5 Best Guitar Distortion Pedals – Buying Guide and Reviews

Without a decent distortion effect, you’re pretty limited when it comes to the kinds of music you can play. Obvious examples would be heavy metal and rock, but even blues can benefit from a bit of filth in the tone to give it a gruffer edge.

You can sometimes find an inbuilt distortion in amps, but the quality of these are questionable at best.

Plus you don’t get the full control over the tone that you get with a pedal.

There are more of these guitar pedals on the market than you could shake a stick at, so here are 5 of best guitar distortion pedals in our opinion. Enjoy!

At a Glance: Our Choice Of The 5 Best Guitar Distortion Pedals On The Market

Note: The links above take you to more information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon. If you do purchase something we get a small commission, which has absolutely no effect on the eventual price that you pay.

Buyer's Tips: What to look for when buying a distortion pedal for guitar

There are a number of factors you should take into consideration when buying your distortion pedal.

  • Tone
    Each distortion pedal will have its own unique character, and that will interact with your amp, your guitar, your playing technique and a hundred other variables. You can get a rough idea from hearing someone else play it, but for best results test it out before you take it home. Furthermore, there will be a varying number of settings on different pedals that allow you to alter various aspects of the tone. If you need versatility, the more the better.
  • Quality
    Another obvious factor is how well the pedal is made. If it’s a cheap plastic box that’ll crumple under foot, with dials that come loose and circuitry that gives up halfway through your first set, it won’t be worth the money you spend no matter how cheap it is.
  • Cost
    Your budget is usually going to be the main deciding factor when it comes to getting any pedals. Thankfully, you can find pretty good options even at the lower end. Sure, elitists will turn their noses up but who cares? It’s the ears of your audience that matters! If you can afford to go for the more expensive options, just be careful that you aren’t paying for a name and nothing else.

5 Best Guitar Distortion Pedals

Ok let's look at each product in more detail. To make things easier for you, we've added pros and cons for each one, as well as a video demonstration so you can see them in action. So without further ado, let’s take a look...

1. Pro Co RAT2

Pro Co RAT2 Distortion Pedal

A fairly basic distortion pedal, but one with an interesting tone that sets it apart from the majority of its competitors.

  • Very easy to use, has volume, distortion and filter controls and an on/off switch
  • Extremely tough, making it excellent for travelling use
  • Thanks to its unique sounding tone that comes from a combination of fuzz and distortion, it has a very versatile tone
  • Although the pedal does have a great range of uses across many genres, it struggles to fit in at the most extreme end of heavy metal
  • Input and output jacks are at the top of the pedalboard so you’ll want some right angle cables for chaining with other pedals on a board
  • The power supply uses an unusual input, so you may need to get a converter

2. Boss DS-1 (Editor's Choice)

BOSS DS-1 Distortion Pedal

A very popular distortion pedal that’s reliable and definitely worth more than its humble price tag.

  • Like the Pro Co RAT2, the DS-1 can take any punishment you can throw at it, and has an extra large footswitch for easy stomping.
  • One of the cheapest distortion pedals around, making it a great choice for musicians on a budget and if you’re into aftermarket modding it’s still well within an affordable range.
  • Can help to brighten a particularly muddy amp, helping to round out your tone by upping the treble a little (also makes it good for black metal)
  • The brightening effect can go too far, making much of the tone knob unnecessary
  • Looks damn ugly, although this shouldn’t really be your main concern - and you could even play it up in an industrial-aesthetic sort of way
  • This pedal doesn't do much to stand out from the crowd due to its limited tone shaping controls

Let's take a look at this product...

3. Joyo JF-2 Ultimate Overdrive (Budget Choice)

Joyo JF-02 Ultimate Overdrive Pedal, featuring true Bypass Wiring, Tone Switch and Quality components

Pound for pound, this is one of the best guitar distortion pedals you could be getting. It’s a clone of a more expensive model, the Fulltone OCD.

  • Finally a cool looking distortion! This one will sit right at home with your lethal looking guitar and wild stage personas
  • Paying bottom dollar for a pedal that sounds as good as a premium model? Yes, please!
  • No hissing or buzzing, just straight up distortion with true bypass
  • Honestly it’s hard to pick fault with this pedal, but it shares the problems of many of its brethren in that your range of controls is quite limited and uninspired
  • The footswitch is the small circular type rather than the large button style which is much easier for on stage use
  • Lacks the raw power of some distortion pedals needed for the heaviest genres

Let's take a look at this product...

4. Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion

Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion Pedal

It might seem strange to mention two versions of the Boss DS, but they both have their strengths and what sets this one apart from its older brother is the character of the tone, with this one being much fuller sounding and less tinny.

  • Fixes the tone issues with the DS-1, this one doesn’t have the overly bright sound
  • There is an additional control alongside the usuals, the Turbo mode lets you choose between a warm distortion suitable for lots of styles, or dramatically increase everything to insanity inducing levels, making it much better for playing metal than others.
  • Like all Boss pedals, you could probably drive a truck over it and it wouldn’t even notice (don’t test that though!)
  • For the upgrade, you’ll need to shell out a little bit more for this pedal
  • You’ll need to get your own mains power cable as one isn’t included with the pedal
  • Switching between modes with buying an additional footswitch to plug in via the remote jack is hard to do in the middle of a song, and it’s a shame that this isn’t included with the pedal.

Let's take a look at this product...

5. Electro-Harmonix Soul Food

Electro Harmonix Soul Food Overdrive Pedal w/EHX Power Supply!

A fantastically underpriced pedal, it doesn’t produce the kind of distortion that a metal band would be looking for, but as the name suggests it provides a very thick and full distortion almost like a fuzz pedal.

  • A copy of the Klon Centaur overdrive pedal, but for way less money
  • Super slim profile makes it fit onto a cramped pedalboard nicely
  • Comes with power supply included
  • Can’t give you the most brutal sound in the world, so if you’re looking to create a mosh pit you’ll have to combine this with your amps overdrive channel and perhaps another pedal or two.
  • Increasing the gain too high seems to spoil the tone somewhat
  • There’s only a knob for treble control, so any tone shaping requirements you may have will need to be taken up elsewhere in your chain.

Let's take a look at this product...

So which should I buy?

Comparing distortion pedals can be a difficult task, especially when you’ve got 5 that are all pretty good.

Really, the only thing it’s going to come down to is which one can you afford, and which one suits your style of music the best? Most of these are fairly affordable, and most of them are versatile enough to handle anything that isn’t supposed to summon demons onto the stage.

So instead of deciding which is the best, I’ll advise you to stay away from the Pro Co RAT2 on account of its unusual power supply. Other than this, the decision is up to you based on what kind of sound you’re looking to get! I would say that it’s best to stick with one of the pedals on this list however, as they are the best of the best unless you start looking at boutique models, but those tend to be vastly overpriced compared to what you get for the money.

Let us know which is your favourite, and why, in the comments below. You might just help someone else make their mind up, which can be pretty hard when you’ve got so many similar pedals out there.

Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.

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