Where Can I Find The Best Distortion Pedals?
There are specific models for classic rock, hard-rock, metal... and there are also models offering a distortion that can be used in different music genres.
Here is my general recommendation:
- For around $50 the best option definitely is the Mooer Black Secret, a Rat 2 copy with all its power and in a micro form factor
- If you have the budget, you could take a look at the MXR M75, with a highly versatile response: you can get from plexi-like subtle drives up to high-gain metal distortion
In the following table you can review the specifications of the different pedals we will cover in the next section:
Top 4 Distortion Pedals Under $50
What is the best you can get for around than 25 bucks? Beleive it or not, the Behringer OD300 is an incredible pedal for the price, especially recommended for those who are exploring distortion pedals for the first time.
This pedal is the cheap copy of the Boss OS-2, priced around the $95. There is obviously a significant difference in quality but yet, the Behringer OD300 is a pretty decent well-rounded pedal.
You can experiment with the overdrive and the distortion, or even with a combination of both modes and you add an extra customization layer with the usual knobs for level, tone, and drive.
Just treat it carefully... the plastic case won't hold on if you use it on your live setup.
Whether you want to test different distortion flavors or just getting started with a versatile pedal, the Behringer OD300 has you covered!
For just 5 more bucks than the Behringer OD300 we have this little tiny piece of art!
The Donner Morpher, which is the low-budget copy of the mighty Suhr Riot, is a classic distortion pedal enclosed in an aluminum case of just 95x44x48 millimeters and a total weight of around 200g.
It includes a standard-size gain knob and two tiny knobs for level and tone. The tiny knobs can be a little difficult to handle on-stage if you have big hands (or clumsy fingers).
To add some degree of customization, the Donner Morpher also includes a 3-position switch to select which of the three predefined modes you want to use: Natural, Tight and Classic.
This is overall an excellent distortion pedal. One of the pedals I personally ALWAYS recommend to my friends when they ask me for an all-rounder distortion pedal.
Boss DS-1 Distortion
The old and good Boss DS-1… it’s been around since before I was born and it’s still one of the best selling classic distortion pedals.
A pure analog buffered pedal from the renowned brand that Boss is, you could expect a good quality and excellent sounding pedal… but’s it’s not quite like that.
It truly is an indestructible piece of metal of one pound, but it’s getting old and I believe that there are far better options within the price range of the Boss DS-1, like the Donner Morpher.
Why am I recommending it? Boss pedals are known to be highly customizable, and this one, in particular, has some pretty cool mods that can take the DS-1 to the next level.
So, in case you want to get your hands dirty modifying the pedal's entrails, this is a great starting point. Otherwise, keep looking for a more well-rounded distortion pedal.
TC Electronic Dark Matter
Coming from Denmark, we have the TC Electronic Dark Matter, a unique distortion pedal with its own personality.
I really like this pedal because it stands out over the current offer around the $50. It provides a full range of distortions from soft overdrives to heavy crunchy tones, but always keeping a vintage sound.
We can control the bass and treble with two separate controls. It also includes a mini toggle that changes from a modern aggressive sound to a bit more retro thanks to a shift in its bass response, adding more color and customization to the distortion.
It’s also worthy to mention that this pedal is highly responsive to volume and picking dynamics, which leads to an infinite set of subtle sound variations.
So, as you can see, It’s pretty easy to get unique tones with this pedal.
Top 4 Distortion Pedals Over $50
Mooer Black Secret
After eclipsing the overdrive pedals market, Mooer released the Black Secretdistortion pedal, their take on capturing the essence of the classic ProCo RAT tonethat was so popular in the ’70s and ’80s.
Like the other micro pedals in the Mooer family, this pedal will fit on any pedal board with ease. Its full metal casing makes it durable and road ready, and it has a standard true bypass.
Tiny Pedal With 2 Distortions Inside
The original ProCo RAT evolved into to two different pedals, the RAT2 (a renewed standard RAT) and a new flavor called TurboRAT (more aggressive distortion based on the original Rat).
The Mooer Black Secret pedal not only clones the legendary ProCo RAT2, but also the TurboRAT, so you can use both on the same pedal!
You can change between the two pedals sounds thanks to a toggle switch:
- Vintage: RAT clone (warm, smooth distortion)
- Turbo: RAT Turbo clone (doubles the output of the vintage mode)
The Pro Co RAT Bastard (and dwarf) Twin
What’s important about this pedal is that it’s not just a cheap copy of a good-old pedal.
The thing is that the Black Secret actually sounds like an original ProCo RAT. Check out this video if you don’t believe me!
In my opinion, the pedal performs really well and, to my ears, it is almost indistinguishable from the original RAT models. Maybe the Mooer’s sound is a little bit thinner.
There are other advantages of the Black Secret over the RAT:
- It uses a standard/Boss power socket while the RAT uses a 3.5mm jack
- The footprint is way smaller, which is always good when building portable pedal boards
- The price is also an important decision factor. The Mooer includes two pedals for less than any of the two
The only disadvantage I can think of is that the Blak Secret can’t be powered by an internal battery.
