Since the 80’s metal form of music has been an ever growing genre. What makes a proper metal tone is the gain-rich Distortion effect.
In this review, we are going to throw light on the best distortion pedals which work great for metal music and how to dial in the perfect distortion in tone.
Before we start, we have selected the best picks in this category for you to be able to choose the best distortion pedal for yourself.
Buy the Best Distortion Pedals for Metal Guitars in 2020
In the world of guitar pedals electro Harmonix has a class of its own. Electro Harmonix Muff series is one of the most iconic effects in the history of guitar pedals. If you are a fan of heavy metal tone, then electro Harmonix Muff is your lucky boy! Lets begin with what this beast is capable of.
One thing common in the Muff series is its classic simple design. As usual it has a double wide chassis but comes with a twist of black finish. If we compare it to the other series of electro harmonix it shares no similarities rather its a whole new beast. In terms of ruggedness and durability of the pedal, it truly portrays the electro harmonix standard quality. Well for this part,we can say, there is no amount of abuse which can put a dent on this bad boy.
It comes with a true bypass switch. It can be powered either by a 9V battery which offers great portability or by a DC adapter. The only shortcoming we found is, mounting it on a pedal board might prove some inconvenience due to its size.
The moment you cast your eyes on the control panel you get an idea what this beast is capable of. There are several knobs located on the top of the pedal. To your surprise the gain knob is labeled as the Dist knob while the volume knob is labeled as it is. Then comes the three band EQ that’s rather responsive and precise. In the last there is a top boost knob with corresponding footswitch in the bottom of the pedal. In simple terms, you are getting two levels of gain in this box, one as a default and the other which you can switch on anytime when necessary. To critics it might look as an overkill but electro harmonix has put it together flawlessly.
It would be no exaggeration if we say that Electro Harmonix Metal Muff is the ultimate source of gain. It’s all you can ask from a Distortion pedal! To begin with, Metal Muff gives you a plexi like tone in the default mode. There is a lot of gain but it is well structured and balanced. When cranking up the dist knob clockwise it gives a smooth gain curve adding spice to the signal. Whereas the EQ section is nothing less than awesomeness. It not only helps in managing the gain but also offers colors of versatility.
Top Boost is where the metal muff touches heights of craziness. Right upto 10 o’clock position, this mode adds a whopping amount of dimension to the tone. But if you exceed this point things go a bit hectic. Overall this thing rocks n roll.
Electro Harmonix Metal Muff possesses great power, it can overwhelm you, if you dare to go too far. With that said, it gives the user a lot of freedom and versatility with most genuine Distortion effects we have heard so far.
Wampler isn’t a brand that releases guitar pedals very often but when it does, it gathers the attention of most in the market. Wampler triple wreck is one of the most capable and reliable pedals you can get for the metal tone. Let’s quickly take a look.
The moment you get into contact with this pedal you soon will realise that you are not dealing with an ordinary dist box. Wampler has taken things out of the box when it comes to the standard dist pedal design. Triple wreck is encased in a wide chassis with not so delicate graphics. It comes in a black simple yet clear exterior. The exterior is strong enough to be used as a deadly metal weapon. As you would expect there is nothing on stage which can break this sturdy boy.
Inputs and outputs ports are located in the back of the pedal, where you can also find a DC adapter port. To your surprise, this pedal can also be charged by a 9V battery regardless of its size.
Controls are probably what gives away the signature wampler triple wreck’s attitude. On the control panel we have simple volume and gain knobs beneath which three band EQ is positioned. Keep in mind surprises don’t end here, Wampler has installed two unique voicing options waiting for you to choose from. They are labelled as hard and brutal, each of these offers a unique gain curve.
Beside this, wampler went far with the mind blowing boost switch. Which seems a bit odd because wampler triple wreck is already a heavy gain pedal, but it adds on a whole new source of gain to slap its default levels. If we weren’t familiar with the wampler brand and model, the above build would sound completely foolish. However, it worked out beyond our expectations. Now whether its wampler reputation or its luck, all that matters is gain.
