The Best Distortion Pedal

Boss MT-2 Metal Zone Distortion Guitar Pedal

Our Top Pick for 2016: Boss MT-2 Metal Zone Distortion Guitar Pedal
Read our full review.

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The birth of rock and roll gave way to many new guitar accessories that could alter the tones of the music to give the artists a fresh, unique sound that they could call their own. The distortion pedal was one of the ways that musicians made their music more interesting, and it is still a widely used accessory today. Without this type of pedal, you cannot recreate many of the sounds of legendary guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. Learning what the different effect pedals can do, can be a daunting task, so we have devised a guide to help you make an informed decision. We have selected four distortion pedals for your consideration; three are great pedals and the fourth is more of a budgetary option. We have also compiled a list of pre-purchase considerations for you to look at.

Table of contents

True Bypass
Huge Mids And Lows
Harder Distortion Effects
Zero Loss Of Tone
Ultra-saturated Sound
Tone, Leveland Distortion Knobs On Face
Voicing Switch
Unique Dual-gain Circuitry
Super-tough Construction
Gain, Level, Bass And Treble Controls
Super-long Sustain
Straightforward Controls
Tight, Focused Low End
Three-band Eq With Semi-parametric Mid Control
Boss Five-year Warranty

*Price at time of publishing and may not reflect current pricing.

#1 Gold pick (Winner): Boss MT-2 Metal Zone Distortion Guitar Pedal

Boss MT-2 Metal Zone Distortion Guitar Pedal Gold Pick

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2016-gold-winnerOur gold pick, which is the MT-2 Metal Zone, comes to us from the music company that has been manufacturing quality music accessories for years. They strive to produce top of the line products that are well designed to be a music companion for years, and the MT-2 does not fail to represent the company’s standards.

When you take a look at the pedal, you will see that it features a subtle black design with simple orange lettering on the face. It features a compact design that’s only four inches long, six inches wide, and three inches tall. As the name of the distortion pedal implies, this device is great for creating the distortion effect that is most known in heavy metal music, but it can also provide an ultra saturated sound that will sound nice in rock as well, especially heavy rock. It is designed to give you an edgy, yet smooth take on your tunes.

There are four dials on this unit. The leftmost one is a knob that is labeled level, which means that it will control the volume. The far right dial is a distortion knob that allows you to adjust the amount of distortion that you want to hear in a song. The two center dials are equalizing knobs. Using these two knobs, you can adjust your highs, lows, and mids to the level you prefer. In addition, there is also a mono input and output jack on the unit, which can be found on the right and left side of the pedal.

The MT-2 is designed with dual gain circuitry; this offers you a unique double staged distortion option that can give you heavier mids and lows. It also enables you to utilize extra long sustains in your music. The three band equalizer gives you a semi-paramatic mid control, which is designed to give you a wider range of distortion levels that you can select from. It is powered by a single nine volt battery, so keeping an extra supply of batteries should not be an issue. This distortion pedal has a five year warranty included with the purchase of the device, so if anything happens or something is not working properly within the first year of ownership; the cost of repairing it is covered.

When it comes to the reviews of this pedal, 89 percent of the reviews posted on Amazon were given a positive rating of four or five stars. Many of the users who gave reviews love the fact that this pedal is so versatile and can be used to play multiple genres of music. Here is an example of one such testimonial: “This pedal delivers what it promises – Metal! The versatility and sound quality make this pedal a must-have for anyone playing on the heavier side. Combined with typical Boss bullet-proof construction and reliability, I would highly recommend this to anyone looking to add awesome crunch to any setup.”

#2 Silver pick (Runner-up): TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion Effect Pedal

TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion Effect Pedal

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2016-silver-winnerOur second pick is the Dark Matter distortion pedal from TC Electronics, which is another well known brand when it comes to music and musical accessories. This unit is designed to bring you a unique sound that can be customized to your musical style. In addition, the device is designed with a two band EQ, which gives you a wide range of distortion options. The Dark Matter pedal is designed with an all black exterior that is highlighted with silver lettering and details.

This distortion pedal has a few more buttons that can be pressed than our gold pick, so let’s delve into what each one is for. The top left knob is a gain control, which can be used to increase and decrease the amount of gain in your tone. The top right dial is how you control the level or the volume of your music. The bottom two dials are designed to give you an option to adjust the bass levels of your music, which is on the left side of the device. You can also adjust the treble on the right side of the unit, which can make a solo sound great.

There is also a voice switch located between the dials that allow you to switch between an aggressive distortion and a more saturated retro sound. Using this switch can drastically change the bass response, which can sound great in a large venue. You can choose between these two modes easily, even when you are in the middle of a gig. Towards the back of the pedal you will see that there is a true bypass button that can be toggled on and off. This feature makes sure that zero tone is lost during a gig whenever you want to play with the natural tone of your guitar or switch to using another pedal.

