Among the immense variety of guitar pedals in the market, any newcomer would have the impression that the sound possibilities are endless. In part, it is true, as some of them are based on new designs. But many experienced guitarists will agree that a lot of current pedals are based on variations, or even copies, of models that were a milestone in the market. If something was a success, why not repeat it?
For that reason, we have decided to list 19 pedals that can serve as a guiding light to understand the subsequent history of the distortion/overdrive/fuzz pedals. They are not necessarily here because they are the best, nor our favorites, they have been a role model for various reasons.
Many of those you will see on this list have been copied point-to-point by some manufacturers. On the other hand, others use them as a starting point to create something more elaborate and more modern. Many of the pedals you will see would already comb some gray hairs, if the pedals had hair, of course :). And there is also a possibility, that they modify their design to lower manufacture, which can come from losses in sound quality and fidelity to the original.
And not only have physical copies of these ten pedals have been made, but they have also been the most virtual recreated in digital multi-effects and plugins. Knowing these pedals will help any guitarist to have a more precise map of frequent sounds. And by identifying them, we mean trying to test them to accumulate some experience with them. So let’s start with the list.
MXR M75 Super Badass Distorsion
MXR’s ability to produce professional pedals did not end even when Dunlop acquired them. M75 Super Badass is an excellent example of this policy. To put it, you get a very hot distortion pedal that can offer large amounts of gain, but there is one crucial feature.
It comes with a three-band equalizer. It may not sound so important, but once you start adjusting the tone, you realize how much it means to have this feature. You can get in a great rock tone filled with a slight overdrive softness or saturate that signal with a very sharp distortion. The decision is yours. A big thing about this pedal is that you will never feel that your tone is superficial or too muddy. All it takes is an adjustment of the EQ to resolve any imperfection.
MXR M104 Distorsion +
MXR M104 Distortion + is an extraordinary beast. The pedal offers one of the most authentic distorted tones you can get, and has been doing so for many decades. What makes it weird is the fact that it’s a germanium-based distortion. The use of germanium reveals an old-school fuzz box, but M104 is not a fuzz pedal. This strange combination results in a fascinating tone that offers a wide range. In a sense, it can go from a more massive overdrive to a dark distortion tone.
In simple terms, it’s not your regular distribution box, and that makes it quite interesting. The design is as simple as it can be: two knobs and a pedal switch. If you’re looking for a more vintage sound distortion, this MXR is one of the best options.
Boss Metal Zone MT-2
For many, considering a reference to this pedal can be blasphemy. If you don’t know it, we will tell you that it is both one of the best-selling pedals in electric guitar history and one of the most hated. Many guitarists pointed it out as “the worst distortion pedal of all time.” But seen in context, BOSS hit the nail on the head by throwing a pedal that could deliver an obscene amount of distortion in any amp. However, clean it was, in the height of Heavy Metal. It’s external appearance, a response at palm mute and sharp sharp sharp cuts made a success of the rehearsal venues, which was later imitated by countless frontline brands. Almost all manufacturers have their own “Metal Zone,” with more or less similarity.
Boss Distortion DS-1
DS-1 is one of the most famous distortion pedals ever created, and one of the most misunderstood. Many people expect to connect it to their signal chain and get that gross distortion. That’s not how DS-1 works. The BOSS designed DS-1 to give more flavor to your clean signal and clean up the signal that is already going through a more aggressive distortion pedal.
Learning to use DS-1 is a bit complicated; this is precisely why many new users are disappointed. However, once you discover all its complexities, it will become your favorite pedal. DS-1 is the type of pedal you keep on all the time. In short, it is a unique pedal that can you can find on pedals belonging to legends such as Joe Satriani and alike. It’s also one of the most affordable distortion pedals you can buy right now.
Also, we have a full review of BOSS DS-1.
Boss MD-2 Mega Distortion
The MD-2 pedal contains the distortion sounds that are heard in the new school’s metal, ideal for severe tuning to the end. The secret is a unique double-stage distortion circuit with an increase in gain, plus new background and tone controls, with this distortion you will get serious mass lows.
