Best Distortion Pedals [Top 5 Picks Reviewed]

Russel Wolfe

Hard rock, metal, and similar genres area bit aggressive, and guitarists that play these genres always require some extra bite and gain to get the perfect sound. You can always invest in a new amp, but often it won’t be enough to get the distortion you need and in my opinion no distortion no hard rock. To get the best distortion for your sounds, you should definitely invest in a distortion pedal that will make you happy. Contrary to overdrives, distortion pedals are used with clean amps and the gain comes from the pedal itself which is perfect. Millions of musicians have used distortion pedals, for example, Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.

If you are looking to achieve a compressed and bigger sound with plenty of sustain and feedback you should definitely invest in a distortion pedal. In this guide, I will explain to you how to get the best distortion pedals in the market. We will take a look at the top picks in the market, which is fail-safe and will deliver you perfect sounds, things you should know before buying one and answer some frequently asked questions. So stay tuned!

The Top 5 Best Distortion Pedals

First up we are going to speak about the top picks. These products listed here are all handpicked by me personally. I have picked these as a result of countless hours of research, personal experience, vigorous testing, expert consultation, popularity and buyer feedback. These are all fail-safe choices that will deliver you performance, accuracy, speed and excellent value for your money. You won’t be disappointed in these. Let’s get on with it, shall we?

5. Fender Pugilist

We are going to start strong right off the bat here with the Fender Pugilist. If you own a guitar you definitely know Fender, it is one of the most famous brands at making guitars and this amazing distortion pedal delivers the performance of two distortion pedals at the price of one. Let’s check out what else this one offers.

Fender might not be the most famous name when it comes to distortion pedals, but the Pugilist definitely is a capable model. It is a two-channel pedal, one channel for a cleaner distortion and the other for more girth and high gain sounds. You can choose either one or combine both to provide a balance between them to find your signature sound.

The controls of this beast consist of tone and gain knobs for both channels, blend knob, and the level knob, to find the best performance for you. To activate all this you should press the metallic footswitch which is excellent. Both of these channels deliver some priceless tones that will help any guitarist and if you want the perfect blend for you, then all the better, as this one is pretty much fantastic.

4. BOSS DS-1

Boss has been a major manufacturer in the guitar effects pedal business and it has always delivered the best ones in the market, and the DS-1 is no different. This pedal is extremely affordable but it will deliver great value for the price, meaning that you get plenty of bang for your buck. If you want plain distortion that will rock, this is it, look no further.

This pedal was first released about 30 years ago and it has still been one of the most prominent ones in the market. No wonder why legends such as Joe Satriani and Kurt Cobain have used this one while touring. I can comfortably say that this pedal is tour worthy, as it can take plenty of beating and some years of touring before giving up.

This pedal also is extremely easy to use, as it has just three knobs level, distortion, and tone which are pretty traditional and timeless. It will shape your sound however, you want it. I should also mention that the sound output is definitely exceptional and the low-end gains are pretty much perfect overall, no weak points in this one.

3. Electro-Harmonix Soul Food 

Electro-Harmonix is a brand that has been one of the most prominent and notable players in the guitar industry and the Electro-Harmonix Soul Food distortion pedal can be spotted anywhere starting from amateurs to your favorite artists. Extremely worth its price and a must consider for every guitarist that wants performance.

The Electro-Harmonix Soul Food is one of the most feature-rich and versatile distortion pedals in the market, coming, in both True Bypass and Buffered Bypass modes, depending on your needs and your current pedal setup. It is a pretty compact pedal that is super attractive when you look at it with its vintage vibes that remind you of 50s surf rock music.

This pedal includes three standard knobs that are pretty sensitive, including the volume drive and treble knob. On top of that, it has one footswitch that works wonders. I can definitely say that the Electro-Harmonix Soul Food is a pretty versatile tool that will help you get through anything from classic rock to heavy metal, definitely one of the best.

2. TC Electronic Dark Matter

The runner up on this list comes from TC Electronics which is one of the most important guitar effect pedal manufacturers in the market, with the Dark Matter. It is definitely a pretty affordable option but for metal and hard rock it is one of the best pedals in the market, a must consider for everyone.

TC Electronic has always tried to go a different way from the mainstream crowd, instead of opting for bigger and more vintage-looking pedals, it has decided to with a modern and compact pedal here that is packed to the brim with features and performance. On top of that, I should mention that the TC Electronic Dark Matter is super durable and reliable, simple but capable of a lot.

