Best Distortion Pedals Product Review and Buying Guide

If you are looking to energize your guitar sound with some dirty and wild distortion, on top of your guitar’s amplifier, you will need the best distortion pedals. Depending on what distortion pedal you choose, the tone quality might have a smooth feel with endless sustain or it might be a fuzzy mess.

Two factors to consider when choosing a distortion pedal is finding out the quality and versatility of sound performance it can provide. Less than top-notch sound just won’t cut it. Also, a sturdy and compact design can also be very convenient. For these factors, our best distortion pedal picks include the Nano Big Muff from Electro Harmonix and MXR’s M75 Super Badass distortion.

Both options feature a simple and compact design but still pack a great deal of sound that you will not find through most distortion pedals. The Nano Big Muff, particularly, is a true classic. It can be an excellent addition to a pedal collection, or it can be an excellent choice for a first distortion pedal.

Best Distortion Pedals Reviews

If you want to know which distortion pedals the best distortions pedals in the market are today, here are some reviews of our top picks.

Electro Harmonix Nano Big Muff

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Electro-Harmonix Nano Big Muff Guitar Distortion Effects...
  • Crushing distortion
  • Singing sustain with attitude
  • Compact, rugged nano enclosure

The Big Muff Pi is one of the most well-known distortion pedals in the industry and has become the basis for a lot of existing stomp boxes.

However, while this original design is still holding up, there is an equally popular compact version of it – the Electro Harmonix Nano Big Muff. While it has a relatively smaller size, it still retains and packs the same tonal characteristics of the original and bigger design. It has been used by various icons from Frank Zappa to Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.

The design used for this distortion pedal is quite simple, but Electro Harmonix built the product to produce great sound without complicated controls. The Nano Big Muff features a sleek-looking enclosure and offers three controls: the tone, volume, and sustain knobs placed on top, all of which can bring quite a thunderstorm. This distortion pedal can produce large amounts of gain without being chaotic and raw.

The Nano Big Muff can offer quite a wide tonal range, with very high treble and rich bass. On the contrary, this distortion pedal, while being extremely versatile, is also easy to work with especially with its mere 12 ounces of weight. This true bypass distortion pedal comes with a 9V battery but also features an optional adapter.

All in all, while this distortion pedal seems tame and bears a pretty standard design, what makes it well-loved is the tone it can produce, ranging from a natural vibe and creamy sustain that can still offer a lot of saturation.

Pros:

  • Offers wide range of tones
  • Well-known for its performance inside a small package

Cons:

  • Produces some background noise at some presets

MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion

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MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion
  • Highly responsive full spectrum distortion
  • Bass, Mid & Treble controls
  • 100% Analog

The MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion, despite its name, comes in a very tame but elegant gray package. At first glance, you can see that it packs a great deal of craftmanship with its sturdy and compact build. Being an analog true-bypass pedal, it can produce a natural and organic tone that can allow you to go full-gain.

One of the selling points of the MXR M75 Badass Distortion is its full-on EQ that is used to control the tone, making it highly responsive. Aside from that interesting feature, you also get basic features such as the Out jack, a single in jack, an on/off foot switch, and a LED status indicator.

Compared to the Electro Harmonix Nano Big Muff which has only three controls, MXR has produced a distortion pedal that features five different knobs. It includes a Distortion, Output, Mid, Bass, and Treble.

A lot of distortion pedal users call this MXR M75 Badass Distortion, not simply badass, but a jack of all trades because of its versatility when compared to some pedal standards. The two topmost knobs can let you dial in groove metal to light rock distortion. The EQ knobs section is also convenient for tweaking and finding the sound that will fit your needs perfectly.

The MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion packs a great punch in terms of distortion pedals that can fit every guitar player’s needs.

Pros:

  • Solid design and build
  • True bypass
  • Features extended controls over the sound

Cons:

  • It can be much louder than other distortion pedals

Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedals

BOSS DS-1 Distortion Pedal
  • Tone, leveland distortion knobs on face
  • Super-tough construction
  • Lets your true guitar tone shine

When it comes to manufacturing guitar effects, Boss is among the top competitors in the industry. They are well-known for creating the best distortion pedals in the market and their Boss DS-1 distortion pedal is among the top choices.

