Best Distortion Pedal

When I was a kid, long before I ever picked up a guitar, I remember watching System Of A Down’s “Chop Suey” on TV. It was one of the songs that first got me into the world of lovely distorted sounds (it did that for a bunch of other people too, I guess).

And the thing that stuck out for me as a 12-year-old was how chill everyone was during the verses, and how much headbanging they were doing during the chorus. My genius brain at the time decided that they must really be wailing on those strings to produce the amount of distortion they did for the heavier parts of the song and I wondered how they weren’t getting tired from all that effort.

Luckily, you’re not as dumb as I was and you probably know that Daron Malakian was using a distortion pedal. As little boxes go, it is a quintessential one when it comes to just about any hard rock or metal. All those riffs and solos you’ve headbanged to (or cried during, ha) came from this little monster.

Looking to bring the “bang” in headbang? We’ve made a list of some of the best distortion pedals out there for your consideration and consumption to do just that, in no particular order.

Boss DS-1 Distortion 

 

Classic Choice

5/5

The Boss DS-1 Distortion pedal may be the most reliable and proven pedal on this list, or any list for that matter. It’s been out there forever (40 years and counting) and it’s also one of the most sold guitar pedals to date. Some of the notable users include Kurt Cobain, Chuck Schuldiner, and John Frusciante, all of them pioneers in their respective genres.

Although produced and sold in massive quantities, it still hasn’t lost even a tiny bit of its quality. Featuring a tone, distortion and level control knobs, as well as a rubberized footswitch. Made in the recognizable Boss fashion, meaning nearly indestructible – it’s a must-have companion for gigs of all genres.

If you’re starting out with electric guitars or pedals, this is the most proven distortion pedal out there and you should look no further. If on the other hand, i you’re an intermediate or advanced player and you haven’t even tried this legendary pedal – what are you waiting for?

Pro Co Rat 2

Most Versatile

RAT pedals were first produced in 1978 and managed to achieve commercial success in just a few years – by the early ’80s they already caught the attention of some famous musicians.

Today, they RAT sound can be heard with Metallica, Foo Fighters and even Sunn O))), which already gives this little rodent quite some variety – it can be aggressive, warm, and it can also get dirty when required. Pro Co hasn’t made too many tweaks to RAT since they introduced it – and the few changes made it into the RAT 2. It features simple, yet elegant distortion, filter and volume knobs, and glow-in-the-dark graphics on a very sturdy metal case.

This vintage pedal can provide you with everything – it can boost your solos, make your aggressive thrash metal shreds bite, or it can accompany you through some thick and slow doom metal moments. You should definitely give it a try and see for yourself – it offers great value for a very modest price.

MXR M104 Distortion +

MXR pedals date back from the early ’70s and are currently owned by Dunlop, who keep reissuing some of their legendary pedals, as well as producing new lines. One of our top picks for this article is the MXR M104 Distortion + pedal, a reissue of a model from the early days of MXR.

It features only two knobs – for output and distortion. The simplified options and the soft-clipping germanium diodes crank out a recognizable light distortion tone. Not a really good choice for the heavier metal sounds, but – the exceptional quality of that retro, late 70s / early 80s distortion sound makes it perfect for any hard rock fan out there. Along with the sturdy casing it is something that makes this pedal stand out in its price range.

Definitely delivering more with less, the MXR M104 Distortion + pedal may surprise you, and if you love your authentic rock sounds , you should definitely try it out at some point during your musical endeavors.

Xotic Effects SL Drive

First started off in a small garage-based workshop, Xotic was all about making bass pedals and preamps. In the years since then, they came up with some top tier guitar pedals and the guitar world is better for it. This time we’ll chime in a bit on the awesomely versatile SL Drive Distortion.

It’s equipped with standard gain, volume and tone knobs that are very easy to use, but the more interesting part about this pedal are the internal dip switches. They will let you switch between the vintage Super Lead tone with more gain, or a smoother Super Bass with less gain (and more bass, duh). The switches are an ingenious feat of modern electronics, neatly hidden within a vintage-looking case.

