Best Distortion Pedal 2017 – The Complete Buyer’s Guide & Review

A distortion pedal is usually one of the fist pieces of gear for an electric guitarist.  After the guitar and amplifier of course.  This article aims to help you find the best distortion pedal. One that fits your taste and your budget and that will put you well on your way to crafting the perfect electric guitar sound.

It is the key to getting that dirty electric sound that most guitarists are after. The problem is that it can be quite tricky to buy your first distortion pedal.

With the market flooded with brands and models of various qualities, it can be really difficult to know what to buy.

By providing you with all of the information you need about distortion pedals, the different options available and the pros and cons of each one, this article will help you decide what is the right option for you.

best distortion pedal 2017 - ultimate buyer's guide for best metal distortion pedal

I Know We Are All So Busy… Here Is The Top List:

  • Our Top Pick Brand: Electro Harmonix
  • Boss DS 1
  • Electro-Harmonix Big Muff
  • Wampler Sovereign
  • MXR Super Badass
  • Pro Co Rat 2
  • MXR M104 Distortion
  • Boss MT 2
  • TC Electronic – Dark Matter Distortion
  • Danelectro D1 Fab
  • Donner Morpher

**Below are things to consider before buying your own distortion pedal and our top 10 detailed reviews. 

Things to consider when buying the best distortion pedal.

As we mentioned above, distortion pedals are generally one of the first pieces of equipment guitarists buy after their guitars and amplifiers.

Distortion effects are often found in multi effects pedals, but this article will focus on distortion pedal stomp boxes.  That is to say that we will specifically review, and write about separate units that are specifically designed to give you that dirty distorted sound.

There are a number of things to keep in mind before buying your distortion pedal.  We will run you through some of the most important things to keep in mind.  These considerations will help you to choose the pedal that will fit your budget as well as help you to get the perfect sound.

Keep the following things in mind while you read through our reviews.  That way you will be informed enough to make a good choice.

  • Amount of Gain

Distortion is all about gain. In very basic terms, gain is the dirtiness or intensity that the pedal is capable of producing. It has to do with the amount of signal that the circuit lets through. The more gain, the fuller and more intense the distorted sound will be. The amount of gain that you prefer would be a very subjective choice. Get a pedal that has the right amount of gain for the sound that you are looking for. Blues type distortion pedals generally have much less gain than heavy metal pedals.

  • Taste

This ties in with our previous point. By the very nature of distortion pedals, they change the sound of your signal quite drastically. You therefore need to make sure that the type and intensity of your distortion suits your personal taste as well as the genre of music that you will be playing. Distortion is one of the more extreme effects (compared to reverb, or compression for example) so make sure you get a sound that you love.

  • The rest of your pedalboard.

Since distortion changes the signal so much, you need to keep all of the other pedals on your board in mind. You have to be sure that your distortion works with whatever else it is that you have going on. Pay specific attention to the “lighter” effects like reverb and how they complement your distortion.

  • Amplifier.

This goes for all pedals, but the reason it is a particularly important consideration when it comes to distortion pedals is because a lot of amplifiers come with distortion units inside the amp. If this is the case, try the distortion together with the amp distortion to see how it sounds. It might be too intense, but you might also be able to find a balanced combination that you like.

  • Power Supply

The power supply of your distortion pedal is an important and often overlooked component of your setup. You need to check that the power supply that you use does not create noise with the rest of your setup. Since distortion pedals are generally quite loud already, it is important that you use a power supply that won’t be too noisy.

  • Tone control

Apart from the amount of gain on your pedal settings, you need to get a distortion pedal that allows you manipulate the tone of your signal. Since distortion can sometimes change your overall sound quite drastically, you want to be able to change the tone to something that sounds good with the extra gain.

  • Level

Generally, when you use a distortion effect it will go along with a change in volume. Sometimes you want the distorted sound to come with a boost in volume, while other times you might just want to blend your level with the rest of your pedal board. Either way, you need to be able to adjust the volume of the effect without losing the quality of the distortion effect in the process.

