Best Distortion Pedals For Guitar
There has never been a better time to find some amazing-sounding distortion pedals than today. Manufacturers are designing devices like never before, as some talented teams of people are flexing their muscles.
Years ago, as companies began introducing distortion pedals, they were great for what they were. However, some of the harsh treble that these boxes produced was a trade-off for convenience. Most guitar players knew it, but the benefits of being able to step on a stomp were more appealing than the sound they made.
Well, all of that is changing quickly! Some of these new devices are beginning to sound almost like fire-breathing tube amps and are incredibly pleasing to the ear.
What Is Distortion?
The term distortion often gets confused with overdrive to a lot of players. They are similar, but not the same. Overdrive is a means of dirtying up your tone but clipping your signal without drastically changing the main fundamental sound.
Think something like a Marshall Plexi tone that is still fundamentally your guitar’s sound with some crunchy grit (In the greatest possible way).
Distortion is nothing like this and will alter your tone and all the frequencies that produce a sound the pedal was designed to make. This is in most cases nothing close to the organic sound of your guitar.
The gain from these units is not the concern. But most distortion pedals obtain the term because they have in most cases a lot of it. But the altered bass, mid and treble frequencies due to high gain clipping will change the sound, and sometimes for the better!
Top Distortion Pedals
We have purchased and tried some of the hottest pedals by some great and even upcoming builders.
These units are becoming popular because word of mouth is very positive for them. While some pedals develop hype, sometimes it is real! But you need to see if it’s marketing-driven or popular with players. We started by looking for the hype around products that guitarists were talking about.
If it was getting good feedback from players, we picked them up to try. And sure enough, they are as nice as they are made out to be! So much so, that they are now on our boards because they are just so good!
Revv G3 Distortion
Revv Warranty: 1 year
The Revv Amplification G3 distortion pedal is one hot stomp! With some tube-like saturation and smooth gain, it’s an amp in a box!
The G3 is a high gain pedal with some great tube amp-like tone. It has a 3 band EQ and aggression switch to change the structure of the sound. It is built with high-quality components and a custom aluminum enclosure that is very clean and easy to look at.
The Jacks are all top-mounted and the text is all laser engraved. This is one serious build!
This pedal is best suited for players who want a more modern, aggressive sound. It is perfect for hard rock, saturated metal, and even scooped old school tones.
Its sound is clear, saturated with a huge bottom end that is tight! The saturated gain makes this pedal capable of nearly anything. Each level of aggression gets even more fire-breathing, but doesn’t fall apart.
I used the Revv Generator MK3 amplifier on channel 3 to see how close they really got. And it is close! The amp is very tight and aggressive, and so is the pedal. I found the pedal was similar to a tube sound.
When used in the effects loop, it works like a preamp, but I found I liked it more in the front input. When the amp was set to the clean channel, I was able to get some great sounds.
- Premium grade build
- Aggression Switch
- Tube like Distortion
- Great Tone
- Hard to find an issue with it.
Jackson Audio Asabi
Jackson Warranty: 1 year
The Jackson Audio Asabi distortion is the work of Jackson Audio and Mateus Asato. It doubles as an Overdrive as well and sounds great!
Mateus Asato and Jackson Audio have created a masterpiece of a pedal. Stock the sound is that of a hot-rodded JCM800 with some incredible clarity and lots of gain.
The device features MIDI control and some other great options.
It also has a built-in overdrive section that is controlled opposite the distortion. Not only can you boost it, but you can use each of the sides individually. It is a great-sounding pedal with a ton of options!
This pedal is best suited for guitarists who want a range of tones and lots of modern controls.
For this demo I used the Boss Katana amplifier using a clean sound and started with the drive side of the pedal. The guitar was the Fender Stratocaster and right away the crunchy sound was perfect. It has a ton of spank and seemed very tube like.
For the distortion side, I used a PRS custom 24 and was not disappointed, the pedal was able to get some great rock and metal tones. It has different clipping modes, and they sound pretty good. Some more saturated than others. Some were a bit fuzzy, but over all I liked them.
- Active 3 band EQ
- MIDI Control
- Great Sound
- Overdrive built in
- Very expensive
Revv G4 Distortion
Revv Warranty: 1 year
Another rock-solid distortion from Revv. The G4 is created after their RED channel amp tone and is another seriously good sounding effect!
