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Best Guitar Distortion Pedals: Top 5 Picks For Rock Guitarists

February 26, 2024 
best guitar distortion pedals.
Last Updated on February 26, 2024

Is there anything more thrilling than stepping on a pedal and hearing your guitar scream a gritty growl? Neither can we. There’s just something about deforming crystal-clear signals that’s so satisfying and enthralling.

You’re likely considering upgrading your board with the best guitar distortion pedals the market can deliver. Maybe you want to emulate rockstar icons like Steve Vai or Kurt Cobain. Perhaps you’re trying to make a new, genre-defining sound to the musical world.

Whichever the case, you’re lucky we’re living in the golden age of versatile dirt pedals. You’ll have no shortage of incredible options, from industry legends like ProCo, MXR, and Boss to young yet competitive labels like JHS and EarthQuaker Devices pedals. So, let’s help you decide!

Included in this guide:

Best Overall
Pro Co RAT 2 Distortion / Fuzz / Overdrive Pedal

Pro Co RAT 2 Distortion / Fuzz / Overdrive Pedal

  • The classic distortion sound
  • Three-in-one function: Distortion, Fuzz, and Overdrive
  • Superb harmonics and dirty gains
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JHS PackRat 9-way Rodent-style Distortion Pedal

JHS PackRat 9-way Rodent-style Distortion Pedal

  • Nine distortion customizations
  • Reliable build to last for years
  • Intuitive and beginner-friendly setup
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Top Pick
EarthQuaker Devices Zoar Dynamic Audio Grinder Distortion Pedal

EarthQuaker Devices Zoar Dynamic Audio Grinder Distortion Pedal

  • Tons of distortion-tweaking options
  • Passive 3-Band EQ readily configured for gritty tones
  • Expansive tonal range with weight control
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Top Pick
MXR Super Badass Distortion Pedal

MXR Super Badass Distortion Pedal

  • Expansive gain range
  • Powerful 3-band EQ control
  • Noiseless experience
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Lowest Price
Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal

Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal

  • Superb high gain tone
  • Straightforward controls
  • An iconic yet affordable pedal
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Related Article: Distortion Vs Overdrive: How Do These Tones Shape A Guitar Sound?

The Top 5 Best Guitar Distortion Pedals

While considered an old design by many, the ProCo RAT 2 proves age is irrelevant when making the best distortion sounds. As the incarnation of the first ProCo RAT introduced in 1978, its tight clipping and aggressive sound remain the golden standard for distortion pedals today. It’s essentially half distortion and half fuzz, a distinctive and fascinating mix that made the stompbox stand out for decades. 

Looking at its tank-like chassis, the pedal is straightforward to operate. You get three dedicated knobs for Volume, Filter, and Distortion. Equipped with rubberized grips, these three knobs are the peak of user comfort. Turning the knobs is smooth as butter with glowing indicators for easy use despite low light conditions. The stompbox comes with a rubberized base for the most stable on-stage sessions. Most importantly, it functions as a distortion, fuzz, and overdrive pedal—practically everything you need in a single box.

  • Bomb-proof durability
  • Versatile Drive Range
  • A sound that fits plenty of music genre
  • The fuzzy characteristic might not be for everyone

Imagine having a single box with all your favorite sounds from the 1970s rock music in it. That’s what the JHS PackRat Multi-Mode distortion pedal offers. Under the hood, you’re not only getting two or three but nine flavors of delicious rodents in a single pedal. So, if you’re a RAT fan, this is a solid must-have.

On the box, you’ll get four dedicated controls on the PackRat: Volume, Distortion, Filter, and Mode. The Mode is where you’ll find the treasure trove of distortions. Beginning on the OG, you’ll have the White Face V3, Turbo V5, Brat V6, Dirty V7, LA, LandGraff MOD, Caroline Wave Cannon, and JHS Mode. More than a versatile pedal, you’re practically treading through decades of the colorful music history of the iconic RAT productions in one package! How cool is that?

