I remember the first time I actually saw and held an electric guitar.
My friend got one for his birthday and invited me over to try it out. As he plugged it into the amp, I was disappointed with the sound. It just lacked something.
I tried to explain it to him, and he finally understood me.
He turned on the distortion.
As probably the most commonly used pedal across various genres, the distortion pedal has many different and interesting applications.
But choosing the best distortion pedal for your exact needs can be pretty hard.
Fret not, as you’ve come to the right place! In this article, we will go over the most important specs and features, as well as the best distortion pedal reviews.
So, let’s dive right in!
- Guitar Pedal Basics
- Distortion pedal features and specs
- Reviews of the Best Distortion Pedals
- Wrapping things up!
Guitar Pedal Basics
Before we talk about the actual details you need to take in consideration when buying a distortion pedal, let’s first take a look at how pedals, in general, are used.
In order for your rig to work properly, you need to hook it up in a proper way.
Although it is pretty obvious for most people, it’s important to go into detail for the absolute beginners out there!
By doing so, you avoid the risk of damaging your amp, and even your pedals!
Now, take one cable, and plug it into your amp. The other end of that cable goes into the OUT output of the pedal.
Take a second cable, plug it into your guitar, and connect the other end to the IN input on the pedal.
You’re good to go!
If you’re using only one pedal at a time, things are pretty simple.
However, if you are planning on using a setup which consists of multiple pedals, you need to set them up in a certain order.
Many musicians argue that there isn’t a right and wrong way in which you can set up your pedals.
But, understanding some basic principles surrounding effects pedals is most easily achieved by following this simple rule, or better put, this order of pedals.
Setting your pedals in this order allows the signal to be changed one step at a time, from the more discreet changes to the more prominent ones.
Battery vs power adapter
Most pedals you can get offer two ways in which they receive power.
Using a 9V battery is definitely more practical, especially on stage.
This means that you won’t have to go through numerous cables, both the patch cables that connect one pedal to the other and the ones needed for power.
However, you never know when the battery is going to run out of juice!
That’s why using a power adapter is a more reliable solution.
It also saves you money in the long run, that is if you take good care of your adapters!
Just make sure you keep things organized or get a pedalboard with integrated power supply, which requires only one wall outlet!
Distortion pedal features and specs
Now that you know how to set up one or multiple pedals the right way, it’s time for us to take a look at some of the most crucial specs and features, how they affect the sound, and what to look for.
The differences between analog and digital pedals
Since the appearance of digital circuitry and the low manufacturing cost of PCBs, guitar pedals have evolved into digital devices.
But what are the differences? When should you go for an analog pedal, and when for a digital model?
Well, it depends on what you’re looking for, and what sound and experience you prefer.
Analog pedals use, well, analog, old school electronics.
The main advantage of analog pedals is that they sound more natural, and simply don’t stick out that much when used.
Digital pedals, on the other hand, offer a much wider spectrum of possibilities, whether it’s across different types of effects or variations of the one effect.
However, depending on the quality, and consequently, the price, they can sound pretty artificial.
As the signal that’s coming from your guitar, and into the amp, is analog, it’s definitely logical that going with an analog pedal will yield the most natural sound.
So, the bottom line is this: If you’re looking for a pedal that will alter the sound your guitar is making, but keep the flavor and traits of the actual guitar you’re playing, go for an analog pedal.
If, however, you’re planning on experimenting with various crazy presets, and the wide range of parameters, definitely go for a digital one.
Having a decent budget definitely helps, as there are great sounding digital pedals as well, but at a noticeably higher price point!
Overdrive, distortion, and fuzz
Distortion as an effect can mean a lot of different things.
In order to get the right pedal for your specific needs, you first need to understand the differences between these three types of effects.
Overdrive was the first “distortion” effect that appeared. Guitarists achieved it by cranking up the gain on tube amps until the sound became, well, distorted.
By knowing this, it’s pretty obvious how it sounds. Overdrive manages to affect the sound, change it, while still maintaining the natural sound of the guitar as well as the amp.
Think of overdrive as a mild version of regular old distortion. Perfect for genres that are not that heavy, and need just a bit of signal alteration to do the job.
Fuzz is on the opposite side of the spectrum. Unlike overdrive, it completely saturates the signal, adding an effect that is, well, fuzzy.
The sound is full of buzzing and crackling, while the dry signal is hardly noticeable.
This effect is mostly used by doom, stoner, and psychedelic rock bands, but can be found amongst jazz and funk musicians as well.
If you are looking for a distortion pedal that will completely change your signal, and give it that heavy, greasy sound, a fuzz pedal is the way to go.
(Regular) Distortion falls somewhere in the middle. It combines a somewhat saturated sound with the natural sound of the guitar and amp.
It allows you to blend the amount of effect in a more balanced way than the other two we’ve mentioned.
Perfect for many different genres, but mostly used in metal and rock, distortion is your safest bet if you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking for.
The level of controls and various parameters
Depending on your skill level, you can choose from different pedals which offer different levels of the actual control over the effect.
It’s pretty obvious that the price of the pedal will dictate not only the quality of the effect but the number of different parameters you can play around with as well.
If you are a beginner, you won’t really need much more than EQ controls and the level of drive.
However, if you consider yourself a more advanced guitarist, and feel like you understand more complex parameters and how they individually affect the sound, going for pedals with more knobs you can tinker with is a good idea.
In order to give you a clear picture of some of the top rated distortion pedals out there, we decided to cover different price ranges.
So, the time has come for you to see our pick of the top 10 distortion pedals!
Reviews of the Best Distortion Pedals
Wrapping things up!
So, you’ve seen the most important specs, features and factors you should consider when buying a distortion pedal.
After reading our reviews, you may still be wondering: What is the best distortion pedal I can get?
Well, if you’re still not sure, take a look at our recap:
- Best guitar distortion pedal for under $50 – Boss DS-1 – For under $50, it is the best choice for beginners looking for a way into the world of effects pedals.
- Best distortion pedal under $100 – MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion – Very versatile, and offers loads of gain.
- Best distortion pedal under $150 – Xotic Effects SL Drive – The sound quality is noticeably above average. Even though it doesn’t get aggressive as much as some others models do, it’s definitely a great purchase.
- Best distortion pedal under $200 – Pro Co Sound FATRAT – It doesn’t get any better than being able to switch various circuits. The FATRAT is by far the best distortion pedal in this price range.
Well, that’s pretty much it!
Before actually buying any of these, we highly suggest that you listen to the demos online, whether they’re on the official brand website, or on YouTube.
We hope that you had fun reading this article and that it helped you.
Thank you very much for reading, and we’ll see you in the next one!