Best Distortion Pedal

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Distortion pedal is one of the most popular gears for an electric guitar. It has trully revolutionized popular music with its sound, spawing a plethora of new heavy genres.

When use right, the musician is able to produce a unique roaring sound that we’ve to love in such genres as hardcore or metal.

But skill isn’t the only factor of a great sound, since the quality of the distortion pedal matters as well.

Today, we will talk about some of the best distortion pedals and get you some tips on how to choose one for you.

The Comparison Table

To help you better compare the features of distortion pedals, we have compiled them into the table for easier assessment.

Name Size Distortion contol Power supply
Boss DS-1 9 x 4 x 6 inches Tone, Level, Distortion 9v, not included
TC Electronic Dark Matter 5 x 3 x 4 inches Gain, Level, Bass, Treble 9v, not included
Mesa Boogie THROTTLE BOX EQ 5.78 x 2.3 x 4.76 inches Hi Level, Lo Level, Tone, Gain 9v, not included
Wampler Sovereign V2 7 x 4 x 7 inches Volume, Mid Contour, Gain, Tone 9v, not included
Pro Co RAT2 4.7 x 4.3 x 3.1 inches Distortion, Filter, Volume 9v, not included
MXR M75 4.5 x 6 x 2.75 inches Output, Distortion, Bass, Mid, Treble 9v, not included
MXR M104 5.5 x 2.5 x 4.5 inches Output, Distortion 9v, not included
MXR M116 2.5 x 4.5 x 5.5 inches Volume, Freq, Gain, Low, Mid, High 9v, included
MXR M115 2.7 x 5.9 x 4.5 inches Tone, Output, Distortion 9v, not included
Electro-Harmonix Sovtek Deluxe Big Muff Pi 5.7 x 2.5 x 4.7 inches Volume, Blend, Tone, Sustain, Gate, Mid Level 9v, not included
Electro-Harmonix Nano 2.75 x 3.45 x 5.75 inches Volume, Sustain, Tone 9v, not included
Fender Pugilist 5.45 x 4.85 x 3.25 inches Tone, Gain, Blend, Level 9v, not included
KMA Wurm 7 x 6 x 4 inches Volume, Terror, Highs, Lows, High mids, Low mids 9v, not included
EarthQuaker Gold V2 6 x 3 x 3 inches Volume 9v, not included
Walrus Audio Iron Horse V2 LM308 4.77 x 2.9 x 2.3 inches Level, Tone, Distortion 9v, not included
KHDK Dark Blood 5.75 x 3.4 x 3.4 inches Gain, Volume, Doom, Treble 9v, not included
TC Electronic Eyemaster Metal Distortion 5.2 x 2.91 x 2.28 inches Gain, Volume 9v, not included
Diezel Herbert 7.72 x 5.08 x 4.72 inches Midcut Master, Midcut Intensity, Normal Master, Gain, Treble, Middle, Bass, Presence, Deep 12v, included

For more detailed information on each pedal, check out the reviews below.

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Boss DS-1 — Bear Bone Experience

Design

The pedal features a rather standard boxy design in orange color. On the sides, there are mono input and output jacks. On the front panel, you will find three tone control knobs and a footswitch. There is also an LED indicating a working state.

Features

Since there are only two jacks, the pedal does not support stereo sound. But the device actually has a good sound dynamic, being able to produce both soft and hard tones and everything in between. Three control knobs — Level, Tone, and Dist —  allow the user to control the volume, tone, and amount of distortion respectively.

Positive
  • Smooth tone
  • 5-year warranty
  • Affordable price
Negatives
  • High gain settings don’t sound heavy
  • Not suited for modern rock and metal
  • No stereo
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TC Electronic Dark Matter — A Solid Choice

Design

Here we have a more strict design variant with the black metal casing. Just like with the previous one, here we have only mono input and output jacks. The front greets the user with the true bypass footswitch and four tone control knobs.

