The 8 Best Distortion Pedals of 2018

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Best Distortion Pedal For Metal
Best Guitar Distortion Pedal
Best Distortion Pedal For Rock
Best Cheap Distortion Pedal
Best Overdrive Distortion Pedal

A solid distortion pedal is a must-have for any fans of electric guitars who wish to add that rough flavor to their sound which can only come from an authentic distortion effect. The reason why you need this accessory is quite simple, but it’s also important to understand how exactly distortion pedals work. They allow you to achieve that unique tone by altering certain characteristics. While overdrive pedals offer a decent stimulation for the natural amp’s breakup, they’re still not comparable to what distortion pedals are able to do. The guitar tone is modified by a distortion effect as the pedal takes your signal beyond overdrive amp breakup. The best part about distortion pedals is that different models come with their own distinctive qualities enabling you to refine your own sound more easily. All you need to do is make sure you choose the right distortion pedal for your particular sound. Let’s go over the most important features to look for in a distortion pedal to help you come to a decision. You might also be interested in our articles about the best electric guitar and the best wireless guitar systems.

1. Versatility

Having a distortion pedal that emphasizes versatility can be a great thing. It allows you to do a better job when fine-tuning your tone as there are more controls available. The downside is that it also takes more tweaking work. Some people prefer a simpler approach, distortion pedals that don’t require a lot of work to sound good enough. Other prefer that extra level of control to get to an ideal guitar tone.

2. Digital vs Analog

Distortion pedals come in two main configurations – digital and analog. The difference lies in the way the effects are processed. While digital pedals deliver a richer sound that feels bright, analog units promise a warmer tone with a certain fullness quality to it. It all comes down to personal preference in the end, but the essential thing to keep in mind here is that none is superior over the other. Some people favor analog pedals for their construction, but the likelihood of finding good sounding digital pedals is just as high as stumbling upon bad sounding analog models.

3. Bypass

Different types of bypass can impact the performance of the distortion pedal. There are three types to choose from in terms of bypass: true, buffered, and hardwire. Some people swear true bypass improves the tone, but that’s just not true. They can only enable your signal to keep a high-end response. A buffered bypass can be a huge help for a stronger signal while hardwire bypass can negatively impact the high-end response.

These are basically the most important aspects when selecting a capable distortion pedal. If you’re finally ready to take the next step into more aggressive sound territory fitting for rock/metal bands, then you should check you the following list. The best distortion pedals have been assembled and the main point of consideration has been cost-effectiveness. Enjoy the most valuable distortion pedals on the market, the products that can truly make a difference for your guitar tone.

Best Distortion Pedal For Metal

1. Joyo JF-04 High Gain Distortion Pedal

Packed with lots of features for the cost, the Joyo JF-04 should be your first option if you’re a fan of that distorted crunch used by the best metal bands in history. This pedal combines a durable construction with high-performance components loaded with the most advanced technology to provide that famous AC/DC sound or the classic Metallica tones.

There are lots of great tones you can obtain by using this distortion pedal. Even though this model represents the main recommendation for metal, as it packs that characteristic crunch, it’s actually fairly versatile. You can tone down the snarling distortion to a mellower blues-rock style.

To get the best out of this pedal, you need to fine-tune the gain and adjust it until you get to the desired sound. With single coils at reduced settings, you might expect tones that resemble a vintage overdrive. As you progressively increase the gain you can reach new heights of grunge-style and heavy audio impressions.

Once you take out the Humbuckers, the distortion pedal truly starts to shine. You can go from early Sabbath to Maiden and Zakk Wylde pinch harmonics style all the way until you’re prepared to start some truly creative modern metal riffs.

A dual-band EQ helps with making the right treble and mid adjustments. There’s a set of input and output jacks, and other relevant features of this distortion pedal consist of a bright LED as well as the supplied battery. The case of the pedal is made of a strong aluminum alloy with an elegant varnish finish.

Considering the reasonable price, the Joyo JF-04 represents a very simple investment yet it can do wonders for your sound if you’re trying to achieve a seriously crunchy metal tone. The gain is highly dynamic and responsive allowing you to sculpt your sound to your liking. Both the performance and construction are above what you’d expect at this cost.

