The Top Distortion Pedal for Heavy Metal & More in 2021

Dave Mostert
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Distortion pedal, or also known as overdrive pedal, is a type of effect that alters the shape of guitars, preamplified signals and mid range sounds. Its role is to make a clean electric signal sounds more distorted and to recreate the warm buzz of a tube amplifier by means of mathematical algorithms.

Since its invention in the early 1960s, the use of distortion pedal has continued to increase and today, most people have one in their pedal board. You can use a distortion pedal to make your electric guitar sounds like a heavy metal sound or even make it sound like an acoustic guitar.

In this article, I’ll provide a list of overdrive pedals that are worth taking a look at. The list will also cover various factors that you should take into account before you purchase your distortion pedal such as price, effect type, features and durability.

NameCategoryProduct
Pro Co RAT2 Distortion PedalBest OverallPro Co RAT2 Distortion Pedal
Behringer Super Fuzz SF300 3-Mode Fuzz Distortion Instrument Effects Pedal,PeachBudget PickBehringer Super Fuzz SF300 3-Mode Fuzz Distortion Instrument Effects Pedal,Peach
EarthQuaker Devices Acapulco Gold V2 Power Amp Distortion Guitar Effects PedalUpgrade PickEarthQuaker Devices Acapulco Gold V2 Power Amp Distortion Guitar Effects Pedal

1. Pro Co RAT2 Distortion Pedal

Our rating: 9 / 10

Pro Co RAT2 Distortion Pedal

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Pros:

  • Fits in any setup
  • Class A circuitry
  • 5 knobs for easy effect tweaking
  • Built-in power supply
  • EHX quality, at an affordable price
  • Classic distortion pedal that brings that heavy metal sound to your guitar rig
  • 6.4 x 2.7 x 4.7 inches
  • 210 watts
  • Input/output – input 1/output 1
  • Controls: Level, Frequency, Distortion, Bass, Middle, Treble

With this pedal, you get all of the classic distortion that you’ll need, and you also get a very affordable price. This distortion pedal is definitely fit for any kind of setup, and it’s perfect for any guitarist to try out the classic distortion tone.

This pedal is built using class A circuitry, and it features five knobs for easy effect tweaking. It’s easy to use and very versatile as well.

This pedal from Electro-Harmonix is a classic that brings that heavy metal sound to your guitar rig.

2. Boss DS-1 Distortion Bundle

Our rating: 9 / 10

Boss DS-1 Distortion Bundle

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Pros:

  • Legendary Boss quality
  • Perfect for heavy metal and beyond
  • Highly versatile distortion pedal
  • Distorted at full volume will never upset the neighbors
  • Economical bundle
  • Bundle includes everything you need to jump right in

Cons:

  • Boss DS-1 somewhat limited on its own
  • Easy to hit the distortion too hard with heavy distortion
  • Some people will find it too subtle at lower volumes

This is the standard distortion pedal that you hear on hundreds and hundreds of rock records, so it behooves you to get to know it.

The Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal has been given a bold but beloved facelift for the Winter NAMM 2014 Show, and it has become the DS-1X Distortion featuring a newly revamped circuit board. The pedal is known for its distortion that’s full and powerful, but a bit subtle and warm.

According to BOSS, the DS-1X is going to be more useful than the previous version as it allows you to have rich harmonics at both the low and high ends of your distortion. This is a significant improvement over the original DS-1, although the key to enjoying the DS-1X or any DS-1 for that matter is the understanding of how to create and manipulate the tone controls. Control knobs include Distortion, Level, and Low.

3. MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion

Our rating: 8 / 10

MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion

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Pros:

  • Sounds amazing
  • Great option for country
  • Well-built and sturdy

Cons:

  • Can be expensive for a fuzz
  • Doesn’t do well in small rooms
  • Complicated knob layout

For those buying as a gift, check out this stunning MXR pedal. This pedal is a rare breed. It hisses, shimmers, and hits hard, while maintaining the extreme dynamics that a good overdrive should.

When you want to ride the waves of distortion, the M75 does it with style and finesse. There’s probably no better option on the market today that you can’t go wrong with.

MXR’s M75 Super Badass distortion pedal is built to last. It’s sturdy, built with a metal casing, and provides excellent durability and protection. This pedal will serve you well on your tours and in your live gigs.