Revv has created pedals based on the sounds of their Generator 120 amplifier and man did they nail it! This is another high gain amp in a box stomp with some great tone.
Also built into a great looking aluminum enclosure with laser engraved text, this unit is built to last.
This pedal is suited for players who like thick modern metal sounds. It is very capable of doing great rock tone as well, thanks to the aggression switch.
Compared to the G3, this sound is thicker and bolder, but less saturated. The pedal features a 3 band EQ and gain altering switch that also increases bass and mid-content. It is a great sounding pedal and when used with the Generator MK3, it is very close to channel 4.
- Premium Parts
- Thick Heavy Tone
- Aggression Switch
- Top Mount jacks
- Less saturated than the G3
Friedman Smallbox Distortion
Friedman Warranty: 1 year
Friedman’s pedals are known for their great amp-like tone! The Smallbox distortion is another hot addition to an already awesome line!
The Friedman Smallbox is a hot-rodded Marshall Plexi-type tone that is glorious! Done only as Friedman can, this device is made after the Smallbox amplifier.
The pedal has a gain structure switch on the side to kick up the saturation, and the right guitar can take you anywhere you want. If you have been looking for a Plexi-like sound, you have found the stomp to get you there all day long!
This pedal is best suited for guitar players who want a Marshall Plexi tone in a box. It does some great higher gain sounds as well.
- Build Quality
- Plexi Sounds
- 3 band EQ
- Gain Structure Switch
- Side Mounted jacks
Vox Cutting Edge Distortion
Vox Warranty: 1 years
Vox has created a high gain distortion pedal with Nutube technology. This unit is a great-sounding addition to their Valvenergy line.
Vox has released a new breed of pedals using their Nutube technology. The Cutting Edge distortion is their metal stomp in the Valvenergy series and sounds great.
The product features some output controls to allow use of a cab sim, making this an amp in a box. This pedal also features a great gain saturation and tight control. Utilizing the 3 band active EQ can really tailor a great metal tone for many applications.
This pedal is best suited for players who want high gain metal sounds and a cabinet simulation option in one package.
- Parts And Hardware
- Cabinet Simulation Output
- Good metal Tone
- Vox Link Technology
- 2-hour battery life
Fender MTG Tube Distortion
Fender Warranty: 1 years
The Fender MTG pedal is a distortion with a real tube inside. They used a NOS tube with a plate voltage of 150 VDC. This provides a good amount of headroom when you roll off the volume on your guitar.
Not only is it a distortion pedal, but it also has a built-in boost. This option allows you to either boost your gain or volume, or both! When you press the foot switch, the added gain and level control are put into the circuit to allow you to adjust to taste.
This pedal is best suited for players who want a more vintage tube distortion sound with great controls.
- Nice Enclosure
- Light Up Knobs
- Good Vintage Tone
- Real 6205 Preamp Tube
- Tube would need to be replaced if it fails
This pedal is like a vintage Fender in a box. I ran it into the front of the Fender Champion 100, and it was the perfect match. The MTG is very tube like and warm sounding. It has a great vintage feel and sound to it.
The boost was a nice touch, as it can be kicked up in either gain or volume. It also had a good response to the guitar volume control when I wanted to back it off.
Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion
Boss has been around for a long time. They have made some great pedals for many decades, the DS-2 lives up to the legacy. This pedal has 2 modes which can be controlled even by using an external foot switch. This is great if you are using different sounds live and need hands free.
It is capable of a lower gain variation that can be great for sounds in blues, rock and grunge where the settings can be sharp. Then it can dip into metal territory with a sound that is dark and deep. It’s a pretty versatile pedal.
This pedal is well suited for guitar players who need a unit that can do many tones. It has a good sound and can be switched on the fly. Good bang for the buck here.
For this test, I used the DS-2 in front of a Fender Champion 100 amplifier to try and get some bright and clean tones when it was turned off. When set to Turbo 1 mode, the distortion was pretty powerful and had a flat EQ.
This made it darker, which was good for heavier music. I was able to dial in some hard rock and metal tones this way.
