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The Best Distortion Pedal for Heavy Metal and Classic Rock 

 April 16, 2021

By  Zen Chung

Distortion is considered a rife's life because, without it, even the most powerful riff becomes weak and puny. With the right distortion, metal magic happens to depend on your distorted desire; the pedal you engage can make or break a riff. They recreate tones from your favorite guitarist or help you smith your sound and are capable of delivering growls ranging from warm edge to a full-blown growl. The best distortion pedal can be used in various ways ranging from ramping up an overdrive channel to infinity and providing the high gain to a clean amp. For plenty of touring musicians, having the right distortion is the most important pedal on the board.

The main question would be, where do you start with all the distortion pedals in the market? And therefore, we have rounded up some favorites with their pros and cons. Below them, we have included a detailed buying guide to guide you through the buying process and help you make an informed decision.

Best Distortion Pedal 

1. MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion

MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion
  • Highly responsive full spectrum distortion
  • Bass, Mid & Treble controls
  • 100% Analog
  • True bypass

MXR M75 Distortion is one of the best distortion pedals for sound from the MXR company because of its excellent value for money and incredible range. It is an all-rounder, with one of their most notable feature being the three EQ knobs they have that allow the sculpting of your tone regardless of which guitar amps or pedals you are using. However, it's not the best pedal if you are looking for a favorite sounding in a single category, but it is unbeatable at the price level to cover all your dirt needs. This makes them suitable for a person who is limited to a single drive pedal or puts together a minimal pedalboard and has input and output sockets with power requirements of a 9V power supply or a 9V battery.

The MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion control knobs are simple to use, with the output knob controlling the knob, the distortion knob doing the heavy lifting, and the three EQ knobs, the bass, mid, treble serving to sculpt your tone. It features a solid casing on the outside that is more like a glittery finish and a good quality overall which is not too much but makes it unique by giving it character to differentiate it from other straight-laced technical pedals. True to its name, the MXR M75 is a real badass pedal and offers an incredible range, and with the 3-band EQ sealing, the deal not what you'd expect from a valve amp.

Pros

  • It offers a large output with low noise.
  • The distortion pedal provides a versatile and analog distortion.
  • It comes with a three-band EQ.
  • True bypass.
  • Powerful active Eq session.
  • Value for your money.
  • Distortion ranging from full-bodied to a light overdrive.

Cons

  • It is a bit questionable at low or high gain extremes.
  • It might not be the best for a more dedicated unit and might lose out.

2. ProCo RAT 2

Pro Co RAT2 Distortion Pedal
  • Used as a primary distortion, it excels at arena rock rhythm tones and soaring...
  • 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

ProCo RAT 2 distortion pedal claims to be the first proper mass-market distortion box in the market, and it produces a hard, tight, and aggressive sound holding a special place in most guitarists' hearts. This best distortion pedal has been used with some players like Johnny Greenwood and Kurt Cobain to unleash some of the highest gain levels in their career, making it suitable for players looking for a punchy guitar tone. Even though this ProCo Rat model is the best for high gain tones, it can also be used as a lower gain boost in as much as it won't deliver a clean job as over-drive pedals would.

Proco Rat 2 is one of the best distortion pedals as it has a simple pedal that is easy to dial in, the power requirement of a 9V power supply, and comes with three control knobs: the distortion volume and filter. The model also features a footswitch, and the control knobs have a rubberized grip that is great to touch and have indicators that glow in the dark, making adjusting the pedal easy to do. However, it is important to note that the op-amp at the heart of the circuit is not the original LM308, and this is essential to consider because, in the original, it produced a unique, almost triangle-wave waveform at high gain distortion levels.

Pros

  • It produces an original distortion soundIt features a versatile drive range.
  • Easy to dial in spartan pedal with an impressive build quality.
  • The distortion pedals have epic harmonics and a filthy high gain.
  • Huge saturation.
  • Rubberized feetSimple but a classic

Cons

  • It is close to fuzz at the extremes.
  • The distortion pedal shines mostly at high gain settings.
  • It does not have dedicated EQ controls for the bass frequency.
  • The distortion pedal does not feature the original LM308 opamp.
  • It does not have good EQ options for djent kids.

3. Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal

Sale
BOSS Distortion Guitar Pedal, Single Mode (DS-1)
  • Tone, leveland distortion knobs on face
  • Super-tough construction
  • Lets your true guitar tone shine

Boss DS-1 distortion pedal was the first-ever Boss pedal to be made, and it has become very popular over the years with its simple setup that offers a level and tone distortion using a rubber topped footswitch to switch on and off. The Boss DS-1 comes with three controls: tone, level, and distortion, and no matter the setting, the pedals remain tight and deliver a bold and compressed voice. This distortion pedal also has a tone knob that adjusts the treble by turning the tone knob clockwise, cutting the bass, and anticlockwise for high frequencies.

This is one of the best distortion pedals for beginners because of its affordable price and high compression that covers up any errors in the playing technique. It has a straightforward distortion, and the controls sustain and gain and can do crunch to hard rock tones very well with power requirements of 9V power supply, input, and output sockets. The Boss DS-1 distortion pedal comes with eight suggested settings in the user manual that help guitarists get some good-sounding tones for specific music genres.

Some well-documented DS-1 users include Kurt Cobain, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai, to mention a few.

Pros

  • Very small and practical.
  • Sturdy metal build.
  • Offers true bypass.
  • Warm yet powerful distortion.
  • It is one of the best distortion pedals because it is easily modded.
  • Value for your money as its affordable and durable.

Cons

  • The mids can be thin.

4. Acapulco Gold V2

EarthQuaker Devices Acapulco Gold V2 Power Amp Distortion Guitar Effects...
  • Modeled after a cranked vintage Model T amplifier to bring the openness,...
  • Designed to keep the controls as simple as possible; the footswitch controls...
  • This device can be powered conveniently by a 9V battery or a standard 9-volt DC...
  • Made with care by human hands in Akron, Ohio
  • PLEASE BE CAREFUL! The Acapulco Gold is extremely loud!

Earthquaker Devices Acapulco Gold is recognized by its giant volume knob that is simple and brings tone and power to the Sunn Model T amp inside the small pedal and sets its output level. This distortion pedal works as a neat little overdrive that you turn clockwise to keep the gain and volume coming resulting in fat, thick and open distortions that have little fuzz overtones making great death metal tones. You can adjust different guitar tones to tease different voicings from the distorted pedal, and don't forget to wear earplugs.

Taming the Acapulco Gold is done by controlling the guitar's volume controls, and you can turn up to deliver cranked tube tones or back it almost for a tight Nashville-Esque twang. The distortion pedal was designed to simplify distortion options and redirect your focus to pick up, plug-in, and play the guitar.

Pros

  • It has a super-loud distortion.
  • Simple to operate.
  • Legendary amp tone in a stomp box.
  • Amazing death metal tones.

Cons

  • Lack EQ.

5. TC Electronic Dark Matter

TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion Effect Pedal
  • Gain, level, bass and Treble controls - total control of your distortion sounds
  • True bypass - Zero loss of tone
  • Voicing switch - for an awesome shift in bass response

TC Electronic is one of the most versatile distortion pedals with a straightforward design that uses the latest technology, and this model is a departure from their other products. However, it's not fully a departure since it features a voicing switch that enables guitarists to alter the pedal's bass response giving it a darker warm tone. The TC Electronic Eyemaster Metal Distortion pedal has power requirements of a 9V power supply or a 9V battery, input and output sockets, and several conventional controls: gain, bass, treble, and level control, which you can tweak to achieve the tone you want.

The TC Electronic Dark Matter distortion pedal comes in a standard stomp-box size analog and uses a true bypass. Some of the artists that have used this include Vernon Reid, Andy Summers, and Phillip McKnight.

Pros

  • The distortion pedal delivers a dark low-end tone.
  • It has a transparent sound.
  • It can work as an overdrive pedal to some point.
  • Great value for your money.
  • It is a versatile distortion box3-year warranty.

Cons

  • The distortion pedal does not deliver high gain tones.

