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8 Best Distortion Pedals to Add Some Dirt to Your Sound

An effect is rarely so genre-defining, but it’s no exaggeration to say there would be no hard rock or metal without distortion. Distortion is that important.

In this article, we searched for the best distortion pedals on the market. The good news is that there are some superb options out there that won’t blow a hole in your bank account (but the sound of them might, lol).

Best Distortion Pedals: Product Guide

Pro Co Rat 2

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

We all love that sweet spot where a tube amp goes from sparkly clean to warm overdrive.

Well, the Pro 2 delivers that sound in a box.

The Rat has its own legion of fans, too. Guitarists such as Peter Buck, Mike Campbell, Robert Fripp, and James Hetfield are fans. Radioheads’ Thom Yorke is a fan, as was the late, great Kurt Cobain.

It uses a pair of silicon diodes to produce an aggressive but smooth distortion with a touch of fuzz.

It sounds great for heavy metal styles of guitar as well as classic rock and grunge. It can be used to enhance both rhythm and lead guitar parts.

What we like:

  • Nails sweet spot where a tube amp goes from sparkly clean to warm overdrive
  • Produces ‘arena rock’ rhythm tones and soaring leads
  • Boost for solos

Boss DS-1

Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal
  • Disttion Effects Pedal f Guitar
  • Keyboard with Disttion
  • Tone Controls

The Boss DS-1 is a classic distortion pedal and has remained a popular choice since it was first released in 1978.

It’s been used by some very famous guitarists, including Eddie Van Halen, Jimmy Page, Kurt Cobain, Joe Satriani, and Steve Vai.

It’s capable of working in most genres of rock and metal; however, its sweet spot is grunge or hard rock rather than blues or more extreme metal.

Its three-knob interface lets you dial in practically every rock sound imaginable, so even if this is your first effects pedal, you’ll be able to work out the three controls.

What we like:

  • Iconic pedal
  • Produces tight, hard-edged gain
  • The sweet spot is grunge or hard rock

MXR M75 Super Badass

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

The aptly named Super Badass from MXR produces some gnarly tones.

It’s actually a great all-rounder and can recreate everything from wide-open blues tones to scooped metal.

Its EQ section is very good too.

What we like:

  • Great all-rounder, can handle blues, hard rock, and metal equally well
  • Decent EQ section

EarthQuaker Acapulco Gold V2

EarthQuaker Devices Acapulco Gold V2 Distortion Pedal
99 Reviews

Earthquaker’s Acapulco Gold is more expensive compared to most of the models we’ve already mentioned, but it’s pretty much the king of the heavy, stoner rock sound.

Its sound is based on a distorting Model T amplifier and, as a consequence, its best feature is its incredibly loud, growling tone. It’ll be hard for you to find a pedal that does fuzzy, stoner doom more convincingly!

Even better, there is only one effect dial to control it all. The single dial controls the level of distortion in your mix so that you can go from a warm, crunchy blues tone to a dirty, doom-laden boom. As the dial is so large, it also helps with fine adjustments.

Due to it being quite specific, it suits those who aren’t too fussed about having loads of tone control to play about with, and who specifically want to play doom, sludge, or stoner types of metal.

What we like:

  • Specifically designed to recreate bass-heavy, fuzz-tones—perfect for stoner rock
  • Simple to operate (probably a good thing)

Electro-Harmonix Nano Big Muff

Electro-Harmonix Op Amp Big Muff Pi Fuzz Pedal
307 Reviews
Electro-Harmonix Op Amp Big Muff Pi Fuzz Pedal
  • Iconic sound and vibe that’s coveted by guitarists
  • Controls for Tone, Sustain and Volume, plus a Tone Bypass switch
  • True bypass switching for maximum signal integrity in bypass mode

If you’re after a vintage, fat-sounding fuzz distortion, the Nano Big Muff is your best friend. This pedal is designed to mimic retro tones used by Hendrix, Santana, and Pink Floyd but, also works well when used in very heavy stoner rock riffs too.

Once again, the Big Muff is simple to use, featuring two standard control dials as well as an extra sustain control. The sustain dial is probably the coolest thing about it, as it lets your rich, meaty notes ring out for longer.

So, while you may not get tons of control with it, the Big Muff will give you a warm, creamy fuzz effect with scope for sculpting a rich, growling tone.

What we like:

  • Produces a high-quality distortion, best suited to those looking for a dark, warm heavy sound.
  • Controlled by three dials

Wampler Sovereign

Wampler Sovereign V2 Distortion Guitar Effects Pedal
233 Reviews
Wampler Sovereign V2 Distortion Guitar Effects Pedal
  • A distortion pedal designed to be so versatile you will wonder how so much can be available from on small box
  • Two gain stages, a mid contour, bright switch and tone control allow you to shape your tone the way you want
  • Dial in virtually any sound from modern distortion all the way back to classic OD tones

Another versatile distortion pedal with some great tone-shaping features.

Two gain stages, a mid-contour, a bright switch, and tone control allow you to shape your tone the way you want.

You can dial in a wide range of sounds, from modern distortion all the way back to classic OD tones.

The boost setting gives you some extra sustain and volume, which is great for lead playing, while the modern-vintage switch lets you adjust the brightness.

Thanks to its small, compact design the Sovereign can fit onto any good pedalboard with ease and will fit into your gig bag without taking up too much room.

What we like:

  • Two gain stages
  • Mid-contour, bright switch, and tone control for exceptional tone sculpting

Walrus Audio Iron Horse V2

Walrus Audio Iron Horse V2 LM308 Distortion Guitar Effects Pedal
  • A return to the classic distortion: thick, punchy, riffy and rowdy
  • Updated level control makes it easier to dial in unity gain
  • Updated tone control allows more Treble to be dialed in if desired

If you’re looking for thick and sludgy tones with plenty of low-end and warmth – e.g., like a ’70s-style Sabbath riff—then the Iron Horse V2 is worth checking out.

The toggle switch lets you flick between a trio of clipping diodes to offer different distortion tones.

A true bypass system ensures that it won’t drain any of your signal when it’s not in use.

What we like:

  • ’70s-style distortion tones
  • Uses classic LM308 chip
  • 3 x distortion tones

Fender Pugilist

Save $8.35
Fender Pugilist Distortion Pedal
  • Dual gain engines
  • Discrete tone controls per channel
  • Led backlit knobs

Fender’s Pugilist features two channels and a blend/series switch, allowing you to combine the two or leave them stacked up as a series of effects for a beefy tone.

It also has a bass boost switch to make your tone rich and warm, which is handy if you’re going to be using guitars with different pickups (as it can complement their tone).

Thanks to having loads of control, the Pugilist is quite diverse and therefore suitable for more experienced players looking for versatility.

What we like:

  • Very good all-rounder, perfectly suited to classic rock and blues styles.
  • Two channels let you create a diverse array of sounds, and the bass boost option helps to complement different types of guitar too.

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About Ged Richardson

Ged Richardson is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of ZingInstruments.com. He has been featured in Entrepreneur, PremierGuitar, Hallmark, Wanderlust, CreativeLive, and other major publications. As an avid music fan, he spends his time researching and writing about new and old music, as well as testing and reviewing music-related products. He's played guitar in various bands, from rock to gypsy jazz. Be sure to check out his YouTube channel, where he geeks out about his favorite bands.

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