Key Features:

  • Durable construction
  • True bypass wiring
  • Metal Hi-Gain
  • Mid EQ
  • Easy to use

Best Guitar Distortion Pedal

2. BOSS DS-1 Distortion Pedal

The first pedal that BOSS ever created was first introduced in 1978 and it was a huge success. There’s a long history of redefined sounds that shaped the world of guitar effects. The compact DS-1 can be considered a part of that because now it represents a valuable source of inspiration for great musicians everywhere through its classic distorted tone.

The design of this pedal has mostly remained unchanged over the years. You’ve got a simple, but highly functional control interface for tone, distortion, and level as well as the necessary output/input ports. The orange color combined with a durable construction makes this a solid all-around distortion pedal.

Finding the right sound flavor for your music is easy to do even if the three-knob interface might appear a bit limited at first. The advanced circuit of this model makes use of two gain stages – transistor and op-amp. Getting that particular low-frequency fullness is only possible by incorporating these two stages.

Heavy music players will probably love adjusting the distortion knob which delivers a satisfyingly large range to craft your new signature sound. Whether you only need a mild boost or a more full-throttle gain, you can explore new audio realms with ease.

Most tone controls focus on dragging highs down, but this distortion pedal is equipped with an innovative circuit that enables a wider range. Highs are increased and lows get reduced when you twist the knob clockwise and the reverse happens when you turn it counter-clockwise. Vintage-style amps can benefit a lot from the tone control in this pedal to keep their low-end definition while avoiding that muddy sound that’s usually an issue when paired with other distortion pedals.

Guitar players in need of a reliable distortion pedal from a highly trusted manufacturer shouldn’t miss the BOSS DS-1. It’s one of the most revered stompboxes by those who like adding that satisfying crunchy sound to their music. Anyone who prefers their guitar sound distorted should consider getting this unit, especially at this cost.

Key Features:

  • Tone, level, and distortion knobs
  • Sturdy construction
  • Powerful tone shaping
  • Two-stage circuit
  • Wide range from mild to heavy gain

Best Distortion Pedal For Rock

3. Pro Co RAT2 Distortion Pedal

A more expensive option which fits many types of rock music is the Pro Co RAT2. This distortion pedal is designed to cover all the bases as it can deliver sustain, overdrive, and fuzz. Its main use though is to provide the distortion, those arena rock tones and that extra boost for solos.

Anyone who’s familiar with distortion pedals has probably heard of this model. It has a very distinctive sound with a great versatility for enhancing your guitar’s sound. Right out of the box you can obtain that distorted tone specific to rock music. The top-end is vibrant without being too frizzy while the bottom feels great with the low-end grind which works best to create some heavy riffs.

If you set the distortion knob at 9 o’clock you can make some delightful overdrive tones. That classic RAT drive feels like it comes out of your speakers. To get to the true potential of this unit, you need to turn the distortion somewhere near 3 o’clock because this is where the truly punishing distortion comes in.

What’s surprising about this pedal as opposed to cheaper models is how it can unleash all that high-level distortion without impacting the quality as it feels well-defined no matter the settings. It may seem chaotic initially, but this monstrous sound can be easily tamed, and that’s what makes this pedal a classic. It has excellent usability allowing you to enjoy playing your music.

In terms of construction quality, you won’t be disappointed either. A robust dark grey casing ensures the protection of the internal components. The control knobs are designed with responsiveness in mind and they complement well the overall clean look of the pedal.

Versatile, performant, and easy-to-use, the Pro Co RAT2 is a solidly-made distortion pedal that takes your guitar tone to a new level. If your primary interest is to make some satisfying rock tunes, the extra investment in this pedal would be certainly worth it.

Key Features:

  • Great for arena rock rhythm tones
  • Distortion, sustain, overdrive, fuzz
  • Needs one 9V battery
  • 1 x 1/4 output
  • Clean design
  • Responsive and sensitive knobs

Best Cheap Distortion Pedal

4. Behringer Ultra Metal UM300

While some people have no budget concerns and are attracted by all the fancy distortion pedals on the market, no matter the cost, others prefer something more affordable. One inexpensive unit that stands above others when it comes to cost-effectiveness is the Behringer Ultra Metal UM300. Let’s see what exactly makes this such a great distortion pedal.

Those searching for an extreme metal tone will find a lot to love in this one. The pedal’s characteristic distortion is a dense tube-style one which enables the user to effectively sculpt their sound to their liking. Despite the cost, it comes with solid high and low EQ controls.