What to Consider Before Purchasing the Best Distortion Pedals

1. Usability vs. Versatility of the distortion pedals

Generally, guitar pedals emphasize the need to have one thing between versatility and usability. This is because pedals with great usability have fewer controls you can change but offer an incredible tone with every setting, and pedals that offer more versatility have more controls and therefore need more tweaking to achieve the best tone. Different players use the best distortion pedals for different reasons, such as adding distortion, sustaining to provide continuity, and being used for solos.

Your choice on which to go with depends on your needs and what you are looking for. For example, if you want a plug-in and get to playing immediately, you shouldn't get a distortion pedal that needs plenty of tweaking to get a good tone. On the other hand, if you prefer more level tone control over your music tone, then a pedal that will ensure that is quite necessary.

2. Bypass

Bypass is one of the common terms that you will often hear when looking for a distortion pedal, with the common ones being true bypass, buffered bypass, and hardwired bypass, and they describe the guitar's signal when the pedal isn't engaged.

a). True bypass

This is when your guitar's signal passes straight through an unaffected pedal, making it the same as if your signal was going through a cable. Most guitarists prefer this because they feel like it gives a more transparent tone, but it's not always the case because the main effect of the true bypass is that it shortens the distance your signal will have to travel before it's able to reach the amp. This is usually beneficial in helping your signal maintain a high-end response because increasing the guitar's distance to the amp starts to lose high-end frequencies. Still, the true bypass is not necessarily important to improve your tone.

b). Buffered bypass

This is where the signal is boosted and still passes through the distortion pedal and its circuitry, and it helps to strengthen the signal making it better to preserve your signal than the true bypass distortion pedals. A buffered bypass is more important when using a large signal chain with a lot of pedals.

c). Hardwire bypass

This is where your signal will pass through a pedal circuitry while it's not boosted, and it can result in you losing some high-end response, especially when using multiple hardware bypass pedals.

3. The Distortion Sound you Want

When purchasing your first best distortion pedal, you should know that your amp directly impacts your distortion pedal sounds. For a super full and dark distorted tone, ensure you choose a pedal that emphasizes low end and mid-range sounding tones or uses a separate EQ pedal to achieve a similar effect. As much as you can get close to achieving a specific distorted sound, don't put much pressure unless you have invested in all other essential factors such as cables, other pedals, tube amps, and most importantly, invested in the playing style.

4. Size

Distortion pedals come in different shapes and sizes, with other models being bigger than others, but this doesn't change how a distortion pedal functions because some of the best distortion pedals are small in size. The size does not matter a lot along as you have the best headroom, but it matters depending on your board's size. If your board is of small size, then your only option is to choose a smaller size.

5. Headroom

In every guitar store, you will always hear guitarists talk about the pedal's headroom, and sometimes this can be not very clear. The headroom is considered how high or lows the distortion pedal can squash a clean signal with more to do with the level of dirt or the effect you hear when the knob is at its maximum. Manufacturers state the headroom of a guitar in either dB or KHz.

6. The Difference between overdrive, fuzz, and distortion

Every best distortion pedal offers three kinds of wet signals, and they can add some drive, distortion, or fuzz. The distortion lies between the drive and the fuzz pedal, and when the configuration is at fuzz, it means that the bass signal is above the headroom. Some distortion pedals offer three effects, while some have two and others only one, and ensure you check what your potential distortion pedal brings.

Notably, other distortion pedals come with a blend control knob and a unit with two or three of these effects, and the blend knob will balance the signal.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Which is the best between a distortion or an overdrive pedal?

This is a decision that varies depending on what you are looking for. If you are a rock and metal fan and your amp isn't cutting it, then choose a distortion pedal because you need a high gain distortion. For higher gain tones, you should get both the distortion pedal and overdrive pedals because using both can result in some productive results when correctly done.

2. Is the Tube Screamer an overdrive or distortion pedal?

The Ibanez Screamer (TS9/TS808) is a guitar overdrive pedal that Ibanez has made with a characteristic of a mid-boosted tone that is more popular with blues, rock, and metal players.

Zen Chung


I'm Zen Chung, a piano and violin teacher based out of Plano, Texas. I started this blog because my students (and their parents) kept asking about the best musical instruments to buy online. Look no further I'm here to save the day! 

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