Even though it doesn’t seem like a beginner’s distortion pedal at first glance, we actually do encourage you to pick one up if you fall into the newbie category. This is an awesome introduction pedal which will, due to its many options, let you figure out which type of distortion you’d like to go with in the future, and all that for a very good price.

Behringer Super Fuzz SF300

If you’d like to recreate the signature fuzz from the 60’s and 70’s, you’ll be in for a real treat with the Behringer SF300 Super Fuzz, coming from the kings of budget distortion pedals.

Looking at the extremely low price for what they tell you it delivers, you may think you’ll just end up with another pedal sounding like an old dirt bike. But worry not, you’ll be pleasantly surprised hearing the good old fuzz that we all know and love, while using this little guy. It features four knobs – level, treble, gain and bass – and three distinctive modes called Fuzz 1, Fuzz 2 and Boost, intended for old school fuzz, grunge, and an increase in gain, respectively.

With a very low price tag you only get a plastic casing, but treat her right and the Behringer SF300 Super Fuzz will provide you with quality fuzz for a long, long time.

Electro-Harmonix Nano Big Muff Pi

You must have heard about the Big Muff Pi. It’s been used by a great many of rock legends including Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, and David Gilmour, all of them defining characters of the rock genre at some point in time. As the name suggests, it’s quite big in size and a bit heavy, so Electro Harmonix decided it was time to shed some weight and they gave us a Nano version of the pedal.

Now more suitable for the pedalboard, the Nano Big Muff Pi comes with three control knobs – volume, tone, and sustain, with which you can create a wide range of dynamic sounds. No matter what your sonic taste is, be it warm and fuzzy, or straight up aggressive, there’s not a lot that this small guy can’t handle. The Big Muff may have grown thinner, but its thickness of sound hasn’t changed one bit. And it’s also a favorite for many bass players out there!

TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion

If you were looking for an affordable distortion pedal with amazing range and exceptional lead note definition for your solo – look no further then the TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion.

Gain, level bass and treble knobs will provide you with the exact sound you’d like to achieve, and the voicing switch comes as a cherry on top, controlling that low-end bass response. Classic and hard rock, and even old school thrash metal, is where the Dark Matter excels, but give this pedal a little time, and play with the controls, and you will easily achieve sounds suitable for most genres.

With its versatility and and an awesome bang for your buck ratio, Dark Matter Distortion pedal will make any rock fan happy. So plug in your guitar, turn up the knobs, and let it roar!

MXR M116 Fullbore Metal

We were originally planning to go with another MXR pedal deserving to be at the top – the M75 Super Badass Distortion, but we realized that there just aren’t enough metal distortions on this list to suit our taste.

Enter another MXR pedal, this one may be the dirtiest one that we could think of. Exclusively tailored for all kinds of heavy metal, the MXR M116 Fullbore Metal will fulfill any metalhead’s dream, and we all know how needy they (and we) are when it comes to that perfect distortion flavor.

It comes with six configuration knobs – volume, freq, gain, low, mid, and high, and you quickly realize how much effort MXR spent to give the player options. But they didn’t just stop there, they also added a noise gate switch for those syncopated technical or prog riffs (and you can also control its sensitivity with an added internal gate switch). To top it all off, there’s a scoop switch to boost the highs and lows.

This stompbox is not for the impatient, or the faint of heart. It might take awhile to set up – but for all the metal players out there, it’s more than worth the investment.

KHDK Dark Blood

Best Metal Pick

KHDK stands for Kirk Hammett and David Karon, who founded this guitar pedal company back in 2012. Together, they have come up with and manufactured some kickass pedals, two of them being Kirk Hammett’s signature babies – Ghoul Screamer and Dark Blood. And we decided that the latter definitely deserved a place on this list.

This powerful black and red pedal features KHDK’s original circuit and, you know exactly what kind of distortion to expect from this thing – as it’s a pedal primarily intended for metal and literally used by Kirk in Metallica.

