Boss DS-1 Distortion

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The DS-1 Distortion is a true icon in the world of guitar effects. Introduced in 1978, It was Boss’s first distortion pedal, delivering hard-edged attack and smooth sustain that’s been a staple of rock and metal players for decades! It does it’s own thing, and has been used on countless recordings you have heard since the late 70’s when it came out. For the price range (when made in Taiwan) you can’t go wrong. Don’t be fooled by those not in the “know”. This pedal rocks!

The Boss DS-1 is a classic, affordable distortion pedal that is arguably the most famous of all time. At some time or another, nearly every guitarist has (or should have) had one on his/her board. Two were used by Steve Vai: one at the beginning of his chain and the other at the conclusion.

Distortion pedals prior to the DS-1 were harsh and buzzy, with a muddy sound at high gain settings. By inventing a distinct distortion circuit for the DS-1 in 1978, BOSS engineers revolutionized everything by producing tight, hard-edged gain with full harmonics while retaining the distinct qualities of diverse guitars and playing styles. The DS-1’s tone had a defining influence on hard rock, metal, and punk genres that began to flourish in the 1970s and 1980s. Players all around the globe continue to search out the classic DS-1 sound, which has been popular throughout multiple generations.

Several distinct sound colors may be elicited from the DS1 via its modest three-knob interface. Both transistor and op-amp gain stages are included in its pioneering two-stage circuit. The DS-1’s characteristic low-frequency fullness, which guitarists in heavy music genres appreciate, is aided by this technique. From a modest boost for driving amplifiers and pedals to full-throttle gain for massive rock chords, the distortion control has an enormous range.

Boss DS-1 Distortion Video

Benefits DS-1

  • Good, classic distortion pedal.
  • Rolls off the dizziness and brings the output WAY up.
  • The DS-1 is a simple distortion pedal and performs adequately for its design.
  • Super versatile.
  • Super affordable.
  • Works well for beginners and experienced players alike.
  • This has such good distortion. Easy to find tone.
  • The tone knob does an excellent job of eliminating any fizziness.
  • Lots of tonal and distortion options in an easy to use, 3 knob design.
  • All the classic distortion, crunch, crumble you could want.

Boss DS-1 Distortion Review

The DS1 is a great, solid distortion pedal that ranges from mild to wild, with a surprising wide range. There’s no latency, and no unwanted noise, even when used with a wireless rig.

I tested this pedal using a 2010 Fender Stratocaster and a custom Hum/Single/Hum guitar loosely based off of the Dean Vendetta, going into a solid-state Fender 25R through the drive channel with all EQ Parameters at 12 o’clock, drive and reverb parameters at 0. But in reality, it’s not something I’ve “tested.” It’s just something I’ve had for years and has been a permanent part of my board ever since I started playing with a pedalboard. The Boss DS-1 is quite possibly the most important distortion pedal to own, even if the guitarist has other distortions that they use, the DS-1 is so affordable and versatile that it’s a staple in the guitarists’ arsenal. Every actively performing guitarist should own one of these. It is true that the DS-1 has quite a few drawbacks, and it’s nowhere near the best distortion pedal on the market, but the value is well worth the price, and the sound is still great if the guitarist knows how to use the pedal. With all pots on the pedal set to “noon”, the signal from a Strat middle-pickup will have some sandy distortion. The DS-1 doesn’t have a powerful output signal so it sounds fairly quiet at half volume (pairing this with a pre-amp before the pedal will fix this).

The DS-1 has an analog high-pass filter that seems to completely cut out many of the lower frequencies in the signal which causes part of its low signal strength. It’s also the reason why many people actually don’t like the DS-1 as it takes out a lot of tone from the guitar. But this pedal is really designed with a full band sound in mind, so the guitarist not having some low frequencies won’t matter with the bassist, drummer, keyboardist, or whoever else is in the band filling in those lower frequencies. The idea of the DS-1 is that it’s purpose-built to have a sound and a place on stage or in any given recording, and the sound can be shaped by an equalizer before or after the pedal. It does what it says on the box, distortion, and nothing more.