The Boss DS-1 is not a new product and model. It has been in the market for more than 30 years and has remained one of the best-selling distortion pedals in the market; it is a true classic. While it might have a small and compact design, the Boss DS-1 is extremely robust, bearing the Boss’ name in creating high-quality compact and lightweight boxes.

The likes of Joe Satriani and Kurt Cobain have used the pedal. According to experts, it is easy to use the Boss DS-1. The inclusion of an instruction manual can also cover the basics, as well as some preset options. It features three different knobs: the distortion, level, and tone controls that allow you to shape and tune the sound depending on your preference.

While it packs quite a sturdy design and excellent control, the highlight of the Boss DS-1 distortion pedal is its brilliant sound output. Aside from using it with your guitar, you can also use it with keyboard and bass.

Whether you want to get high gains or low ends, the Boss DS-1 can provide it in abundance. It is simple to use and provides versatility that allows you to modify it to such impressive levels.

Pros:

  • Durable and lightweight
  • Produces excellent sound performance
  • Easy to use and control

Cons:

  • Produces background noise that can sometimes be annoying

Pro Co RAT2 Distortion Pedal

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Pro Co RAT2 Distortion Pedal
  • Used as a primary distortion, it excels at arena rock rhythm tones and...
  • Nails that sweet spot where a tube amp goes from sparkly clean to warm...
  • Use the RAT 2 as a boost for solos and get the extra kick you need

The Pro Co RAT2 comes with a strong and sturdy gray casing and features the three standard control knobs: the distortion, filter, and volume controls – all of which are very sensitive and highly responsive.

These controls allow you the kind of versatility to go from a metal crunch to a light drive and vice versa. However, it is worth noting that the Pro Co RAT2 is most ideal for use in hard rock tones and massive rock.

In terms of design, the Pro Co RAT 2 is simply your standard distortion pedal with an on/off button along with the three knobs. But its simplicity also gives it a sturdy and clean look which has made it lightweight at just about one pound – something that can fit into any pedal board.

In terms of sound performance, it is worth noting that the Pro Co RAT2 is not a standard distortion pedal, it’s a powerful one. It can give you the heaviest crunch that you want, providing a sparkly clean tone to a warm overdrive. It can also work very good for rhythm chugging as well as for solo boosts. It is most suited for hard rock but can still cover anything from metal to blues.

All factors considered, the Pro Co RAT2 distortion pedal is quite indestructible, both due to its sturdy metal casing and its versatility in sound performance.

Pros:

  • Sturdy and lightweight
  • Simple and easy to use

Cons:

  • A little genre-specific

Wampler Plextortion

Wampler Plextortion Distortion Guitar Effects Pedal
  • Brand New with 5 Year Warranty!
  • Hand made in the U.S.A.
  • High grade film capacitors and resistors picked for their superior...

Wampler, a USA based manufacturer, was only founded in 2004 but is fast becoming one of the top competitors amongst companies manufacturing the best distortion pedals. Their Wampler Plextortion, for one, is among the staple choice for many.

This distortion pedal features high-quality film resistors and capacitors that add to its exceptional responsiveness and sound quality. The Wampler Plextorion is fairly easy to use and control with its intuitive and familiar interface. It features the typical control knobs, numbering five in total. It has the Volume, Treble, Bass, Mids, and Gain controls.

Aside from the five knobs, the Wampler Plextortion also packs other versatility design features as it comes with the standard on/0ff switch on top that allows you to shift between modern to vintage mode and vice versa quickly.

The Wampler Plextortion’s control options are quite massive, providing a refinement and sound output like no other. All five control options can be played depending on the functionality you want for your music and can even help you discover new sets of sounds.

Overall, the Wampler Plextortion packs a great deal: from a sturdy design that matches its effectiveness to the quality of sound performance it offers.

Pros:

  • Vintage vibe
  • Extremely versatile

Cons:

  • The gain boost can sometimes be a bit hard to control

Best Distortion Pedals Buying Guide

To make sure that you only get the best distortion pedals, here’s a guide for every guitarist to find the best pedal for their needs.

Types of Distortion Pedals

There are different types of effects for guitars available, but the most popular ones are distortion pedals or what are also known as stomp boxes. Compared to amplifiers, distortion pedals can produce more signal boost and tonal flexibility that all guitarists love.

In choosing the best distortion pedals, it is essential that you get familiar with the different types available. These types are primarily categorized based on the distortion effects they can provide.

