Boss guitar distortion pedal
Music Gear Reviews

7 Best guitar distortion pedals & why we like them

Updated: April 2024

This review contains affiliate links to relevant products at no cost to readers.

Let’s look at some of the best guitar distortion pedals on the market.

Here are the top 7 distortion pedals and why we like them.

Our best midi keyboard picks

  1. BOSS DS-1 – Best guitar distortion pedal
  2. PRO CO RAT2 – Best distortion pedal for metal
  3. BIG MUFF PI – Best distortion pedal for grunge
  4. TUBE SCREAMER – Best distortion pedals for rock
  5. MXR SUPER BADASS – Best distortion pedals for hard rock
  6. FULLTONE OCD – Most versatile distortion pedal
  7. TC DARK MATTER – Best distortion pedal for classic rock

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Boss guitar distortion pedal

You should look for these 3 things in a guitar distortion pedal:

Tone quality:

You want good tone quality so your guitar will sound clear and full rather than muddy or screechy.

Poor distortion pedals will fail on several different fronts. Poor circuit design will result in loss of definition causing your signal to sound harsh or screechy. Too much gain will overwhelm and lose the dynamic range causing your tone to sound muddy. Low-quality components like capacitors or resistors will diminish tone clarity. All the distortion pedals in our list pass these tests and have great distortion tones.

Build & Durability:

Durability in a guitar distortion pedal means it’s strong and will last a long time.

Your pedal will be dropped or stepped on hard during its lifespan. Durability details how it’s able to withstand these inevitable impacts. If a pedal breaks during a performance, it will leave you too clean. All the pedals on our list have metal cases and strong knobs and switches from reputable brands. They can handle being moved around to and from performances, without getting damaged. If a pedal is not built with quality materials, you’ll have to replace it often, so is expensive over time.

Easy to adjust:

You need a pedal with a simple interface to change the distortion settings easily.

If a pedal has simple and clear controls, you can make small adjustments to get the exact sound you want at speed. Whilst playing live and at home you’ll likely need more than 1 distortion setting throughout your repertoire. You may want to change from a light, crunchy sound to a heavy overload distortion. An easy interface should allow you to make the switch at speed. Live performances are more pressured as you don’t have time to start fiddling.

1. Best guitar distortion pedal: Boss DS-1

Price when reviewed:
From $64

Boss ds 1 guitar distortion pedal

We like:

The cheapest distortion pedal on our list!
It’s absolutely indestructible
Clear and warm tone even in high distortion settings
Incredibly easy to use

We do not like:

Can sound like generic distortion because of how popular it is
Limited EQ settings for advanced adjustments

The DS-1’s solid metal housing is incredibly tough and ideal for touring. You won’t face unexpected breakdowns or replacements. This will save money and stress in the long run.

The DS-1 can produce a wide range of distortion sounds like light fuzz and heavy growl. You can adjust the pedal to suit different songs or styles within a single set.

At high distortion settings, the DS-1 maintains a clear tone. It doesn’t become muddy, which is common with other cheap pedals when pushed. The tone control can fine-tune the sound to stay sharp in loud settings.

The DS-1 is the cheapest pedal on our list. It’s completely appropriate for beginners, budget seekers but also advanced players. Straightforward controls like level, tone, and distortion. Easy for anyone to use, ideal for those who don’t want fuss.


  • Distortion control knob: Adjusts the intensity of the distortion effect
  • Tone control knob: Modifies the brightness of the sound
  • Level control knob: Sets the output volume of the pedal
  • Footswitch: Engages and bypasses the effect
  • LED indicator: Shows the on/off status of the effect
  • AC adaptor or 9V battery powered


  • Input Impedance: 470 kOhms
  • Output Impedance: 1 kOhms
  • Recommended Load Impedance: 10 kOhms or greater
  • Connectors: INPUT Jack, OUTPUT Jack, AC Adaptor Jack (DC 9 V)
  • Power Supply: DC 9 V: Dry Battery 9 V type (6F22/9 V), AC Adaptor
  • Current Draw: 4 mA (DC 9V)
  • Dimensions (WxDxH): 73 mm x 129 mm x 59 mm (2-7/8 inches x 5-1/8 inches x 2-3/8 inches)
  • Weight (including battery): 400 g (14 oz)

Where to buy?
Check price on Amazon

2. Best distortion pedal for metal: Pro Co RAT2

Price when reviewed:
From $78

Pro cat Rat 2 guitar distortion pedal

We like:

Feels premium with Fatar keybed with aftertouch
Really responsive to your performance expression
Deep integration with the Komplete software
Setup and connection versatile

We do not like:

Limited when using for non-Native instruments
May have too many features for newbies

The Pro Co RAT2 pedal really nails deep, aggressive distortion, perfect for metal. This pedal’s design uses high-gain settings that push your guitar’s signal into heavy clipping. This process drastically alters the waveform, producing the gritty, biting sound metal guitarists love.

