The Best Distortion Pedal For Metal in 2019

We Review the best metal distortion pedals

Heavy Metal Horns Two Finger Hand Sign

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Playing intense metal music isn’t just about playing aggressively. This is because many styles of music require an extra push in effects to add crunch to their sound, making distortion pedals an essential purchase for any metal musician. 

However, the market for pedals is vast—the first time I was looking for the best distortion pedal for metal, I felt lost. I didn’t know exactly which features I should be looking for and which pedals would allow me to make metal music most effectively.

In this Buyer’s Guide, I’ll be taking a look at 10 of the market’s best distortion pedals for metal and letting you know what to keep in mind when looking for a new pedal.

Our Top 10 Distortion Pedals for Metal

Our Favourites

The Best of the Rest

MXR M116 Full Bore

Overall

An affordable product that covers more than the basics.

Overall Rating: 4.8/5

CategoryCommentsOur Rating
 Effects Varied amount of options (Volume, frequency, gain, low/mid/high knobs) 5/5
 Sound High-quality sound with a range in color 5/5
 Build Very durable, strong design 5/5
 Controls Knobs are a little small, but work well 4/5
 ValueGreat value for what you pay 5/5

When it comes to pedals, MXR is a company that consistently makes durable products that never feel flimsy. The MXR M116 Full Bore itself is incredibly sturdy, having a durable design that does not get easily harmed by any sort of excessive usage. The shine that the pedal gives off is also incredibly helpful for eyesight in dark venue situations. My only issue with the design is that the knobs feel a bit small, not giving you much space to quickly grab onto them during a performance.

That being said, the reason why the knobs are small is because there are so many different customization options, so this is forgivable. Between the six different knobs and two buttons provided (volume, frequency, gain, low, mid, high, gate, and scoop), there is an effective amount of nuance that can’t be beat. This is beneficial as you can toggle with your power in many different ways, exploring the nuance of distortion effects. It’s also on the lower end of moderate price ranges, resulting in an affordable product that delivers more than the basics.

Pros

  • 6 different knobs and 2 buttons to customize
  • High-quality distortion effects
  • Durable design
  • Pedal shines effectively in the dark

Cons

  • Knobs are a bit too small
  • Difficult to adjust settings on the fly

Wampler Triple Wreck

Overall

A great product all around, but price may be prohibitive for some.

Overall Rating: 4.6/5

CategoryCommentsOur Rating
 Effects Great options that are nuanced and effective 5/5
 Sound Amazing sound quality, adjust the EQ without decreasing quality 5/5
 Build Slightly bulky design, but durable 4/5
 Controls Controls are very easy to use and adjust 5/5
 Value A bit pricey 4/5

The Wampler Triple Wreck pedal is quite expensive when compared to similar products on the market. However, you’re truly paying for what you get with this product, as it is pretty high quality all around. The price might be prohibitive for some, but this is a product that is worth it. There are 6 different knobs to choose from when controlling the device (volume, gain, boost contour, treble, mid and bass), each with impressive ranges. You can also change the Gain Structure Control between hard or brutal, two settings that are quite varied.

The pedal itself is quite durable as well, even if it feels a bit bulky. However, the fact that the knobs are easy to grab onto and not too small makes up for it, allowing you to adjust settings quickly with confidence during a performance or recording session. The bypass and boost buttons are also effective at letting you optimize the natural effect of your sound.

Pros

  • Good amount of customization options
  • Each knob has a large range
  • Hard and Brutal settings on Gain Structure Control
  • Bypass and boost buttons

Cons

  • Price might be prohibitive for some
  • Size is a bit bulky

Electro-Harmonix Metal Muff

Overall

A great product for those needing a strong boost in power.