For properly contouring your tone you need more than that though. That’s why the pedal offers a sweepable Mid control which can matter a lot in the world of heavy metal. The frequency range you can play with goes from 200 Hz to 5 kHz. Whether you prefer a more traditional metal style or you’re into that modern crunch, the pedal should cover it.

There are a few helpful design elements which enhance the way you operate the little device. To figure out if the pedal is active just check the shiny status LED. An on/off switch is included which can be very useful in bypass mode when you need to be able to maintain the best signal integrity.

Powering this distortion pedal can be done in different ways. The simplest is by adding a 9V battery. Another possibility is to use the compatible PSU-SB power supply made by the same manufacturer. This one needs to be purchased separately.

Overall, the Behringer Ultra Metal UM300 could be easily considered a winner on the market for distortion pedals. It’s difficult to find a better choice at such a low price. The dark pink color may not suit everyone’s taste, but what matters most is how well the pedal performs.

Key Features:

  • Multi-gain circuitry
  • Tube-like distortion
  • 3-band EQ
  • Great Mid control
  • Status LED
  • Ideal for hard rock or heavy metal

Best Overdrive Distortion Pedal

5. Electro-Harmonix Soul Food Distortion Pedal

If you want more than just a solid distortion pedal and would prefer one that’s versatile enough to work as a solid overdrive pedal, then the Electro-Harmonix Soul Food could be right up your alley. It’s designed to create a transparent overdrive and a rock-style distortion with superior definition.

There’s a lot of gain you can play around with when using this model. Turn the gain knob to the maximum for obtaining a rich and harmonic overdrive flavor. What’s surprising compared to other similar units is that even at high settings the low end’s presence doesn’t feel diminished.

One important aspect regarding this pedal is the incredible versatility which makes this such a great solution for many types of sounds. When you get the gain to the minimum, a clean boost gets available. It delivers extra volume with less breakup as long as you do all the necessary output and treble tweaks. If you leave the gain knob beyond 2 o’clock, you can unleash a superb mix of blossoming harmonics, ideal for heavier rock lead tones.

Looking at the quality of its build, this distortion/overdrive pedal seems to be made for real-world gigging. It feels rugged to the touch, highly protective for the essential internal components. The secret behind its performance lies in the TL072 op-amp and for interactive control of volume and gain, there’s a powerful dual-gang gain.

A switchable buffer has been included and it can be helpful for those relying on fuzz pedals ahead in the signal chain. Turn off the buffer and you’ve got the unit working just like any conventional true bypass pedal.

All things considered, the Electro-Harmonix Soul Food represents a solid addition for any musician. It’s compact and rugged with selectable buffer modes, great control responsiveness, and advanced circuitry for the ultimate sound definition. There’s a lot of value it brings to the table, so that’s why this distortion/overdrive pedal is recommended.

Key Features:

  • Compact design
  • Rugged construction
  • Buffered or true bypass modes
  • Boosted power rails
  • Transparent overdrive

6. Donner Morpher Solo Effect Guitar Pedal True Bypass

Made of a sleek aluminum alloy, the Donner Morpher is a true bypass distortion pedal that has a lot to offer for its price. It’s capable of delivering a fullness effect to the sound of your amp without compromising the original audio structure. There’s a lot of capable distortion to play around here as well as a better expression for solos.

The first thing worth discussing regarding this distortion pedal is the design. It’s compact and doesn’t occupy a lot of space. Although it doesn’t look like anything fancy, the simplicity of the control knobs could be considered a strong point of this model. It enables the user to effortlessly make the necessary tweaks to improve the tonal quality of their guitar. A convenient LED indicator informs you of the status of the pedal at a glance.

With the help of a basic toggle switch, you can cycle through three operational modes of the pedal. Right at your fingertips there are natural, tight, and classic modes which can be further adjusted using the other knobs, mainly the Gain one. You can also turn the Level and Tone knobs to get to the desired sound.

The sound quality depends on the amp’s abilities, but it can be said that this distortion pedal is focused on the midrange. It’s ideal for capturing that old-school metal feeling. There’s a certain vibrancy reminiscent of 80’s glam metal as the notes pop out through the mix.