RAT2 also switches from mild overdrive to severe distortion smoothly. It features a variable resistor, or “pot,” for adjusting the gain. By turning this knob, you control how much the signal overdrives before it clips. This makes the pedal versatile for many music types, not just heavy metal.

Its build is super rugged too. Made with a sturdy, die-cast enclosure, the RAT2 withstands getting stomped on a lot. This toughness means it holds up well during energetic live shows and long tours.

The dynamic responsiveness of this pedal stands out. It adjusts distortion based on how hard you play. This capability helps keep your sound clean and free of muddiness, even when distortion is cranked up. Good for keeping complex chord progressions clear.

Interface on the RAT2 is real simple, just a few knobs. You get to tweak your sound without fuss, making live adjustments easy. Ideal for gigs where quick changes between songs are needed. This user-friendly setup helps you focus more on playing, less on tweaking.


  • Distortion Control: Adjusts the intensity of distortion
  • Filter Control: Manages the pedal’s tone by adjusting high-frequency content
  • Volume Control: Sets the output level
  • Footswitch: Engages and bypasses the effect
  • LED Indicator: Shows the operational status of the pedal (on/off)


  • Input Impedance: 1 MOhms
  • Output Impedance: 1 kOhms
  • Maximum Gain: +60 dB
  • Filter 6 dB/octave low-pass
  • Connectors: INPUT Jack, OUTPUT Jack, DC power input
  • Power Requirements: 9V battery or external DC power supply (9V)
  • Current Draw: Approximately 0.8 mA
  • Construction: Heavy-duty, industrial grade steel casing
  • Dimensions: 4-1/4″ x 2-1/4″ x 3-1/2″
  • Weight: 1 lb (approx.)

Where to buy?
Check price on Amazon

3. Best distortion pedal for grunge: Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi

Price when reviewed:
From $103

Big Muff distortion pedal for guitar

We like:

Thick and deliciously creamy fuzz distortion
Includes an incredibly grunge appropriate sustain control
Sturdy metal casing will handle your aggression for a long time
Sounds consistent across lots of different amp types

We do not like:

Intense fuzz can overpower in some cases
This classic analog may won’t work in modern digital rigs

Ed Sheeran, Justice

The Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi pedal delivers thick, creamy fuzz distortion that’s a total win for any fuzz lover. This pedal’s circuit design uses multiple stages of clipping to produce that saturated, velvety fuzz sound. It’s like pushing your guitar’s signal through a wall of molasses; the result is rich, heavy tones that fill up a track.

It’s got an incredible sustain control that’s perfect for grunge. You turn this knob and it feels like your chords and solos just hang in the air forever. The sustain control works by lengthening the signal’s decay time, so the sound carries longer before it fades out.

The Big Muff Pi’s casing is sturdy metal. It can take a lot of abuse, from stomping during intense gigs to getting tossed in and out of gear bags. This solid build makes it reliable over years of use, you don’t have to baby this pedal.

It also sounds consistent on different amps, which is super handy. Whether you plug it into a solid-state practice amp or a high-end tube amp, it keeps its character. This is due to its robust output and EQ specs that adapt well across various amp inputs


  • Sustain Control: Adjusts the amount of sustain and distortion
  • Tone Control: Modifies the timbre, allowing adjustment between bass and treble frequencies
  • Volume Control: Sets the output level of the pedal
  • Footswitch: Engages and bypasses the effect
  • LED Indicator: Shows the operational status of the pedal (on/off)
  • True Bypass: Ensures no signal loss when the pedal is bypassed


  • Input Impedance: 130 kOhms
  • Output Impedance: <10 kOhms
  • Current Draw: 3 mA
  • Connectors: INPUT Jack, OUTPUT Jack, AC Adapter Jack (9V)
  • Power Supply: 9V battery included, optional 9V AC adapter
  • Chassis: Die-cast chassis for durability
  • Dimensions (HxLxW): 2.4″ x 5.75″ x 4.75″ (61 mm x 146 mm x 121 mm)
  • Weight: 0.9 lbs 408 g

Where to buy?
Check price on Amazon

4. Best distortion pedal for rock: Ibanez Tube Screamer

Price when reviewed:
From $99

Ibanez Tube Screamer distortion pedal for guitar

We like:

Its analog processing gives a lovely warm smooth overdrive
Works so sweetly with tube amps
Is truly bypass signal when not in use
User friendly and straightforward to get your sound

We do not like:

The simplicity of the controls can be a drawback
This won’t suit someone looking for dramatic distortion

The Ibanez Tube Screamer analog processing tech ensures the overdrive stays warm and smooth. Analog circuits replicate the natural nonlinearities of tube amps, enhancing harmonic content without harshness. It pairs well with tube amps. The pedal slightly boosts signal levels, driving the amp’s tubes to sweeten the distortion naturally. This synergy creates a richer, fuller sound that’s tough to get from digital or solid-state gear.

