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You found a great guitar amp, got your perfect electric guitar, and maybe even joined a band, but the first thing you notice is that your guitar tone lacks the rough texture similar to that of the guitars you hear in your favorite music. The answer to this might be a distortion pedal.

When shopping for a distortion pedal, the best thing to do is ask someone who's been there, done that. So that's exactly what we did.

For this post on the 10 best distortion pedals, we asked 10 different guitar players for their opinion on what the best distortion pedal is, and why.

Before we dive into the responses, there are some things we'd like to cover about distortion pedals.

What does a distortion pedal do?

As far as a simple description goes, distortion pedals push your amp and color your tone to give it unique characteristics, which depend on the pedal you're using, and the kind of transistor it has. These pedals attempt to do what, for example, a Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier will do, but in a small stomp box, and will unassumingly alter your tone in and of themselves.

While overdrive pedals stimulate your amps natural breakup, distortion takes it a step further. Distortion pedals modulate and distort your tone while pushing your signal into overdriven amp breakup territory, which enable them to alter your guitar tone in a way that gives each distortion pedal it's own unique sound.

Different distortion pedals carry different characteristics in their tone. Almost all distortion pedals use transistors diodes to push your signal into clipping territory, and the kind of transistor used (silicon, FET, germanium, etc.) is what mainly affects the distortion tone that the pedal will give you. Distortion pedals typically have their own set of hard rock/metal EQ settings about them that alter the backside of your tone, and often provide a nice boost in volume as well.

What's the difference between a distortion pedal and an overdrive pedal?

There's a lot of confusion about the difference between these types of pedals, so let's clear this up.

Overdrive pedals make your amp sound like it's naturally breaking up. This is similar to distortion, but overdrive pedals achieve this by overdriving the signal to your tube amp, causing it to break up into distortion. Overdrive pedals achieve a distortion sound that's more natural to your guitar's tone, rather than modifying the tone itself. If this is what you're looking for, head over to our post featuring the 10 best overdrive pedals.

Distortion pedals achieve a distorted tone by directly altering the signal between your guitar and amp, so rather than sticking to your guitar's natural sound, they're going to put their own spin on it. Distortion will color your tone and add more sustain to a clean channel, and is more aggressive than an overdrive sound.

Neither of these pedal types are better or worse, it just depends on your preferences. Distortion and overdrive pedals both have their places.

If you want more information on the differences between these pedal types, check out this video that explains these differences in more detail, and provides examples:


Choosing a distortion pedal

If you've decided a distortion pedal is the right pedal for you, how do you go about choosing the right one?

Simple. Pick the one that sounds best to you.

While distortion pedals alter your tone in a big way, you don't need to choose a unique pedal that nobody uses to get a truly unique tone. Your tone comes from a number of things - amp, guitar, speaker cabinet, etc. - and the pedal is just one piece of that.

Keep in mind that when reading reviews online (like this one) or asking friends about their favorite pedal that these are mostly opinions. Remember to separate opinion from fact. Your guitar tone is going to be built on what you think sounds best, so it's important that you follow your own ear when looking at the demos below. If a particular pedal sounds better to you than the one your friends are recommending, it's probably the one you should go with. Trust your own ear.

Another great place to find what you like in guitar tones is local shows. Check out some of the bands in your local music scene, and after performances featuring guitar tones you like, ask the guitarist what gear he uses. This can also be a great networking opportunity for your band.

What to look for in a distortion pedal

When shopping for the right distortion pedal, here are a few things you should keep in mind for consideration.

Distortion Tone: This one is obvious, and definitely the biggest part of choosing a distortion pedal. When listening to YouTube demos, or the ones embedded in this article, make note of what you like about the sound of each pedal so you can maybe find ones that sound similar. Listen to different pedals side-by-side and weigh them against each other to find a clear winner. While looking for the right tone of your distortion pedal, keep in mind that the guitar, amp speaker, and other gear also influences the sound, so checking our multiple demos of the same pedal might be worth your time so you can get an idea of what part of the tone the distortion pedal is influencing.

Build Quality: This one is much easier to find information on from online reviews. If people are complaining that the pedal is breaking too easily, it might be built with low quality materials. While build quality is an important consideration, keep in mind that the tone is a much more important factor, but it may be a good idea to seek out a similarly toned pedal built with higher quality materials.

Versatility: When checking out demos for different pedals, keep in mind how the tone of each pedal can be altered. Many distortion pedals have multiple knobs you can play with to alter their sound. When looking at a pedal's versatility, consider what's best for the genre(s) you play. Do you need a pedal designed for heavy metal, or one that's best suited for indie rock? Depending on your style of music, you may need a pedal that has more tonal options.

