10 Best Distortion Pedals

What are the 10 Best distortion pedals? These days, there are so many distortion pedals out there making similar claims that it is hard to tell them apart. Distortion pedals came about around  the mid-sixties, and while some of them have faded away, some have never been bettered. This is a list of  the ten best distortion pedals, some old, some new, but all have enjoyed popularity in their time with guitarists, famous or not. These pedals are still widely available. 

  1. Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face This distortion pedal was the first widely available. It is distinctly circular shaped and has a smooth distortion (known as "fuzz") with two control knobs, one for the amount of distortion, the other for overall volume. 
  2. Boss Distortion Ds-1 This pedal's distortion is very rich but also has a sharp edge that retains the guitar's quality instead of covering it up. If you hear the term "brown sound", this is the pedal being referred to. The pedal includes controls for tone, level, and distortion.
  3. Ibanez Tube Screamer The Tube Screamer has one of the cleanest distortions available. It is usually used for lead guitar work, but can be utilized for rhythm if appropriate. It includes controls for drive, tone, and level.
  4. Electo-Harmonix Big Muff Pi This distortion pedal was incredibly popular from its inception in 1970 and continues to be today. The distortion effect on this pedal is akin to the Fuzz Face, but much thicker and with a very long sustain. The controls are for volume, tone, and sustain, with  the tone control having a large dynamic range from bass to treble.
  5. MXR Distortion + The distortion effect of this pedal is more of the overdrive kind. This makes it a very clean and smooth distortion, with a slight sustain. Its clarity makes it good for rhythm playing, as you would lose much of the upper and lower harmonics if there was any more distortion from the pedal. The controls are simple, one for output volume and one for distortion level. 
  6. Jacques Tube Blower This is the boutique pedal version of the Ibanez Tube Screamer. It is able to work as a pure booster pedal, which overdrives the amplifier, but turning up the drive control will give you a thick, slightly fuzzy distortion, and plenty of low end. Its controls are level, low, high, and drive.
  7. Danelectro Fab Tone Distortion If you are looking for something slightly more aggressive, the Fab Tone Distortion pedal will fit your needs and still have more to offer. Even at low volumes, the distortion is intense. Turning the controls all the way up will make the distortion sludgy and results in a slight loss of clarity. This makes the pedal popular in the more extreme rock genres, where sludgy can actually be a good thing. Its controls are level, bass, treble, and distortion.
  8. Tech-21 XXL Recently reissued, this is a boutique pedal that while slightly more expensive, will pay back in kind with options. Its controls include the normal level, drive, and tone. It has one special control called Warp that can change the distortion from fuzz to overdrive to pure distortion. For the price and options, this is one of the best distortion pedals currently available.
  9. Boss Metal Zone Another distortion pedal for more aggressive styles of music. Interestingly, although intended for heavy rock/metal genres, it has more tone controls than most any other distortion pedal. Along with the normal level and distortion controls, the pedal includes four equalizer controls, high, low, and two controls for middle frequency. While its distortion may not be for everyone, its tone controls set it apart.
  10. MXR Micro Amp This pedal is the closest you can get to pre-pedal distortion with a modern pedal. It is simply a booster, meaning it adds electricity to the guitar signal, overdriving the amplifier. The Micro Amp used at the beginning of the signal makes up for loss down the chain of effects pedals, so that the signal level entering the amplifier with effect pedals can equal the signal of a guitar plugged straight into the amplifier. In keeping with MXR's simple design, its only control is gain. 
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