- by Kevin Deal
I guess guitar is one of the most difficult musical instruments to learn, especially if music is not your forte. However, if you are inclined to it, the task would be easier. Your ears will be sensitive to every tune and key of a certain sound, and this is your edge of being able to play an instrument faster than anyone who has no passion for music at all.
But, whether you have penchant for music or none, technology has invented something that gives art to any sound. Yes, I am referring to distortion pedals, and this article will help you find the best distortion pedal your favorite guitar needs. But, what is a distortion pedal?
What is a Distortion Pedal?
A distortion pedal is a form of audio signal processing that is used to alter the sound of amplified electrical instruments, usually by increasing their gain. Most of the time, it is used with the electric guitar, but it can also be used with other electronic musical instruments.
However, do not mistake distortion for overdrive. Although they have commonalities, still, they are two different things. So, keep reading and discover their resemblance and disparity.
Distortion vs. Overdrive Pedal
These two are often being referred to as gain pedals. However, the latter has features that make it different from the former. Overdrive pedals emulate the sound of a tube amplifier when you increase their volume while distortion pedals give a harsher, grittier tone along with an increased sustain. To better understand what exactly distortion is, imagine genres like grunge and death metal. To distinguish which one is an overdrive, think of a warm but crunchy sound of classic rock and rhythm and blues.
- You can read more: Our Top 5 Best Overdrive Pedal Reviews 2017
More often than not, both terms are used interchangeably. And apart from having been developed in the 1960s, here’s something much clearer about distortion - it denotes a more extreme version of the effect than overdrive, and it is a musical effect that is often intentionally created. Also, “fuzz” is the word used to describe a specific form of distortion originally created by guitarists with the use of faulty equipment like a misaligned valve tube, for example.
On the other hand, sound engineers and musicians avoid using distortion when using a public address system or PA system, an electronic sound amplification with a microphone, loudspeakers, and amplifier used in delivering a speech in public.
Distortion is not advised to be used in amplifying vocals or pre-recorded music playbacks.
Essential Factors to Consider
Picking the right distortion pedal is no easy task. If you want your sound to be pleasing to the ears, you need to select the right tool to tickle your listeners. Now, this makes your choosing of the right distortion pedal crucial. So, choose wisely!
Initial step in Buying the right Distortion Pedal
It’s easy to get attracted to something at first glance. First, you have to determine the music genre you’re going to use it for. What genre do you always play? Will you be playing vintage thrash metal or modern country music?
Nowadays, distortion pedals are fine tuned to be attuned to a specific genre. Once you know the genre of music, you just have to match it with the distortion pedal you think is often associated with that type of genre.
Testing Your Distortion Pedal
The right to test your distortion pedal should be part of the package. So, don’t ever forget this privilege. Most of us want to test the product using our own equipment as much as possible. Make time to do this as there are many variables to consider in the pedal – the body and neck wood, string gauge, pick-up, among others.
Accessories Your Guitar Would Need
Providing your guitar with the right accessories is just as vital as getting its right distortion pedal. Take note that you’d need two cables of five feet in length – one cable should be connected from your guitar to your distortion pedal and the other from your distortion pedal to your amplifier. If you’re concerned about how much cable length should be bought, consider this: longer cables can be messy and might lead to possible tone loss while shorter cables can also limit your mobility.
How to Store Your Distortion Pedal
Knowing the magic a distortion pedal can do, from changing your sound between songs or verses to producing a more melodious sound effect, your distortion pedal deserves a little tender loving care from you. And a pedalboard can help you with this careful storage. With a pedalboard, you can manage and transport your pedal easier. It can help you stay organized, and it keeps your pedals in just one place. What is more, if your pedals are stored in one safe place, your effects lay out would be consistent.
If you want to go handy, there are pedalboards that already have DC power from the board to your pedals. With this, you don’t need to change your battery, and you won’t need external power adapters anymore. So, it makes your setup simple, and the use of power outlets is minimized. There are pedalboards that already have small built-in combo amplifiers, allowing you always to be on the go should there be jamming sessions on your way.
Are you a travelling musician? You can purchase a pedalboard that includes customized gig bags and travel cases. Setting up your tools would normally take time, yet, if you use pedalboards where your effects are already mounted, setups can be real fast. As soon as you arrive in the area, you can simply unpack them, plug in your guitar and amp, and you’re ready to hit the strings and play.
Top 5 Best Distortion Pedal Reviews 2017
After you have determined your genre, tested your distortion pedal, bought your accessories, stored your pedals, and considered the factors before choosing your pedal, it’s now time to finally purchase the distortion pedal of your choice. We have rounded up the best among the best distortion pedals you shouldn’t miss!
Which is Best Distortion Pedal For You?