Price: While price is an important factor, don't go for the cheapest pedal you can find just because you can afford it. If the pedal of your dreams is only $50 more than the one you're able to buy right now, it might be a good idea to wait and save up your money for a bit longer so you can purchase the pedal you really want rather than settling because of price.


Now that we've gone over some distortion pedal basics, here are the top 10 distortion pedals as recommended by guitarists, with the best videos demos we could find for each one.

Top 10 Distortion Pedals - According to Guitarists


Patrick Wilkins

Instagram | Twitter | YouTube


What's the best distortion pedal?

Pro Co RAT2

Get this pedal on Amazon.

What makes it awesome?

Although in most situations they need to be tamed I’m going to go with the Rat as seen here. I have a similar one on my board and I genuinely like the way it breaks up an amp, like I said you have to be careful not to run it too hot, but they’ll give you more than enough distortion than needed!


Steven Lickenbrock from Traveling Sound Machine

Website | Facebook


What's the best distortion pedal?

Fulltone OCD

Get this pedal on Amazon.

What makes it awesome?

This pedal has been the only one that gives me a great tone control, works well with every single one of my guitars, adapts well in different stage environments, and pairs well with my tube amp. I can hear every distinct note clearly, and it doesn't make my sound muddy what-so-ever. The pedal has a very basic design and it is extremely well built.


Stephen Perry from City Sounds Rhythm

Facebook | iTunes


What's the best distortion pedal?

Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer

Get this pedal on Amazon.

What makes it awesome?

Perfect classic style foot switch I all about a simple set up, theres not much to this pedal. Works great for tube amps, which I use. Not too crunchy and works nicely when played through a clean channel.


Miguel Sequeira

YouTube


What's the best distortion pedal?

Boss DS-1

Get this pedal on Amazon.

What makes it awesome?

  • One of the most affordable distortion pedals on the market.
  • Very simple to use *You can get anywhere from low-ends to high gains.
  • Is featured as a distortion pedal, but it can also do what an overdrive does.

KVN MCDermott from Cave of Swords

Website | Bandcamp | Instagram | Facebook


What's the best distortion pedal?

Sarno Music Solutions Solar Flare Distortion Pedal

What makes it awesome?

My first distortion pedal was a Rat which I loved at the time but it gave way to me just using the dirt channel on my Tender DeVil after breaking it and resoldering it a million times. When I heard SMS was making a "distortion" pedal I knew it would take the place of both the Rat and the amp channel. Their other pedal just sounds amazing to me and I figured this one would too. I was right, it does. They somehow made the pedal I wanted to hear without ever really being able to articulate what I specifically wanted.


Kevin Birge from The Audio Boyz

Reverb Nation


What's the best distortion pedal?

Jext Telez White Pedal

What makes it awesome?

The pedal simulates the distortion and drive sounds of the Vox Conqueror/Defiant/Virtuoso line of amps. These sounds are iconic, think White Album and Beggars Banquet. The amps are rarities, never released in the US. The pedal sounds fantastic through any quality amplifier.


Seth Michael Keil from Powder River

Bandcamp


What's the best distortion pedal?

Source Audio SA140 Soundblox Pro Multiwave Distortion

Get this pedal on Amazon.

What makes it awesome?

Mild overdrive, clean boost, raging octave fuzz. It's got six available presets with an onboard EQ for each preset. You can use an expression pedal to blend between presets for some pretty wild swells. This thing is a beautiful noise switch blade.


Chris Saalfeld from Orchid in the Ivy

Facebook


What's the best distortion pedal?

Wampler Pedals Plexi-Drive Deluxe V2

Get this pedal on Amazon.

What makes it awesome?

It’s super twekable. You can get a good tone that is similar to an old plexi. I’ve found it’s versatile and can be used in many genres. I can dial in tones easily. It’s also true bypass.


Jeremy Aitken

Bandcamp


What's the best distortion pedal?

MXR M115 Distortion III

Get this pedal on Amazon.

What makes it awesome?

I typically rely on my amp for distortion but back when I used a distortion pedal this was my go to! It is super versatile and can cover ground from classic rock to modern heavy rock. The tone knob is super usable and you'd be hard pressed to find a bad setting. I recommend setting it a little brighter than you typically would to cut through in a band mix. Sounds killer!


Tau Marshall from The Mercs

Facebook


What's the best distortion pedal?

Ibanez TK999HT Tube King

Get this pedal on Amazon.

What makes it awesome?

This bad boy has a 12ax7 tube inside stop box! Just think about that for a second. It has tube distortion and a unique sound. I've used same one for over 20 years. It's hardcore. It really shines if put a sarno earth drive before it.



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