The results of wampler triple wreck has some similarity with the existing best metal amps. From what we have told you by now, you might have developed the perception that a triple wreck is just a raw gain pedal, which is difficult to harness or make sense of. But in reality, it sounds more like a 5150 on steroids. The unique hard mode offers a punch full of gain, fairly easy to use, while the brutal as label suggests takes the brakes off the bus. It would be fair to say adding EQ was a necessity. It not only helps you to adjust the tone closer to your ideal but it also controls the entire gaim curve by smoothing it out. Wampler triple wreck allows greater versatility than it appears to be at first.
Wampler triple wreck is a unique, no-nonsense gain pedal you will find in the market. It sounds more like a proper tube amp and feels like a beast ready to unleash itself. With some experimentation you will be able to assess its strengths and friendliness as a stompbox.
You might be aware of the fact that MXR is best known for the modulation effects, they definitely know how to create a proper Distortion effect. MXR M116 Fullbore Metal is one of the best distortion pedals used for heavier genres of music, while offering custombility of performance at its best.
Contemporary Distortion pedals are tricky piece of device hard to harness completely. Nowadays markets are full of Distortion pedals which offer low quality and overly added gain to your signal. But when it comes to MXRM116 Fullbore Metal its not one of them. The pedal looks somewhat raw at first glance, though it comes in the usual MXR chassis. This time MXR has left the metal untreated rather than wrapping the pedal in black or orange. The metal body goes well with what this pedal is capable of.
In terms of durability it can cater any kind of abuse without leaving a dent on self. This is definitely the MXR kinda thing. As usual the pedal can be powered with a DC adapter or 9V battery.
When looking at the control panel it reveals something interesting,M116 has more potential than meets the eye. At your disposal you have standard volume and gain knob but this is not it. You have few other tools also available. MXR offers a three band EQ which is very responsive in nature and relatively covers a broad range. Next on the list is the frequency knob, which works in harmony with the mid knob, to shape up the frequencies ranging from 50Hz to around 200Hz.
Well there are two more knobs to uncover, one is labelled as gate and the other as scoop. The former serves as your noise gate and is pretty reliable. While scoop is pretty self explanatory, it scoops your mids. It might seem confusing to you, but once you start using the M116, things fall perfectly together and make sense.
What makes MXRM116 Fullbore Metal beautiful and unique is its wide range of versatility. The core sound comes in the form of signature distortion effect which balances out the gain and clarity of signal. With a number of controls available, you can dial in any tone to fit a variety of applications. In general, MXR distinguishes well between the useless gain and a proper distortion. What makes it even more desirable, is the economy it offers for a decent performance. Those who are fans of thrash metal can easily access it by tuning the scoop knob, while it also offers a thick, modern metal sound.
In a market full of uncontrollable gain bombs MXRM116 Fullbore Metal is your savior. It delivers the right amount of heat and offers necessary tools to harness the heavy gain, with the advantage of a reasonable price. In our books, it’s a perfect blend of performance and economy.
Rocktron Metal Planet, has the term metal in its name and with no surprises offers face melting distortion. If that’s what you’re chasing, you will be pleased to know that this pedal is one of the most capable distortion pedals in the market and thus makes a place on our list. Lets check it out.
Drifting away from the standard conventional metal pedals, Rocktron Metal Planet comes in a wide chassis with matt black finish. It offers nothing unusual when talking about the designs but once you lay your hands on this pedal it instills a new level of confidence in your performance. It is robust and sturdy in nature, capable of tolerating the standard level of abuse on the stage.
Inputs and outputs are located on the sides of the pedal, making the handling more convenient. In terms of power you have both options, either to use a DC adapter or a 9V battery. The battery compartment is made super easy which makes it a pretty practical pedal to use.
There are few features on the control panel which stands out. There is no top boost knob available for the starters which is popular nowadays. Instead all of the gain potential is mounted in the Distortion knob. Beside a level and bypass switch, there is four band EQ. Yes you heard it right, aside the regular Treble, Mid and Bass controls, you also get a Mid Frequency control. The latter serves as a filter, dictating that mids EQ.
Instead of messing the control panel with numerous dials, they have packaged all the features in two duel purpose knobs. While it might seem very practical on paper but can lead to serious confusion with adjusting the modes in a dark stage performance.
At first glance, we got a very raw and senseless impression of this Distortion pedal. But when it comes to performance, it offers a lot of interesting stuff.