  • Legendary sounds
  • Compact design
  • All-analog circuits
  • It’s on the expensive side

Are you looking for a reliable dynamic audio grinder distortion stompbox? Look no further than EarthQuaker Devices Zoar pedal. Promising Hi-Fi modern distortions with medium-gain fuzz and overdrive tightness, it’s a more-than-worthy investment for your drop-tuned guitars and basses.

The Zoar comes in the familiar EarthQuaker Devices housing with a six-control setup. In the box, you get six knobs to control your tone’s Weight, Gain, Level, Bass, Mid, and Treble. The Gain and optimized 3-Band EQ controls provide you with nearly unlimited adjustments without compromising focus and sensitivity. But the real deal-maker here is the Zoar’s Weight control that handles the low-end. This function can give you everything from crispy fuzz and high-gain distortion to a clean boost and overdrive!

  • Silent pedal action with True Bypass
  • Wide power options
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Rare noises at higher gains

MXR’s entry for the high-gain category, the Super Badass, is an aptly named unit that is a league on its own. Offering sweeping distortion variations, it covers an expansive genre, from rock to metal and everything in between. With a robust three-band EQ, the pedal can effortlessly swing from growling overdrives to tight, metallic shrills.

The compact MXR stompbox comes with six knobs for the Output, Distortion, Bass, Mid, and Treble. Tweaking the Distortion and Output controls lets you pick between a clean boost and a sizzling roar of harmonically saturated tones. Topped with a highly customizable EQ, the Super Badass is your golden ticket to the glorious land of crunchy music.

  • Tank-like build quality
  • Outstanding responsiveness
  • Works snuggly with single coil and humbuckers
  • Some tones have traces of modern colors

Any discussion involving the best distortion pedals wouldn’t be complete without Boss DS-1. Finding its place on the pedalboard of Steve Vai and Kurt Cobain, the DS-1 is an undisputed king of dirty stompboxes. Featuring uncomplicated controls, the DS-1 has a three-knob setup for the Distortion, Level, and Tone. 

Despite its classic simplicity, there’s plenty of versatility packed in the compact orange chassis. The Tone control can push your highs, augment single coil pickups, or thicken your rhythm tones. The Level knob adjusts the volume to a decent loudness while the Distortion regulates your gains and sustains. Overall, the DS-1 is more than capable of handling any distorted music you throw at it like the champ it is.

  • Easy modification
  • Built to last a lifetime
  • Great value for money
  • Not as loud as other modern pedals
  • The midrange can be thin

Related Article: Best Guitar Overdrive Pedals: From Vintage Warmth To Modern Grit

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a distortion pedal and why do I need one?

A distortion pedal is an electronic device that alters the sound of a guitar to create a 'distorted' sound, characterized by a gritty, aggressive tone. It is essential for rock guitarists to achieve the classic rock sound that is hard to get from the guitar and amplifier alone.

Are distortion pedals suitable for genres other than rock?

Yes, while these pedals are tailored for rock guitarists, they are versatile enough to be used across a wide range of genres, including metal, punk, blues, and even jazz, depending on how they are set up and used in a signal chain.

How do I integrate a distortion pedal into my existing setup?

A distortion pedal can be integrated into your setup by connecting it between your guitar and amplifier. For the best sound, it's generally recommended to place it early in the signal chain, before any modulation or time-based effects like reverb or delay.

Can I use more than one distortion pedal at a time?

Yes, using more than one distortion pedal can create unique and layered tones. Some guitarists chain multiple distortion pedals with different settings to switch between or layer them for more complex textures.

How do I power these pedals?

Most distortion pedals can be powered by batteries or a 9V power adapter. Check the specifications for each pedal to ensure you're using the correct power source and to understand if there are any special power requirements.

Product Recap

The world of distortion pedals paints a colorful (and throaty) history of rock music. Starting from the ProCo RAT 2, with its three-in-one function, getting the golden standard of distortion tones is one tap away. If you’re looking for the most tonal variation, the JHS PackRat’s nine-distortion presets are a must-have pedal for your board. But if you want the best without breaking the bank, the fan-favorite DS-1 would make the best investment.

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