Features

TC Electronic only supports mono, due to the single audio jacks. True bypass guarantees the clean tone of the guitar when the pedal isn’t used, and the tone itself can be adjusted with four knobs — Gain, Level, Bass, and Treble. A voice switch allows for a shift in bass response.

Positive
  • True bypass
  • Control versatility
  • Works both from a power supply or a battery
Negatives
  • Power supply not included
  • Two voices are not very distinct
  • No stereo
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Mesa Boogie THROTTLE BOX EQ — Five-Band Treatment

Design

This one stands out from the competition with its shape and elegant build. With input and output jacks in their regular places, the pedal boasts an abundance of control on the front panel. The casing is black with a glossy finish on the front and textured sides.

Features

The pedal offers a lot of options for sound control. There are four knobs that let the user adjust high and low levels, tone, and gain. There is also a five-band EQ. The footswitch is here for changing the distortion modes to provide extra tonal tenacity when playing live, while another one allows switching between Hi and LO tones for more versatility.

Positive
  • Responsive distortion
  • Settings versatility
  • Rich overdrive
  • Ture bypass
Negatives
  • Power supply not included
  • No stereo
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Wampler Sovereign V2 — Versatility in a Small Form-Factor

Design

That pedal features a standard metal build in grey. On the top, there are two input and output jacks and a power supply connector. The front panel greets the user with a single footswitch, four sound control knobs, and two distortion mode switches.

Features

To tweak the sound the user is given four knobs: Volume knob adjusts the level of effect that the pedal outputs; Mid Contour tweaks the mids of the tone; Tone changes the high frequencies of the effect; Gain controls the level of the distortion itself. The two switches allow the user to change his sound from vintage tunes to something more modern, as well as switch between boost and gain distortion modes.

Positive
  • Sturdy build
  • Sound versatility
  • Rich harmonics
Negatives
  • No true bypass
  • No stereo
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Pro Co RAT2 — Minimalistic Option

Design

RAT 2 offers its user a compact build in black color with not a lot going on. It has mono jacks on the top and a single footswitch on the front panel along with 3 sound control knobs.

Features

The pedal does not support stereo and has no true bypass feature, though it works great as a primary distortion pedal. You can tweak the effect with 3 control knobs: Distortion, Filter, and Volume.

Positive
  • Good distortion quality
  • Compact size
Negatives
  • Power supply not included
  • Little versatility
  • No stereo
  • No true bypass
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MXR M75 — The Essentials

Design

The pedal packs a sturdy metal casing made in elegant silver color. It keeps things traditional with elements’ placing: there are mono input and output jacks on the sides of the casing, and the front panel has a footswitch, an LED, and five sound control knobs.

Features

There’s still no stereo feature, but the M75 does have a true bypass for the clear tone when the musician doesn’t need the pedal to work. The LED on the front panel signals the working state of the device. The user can also tweak the intensity of the effect with Output and Distortion knobs, and use Bass, Mid, and Treble controls to get the tone just the way they like.

Positive
  • Strong build
  • Analog distortion
  • True bypass
Negatives
  • Not a lot of versatility
  • No stereo
  • The power supply is not included
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MXR M104 — Classic 70s Distortion

Design

M104 shares the design aesthetic with the M75 model. The controls are on their usual spots — audio jacks being on the sides, and a footswitch and control knobs on the front. This one comes in a more playful yellow though.

Features

The pedal takes a bit more minimalistic approach to the sound, taking away the true bypass features and stereo sound. There is a single footswitch to turn the effect on and off, and a LED that indicates the working state. The user is offered only two options to tweak the tone using the Output and Distortion knobs.

Positive
  • Classic 80’s tone
  • Sturdy build
Negatives
  • No tone versatility
  • No stereo
  • No true bypass
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MXR M116 — A True Powerhouse

Design

Here we have nothing to brag about in terms of looks — a simple grey rectangular shape made of metal, where the sides are housing input and output jacks, and the front panel holds a usual array of footswitch, LEDs, and 6 sound knobs.

