In the world of guitars and amps, Fender needs no introduction. The Californian company is arguably the most famous six-string brand in the world. However, they’re relative newcomers in the world of pedals with a brand-new line featuring six diverse effects boxes. The Pugilist Distortion is one of them – and, while it may be quite early to say, this one stakes a claim for one of the best distortion pedals available. Let’s take a closer look.
Though this is one of Fender’s first attempts at a distortion pedal, the Pugilist offers some features that are anything but basic. Unique to this pedal is the two-channel design – the A channel offers a slightly cleaner distortion, while channel B gives thicker, higher-gain sounds.
Players can either blend the two signals to find a sweet spot between the lighter and heavier sounds, or stack the two engines in series to effectively harness two distortions in one pedal. The Pugilist also has a bass boost switch to fatten up your tone – perfect for chugging rhythm or heavy, searing solos.
Beyond the tonal controls, Fender has also thrown in a couple of helpful features for gigging pros. The knobs can be illuminated with LEDs to make adjustments easier at dark gigs, while the 9V battery is easily accessible via a magnetic battery cover at the bottom of the box.
Each channel on the Pugilist has its own tone and gain knobs. The gain, as you might guess, controls how dirty your sound gets, while the tone dial adjusts the overall presence and punch of your signal. Turning the tone down gives a warmer, more resonant sound, while when cranked it offers sharp, in-your-face distortion.
However, the Pugilist’s most original feature is the blend knob. With the circuits set to blending mode, this knob mixes the two signals together, making it easier to find the perfect drive for any setting. A switch also allows players to stack the two drives in series for an even more aggressive tone – while this disables the blend knob, each circuit can still be adjusted via the separate tone and gain knobs. The Pugilist also includes a bass boost switch to help with thicker, heavier tones and an overall level knob to control the total volume of your signal.
The brighter, cleaner A channel is great for players looking for an extra level of throaty, punchy drive – this side particularly emphasizes the pick and dynamics, especially with the gain not completely dimed.
Meanwhile, Channel B gives a more saturated, nasty sound that hard rock and metal players are sure to appreciate. The blend knob makes pretty much any sound accessible, especially in tandem with the tone and gain knobs on each of the individual channels. The Pugilist shines most when working at a full-bodied, medium gain sound, but it also offers spanky, smooth low-gain tones and some fiery, rich hard distortion.
The articulation on this pedal is noticeably clean even at higher levels – while the sound saturates nicely, each note still retains individual clarity and precision. It’s a welcome change from many muddier, weaker distortions that turn your signal into sludge when cranked.
The Fender Pugilist is a fresh, exciting new concept from the legacy California manufacturer. The two-channel setup is distinctive, and the tones are simply outstanding – especially considering the very modest price tag. Players from all backgrounds will appreciate the customizability, craftsmanship, and additional stage-ready features. Any guitarist looking for a fun, flexible distortion should give the Pugilist a try.