The Tube Screamer offers true bypass. This feature means it doesn’t affect the guitar’s tone when you’re not using the pedal. The signal passes directly from input to output, ensuring your clean tone stays unaffected. It’s also easy to dial in the right sound. The pedal’s straightforward layout lets you tweak your tone quickly. With just a few knobs, you can set up your sound fast, no hassle. This simplicity is perfect for quick adjustments on stage or in the studio.


  • Overdrive Control: Adjusts the level of overdrive
  • Tone Control: Modifies the tone of the overdrive, balancing bass and treble frequencies
  • Level Control: Sets the output level of the pedal
  • Footswitch: Engages and bypasses the effect
  • LED Indicator: Shows the operational status of the pedal (on/off)
  • True Bypass: Ensures no signal loss when the pedal is bypassed


  • Input Impedance: 500 kOhms
  • Output Impedance: 10 kOhms
  • Maximum Gain: +30 dB
  • EQ Adjustment: +/- 15 dB
  • Connectors: INPUT Jack, OUTPUT Jack, AC Adapter Jack
  • Power Requirements: 9V battery or external AC adaptor (9V)
  • Current Draw: 7.5 mA
  • Dimensions (DxWxH): 125 mm x 70 mm x 52 mm (4.9 inches x 2.8 inches x 2 inches)
  • Weight: 0.5 kg (1.1 lbs)
  • Casing: Sturdy metal chassis for durability

Where to buy?
Check price on Amazon

5. Best distortion pedals for hard rock: MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion

Price when reviewed:
From $130

MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion pedal for guitar

We like:

Can get a wide range of good distortion signal sounds
Has a 3 band EQ which will help your tone shape
Metal chassis made to be abuse proof
Powerful and precision output signal

We do not like:

Not for beginners
Might need to rebalance amp settings due to its power

The MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion really brings a lot of versatility. You can dial in from slight edge to full-on metal meltdown. The variety in sound comes from its high-quality circuit design. It modifies signals heavily without losing clarity, which is key for good distortion.

It includes a 3-band EQ. This feature allows precise adjustments of bass, mid, and treble. Tailoring your sound becomes simple and effective. This makes it easy to blend with other band instruments or standalone.

The pedal’s metal chassis is tough. It stands up to serious stomping. That’s great for gigs or rough use in practice sessions. The build quality ensures it lasts and stays reliable through transport and use.

Also, the output from this pedal is both strong and sharp. It sends out a clean, powerful signal no matter the distortion level. High-grade electronic parts make this possible. They keep the sound detailed and robust.


  • Distortion Control: Adjusts the amount of distortion from subtle overdrive to full-on heavy distortion.
  • 3-Band EQ: Includes controls for Bass, Mid, and Treble, allowing for extensive tonal shaping.
  • Output Control: Sets the overall output level of the pedal.
  • Footswitch: True bypass footswitch activates the distortion effect.
  • LED Indicator: Provides visual confirmation when the pedal is engaged.


  • Input Impedance: 1 MΩ (Mohm)
  • Output Impedance: 10 kΩ
  • Maximum Gain: +17 dB
  • EQ Controls: +/- 12 dB cut or boost at Bass (100 Hz), Mid (1 kHz), and Treble (10 kHz)
  • Connectors: Standard ¼-inch Input and Output jacks.
  • Power Requirements: 9-volt battery or AC adapter (9V DC)
  • Current Draw: 2.5 mA
  • Chassis: Durable metal housing designed to withstand on-stage use.
  • Dimensions: 4.75″ x 2.50″ x 1.25″ (120.65 mm x 63.5 mm x 31.75 mm)
  • Weight: 0.84 lbs (0.38 kg)

Where to buy?
Check price on Amazon

6. Most versatile distortion pedal: Fulltone OCD

Price when reviewed:
From $180

Fulltone OCD guitar distortion pedal

We like:

Wide gain range gives you light and heavy distortion options
Reliable and sturdy casing
Output dynamically responds to how hard you play
Voltage doubling circuit expands headroom which increases clarity

We do not like:

Most expensive distortion pedal on our list
Might need to watch your guitar amp’s volume
The controls could be too simplistic for the price

The Fulltone OCD pedal offers a wide gain range. This means you can switch between light and heavy distortion easily. It suits different playing styles, from blues to hard rock. The pedal adjusts the level of distortion based on how far you turn its gain knob.