Features

This one has no stereo either. But it makes up for it by allowing the user to have a greater control over the sound with the help of adjustable frequency control. They can be changed with the knobs in the lower row: Low, Mid, and High respectively.

Positive
  • Power supply included
  • Adjustable frequency control
Negatives
  • No true bypass
  • No stereo
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MXR M115 — No Surprises

Design

Another rather simplistic product. Apart from the bright red color, Harmonix there is actually nothing that stands out: the casing is made out of metal, with all of the controls and ports in their usual places.

Features

There are single input and output jacks on the M115, meaning that the pedal does not support stereo output. The tried and tested footswitch is here right beneath the LED to signal the operational state of the device. To tweak the effect, the user is offered three sound control knobs: Output, Distortion, and Tone.

Positive
  • Compact size
  • Sturdy chassis
  • Good sound quality
Negatives
  • Little control versatility
  • No stereo
  • No true bypass
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Electro-harmonix Sovtek Deluxe Big Muff Pi — Everything You Might Ever Need

Design

The pedal is made wider than most of its kind to house an abundance of settings it offers. Here we have a metal casing with a great combination of white sides and a black front panel with red accents. 

Features

The pedal does support stereo output thanks to the added audio jack. The pedal is great for many genres from blues to grunge. To control the sound, the user has quite a few knobs to work with: Volume, Sustain for the intensity, Tone for the brightness of the effect. In addition, there is an Attack that gives expressiveness to the notes, Gate to block out the noise, Bass Boost for lows, a Mids control section, and a High/Low switcher. The cherry on that cake is a true bypass footswitch.

Positive
  • True bypass
  • Stereo
  • Sound versatility
Negatives
  • Power supply not included
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Electro-Harmonix Nano — A Much Simpler Option

Design

Electro-Harmonix Nano has a rigid metal build, painted in white color. The mono input and output jacks are on the sides of it, and the front panel houses a footswitch, an LED, and three sound control knobs.

Features

The pedal supports a true bypass, giving the user no tone discoloration when it is not used. To adjust the sound the user is given three knobs: Volume, Sustain to tweak the intensity of the effect, and Tone to make it brighter.

Positive
  • True bypass
  • Sturdy build
  • Battery included
Negatives
  • No stereo
  • Few effect settings
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Fender Pugilist — For Those Who Like Experimenting

Design

The metal chassis is made out of textured metal. The color of the casing is gold. The device is quite wider than a usual pedal design, but the placement of the control elements is quite traditional. The audio jacks are on the sides, and the front panel houses the footswitch in its lower part and sound control knobs on its top portion.

Features

The killer feature of this pedal is dual gain engines, which allow the user to control the tone of two channels separately. There is also a Blend control to mix dry and affected signals and separate control knobs for channels.

Positive
  • Dual gain engines
  • Blend control
  • Sturdy build
Negatives
  • Battery not included
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KMA Wurm — It Has the Looks

Design

The pedal packs a unique metal casing, painted in white with a worm-like creature painted on the front panel. The input and output jacks are on the sides of the device, with a footswitch and six sound knobs being on the front. To add a little more to the design, there are five LEDs around the worm’s mouth.

Features

The pedal produces a harsh effect that suits the metal music greatly. It is only stereo, and there is not much to talk about the tone control: there are Volume and Distortion intensity controls, and four knobs to tweak the high, low, high mid, and low mid frequencies of the effect.

Positive
  • Unique design
  • Good sound quality
  • True bypass
Negatives
  • Power supply not included
  • No stereo
  • Not a lot of sound settings
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EarthQuaker Gold V2 — It Doesn’t Get Simpler Than That

Design

In terms of the design, the shape is usual for that type of device. The casing is built from metal. housing the audio jacks on the top, and the sound controls on the front. The style of the pedal is called Acapulco Gold with engravings made in black.