  • Sustain

A distorted effect also frequently comes with an increase in the level of sustain that you get on your tone. Ideally you want to be able to manipulate this level. Check out for pedals with a knob that allows you to increase and decrease your level of sustain.

In short

With all that in mind, you should be able to make an informed decision about your distortion pedal.  Here is a quick summary of all of the most important aspects:

  • Get a pedal with the appropriate amount of gain for your taste and style.
  • The distortion must work with the rest of the sounds on your pedalboard.
  • See what distortion settings (gain) your amplifier has, and how that works with your new distortion pedal.
  • Make sure your distortion pedal has a tone setting.
  • You need a distortion pedal that enables you to blend your volume with the other sounds in your board.

Best Distortion Pedals 2017 – Top 10

NameSizeGenrePrice
Boss DS 1Stomp box, regular.Rock, MetalAmazon
Electro-Harmonix Big MuffStomp box, largeRockAmazon
Wampler SovereignStomp box, regularRock, Hard RockAmazon
MXR Super BadassStomp box smallHard rock, MetalAmazon
Pro Co Rat 2Larger stomp boxRock, MetalAmazon
MXR M104 DistortionSmall Stomp BoxRock, Hard RockAmazon
Boss MT 2Stomp box, regular.MetalAmazon
TC Electronic – Dark Matter DistortionRegularRock, Hard RockAmazon
Danelectro D1 FabMediumRockAmazon
Donner MorpherExtra smallRockAmazon

What did not make our list:


Berhinger OD 300

This is quite a popular distortion pedal.  Its popularity comes down mainly to one specific feature:  the price.  This is a very affordable pedal.  But unfortunately it verges on being cheap.

The sounds, especially at higher volumes or at higher gains tends to sound quite flat regardless of the tone settings.

The pedal is not bad.  It is in fact a very good choice for beginners.  If you want to start experimenting with distortion effects, but are not willing to spend too much this might be a good choice.

For our list, however, the quality is just not good enough compared to the other entries that we have in our reviews.

Aroma ADT 1 Distortion Pedal

Just like our previous entry that was left out, this is also a budget entry.

Unfortunately, just like with most other things, the price and the quality of the product are quite closely related.

The high gain sound on the Aroma ADT 1 tends to sound very thin.  The sound of the pedal being activated can also clearly be heard through the amplifier whenever it is pressed.

Our Pick For The Best Distortion Pedal 2017

our top picks

I have to admit that Electro Harmonix is a personal favorite brand of mine.

Just as expected, their distortion pedal does not disappoint.  It is in fact our editor’s choice for best distortion pedal for 2017.

This is a high quality pedal that is still at a reasonable price.  The sound can get heavy (with the high gain) but still manages to be balanced all the way through the settings.

The unit is easy to use and blends well with most other effects and pedal arrangements.  Excellent distortion pedal for beginners and pros alike.

Top 10 Distortion Pedals – Analysis & Depth Reviews

With our dedicated team of experts, and wide range of tests, we tried to narrow down a list of the top 10 best distortion pedals.

We tried to include something for everyone.  Some pedals are more heavy than others.  That would be the high gain pedals.  Other are for getting that light crunch sound, or even just for boost or extra sustain.

There is also distortion pedals to fit every budget.  If you read our reviews, keep all of the considerations we’ve mentioned in mind as well as whatever sound it is that you are going for.

The idea is that this will give all of the information you could possibly need to select the absolute best distortion pedal for you!

Best Distortion Pedal #1: Boss DS-1 Review

One of the most popular distortion pedals on the market.  Boss pedals have a long reputation of being affordable, and decent quality.  This particular boss distortion model is no different.

One of the benefits of using a boss pedal, is that they are very easy to replace.  So if you get a sound that you really like, you will be able to get the right pedal for your sound no matter where in the world you find yourself.

