Buyer's Guides

Best Distortion Pedals: 11 Best Stompboxes To Bring The Noise

Fuzz, grit, overdrive, warmth — there are many words for the beloved sound that distortion pedals bestow upon guitars. And the quest for the so-called perfect guitar distortion sound is ongoing, some claim to have found it already, and the debate that circles around it continues to rage. 

All of this may have left you feeling bewildered in the search for the best distortion pedal for you, your guitar, and your personal needs. Or for your synthesizer — distortion pedals sound amazing on those too! So, starting with the most affordable (all budgets are catered for here), here is the Headliner lowdown on the 11 best distortion pedals currently on the market. It’s time to raise those devil horns and make some righteous sounds.

Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal

In the world of the best distortion pedals, this one isn’t the boss in name only. That is, if you agree such users as John Frusciante, Johnny Marr, Billie Joe Armstrong, and Kurt Cobain are a pretty stellar lineup, to put it mildly. Its orange stylings have made it easy to spot on a pedal board. Users love its simplicity of use — as with many Boss pedals, there’s no danger of being overwhelmed with three pedals to adjust to your dream distortion sound: tone, level, and dist. The mode switch gives you the choice of Standard and Custom, which differ to the point of essentially offering you two distortion pedals in one handy box. And, only costing a little more than £/$50, it’s a pretty fantastic prospect.


Pro Co RAT 2

Perhaps not the most attractively-named distortion pedal in the biz, especially if you have a fear of rodents. But famously, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”, and this is nonetheless one of the best distortion pedals, not least because David Gilmour, Alex Turner, Noel Gallagher and Graham Cox have all been spotted using it. It’s been around since 1978, so it’s had plenty of time to build its large and loving following since. Protractors love its big, in-your-face distortion that can be pushed to be pretty aggressive sounding, if you so desire. The clipping is nice and tight, thanks to its silicon diodes. Need a great reference for the RAT in action? You can hear Kurt Cobain using it in Nirvana’s decidedly heavy track Territorial Pissings.


Fender Pugilist Distortion Pedal

Buy one of these, and you may find yourself fending off all the jealous guitarists in your life who want to borrow it and try for themselves. Fender landing themselves on any best guitar distortion pedal list worth its salt shouldn’t come as a great surprise — it’s stacked with gain, which you can dial up and down to your heart’s content. The two modes are brilliant to have: Mode A provides gritty overdrive, or switch to Mode B for a contemporary and saturated metal tone. You should be able to pick one up for below £/$100, so it’s a sweet price point also.


MXR M75 Super Badass '75 Distortion

If you don’t currently look in the mirror and whisper to yourself, “I am a badass”, that very well may change if you get yourself the Super Badass ‘75 Distortion from MXR. And with a name like that, you’d certainly hope it can lay a claim to being amongst the best distortion pedals. Thankfully, it does carry the spirit of a badass and can help you span several genres, depending on which part of the rock, metal, country or blues spectrum you land on. Its three-band EQ is a fantastic thing, and you will love adjusting the gain on this one while shredding away. Its classic silver look makes it stunningly stage-worthy also.


TC Electronic Eyemaster Metal Distortion

TC Electronic are a brilliant guitar pedal brand when it comes to pedals that won’t max out your credit card, but how do they fare in the best distortion pedal conversation? Well, if you are particularly seeking a pedal that gives you that filthy chugging riffage at your disposal, then the Eyemaster may be the one for you. TC are based in Denmark, so it's little surprise that this decidedly death metal-sounding pedal is Scandinavian in origin. As long as you are happy with just level and gain to adjust on the pedal (it is fairly limited in what it does besides these two), you will have a joyous time with this distortion — don’t be surprised if it results in a full room of people banging their heads along to your riffs in unison. Sludgy.


