Best Distortion Pedals – Examples Reviewed and Compared

You have the best guitar with a decent amp and great sound, but your amp lacks the kind of distortion sound you need. Yet you want to put a punch and power to your music. Best distortion pedals can open up a whole world of sonic possibilities for you. It can replicate your favorite sounds and help you fine-tune those notes head. And you won’t be needing to crank-up your amp to get that crazy distortion.

This makes it an essential tool for about any guitarist out there. With this in mind, choosing the best distortion pedal is quite important. Your voice depends on you selecting the right tool to express yourself. If you choose a low-quality distortion pedal, it can have effects on your entire play style. This may, in the end, leave you dissatisfied and disappointed.

While it is important to invest in the best distortion pedal, finding the right one is not an easy task. There are a sheer number of distortion pedals on the market, which begs the question “which is the best for me?” To help you, we have compiled a list of the 10 best distortion pedals to suit every style of guitar playing. Depending on your budget and personal taste, there is something here for you.

What Is a Distortion Pedal and How Does It Work?

A distortion pedal is a portable device capable of creating a unique sound. It is often used to dial in thick, chunky metal guitar sounds. The pedals have many gain stages and often have a boost circuit. This is to enable you to sonically step-up when soloing. These types of pedals have several control knobs. They allow you to switch between clean and distorted tones using your foot.

But how does a distortion pedal work? It works by fully adulterating the guitar’s signal. It takes the raw incoming signal from the guitar and boosts it. It does this up to the point where the bottom and top of the sound wave ’clips’.

guitar pedal

This causes the sound to distort and go along with the guitar in a musical way. How much they will boost-up the signal depends on volume, output and the level settings.If you use it on a dirty channel, it will simply mix in with your amps distortion. But if used on a clean channel, you will go straight to clean when you turn it off.

Best Distortion Pedals Reviews

Behringer UM300 Ultra Metal Distortion Effects Pedal

The UM300 Ultra is the perfect pedal for the most extreme and rugged distortions. It is an ideal distortion pedal for those looking to keep old school thrash metal alive. It offers authentic heavy metal distortion. The unit also has you covered for aggressive or bone-crunching mayhem.

It is built for distortion only. So no overdrives or fuzz like it is with most distortion pedals on the market. Moreover, it has a very straightforward interface. This comes as a plus for beginners. It offers that smooth yet searing sustain any guitarist is sure to love.

It comes with a three-band EQ and level control for better control in the shaping of the sound. The high/low controls allow you to dial in the right amount of top-end and bottom you like. The pedal boasts multi-gain circuitry giving you relentless sustains. It also offers super-thick, tube-like distortion that intermediate players are sure to like.

It operates with a 9-volt battery or optional behringer psu-sb dc power supply. Coupled with a bright blue ergonomic LED light, it is easy to know the status of the battery. That is whether it is active or not. Its on/off switch helps in maintaining the highest signal integrity even in bypass mode.

Things we like:

  • Boasts a sturdy design. Even with extended usage, the UM300 will still look as good as new.
  • Offers great gain at its price.
  • Getting control over the middle frequencies is easy.
  • Its controls are enough for limitless sound-configuration and feels solid.
  • Great option for those who need to toggle gain on/off while they’re playing.
  • Its electronics and other components are high-quality and solid for excellent sound quality.

Things we don't like:

  • It lacks enough low end hence not good for recording. And when boosted too much using the EQ, it starts becoming too muddy.

Electro-Harmonix Nano Big Muff Guitar Distortion Effects Pedal

Well-known for its aggressive tone, this pedal has become popular through the years. It s one of the products that put the brand on the map as a prominent manufacturer of the best guitar pedals. Its rough and aggressive distortion has seen it being used by many iconic guitarists.

It features three flexible and powerful controls including volume, tone and sustains. Its volume control helps in adjusting the output level to bring on the distortion. Its tone knob offers a range of sounds from crisp treble to warm bass. It also allows you to shape your tone in the most straightforward way. Sustain control, on the other hand, helps in unleashing a powerful, silky singing tone.

Wondering who is the average user of this distortion pedal? Well, the Nano Big Muff Pi can be used for professional/amateur recording and home studio use. It delivers the finest harmonic distortion and violin-like sustain. It is also a great pedal for vintage fuzz, grunge, heavy-stoner rock and alternative music.

It features a true-bypass foot switch technology that allows optimal signal integrity. This ensures you achieve extra tonal aggression perfect for solos. It also offers solid versatility and is equipped with a 9-volt battery. It can also be powered by an optional 9.6DC-200 power supply. Other features are Mono In and Mono Out stereo and on/off switches to complement it.

