The 10 Best Distortion Pedals To Consider – Reviews And Recommendations
We may also earn commissions on purchases from other retail websites.
Last Updated November 19, 2019
The latest refresh of this chart saw four models leave us, while we welcomed four new additions. We said goodbye to pedals like the Behringer Super Fuzz SF300, while adding the awesome EarthQuaker Devices Hoof V2 to the top of the list. We also saw the arrival of the Wampler cataPulp Distortion V2, the impressive new Fender Pugilist and the classic Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer reissue.
Table Of Contents
- 10 Best Distortion Effect Pedals:
- What is the Distortion Effect?
- What Makes a Good Distortion Pedal?
- Should You Just Go for a Proper Tube Amp Instead?
- The Final Word
In this article, we have taken the time to select and review some of the most popular distortion pedals on the market, ranging from classic reissues to brutal modern pedals. The list is rich with variety and caters for distortion-hunters on any budget – from entry-level pedals up to high-end beasts. Let’s dive in!
10 Best Distortion Effect Pedals:
|Image||Guitar Pedal / Rating||Summary||Check Price|
|+ -|| Earthquaker Hoof V2 |
Total of 4.85/5
Focused pedal that excels at distortion, overdrive and classic fuzz sounds.
|+ -|| Wampler Catapulp V2 |
Total of 4.77/5
British tube distortion with outstanding dynamic range.
|+ -|| MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion |
Total of 4.80/5
Fully analog distortion that brings an impressive range of tones and gain.
|+ -|| Fender Pugilist |
Total of 4.85/5
Unique features and great tones with an outstanding pedigree.
|+ -|| Xotic Effects SL Drive |
Total of 4.57/5
More refined affordable dist box that brings great performance and limited versatility.
|+ -|| Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer |
Total of 4.45/5
A faithful reproduction of the classic Tube Screamer sound.
|+ -|| Pro Co RAT2 Distortion Pedal |
Total of 4.68/5
RAT2 is another classic stompbox that brings impressive performance and abundant flexibility.
|+ -|| MXR M104 Distortion + |
Total of 4.68/5
Very light distortion that caters to Rock, but brings high quality tone.
|+ -|| Boss DS1 |
Total of 4.63/5
Quintessential distortion pedal used both by legendary guitar players and the masses.
|+ -|| Electro-Harmonix SOULFOOD |
Total of 4.63/5
One of the best and only Klon Centaur clones on the market.
Earthquaker Devices’ new and improved hand-wired Hoof V2 Fuzz pedal boasts an incredible palette of tones, from warm overdrive to hairy fuzz and syrupy distortion.
Along with its standard tone knob, the Hoof V2 offers a unique shift dial. By changing the pedal’s overall frequency response, it works together with the tone knob to make any distorted tone accessible in just seconds.
While it’s extremely versatile, the Hoof doesn’t sacrifice its distinctive clear and focused sound. This fuzz can handle pretty much anything without dropping out or loosening your signal. Guitarists looking for a one-of-a-kind yet versatile distortion should take a look at this box – the main Hoof V2 review offers an in-depth look.
Wampler Pedals makes some of the best amp emulation stompboxes on the market. The CataPulp V2 – a take on classic Orange-style British tube distortion – bottles the essence of the full-size head in a significantly friendlier package.
As we highlight in our full CataPulp V2 review this pedal’s dynamic range puts everything from slight breakup to thick, gritty distortion within easy reach. The active EQ bands allow players to add or cut up to 15 decibels from a certain range in their signal.
While other pedals might focus solely on gain, the CataPulp V2 offers a spectrum of amp-like breakup, from light overdrive up through hard rock and metal distortion. Any fan of British crunch and tube saturation will enjoy this unit.
MXR’s ability to produce refined pedals didn’t end even when they were acquired by Dunlop. M75 Super Badass is a great example of this policy. The name is appropriate, to say the least. To put it in simple terms, you get a very hot distortion pedal that can deliver vast amounts of gain on demand, but there’s one important feature.
This thing comes with a three-band EQ. That maybe doesn’t sound all that important, but once you start tweaking the tone, you realize just how much it means to have this feature. Speaking of tone, Super Badass is all over the place. You can dial in a great rock tone full of slight overdrive goodness, or you can go all out and saturate that signal with a very crisp distortion.
The choice is yours. One great thing about this pedal is the fact that you’ll never feel like your tone is shallow or too muddy. All it takes is a tweak of the EQ to get any imperfection sorted out.