Designed for modern metal and hard rock, The Gain Boost circuit creates high distortion and sustains regardless of the volume you work with. It has a distortion control for 6 or 7 string guitars and tone control that adjusts the balance between high and low frequencies.
Electro-Harmonix Nano Big Muff
When it comes to distortions and saturation in general, certain pedals greatly impacted the industry. One of them is Electro-Harmonix’s Big Muff Pi. It was so good that many modern pedals are based on their legendary circuit. However, the original still holds. Nano Big Muff is a compact version of the unique design but is so powerful and capable. The pedal has three controls, an exquisite looking enclosure, and gives a lot of cane!
If you’re looking for large amounts of profit, this bad boy offers it in abundance. That said, the advantage is not raw and chaotic. On the contrary, it is very controllable and easy to work. The pedal offers a wide variety, which is something you should appreciate.
Electro-Harmonix Big Muff
A classic that enjoys most guitarists; this great success of Electro-Harmonix is an easy and satisfying solution for those looking for versatile and usable fuzz/distortion sounds in many contexts. Although it began in the hands of guitarists looking for winning and Gran sustain solo sounds (such as Carlos Santana or David Gilmour), it is now a representative tool of Brit and Indie.
Their overwhelming sound has also been of interest to bassists throughout history, so Electro-Harmonix finally designed a specific version for them. There are many product variations, each with a more particular variety than the previous one, making its lovers and collectors’ delights.
Ibanez Tube Screamer
Presented in the late ’70s, it’s probably the most influential overdrive pedal in history, and its imitators are counted by thousands. It’s an early association with names such as Stevie Ray Vaughan. It has given an excellent reputation as a pedal to obtain warm sounds suitable for blues, pop, rock, and many other great audiences.
By itself, it delivers a tone that can range from mild saturation to solo sounds, but it is also great to complete the sound of an already distorted amp. It is not a pedal that delivers extreme sonorities or very high profit. It is still widely used among metal guitarists to obtain sounds with more aggressiveness, placing it before a considerably saturated ample, with volume and tone almost to the maximum and gain at a moderate level.
Pro Co RAT
Much more rapid than the previous one, it is a pedal that has earned a good reputation in the sounds close to Punk. Of course, it is only fame, as it fits into many other situations thanks to its generous and dense gain, which can remember the fuzz. Its only equalization is the control called a filter. It is advisable to have good knowledge to avoid strident sonorities and adapt it adequately to the amplifier.
Pro Co RAT 2
The current market for distortion effects is full of large modern designs, but also some vintage. One of the last that withstood the test of time is the Pro Co RAT2. This pedal is an old school in every way. The enclosure in which it is located is reminiscent when the pedals of effects were becoming something else, and the tone it offers is merely typical of that time. For these reasons, RAT2 has found its way on many pedals of famous musicians.
A look at the control panel tells you that it is a straightforward pedal to use. Although it gives the impression of a somewhat limited pedal, RAT2 has a wide range in distortion. You can adapt it to a soft rock sound or a darker metal tone very quickly. In addition to all that, Pro co RAT2 is one of the most affordable iconic distortion boxes available today.
Roger Mayer Octavia
Although its name is not as mainstream as that of Metal Zone or Tube Screamer, the shadow of this pedal’s influence is long. Roger Mayer was Jimi Hendrix’s guitar technician, for whom he expressly created a new saturation pedal. It added an Octavian sound, which he named Octavia (although Hendrix insisted on calling it Octavian). After a first design used to record The “Purple Haze” solo, Hendrix and Mayer went through 15 prototypes, perfecting their sound step by step.
Today it is a reference thanks to its unmistakable tone, characterized by the presence of octavation and profit at the same time, from which hundreds of derivatives have been made. Something Roger Mayer does not seem to like at all. On his website clarifies that he will never reveal “the existing inaccuracies in the electrical [Octavian] schematics circulating on the net,” adding that “all clones are not clones, they are copies with basic errors.”
EarthQuaker Devices Hoof
Hoof is another legendary design. This particular model is perfect for those who seek to obtain more than their standard distortion. What makes Hoof so special is that it can act as a box of fuzz and distortion. That sounds good on paper, but wait until you connect it and test the tone spectrum. The box is quite simple and has four knobs to shape the tone easily.
