Whether you play rock, metal, or anything in-between, there is no question that the most important pedal on your board is your distortion pedal. From those sweet, bluesy overdrive sounds to the gritty, maimed, fuzz-like sounds, distortion can be a pretty versatile effect, which is why no two distortion pedals are the same.
Whether you’re looking for a pedal to dial in the same tones as the guitarists you idolize or to define your own unique tone, we’ve got a list of best distortion pedals for you!
Our Top Picks
Overdrive vs. Fuzz vs. Distortion
When people talk distortion, they are often referring to one of three things:
Distortion, Overdrive, or Fuzz
While many consider these effects one and the same, any pro guitarist will tell you they are very different.
A lot of people mistake overdrive for distortion, but they are really two separate effects. The original meaning of overdrive was sending excessive power to a tube amp. Before pedals, this effect was achieved by guitarists cranking their amps up to 11 so that the sound would distort.
While overdrive adds a good amount of overtones and distorts your original signal, it is much more mild-mannered than your standard distortion. This makes it a great fit for natural genres like blues.
If overdrive is white, then fuzz is black. Unlike overdrive, Fuzz leaves you with a completely saturated signal. This produces a sound that cracks and buzzes without a clean signal in sight. You often hear fuzz tones in punk, psychedelic, or heavy alternative rock. If you want a pedal that can absolutely decimate your signal, get a fuzz pedal.
Distortion, on the other hand, lies just between these two effects. It allows you to dial in overly-saturated tones while still retaining the natural sound of your guitar and amplifier. It is used a lot in rock and metal genres.
Distortion pedals come with different controls and parameters that you can mess with to dial in various tones. For example, it could be helpful to have a few EQ controls onboard if you want to narrow in on certain parts of the frequency spectrum to cut or boost.
If you’re a beginner, the number of controls may not matter to you. You’ll probably want to stick with something simple to start.
But whether you are a beginner or a seasoned pro, we’re here to help you figure out which distortion pedal will work best for you.
Now onto the list...
12 Best Guitar Distortion Pedals
From classic 80s rock to modern heavy metal, the Revv Amplification G3 distortion can do it all. It is a bit of a hidden gem in the world of distortion pedals, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. It can dial in some incredible tones since it mimics the high-quality Revv Amplification 100 and 120 channels.
Revv Amplification has given you a few controls to play with on this pedal, including a three-band EQ, a gain knob, and a volume knob. There is also a little toggle switch that lets you change the “aggression” of the distortion. ‘Blue’ aggression gives you a classic, guttural roar that opens the pedal up, while ‘red’ aggression hunkers down and tightens up those heavy drop-D riffs for serious annihilation.
Beyond that, this pedal is incredibly simple to use with a sleek purple body that will fit nicely on your pedalboard.
Bottom Line: This boutique pedal is perfect for those who are looking for a unique and versatile distortion. It can be difficult to dial in a hard-to-find distortion tone, and that’s why this option is one of our favorites.
Best Budget Option
If distortion isn’t your main deal, you might not want to spend a lot of money on one of these pedals. For those in this camp, we have the Xotic Effects SL Drive. This simple and affordable distortion pedal delivers high-quality distortion tones with an easy-to-use portable interface.
The pedal utilizes true bypass alongside four switches that allow you to toggle through different tones that mimic vintage tones of the 1960s. On the front side, you have some standard controls, including Tone, Drive, and Volume. Experiment with all of these different parameters, and you’ll soon realize that you can dial in everything from aggressive, high-gain distortion to smoother and warmer overdrive.
Bottom Line: The Xotic Effects SL Drive is a seriously awesome budget pedal. It is perfect for those who don’t have much pedalboard real estate to sacrifice, who don’t use distortion as their main effect, or who are simply on a strict budget.
Though the price tag may be a bit hefty for some, the Plexi-Drive by Wample is a one-of-a-kind pedal. This top-notch option helps rockers dial in the tones of early Marshall amplifiers, otherwise known as “plexis.” In terms of controls, the pedal is pretty straightforward.
You get a 3-band EQ with bass, treble, and mid parameters along with volume and boost knobs that you can mess with.
There are a couple small toggle switches as well. The bass boost toggle switch is meant to emulate the bass in your typical 4x12” cabinet. The bright toggle switch is designed to better accent the high frequencies.