4. Xotic Effects SL Drive Distortion Guitar Effects Pedal

Our rating: 8 / 10

Xotic Effects SL Drive Distortion Guitar Effects Pedal

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Pros:

  • Unique controls, providing an innovative twist to distorted sounds
  • Great for shredding
  • Clear distortions
  • Provides a subtle sparkle to your guitar tone
  • Gives your tone an edgy boost
  • Has a transparent drive with enough harmonic content for subtle bite in your tone
  • Matches perfectly with other SL Drive pedals

Xotic Effects SL Drive is our top pick because of its innovative tone shaping controls that allow you to shape your tone in a creative and dynamic way.

This pedal is made to go hand-in-hand with other pedals in the SL Drive pedal family, but it can also work with pedals from other manufacturers.

While it isn’t the cheapest option on the market, the tonal quality this pedal offers you is worth the price tag.

5. EarthQuaker Devices Acapulco Gold V2 Power Amp Distortion Guitar Effects Pedal

Our rating: 8 / 10

EarthQuaker Devices Acapulco Gold V2 Power Amp Distortion Guitar Effects Pedal

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Pros:

  • It’s easy to use and gives you great control over tones
  • Premium construction with its cast aluminum housing
  • Two-year warranty
  • It’s also reasonably priced

Cons:

  • A bit larger than other pedals
  • Heavy and sturdy housing is challenging to carry without a suitable case

The EarthQuaker Acapulco Gold V2 Power Amp Distortion is one of the best distortion pedals you can buy in 2020.

This pedal offers features you won’t find in other pedals in its price range. It’s housed in a sturdy cast aluminum to ensure that it will last a long time. It features germanium and silicon transistors for a nice range of distortion tones. It also has tons of control features, so you can dial in the exact tone you want. This is handy if you want to create your own sound. Switching modes, choosing clipping levels, and bypassing the effects are all super simple with the Acapulco Gold V2.

6. MXR M104 Distortion +

Our rating: 8 / 10

MXR M104 Distortion +

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Pros:

  • Full metal housing and components
  • True bypass
  • Tone and level controls
  • Built-in noise gate
  • Small foot print
  • Affordable
  • Comes with MXR 10 Year Warranty

The MXR M104 Distortion + pedal delivers distortion in a metal casing and has an authentic vintage feel. This pedal comes with fine-tuned controls. The M104 pedal has a level and gain control and an adjustable output volume knob. The pedal offers impressively accurate distortion and comes with a tone control that allows you to fine tune the sound.

The pedal is specifically designed to help users deliver the sound they want. The pedal offers a wide range of gain that enables one to play easily without difficulty. The circuitry of this pedal has been tested to deliver accurate gain and output. In addition, proper shielding offers the pedal an enhanced performance lifespan.

The size of this pedal helps you produce the sound you want in easy strides. It has a solid metal casing that gives it durability and sturdiness. You will also appreciate its performance as it delivers the performance you have always wanted. Another great thing about this pedal is its layout. It has a full-range stereo design that helps you organize pedals easily. It has a cleaning of the signal circuit, when it is turned on or off, that ensures you do not get any interference.

7. MXR Custom Badass '78 Distortion

Our rating: 8 / 10

MXR Custom Badass '78 Distortion

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Pros:

  • Implements its own tone stack
  • Smooth action
  • Super high-quality components used
  • Overall, a great pedal at a fantastic price!

Cons:

  • On some units, the knobs can be imprecise when switching
  • People report a little hiss on signal when nothing is being plugged in
  • Some units may not function properly

We know we feature a lot of MXR products on the site, and here is another one of our favorites! The Custom Badass Brat '78 from MXR is a great choice for metal and hard rock music. It has two switches on its face that allow you to change the settings of your distortion. It is more flexible than most pedals, and allows you to choose how you want your distortion to sound.

It features two toggle switches on the face of the pedal. One of these switches is a tone shift and the other a gain boost. You can choose between a Hot (H) and Cold (C) setting for either of these switches. You can also choose between a Solid State setting, which is similar to transparent, or an Asymmetric – which sounds like a tube amplifier scooped.

8. Electro-Harmonix Nano Big Muff Guitar Distortion Effects Pedal

Our rating: 6 / 10

Electro-Harmonix Nano Big Muff Guitar Distortion Effects Pedal

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9. Electro-Harmonix Soul Food Distortion/Fuzz/Overdrive Pedal

Our rating: 6 / 10

Electro-Harmonix Soul Food Distortion/Fuzz/Overdrive Pedal

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Pros:

  • Versatile, works well with many fundamental styles
  • High-quality components
  • Lightweight, rugged, and compact design that’s easy to operate with one-handed chording
  • Warm, thick, punchy sound
  • Great tone
  • Batteries included

The EHX Soul Food Distortion/Fuzz/Overdrive Pedal is an excellent and affordable option for the musician who wants a great distortion unit that will work wonders with both his pedals and amp. This pedal takes the sound of the original Soul Food and gives it new life, providing a much more legible control interface for simpler and more accurate tweaking.

