When you need to get really heavy, all you want to do is slam your foot into the floor and let your guitar roar like Satan himself just stubbed his hoof. Of course, with umpteen distortion pedals on the market, it’s confusing and quite daunting to know which stompbox you need to get the tone you want.
Below are the five best distortion pedals on the market right now to kickstart your journey into distorted metal madness. Warning: We are not responsible for your neighbours calling the police.
The Boss DS-1 is one of the most iconic pedals of all time, but let’s be clear: this isn’t the DS-1 mark II; the DS-1X is very much its own beast.
As well as the gleaming panel and array of knobs (level, low, high and dist), this pedal packs Boss’s Multi-Dimensional Processing (MDP), which promises ‘ideal distortion tones in every register’.
The guitar world is saturated with distortion pedals, and this is by no means cheap, but if you’re constantly switching between rhythm and lead and can’t settle on a middle ground, the DS-1X could be just the pedal you’re looking for.
Mesa is famed primarily for two things: gain and five-band EQ, usually in a metal-approved V shape. Back in 2012, four stompboxes brought the dirt; but three new pedals add the EQ from amps such as the Mark Five, and the Throttle Box EQ is the gainiest and most flexible of the lot.
Aside from the extra five-band, the core circuit of the Throttle Box EQ is the same as its predecessor, but with more flexibility: the hi/lo footswitch toggles between more and less gain, with volume knobs for each mode; the boost switch – for extra low-end and dirt – is easily accessible, and you can also deactivate the EQ on the hi or lo modes.
This unashamedly high-gain distortion has a tremendous amount of gain and low-end response, not to mention an extremely powerful EQ section to take you from dark and thuddy to the most mean-sounding, aggressive slam.
There’s a vintage/modern switch for more classic hard rock or modern metal responses respectively, plus an additional boost with its own contour control. Plug in and wail.
The Thunderclap is a high-gain distortion with a hand-crafted, heavyweight die-cast enclosure from Korean brand Ogre.
Each of its four horns controls a parameter – level, bass, treble and gain – while to activate the Thunderclap, you have to stomp down on the poor devil’s jaw. And yes, its eyes are the status LEDs.
Riding in on the back of the remarkable success of its HT tube pedal range, Blackstar's LT series don't have valves but boast a similar dynamic response to the HT series, thanks to a patent-applied-for clipping circuit.
You already know what this pedal is going to deliver: all-out aggressive gain, and loads of it. What you might not expect is just how good it sounds - every tone is well defined, with a huge bottom end, making it ideal for seven- and eight-string players.
Written by the staff of Total Guitar and Guitarist.