Overall Rating: 4.4/5

CategoryCommentsOur Rating
 Effects Not many options available (only volume, distortion, and scooping) 4/5
 SoundGreat quality with boosted distortion that keeps frequency ranges intact 5/5
 Build Small design, but great knobs 4/5
 Controls Straightforward and easy to use 4/5
 Value Good value for the price 5/5

Those who are looking for a pedal that will give them a significant amount of power without having to spend a lot of money will feel right at home with this EHX Metal Muff. This is because the pedal allows you to adjust three basic elements: volume, distortion, and EQ (users have the option to “scoop” the highs, lows, or turn it off). Regardless of how you approach your sound, it adds a significant amount of power that is perfect for more intense types of metal music such as death metal. It could use more nuance, but—if applied to the right subgenre of music—it doesn’t need more than it already has.

Some users might lament the size, which is a bit small for a pedal, but the compact nature of it allows you to free up space on your pedalboard for other types of products. I don’t find the size to be a huge issue as I am not worrying about adjusting a multitude of different things when using this product, instead just turning it on and louder.

Pros

  • Great powerful sound
  • Compact and simple to operate
  • Affordable for all but the tightest budgets

Cons

  • Might be too small for some
  • Could use more nuance

Boss DS-1x Distortion

Overall

A great product for those needing a strong boost in power.

Overall Rating: 4.4/5

CategoryCommentsOur Rating
 Effects Lack of a mid knob limits tonal range a little 3/5
 Sound High quality sound that has a lot of power 5/5
 Build Comfortable, durable build with great knobs 5/5
 Controls Straightforward and easy to use 5/5
 Value Price might be prohibitive for some 4/5

I should start off this review by saying that I love this pedal. It is surely the best distortion pedal you can find on the market if you’re looking strictly to boost your overall power. It allows you to adjust various knobs such as level, low, high and distortion while also giving off an incredibly high-quality distorted sound. What is unique about this pedal is that it gives you power without sacrificing any aspect of the sound’s quality, something that many other brands don’t do very effectively.

Like all Boss pedals, this is also a very well-designed product, being incredibly sturdy and having a reliable foot switch. You could say that the knobs are too tiny, but the metallic outside lining makes them easy to grab so this isn’t an issue. The only reason I could see someone disliking this pedal is because of the price or the lack of nuance (i.e. no mid level included), as it is geared to types of music that are focused solely on power.

Pros

  • Great sound quality
  • Knobs have easy-to-grab metallic outside lining
  • Decent customization options
  • Footswitch is large and accommodating

Cons

  • Price might be prohibitive for some
  • Not as much nuance as other products

TC Electronic Dark Matter

Overall

Budget pedal lends itself well to grittier sounds like death metal.

Overall Rating: 4.2/5

CategoryCommentsOur Rating
 Effects Good amount of options 5/5
 Sound Gritty sound isn’t highest quality, but perfect for heavier metal music 4/5
 Build Knobs hard to grab, design is slightly too small and flimsy 3/5
 Controls Effective controls 5/5
 Value Good value for gritty, distorted sound, but not for high-quality sound 4/5

If you’re looking for a pedal that will give them a gritty sound, this is the pedal for you. The TC Electronic Dark Matter gives you four options to choose from (gain, level, bass and treble) also allowing you to use a voice switch to change the bass response, giving you different types of distortion that emphasize different frequency ranges. It’s also a true bypass pedal, meaning that you can ensure the signal is not affected by other pedals (making the distortion more powerful). This also helps bring out the natural sound of the guitar, getting your distortion to sound like an authentic tube amp distortion.

Some could find flaws in its design, arguing that it is too small and that the knobs aren’t easy to grab. The pedal itself feels quite flimsy and fragile, with the true bypass foot switch not feeling steady. However, this is a good budget product to get for anyone wanting an especially gritty, bass heavy sound. 

Pros

  • Gritty, dirty sound
  • True bypass
  • Affordable price

Cons

  • Knob design is subpar
  • Text sometimes difficult to read
  • May be too flimsy for some

Rocktron Metal Planet

Overall

A durable product with plenty of flex via onboard EQ options.