The pedal provides you with three distinct yet equally functional pedals in one convenient housing. You’ll get a high-quality distortion, a fuzz, and an overdrive. The pedal can be used on its own or coupled with another unit. It comes with an EHX 9.6-volt Power Supply, but it also supports either 9-volt batteries or an 18VDC power supply that can be purchased from the company.

10. Behringer Super Fuzz SF300 3-Mode Fuzz Distortion Instrument Effects Pedal,Peach

Our rating: 6 / 10

Behringer Super Fuzz SF300 3-Mode Fuzz Distortion Instrument Effects Pedal,Peach

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the best distortion pedal for metal?

We often get questioned what the best distortion pedal for metal is so we wanted to give our take in the following review.

Many of these distortion pedals in our list aren’t strictly metal pedals, but they can certainly be used to play the heavy metal genre of music.

Of course, the best distortion pedal for metal will depend on your flavor of metal.

What is great for one player isn’t always so great for another. Though, there are some factors we do believe are essential to get the best distortion pedal for your metal preferences. We list these factors below.

The first factor to consider is the sound of the distortion pedal. Different pedals have very different and specific sounds and sometimes that sound might not be appropriate for your style of metal.

Which Boss distortion pedal is best?

If you’re looking for a new sound for the new year, or perhaps a little inspiration, you may want to consider some of the iconic heavy metal moments of all time. From the first album, to the epic masterpieces, or some of the timeless hits, you can rock out to your favorite instrumentals.

The list below will give you a taste of what heavily distorted guitar can do. It covers most of the iconic riffs, and gives you enough variety, feeling and emotion to inspire music of your own.

Rule of thumb for picking out the best Boss distortion pedal? Choose the one that fits your style.

Pentatonic scales trigger on the first note played; it’s based on the most popular collection of shapes that are used in music. It’s a form that occurs naturally in music.

What is the best distortion pedal for classic rock?

The overall best distortion pedal for classic rock guitarists is the Fulltone OCD V2.

As you can probably guess by its name, the OCD V2 stands out from the crowd with its (very) unique OCD feature. This "OCD" or "Overdrive Control Dial" allows you to adjust the amount of mids, lows, gain, and mix on the fly based on your current sound.

Put simply, this pedal will deliver a huge range of high-quality distortion – and can be used by itself or dialed in to perfectly complement the other pedals in your setup.

I personally rack this thing up ahead of the wah and behind the overdrive for a really powerful sound that screams.

Along with the full range of good sounds, it's also built like a tank with a bulletproof housing and 3 separate power jacks for standard, daisy-chain, and isolated power setups.

How do I choose a distortion pedal?

The best distortion pedals are the product of musicians who understand the subtleties of distortion tone. The best distortion effects highlight notes that add to a songʼs melody and harmonies, whether they be in the left or right speaker. In other words, your guitar ʼr voice is not tuned to the same note that is played in the left or right speaker. Most guitarists are right-handed, so most notes will be treated in the same way: a little more treble is music and a little less treble is distortion. So when you are ready to add a few more layers to your power chord, you will often find that you need to check the left and right channels separately for tone balance. In that case, a Boss pedal is good.

Conclusion

If you’re looking to find the best distortion pedal for your rock n’ roll, metal, or even pop music, then you’re not alone. Lots of people are looking for a great guitar pedal that’s going to deliver the right level of distortion to help them take their music in new directions.

Our Recommendation

NameCategoryProduct
Pro Co RAT2 Distortion PedalBest OverallPro Co RAT2 Distortion Pedal
Behringer Super Fuzz SF300 3-Mode Fuzz Distortion Instrument Effects Pedal,PeachBudget PickBehringer Super Fuzz SF300 3-Mode Fuzz Distortion Instrument Effects Pedal,Peach
EarthQuaker Devices Acapulco Gold V2 Power Amp Distortion Guitar Effects PedalUpgrade PickEarthQuaker Devices Acapulco Gold V2 Power Amp Distortion Guitar Effects Pedal