1. BOSS Audio DS1 Distortion Guitar Pedal
Are you eyeing on a distortion pedal which price is just within your budget? Boss DS1 is what you’re looking for. It doesn’t only have a great tone, but it is also extremely affordable. If you are a fan of Nirvana, Metallica, and Guns n’ Roses, this pedal is worth your purchase. This product is highly recommended to anyone especially the mainstay of rockers here, there, and everywhere. Also, this product from Boss has been sold out across different places since 1978, so the credibility list is quite long already.
THINGS WE LIKED
- It is durable that you don’t need to replace it unless severely damaged
- It has a tone knob that gives a thicker sound
- It produces a clear sound, a muddy sound, and a treble sound when the knob is turned to the left or right
- It helps create a good sound when playing rhythm and blues, and rock music
- It has a Super-tough construction
- It preserves your natural guitar tone
THINGS WE DIDN'T LIKED
- It is not eligible for international shipping
- It is said to be harsh, thin, have artificial sounding, and always noisy
- It provides a sound that is nasally or whiney when used with a violin
2. Pro Co RAT2 Distortion Pedal
If you are looking for a versatile distortion pedal, Pro Co RAT2 can definitely fill your bin. Its beauty lies in its versatility. You can use this as your primary distortion. Its ability exceeds your expectation as it excels at the arena soaring leads and rock rhythm tones. If your amplifier has too much headroom for the gig, this RAT2 Pedal can fill that spot. You can trust this distortion pedal to boost solo performances.
THINGS WE LIKED
- You can order it within five hours and 15 minutes, and avail one-day shipping
- It can be gift-wrapped once purchase is confirmed
- The product itself has a 30-day return policy and is free shipping
- It can boost an overdriven amplifier, making it sound better
- Its filter knob allows you to focus more on treble or bass
THINGS WE DIDN'T LIKED
- Its power adapter plug can be a hassle if a daisy chain or power supply is used
- It must be shipped separately from your other orders although shipping charges will not apply
- It is available for shipping only to selected countries outside the U.S.
3. Boss BD-2 Blues Driver Guitar Effects Pedal
Want better jam sessions? You can’t go wrong with Boss BD-2! Its tonal range is amazing. Its range starts from clean to a heavy crunch. However, its range is not heavy enough for playing metal, so you can expect that it does not sacrifice the bluesy feeling it provides your ears. For its warranty policy, you may contact its manufacturer.
THINGS WE LIKED
- It has a very friendly color – "blue"
- This pedal is a versatile one
- It gives a full, robust level boost at the low gain settings
- It provides a nice crunch that sits well with rock solos and classic rocks
- It has classic blues guitar tones with tube amplifier simulation
- It gives a warm distortion and overdrive
- Actively responds to the change in volume and other nuances
- Includes 9-Volt battery operation once purchased
- It has a five-year warranty from BOSS
THINGS WE DIDN'T LIKED
- AC adaptor is not included when purchased
- Its marketing brand dubbed “Blues Driver” is risky as it might be too focused on catering to those who only play blues music
- This item, currently, can only be shipped within the U.S.
4. Electro-Harmonix Nano Big Muff Guitar Distortion Effects Pedal
Do you want a creamy, rich, violin-like sound? Electro Harmonix Nano Big Muff is just right for you. It works well in a recording mix, according to one satisfied customer. If you are looking for a more user-friendly pedal, Big Muff Pedal is the one as it only has simple controls. If you have size issues, then, this one is less hassle because its form and size is just perfect. And you don’t get lost in controlling it as its input, output, and power jacks are in their proper places. It produces a great sound with a price that is fair enough.
THINGS WE LIKED
- It comes with a durable Nano enclosure when purchased
- It has a true bypass
- It only takes up about one-fifth of the space a regular big muff consumes
- It provides a crushing distortion
- It comes with a 9-volt battery when purchased
- It comes with an Optional 9.6DC-200 power supply which is the standard one
- Its jack is at the back, not on the side
- It has a metal case
THINGS WE DIDN'T LIKED
- This device is available for shipping only to selected countries outside the U.S.
- It must be shipped separately from your other orders although additional charges do not apply
- It always requires a 9-volt battery
5. Electro-Harmonix Nano Big Muff Guitar Distortion Effects Pedal
Some pedals are only obtainable at a higher price but not Electro Harmonix Soul Food. Yes, you don’t need to be a rock star to get one as it is only affordable. If you are one of those starving musicians, surely, with this pedal, you can get your fill. It can deliver the transparent overdrive with a better touch and response. It has power rails that provide an increased definition and better headroom. One customer said that this device enriches the character of your voicing which will make you stand out on stage. So, don’t miss out on this, and go, get this as soon as you can, or else, somebody would!
THINGS WE LIKED
- It has a super responsive compact
- It has a rugged design
- It has a selectable true bypass or buffered bypass modes
- It runs on a 9-volt battery
- It sits well with rhythm and blues
- It is great for playing harmonica
- It can be purchased within six hours and 21 minutes only, and avail one-day shipping
- You can request for a gift-wrap on this
THINGS WE DIDN'T LIKED
- It has an annoying tonal flaw when set around 9 to 11 o’clock, one customer critically reviewed
- It has a case that does not fit a battery
- It should be used with a power supply but not with a battery only
How to pick a Guitar Distortion Pedal?