Overall Rating: 4.6/5

CategoryCommentsOur Rating
 Effects Great effects such as a 4 band EQ and a varied distortion knob 5/5
 Sound Distortion is high-quality and varied 5/5
 Build Durable design that might be bulky for some 4/5
 Controls Very easy to use 5/5
 Value Might be price prohibitive for some, but worth it 4/5

The Rocktron Metal Planet is a good example of a pedal that goes above what is normally required of similar products, allowing you to adjust different aspects of the EQ that typically aren’t highlighted with distortion products. For example, the semi parametric mid EQ that is included allows you to be more selective about the mids you highlight, while the 4 band EQ makes it easier to be more nuanced in ways that are often difficult with distortion products. All of this is only second, though, to the fact that the distortion knob is incredibly efficient and powerful.

The design of the product is a bit bulky, but provides you with more than enough room to feel comfortable. My only gripes with this product are that the EQ knobs are very small compared to the level and distortion ones and that the price is a bit high. However, it’s made with incredibly durable materials that never feel flimsy, making it feel like a pedal worth its price.

Pros

  • 4 band EQ for huge flexibility
  • Semi parametric mid EQ
  • Good distortion sound

Cons

  • EQ knobs are too small
  • It’s a bit pricey for what you get

Fulltone OCD Overdrive

Overall

Great overdrive pedal for a different metal tone.

Overall Rating: 4.2/5

CategoryCommentsOur Rating
 Effects Standard options, but each has a good range 3/5
 Sound Amazing sound quality that has power and grit 5/5
 Build Well-built knobs, but slightly slim pedal 3/5
 Controls Easy to use right out of the box 5/5
 Value Well-priced considering it’s great for overdrive as well 5/5

If you’re not afraid of exploring the other ways in which you can achieve a distorted sound, this Fulltone OCD pedal employs overdrive to give you a distorted sound that is more than fit for achieving thick, dense metal sounds that also sound warm. Its basic customization choices of volume, drive, tone, and hi-pass/low-pass should look familiar to anyone who knows distortion pedals, but it will also surprise you—this is a pedal for some seriously juicy tones. The knobs are also well-sized, though I wish the pedal was larger overall so it doesn’t feel unstable when heavy pressure is applied. There could be more nuance, but those wanting a thick tone will be happy with their purchase.

Pros

  • Overdrive warmth
  • Adjust volume, drive, tone, and hi-pass/low-pass
  • Well-sized knobs

Cons

  • Pedal could be larger overall
  • Foot switch feels small compared to the larger knobs

Boss DS-1

Overall

Great budget option if you want a Boss Pedal but can’t afford the DS-1x.

Overall Rating: 4.3/5

CategoryCommentsOur Rating
 Effects Basic options, could use more 2/5
 Sound Good sound quality overall, but the DS1-x is more powerful 4/5
 Build Sturdy and durable design with an easy-to-use foot switch 5/5
 Controls Very simple and intuitive 5/5
 Value Well worth the money if you can’t afford a DS-1x 5/5

It’s no secret that Boss is one of the best companies on the market for those looking to purchase pedals that are sturdy, reliable, and give great sounds. That’s why the other Boss pedal on this list (the DS-1X) is so great, as it gives you a really powerful sound. The DS-1 is very similar, favoring power over nuanced customization options (i.e. you can only adjust the tone, level and distortion) for a pedal that is perfect for rhythmic styles of metal such as death metal.

The main difference between this pedal and the DS-1X, though, is the price and power. If you want similar effects on the cheap, you should get the DS-1, but just be aware that the high gain distortion and distortion tones won’t be as powerful. The design is the same Boss durability that you can rely on, though, so don’t worry about that. I also love how the knobs might be on the small side, but have more than enough grip to not cause you any stress mid-show.

Pros

  • Very powerful compared to non-Boss products
  • Perfect for death metal
  • Intuitive design

Cons

  • Not as powerful as other Boss products
  • Could use more nuanced customization options

Blackstar HT-Metal

Overall

A pedal with everything you could want (aside from an affordable price).

