There is no doubt that distortion pedals are one of the most common pedal effects of all time. You’ve probably heard some people saying that “everyone needs a distortion pedal”. But is this really true?
Not every guitarist needs a distortion pedal. There are three reasons why this is the case.
Reasons Why you Don’t Need a Distortion Pedal
- Your tone doesn’t need it
- It doesn’t suit your genre of music
- Your amp is capable of distortion on its own
I’ll go through each reason individually, so you can figure out if they apply to you. Then I’ll go through some reasons why you might need a distortion pedal, and the best ones to go for if you decide you need one. So lets get started!
What is a Distortion Pedal
Before we go through the reasons why you might not need a distortion pedal, it’s a good idea to clarify exactly what one is first.
Distortion pedals create an enharmonic tone. This is a fancy word for saying that it adds distortion by interfering with the fundamental note you would hear without the distortion. They are used to provide a thicker tone with more sustain. But they can reduce the clarity of the note you’re playing, because that’s essentially what distortion is.
They are primarily used by hard rock and metal guitarists to create the signature sound you associated with those kinds of genres.
Distortion pedals are often confused with overdrive pedals, however, they are both pretty different. Distortion pedals are more aggressive and suit heavier styles of music, whereas overdrive pedals suit classic rock, blues and indie much more. The best way to describe an overdrive pedal is by saying it adds grit to your tone, without increasing the gain. There is less of an impact on the clarity of the note, as there is with distortion.
1. Your Tone Doesn't Need it
One of the main reasons why you might not need a distortion pedal, is because it’s not the right effect for the tone you’re going for.
As I said before, distortion pedals are used to add an aggressive and thicker tone. So if you don’t want this heavier tone, then you’ll definitely not want a distortion pedal.
Also, distortion pedals do reduce the clarity of your tone. Sometimes this is okay, and it’s what you’re looking for. Some guitarists are trying to get as far away as possible from a clean sounding tone, so distortion pedals can be a good way of doing this. But if you need to be able to clearly and precisely hear the individual notes and power chords, then a distortion pedal may be a bit too much.
Another reason why distortion pedals might not help you produce the tone you’re after, is because you are actually looking for an overdrive effect instead. For example, some people think that you need a distorted tone to sound more like Oasis, but they actually used overdrive instead. If you want to know more about overdrive pedals, then check out our guide on the Ibanez Tube Screamer to see if this is a better option for you.
2. It Doesn't Suit your Genre of Music
The second reason on this list why you might not need a distortion pedal, is because it’s not suited to your style of music.
This leads on from the point about the kind of tone you want. If you’re playing heavier styles of music like metal or hard rock, then using a distortion pedal is a great way to create this kind of tone. But if you’re playing lighter styles of music, like classic rock, indie or blues, then a distortion pedal won’t help you. If this is the case, then you’ll be better off with an overdrive pedal like the Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer.
3. Your Amp is Capable
Finally, you may not need a distortion pedal if your amp is capable of providing the distorted sound that you’re looking for.
This of course depends on the kind of amp you have. Some amps are much more equipped to produce a distorted tone, like the PRS Mark Tremonti Signature Amp. If you have an amp like this, then you may not need any help from a pedal to get the kind of tone that you’re looking for.
Also, if you are using a distorted tone throughout an entire song, then you might not need a pedal. One of the main advantages of pedals is that they allow you to change your tone midway through a song using just your foot, and without having to mess about with the dials on your amp. But if you want a consistent tone throughout the song, then you won’t need to be able to change midway through using a pedal.
Why you Might Need a Distortion Pedal
Okay, so now you know the main reasons why not all guitarists need a distortion pedal, what are the reasons why you should get one? Lets go through them now.
You Play Metal or Hard Rock
It’s best to start off by saying, that if you’re playing metal or hard rock, then a distortion pedal will be very useful. If you get a high quality distortion pedal, then it will allow you to get the authentic tone characteristic of this genre. It can be a lot easier than trying to mess about with your amp to get the perfect setting.
You Need Multiple Tones in One Performance
If you’re switching from a clean tone in a verse, to a heavier distorted tone in the chorus, or solo etc., then having a pedal will be a huge help. One of the best things about pedals, is that they allow you to change your tone super easily and quickly within a song without messing with your amp. This is pretty essential if you’re performing live.
You Need a Heavier Tone
Even if you don’t play metal or hard rock, then you may still benefit from the heavier distorted tone that a pedal will provide. It can be helpful in different genres of music and different styles of playing. For example, if you like to play covers of melodies in songs, then having this effect will allow you to cut through the other instruments. This is also really helpful if you’re playing lead guitar.
You’ve Got the Wrong Amp
Finally, if you’ve not got the right amp to create a distorted sound, then getting a distortion pedal is a lot cheaper than buying an entirely new amp to get the perfect tone. You might not have the right amp if you want a very distorted and heavy tone, and you’ve purchased an all-rounder type amp. Or if you’ve got a pretty cheap amp and don’t want to upgrade to a more expensive one yet.
Best Distortion Pedals
So if you’ve gone through this guide, and decided that distortion pedals are the right option for you, then you’re probably wondering which is the best one. So here’s a list of the best distortion pedals for every budget.
The Boss DS-1 is one of the most popular distortion pedals on the market. It’s affordable and high quality and has basically everything you could ask for. It has tone, level and distortion controls and solid built-quality in a compact and simple design. I was surprised at just how cheap the Boss DS-1 distortion pedal is on Guitar Centre. It’s very versatile and works really well as a booster pedal, plus the controls can be adjusted to play all kinds of styles.
Wampler Pinnacle Deluxe
The Wampler Pinnacle Deluxe is a high end distortion pedal capable of producing a thicker tone without really impacting clarity. If you’re interested in the Wampler Pinnacle Deluxe pedal, then you can pick it up from Guitar Center for a competitive price. It’s best known for its versatility, as it comes with a 3 Band EQ control, bright and bass boosts and a valve creamer for pre-gain boost. Plus it doubles as an overdrive pedal too so it’s great if you’re not sure which is the best to go for!
JHS ProCo Rat 2
The RAT is another classic distortion pedal. It’s a mid-range pedal which offers great value for money. It’s another very versatile pedal and can be used to boost solos, for heavy metal or even for punk and blues. It has a simple and clean looking design with distortion, filter and volume controls. The ProCo RAT 2 is a classic pedal for a reason, and is unlikely to disappoint.
MXR Fullbore Metal
If you’re looking for the ultimate heavy metal tone, without paying a fortune, then the MXR Fullbore Metal distortion pedal is what you need. You get super powerful gain, that is perfect if you want that classic hard rock or metal tone. It comes with a built-in noise gate so you can get a great tone without any of the hissing or humming associated with high gain. You also get a three-band EQ so you can create the perfect tone.
TC Electronic Dark Matter
The TC Electronic Dark Matter is the cheapest pedal on the list and can be picked up on Guitar Center for under $50. You’ll get a two-band EQ which allows you to control the bass and treble to produce a unique tone. It produces powerful distortion that’s great for metal, but can be dialled back to suit lighter styles of music like blues and classic rock equally well.
So that’s it! Thanks for reading, I hope you found this post helpful, here are some other articles you might find useful.