Features

The pedal is focused on providing the simplest experience possible: so there’s no stereo sound, and nothing to talk about in terms of the effect controls. There is a footswitch for turning the effect on and off, an LED that indicates the operational state of the device, and just one knob to control the volume of the distortion.

Positive
  • Good build quality
  • Unique design
Negatives
  • Almost no sound controls
  • No stereo
  • Power supply not included
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Walrus Audio Iron Horse V2 LM308 — Thick Distortion

Design

The metal chassis has no surprises in terms of build, but the design here is quite interesting: the artwork is done by Adam Forster featuring a new battle-ready Stallion cloaked in armor. Audio jacks are on the sides, and the front panel houses a footswitch, an LED, and three sound knobs.

Features

This pedal does support true bypass so that the guitar tone acquires no discoloration when the distortion isn’t used. The user can tweak the effect using three knobs: Level to control the output, Tone to adjust high treble frequencies, and Distortion itself. The switch on the left from the LED lets the user change modes and choose between different distortion compressions.

Positive
  • Sturdy build
  • Good design
  • True bypass
Negatives
  • No stereo
  • Limited sound control
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KHDK Dark Blood — Distinct Amp-Like Sound

Design

The chassis is made of metal and painted in black with a red design. This time the input and output jacks are on the top portion of the pedal beside the power connector. On the front panel, we have a footswitch, two LEDs, Hi/Lo switch, and four adjustable knobs.

Features

There are four sound control knobs on the pedal: Gain adjusts the gain of the circuit, Doom tweaks the pre-distortion equalization, Volume controls the output, and Treble adds a passive low-pass filter. The user can also use the Hi/Lo switch to choose between a pick-sensitive and dynamic tone or a massively overdriven one.

Positive
  • Good sound quality
  • Hi/Lo switch
  • Decent sound controls
Negatives
  • No true bypass
  • No stereo
  • Power supply not included
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TC Electronic Eyemaster Metal Distortion — Nothing to Brag About

Design

The pedal features a rather strict boxy design painted in solid black. The only other design features are the red accents, stating the controls and the model name. There are only two control knobs, a footswitch, and an LED indicator. The audio jacks are on the top of the pedal. The build material is metal, as usual, giving the device the required sturdiness.

Features

The manufacturer clearly aims at delivery features that matter and nothing more. There is a true bypass, and only two sound knobs: one controls the Volume and the Gain tweaks the intensity of the distortion. The simple LED signals the operation state of the device.

Positive
  • Strong build
  • True bypass
Negatives
  • No stereo
  • Limited sound controls
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Diezel Herbert — Ground-Shaking Tones

Design

Here we have a vintage-inspired stompbox design. The pedal houses three rows of sound controls knobs, two footswitches, and four audio jacks, and a power outlet. The casing is simple black and grey and made out of metal.

Features

With its four audio jacks, the pedal allows for both dirt and amp connection. There are plenty of sound controls as well: Midcut Master for volume adjustments with the mid-cut setting; Midcut Intensity; Normal Mater tweaks the volume the Midcut is off; Gain for the amount of gain of the pedal; Treble, Middle, Bass for the EQ control; Presence for high-frequency adjustment; and Deep for controlling ultra-low frequencies.

Positive
  • Power supply included
  • Good sound control versatility
Negatives
  • Controls can be confusing
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Buyer’s Guide

There is no single right way to choose the best distortion pedal since they are all different and cater to different user categories.

But we still can single out the points to look for when shopping for a pedal.

Those points can give you a better idea of what the pedal has to offer.

Here are those points:

Sound quality. The sound is a subjective matter, so you will never know if you like the sound of a particular pedal from a written review. Listen to the audio samples or go to the store and test the overdrive pedal yourself — this way, you know what you will be buying for sure.

Power connection. Most of the pedals require 9V power adapters, and they do not come included in the box. Some may require higher voltage as well. Some even work from a battery. So, when looking at a product, make sure that the power supply comes included, or purchase it separately if you haven’t already.