The knobs and settings on the DS one are basic and standard.  There are controls for tone, level (volume) and gain.  These are really all you need, and more than takes care of the basic needs of crafting a good distorted tone.

Just like almost all other Boss stomp boxes, you can power this pedal with a 9V battery, or with a standard Boss power supply.

This is one of the milder Boss distortion pedals.  There are pedals out there with a lot more gain than this one.  Many players tend to use the DS­-1 simply to sculpt some texture around an already established tone.  It works well in tandem with other pedals.  Even with other distortion pedals.

Conclusion:

We would definitely recommend the DS-1 as an entry level distortion pedal.  It has all of the basic settings you need to sculpt a solid distortion sound.  It works well with other pedals and is easily added to an already established pedal board.

Pros
  • Affordable
  • Durable high quality in accordance with Boss reputation.
  • Works well in tandem with other pedals.
  • Very versatile in terms of application.
  • Can be powered with 9V or standard Boss power supply that also work with a range of other boss stomp box pedals.
Cons
  • Limited amount of gain for heavier sounds.
  • Can be a noisy pedal.
  • The distortion tends to sound a bit muffled at high gain levels.

Best Distortion Pedal #2: Electro Harmonix – Big Muff

Yes, the EMX Big Muff was our 2017 editor’s choice.  And for good reason as well!

This is one of those legendary pedals that have stood the test of time.  For more than 30 years now, it has been a favorite amongst guitarists.  If it was good enough for Jimi Hendrix, it is good enough for us!

The EMX Big Muff has a very intense gain setting that can give you that muffled Hendrix sound.  That is probably the tone that this pedal is most famous for.  It is however also possible to dial the tone down quite a bit and to use it simply as a means of rounding off a cleaner sound.

It works well with chordal as well as lead playing and has great sustain levels.

The steel casing of the pedal means it is extra durable and easy to maintain.

Conclusion:

Excellent pedal.  Classic sounding, high quality pedal that can be quite versatile once you get the hang of it.  Exceptional sustain for that violin-like lead sound.  Affordable price for a boutique quality pedal.

Pros
  • Classic old school distortion sound.
  • Better than average sustain function.
  • Durable metal casing and generally very high quality parts.
  • Affordable price for a boutique-like pedal.
Cons
  • The distortion is definitely on the “old school” sounding side. It won’t work for those of you after the more modern sounding distortions out there.
  • Pedal is more expensive than other pure entry level models.
  • Tone is not so good on the high ends as it is on the low ends.

Best Distortion Pedal #3: Wampler Sovereign

This is one of the more expensive pedals on our list.  It is however, probably one of the most versatile distortion pedals out there.

The feature that sets this pedal apart from a lot of others, is the high gain switch.  Apart from being able to increase the amount of gain with a know, there is also a switch on the pedal that allows you to change from a classic sounding distortion (think AC DC) to a higher gain, sustained and full sound.

This gives the pedal an incredible range in terms of what it is capable of.

Conclusion:

As we have mentioned, this is not the cheapest of pedals.  But what you really pay for with this pedal is versatility.  It is really incredible that Wampler could fit so much into such a small pedal with only the basic knobs and switches.  It is easy to use, but you can still sculpt just about any distorted sound out there with this pedal.

Pros
  • Highly versatile
  • Condensed a lot of malleability onto a small and easy to use pedal.
  • Switch between classic and high gain modes.
  • Boutique design and quality.
Cons
  • Expensive
  • It has a lot of low ends and might be ill suited to use on amplifiers that are also naturally lower.

Best Distortion Pedal #4: MXR M75 Super Badass

It is easy to underestimate the MXR M75.  But the truth is that the name says it all.  This pedal is a total badass.

One of the first things that you will realize is that it has three different tone knobs.  You can change the bass treble and mid frequencies independently.  This means that you can, after setting your gain level, find the exact texture that you are looking for.