It has a reliable and sturdy casing. This is great for musicians who gig often. The solid build protects the internal components, ensuring the pedal lasts a long time. You don’t worry about it breaking down from normal use or during transport.

The output of the Fulltone OCD dynamically responds to your playing intensity. The harder you strum or pick, the more it distorts. This feature allows for expressive playing. It lets your lighter touches be clean and your aggressive plays be gritty.

A special feature is its voltage doubling circuit. This increases the pedal’s headroom, which means it can handle louder sounds without distorting them. This circuit makes the sound clearer and reduces noise, even when the pedal is set to high distortion levels.


  • Drive Control: Adjusts the amount of distortion from mild overdrive to heavy distortion.
  • Volume Control: Sets the output level of the pedal.
  • Tone Control: Modifies the frequency response, balancing the brightness and warmth of the tone.
  • HP/LP Switch: Allows selection between High Peak (HP) and Low Peak (LP) modes. HP offers more distorted tones with a slight volume boost, while LP provides a more transparent sound.
  • True Bypass Switching: Ensures no signal loss or tone coloration when the pedal is bypassed.
  • LED Indicator: Shows whether the pedal is active or bypassed.


  • Input Impedance: 1 MΩ
  • Output Impedance: Approximately 10 kΩ
  • Current Draw: 9 mA
  • Connectors: 1/4-inch input and output jacks
  • Power Requirements: 9V to 18V DC power supply (battery or AC adapter)
  • Voltage Switch: Can operate on 9V or 18V for different headroom and dynamic response
  • Chassis: Sturdy metal housing for durability
  • Dimensions: Approximately 4.5 x 2.5 x 2.1 inches
  • Weight: 0.84 lbs

Where to buy?
Check price on Amazon

7. Best distortion pedal for classic rock: TC Dark Matter Distortion

Price when reviewed:
From $125

TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion pedal for guitar

We like:

Creates a vintage warm distortion due to its gain circuit build
Distortion intensity is nuanced responding to how you play
2 band controls for some EQ shape
Small yet sturdy and reliable

We do not like:

Those in need of heavy distortion should look elsewhere
Be careful to balance the pedal EQ with your guitar amp

The TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion excels in creating vintage warm distortion. This sound comes from its gain circuit design, which enhances the natural harmonics of the guitar. This circuit boosts the signal in a way that mimics old tube amps, providing a classic feel that’s perfect for blues or rock.

This pedal’s distortion intensity responds to your playing dynamics. The harder you play, the more it distorts. This feature lets you control the level of distortion through your playing style. It’s great for musicians who vary their picking attack to express different emotions in their music.

It has 2-band EQ controls. These allow you to shape the bass and treble frequencies. Adjusting these can help match the pedal’s sound to your amp and guitar, optimizing performance. This is especially useful in a band setting, where blending with other instruments is key.

Despite its powerful features, the pedal is small and sturdy. Its compact size makes it easy to fit on any pedalboard. The build quality is solid, making it reliable for both studio sessions and live performances. It stands up well to regular use and handling.


  • Gain Control: Adjusts the level of distortion from subtle overdrive to heavy crunch.
  • Level Control: Sets the overall output volume of the pedal.
  • Bass and Treble Controls: Dual-band EQ allows for precise tonal shaping, enhancing lows and highs independently.
  • Voice Switch: Offers two distinct tonal paths; one more modern, the other classic, allowing further tonal customization.
  • True Bypass: Ensures the pedal does not color the tone when disengaged.
  • LED Indicator: Shows the operational status (on/off) of the pedal.


  • Input Impedance: Greater than 1 MΩ
  • Output Impedance: 100 Ω
  • Power Supply: Standard 9V DC, center negative >100 mA (not supplied)
  • Current Consumption: 16 mA
  • Connectors: Standard ¼-inch TS input and output jacks
  • Dimensions: 72 x 122 x 50 mm (2.83 x 4.80 x 1.97 inches)
  • Weight: 0.3 kg (0.66 lbs)
  • Enclosure: Sturdy metal chassis suited for road use

Where to buy?
Check price on Amazon

What Does a Distortion Pedal Do? Overdrive vs. Distortion vs. Fuzz

A good distortion pedal changes your guitar’s sound by making it grittier or ‘dirtier’. This pedal clips your guitar’s sound waves, which means it cuts off the top and bottom of the wave. This clipping creates a harsher, more aggressive sound. People often use distortion for rock or heavy metal music because it makes the guitar sound intense.