Things we like:

  • Easy to use and requires a simple set-up which is good for starters.
  • Retails at a reasonable price.
  • Comes in a rugged metal enclosure. It can comfortably take some beatings during your busiest gigs.
  • Offers pretty powerful and punch sustain.
  • Compact and versatile. It offers great and authentic fuzz/distortion sounds.
  • It's reliability is excellent.

Things we don't like:

  • It can be quite noisy if the tone is not equalized properly.

MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion

MXR is known for their high-quality and affordable analog pedals. True to this, the M75 firmly upholds that reputation. From early 70s low-gain overdrive to modern-scooped metal, it boasts incredible distortion range. Packed with three-band EQ controls, the M75 provides impressive flexibility and power.

The Treble, Bass or Mid controls do a great job in fine tuning your tone. Just dial in your ideal amount of dirt and enjoy finely-sculpted distortion sounds. The EQ control makes the Badass at home with high-gain amps, metal leads, or single-coils.

Also included in the package is true-bypass switching technology. It is known for improving the transparency and fidelity of the pedal when it is disengaged. This in return creates tonal clarity. The pedal also boasts foot switch toggles effect and red LED. It is powered by a 9-volt battery that is easy to install or an optional power supply. It also includes standard input and output jacks but does not come with a power supply.

A nice additional feature is its robust housing that makes it roadworthy. The pedal will, therefore, remain in perfect condition even with regular usage. Its other components are also made using durable and bulletproof materials. Additionally, it is 100 percent analog and comes ready right out of the box.

Things we like:

  • With just a twist of the distortion control, you get full-spectrum distortion.
  • Sounds natural with no gritty fizz.
  • Quite versatile and reliable.
  • Includes every shade of dirt in between the distortion sounds.
  • Boasts a simple interface making it easy to use.
  • Works perfectly with both Tube and Solid State amps.
  • Its analog circuitry is a plus.

Things we don't like:

  • It does not come with a power supply.
  • If you are looking for an amp-in-a-box distortion pedal, this is not for you.

Pro Co RAT2 Distortion Pedal

RAT distortion pedals have very distinctive sound. So if you like the sound, you will love this RAT2. It has a real classic sound that has spawned many imitations and variants. It boasts a wide range of overdrive and distortion tones. The pedal allows you to go all the way from turbulent furious fuzz to mellow musical overdrives. Whether you want good sustain, overdrive, distortion or fuzz, the Pro Co RAT2 has it all.

It features glow-in-the-dark indicators on the control and on/off LED light. This is something that the original RAT did not have. It also has some generous number of controls including distortion, volume, and filter. The distortion knob allows one to make adjustments on the overall gain level. It's smooth distortion is sure to put some extra punch in your rhythm. The volume control is for adjusting the volume level. The filter knob softens the high-end frequencies. It also adds some natural brightness to the mix.

Like most distortion pedals, the RAT2 is powered by a 9-volt battery or 9VDC power adapter with a 1/8-inch plug.

Featuring similar circuitry that made original RAT a household-name, it boasts true-bypass switch. It is time-tested and made of heavy-duty materials. This is to ensure it remains a staple among guitar pedals for many years to come.

Things we like:

  • Packs a lot of bites even when at low distortion settings.
  • Does not need too much filtering to get high-end frequencies.
  • Surprising quiet even when at high distortion settings.
  • Perfect for rocking riffs and high-gain soloing.
  • Perfect for jazz, rock, punk or blues tunes.
  • Lightweight to allow easy maneuverability.

Things we don't like:

  • It does not come with a power supply so you have to spend extra money to get one.
  • The power supply does not conform to the standard dimensions of 9-volt power supplies.

MXR M104 Distortion +

The MXR is one of the most renowned names of the distortion domain, and their M104 is one of their best innovations. It's thus a strong contender for the flattering title of the best distortion pedal on the market. Used by many prominent guitarists, it boasts some high-quality parts. It delivers that classic hard rock vibe from the early 70s and 80s for few bucks.

Featuring 2 controls for the distortion and output, the M104 has a simplistic design. The distortion knob is for the level of overdrive and gain for some versatile dirt on your tone.

So when you crank it up, you will be in for some crazy metal tones and when you turn it back, you get some great crunchy sound. The output or the volume or level control will help boost your signal. Just crank it up to get more distortion, warmer riffs, and less clean tone or dial it down for crispier lead tones.