For starters, the gain might feel overpowering, however after a few minutes of playing with control slowly you start to get hold of this beast. Once you understand the mechanics, you become capable of harnessing the massive gain and giving your music a perfect sense. It doesn’t take much time to figure out why they omitted the top boost, although it might have made the pedal more orderly. Currently the entire gain curve is available at your hands, which takes some time to master. At the end of the day, you can easily dial a variety of metal tones.
Rocktron Metal Planet might feel barbaric to you in first use. However the more you play with the controls the more it starts to make sense. With a massive low end, loads of gain and an extended EQ section, this pedal is definitely a force multiplier and real beast to unleash.
The most popular distortion pedal for metal around the world is none other than the Boss Metal Zone MT-2. It is the prototype for all the distortion pedals, loved and hated by many. Lets check out what it has to offer us.
Boss is one of those brands which follows a signature style, it doesn’t apply to its circuitry rather its chassis design. Boss MT-2 comes in the same usual design, capable of enduring ultimate abuse on the stage. To be honest, by looks its not something extraordinary but that is not what boss is all about. What makes boss MT-2 the most recognizable pedal is its color code. Its comes wrapped in a sleek black finish with orange labels and markings. You just cannot miss it. In terms of power, you can use a 9V battery or a DC adapter. Overall it looks like an average boss package from the exterior.
Due to the space limitations, boss is forced to be creative in case of the control panel. Boss metal zone is a fine example of this creativity. In the making of boss metal zone they were challenged to cluster six knobs in a limited space. So they introduced two duel function knobs.
From left to right we see a level knob followed by a low/hi knob.next comes the mid section which houses both mid control and mid frequency control. Lastly we have the gain knob labelled as Dist. In practical terms, these knobs are best to use in relaxed environments but when on stage it can be a real pain, as it gets difficult to make the appropriate adjustments. With that said, its best to find the settings of your choice beforehand, rather than messing with controls on stage.
When it comes to the performance, the sound of metal MT-2 revolves around great controversy and heated debate. One side claims the pedal to be a total trash will the other side claims it to be a reasonable tool. We personally are inclined towards the latter group. To be fair to the critics its extremely very easy to find a decent tone on this gear. However decent always does not contain a positive meaning. MT-2 is capable of some serious heavy gain, which makes it vital for you to understand its mechanics of playing. The only way to understand this beast is some time and experimentation. As you start messing around with controls soon you will realize how much versatility this pedal offers. Metal zone gives a very specialized effect but there is still room for further exploration. The only thing to be cautious about is your settings and the best way to do it, is to be slow and steady.
Metal Zone MT-2 is one of the iconic distortion boxes in the market. Though it requires some practice and effort on your part to master it, otherwise you might fall prey to nasty settings that do not match with the mix.
When you are looking for portability, affordability and an effective distortion pedal, TC Electronic Dark Matter is your thing. At the moment its one of the best low budget choices if you are looking for a decent distortion box for metal. Lets take a closer look at what it has to offer with such an affordable price.
Where most guitar pedal brands are busy in recreating the vintage vibe TC Electronic Dark Matter is all about the future. That is, they are trying to invest as much performance as possible in a super portable size chassis. When it comes to TC Electronic Dark Matter, it is simple, portable and ultimately durable. It would be no less to say that its chassis boosts confidence in you and your performance.
When looking at the finishing of this dist box its not something eye-catching but yet again it has very nicely pulled off aesthetics out of simplicity. The labels and logo are painted with white color, that looks pretty fine. To be honest this box isn’t meant to be the feast for your eyes but its uncompromising gain is surely the cherry on topping.
The controls layout and selection is engineered according to the capabilities of this beast. There are four knobs in total, two of which are the standard volume and gain. While the other to form a two-band EQ which lacks mid controls. Now it might be a total turn off for some but the lack of mid in EQ does not affect the sound much. Keeping its signature style intact, TC Electronic Dark Matter has placed a toggle switch on the panel. Where usually on other pedals it works as a toneprint control but in TC Electronic Dark Matter it alters the low end. Or you can say it gives the sound a little bit more dimension and width.