Overall Rating: 4.4/5

CategoryCommentsOur Rating
 Effects Many effects included, high-quality 5/5
 Sound Great, authentic metal sound 5/5
 Build Very sturdy and durable design 5/5
 Controls Has a bit of a learning curve, but well worth it 4/5
 Value A premium pedal that might be price prohibitive for some 3/5

If you want a truly well-built product, the Blackstar HT-Metal is for you. It has everything you could want—6 different knobs to adjust (including gain, bass, mids, treble, tone and level), a mode for both clean and overdrive forms of distortion, and two different channels to use while distorting your guitar.

It’s also built incredibly well with a bulky style that is more than justified by how durable and sturdy it feels. The knobs are also very easy to grab and twist on the fly with each having a great sense of range. The only thing that stops this from reaching the top of my list is simply the fact that it’s incredibly expensive. Though you get a lot for your money, it’s quite overpriced and makes it not the most desirable product. However, if you want something truly versatile, get this pedal.

Pros

  • 6 different knobs to adjust
  • Modes for both clean and overdrive
  • Easy-to-grip knobs

Cons

  • More expensive as a premium pedal
  • If you don’t like bulky pedals, this isn’t the product for you

Behringer Ultra Metal UM 300

Overall

One of the best budget distortion pedals on the market.

Overall Rating: 4.4/5

CategoryCommentsOur Rating
 Effects Very nuanced options, which is rare for a budget pedal 5/5
 Sound Alright sound quality, but feels inconsistent at some settings 3/5
 Build Small knobs lack grip, while the plastic casing also feels flimsy 3/5
 Controls Controls are nuanced and easy-to-use with responsive knobs 5/5
 Value Definitely worth the money if on a budget 4/5

As the least expensive item on this list, you can’t really go wrong with the Behringer Ultra Metal UM300. It’s a great pedal for its price, giving you 6 different knobs to adjust (distortion, highs, mids, mid frequencies, lows and level) all contained within a wonderfully sturdy design. Sure, the sound quality is a bit inconsistent at times (sometimes there can be a brief lapse in quality if you have it distorted too much), but it’s a great product overall.

My biggest gripe with this pedal, though, are the knobs—they’re just too small and difficult to work with in stressful situations. The plastic casing also feels very flimsy when compared to the other products that are mostly metal. However, if you’re looking for a cheap pedal that will get the job done, you can’t do better than this.

Pros

  • Incredibly affordable on any budget
  • Plenty of customization options

Cons

  • Knobs could be larger
  • Knobs don’t have much grip
  • Sound quality is sometimes inconsistent

How to Choose a Metal Distortion Pedal

Choosing the best distortion pedal for metal requires knowing exactly which features benefit the music itself and what type of music you want to be making. Because there is such a large variety of different options even outside of the 10 products reviewed earlier, this Buyer’s Guide aims to give you information about metal distortion pedals and how you should be using them.

A good metal distortion pedal is typically identified first and foremost by sound. If the tone itself isn’t very high-quality or the effects applied don’t sound good to you, there is little chance that the pedal is good in the long run. Though there are some types of music that benefit from a lower quality distortion (such as death metal, grindcore music, and other genres that focus on compression and low fidelity recording quality), finding a product that has a good range of quality can be a way for you to stay flexible and not lock yourself into any particular subgenre of metal.

A pedal that allows flexibility in tone will undoubtedly be easy to use, typically offering users an intuitive interface to control the nuance with. This is why the perfect distortion pedal for metal will be able to effortlessly control multiple factors such as level, EQ, gain, and more, allowing the user to not even have to think about inconvenience when using the product.

On top of this, having a product that is also well-designed means that it is durable, having a strong build quality that makes it unlikely to get harmed or worn out easily. Though all of the aforementioned factors will surely drive up the price of any given product, there are products out there (as highlighted in the previous review section) that are able to be efficient and affordable.

Your Genre of Metal Music

Because of the many different subgenres that make up metal music, you’ll likely want to consider the distinct approaches to distortion that certain genres have.