The MXR104 uses a single 9-volt battery or a Dunlop AC adaptor to power. For the power supply, the pedal boasts input and output jack on the sides for the seamless plug-in. It also comes with a foot switch, LED status indicator and on/off button for you to

stomp.Germanium powered, the pedal boasts a bit of soft-clipped distortions. These are situated within the centralized parts of the distortion and output controls. The distortions sound very authentic and much better with a splash-of-reverb.

Things we like:

  • Easily provides warm classic to heavy distortion without becoming fuzzy.
  • Comes ready right-out-of-the-box hence easy to use.
  • Housed in a solid metal casing that can handle its share of bumps.
  • Clean output so you don’t need to drag your tone through the mud while crafting it.
  • Offers great heavy-crunch for metal and rock.

Things we don't like:

  • The battery has a record of fizzing-out in the middle of gigs.
  • The painting on the pedal is prone to scraping off quite easily.

Danelectro D-1 Fab Distortion Effects Pedal

For a budget-minded buyer, this is the best distortion pedal to go for. It is one of the few pedals on this list that can genuinely boast about delicious tonality for the price. The pedal utilizes three knobs including the gain level, tone and distortion controls.These controls present a lot of versatility allowing the player to try a decent range of genres. It is just a matter of personal taste. The gain-level helps you determine the amount of effect to be injected into your sound output.

Packed with great distortion effects, this pedal has proven itself as quite versatile. Players can use the tone knob to go from aggressive growls at the low-end to screaming lead-tones. The sustain is decent with a lot of crunchy overdrive especially when maxed-out.

The pedal, however, does not boast all metal build design. Some parts are plastic hence the low price tag. The plastic looks pretty solid and will go strong even after years of heavy-usage. It also has a bright on/off blue light indicator and a power jack for a wall plug outlet.

Among other notable features, the pedal can be powered via a 9 Volt battery or an optional 9volt adapter. It is also DC compatible, comes with a power input and a large foot switch.

Things we like:

  • Provides excellent distortion control.
  • Great value for money & Available in the compact size.
  • Quite responsive and very versatile when it comes to tones and overdrive.
  • Offers great distortion sounds. Some users reported that it sounds almost like an expensive pedal.

Things we don't like:

  • Though it comes with a power input and output, a cord is not included.
  • The plastic case will not stand the test of time if not well take care of.
  • It has a track record of getting muddy quickly.

Behringer Overdrive/Distortion Od300 2-Mode Overdrive - Distortion Effects Pedal

Behringers are the kings of affordable distortion pedals. The Od300 is in keeping with that ethos, offering a great deal of control at a reasonable price. Featuring a single In and Out Jack, this pedal runs on a single 9 Volt or via optional PSU-SB DC power supply. In the mix, there is a LED status indicator and a large on/off foot switch. These features help you maintain excellent signal integrity.

There are four knobs at the top of the pedal. The level, tone, drive and mode for the perfect distortion/overdrive cocktail. The level knob helps determine the level of overdrive infused into your sonic output. The tone knob allows you to personalize your tone and the drive is more of a gain control. Its mode control allows you to select either lighter-overdrive or gain-heavy distortion mode.

The distortion provided is heavy without sacrificing tone control. Whether you need classic sound, edgy modern crunch or a little of both, the Od300 has it all. It also boasts a blend of distortion and overdrive dials. You just need to dial to the right for pure distortion or to the left for great overdrive.

The most liked feature of this pedal is the fact that it has a sound for everyone. It can go full on metal, tackle blues plus other variety of genres. While it has a plastic design, its construction is exceptionally rugged and solid. This is to guarantee you optimal performance in years to come.

Things we like:

  • Produces solid tones hence can be used on performance shows.
  • Perfect pedal for both intermediate and beginner players.
  • Its components are also top notch.
  • It can be used with keyboards, guitars or bass.
  • Its battery life is excellent.
  • Comes with everything you would want to create signature sounds.

Things we don't like:

  • When used with a bass guitar, you are bound to lose some bass response.

Donner Morpher Distortion Pedal Solo Effect Guitar Pedal

This is another contender for best distortion pedal if you're not willing to spend more. It is a high gain distortion pedal with great response. It provides a biting distortion with dynamic echo sound that is great for leads. The pedal is compact and minimal in design. It's true bypass switch ensures you get a transparent tone. It achieves this by ensuring there is maximum signal quality when it is disengaged. The bypass switching also ensures no amount of noise is going to creep into your signal once it is off.