Who better to deliver one of the most classic electric guitar effects than the most classic guitar company ever? Though Fender’s Pugilist Distortion is among the company’s first pedal offerings, the feature set is expert level. As the full review explains, this box is one of the best new options on the market.
The Pugilist features a two-channel distortion setup, offering cleaner, brighter sounds alongside harder, thicker distortion. The two engines can either be blended together, or stacked on top of each other for an extra hit of vibrant gain.
Additional features like the LED-lit knobs and brushed metal housing belie the Pugilist’s very modest price. It’s a fantastic option for players looking for an innovative distortion with classic tone and pedigree.
Next in our selection with a simpler, yet very effective choice, the SL Drive – falling under the famous Xotic Effects pedal product line, as one of their most affordable pieces. This intuitive work of art shouldn’t fool you, it offers high-end Distortion effects and quality in reproduction, it has helped the likes of Jimmy Page in crafting the feel of their sound.
The pedal offers True Bypass and four switches allowing you to go through and select some sounds mimicking vintage releases dating back in the 60’s – The Super Lead and The Super Bass. The control settings on the front side are pretty standard and offer tuning of Tone, Drive, and Volume.
The range of the controls varies in interference with your original sound, ranging from smoother to grainier all the way up to endless aggression, refine it to whatever suits your style of play regardless of genre. A top pick, if you’re starting out, as it provides impressive sound quality at an extremely affordable price tag.
The Ibanez Tube Screamer has been the first name in distortion and overdrive for nearly 40 years. If you’re looking for that prized tone in today’s market, Ibanez’s new TS9 Tube Screamer Reissue is worth checking out.
The TS9 faithfully captures all the hallmarks that the first TS-808 and TS-9 models offered. The snarling midrange and distinctive, fuzzy saturation will be instantly familiar to any guitarists who loves these neon green stompboxes.
With only level, drive, and tone controls, this reissue is easy for any guitarist to pick up and plug into their rig. Blues, rock, prog, metal and more – players of any style will be satisfied with this faithful reissue. For a more detailed look, check out our full review.
Today’s distortion effect market is full of great modern designs, but some vintage ones as well. One of the latter which really withstood the test of time is the Pro Co RAT2. This thing is old school in every way imaginable. The enclosure it comes in is reminiscent of the time when effects pedals were just becoming a thing, and the tone it offers is simply on a level of its own.
For these reasons, RAT2 has found its way onto many popular musician’s pedalboards. One glance at the control panel tells you its a very simple pedal to use. Back when it was designed, simplicity was the name of the game.
Even though it gives an impression of a somewhat limited stompbox, RAT2 packs a lot of range in terms of distortion. You can adapt it to a gentle rock sound, or a more sinister metal tone with ease. On top of all that, Pro Co RAT2 is one of the most affordable iconic distortion boxes available today.
MXR M104 Distortion+ is a very strange beast. The pedal offers one of the most authentic distorted tones you can get, and it has been doing so for numerous decades. What makes it strange is the fact that it’s a germanium based distortion.
Use of germanium is a tell-tale mark of an old school fuzz box, but M104 isn’t really a fuzz pedal. This odd combination results in a very interesting tone which offers a lot of range. In a sense, you can go from a heavier overdrive all the way to a fuzzy distortion tone. If it didn’t have the sustain it has, this stompbox would probably fall within the fuzz category.
In simple terms, it’s not your regular dist box and that makes it pretty interesting. The design is as simple as it can be – with two knobs and a footswitch available to shape the tone. If you are looking for a more vintage sounding distortion, this MXR is definitely one of the better choices available.
DS-1 is both one of the most popular distortion pedals ever created, and one of the most misunderstood ones. A lot of people expect to just plug it into their signal chain and get that thick distortion.
That is not how DS-1 works. Instead of overwhelming your tone with chaotic distortion, like most modern designs do, Boss DS-1 is designed to spice up your clean signal, but also clean up the signal which is already passing through a more aggressive distortion pedal. Learning how to use the DS-1 is a bit tricky, which is exactly why so many new users get disappointed by it. However, once you figure out all of its intricacies, it will become your favorite thing.
DS-1 is the type of pedal which you keep turned on all the time. Bottom line, it’s a very unique pedal that can be found on pedalboards belonging to legends such as Joe Satriani and similar. It is also one of the most affordable distortion pedals you can grab at the moment.