In general, this is a massive distortion box with a warm and agile tone that will satisfy a wide variety of tastes. In addition to all that, it has a very reasonable price when considering the performance it offers.
Dallas Rangemaster Treble Booster
Although it does not entirely fit overdrive’s description or distortion (not even on a pedal), the Treble Booster is one of the oldest and most powerful effects. Launched in the 1960s, its philosophy and simplicity have permeated the foundations of many others. Its original mission was to compensate for the somewhat shady character of saturation of particular 60’s amplifiers, mainly when used with humbuckers. And its format was oriented to place it on the amplifier rather than on the ground. It functioned as a preamplifier, which could emphasize the signal’s sharp frequencies to return some brightness to the set.
Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face
Presented in 1966, its design is based on a microphone as it was originally planned for the guitarists who also sing. It is a vintage fuzz pedal on which many later designs have been based and features luxury ambassadors such as Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison, and Pete Townshend. And yes, its name is because the pedal’s original design reminded of a smiling face, which was later manufactured by Dunlop.
Behringer Heavy Distortion HD300
Release your fury with the Behringer Heavy Distortion HD300 distortion pedal. Connect it to your amplifier, and you’ll get all the distortion you need for modern metal and hard rock. The “bottom” control allows increasing the tonal impact for an incredible sonic attack. Guitarists know that a good distortion pedal should also help improve your sustain.
The Heavy Distortion HD300 gain control allows you to hit your amplifier harder to achieve an epic sustain. Add ungovernable distortion to your pedal, with the Behringer Heavy Distortion HD300!
A pedal that awakens heated arguments. Someone outside these debates would not be particularly surprised by their appearance, which is that of a conventional overdrive pedal, which delivers creamy tones without excessive saturation. It was discontinued in 2009, and since then, it had become so legendary that its second-hand price is between $ 1,000 and $ 3,000 (it costs $ 229 before it was dropped). Logically, this has caused numerous brands to do their imitations and copies with names that, in an overlapping way, suggest references to the Klon Centaur. Is this controversy justified? Hard to tell, but below you can see some originals for sale on eBay captured at the time, we wrote this article and their prices.
TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion
The TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion Guitar Pedal aims to offer you that powerful, super-musical roar of an ancient Plexi; a sound that will satisfy even the fussiest on the market.
From a clean sound with attitude and warm bluesy tones to an overdrive-like crack and fully saturated sounds full of harmonics and nuances, everything is here and instantly available with the volume control of your guitar. The Dark Matter Distortion is built from high-level components, features an easy-to-access battery cap, and footprint technology.
Just plug it in and start playing, lots of great sounds will make you play with it for many years to come. From bluesy crunch to energetic, but always very musical, distortion sounds, this pedal was designed for guitarists who like things a little (or very) dirty. With a fully analog circuit, double-band tone controls, level, and drive controls and a sonorization switch to adjust the grave’s response. There’s a lot of profit to suit any musical style. But the sound always stays very open and clear, and it’ll never get dirty or cover up your way of playing.
This pedal has a very open character, no matter if you use it as a light overdrive type ‘AC / DC-ish’ or as a dragon spits fire. It will always leave you with your mouth open.
A careful combination of overdrive and distortion, which can be perfectly met on both grounds. Although its release has been much later than some of the classic pedals we have named so far, it is one of those that has managed to establish itself as a new classic, something that makes clear the enormous amount of copies it has on the market. It aims to deliver by itself the character of an amplifier to valves.
Blackstar LT Metal
The LT METAL is the guitar pedal designed to offer the aggressive high-gain tones that modern guitarists need. An account with the circuit patented ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) Blackstar gives you infinite adjustment over the characteristics of the tone control and takes the high gain of EE. UU. The classic British heavy metal and any intermediate point. Blackstar’s patent-applied trimming circuit offers a surprising Valve-like tone and compression for various interpretation styles.
Now you can effectively design your tone and finally find “the sound you have in your head.”
These are what we have prepared to meet your distortion needs. There are many possibilities in the market, and we have decided on these, it is up to you to choose the right pedal that will accompany you for a long time. Good luck!