It’s equipped with 7 controls: gain, volume, treble, hi/lo (tied directly into the gain), gate and, of course, the footswitch. Yes, I intentionally skipped one – the doom knob. You gotta appreciate a knob that adds that much bottom-end power on a whim, even if you don’t like Kirk.

It’s like a mini tube amp packed up in a dark box, and the amount of diversity it offers really justifies the price tag – and on this occasion, we’d also like to give Kirk & Co. a shoutout for making this pedal affordable to the general public.

Landlord FX Whisky Chaser

Honorable Mention

For all the boozers out there, Landlord FX from Britain have come up with some super affordable and hilariously named effect pedals – Taproom, Happy Hour, Spinning Room, you get the point. Being a fairly new company, the first thing that caught our eye were their booze-themed pedals, but then we got to try some out and were surprised with the quality of sound. This time around, we present to you their Whisky Chaser distortion pedal.

It features a main distortion knob, with two smaller knobs for level and tone. What makes this pedal really special is its three modes, triggered by a three-way switch: Hooch (distortion with a bit of overdrive), Bourbon (high gain), and Scotch (vintage sound). Playing with the knobs and modes can give you a wide range of sound, from classic rock up to heavy metal.

Priced at an average cost of a decent whisky bottle, you can’t lose much by having a shot of this one, and it will be one to remember. However, a disclaimer – they only come with exclusive dealers and you can also check out their website for orders.

Seymour Duncan Palladium Gain Stage

For all the experienced guitarists looking to spend some serious cash on a distortion pedal, for this occasion, we’ve picked a very high-quality one. It’s the Seymour Duncan Palladium Gain Stage pedal, and it has “premium” written all over it.

For those of you who value aesthetics, it comes in two color variants, white and black. It features a whopping 9 control knobs: bass for low frequency, sweepable mid knobs (level and frequency), treble, presence, boost (which can be triggered on and off by a foot switch), level, gain, and finally resonance. You may think that this is too much to handle but with a little getting used to and playing around with the controls, you’ll be able to tame this beast to your exact needs. The quality of the sound is genuinely comparable to a high-gain amp.

Coming from manufacturers who mainly make quality guitar pickups for a living, they may have just made one of the best distortion pedals currently on the market. Although it comes with a hefty price tag, you’ll get full value for every hard earned buck, and even more.

You brought up a point how musicians often get stuck in the studio or get stuck on the road. How did the inspiration and timing work out to focus solely on the songs and did Jinxx’s experience in the studio and as a musician help cultivate this particular focus? Was there a sound in your head?

Jonny: Definitely, I think Jinxx has a unique tone and playing style that’s to him largely based on the fact that he’s not only a guitar player, but also a violin player and a great songwriter on top of that. I wanted more guitar and aggression coming out of the music. I feel I left that in the backseat for too long. I knew Jinxx coming in would definitely add the element of guitars I was looking for.  He really took the time to look at each songs with me. We really put them under the microscope. Jinxx did a lot more than just adding palm muted guitars or shredding solos.

We also used the live arena to test out some of the upcoming material. When you’re watching the crowd you can learn so much about the material you’re playing. Down to the B.P.M. You can see what works and what doesn’t. What’s way too slow or too fast. It’s not a science necessarily   but more of a feeling. You can literally see the tempo affecting the crowd. It’s a great testing arena for songs. You find that sweet spot of tempos and you go with it We decided to keep it in that “family” in that “route.”. This is the reason I spent so much time playing the songs live before calling them completed. I wanted to make sure they had the right feeling since these songs will be played live a lot. It has to work for me so I can enjoy it and it has to work for the crowd so they can enjoy it too.

Did you feel that the process came about because you were very confident about the songs? Or did you make a plan to craft the music in this way and preview it for an audience like a movie?