It’s no secret that Electro-Harmonix offers a wide range of distortion pedals, each with its own benefits. However, one of their more interesting models is the Soulfood. What makes it so interesting is the fact that it was based on the legendary Klon Centaur dist box, which was known as one of the most refined yet aggressive distortion pedals of its time.
Klon Centaur is no longer available, which is why a lot of guitar players were excited about the Soulfood. In terms of appearances, Soulfood comes in a very sturdy, simple enclosure which was designed to withstand the unforgiving conditions associated with serious stage use. The tone you get from Soulfood is very much similar to the Klon Centaur, but a bit more refined.
There is a lot of range in this thing, meaning that you can use it as a booster pedal, as a dirty distortion and anything in between. Electro-Harmonix priced this model in a way that makes it attractive no matter what your budget is like.
What is the Distortion Effect?
When it comes to adding some girth to your guitar tone through pedals, you have two options. You can either go with an overdrive pedal or a distortion pedal.
While these are from a similar family of effects – along with fuzz pedals – they are both quite different. In short, overdrive delivers the traditional ‘crunchy’ high-gain tone, replicating what happens when a tube amp naturally breaks up. Overdrive pedals also tend to retain the same feel and tone of a guitar’s natural sound, but with a bit more bite.
On the other side of the coin, distortion pedals are pure savages, squeezing out as much gain as possible. The natural tone of your guitar and amp are altered significantly – there’s nothing subtle about distortion! It’s deep, crisp, compressed and aggressive, usually accompanied by tons of sustain.
What Makes a Good Distortion Pedal?
Naturally, one of the most important aspects is the gain the pedal can offer you. After all, this is what makes distortion so brutal and one of the most popular effects pedals in use today.
However, read reviews to actually determine if the distortion on offer with a specific pedal is suitable for your style of playing. There is no one-size-fits-all distortion and there is no one-size-fits-all distortion pedal either. You can find distortion pedals more suitable for classic rock right up to those that cater for severely heavy metal.
For example, Boss offer several distortion pedals, all with their own unique flavor. The DS1 is an all-time classic, delivering high-gain distortion best-suited to classic rock and classic metal – everything from AC/DC to Iron Maiden. It wouldn’t be as suitable for hard rock and modern metal as Boss’s MT-2 pedal. This one delivers face-meltingly high gain that’s been utilized by everyone from Korn to Disturbed.
Aside from the level of gain, you want to ensure that the pedal doesn’t make your tone too muddy when you play at either very high or very low volumes. Providing you are buying a popular or highly-rated pedal (like the models we highlight on this list), you will find the tone should remain clear at whatever volume you play.
Controls are another important factor on distortion pedals, although these differ from model to model. You will almost always find a knob for controlling the amount of gain, as well as one for volume and one for tone.
Truth be told, that’s about all you really need – sometimes less is more. However, some pedals will offer other controls and features. You may find knobs for sustain, some may give a full 3-band EQ, while others offer bass boost switches. Some will also offer handy noise gates, that recognize when you aren’t playing and quickly silence any background noise.
Whether or not these are useful features for you depends on the amount of control you want over your tone.
Should You Just Go for a Proper Tube Amp Instead?
Many professional musicians don’t generally rely on pedals to deliver an epic distortion, but rather turn to beastly tube amps instead. Things like the Peavey 6505, MESA/Boogie Dual Rectifier, or a big Marshall stack. Those amps push out organic, high-gain distortion without breaking a sweat.
So why don’t we all go for these amps instead? One of the reasons is that the cost a lot of money. Distortion pedals are therefore an affordable substitute, allowing you to find the aggressive tone you want without spending thousands of dollars. They also allow you to find that tone without having to play at high volumes, unlike some tube amps.
However, as some distortion pedals color your amp’s natural tone – such as Ibanez’s Tube Screamer – there’s nothing to say that you can’t enjoy using both a tube amp in conjunction with a distortion pedal to achieve a truly killer sound.
The Final Word
Hopefully this article has helped you understand why distortion pedals are some of the most popular effects pedals in use today. We also hope it has helped you create a shortlist of distortion pedals to check out.
Go read some reviews, watch some videos and try some pedals out if possible. Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with the handful of pedals we’ve highlighted in our chart – all legends in their own right! Remember to check back occasionally, as we are always refreshing our articles and something new may be here soon!