Till now you must be curious about the sound of this pedal? Well answer to this question is, what is going to matter in the end. It sounds like a tube amp pushed to its limits, but it isn’t an overdrive rather shares some of its instincts. Whilst its an extremely versatile pedal, contrasting range from classic rock to modern metal. It all depends on the amount of gain you choose into tone and as well how much you dial into the EQ. The controls are easily comprehensible and with little experimentation you can easily pull over the desirable amount of gain. To be honest its far more capable of Distortion than we expected.
If we sum up, TC Electronic Dark Matter is the best choice for metal fans on a reasonable budget. It gives more than a pleasing amount of gain with extremely simple and practical controls. In short its a good deal with a reasonable level of performance.
As you know Boss is one of the most popular brands in the market when it comes to guitar pedals. So is the Boss DS-1X is one of the most iconic pedals ever made. However despite the popular perception, Boss DS-1X is something completely different and new.
Today in this review we are going to prove that why you can never be wrong with Boss DS-1X. So Lets take a closer look.
Its popular that if you have seen one Boss pedal, you surely have seen them all. It is somehow true for most of the part. Boss DS-1X chassis is nothing new to witness. It’s the same old design we have seen a long time ago. As the color coding of Boss is almost the same, so many people confuse between Boss DS-1X and DS1. There is a very slight difference in the orange finish but its almost the same as classic DS1.
But once you cast your eyes on the controls you soon realise its completely different pedal that you might have ever seen. It can be powered by a 9V battery or a DC adapter. In terms of durability Boss has always proven to be the best.
When it comes to the design of Boss DS-1X, Boss has kept it as simple as possible. As Opposed to the recently launched models, DS-1X simplicity comes as a relief. It offers the standard level and gain knobs with a two EQ band. It might be disappointing for those who are fond of scooped mids but the simple selection of controls is one of the traits which makes this pedal an awesome choice. Level and dist knobs are pretty self explanatory. The low and high knobs have a lot of range, but they really don’t overlap much. When tuning fine tones the lack of mid control can be felt. Despite this fact Boss DS-1X is pretty responsive and user friendly, although it might take some of your time to get used to it.
Now coming to the performance of this pedal, if you are a fan of high gain, thick distortion this pedal is surely not your gear to buy. It is more tame than a beast. Its pretty good reminisce of the 80’s metal box. Think of Van Halen tones with a bit of clarity and sparkle in the trebles. If we see overall, Boss DS-1X responds well to both single coils and humbuckers, making it a decent choice for a wide range of users. Its not something extraordinary but it has a personality of its own which we have grown to like.
We can say Boss DS-1X is a perfect bridge between classic DS1 and your modern distortion pedal. Its simply reliable, user friendly and consistent. If you are a fan of more classic metal or just like a bit of it, Boss DS-1X is absolutely your gear to play with.
You might have not heard much about Fulltone OCD drive pedal but what has made it to our top 10 list today is its super smooth and well tamed overdrive with the capacity of turning into a beast when heavy gain is kicked in. It was initially not designed for heavy metal but is capable of adapting to any kind of heavy playing. Enough said, lets take a closer look.
Fulltone OCD drive comes in a beautifully compact yet sturdy white built, capable of enduring any kind of abuse on stage. Its control panel is very clean and neatly labelled in black color, with a ocd logo in the center of the pedal. When you first look at this dist box it seems like it does not have much to offer but once you plug it on, you get to see its real power. Fulltone has kept its design and manual very simple and clean. It is powered by either a 9V battery or DC adapter.
It comprises three knobs, which control the standard drive, tone and volume of your tone. There is also a switch for high and low peaks which take your performance from a clean overdrive to crazy gain. It also has a true bypass switch.
When talking about the performance and results of ocd, it is no exaggeration to say that it gives your tone the heavy crunch of an amp tube, as well as the sensitivity and response to your playing style. What we like most is how this dist box gives you plenty of tonal range when you switch into quieter passage. Lower volume does not mean you miss out rather you can play a lot of songs with peaks and troughs.
What makes it a best choice is its exceptionally smooth overdrive with the capacity to handle any type of heavy playing and its sustainable tonal range at low volumes.
MXR M75 is one of the coolest distortion pedals available in the market. As you might be aware with the quality and versatility that MXR offers in its pedals so without much big words let’s have a quick look at what M75 has to offer us.