For great functionality, this pedal boasts three control knobs- level, tone, and gain. These control knobs give you total control of your sound. The tone control enables you to dial in any tone with precision. It also comes with a three-way toggle switch. It helps you choose between natural, tight and classic modes. The tight mode gives a responsive low-end sound with smooth high-frequencies.

Housed in red aluminum-alloy classic casing, it is built to stand the test-of-time. It includes a clip inside that is well-known for its great adaptability to the distortion. Powered by a 9-volt AC adapter, it also includes LED indicator light to show when the pedal is active.

Things we like:

  • Blends well even with smaller pedal boards as it takes up very little space.
  • ​Offers smooth distortion to make your solo stand out.
  • ​Durable and small in size. It is very convenient to carry.
  • Comes with a user manual for easy set-up and configuration.
  • Relatively quiet despite being a high-gain circuit.
  • Offers a significant output-boost past 12 o’clock.

Things we don't like:

  • Its sound is not the best. It feels muddy especially on a completely clean amp.
  • Requires a little bit of fiddling so you can find the best tones for your needs.

Electro-Harmonix Soul Food Distortion/Fuzz/Overdrive Pedal

This one has a lot fans across the guitar forums. It is an affordable alternative of the hyped Klon Centaur pedal. It has a lot of features like those of the Klon. Though it is quite light in features, it offers unmatched value at its price. The pedal utilizes a TL072 op-amp with a dual gang gain control for the best amount of clean boost. Featuring a true bypass switch and buffer bypass modes, it offers strong signal. Just switch-off the buffer using an internal switch to get the true-bypass function.

It includes control knobs for volume, treble, and drive. The treble dial acts as the tone control to give you excellent clean boost tones. The knobs are solidly-built so they won’t be snapping off anytime soon. Its circuitry boasts boosted power-rails for plenty of headroom and improved definition. This results in more tone and less noise.

It also boasts a transparent overdrive feature with great response and touch. This way you keep the general feel of your tone rather than altering your original tone. Included in the package is a 9.6DC-200 power supply. You can also power it via a 9 Volt battery. It has a rugged design.

Things we like:

  • Plays great with just about any pickup configuration especially on its lower-gain settings.
  • Easy to dial in settings with this pedal.
  • ​Produces clean-boost tones and overdrive with a flavor of its own.
  • ​Works seamlessly with other pedals.
  • It is rich in harmonics and overtones.
  • Housed in a compact and rigid casing.

Things we don't like:

  • If you have a solid-state amp, this pedal may not meet your needs. The pedal works better with a valve amp.
  • Requires some slight tweaking to the gain and treble control to get the right tone.
  • Not the best distortion pedal for metal guitarists.

TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion Effect Pedal

The Dark Matter is one of the most versatile pedals in this list coming in a stylish black design. This pedal is all you need to unleash the best metal and rock guitar tones. It provides a wide range of rich distortion tones. With its two-position voicing-switch feature, you don’t have to worry about low ends. What you need is to dial to adjust the bass response.

Included with the pedal are four control knobs on the front. It has a dedicated Bass and Treble control knobs for fine tuning your tone. The Level and Gain knobs come standard with this pedal. This is for complete control of the distortion sounds. The knobs enable you to equalize the high-ends and low-ends effortlessly. It also boats true bypass switching technology to help preserve your tone. So when it is off, your clean tone will remain clean.

It runs on a single 9V battery or an optional 9v power supply. The battery compartment is easy to access.

It also boasts tough metal chassis and high-quality parts to serve you for several years. You won’t be needing any replacement after several months.

Things we like:

  • Very responsive to both the output volume of any guitar and your playing dynamics.
  • Some pedal’s controls become almost useless when they get past two o’clock. But this pedal controls can be used across the whole sweep.
  • Its footprint is quite small to help save you some space on the pedalboard.
  • Comes road ready. You can start using it immediately you get it out of the box.
  • Offers crisp and transparent tone.

Things we don't like:

  • It does not come with a mid control. So if you want good metal sound, it can be difficult to get the right tone.
  • The distortion is not as powerful as other pedals in the same price range or even lower.

Buying Guide For Distortion Pedal

Identifying the best distortion pedal begins with understanding what they are made of. So to give you a clear understanding we are going to break down this guide to you as follows.

Types of distortion pedals

There are three main types of distortion pedals. They include overdrive pedals, fuzz pedals and ones that are simply called “distortion”.

