The first time I bought an electric guitar, the second item I wanted to buy was a “distortion” pedal. To tell the truth, I didn’t know what it actually meant. I just wanted my guitar to sound intense, heavy, and chug-chug like Metallica. Whether it was a distortion, overdrive, or fuzz; I had no idea.
Some guitarists cannot live without a distortion pedal. With every pedal available in this era; small-scale boutique builders, low budget new brands, and long living industry giants; looking for the right pedal is quite an overwhelming task. Is this $30 stompbox good? Or should I go with the multi-featured $300 pedal? Hey, I wanted to sound like my idol. What should I get?
We took the time to review numerous overdrive, distortion, and fuzz pedals available today. Ranging from low-cost pedals up to boutique monsters, this list is a must-read for distortion hunters on any budget. From classic reissues to advanced modern sound, here goes:
Overdrive: Joyo Vintage Overdrive $34
A tube screamer type pedal with a fraction of its price. You’ll instantly become familiar with its mid-heavy sound. For a little different flavor, Joyo Ultimate Drive is a great choice for it’s brighter OCD type sound.
Distortion: Dr.J Lancelot Distortion + Boost $49
This is an excellent warm sounding distortion pedal. It is also equipped with a separate Boost section which can be placed before or after the distortion. Alternatively, Mooer Black Secret is also good with it’s ProCo RAT inspired sound.
Fuzz: Behringer SF300 Super Fuzz $29
Behringer is notorious for making copies of discontinued pedals. Such as this one, which is a remake of the Boss FZ-2 Hyper Fuzz. It has three modes of sound: heavy fuzz, sharp fuzz, and a clean boost that is useful for driving another pedal.
UP TO $100
Overdrive: Electro-Harmonix Soul Food $86
Said to be a modern copy of the legendary Klon Centaur, which might be available on the second-hand market for $3000-4000. This little clone of Klon should satisfy your need for a transparent and dynamic overdriven tone. Other EHX offerings in this price range also sound exceptional, for example Crayon, Glove, East River, and Lumberjack.
Distortion: MXR Super Badass Distortion $99
The most obvious choice under $100 is of course the Boss MT-2 Metal Zone. One of the best selling pedals and constantly in production since 1991. But since many players seem to have difficulties in sculpting sound with it (hint: plug it to your amp’s return channel), this list goes with the MXR Super Badass Distortion. It’s a powerful pedal that provides a wide range of distortion sounds with its 3-band EQ section. The MXR is also very friendly to be combined with any amplifier or other dirt pedals.
Fuzz: DOD Carcosa $99
DOD Carcosa is a versatile pedal. It brings a wide array of fuzz tones with its filter, bias control, and two distinct fuzz types. For you who prefer a more straightforward ‘classic’ sound, Electro Harmonix Big Muff will not let you down.
UP TO $200
Overdrive: Mad Professor Little Green Wonder $169 (factory production)
Little Green Wonder pedal is a tube screamer in steroids. As the designer put it,’it’s a TS-style pedal, but one for those who don’t generally like TS-style pedals.” A low compression, high headroom overdrive with high output, with a Body knob for adjusting low-mid and treble frequencies.Very good as a standalone overdrive pedal, driving distorted amplifiers, or as a filter before or after a fuzz pedals.
Distortion: Wampler Dracarys $199
Dracarys is Brian Wampler’s attempt to pursue the tone of Ola Englund, a well-known guitarist for his works in Feared, The Haunted, and Six Feet Under. Wampler designed Dracarys for depth, note definition, and clarity never heard before in a high gain pedal. It’s a modern style distortion with two voicings: Open voicing offers an aggressive tone with minimum compression, and Tight voicing delivers a searing tone with tube-like compression.
Fuzz: Zvex Vexter Fuzz Factory $189
This fuzz pedal gets into the mainstream audience from the sound of Muse’s Matt Bellamy. This is what happens when you hack more parameters to the classic Fuzz Face tone. Small pedal, massive sound. Packed with five knobs that lets you control every aspect of its sonic manipulation and dial every fuzzy sound such as gated fuzz, modulated, oscillating, octave, and more than you can think of!
$201 OR MORE
Overdrive: Chase Bliss Brothers $349
This might be the masterbuilt boutique effect pedal. Bringing six unique boost, drive, and fuzz circuits in a compact enclosure. 100% true analog path with a digital brain to save and recall preset directly or by a MIDI controller. You can route the effects in thirty-three different ways, including mixing them in parallel or changing the order of the effects
Distortion: Horizon Devices Apex $320
Apex is an all-in-one solution for massive distortion. It can be used directly to the mixer or interface with its cab simulator, it can also be used as a standalone pedal into amplifiers or cabs Equipped with a gate to remove noise or create a more choppy and chugging sound. Engage the Tight switch for more aggressive rhythm tones without adding more gain and disengage for buttery leads.
Fuzz: Fender Blender $300 (discontinued)
Many guitarists probably didn’t realize that Fender also produces a number of cool effect pedals. Some are quite distinct and there’s nothing like this one. Fender Blender is a germanium based fuzz box with a very aggressive, abrasive, and wild oscillating octave. As someone said, “(the) ultimate pedal in opinion-polarising sonic nastiness… in a good way”. If you’re lucky, you may find this pedal for under $300 in the second-hand market.