Posted by
Jun 23, 2021
Best Distortion Pedals

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The Best Distortion Pedals You Can Buy

What Is Distortion?

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The term “Distortion” is often used in audio to refer to any scenario where the original signal is transformed by feeding a circuit, component or recording medium an excessive amount of volume, which results in the generation of artifacts like extra upper harmonics and compression.

Differences with Overdrive and Fuzz

In the six-strings realm, one of the first lessons learned by electric guitarists is to differentiate between Overdrive, Distortion and Fuzz – effects that in their pedal versions belong to what is known as the “dirt box” umbrella.

Although this article is about the best distortion pedals currently on the market – not overdrives, not fuzzes – this doesn’t necessarily mean that the stompboxes in this list can’t deliver overdrive or fuzz-like tones.

To sum up the sound of Distortion in a few words we could say that it’s an effect obtained through gain saturation that is not as transparent and dynamic as an overdrive nor as grating and compressed as a fuzz pedal. It colors your sound, and the more gain you apply the more compressed and… distorted it gets. Some pedals excel at delivering a specific range of distortion – hence the common labeling of “lo-gain” vs. “hi-gain” in this niche “medium-gain” is also a thing, by the way).

Aggregating the Best Distortion Pedal Lists on the Internet

Now, the title of this article may appear loaded to you, and you may ask yourself: “who is Delicious Audio to have the last word about the best distortion pedals of all times?” – a question to which we humbly answer: “you are right, and that’s why we aren’t making any decisions here”

The chart below was not compiled by us, but by aggregating 10 recent “Best Distortion Pedals” lists by reputable sources we found online (we list them at the end of the article).

Now, let’s dive into it! As usual, mouseover (or first tap in mobile) on the picture of the pedal opens a description, while a click (or second tap) opens a video.

And if you buy, please buy using the links we provide, it’s the only way we have to monetize this blog and doesn’t cost you anything extra!

The 8 Best Distortion Pedals of All Time, Right Now!

1. Fender Pugilist

We were really surprised to find this pedal mentioned in almost all the best of list we took into account for this piece (yes, we assumed the BOSS DS-1 was going to win hands down). This all-original circuit features dual gain engines—with independent tone controls for each—letting you select multiple variations of distortion and parallel/series configuration. Series/Blend switch lets you stack channels for thick, cascading distortion, while the Bass Boost switch fattens up your tone. Players and critics love it not only for its sound but for its versatility, although it shines at high gain distortion.

2. BOSS DS-1

This is an affordable, evergreen classic that covers your distortion basics and does it with style. Released in 1978, the DS-1 is one of the (if not the) best-selling pedals ever. The Level and Dist knobs open up a wide variety of distortions, while the Tone knob can make your guitar cut through during a solo or tame the highs for chord sections.

3. MXR M75 Super Badass ’75

A pedal inspired by the British tone associated with the EL34 tube, the M75 delivers versatile distortion with plenty of sculpting options thanks to its three-way EQ section. The dedicated Mid knob allows for scooped tones (good for metal) or the more mid-rangey distortion in vogue in the ’70s.

4. Earthquaker Devices Acapulco Gold

An authentic emulation of a Sunn Model T Amp, this one-knob pedal delivers one distortion flavor but does it amazingly well. The circuit is actually very responsive to your guitar’s volume, so you can use that knob to widen your tonal palette from light crunch all the way to that stoner sound the original amp is famous for.

5. TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion

Incredibly useful and inspiring for its price range, this Marshall/Plexi-inspired distortion produces very balanced and responsive tones at all gain settings, delivering particularly well at low and medium gain levels. It’s also remarkable when stacked into other high-gain devices.

6. KHDK Dark Blood
Walrus Audio Ironhorse V2
ProCo Rat 2

We have a three-way tie on 6th place – see videos and descriptions in the following gallery:

Honorable Mentions

These are pedals that got two mentions in the lists we consulted, discover them in the interactive gallery below.

Videos About Distortion

JHS’s History of Guitar Distortion

Guitar Bonedo’s History of Distortion Pedals (1974 – 2016)

Polyphonics’ History of Distortion, Song by Song

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We based this list aggregating the following Best Distortion Pedal lists:

JHS Pedals YouTube Video
PMTVUK YouTube Video
Bonedo Music

and in part also:
Guitar Habits