In terms of controls the TC Electronic Dark Matter comes with four knobs that control the volume, gain, and the other two form a two-band EQ, but without the mid controls. It is pretty good overall and it doesn’t decrease the performance at all, the silver footswitch also does a good job. The performance is perfect as well, a true tube amp pushed to its edge feeling.

1. Pro Co RAT2

Coming to the top of the list we have a distortion pedal that is actually an unexpected one from an underdog of the pedal manufacturing market, the Pro Co RAT2. This pedal is definitely excellent despite being a pretty affordable one delivering great tones that will deliver a tube-like distortion that is perfect for genres like rock n roll and classic rock, definitely perfect overall.

This is a perfect distortion pedal that does just that, distortion. It comes in a dark gray body that is extremely sturdy and built to deliver performance and reliability. In terms of controls on this pedal, you will spot three knobs that control the distortion filter and volume which are pretty responsive. It also has the on and off footswitch that works pretty well with the overall design.

It is a pretty small device that measures 4.8×4.5×3.3-inches in total, meaning that it can fit any pedalboard without any problem. The controls deliver a great amount of creativity and performance allowing you to go from slight distortion to heavy metal genres, but as I said it is perfect for rock n roll and classic rock. The distortion is perfect and it is crunchy as hell. Definitely one of the best distortion pedals so far.

What is the distortion?

To achieve some girth and bite with your sound when playing the guitar you should opt for effects pedals, and to do that you should opt for either an overdrive pedal or a distortion pedal. To be honest they belong to the same category of effects, which include fuzz pedals as well. But then again all of them are pretty different. To be correct an overdrive pedal delivers a crunchy high-gain sound that is pretty traditional to the tube amps, which is pretty satisfactory. An overdrive pedal still retains the natural feel and tone of your guitar with a bit more bite and crunch to it than it normally would.

On the other hand, distortion pedals are pretty angry and deliver as much gain as possible. To be honest it will also alter the natural tones of your guitar and amp, which is pretty amazing. However, it is not an effect for the faint-hearted, it is super deep, sharp, aggressive and tight, coming in with tons of sustain to make you happy.

Things You Should Know Before Buying A Distortion Pedal

When it comes to the question as to what makes a distortion pedal worthy there are some things to consider. The most important thing that should be on your list is the gain that it can offer, which to be honest is the most crucial thing that you want from a distortion pedal, and also that is what makes it popular. However, not every type of distortion pedal is created equal and tonalities change. There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to effects pedals. There are different types of pedals in the market, and you should listen to how they sound before you buy, there are different ones that are designed for classic rock, and different for more aggressive genres such as heavy metal.

best distortion pedals

I would suggest to everyone to be extremely careful about the quality of the item you are planning to buy since not every distortion pedal will deliver you the proper performance. One thing that prevents some lower quality pedals from being better is that they get a little muddy and sacrifice quality when the volume is too high or too low. I always recommend everyone to buy a high-quality distortion pedal that has a good number of positive reviews, I wouldn’t risk it.

Next up I would recommend everyone check the controls of the pedal you are going to buy, and this will definitely change from model to model, as different companies have different interfaces. Most of the time you will spot three knobs, one for the amount of gain, the other for tone and one for volume, but like I said different models come with different controls.

When it comes to features there are millions of them there are pedals with different functionalities, such as pedals with sustain knobs, full 3-band EQ settings, bass boost switches, and even noise gates that eliminate background noise. But then again sometimes less is more and you won’t need all those, a simple distortion pedal that is of the highest-quality may do you plenty of justice and you can be satisfied by that. It is important to determine what you need and also determine the price you are prepared to pay for the pedal, so you have a nice idea about what you want from it.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How do I use a distortion pedal?

There is no definite answer to this question however, there is something you can do to utilize a distortion pedal better. After installation runs your pedal with its default settings to see the dialing tones and the effect, familiarize yourself with it. Also, I would recommend watching a lot of videos about the pedal in question to see where things stand and how other users utilize it. I would also recommend guitarist to pump up the volume knob on the guitar to the max and then tamper it from the pedal, which leads up to the next recommendation, experimentation. That's right! The key to using a distortion properly lies in the style you want to play and how you like it, so experiment to find the best possible outcome.

Where should the distortion pedal be in the effects chain?

Conclusion

In the end, I hope you have a nice idea about what distortion pedals are, what can they do for you and how you should utilize them properly. On top of that, I am pleased to present to you the best picks in the market that will help you get the most out of your guitar playing and will deliver you that heavenly distortion, which is a little devilish. If you want other kinds of pedals, make sure you read our guides about the best looper pedals, best octave pedals and best volume pedals. Until next time my fellow guitarists.