This pedal is five inches long, three inches wide, and four inches tall, which means that it is easy to pack in a guitar case to take on the road. It functions on a nine volt battery, and the easy to open battery pack makes switching out a low battery between songs a breeze.

When it comes to reviews on this distortion pedal, you can see that it is greatly adored by consumers; in fact, Amazon has an overall positive rating of 90 percent. 72 percent of the reviews gave the pedal a five star review, and another 18 percent ranked it with a four star rating. Here is an example of a five star testimonial that can be seen on the site: “Wonderfully versatile tones, from the deep, moody, and murky to hard, crisp, and grungy… I was looking for some nice but affordable pedals to go with my set up, and after doing some searching for a pedal to customize my distortion a bit more, I came across this and decided to go for it. I set it up between a Donner Alchemy Pedal and Behringer NR300, and needless to say I am seriously pleased!”

#3 Bronze pick (3rd place): Boss DS1 Distortion Guitar Pedal

Boss DS1 Distortion Guitar Pedal

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*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-bronze-awardOur bronze pick is another distortion pedal that was manufactured by Boss. The DS1 is an amazing pedal that has been ranked as the best selling distortion pedal since 1978. It is a durable device that produces an amazing sound, so it is not hard to see why this specific distortion speaker was used by many guitar legends in the past. It is designed to be a great option for beginning guitarists as well as those who play the instrument excellently. Some of the amazing guitarists that have used this pedal include the late Kurt Cobain, who was the lead guitarist for Nirvana and Prince, who was an absolutely amazing guitarist. If these two legends trusted this distortion pedal, then why wouldn’t you trust it as well?

This distortion pedal features the classic Boss stomp shape that we have grown to know and love. It is a lightweight, compact device that weights about a pound, and it is small enough to fit in a guitar case or a gig bag at four inches long, six inches wide, and three inches high. This device is able to be powered by either a nine volt battery or the Boss PSA adaptor that is included in the packaging. In addition, this distortion pedal features a mono input and output jack on either side of the unit, which is a typical design for most distortion pedals.

When it comes to the aesthetics side of this pedal, you can expect a little more flair than you have seen in the top two picks on this list. It is made with a durable metal exterior that is coated in a bright orange color. The details of the unit are all black, but the first thing you will notice is the bright coloring. The base of the pedal is a black button that features the Boss logo; when this is pressed to turn it on, a LED light will show you that it is on.

There are three buttons featured on this pedal. The left most dial is a tone knob that allows you to brighten or darken the tone that you are utilizing. The middle button is the level dial to control the volume, and the right most dial is a distortion button, which allows you to control the amount of gain you hear while you are playing.

When it comes to reviews, there have been quite a few, but the best review is the knowledge that some truly talented artists and guitar legends have used this petal to create and personalize their sound. On Amazon, 85 percent of the reviews have been given with a positive four or five star rating. Here is an example of a five star testimonial: “I have researched Boss and all of the kind of pedals it has to offer, and even though this little inexpensive pedal (compared to other BOSS products) does not look like much, IT PACKS A PUNCH. I seriously was blown away by the quality sound that it drives out. I felt like my epiphone firebird transformed into a metal machine! If you are new to effects pedals, this product is definitely worth your time.”

#4 Budget pick (Best cheap): Danelectro D-1 Fab Distortion Effects Pedal

Danelectro D-1 Fab Distortion Effects Pedal

View it on Amazon for $17.14*
*Price typically updated every 24 hours. Current price may be different.

2016-cheap-budget-pickHave you ever heard the term “starving musician” being tossed around? Well, the fact is that some musicians have a hard time getting their gigs off the ground, so they may not have a lot of options when it comes to purchasing new equipment. Being in this situation is not the end of the world; in fact, there are several options that a musician can consider when they are ballin’ on a budget; including our final selection.

Danelectro is a company that has been manufacturing guitars and guitar accessories since 1956. That is a full 60 years creating the same high quality merchandise that we expect from them today, and the D-1 Fab is a distortion pedal that lives up to those standards. The first thing you will notice about this pedal is the fact that it is not a dull, hum drum, all black pedal. It is a very loud fire engine red that is sure to add some color and personality to your stage. The base of the petal sports the Danelectro logo, and above that you can see a large yellow square that highlights the words FAB Distortion. The company logo doubles as an on and off switch for the device.

