Hi there. Dr. Distorto here again. Sorry for the delay in writing a new article on the site but I had a baby girl late last year so my life was pretty busy learning the ropes of being a new dad. I’m back to work now and I plan to keep this site updated on a weekly basis. Stick around for many informative articles about distortion pedals. For this article on my Distortion Pedal blog, I’m going to write a bit about what I think are the best distortion pedals on the market today.
First of all, we should really think about what constitutes a good distortion pedal. Is it the onboard features? Is it the chasis construction? Is it the sound of the pedal? Well, all of those add up to come to a great pedal. Add in a good return warranty (distortion pedals tend to take a lot of abuse) and you’re on your way to deciding on a decent distortion pedal.
Now, let’s look at some contenders for the best distortion pedal. Out of 100s of distortion pedals, I’ve picked out three that are among the most classic of classic.
Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal
The Boss DS-1 was introduced by Roland in the late 70s. It’s been used by guitarists like Kurt Cobain, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. Given the basic knobs of Tone, Distortion and Volume, the pedal has the ability to go from a high level of distortion to a more subtle effect. The tone control is nice because you can sweep it from a heavy bass frequency heavy tone to a more trebly fuzz tone. The pedal is designed around a single op-amp. You can grab the Boss DS-1 at zzsounds for about $49
Feature-wise, the pedal is a little interesting in that its featured knobs are Distortion, Filter and Volume rather than your standard “tone” knob found on most basic distortion pedals. This gives the pedal a very unique sound that can go from a vintage Fender style distortion to a massive sound like you’re playing through a full stack. You can use the filter cutoff and distortion controls to dial in just the right amount of overdrive and avoid the 60s tinny treble of a fuzz face. The pedal has been used by everyone from Jeff Beck to James Hetfield. If you’re interested in trying out this classic distortion pedal, you can grab the ProCo Rat2 for less than a hundred bucks.
Dunlop Fuzz Face
I include the Fuzz Face because the sound of the pedal is a cornerstone of staple rock guitar. The pedal was invented to reproduce the distorted sound that could sometimes be heard from overdriven equipment or blown speakers. Jimi Hendrix was all over this pedal and when you hear that intro to Purple Haze or Foxy Lady, you know what a Fuzz Face is all about. Other legends that used the pedal were George Harrison and Pete Townshend. In terms of features, the pedal doesn’t have (or need) much. You get a volume knob and a fuzz knob. Turn up the fuzz for classic distorted 60s and 70s radio rock, and turn down the fuzz for a crispy distorted twang. The pedal’s built with two Geranium transistors using a very simple circuit design. You can buy a brand new Fuzz Face at zzounds for about $129
Conclusion: Best Distortion Pedal
I’m just going to come out and say it…I think the Boss DS-1 is the best distortion pedal currently available. It’s simplicity is why it is a certified classic. But, it’s not too simple. The addition of the tone knob makes it so much more than a fuzz pedal. But, it’s simplicity is also what gives it such character. It’s not a tube emulator, it’s nothing more than a classic distortion pedal that will help to give you a variety of great guitar tones. Sure, I know there a ton of distortion pedals out there that have every trick in the book in their arsenal, but a Boss DS-1 is the perfect compliment to any guitar rig without making things too confusing and making it much easier to get a good tone right out of the box for a super cheap price.