Updated November 18th, 2015
From pop to metal, everyone needs distortion – we take a gander at some of the best distortion pedal models around
Distortion and overdrive has evolved over the decades from something to be avoided in guitar tone, to something that is practically a requirement. If you play an electric guitar, there is every possibility that you’ll employ overdriven or distorted tones to varying degrees, at some point.
There are a dizzying array of distortion pedals available to the guitarist, which begs the question ‘which is right for me?’
Here, we take a mini tour of some of the best distortion pedal models available (and overdrives).
These two, in the grand scheme of things, offer fairly mild levels of drive. This makes them perfect for bluesy, expressive crunch, and just-on-the-edge-of-break-up tones.
Rowin LEF-324 Plexion Modeller
The Rowin LEF-324 Plexion Modeller is the most recently launched pedal in the list here, and offers a vintage tube style overdrive that mimics the mid to late 60s Plexi amps – basically warm, vintage amps cranked up. This pedal has recreated a vintage and well known valve tone, yet added the ability to tweak the sound to suit your needs. Whether you want 80’s metal chords, sweet 70’s style lead lines or just a bit of extra drive to stand out from the other guitarist in the band – the small, moderately priced and tough as nails Rowin Plexion Modeller will serve you well. Malcom Young or Paul Kossoff, the Plexion will get you there.
Boss Blues Driver BD-2
The Boss Blues Driver has been around for a while, and delivers the kind of tones that its name suggests. So, crunchy, creamy tones are available in abundance, from mild, dynamic drive, to Brit-blues tones.
Unlike many blues oriented overdrive/ distortion pedals, the Blues Driver actually has quite a bit of gain. This opens up a range of tones from mild crunch, to fairly heavily drive, but with a smooth tone reminiscent of ‘70s rock.
It’s a Boss compact, which means that, in terms of construction, it is near immortal.
The two pedals here are distortions with more gain and a more aggressive tone than those above.
Boss DS-1 Distortion
It was one of the first Boss compact pedals ever made, and has remained pretty much unchanged since its launch. It has also remained a staple of countless guitarists’ pedal boards since launch, too.
If I tell you that Kurt Cobain was a fan of the DS-1, it should give you an idea of what to expect. Thick, warm walls of power-chord are available on tap, but by tweaking settings, the DS-1 goes from classic rock tones, through powerful punk, through to thick fuzz.
Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer Overdrive
Like the Boss DS-1, the Tube Screamer is an industry standard pedal used by a plethora of guitarists from a wide range of musical backgrounds including, blues, rock and metal. The legendary Stevie Ray Vaughan was known to use this pedal to achieve his signature sound and many grunge acts also take to utilising the Tube Screamer’s prowess to get their sound.
Although the Tube Screamer is more of an overdrive pedal designed to mimic the sound of a vintage tube amplifier, it does so much more than impersonate a valve amplifier and instead creates its own unique tones by offering a mid-range boost to cut through the overall sound of a backing band without sounding muddy.
Used with an already overdriven amp or alongside another distortion pedal, you’ve got that extra tone push, sustain and heavy sound you really need for that solo or riff to push through.
The build quality also ensures this thing will last forever!
Here, we have two pedals that are squarely aimed at styles of music where you can never have too much gain. Yes, metal fans- these pedals are for you…
Boss Metal Zone MT-2
The Metal Zone is one of the go-to distortion pedals for metal guitarists everywhere. It features a dual stage gain circuit that enables incredible gain to be wrung from it. Tone can be swept from ‘clean’ to ‘utterly destroyed’ with the turn of a dial.
The key to its popularity, however, is the 3-band semi-parametric EQ, that allows tonal contours to swept, shaped and cut.
Tonewise, it’s powerful and thick, with nice compression- prefect for chugging walls of chords, or screaming leads.
EHX Metal Muff
This is the metal-oriented incarnation of the legendary Big Muff. Despite its name, this is actually a surprisingly versatile pedal. At low distortion levels, there are some great, usable classic rock and crunchy tones on offer. Past the first quarter of the distortion control, well, you’re not in Kansas any more…
The tone is focused and powerful, with lots of low-end punch, that begs for muted chords. Again, there are very useful EQ controls to change the tone according to taste, and the Top Boost provides and extra bit of treble for leads. Nice.