You will agree with me when I say that as guitarists we are constantly looking for something new to add to our sound collection.
Whether it might be guitar, pedal, amp or strings - whatever it is we want something to give our guitar sounds that new buzz and add some zing.
Even when we find something that we can refer to as our go to sounds, we are constantly tweaking and searching for something extra.
If the above description sounds like you, then you need to check out some guitar distortion pedals.
This is simply because, distortion pedals are one of the cheapest and quickest ways to give your guitar sounds a new breath.
But the fact is that without any buyers guide to direct you, you might end up spending a lot of money on trial and error before you find something that you like.
In this article, we will be showing you the 5 best guitar distortion pedals in the market today, tips you need to consider before making any purchase and some ways to tweak and get the best out of your distortion pedals.
What is a guitar distortion pedal?
First things, you need to know that “distortion” is the foundation of the kind of music we play - rock music.
That hard edged sound is what gives the genre of music its name and makes it likeable by it’s hardcore fans.
According to Wikipedia, distortion is a form of audio signal processing that is used to alter the sound of amplified electrical musical instruments, usually by increasing the gain.
What this simply means in this context is that a guitar distortion pedal is an equipment that when attached to your guitar alters the sound, giving it that classic rock hard edge sound.
A guitar distortion pedal is one of the most common and fun effects that you can get started with today.
Things to consider before buying a guitar distortion pedal
Before you make a purchase for any guitar distortion pedal, there are a couple of things you need to consider.
These things are simply to make sure you get something that is of high quality and serves the purpose for which you got it.
1. How much gain do you need?
This usually depends on the style of music that you are most comfortable with.
If you are going for subtle, low and crunch tones then using classic distortion units will be your best bet while if you are more of a hard core tones like violin and toned down riffs then you would need a modern distortion pedal.
2. Is it simple and flexible?
Considering simplicity and flexibility, you need to pick something that balances them out.
There are some pedals that are really flexible and can produce a whole lot of different sounds, but the problems is that you have to spend a lot of time tweaking them and customizing them to fit your use.
In the long run, this reduces the simplicity of the pedal.
Basically you want to get something that sounds good of the box and requires minimal tweaking.
3. What is your budget?
Most guitar distortion pedals are not so expensive so budget here should not be an issue.
One thing you need to be aware of is that, there are some that may cost more with the “promise” of sounding better.
This is simply a matter of preference and should not be taken as gospel.
4. Is it reliable and durable?
Finally you want to get something that is reliable and lasts for a very long time.
Most distortion pedals are usually housed in a metal casing that prevents it from breaking.
You just need to be aware that there are some brands that have high longevity and can last for years with only scratches to show for wear.
Our Top 5 Best Guitar Distortion Pedals
1. BOSS Audio DS1 Distortion Guitar Pedal
This is one of the best and most common distortion guitar pedal in the market today.
It is like the unwritten law, that everyone must have one of these before moving on to the next one.
It has 3 knobs - Tone, Level and Distortion Knobs which helps to control the way your guitar sounds when passed through it.
It is made from very strong and reliable material that ensures it does not break easily.
It can be powered by 9V batteries or the standard BOSS 9V adapter which is the common adapter used by most people.
This is one pedal that is very cheap, allows your guitar to shine and makes it very easy for you to start experimenting and playing with distortion pedals.
2. Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi Guitar Effects Pedal
This is one guitar distortion pedal that is almost as popular as the one mentioned above.
It has three knobs - the volume knob which helps you set the output level, the tone knob which helps you select a wide range of sounds and the sustain knob which helps you adjust the amount of sustain and distortion.
It has a true bypass which helps in ensuring that you get the best sound from your rig setup.
It comes with a 9 Volts battery and optional DC power supply.
This is truly one of the best guitar distortion pedals today. It has been used by everyone from Hendrix, Sanatana to the Pink Floyd.
3. JHS Pedals Muffuletta Distortion / Fuzz Guitar Pedal
This is one of the relatively pricey distortion pedals but it carries it’s weight in gold.
It is more or less a step up from the one mentioned above.
It has four control buttons - Volume, Sustain, Tone and Mode which helps you easily adjust how your guitar sounds.
It has six different fuzz versions which gives you wide range of flexibility on how you can use and apply this to your current setup
The Fuzz versions includes - The JHS 2015, 73 Rams Head, The Triangle, The Pi, The Civil War and The Russian.
It can be easily powered using 9V DC adapter.
4. Mesa Boogie Throttle Box Distortion Pedal
This is one distortion pedal built by experienced engineers who have been in the industry for a very long time.
It delivers the hard hitting cut and aggression of rock music while adding it's own blend of warmth and organic sounds.
It has a unique mid cut that cancels out the midrange and delivers exceptional sounds.
It has a bypass On/Off switching button which helps to ensure that there is no tonal loss.
It has a gain control buttons that helps regulate the amount of output needed.
It’s master level controls regulates the variable range and provides a signal boost of up to +20db.
It has input and output jacks that makes it easy to plug in your headphones and other accesories.
5. Pro Co RAT2 Distortion Pedal
This is one of tried and true guitar distortion pedals in the market today.
It is ideal for arena rock rhythm tones and for soaring leads which makes it the first choice as a primary distortion pedal.
If you are looking for something that nails the sweet spot where a tube amp goes from sparkly clean to warm overdrive then this is the ideal choice for you.
It has 3 knobs - Distortion, Filter and Volume which helps in controlling the way your guitar sounds.
It can be used as a boost for solos to get that extra kick and gritty sound that you desire.
How to get the best out of your distortion pedal
To get the best from your newly acquired pedal, there are some things you need to put in place.
- Always make sure that you do not increase the gain too much. If you do so then you have the added problem of dealing with too much background noise.
- Make sure you go with the best tone shaping effects chain. The basic ones include guitar to amp - which then includes compression - distortion -pitch - Eq - Delay.
- Finally always trust your ears when it comes to working with sounds. Your ears are the best authority and you should always listen to what they are telling you.
Here is a short video showing you how distortion works
As far as distortion goes in music, choosing the best guitar distortion pedals is one of the best things you can do to improve your sounds.
There are a couple of things to consider before you get one - make sure you get something that has enough gain, is very simple to work with and will last for a long time.
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