If you play a guitar with humbuckers that can drive pretty hard, you’ll notice the difference even more! Plus, the British flag design is absolutely awesome. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported back to the late ‘60s from the first strum.
Bottom Line: If you’re a fan of the vintage Marshall sound, there is no question that you should have this pedal in your arsenal. No other distortion pedal that we know of quite captures the sound of a plexi like this one.
For all you metalheads out there, the KHDK Dark Blood is an insanely brutal distortion pedal from the legendary Kirk Hammet. It provides the sound of a wall of stacked amps, even with its tiny size. The unique thing about this pedal is that it comes with a built-in noise gate to help keep that nasty buzz and hum to a minimum. If you think that’s cool, wait until you play with the Doom knob.
The Doom knob helps to add a ridiculous amount of bottom-end to get that mud-drenched, Hetfield-like distortion. You have a Hi/Lo switch as well, which helps to either add a bit more body to the low end or boost the top end when you need that legendary solo to cut through. At the end of the line is a treble control, which is great for putting the final subtle touches on that monstrous tone you’ve just created.
Bottom Line: For the metalheads of the world, the KDHK Dark Blood is a one-of-a-kind distortion pedal. From the tight, high-gain tones to the low chugging tones, it can truly do it all.
Just like the Wampler Plexi Drive, the Catapulp also works to copy the sound of a classic amplifier. However, this pedal aims to emulate the classic Orange-style British tube amps in the small package of a standard pedal. What we love about the Catapulp V2 more than anything is the dynamic range, as it works with how you play. You can dial in a subtle, overdrive-like breakup or a nasty, over-the-top distortion. There are three active EQ bands onboard too, which allow you to cut and boost 15 dB.
There are a fair amount of good distortion pedals that put their full focus on crafting high-gain sounds. The beauty of the Catapulp V2 is that it gives you the sound of an amp breaking up across the entire spectrum. You’ll be able to get that subtle tube saturation if you desire. But you can also thrust it into full-fledged distortion when necessary.
Bottom Line: The Catapulp V2 is quite a special distortion unit with its emulation of classic Orange amplifiers. If you’re a fan of the Orange sound, there is no better distortion out there that mimics it.
If there is any company out there that understands how a great guitar should sound, it’s Fender. But did you know that Fender makes a series of awesome pedals? These range from reverb to delay to distortion. The Pugilist distortion was one of the first pedals they ever offered, and it has some wild sounds.
It is a two-channel distortion that provides cleaner and brighter distortion tones. These work best when they are paired with something heavier. With that said, if you are looking for more of an overdrive-like distortion, the Pugilist will do you just right. It breaks up a lot, which is what you would expect from a standard Fender amplifier.
It comes with six different knobs, four of which work to dial in the gain and tone. The other two are used to blend and boost the signal. There is also a small boost toggle switch in the center for when you really need to kick it into high gear. All of that is wrapped up in a golden brushed aluminum box that gives you a classic aesthetic alongside the classic tone.
Bottom Line: Fender fans look no further! The Pugilist delivers the overdrive-like distortion that you’ve been getting from your amp for years, only now you can get it in the form of a stompbox.
Earthquaker Devices makes some of the best pedals on the market right now. The Acapulco Gold not only sounds incredible but also sports a unique design. The pedal boasts gold on black artwork and a massive knob to control your sound. Over the top? Maybe, but we love it.
The best word to describe the Acapulco Gold is loud. This bad boy rips right through your amp with its giant knob and impactful distortion. The higher you crank the knob, the fatter and more saturated your tones will become. Think of this pedal as emulating the grittiest and stankiest forms of blues rock. If you work with humbucker pickups, the sound will be pushed even further.
The best part about the Acapulco Gold is that it is easy to use. One large knob controlling an entire pedal may feel gimmicky, but the tone speaks for itself, and we can’t complain.
Bottom Line: From deep, stoner metal distortion tones to edgy blues tones, the Acapulco can handle everything with ease and finesse. It might cost you a pretty penny for what you get, but the unique sound makes it worth it.
A Super Badass pedal has to deliver some of the most epic distortion tones out there, right? Well, thank God it does, because it’d be pretty embarrassing for a pedal with that name to be a flop. The MXR M75 is actually very versatile. You can get everything from light, overdriven tones to massive, ear-rattling distortion.