An overdrive pedal is a bit different. It gently clips your guitar’s sound waves to create a warm, soft distortion. This mimics the sound of an overdriven tube amp, which is where the amp is turned up really high and naturally distorts the sound. Overdrive is great for blues or rock because it adds depth and warmth without overwhelming the original sound.

A fuzz pedal takes distortion to the extreme by severely clipping the sound waves. This creates a very rough, buzzy sound, like a bee buzzing around. Fuzz is very distinct and stands out in music that wants to push boundaries with its guitar sound.

Each type of pedal suits different music styles. Top distortion pedals are bold and aggressive. Overdrive is warm and subtle. Fuzz is extreme and sharp. The right pedal for a guitarist depends on the sound they want and the music they play.

What distortion pedal does Metallica use?

They use several distortion pedals to create their signature heavy guitar tone. The notable is the Ibanez Tube Screamer which is on our list above. This pedal is famous for its ability to boost lead guitar making it stand out in the mix. The Tube Screamer slightly overdrives their amps during their tight, aggressive riffs.

Another key pedal is the Boss MT-2 Metal Zone for its high gain. The Metal Zone provides the intense distortion necessary for Metallica’s heavier songs. This pedal allows for extensive EQ control. This allows for meticulous tone shape which gets their clarity and punch.

Metallica also uses custom-built multi effects pedals. They integrate seamlessly with their other equipment for gigs and studio recordings.

What distortion does Dave Grohl use?

Dave Grohl is known for Foo Fighters and Nirvana. One of his pedals is the Boss DS-1, featured on our list above. The DS-1 can somewhat emulate the crunchy tones that are a hallmark of Grohl’s style.

Another pedal Dave Grohl has been spotted using is the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi. This has a smoother, sustained distortion compared to the aggressive sound of the DS-1. The Big Muff helps to thicken the rich texture of the music.

What was Kurt Cobain's distortion pedal?

Kurt Cobain, of Nirvana, used the Electro-Harmonix Small Clone chorus pedal. It played a big part in crafting his sound. When it came to distortion, he relied on a few key pedals. The most important was the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi. Famous for its rich, creamy distortion which was crucial for Cobain’s iconic solo in “Smells Like Teen Spirit. The Big Muff Pi gave a thick, powerful tone that could cut through the dense mix of loud drums and bass.

One of the notable others was the Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal. Essential for the robust aggressive distortion of Cobain’s sound. Featured above in our list of best guitar distortion pedals.

Do I need an overdrive pedal if I have distortion?

If you already have a distortion pedal, you probably don’t need an overdrive pedal as well.
An overdrive pedal gives you a softer type of distortion. It simulates the warm sound you get when a tube amp is turned up high but not maxed. This is great for blues, rock, and anything that needs a subtle, natural-sounding boost. Distortion pedals give you a hard, aggressive sound.

You may only need to set a nice overdrive on your guitar amp whilst relying on a distortion pedal to add aggression.

Yes, having both pedals can expand your sound options. But unlikely to be useful unless you’re a touring guitarist who needs loads of fast, quick options. Most of the best guitar amps will now have 2 setups to allow you to switch between your distortion effects easily.

Is distortion better than fuzz?

Deciding if distortion is better than fuzz depends on the music you want to play. Distortion adds a gritty texture, making the sound harsher and more aggressive. It’s great for rock and metal music for a powerful and commanding guitar presence. Distortion enhances the natural sound of the guitar without changing its basic character.

Fuzz creates a more intense and raw sound. It drastically alters the audio signal to produce a buzzy, broken sound. This extreme effect fits well with garage bands that want a vintage tone.

Most players mix both to explore new sounds and keep their options open. The choice between distortion and fuzz can also depend on the type of equipment you have.

A lot of the best multi effects pedals will have loads of distortion options like overdrive and fuzz for you to choose between.

Can I use a guitar distortion pedal for bass?

Yes, you can use a guitar distortion pedal for bass, but there are some things to consider. Guitar distortion pedals are designed for electric guitar frequency range and output level. They might not handle the lower frequencies of a bass guitar. When you pair a guitar distortion pedal with a bass, you will notice that the low end of your bass sound gets lost. This happens because most guitar pedals focus on mid to high frequencies.