Boss DS-1 Distortion Review

Setting the controls sparingly and rolling back the guitar volume and tone yeilds a fantastic distortion tone. Brilliant for thickening up a strat, adding bite to a tele and grit and soul to a LP with P90s. Unlike some more exotic distortions the nature and transparency of my playing still shines through. It layers up with my overdrives pedals (SD-1, OD-3 and Bluesbreaker) which combined with the warmth of my old valve amps gives a broad range of classy tones. May not be the ultimate box for a hi-gain shredder with hi-output pickups as they may make it sound harsh.

This is a great, classic distortion when you know how to use it. Lots of vids show how, but the basics are: keep distortion below 12 o’clock, keep tone below about 10 or 11 o’clock. I keep the tone about 10 o’clock, and distortion about 8-9 o’clock, unity gain, pushing into a clean channel and it sounds great, especially for punk and post-punk. It also pairs well with a Boss Blues Driver. I also have an MXR Custom Badass ’78 (which is essentially a DS1 with the Keeley mods) so I have the best of both worlds: modded and unmodded DS-1.

DS-1 VS DS-1 20 year version (no SMT)

I bought a new DS-1 to compare it to my almost 20 year version (no SMT). It sounds almost the same, the differences are very subtle, and the new one is also not susceptible to electrical noise from a poor quality power supply. But the build quality is definitely on the side of the old model. First, the new one has a different, in my opinion uglier, shade of orange and a slightly thicker font for the inscriptions. Secondly, the casing itself, the edges, etc. are made much worse than in the older production. The round edges of the casing in the old model herein 2021 one are crude. Due to the much smaller amount of electronics inside, it is also lighter, the rubber materials underneath and on the footplate also seem to be of much lower quality. They even saved money on the BOSS stamp stamped into the rubber underneath (it’s not there) and the sticker look (almost no info). A sign of the times, bad sign of times, it’s not build like a tank anymore and you can’t mod it, pass from me, sticking with old one. 


In its class, it’s a very good pedal with amazing construction. Speaking of mods- I would argue that a DS1 or SD-1 is the #1 choice for newbies to the mod world. For about $30 you can turn a DS-1 into a pedal to rival pretty much anything out there. The new (2017+) don’t degrade your signal when in bypass mode as much as the older ones seem to. DS-1 (stock) tips – single coils get the best tone IMO – the tone control shouldn’t go past the 1/3rd mark or it turns into some honky tonk tin machine (not in any way that could be desirable… for anyone… except the makers of children’s toys… maybe… if they had lots of high frequency hearing damage). – use a power cable. – this is not a metal distortion pedal. If that’s your need get an MT – the sky is the limit for learning circuit mods and the resources are plenty. It’s like the 5.0 mustang of the guitar pedal world.

The adjustments are very nuanced and just a little movement on the tone knob makes a tremendous sound. Same for the Level and Distortion controls. And the flexibility, depth of the distortion is just superb. I could not be more impressed.

This little puppy is an under-rated pedal. The amount of ways it can be used by itself and mixed in with others pedals like the Dyna Driver is amazing. I use a strat mostly but have buckers in some of them. It definitely likes strats. I’ve heard that it’s best not to overdrive it’s input so put it toward the front of the chain.

Boss DS-1 Distortion Manual

Anyone who says this pedal sucks doesn’t know what they’re doing with it, and/or is just a snob. It’s a solid and reliable tool to stomp on for guitar solos or power chords, and can even do a decent blues tone if you need it, too. It all depends on your amp and your ears. Yes, the tone-control does have way more treble than I need, but you might need it if you find yourself playing an old and underpowered amp with worn out tubes. So you could even use this “distortion pedal” like a treble-booster! It doesn’t surprise me that Japanese engineers in the 70s would design a distortion circuit with a device loved by Richie Blackmore built into it. It really is easy to modify, but I’ve found that there’s no need.

These distortion pedals are VERY amp sensitive. Everyone that says bad things about a DS1 isn’t using it through an amp that has enough low and Muddy mid’s. It likes a warm amp. You’ll know why if you try it in various amps. I run mine on Carbon Zinc batteries into my Mesa Boogie F50 combo. I Love my Boss DS-1’s, i’m obsessed! I want one from every year!

The DS-1 does everything that I ask of it. I like the tone with an amp almost at break up, then, add the DS-1. I find this more crunchy than fuzzy! For some reason, this thing sounds so familiar! Even plays well with old Harmonies. Active pickups work very well. I have more expensive pedals, but this one is what I was looking for all along, crazy! So much fun, for so little money!