring destruction and terror over tracts of the land. Feel the fear and the destructive energy of that ancient monster, with the WURM
- With the legendary distortion sound from the out of production Boss HM2 MIJ pedal. Its sound was a key element of the Swedish chainsaw metal, invented by Bands like Dismember and Entombed
|Brand||KMA Audio Machines|
|Item Dimensions LxWxH||7 x 6 x 4 inches|
The Boss HM-2 defined the most aggressive guitar sound in heavy metal at the time, defining the sound of Swedish death metal. The sound of all the controls maxed out immediately became known as the ‘Swedish chainsaw,’ which was created by down-tuning and stacking the HM-2 with a Boss DS-1.
The HM-2 was replaced by the extremely different HM-3, which is where the KMA Wurm comes in. It’s an accurate reproduction of the HM-2, with some pleasant extra controls and modes for flexibility that the original didn’t have. The four band EQ is far more powerful – assuming you don’t dim all the settings!
Despite its relationship with death metal, it’s important to note that the HM-2 was far from a one-trick pony. The Boss Metal Zone, one of BOSS’s most popular pedals, is its much-maligned spiritual heir. With a less difficult-to-use EQ function, the HM-2 was able to deliver much of the same amount of aggressiveness and clipping. As a result, the Wurm is an excellent choice for most metal sub-genres, especially when employing smaller amps.
ADVICE ON BUYING THE BEST DISTORTION PEDALS
What exactly is distortion?
So, what exactly is distortion, and how does it affect your search for the finest distortion pedal? A distortion pedal converts your clean guitar signal into a nasty, gritty mass of pure bliss by using hard-clipping. While this buyer’s guide concentrates on distortion pedals, there is some overlap between distortion, overdrive, and fuzz pedals because they all effectively muck up your tone. Distortion might be deemed more forceful when overdrive does not modify the fundamental quality of your guitar’s output. It clips your signal even more – and fuzz clips it even more.
Gear, like anything with an aesthetic purpose, is subjective, as is how it sounds. There are no rules as long as the tone speaks to you – which is ultimately the most crucial factor to consider.
Which distortion style is best for you?
Each distortion pedal, like chorus, delay, or reverb pedals, has its own distinct tone and characteristics. However, which distortion is best for you is determined by the type of music you want to play. Distortion is the most valuable raw material in the realm of heavy metal. The ideal pedal for many metal guitar(opens in new tab) players combines a deep, saturated distortion with a tight and controlled bass end.
If you’re going for the extremes of metal, you’ll need a lot of gain, but you’ll also want tone-shaping settings like a variable mid control to ensure you can dial in the exact sound you need to be heard over the blistering drums and booming bass. Some scenes, such as early ’90s Stockholm death metal, centred on a single distortion pedal, the legendary Boss HM-2 (opens in new tab) – they dimed everything, and it sounded horrific but great in its own unique way.
For less harsh musical forms, such as punk and hard rock, you may want to look for a more open-sounding distortion. For these genres, you can afford to use a distortion pedal with more mid-range punch, rather than the scooped mids that metalheads tend to prefer.