Something that’s worth mentioning regarding this distortion pedal is how it enables you to deliver a constant supply of direct guitar signal to the amp which remains unchanged. To power this unit you will need a 9V AC adapter which unfortunately is not included in the package. There’s also no battery option available which can limit your portability somewhat.

Taking everything about the Donner Morpher into account, the final verdict remains highly positive. This is a great sounding compact distortion pedal which has its own distinct personality. It can offer the sort of distortion that places your sound somewhere between metal and hard rock. It’s less aggressive, but it promises a softer distortion with excellent sustain.

Key Features:

  • Whole aluminum-alloy design
  • True bypass
  • High-gain distortion
  • Three control knobs
  • Switch on/off

7. Donner Alpha Cruncher Multi Guitar Effect

Another solid pedal from Donner is the Alpha Cruncher which is not dedicated only to distortion effects. It’s more flexible allowing you to integrate and control delay and chorus effects too. This 3-in-1 pedal can be a decent solution for those who want something more versatile searching for a wider tonal range.

The way this multi-effect pedal has been designed allows you to clearly distinguish the controls. A vibrant yellow contrasts with the black metal shell which creates a pleasant visual combination. The casing is crafted out of a strong aluminum-alloy and the overall look gives off a compact impression. Both convenient and durable, this is the kind of pedal that’s always ready for home practice or gig play.

Each included effect comes with its own dedicated knobs allowing users to create their own musical tone. The first is the delay knob, then you’ve got a chorus mode, and finally, you can add some crunch with the powerful distortion knob. All effects are equipped with a handy LED indicator near their main control knobs.

Your tone won’t be unnecessarily colored thanks to the True bypass switch that makes the signal from your guitar use a non-electronic bypass line. The circuit design for this multi-effect pedal is an analog one. You can expect a maximum delay time of 1000ms and a soft and warm sound when activating the chorus effect. Those who are mostly interested in distortion can look forward to a high-gain type of distortion found here, a classic British crunch.

The only drawback of this pedal is the lack of a supplied adapter. You will need to purchase one separately for powering the unit, in case you don’t have one already because it doesn’t run with batteries.

A reliable choice for a more classic rock sound and less fitting for extreme metal styles, the Alpha Cruncher from Donner deserves a spot on this list. It may not be the best distortion pedal out there, but it’s more versatile and no compromises have been made in terms of construction quality. A very performant and easy-to-use pedal.

Key Features:

  • Delay/Chorus/Distortion effects
  • Bright chorus module
  • Analog-voiced delay module
  • LED indicator
  • Classic British hi-gain sound

8. Wampler Sovereign V2 Distortion Effects Pedal

Those with bigger budgets should consider purchasing a more premium distortion pedal. A solid example is the Wampler Sovereign V2 which comes with high-grade internal components and completely true bypass for enabling you to create one of the most versatile distortion effects.

When you look at the way this model’s constructed you can quickly understand why the cost is higher. Handcrafted in the USA with high-quality capacitors and resistors specifically chosen for their excellent response and sound, this is the ultimate distortion pedal to buy. The external design has a rugged feeling, just right to handle more intense environments.

The true strength of this distortion pedal lies in its amazing versatility. It’s actually surprising how it can allow for so much sound control considering such a small box. Get through all the eras from that modern punch to the classic tones using the two gain stages and tone control. There’s also a handy mid contour knob which makes this model truly stand out in its class.

To better understand the potential of this distortion pedal, it’s important to see how each function knob works to your benefit. The Gain knob has a lot in store – many different tones are available allowing you to build the foundation for a unique sound. To do that you need to be aware of the Standard/Boost and Even/Bright toggle switches interactions.

The tone knob enables you to control a key function for any distortion pedal. It’s important to ensure that highs generated by the gain engine don’t have too much emphasis on your overall sound. To bring to life the real voice of the pedal, it’s required to make the right adjustments using the mid contour knob. Your midrange needs to be well integrated with the other frequencies to result in a balanced mix according to your intended sound.

With so many advanced features, the Wampler Sovereign V2 represents the next step in getting that authentic distortion which you can shape into your best signature sound. The main disadvantage of this unit is the cost, but if you want something more professional, you can’t go wrong with this versatile distortion pedal.

Key Features:

  • Top-mounted jacks
  • High-grade film capacitors and resistors
  • True bypass
  • High-gain