For instance, as the original genre from which metal culture was created, Heavy Metal typically goes for a more traditional sound. With bands such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath as its foundation, bands working within heavy metal won’t require such a nuanced sound. This is because the distortion is typically lighter, not as abrasive, allowing musicians to stick with pedals that don’t pile on too many effects. This is in reference to distortion’s original discovery as a mistake, with the sound evolving mostly from guitar amplifiers that were turned up too loud.

This is much different than Thrash Metal, a subgenre that took the foundation of metal and increased its intensity, speed, and dynamics. Because this genre was mainly established in the 80s before digital distortion was available, a lot of the sound is based off of simply increasing the volume of previously established distortion methods. As a result, you will want to find a pedal that gives you a very compact, compressed type of distortion that is effective and powerful. A good product that was reviewed earlier in this article would be the Boss DS-1!

Groove Metal is a more nuanced style of music, having been used to refer to a variety of groups with different sounds such as Pantera, Machine Head, White Zombie, and Jane’s Addiction. Though the approaches vary, the premise is largely the same: take the fast-paced music of thrash metal and slow it down, exploring the nuance in sound that results. Because of this, you’ll want a pedal that gives you a good variety of controls to customize your own metal sound effectively. For this, a pedal such as the MXR M116 Full Bore will do the trick!

For those looking to play Death Metal music, it’s usually best to focus on getting extreme power in your sound. This is because the genre is all about grit, with the metal guitar style functioning just as much as a rhythmic device as the bass and drums. As a result, getting a pedal like the Boss DS-1X that specializes specifically in boosting your sound to new heights is a great choice. For a strong, powerful tone, you might also want to look into a pedal that can do overdrive just as well as distortion such as the Fulltone OCD.

How Do Distortion Pedals Work?

Like similar types of gain effects, distortion was originally discovered by accident. This was because the sound is a natural result of turning up an amplifier too loud, increasing the sound to a volume level at which the amplifier can’t process the sound properly, therefore distorting it. This is the result of the original signal (comprised of sine waves) bumping up against the volume threshold of a given device, creating a clipping effect that removes the quality of the sound in place of loudness.

A Brief History of Distortion Pedals in Metal

As previously mentioned, distortion was invented in the 50s as an accident due to malfunctioning amplifiers. Artists would soon take notice of this, eventually incorporating intentionally fuzzy sounds into their work through the use of shoddy equipment. This sound would eventually inspire the blues and rock sounds we know and love from the late 1950s/early 1960s, with the grit and intensity defining the genre of rock music.

Because distortion had already been introduced into the cultural zeitgeist through rock and blues artists such as Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s, the history of heavy metal begins with taking those concepts of fuzz and distortion to new heights. After Deep Purple was named the loudest band around in a newly established Guinness World Record category in 1975, the increase of bands continuing to increase their dynamic power lead to the development of heavy metal.

Since the founding of heavy metal in the 1970s, distortion became more widely available to consumers, not only encouraging experimentation with the subject, but also an increased nuance in the possibilities. The introduction of digital distortion has brought us to our modern-day situation in which there are many different ways to achieve distortion and many different musical styles that embrace them.

How to Use Your Distortion Pedal

After you’ve found the best distortion pedal for metal, it’s important to know how to use it. In this section, I’ll be showing you how to effectively use your distortion pedal to get the most out of it.

What Makes a Good Metal Tone?

A good metal tone is replicating the power, compression, and clipping that comes with traditional distortion. Just like the malfunctioning amps and clipping described in previous sections, metal tones are built around this foundation, encouraging users to increase volume and equalizers to further distort the sound.

Above all, though, is the notion of replicating the original distortion of a tube amp, getting the amp distortion that originally was found through harsh volume extremes. By replicating that sound from the beginning, you can get a harsh sound without always having the amp turned up all the way, also giving you room to increase the volume later on.

How Do You Dial in a Good Metal Tone?

Dialing in a good metal tone will ultimately depend on your personal preference, as the exact tone will rely most on the music that you are creating. However, there are still some categories you can follow that will help you direct your efforts in a particular direction.

For example, the volume or gain knob will be your most important tool when you need to seriously increase the power of your sound. If a pedal comes with a boost switch or another way of boosting the sound, this will also add significant power and volume.