Jonny: I wanted to definitely have a balance because the music can start to become homogenized. Even in your only head. You have to deal with the pitfalls of songwriting and B.P.M.’s and all that, but at some point you have to stop. Interestingly enough, I drew some influence from what I think is one of the greatest live bands ever, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. They are not a technical band nor do they have technical songs by any means. They do have a rock and roll swagger in their music that totally works. They can play for hours and it feels like a short set. At least to me. It needs to always have that feel. I drew a lot of influence from them.

Who else is part of the lineup?

Jonny: The lineup has changed quite a bit. But my bass player, Carl Raether has been with me for a long time now. Almost since the beginning. My guitar player Deen Dean, has been a real workhorse and really helped the band’s sound. Drummer’s have been a kind of revolving door though. I am blessed and cursed to work with some of the best drummers in Los Angeles, they are always busy (laughs). I have Bones from Dead by Sunrise and Vera Mesmer and he is just amazing. It’s been that lineup for the last couple of shows. Funny enough I got to work with John Boecklin a bit ago. We’ve been friends for years and I’ve always wanted to work with him. We got the chance to play together recently at the Henry Fond Theater in Hollywood. Jinxx was involved with that as well. Finn Wolfhard from the TV show, Stranger Things introduced us. It was really cool. It was an excuse to have a great time. We all had fun.

How much is music business versus fun and vice versa?

Jonny: I have been doing it for so long I don’t get so much happy anymore, I get relieved. DOn’t get me wrong, I love what I do! I love music! But being in charge of everything can be exhausting.  I’m in charge of the business; booking shows, scheduling rehearsals, songwriting, wardrobe, videos, merchandise, social media and what have you. When the hard work pays off and you get to see things come to fruition, it’s definitely gratifying but more in a relief kind of way. You have to take a step back and enjoy it. I am constantly reminded by my wife not to forget to enjoy all of this.

The music business is more DIY now. It is great being an artist but the business always has to be in the forefront of decisions.

Jonny: Exactly. Growing up I really had the romantic idea of getting signed and going on tour and just worrying about playing shows and being a musician. Then 9/11 happened. The MP3 explosion, and various other events slowly picked away the fiber that is the music industry. It can be easily exhausting but it is essential. Recently, I saw a contract that said if you play a gig here, at this particular venue, you cannot advertise another gig for a month before or a month after. So basically I was being asked to take two months off for one gig. Completely understandable from their point, but it’s the artists and musicians who get screwed over. I feel that if we aren’t careful the industry could just go away. Musicians aren’t good at business by nature and a lot of people around them take advantage of that. We recently did a showcase for a label and the deal offered involved years or touring to “see what sticks” but zero radio play. Even after being told the songs were great and catchy. The labels don’t want to invest their time or money anymore because people expect music to be free. It is a tough balance because everyone loves music, but don’t really seem to see the value of it.

The technology used to only be available to a few and now it is available to everyone on laptops.

Jonny: There are iconic studios going out of business as we speak. It’s amazing to me what’s happening in the music business and everyone seems fine with it. Music is so easily stolen, compared to movies because of the file size. The federal government has made it a major offense to steal a movie but not music? It doesn’t really make sense at all if you ask me. There must be something technology wise that can intervene at some point to protect music because morally, people are fucked and will steal anything they can. I feel that the mentality of the industry is in trouble too. There were so many times I would deal with someone at the record label where they just didn’t care about the music or the industry as a whole. This is an art form that people involved in should love. It’s like that bond as a kid where you see someone wearing a band shirt of your favorite band. You instantly knew that kid was cool and you two should be friends. There was an exclusive club and now that seems to have gone away. I would love it if the internet went away. (laughs) I really would. It is okay to have this online world of information but I hate social media! We’re all plugged into the matrix and it’s only going to get worse.

Discuss the upcoming gig on the 28th.

Jonny: We are playing a show on the 28th with Madina Lake and I’m really excited about that. They are about to celebrate their 10th anniversary of their first album so, it’s going to be a really great show. We’re planning on going on tour in a few months with them so these local shows are kinda like warm-up dates. The goal is to do just the right amount of touring and recording and then put out a series of short films while on tour. There is a whole big picture involved and it will be very interactive and create an environment that will drag you out of your house. Fans will want to be a part of it. Not just watch it on their phone. That cathartic release and high energy of a great show is exactly what people crave. That’s what I’m trying to deliver and capture.