Overdrive

The overdrive type attempts to recreate the sound of an overdriven tube amp. When it comes to sound, the overdrive type is lighter and subtle as compared to other distortions. And while they are mainly used to produce the sound of tube amps, they are also often used with solid state amps. Because overdrive is a signal boost, creating a wide variety of sounds is easy. You just need to make adjustments from your volume knob.

Best Distortion Pedal 1

Fuzz

The fuzz family of distortion pedals is the oldest types of effects in the history of amps. They are good at producing a slightly muddy sound that comes out as less distinct and less harsh. This is the kind to go for when you want to create a throwback to early days of garage rock. It is worth noting that the fuzz effect is

often so radical that most people use it sparingly. Thanks to its ability to thicken up the tone, it comes in handy when you want to enrich the intros and solo guitar parts.

Distortion

Last but not least is the “distortion” family. This category is known for producing more distortion than overdrive pedals. At the same time, they are more distinct and harsh than fuzz boxes. These ones are preferred for their heavy metal effects. You go for distortion when you are looking to produce rich, smooth, melodic and creamy tones.

Families of Distortion Pedals

Distortion pedals generally fall into different “families”. Each family has a different voice and power. The most popular family is the TS family. It is generally known for producing a “mid-hump” effect. This is the kind of family to go for if you want to boost the mid range of your frequency more than the highs and the lows. The second family is the rat family. These ones have a flatter EQ curve. They also tend to produce a dirtier and rougher sound.

Generally, for your guitar to reach everyone’s attention, you require a mid-range pedal. It is best to have your guitar in the middle of your vocals and well away from the boomy drums.

How Much Distortion it’s Capable of Producing

This entirely depends on the kind of sound you want to achieve. But you have to keep in mind that distortion is not just about creating noise and gain. It’s always wise to go for something that offers you the right level of distortion. Sometimes this involves testing. It can be a trial-and-error exercise in some cases. All in all, you want something that offers flexible EQ controls. At the same time, something that remains transparent even at minimum distortion.

Benefit of Buying a Distortion Pedal

There are quite a few benefits to using the best distortion pedal. But the important thing is you can bank on these devices to spice-up your playing experience.

Low Cost

Generally, distortion pedals come with hundreds of different effects. What this means is you won’t need to buy stomp boxes. Of course, chances are that you will not need to use all those effects anyway, but the truth is that we all like variety. So if you buy a pedal priced above-average, rest-assured you'll be getting good value for money.

Less Power Consumption

If you get one good pedal, you won’t need to run a ton of other pedals. This means 1 plug is enough to power an entire unit. Consider that single-power adapters cost about $20, this is something worth pondering upon. What's more, most of these pedals can be powered via a battery.

Improved Presets

Using a distortion pedal, it’s easy to create presets for your favorite songs. The pedals come with tons of control knobs to help fine tune your tone. You only need to figure out all the tones you want to use beforehand. Then all you need to do is push down the button to create dramatic tones in split seconds.

Multiple Gain Stages

Distortion pedals boast a multitude of gain stages. The stages help in delivering the best gain and huge amount of sustain. That is why their effects are the perfect choice for producing aggressive tones. Most of the pedals include boosts circuit to allow you to step-up sonically while doing solos. Because of their multiple gain-stages, the pedals generate a lot of crunch and gain.

Versatility

Some pedals allow for both distortion and overdrive. Others offer the three functions- overdrive, fuzz, and distortion. You, therefore, don’t need to buy several pedals for different effects. These pedals even come at a cheaper price compared to what you are bound to spend to buy several pedals.

Simple Setup

Most of these pedals come ready right of the box. If you are going to use a power supply, you just need to hook your pedal up to the power. Then connect your guitar to the input jack and the input of the amp to the output jack. Finally, activate the pedal by stepping on a button or the lever again. The set-up is even easier if your pedal is battery powered.

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Final Words

The MXR M75 takes the title of the best distortion pedal for many reasons. First, it is compatible with Tube and solid state amps and is 100% analog. It also boasts three-band EQ controls and true-bypass switching at an unbeatable price. The Behringer UM300 Ultra was a top contender but it lacks low ends and is built for distortion only.

So if you don’t like the MXR M75, the UM300 can be a good alternative. But if you want distortion, overdrive and fuzz functions all in one pedal, the Pro Co RAT2 is the perfect pedal. It features distinctive sound and its only downside has to do with its power supply. It does come with a power supply.

​Summing it up, almost all distortion pedals covered have their strengths and weaknesses. It, therefore, makes perfect sense to do an independent comparison. So go ahead and explore!

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