This is a high gain pedal that is mostly used in Metal and Hard Rock music.  The intense high gain of the pedal is combined with a very good sustain that keeps the dirty sound from getting dry.

Conclusion:

Of all the more hard-core pedals, this is probably my favorite.  The fact that you can change the tone quite drastically means that you can get a sophisticates sound out of your rig even after putting a lot of gain on your channel.  The good level of sustain and decent high end frequencies of this pedal are also all definite positive points.

Pros
  • Very High Gain.
  • Triple tone control to sculpt a balanced high gain distortion sound that mixes well with the rest of your board as well as the music that you are playing.
  • Great sustain
  • True bypass
  • Fully analog
Cons
  • Not good with lower gain sounds.
  • Can be noisy in a pedal board.
  • Can’t adjust the sustain level.

Best Distortion Pedal #5: Pro Co RAT 2

This has been a popular distortion pedal since the 80’s.  Musicians like John Scofield, Jeff Beck and Bill Frisell have all had this in their rig to give them that signature dirty RAT sound.

What sets this pedal apart from a lot of its other competitors is how well it functions with chords as well as with lead sounds.

The type of distortion offered by the rat is very much of the older classic kind of distortion.  So if you are looking for that extra high gain cotemporary lead sound, this may not be the pedal for you.

Many guitarists also find the sound to be pretty muffled.  It is not necessarily a bad thing.  For me, it comes down to taste.  If you like the low end dirty sound, this pedal is perfect for you.

Conclusion:

The RAT 2 is a pedal where you know exactly what you get.  It is not as versatile as the Wampler Sovereign, but then again, if you know what you are looking for, that’s not a problem.  It is easy to use and has all the usual three settings knobs.

Pros
  • Legendary classic distortion sound.
  • Easy to use
  • Durable parts.
  • Intense and full low frequency distortion.
Cons
  • Not a very versatile pedal.
  • Bulky, and can crowd a pedal board that has limited space.
  • Sometimes lacks clarity in the upper register frequencies.

Best Distortion Pedal #6: MXR M104 Distortion

This is one for the fans of that old school 70’s type of distortion.  The type of distortion that has the clear high end clipping sound.  It sounds a lot like a naturally overdriven sound.  The perfect pedal for that classic hard rock sound.

The pedal has only two knobs.  And believe it or not, that’s all you need.  As you increase the gain you can clearly hear different parts of the tonal spectrum filling out.  The knobs are very easy to operate and you can very soon, almost intuitively start sculpting your perfect sound.

Personally, I really like the way this pedal sounds when the gain setting is pretty low.  It manages to give of a really nice, crystal clear crunch sound that works beautifully with chords.  The resonance of the distortion is there, but without impeding the richness of the harmony.

Of course you can crank the gain up higher and come closer and closer to the classic 70’s hard rock sound,

Conclusion:

Superior quality and very versatile pedal.  Get that light crunch sound, as well as full bodied hard rock distortion.  The pedal is easy to use and works well on a board with other pedals.  It is also small and does not take unnecessary space on a pedal board.

Pros
  • Exceptional clean crunch sound
  • Small and easy to use
  • Just has two knobs, but is still surprisingly versatile
Cons
  • Only has old school distortion.
  • Expensive for a fairly basic pedal.

Best Distortion Pedal #7: Boss MT 2

Another Boss entry on our list.  This is again, a very popular pedal.  But, unlike our first Boss entry, this stomp box is designed and marketed very specifically for metal music.

That means that the amount of gain on this pedal is considerably higher than that of the DS-1.

The MT 2 has an incredible amount of sustain to go with the high gain to give you that driving metal sound that works especially well with humbucker pickups and drop d tunings.

The pedal naturally boosts the low and mid-range frequencies.  The ultra-high-gain of the pedal also allows for some bright harmonics.