In turbo-2 mode, the pedal became more spicy in the top end and had more bite. This was great for the lower gain stuff. I quickly found myself using a Fender Telecaster here as it had some great sounds for even stuff like Red Hot Chilly Peppers.
MXR M75 Distortion
MXR has put out a great pedal called the M75 Badass. It’s a pretty versatile little unit that can take you from vintage 70s rock to modern metal and everything in between. The EQ is very responsive, which is helpful in getting some good sounds.
All jacks are side mounted on the rugged enclosure, and it is true bypass when switched off. This is a great option when you own an amp that doesn’t have a gain channel. This little pedal can get you all the tones you would need.
This pedal is suited for players who need some sort of gain option that can do many sounds at an affordable price.
With this pedal, I used the Fender Champion 100 set to clean. Turning it on with everything set at noon presented a decent rock tone with a PRS guitar with humbuckers. As I tweaked the gain and EQ, I was able to get some good heavy sounds and decent rock.
With a Fender Telecaster, I was then able to get more vintage rock sounds and even some blues. It’s a good pedal with a decent tone across the board, and the price is right.
Boss MT-2 Metal Zone
The Boss metal zone is a thick sounding distortion. Its circuit is designed around a dual-gain concept that gives it tons of saturation. The EQ is a semi-parametric design that allows you to boost or cut frequencies.
For a metal guitar player, this pedal will provide great sustain for leads and a thick mid-range for chunky rhythm. It’s a very popular pedal and has been used by some well known artists, one being Prince!
This pedal is suited for metal players who like thick, heavy distortion. If you need sustain for leads, this is a great pedal to consider. Especially for the price.
If you are typically after old school metal, this is a great pedal, and it does it well. The EQ is sensitive and so it has very effective controls. The bass is prominent, but it still has a decent mid-range. I preferred this pedal in the FX loop of the amplifier I was using it with, as it sounded heavier this way.
This one surprised me a bit when I tried it the first time. The Behringer HM300 is a super cheap pedal that you wouldn’t expect to sound very good. It is a clone of the HM-2 and so if you are into Swedish death metal tones, this is your one trick pony.
The controls don’t work as you would intend them to, but the HM-2 was sort of the same way as I remember. But if you want a chainsaw sound from your pedal, it does it all day long.
This pedal is intended for guitarists who want a chain saw sound for death metal tones. Nothing more. But it is quite good at it.
- It’s cheap
- Does Chainsaw sound well
- Does some metal tones well
- Plastic Housing
- It’s pink
What To Look For In A Distortion Pedal
Because there are a lot of distortions on the market today, you have to know what to look for. Many players are into lots of sounds! Sometimes you may gravitate towards one, or sometimes many! But you have to choose the right stomp box to get your sound, otherwise, you will be disappointed!
And with so many companies adding a lot of control options and functionality, it’s easy to get what you need. So when choosing a distortion pedal, make sure to look for these key features:
- The genre of music the device was created for
- Lowest and highest gain the unit can produce
- Functions and options for control
- Build quality
The pedal has to be able to make you happy when it can produce the sound in your head! This is the number one point because if its aim is rock, and you’re looking for searing metal, you will be disappointed!
Also, make sure it has the number of options you need, some pedals do a lot! And when you need control options, in this day and age, that’s easy.
Final point, make sure to watch some videos, you can learn a lot from them, which is why we have created these articles. We load them with everything you need to know to make the right choice!
Our Distortion Selection Process
There are hundreds of distortion pedals on the market these days, so it can be tough to pick. We select products that are getting great word of mouth from players. We watch to see what manufacturers are doing with new technologies. And we are very curious about new gear, being guitar players ourselves!
So when it comes to new pedals, they have to be moving the needle in the direction of sound and functions to be selected for testing. We don’t want devices that are just copied knockoffs, we prefer great new gear for our readers. We want you to enjoy your gear by having the right information before you buy!
Luckily, not only are pedals getting better, but so is customer service from a lot of retailers. So if you buy through one of our links to Amazon or Sweetwater, you will be able to rest assured that they will make sure you are happy. Even if it means you have to send it back to try something else!
At the end of the day, it is all about getting the right pedal for your needs, and so we help these guides have been helpful, be sure to share them with others if they have. Someone else will be on the same journey for the perfect distortion! Just make sure to have the right supply!