From pop to metal, everyone needs distortion
We take a gander at some of the best distortion pedal models around. Distortion and overdrive have 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 is 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.
1. Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi NYC
Well kick things off with an absolute classic in the form of the Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi NYC. A go-to for many a guitar hero including Hendrix, Frank Zappa, last but not least David Gilmour, the Big Muff has featured across pedalboards of rock legends for decades and this reissue keep the good times rolling.
Offering anything from a subtle bite to cacophonous wall of sound – depending on your mood -, the Big Muff Pi NYC is a remarkably dynamic pedal that responds to your playing style perfectly. Whether you’re adding a thick slab of attitude to your riffs in the style of Cobain or Corgan, living out your rock God dreams by playing Pink Floyd’s solos note for note, or fancy elevating your lead licks way above the mix to really stand out, the Big Muff Pi NYC is the ideal choice.
2. Laney Black Country Customs Monolith
At the other end of the spectrum – in terms of when it was unleashed upon the world – we have the Laney Black Country Custom Monolith. As one would expect from the team at Laney, the Monolith is an absolute beast when it comes to churning out masses of power.
Cruise through classic rock licks with ease, pull off some punk-inspired tones or jump straight to the extreme and head bang your way to glory – nothing is out of the question. Plus, the interaction between your playing, guitar’s tone and the pedal itself is the stuff dreams are made of. No matter what you get superb clarity with breath-taking responsiveness that will have the crowd eating out of the palm of your hand.
The two pedals here are distortions with more gain and a more aggressive tone than those above.
3. 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 we tell you that Kurt Cobain was a fan of the DS-1 Distortion, 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. Not only that but as a BOSS stompbox you can guarantee that it is built like an absolute tank and will probably outlive you.
4. 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…
5. 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.
Tone wise, it’s powerful and thick, with nice compression – prefect for chugging walls of chords or screaming leads.
6. Tom’sLine ABT-3 Black Teeth
For those on a budget or even those who just want to jump on the steal of the century (slight exaggeration maybe but stick with us), we bring you the Tom’sLine ABT-3 Black Teeth. Modelled on a highly popular distortion pedal named after a certain medium-sized, long-tailed rodent, the Black Teeth distortion pedal is a gnarly to say the least. As diminuitive as they come, its footprint may be small but the tone it produces is anything but.
Delivering a ferocious onslaught that will knock you sideways. With switchable settings tailored to rhythm and lead playing with high gain settings to boot. Speaking of boot, Tom’sLine thoughtfully include a metal bar between the dials and the footswitch so that you don’t accidentally knock the buttons or dials as you play. Clever, eh?
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Jon is a multi-instrumentalist with a passion for inspiring others to get involved in making music. After spending many years playing venues here, there and – pretty much – everywhere, he joined the Dawsons’ Music Web Team before progressing into his current role managing the Dawsons Blog.