Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links.If you’re looking to make lots of noise, you’ve come to the right place. Below, we’ve chosen the best distortion pedals available on the market today. Whether you’re a metalhead or a classic rocker, these crunch boxes will elevate your tone to the next level. If you’re not sure what a distortion pedal does or how it’s different from an overdrive, check out our guide about the differences between overdrive, fuzz, and distortion. Once you’re up-to-speed, come back and check out our recommendations!
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Best Distortion Pedals (Summary)
If you’re short on time, we’ve summarized our recommendations here. If you prefer to learn more, then keep reading!
Timeless Distortion on a Budget
These pedals have been on the market forever and have seen use in countless genres and generations of music. You can’t make a wrong choice with either of these legendary distortion pedals.
The Boss DS-1 is a workhorse distortion pedal used and admired by virtuosos and amateurs alike. Since 1978, it has been a staple found on the pedalboards of Steve Vai, Kurt Cobain, and dozens more of your favorite guitarists. In fact, the Boss DS-1’s fingerprints are all over Nirvana’s iconic Bleach and Nevermind albums.
With only 3 knobs for tone, volume, and gain, the DS-1 is super easy to dial in. While it’s not the most versatile distortion pedal in this list, its simplicity makes up for this shortcoming. You’ll have no trouble getting the DS-1 to sing how you want it to and almost every setting simply screams. It’s built like a tank and can take a beating thanks to the traffic-cone orange, all-metal housing. Trusty, solid, simple, and affordable – the Boss DS-1 is a no-brainer.
The ProCo RAT and all of its many incarnations are famous for their versatility. Its iconic tone can be heard in everything from Metallica to R.E.M. With a little experimentation and fiddling around with the 3 control knobs, the ProCo RAT2 can do almost any type of distortion you can think of. From mild overdrive to all-out fuzz and everything in between, it’s one of the most versatile distortion pedals on the market. It’s a solid pedal that’s encased in a protective metal enclosure and, with only 3 knobs, it’s super easy to configure. While the Boss DS-1 above tends to do one type of distortion really well, the RAT2 has amazing versatility. If you have limited pedalboard space or if you don’t like dealing with multiple pedals, the RAT is the perfect jack-0f-all-trades distortion.
The Fulltone OCD is one of the most recommended and highly-reviewed distortions on the market. You’ll find the standard 3 control knobs for adjusting tone, volume, and gain. There is also a switch for changing the character of the pedal from lower gain (‘LP’) to higher gain (‘HP’). Depending on the mode you choose, the OCD will behave more like an overdrive or a full-on distortion. This means you can use the OCD for everything from blues to metal with great success. You’ll even save some pedalboard space!
Fulltone went the extra mile with this pedal and made sure you get no pops or cracks when you switch it on or off. You even have the option of changing it from True Bypass to buffered (‘Enhanced’) bypass. If you’re unsure of the difference, check out our All About Effects guide for a quick tutorial. Basically, no matter where you place it in your signal chain, the OCD won’t negatively color your tone in any way. With its simple styling, straightforward controls, and amazing attention to detail, we believe the Fulltone OCD’s name was chosen well.
Friedman is known for their top-of-the-line amplifiers used by legendary rock bands like the Foo Fighters and Alice in Chains. Instead of dropping thousands of dollars on an expensive amp head, you can get all the gain sounds you could ever want and save a bunch of money with the Friedman BE-OD.
The BE-OD is an ‘amp-in-a-box’ distortion pedal that channels the essence of the famous Friedman Brown Eye 100 tube amplifier. With 6 built-in controls, you can dial in anything from Orange crunch to Marshall-style rock and metal tones. It doesn’t accept batteries, however, so you’ll need a power-supply or buy an AC adapter separately. You can power it at the standard 9-volts, but you also have the option of supplying it with 18-volts. This gives you some extra headroom and calms things down a bit, turning the pedal into more of a rude overdrive than a balls-to-the-wall distortion. If you still think you might need some extra gain, Friedman makes a super-sized deluxe version of the BE-OD with even more options.
If you’ve got top dollar to spend, you won’t be disappointed with these distortion pedals. Your wallet may hate you, but your ears will thank you.
MXR EVH5150 Overdrive
While officially labeled as an ‘overdrive’ pedal, the MXR EVH5150 can do just about any flavor of distortion under the sun. You have tons of control to dial in anything from mild overdrive to screaming, high-gain tones thanks to the 3-band EQ and volume/gain knobs.
The EVH5150 is another example of the ‘amp-in-a-box’ type of distortion pedals like the Friedman BE-OD we recommended above. It channels the sonic characteristics of its namesake: the legendary EVH 5150, Eddie van Halen’s signature tube amplifier. Though it’s not the smallest pedal on the market, its versatility more than makes up for its size. If you want to squeeze even more gain out of the 5150, there’s a Boost button to take things up to the next level. Because of the insane amounts gain you have on tap, MXR had the foresight to include a built-in, adjustable noise gate for keeping unwanted noise out of your signal chain. Everyone who hears the MXR EVH5150 can’t believe how well it captures the sound and breakup of a tube amplifier.
For the metal guitarist who wants zero compromises when it comes to distortion, the Empress Heavy is the only choice. The geniuses at Empress pulled out all the stops for this high-gain beast of a pedal. It comes with two channels accurately named “Heavy” and “Heavier”, covering the gamut from light overdrive to the most brutal heavy metal tones you can imagine. Each channel has its own gain and low-end contouring controls. A shared High/Low EQ section lets you adjust the bass and treble as you see fit.
Each channel has an adjustable built-in noise gate to keep your signal as quiet as possible. On most pedals, this may seem like a gimmick, but the noise gate on the Empress Heavy is one of the most natural and responsive we’ve ever experienced. Overall, this is one of the best distortion pedals on the market and its price tag is more than justified.