Remember that to wrongly pick a distortion pedal would mean compromising the rest of your tone. So, here’s one thing that can guide you to pick the best one – considering its gain-staging effects. Make sure your pedal provides a clean gain boosts to fuzz effects. If your pedal has great gain-staging effects, you can already construct harmonically complex sounds.
A good distortion pedal should have filtering effects. This includes wah-wah effects, equalizers, pitch shifters, among others. This is the second factor you must consider after gain-staging. Considering that gain-staging effects tend to give a great deal of harmonic intricacy to your sound, it’s just right to neutralize your sound with your distortion pedal’s frequency effects.
Your pedal should have modulation effects that work on the gain-staging, time, and frequency. When something is changed over time, the modulation effect comes in. This is true of modulation pedals, too. A low-frequency oscillator or LFO regulates the change your pedal could face.
Make sure your distortion pedal should have time effects as its feature. You can find these time-based effects on pedalboards throughout modern music. They can be artificial or realistic. It’s just a matter of taste. You can delay the sound in your own perfect way, or you can just go with the flow.
However, time effects vary. The delay of sound in a surf guitar may be different from that of a metal lead. So, just take your pick. To control the delay pedal, you may do something about the delay time, the number of repeated delays (also known as the feedback), and the balance between the incoming and the delayed signals.
Additional Advanced Concepts For Beginners
It seems that you can never get enough of information about distortion pedals. So, here are other concepts you need to know.
- True Bypass vs. Buffered Bypass
The argument on which between the true bypass and the buffered bypass is better remains debatable. If you are having a hard time grasping the difference between the two, then, just keep reading.
True bypass cuts the circuitry of the pedal from its signal path when it’s no longer in use. This helps your signal path get rid of coloration brought about by the pedal’s circuitry. On the other hand, buffered bypass gives a minimal amplification which helps improve the signal retention. Here’s the drill – when you cover a small distance, just use the true bypass, if you opt for a packed pedalboard, then, buffered bypass is highly recommended as it will give you a better tone almost all the time.
- Batteries vs. AC
It has been said that all AC power supplies create nuisance, specifically, noise, and can destroy your sound. Also, it is believed that bad power can greatly affect your distortion pedals and batteries can save them. However, little did we know that bad power is even more detrimental to your guitar amplifier than your pedal.
Although some power supplies can fight power-related noise, still, the wisest thing to do is to get your guitar a decent power conditioner where you can properly run your pedals and amplifier through. This is the safest way to get a clean sound without having to worry about getting 9-volt batteries should your pedals die in the middle of the show.
- Stereo vs. Mono
Time-based pedals require running the sound effects through mono or stereo. If this is the case, then, you have to know the advantages and disadvantages of a mono and a stereo first. With stereo, you can benefit from the dimension and depth of special effects like ping-pong delays and room reverbs. However, the stereo doesn’t work better for you unless you are using two amplifiers. Also, stereo effects can produce unpleasant sounds that get your tone lost while in the mix. So, choosing a stereo is quite risky than a mono. But, if stereo effects work properly, they’re also totally amazing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does the Wampler Triple Wreck Modern Rectified Distortion Pedal include the AC power adapter?
No, there’s no adapter included in the item. But, it comes with a 9-volt battery. Anyway, you can use any standard AC Boss adapter or any pedal brands. The unit has a socket for a 9-volt power adapter. If you want to buy soon, you may purchase single adapters at 10 bucks only.
Does this Nano sound like the regular one?
Yes, it has the same tone with the Big Muff Pi. It’s noise is identical with the noise coming from the original. They only differ in size.
Can I plug my guitar into the pedal and use headphones if I like to listen to the sound?
No, you need a guitar amplifier to be able to listen to the sound it produces. BD-2 is designed to be plugged into a guitar amplifier.
- BOSS Audio DS1 Distortion Guitar Pedal
- Pro Co RAT2 Distortion Pedal
- Boss BD-2 Blues Driver Guitar Effects Pedal
- Electro-Harmonix Nano Big Muff Guitar Distortion Effects Pedal
- Electro-Harmonix Soul Food Distortion/Fuzz/Overdrive Pedal
So, have you taken your pick? I’m sure this review has given you a hard time choosing the best distortion pedal that suits your needs. But, let me recommend BOSS Audio DS1 Distortion Guitar Pedal to bring your second thoughts to an end. This must be your distortion pedal of choice as you can purchase this without spending too many a penny.
Customer reviews reveal that this device is highly recommended for its great features that you’ll surely enjoy as a guitarist. This item had long been marketed since 1978 with positive feedback from musician customers around the world. Considering all these, not to mention its credibility in the market, isn’t this Boss Audio worth your try?
Check out more guitar pedals too!