This pedal is only for those who are committed to wanting a very distorted sound.  It has very high gain and does not sound good with a light distortion or crunch sound.

Conclusion:

Super high-gain pedal that is great for metal music.  Not great if you are looking for milder, less heavy sounds.  Since it is a boss pedal, it is affordable and durable.

Pros
  • Very high gain, so it is perfect for Heavy Metal.
  • Affordable
  • Great sustain.
Cons
  • Can be a very noisy pedal to have in your rig.
  • If used with an incorrect power source, it can create a buzz in your pedal board
  • Does not do well with lower gain sounds.

Best Distortion Pedal #8: TC Electronic – Dark Matter

The thing that I really like about this pedal, is that it is way more versatile than most other “heavy” pedals.  Despite the fact that it can stand its ground with the other high-gain metal pedals, the TC Dark Matter also does an excellent job at covering the spectrum of sounds outside of the heavy stuff.

The gain knob allows you to move freely between classic rock sounds, to higher gain modern metal sounds.  All of the areas in-between all sound more than decent.

The two tone knobs give you some space to fine tune your sound after adding the gain.

Conclusion:

This is a good value for money hardcore distortion pedal that still manages to do justice to the lighter sounds on the spectrum.  The high gain sound is of decent quality and the pedal is generally a lot more versatile than other pedals of this kind.

Pros
  • Versatile for a metal pedal
  • Affordable
  • Compact and easy to use design
  • True Bypass
Cons
  • Sustain is not as good as some competitor pedals
  • Can get noisy.

Best Distortion Pedal #9: Danelectro D1 Fab

This entry is on our list specifically for the beginners.  This is definitely not the highest quality pedal out there, but it is decent enough if you are starting out.

The pedal covers a middle range distortion.  It is not as heavy as the MT2, but can definitely push the gain up quite a bit.  The pedal is very responsive to all of the settings on the front panel.

It has the usual basic settings of level, gain (distortion) and tone and can work off a power supply or a 9V battery.

Conclusion:

Good entry level distortion pedal if you want to get started with experimenting with distortion effects but are not quite ready to commit to something more serious.  This pedal will do its job and introduce you to the world of guitar effects.

Pros
  • Very affordable
  • Easy to use.
  • Good introduction to distortion effects.
Cons
  • Can be noisy.
  • Bad sustain.
  • Design of the pedal looks very cheap

Best Distortion Pedal #10: Donner Morpher

This tiny stomp box mimics the sound of a high quality tube amp.  It packs an awful lot of gain into such a small package.  On top of that, the unit is very responsive to increases in gain as well as to the signal it is getting from the guitar.

The pedal has three modes, so you can select the type of distortion that you prefer.  So this little pedal can give you a classic or modern sound depending on what it is you are going for.

The fact that the pedal is so small is also a massive advantage for traveling musicians or musicians who are having difficulty making more space on their effects boards.

Conclusion:

This is a really practical and cool looking pedal.  But apart from the looks, it also can really do its job very well.  This is one of the better distortion pedals out there today, small as it may be.  Good sustain, high gain, three settings and a decent price!

Pros
  • High quality
  • Small design that is easy to store, travel and fit on a pedal board
  • True bypass
  • High Gain
  • Good sustain
  • Three different distortion types
Cons
  • Might be difficult to anchor due to the size
  • Not equally compatible with all amplifiers. Make sure to test it first (in terms of sound)

Wrapping it up

These reviews were designed to guide you through every step of the process of choosing the best distortion pedal for you.

Like with most electronics, it can really be hard to make the right choice when buying a distortion pedal.

Music is all about personal expression, and our main goal is to guide you towards finding the pedals that will help you in finding the best sound to express your vision and personality.

Did you enjoy our reviews?  Did you find them helpful?  We hope that you did.  If we left out your favorite stomp box, please let us know about it in the comment section.

If you found this helpful, please share it with all of your friends!

Until next time, keep practicing and keep rocking

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