JInxx

Tell me about how your involvement with Pvsher came about?

Jinxx: I have been friends with Jonny for a long time. We run in the same circle of friends here in LA. He would come over to my house and we’d work on some tunes together. I have a studio in my home so I produced a few songs that we co-wrote together. After awhile, he proposed doing some songs together with Pvsher. There were various songs we looked at from a writing and production standpoint. We then collaborated on these songs and Jonny needed someone to get up and play guitar for these shows, so it all came together pretty naturally. The first show we played was at the VIper room in April. It was great to be back on stage again. I’ve been on hiatus for awhile with my main band BVB (Black Veil Brides), so this has been fun to be involved with.

Sounds like the process came together quite organically. You’ve played with a lot musicians over the years. Do you feel you and Jonny worked well together?

Jinxx: Definitely, it wasn’t that Jonny just asked me, “Hey, do you want to be in my band?” We spent time hanging out together, and what do musicians do when they hang out together? Well, they jam. Aside from just hanging out, we would spend a lot of time discussing music, lyrics, we pretty much enveloped ourselves in the project. It was very organic, didn’t feel pressure from anyone regarding material, time constraints. We had the time and free landscape to do what we wanted.

You have been doing a lot of your own production work, how has that been going?

Jinxx: I started getting into it over the last few years. We (black veil Brides) have been wrapping up our fifth record. I have always had a home studio and now it is pretty full on. I am currently working with this band “Dianthus,” they are pretty brilliant musicians. Twin girls, that play metal and they rock! I have been recording them and it went really well. Doing a full album and actually working on vocals today. I picked up a lot of things along the way working with great producers like Bob Rock. I learned a few things here and there and applying what I have learned and I hope to make a great record with them.

Jonny was speaking about the filming the upcoming show and the visual aspects of the live performance. GIven your history with Black Veil Brides, how important is the visual aspect to you, as a musician, as a live performer?

Jinxx: WIth BVB, it was half and half between the musicianship and the visuals. We had a few guys that were really into the visuals and the other guys into the musicianship. We took all of our favorite bands whether Metallica or Megadeth or Motley Crue or Guns ‘N Roses. We knew we had one goal in mind which was to play arenas. In this day in age, people aren’t selling records, it is not like it was in the 70’s or 80’s obviously. You still want to reach for the stars. We have fortunately reached the level of playing large rooms with pyro, it started with just our makeup and music and grew into a fairly large scale. Pvsher’s show on Friday will have some great elements and it is great to go back to the DIY kind of element. We’re shooting a live video on the 28th with cool lights at the Roxy theater. I’m really looking forward to it.

How does your approach to playing guitar changed or stayed the same with Pvsher?

Jinxx: It is quite different, in Black Veil Bride’s there are a lot of guitar solos, some theatrics and with Pvsher I feel like it is straightforward. Killer rock and roll music. It is in your face, heavy and more basic. It isn’t about showmanship, or how many notes I can play. It is a totally different form of expression and approach. Still dark, dirty, ugly, it is punk rock.

What about the gear you are using?

Jinxx: I have a signature Schecter and a Marshall stack. I am running a Kemper live for effects. THe Kemper is great for live tones, as with BVB I wasn’t using live cabinets. With Pvsher I am playing through live cabinets, no in ears. If I can’t hear myself, I can’t hear myself (laughs)

Jonny discussed upcoming tour plans, what is your future plans with Pvsher?

Jinxx: I know Jonny has some big plans and wants to take this all the way, on the road and make stuff happen. I would love to be involved and be a part of it and it just depends on the schedule. Black Veil is my band and first obligation, but not sure what the upcoming schedule is. Our singer, Andy is on the road with his solo thing right now. I would love to get out with Pvsher and see where we can take it!

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