EarthQuaker Devices Acapulco Gold V2

In your search for the best distortion pedal, you’d be well advised to go for gold. The Acapulco Gold from EarthQuaker Devices, to be precise. And while it would be imprudent to prioritise the looks of your pedal in your search, it is worth saying how lovely this little pedal looks. But beyond that, this distortion pedal gives you Marshall-amp-pushed-to-11-style sound. You can get some seriously heavy sounds here, while tweaking tone is left to your guitar itself, as the single knob might suggest. Straightforward and savage.


Walrus Audio Iron Horse LM308 V2

“I am the walrus,” said this distortion pedal. Okay, it won’t do that, but the Iron Horse from Walrus Audio will do one better: it proclaims itself to be among the best guitar distortion pedals thanks to three slick distortion modes, each offering that thick distortion sound that so many guitarists yearn for. Its illustrated exterior is a beauty to behold. A lovely bonus is the ability to control the compression thanks to a three-way toggle switch. It’s a fantastic distortion pedal that lets you go as subtle or as decidedly unsubtle as you wish.


Marshall Guv'nor

“‘Ow much for the pedal, guv?” I’m glad you asked, because we have very much cleared the £/$100 line now. But with the Marshall name on the package, that’s not something one should be complaining about. And their Guv’nor distortion pedal is essentially lauded at this point in time. First released in 1988, many recognise it as the first successful attempt at a distortion pedal that is an amp-in-a-box, and has been used extensively by guitarists of many genres ever since. It disappeared in the ‘90s, but this much-demanded reissue has been celebrated far and wide, as it sounds every bit as wonderful as the OG version.


KHDK Dark Blood Distortion Pedal

When many people think about metal, their thoughts naturally incline towards Metallica. If you love their lead guitarist’s guitar tone above everyone else's', then we have some earth-shaking news: you can buy the Dark Blood Distortion Pedal that bears the name of Kirk Hammet himself. The trade off? It’s not cheap, as we’re now treading into £/$200 territory. For your buck, you get a brilliant pedal created in the style of high-gain American tube amps.

The ‘doom’ control shapes the low-end in a stunningly Metallica-esque manner. The hi/lo switch means you can push your guitar to its absolute maximum, safe in the knowledge the onboard noise suppressor will prevent the ear drums of those nearby actually bursting.


Friedman BE-OD Distortion Pedal

If you don’t take offence to the idea of exploring the boutique pedal options that are nonetheless among the best distortion pedals (which you shouldn’t), then Friedman’s BE-OD is a fantastic pedal to consider. Their boutique amp version of the BE-OD is modelled on Marshall amps, and does so with aplomb, and the ensuing pedal is fantastic also. Its USP is its vintage gain, which sounds stunning. The scope of sounds you can get from such a small pedal is something to be heard.


Hamstead Odyssey

Legend says that when Odysseus began journeying home to Ancient Greece from Troy, he made sure he had this Hamstead distortion pedal with him. Maybe. We don’t recommend taking it out to sea, but we definitely do recommend it as one of the best distortion pedals money can buy, that is if you’re happy to really splash the cash on one. It packs in amp-level EQ, and clipping settings that mean you can jump from very heavy distortion to a clean and subtle boost. The gain range is as wide as you like, while the tone can be pushed pretty damn hard. There aren’t many genres the Odyssey can’t handle.


What even is distortion, anyway?

It doesn’t hurt to know what a distortion pedal actually does, especially if being armed with said knowledge assists you on your quest for the best distortion pedal. What these little boxes do is use hard-clipping to take a clean guitar signal and turn it into that gritty, fuzzy, chuggy sound that heavier rock fans love so dearly. Be aware that distortion pedal is something of an umbrella term for distortion, fuzz and overdrive pedals, as they do similar things in subtly different ways.

Distortion is more aggressive than overdrive, which doesn’t clip a guitar’s signal as hard. The clipping in a true fuzz pedal clips the most brutally out of the three. Don’t obsess over this, however, as only your ear (and heart!) can choose, so go out and get listening to what each of these pedals can offer. We can’t wait for you to marry your beloved axe with the distortion pedal of your dreams, and make righteous noise.

Further Reading:

Best microphones for recording electric guitars

Best Virtual Guitar Amps for Amazing Tone