There are distortion and overdrive pedals that have been used on countless recordings, or have close to universal acclaim by guitarists. Below is a list of 10 of those pedals, which have either been "tried and true" examples or have been making a wave in more recent time. Each pedal is listed with a brief summary.
We'll deal with overdrives and classic distortions, with fuzz pedals possibly getting an article of their own in the future. The following list of pedals aren't ordered in any kind of rating system and is not an attempt to name the best pedals ever, but instead is more a showcase of some of the better options out there today. If we forgot one, tell us in the comments!
1. Boss DS-1 Distortion
Street price: $49.99 USD
The Boss DS-1 may be one of the most commonly heard distortion pedals in history, played on recordings by Steve Vai, Kim Deal (on bass), Peter Steele, Joe Satriani, Kurt Cobain and Mike Stern, among others. When a lot of people talk about a distorted guitar tone, the DS-1 is the sound that they're hearing in their head. There is an updated version of this pedal produced by Boss now, called the DS-2 Turbo Distortion, which has both a classic "DS-1" setting, as well as a more modern and high gain "Turbo" setting. Many of the same musicians who used the DS-1 switched over to the DS-2 when it became available. The DS-2 is available with a street price of $74.95.
2. Ibanez Tube Screamer (and variations)
TS9 street price: $99.99 USDTS808 street price: $179.99 USD
The Ibanez Tube Screamer is another iconic pedal, being mainly popularized by blues players such as SRV, though it has also been used by such guitarists as Brad Paisley and Trey Anastasio. While this is technically an overdrive pedal, it has been used to push tube amps into some very saturated and distorted tube tones on several iconic recordings. It is a good choice for anyone who doesn't necessarily need high gain distortion on tap, but instead needs to cover the ground between clean, to overdriven blues, to a classic rock distortion. The two more popular models, the TS9 and TS808, are both available in reissues and demo'ed in the video above. The original manufacturer of the Tube Screamer was Maxon, who produced the pedals which were then branded as Ibanez. Maxon makes their own reissues of the original pedals today, the Maxon OD9 and OD808, which both run for approximately $150.
3. EHX Metal Muff with Top Boost
Street price: $90.90 USD
The EXH Metal Muff is a more controversial pedal on the list, as it seems to be fairly polarizing among users. Three notable users of the pedal are John Cronise (the Sword), Wata (Boris), and Philip Jamieson (Caspian). The consensus on the Metal Muff is that it has a very aggressive tone, and the "Top Boost" feature absolutely cuts through the mix, but it pairs much better with some amps than others - usually, the darker toned amp the better. As an example of some of the best metal tones created by the Metal Muff (IMHO), check out John D. Cronise's guitar work on the album "Warp Riders."
4. ProCo the Rat (and ProCo's Rat2)
Rat2 street price: $79.99 USD
ProCo the Rat, and the Rat2 (reissue) are another iconic pedal, which really seems to be polarizing among modern users, but they've been used by the who's who list of rock guitarists. A few guitarists who have used either The Rat or the Rat 2 are Jeff Beck, Joe Perry, Kurt Cobain, Frank Black, Graham Coxon (Blur), Mike Campbell (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), Justin Chancellor, Kim Gordon, Thom Yorke, Derek Whibley (Sum 41). The original The Rat created pretty much all the classic distortion created by pedals in the '80s and early '90s that weren't being created by the Boss DS-1. The controls are fairly versatile and with a little bit of patience you can coax a wide range of distorted tones from this pedal.
5. Wampler Sovereign
Street price: $199.50 USD
The Wampler Sovereign is one of the most modern pedals on the list, as it is one of the "go to" dirt pedals for tone chasers. It was designed by Wampler as a Guitar Center and Musician's Friend "exclusive," and is basically Wampler's version of a simplified pedal. For those wanting more full featured pedal, the Wampler Triple Wreck (street price $269.99) is a good place to start. Wampler occupies a weird middle ground between boutique and mass produced pedals, which means they are often more adventurous than many "mass produced" pedal manufacturers, which is good for the consumer. The Sovereign is a versatile pedal, easily covering modern blues to most modern metal.
6. Boss BD-2 Blues Driver
Street price: $99.00 USD
The Boss BD-2 is an overdrive pedal, in a lot of ways designed as a response to, though not a copy of, the Ibanez Tube Screamer. The BD-2 is an excellent choice for Chicago and modern blues players, though it can also get the level of distortion needed for modern indie rock, and that general neighborhood. The pedal can also get nice and fuzzy if you crank the tone control. It has been used from everyone from Billie Joe Armstrong, to John Mayer, to Prince. It is essentially a versatile overdrive, and can be used for great overdriven tones with any amp, and with the right set up can get you into some truly gnarly and fuzzy distorted tones.
7. Suhr Riot (mention Joyo US Dream)
Street Price: $200 USD
The Suhr Riot, much like the Wampler Sovereign, is designed as a simple and straightforward dirt/distortion pedal, but then Suhr got a little insecure and released the Riot Reloaded (also street price $200). They're both excellent pedals for modern or alternative rock to classic metal, and that is just putting them in front of a clean amp. For what it's worth, the original Suhr Riot sounds preferable to me, but the different between the original and the Riot Reloaded seems almost negligible. There are a lot of companies making different clone and look-a-like pedals, and though some have gotten pretty close (Joyo US Dream, street price $39.99), nobody has been able to quite match what Suhr does. What says the most about this pedal, is that despite being a fairly new pedal, there are already multiple clones and copies being produced.
8. MESA/Boogie Throttle Box
Street price: $199.00 USD
The Throttle Box is one of the higher gain distortion pedals on the list, with a considerable amount of gain available. This is also a fairly new pedal, and made by MESA/Boogie to copy the tones of the MESA/Boogie Dual Rectifier. There is also a more expensive and fully featured version called the Throttle Box EQ, which essentially just includes a 5 band EQ and a few extra switches and buttons, which makes the pedal much more versatile but also comes with a higher price tag with a street price of $299.00.
9. AnalogMan King of Tone
Street price: $235 USD standard, but upgrades are available from the manufacturer.
The King of Tone is essentially AnalogMan's solution to overdrive, distortion, and clean boost - and with the right upgrades and patience with a little knob twisting to figure it out, it can do all three of those things very well. This is a larger profiled pedal, much like the EHX Metal Muff with Top Boost or the Wampler Triple Wreck, which means it takes up more room on your pedal board, but it does a lot to earn that space. This pedal might not be quite enough for modern metal, but it sure does sound nice for pretty much anything else.
10. Weehbo Morbid Drive
Street price: $219.00 USD
The Morbid Drive is one of the few pedals on the market that can create the type of tone I would personally want for black metal and death metal, even starting from a clean amp. The amazing thing is that it hits most of the area in between, as well. The pedal includes an active 4 band EQ, a rhythm/lead stomp button, as well as a toggle between 2 different voices that changes the way the mids are handled. While Weehbo is less known than many other companies on the market, and possibly more of a boutique manufacturer, it is one of the best that I've heard for high gain extreme metal.
Well, there you have it - though our list isn't comprehensive, we believe it gives everyone a starting point in finding a distortion pedal for their needs. We've included some "household names," and we've included a few lesser known models, but they are all absolutely worth checking out. Thanks for reading!
By Brandon East