Using a band EQ (or any type of equalizer) is also a good way to ensure you have the tone you want, with the ability to specialize in lows/mids/highs (also known as bass/mids/treble) as an added bonus. If you want a more shrill sound, just turn up the highs a lot (great for subgenres such as Thrash Metal), while emphasizing the lows and mids will give your sound more of a drive (effective for subgenres like Death Metal). If you’re interested in having a more natural sound that reflects your guitar more effectively, consider investing in a true bypass pedal that allows your tone to not get caught up in too much artificial processing.

How to Minimise the Effect of Gain on Your Tone

For many guitarists, finding the balance between volume and depth will always be at the front of many decisions regarding tone. This is because using the volume or gain knobs will surely raise the power of your sound, but also consolidate a lot of the nuance through compression. To avoid the gain taking nuance out of your sound, make sure that you’re not relying too heavily on it. Focus on making your sound louder by toggling with the EQ as opposed to just turning the gain up. Another way to make sure the gain isn’t too much is it combine it with the dirty channel on your amp.

Can a Distortion Pedal still work well with Single Coil Pickups?

Single coil guitars have an infamous reputation of not accommodating distortion pedals very well. This is because the sound typically doesn’t have much power to it, making it necessary to apply more gain if your’e working with single coil guitars. The gain will add more compression to the sound overall, allowing you to have a more condensed, powerful sound. However, like we highlighted in the previous section on how to minimise gain, you should apply this effect carefully, making sure not to overwhelm or lose too much quality in your sound.

Using Metal Distortion Pedals in Your Set Up

Distortion in general can work in the same setup as any other type of pedal, but there are some effects that don’t lend themselves well to metal music. For example, chorus pedals and other types of modulation devices make it difficult to apply a true metal distortion, while reverb sometimes waters down the distortion of the sound. In terms of where you should place them in your general pedal setup chain, you should put distortion pedals after compressors and before modulation pedals to ensure that the processing is allowed to get the most natural sound.

Where Should Distortion Pedals Sit in the Signal Chain?

Distortion pedals should sit in one’s signal chain after compressors and before modulators, as they are typically the last type of compression sound processing that is applied before other pedals alter the sound in more expansive ways.

The Difference Between General Distortion and Metal Distortion

Metal distortion pedals are typically different from normal distortion pedals in the sense that they have more options to boost the overall volume and impact of the tone itself. This is largely due to the nature of metal music to be louder and more distorted than other genres, requiring the use of pedals specifically geared towards that purpose.

Though many professional musicians might prefer to use a high-quality tube amp for a proper distortion sound, this doesn’t mean that there is no purpose for a distortion pedal if you’re looking to take your setup to the next level. Instead of being tied to a tube amp, a lot of guitarists prefer to be able to have the nuance that a pedal provides. In the event that you don’t need the pedal and just want a tube amp sound, you can cut the pedal out, but it’s useful to have.

The Difference Between Overdrive and Distortion

The main difference between overdrive and distortion is that—while the former solely focuses on turning up the volume to get it to clip, imitating the sound of old tube amps, the latter focuses on that in addition to changing the sound in general to be more distorted. This is why many overdrive pedals won’t have many configuration settings, instead focusing mainly on power and how to apply it (warm, intense, EQ’ing).

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, finding the right distortion pedal is the only way for you to get the metal tone that you need for your music. However, due to how ever-changing and vast the market is (including how many boutique pedals on the market), it’s important to not only know how distortion pedals work, but also be familiar with some of the more accessible products available. This is why I recommend the MXR M116 Full Bore as the best distortion pedal for metal available. The design of this product simply can’t be beat, offering a compact, but durable interface that does not wear easily. On top of this, the multitude of different knobs makes customizing your tone with nuance an intuitive experience. This pedal is also very affordable, riding the balance between budget products and high-quality ones effectively.

Regardless of which pedal you go with, though, I hope this Buying Guide has been helpful for anyone looking to expand their horizons and start using distortion effectively for metal music!

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