Distortion control. Distortion pedals vary a lot in terms of the sound controls. The most primitive ones allow you to tweak the volume and the intensity of the distortion, others let you tweak gain, expressiveness of the tone, and even tinker with high and low frequencies. Make sure that you get what you need here.

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Conclusion

So here are some of the best overdrive pedals that you can buy right now. Most of the products offer pretty much the same features, but it is the details you need to look out for to choose the device that will work best for you.

There is no need to pay a lot of money for a pedal that can do everything if you don’t need it to do everything. Since the quantity does not always mean quality, you might be better off choosing a product with less control over the tone, but that produces good sound nonethelessHarmonixtweak

On the contrary, the large number of features can help you with your style of playing and support your creativity.

Good luck shopping!

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FAQ:

Boss DS-1: Does the pedal need to be plugged into a wall outlet?

The pedal does work with a 9v battery that comes in the box. You can also purchase the Boss PSA-120S Power Adapter to plug it directly into the power outlet.

TC Electronic Dark Matter: Is this pedal good for blues?

It works great for blues and classic rock for sure. Can’t really say the same about heavier genres like nu-metal or metalcore.

Mesa Boogie THROTTLE BOX EQ: Does this pedal work for metal or classic rock?

It is very versatile: the tight high gain is great for metal and low gain works really well for classic rock tunes.

Wampler Sovereign V2: Mine did not come with a power supply cord. why?

By default it doesn’t come with a power supply, you have to purchase it separately. Sometimes you can get it as a part of a bundle or promo.

Pro Co RAT2: I’m looking for a distortion/overdrive that isn’t so “fuzzy.” Something with good gain but won’t make my guitar sound muddy and out of tune. Help!

Unfortunately, it is a fuzz pedal that is as muddy as it gets.

MXR M75: I have a mxr fullbore metal. too much gain and not enough clarity…how does this pedal compare for playing metal?

There is a good amount of clarity in tone and no definition. The sound is similar to the distortion of Iron Maiden guitars.

MXR M104: Why do some of these use a female adapter and some use the 1/8” phone jack adapter?

A couple of years ago MXR switched from 1/8” to 2.1mm adapters — now it is a standard for newer pedals.

MXR M116: How does this pedal sound?

The distortion here is more like an overdrive to me, it gets quite gained out on higher settings.

Electro-Harmonix Sovtek Deluxe Big Muff Pi: Does the pedal come with a power supply?

No, you will have to buy it separately. The device takes a 9V DC power supply.

Electro-Harmonix Nano: How many m-amps does this thing pull?

It says in the manual that the pedal takes a 9V adaptor that provides at least 25mA.

Fender Pugilist: Is this the mgt-la or mgt?

It is the standard MTG.

KMA Wurm: How does it differ from an original HM-2 pedal?

The tone on this one is more refined with a little more versatility to it.

EarthQuaker Gold V2: How does this pedal sound?

The pedal produces a crunchy and fuzzy thick distorted sound.

Walrus Audio Iron Horse V2 LM308: Will this pedal deliver down-tuned Hardcore death metal sounds like an obituary, six feet under, and massacre? I’m playing on a 100-watt solid-state amp us

It’s unlikely to work well for metal music because anything beyond single coils with gain at 11:00 the bass flubs out. Higher gain sounds more like a loose fuzz than a distortion.

KHDK Dark Blood: What kind of power supply does it use?

The pedal runs on a standard 9v power supply. You can also hook up to the center pin negative power supply.

TC Electronic Eyemaster Metal Distortion: Can I use it with bass?

Like any other type of pedal, you can hook it up to any guitar.

Diezel Herbert: Would this pedal still have the Diezel VH4 3rd channel sound if it was run through a solid-state amp?

Idk what amp you have but you need to run it through the effects loop. It’s an extremely heavy sound and it makes noise. You must run it through the loop with a noise gate.

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