If you look for a distortion pedal that uses a RAT (or RAT-like) distortion circuit, the Black Secret is clearly the best choice. (Official Doc here)
Xvive Golden Brownie T1
The Xvive Golden Brownie is a compact distortion pedal that packs all the punch of a Marshall JCM 800 in a small box.
The T1 Golden Brownie was designed by Thomas Blug, a German musician and guitarist, founder of Bluguitar and acclaimed circuit guru, to approximate the JCM 800 as close as possible.
If you want high gain hard rock ’80 tones then this is the pedal for you.
What Is That Presence Knob?
This pedal closely follows the JCM 800 also in the knobs configuration.
It comes equipped with a Drive knob that delivers a huge range of gain commonly used by ‘80s hard rock bands, giving you a light crunch or cranked up tubes with the twist of a knob.
In addition, this pedal contains a Presence control, which gives the tubes emulation some breathing room and accommodates any other pedals before or after it with ease.
Pro Co RAT2
A legendary distortion pedal born in the Metal gold era back in the 80s, the ProCo RAT2 brought fresh air into the small (at that time) market of distortion effects.
What Makes This Pedal Unique?
Not as gentle as an overdrive, not as brutal as modern distortions, absolutely distinctive. Its unique mix of distortion, sustain and assertiveness brought this pedal to the Valhalla of effects pedals and it has managed to stay there since then.
How Has Evolved Over The Years?
Since the first release back in the 80s, the RAT has suffered many iterations. And, while new features have been added over the years, there are some distinctive aspects that still remain.
- On/off led
- Easy-access battery compartment
- True bypass switch
- Housing enclosure design (atomic bomb proof)
- 3 knob layout, with the characteristic “Filter” knob
- The sound, obviously, which remains faithful to its origins
There is something that I think should be updated in the coming iterations: the power socket! It still uses a 3.5mm (1/8″) jack, while most of the modern pedals use the standard Boss power socket.
So make sure to have an appropriate power adaptor for this pedal.
Exploring The RAT Sound
This pedal has been used in so many famous recordings that you will surely find it to sound very familiar, even if it’s the first time you hear it.
What is really cool about the RAT sound is that you are not just limited to a full distortion sound.
This pedal can produce a wide range of tones, starting from a gentle overdrivewhen setting the Distortion knob to 9 o’clock, to a tight and full fuzzy distortion from 3 o’clock and beyond.
What makes this pedal so amazing is that, even at the higher distortion settings, it stills quiet, avoiding uncontrollable feedback and noise.
The RAT2’s signature Filter control offers a great way to refine your top-end and mellow out your tone. If you’re seeking the best guitar distortion effects pedal for your hi-gain needs, the RAT2 is certainly worth auditioning.
Alternatives To The Mighty RAT
The inconvenient I see with this pedal is that it still tries to take advantage of its fame, maintaining a high price whilst it gets older and older.
ProCo doesn’t seem to be willing to risk their hidden golden egg and this is clearly weakening the product.
Why am I telling that? Take a look at the Mooer Black Secret, which is a clone of the RAT2 + TurboRAT, both in one single pedal, at a lower price than any of those separately.
MXR M75 Super Badass
The MXR Super Badass Distortion, commonly advertised as a distortion pedal, when it’s actually much more than that.
This ready-to-road true bypass pedal has a simple set of controls: the Output knob for controlling the volume, the Distortion knob to set the amount of gain and a 3 band equalizer.
If you want to play around with bluesy tones as well as with high-gain distortions with a single box, this is your go-to pedal.
Extremely Versatile Drive
The core of this pedal is its highly responsive Distortion knob, with a wide range of saturation that can go from clean gritty boost, up to a metal distortion and all the tones you can imagine between those extremes.
- Clean boost: set the Distortion control all the way down to get a kind of Plexi subtle drive
- Crunch: set it to 9 o’clock to get a dirt crunch sound
- Overdrive: at 11 o’clock the pedal outputs a classic type distortion
- Metal Distortion: from 3 o’clock onwards the Super Badass provides a high-gain metal distortion
After reading these lines you may be thinking this pedal is one of those “good-for-nothing” pedals that tries to do more than it can.
I can assure you this is not the case. Check out some videos and see for yourself the definition of versatile.
Using It With Guitars And Basses, Single Coils Or Humbuckers
Compared to the usual single Tone knob that can be found in most of the overdrive/distortion pedals, the MXR Super Badass has a 3-band equalizer.
And this is actually the secret weapon of the pedal’s versatility.
The problem with some distortion pedals is that the overall pedal’s tone at a given saturation level can be unsuitable for some pickups configurations or even for some amps types.
Thanks to the EQ, you can adjust the pedal tone to your guitar, whether you are using singles or humbuckers, bass or guitar, or even adjust it to your amp’s tone particularities.
Although not a big list, these eight models are just the best of the best. Whichever you choose, I'm sure you won't be dissapointed.
I hope you enjoyed it, see you next time!