There are five knobs on the Super Badass interface, giving you the ability to adjust the distortion and output. You can also fine tune the tone with bass, treble, and mid controls. You can sculpt your tone with total ease, which is important if you want to move from one distortion tone to the next in a flash.
The pedal comes with all-analog components, which provide a warmer sound. The silver casing on the outside is also both durable and aesthetically-pleasing.
Bottom Line: If you aren’t really keen on getting a distortion for a specific sound, or if you aren’t sure what sound you want, the M75 allows you to explore a wide range of tones.
The MXR M104+ was made to mimic the sounds of the famed Distortion+ pedal from MXR, a popular pedal that was used throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s in metal and hard rock genres. If you’re looking to get heavy distortion, it’s well worth the buy. The pedal achieves its unique sound by adding a soft clip to the end of your signal to give it a top-end bite while keeping everything in check.
When you crank it all the way to the top, you end up getting some seriously hefty fuzz sounds that sustain like nobody’s business. On the softer end, it acts just like an overdriven amplifier. Of course, in a physical sense, the pedal is very simple. It only has two knobs on it for distortion and output, as well as an LED to let you know it’s doing its thing.
Bottom Line: If you’re looking to achieve that high-gain, Randy Rhoads-style distortion, the MXR M104+ is an excellent choice. It absolutely nails the sound of ‘70s and ‘80s hard rock and metal at a price that won’t break the bank.
The ProCo RAT2 is quite a legendary pedal in the world of distortion. Back in the day, it was the pedal for arena rockers. The RAT2 aims to capture the sounds of the original RAT pedal that came out decades ago, and it achieves this goal. It has an interesting sound in a realm of its own, somewhere beyond and between overdrive and distortion as we know them. It’s the perfect pedal for screeching lead sounds, though you can chug along with it too.
There is a middle dial filter that allows you to take away some higher frequencies if you’re sitting back in the mix or boost those mids if you need to poke through the band. The beauty of the RAT2 is that it looks just like it did during the 80s. It’s a big, heavy-duty pedal that comes with the same over-the-top typeface that we know and love.
Bottom Line: The ProCo RAT2 is a very versatile pedal with a sound like no other. You’d be hard-pressed to get something this iconic in the same price range.
If you know anything about distortion pedals, then you probably don’t need an introduction to the Boss DS-1. This pedal is easily one of the most famous distortion pedals of all time as it has been around for almost five decades now. It’s versatile, compact, and inexpensive, perfect for almost any guitarist out there. It has also been played by some pretty legendary guitarists, including Kurt Cobain and Joe Satriani.
From light distortion to heavy, raging growls, the DS-1 has you covered. It comes with three responsive controls that allow you to dial in your tone without fuss. Plus, the DS-1 is great for taking on the road as it is made with that BOSS stompbox durability that has yet to be matched.
Bottom Line: When it comes to inexpensive pedals, the Boss DS-1 is easily the most versatile pedal around. There is a reason that it has been gracing pedalboards ever since its inception in 1978.
While it may not live up to the Wampler Plexi Drive, the TC Electronic Dark Matter is an excellent, budget-friendly pedal for those who want to dial in plexi-style distortion tones a la Jimi Hendrix. This pedal has a natural, responsive tone that helps to accentuate the way you play.
The Dark Matter sits in-between lighter distortion and heavier overdrive, providing you with a tone that is all classic rock. You’ll feel like you’re playing through a Marshall stack from the first note. There is a neat little Voice switch in the center that does something cool though. Flip it up and you get modern rock tones with a more high-fidelity sound. It’s a time machine and a modern rock pedal all in one!
Bottom Line: With an open and responsive sound, the Dark Matter is perfect for classic rock and modern rock lovers alike. It’s easy to operate and gives you total control over your tone.
A good distortion pedal can help you dial in a killer sound. It is a necessary effect for those who are in the world of rock, metal, or other heavy genres. If we had to pick one pedal overall, we’d go with the Revv Amplification G3 Distortion. It is versatile and unique with a hundred different tones wrapped up inside of it—perfect for the all-around guitarist.
We hope our recommendations will help you wade through the crowded waters of distortion pedals to find the best one for your needs. Now go pick up a pedal and start shredding!