  1. “Typical” Distortion

The typical distortion or the standard distortion pedals can provide quite an aggressive level of distortion compared to other types of distortion pedals. These distortion pedals are mainly designed to intensely modify and adjust the signal of the guitar to produce a heavily modified sound output.

The specifics and effects vary dramatically based on the brand and model of distortion pedals you get. However, they are best known to produce chunky and thick metal guitar chords.

2. Fuzzy Distortion

Fuzz distortion is one of the oldest distortion effects available. It first appeared in the market in the middle of the 1960s.

Fuzz distortion pedals provide a bass-heavy effect and a mushy tone in order to increase the thickness of the sound. Sometimes, the effect of fuzz distortion pedals on the guitar signals can be a bit overbearing and is sometimes perceived of as producing an artificial sound.

3. Overdrive Distortion

The purpose of overdrive distortion pedals is to recreate the sound that a slightly overdriven tube amplifier produces. This type of distortion pedal has been a huge part of the “Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer,” the signature sound of Stevie Ray Vaughan.

The sound effect from an overdrive distortion pedal creates a little grit while still preserving some of the accurate guitar tones. A lot of guitarists use this type of distortion pedal during live performances to add a significant volume boost especially during their guitar solos.

Features and Specs of Distortion Pedals to Consider When Buying

Analog vs Digital Pedals

Analog distortion pedals are your old-school electronics, but they have the advantage of a more natural sound compared to that of newer digital pedals. They also don’t stick out so much during use. However, digital pedals offer the advantage of choosing from an even wider range of possibilities and effect variations. They also offer the disadvantage of sounding a little artificial depending on the quality.

Level of Control

Distortion pedals can not only offer different guitar sound effects but also an even wider range of controls. The quality of the pedal often determines the quality of the sound and distortion effects besides the controls and parameters you can manipulate to achieve your preferred sound.

Usually, a three-knob control for a distortion pedal can work well enough. However, if you consider yourself a more advanced guitarist and want to have a higher level of control for your guitar’s distortion effect, you can go for a pedal with more knob controls.

Battery vs Power Adapter

You can power on most distortion pedals with a 9V battery and a power adapter. However, if you are going to choose a distortion adapter that only offers one power option, opting for one powered by battery proves to be more practical especially for on-stage use. It’s also more convenient as it eliminates the need for messy cables. However, it is worth noting that a battery-powered pedal can run out of power.

Order and Tips in Using Distortion Pedals

  • While every distortion pedal works the same way, they can have some special and unique features. Don’t forgo reading the manual especially if it’s your first time buying a pedal. There might be some special user instructions on how to use the specific model you chose.
  • Make sure that you have plenty of batteries if you use distortion pedals which are only powered by them.
  • It is a smart practice to match the level of your distortion pedal knob to the volume of the amp master. It balances everything perfectly.
  • If you want, you can practice using two different distortion pedals. It allows you to have as much distortion level you can handle.

Choosing the Best Distortion Pedal for Simplicity

If you want to improve the sound effects of your guitar through distortion but don’t want something with settings for you to have to tweak from time to time, you might want to consider simplicity and a familiar interface.

While a simple distortion pedal can be suitable for most guitarists who want to achieve a reasonably good distortion effect for blues and rock style tones, it might not be able to provide intense level of distortion.

Distortion pedals that are known for its simplicity are best suited for distortion on vintage style tones. This kind of distortion pedal usually has two knob controls and is extremely easy to use.

Choosing the Best Distortion Pedal for Control and Flexibility

Most distortion pedals only feature three knob controls which makes them fairly easy to control since there are only a few knobs you have to tweak to achieve the sound that you need. However, it can also make it a little difficult to dig deeper and gain control of your preferred tone. Still, three knobs for a distortion pedal is usually enough.

With a treble, mid, and bass knobs, you can get the crucial control that you need to dial in your preferred distortion sound. However, if you want to have a distortional pedal that can offer a whole lot of control, there are some choices that feature five different control knobs, with volume and gain controls on top of the standard three knobs.

Conclusion

So, you now have an idea what important features, specs, and factors to consider when buying the best distortion pedals in the market. After reading the reviews, most of them will be an excellent choice for distortion pedals that might fit your needs.

However, if we think about the best distortion pedals, you might want something that is sturdy but lightweight, and simple and easy to use, but you might also want something that packs an excellent punch in terms of versatility and performance – something that the Nano Big Muff can offer in bucket loads.

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