This pedal is a lightweight option that only weighs seven ounces, so it will be easy to carry from gig to gig, especially with a 4.7 inch length, a four inch width, and a 2.3 inch height. Even with these small dimensions, the pedal is capable of adding great tones and a large range of distortion options to your music, no matter what genre you play. It features a three knob layout that is extremely responsive and easy to use. The left most knob is a level knob to control the volume of the distorted sound. The middle one is a tone control that allows you to decide whether you want your music to sound bright or more dark and sinister. The rightmost knob is the distortion control, which lets you decide how much gain should be present in each piece you play.

When it comes to reviews for this distortion pedal, 78 percent of the almost 150 reviews posted on Amazon gave this device a four or a five star rating, which means that the majority of those who bought our ballin’ on a budget pick were happy with their decision to do so. Here is one such five star testimonial: “I needed a low-cost solution to get a much fatter, overdriven sound with great sustain, and this ‘Fab Distortion’ pedal more than fits the bill. Using a Fender ‘Telecaster’ and an old Ibanez ‘Roadster Series’ guitar, I am able to get a cleaner sounding sustained sound good for bluesy hard rock, as well as a more overdriven, fuller metal crunch sound that works well for playing stuff like Rush, Sabbath, Dio, Schenker, Malmsteen, etc. This thing has amazing range and versatility for the money!”

Pre-purchase considerations

Types of Distortion Pedals

There are three different types of distortion pedals that you can choose from. Each type of pedal produces a unique sound, but deciding which variation you prefer is completely up to your play style. You can choose from:

A Fuzz Pedal – This type of pedal will add a heavy, bass-like sound wave into the background of the tone. Like the name implies, a fuzz pedal adds a degree of fuzzy warmth to the music that you are playing.

A High Gain Pedal – This type of distortion pedal is most commonly used with rock music. It is designed to increase the gain of the tone so much that the amp becomes overwhelmed, which in turn will cause a harsher, distorted sound.

A Valve Distortion Pedal – This pedal type uses a vacuum tube to create a whole new level of distortion. It is a sound that is often heard in guitar solos, as it offers a more rounded out variation of distortion.

Design Quality

Each distortion pedal differs in style and quality, so it is important to find a good mix between the two that will fit your musical style as well. Decide whether you want metal knobs and dials or if you want plastic ones to accommodate your style. Some pedals are designed with a plain style in mind to keep them as a background notes while you are on stage, while others are designed to be much louder so that they can easily be noticed. Decide if you want any artwork on the pedal as well, as some brands even offer custom hand painted designs on their pedals.

Tone Versatility

The tone you want your pedal to produce will vary on each model, so the best way to know exactly what you are getting is to listen to the sounds that the distortion medal makes before you purchase it. You can do this by listening to videos online, or you can more accurately experience the sound by going to a store and trying the pedals out yourself. This will help you to be more knowledgeable about each pedal before making a purchase, which will help you select a pedal that provided the amount and type of distortion you like in your music.

Knobs and Dials

The dials and knobs on each distortion pedal will vary for each model. Most pedals have a dial to adjust the tone, the distortion level, and the volume, but some have more than that. Sometimes a distortion pedal will separate the treble, middle, and bass that can be heard to give you more customization options. There is also typically one input and one output jack that can be utilized with this type of pedal.

Price and Warranty

You can find a distortion pedal for about $20, but they also can easily have a price that is in the $350 range. Decide how much money you are willing to spend on this type of pedal before making a decision. Remember that it may be worth spending a bit more to get a pedal that can give you the sound you want. Also, make sure that the pedal that you purchase comes with a warranty to cover any issues that you may experience while using the pedal.

Conclusion (Wrapping it up)

The distortion pedal is the oldest type of effect pedal, and it is still the best way to add extra personality to your music. With the right distortion pedal technique, you can really wow your audience. Songs like “Foxy Lady” by Jimi Hendrix, “American Woman” by The Guess Who, and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones would not sound near as amazing without a distortion peddle fuzzing up the sound and transforming the music into something that sounds truly awesome. To help you reach this legendary status, a distortion pedal is a must have for your arsenal, and a good way to find one that works well is to do some research into what pedals these rock legends used to create their unique sound. Hopefully, our guide has helped you get a better grasp on what a distortion pedal is and why it is needed to help you master rock and roll music. Once you find a distortion pedal that fits your style, never stop rocking.

Discussion and comments

We want to know what you think. Do you own any of the products we discussed? Which did you buy and how did it work out for you?

Do you know of an even better product?

Comment below and help your fellow consumers make the right choice. Over to you!


  1. Mpalin11, Boss MT-2 Metal Zone Review – Honest opinion, YouTube, July 11, 2010
  2. EytschPi42, TC Electronic Dark Matter – Distortion Pedal Review, YouTube, July, 2, 2015
  3. BOSS DS-1 Distortion, BOSS
  4. BOSS MT-2 Metal Zone, BOSS

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