MXR is famous for offering simplicity with ruggedness, the same quality does MXR M75 delivers. The rugged metal chassis of M75 makes it look like a real badass to rock the stage anywhere with minimal damage from the heavy abuse. It has no match in durability and versatility. It features five control knobs, which are big and tall in size, which makes it easier for on the fly adjustments and tone monitoring.
The control panel features fives knobs and a true bypass switch. All the knobs are clearly labelled and placed without jumbling up the controls in less space. It has an output and distortion switch which is self explanatory. It also features a three band EQ and a dedicated frequency control knob that allows for an impressive distortion adjustment range. The three EQ knobs are the bass, mid and treble. What’s best about MXR M75 is that it makes it possible to sweep the medium frequencies to create an even crunchier and extraordinary sound.
Now you might be thinking what it sounds like? There is only one word to define it as a ‘ true badass’ performer. It gives an extensive tonal range with a perfect heavy gain and metal distortion. This who like to play with mids this beast is for them to unleash. The only downside which we could find is that it takes a bit of time messing around with this beast to master. We think that is not a problem once you uncover this dist box true potential.
At the end of the day, we must say you can never go wrong with MXR M75 if you are into heavy metal. This badass distortion pedal is really going to burn up your performance to the next level. In short, its box of great versatility and heavy gain.
Blackstar HT-METAL is one of most capable distortion pedals for metal available in the market.so today we are going to look closely at what it has to offer us!
As soon as you unpack this dist box, it gathers your attention with its unique biscuit metallic chassis and genuine valve design. At this stage you might feel its different from the rest, yes surely it is! It is capable of giving you extreme confidence and endless gain. Its powered by a 300V high-voltage valve circuits which yet again is not something usual.
It has six knobs to experiment with extra tweaking of your sound. The most unique feature is its patented ISF knob (i-e infinite shape feature) , which allows you to play with mid-range to make it more audible when playing heavy metal. It also offers a high integrity buffered silent switching.
The blackstar HT-METAL is a no compromise, two channel pedal, the two channels offer ultimate versatility, allowing you to switch from clean playing to brutal rhythm and heavy fuzz just in a matter of seconds. This feature is surely to die for, for heavy metal players.
Now you must be wondering about how the HT-METAL sounds, well well! It offers a cascaded valve design with extreme gain stages. Its tone responds like a valve amp with clean, overdrive and super high gain lead mode.
What makes this pedal on our list is its ability to deliver exceptionally high gain and offers two channels for switching between clean and heavy playing. We must say if you are a fan of heavy gain and love creating exceptions then you won’t regret buying it.
What makes a good metal tone?
Distortion as a guitar effect, has gained popularity in recent years. Although it’s applicable in other genre music, its most popular use is by metal players. The question ‘what makes a good metal tone?’ is controversial in nature. Who will not like a proper tube amplifier to get all of its music needs filled by its dirty channels? The only problem with those amplifiers is that they cost a great deal of money. A more affordable option to get ur metal pangs fulfilled is by a good Distortion pedal. In this way you dont need an amplifier to take care of your gain needs, the dist pedal does it all
Here we want to mention that you cannot compare a distortion pedal with a dynamic range of proper tube amp. If given the choice most of the guitar players will go with an amp because it offers much higher resolution, wider range tone than a distortion pedal ever can. In short distortion pedals are just a mini version of amps but it doesn’t mean u cannot get awesome results with it.
How to dial in a good metal tone?
As mentioned earlier there is no clear definition of a good metal tone. Although some mistakes should be avoided while playing the heavy game of metal. The issue with distortion pedal is also one of the factors which makes it a success ls its heavy gain. Usually beginners indulge loads of gain in their signal then scoop the mids and max out bass and treble, it may sound great in your private space but would not work on the stage.
Now here’s a trick, when you add gain to your sound signal, you are actually reducing the resolution of your tone. The best you can do is to feed in a balance gain to your guitar signal that doesn’t drown out its tone. That is just by reducing the gain to a sensible level will surely make you stand out from the rest of the band much easier. So simply put, adjusting a balanced gain can yield a very powerful guitar tone that actually lacks nothing.
Choosing the right pedal when playing metal
Now the question, how to choose the best distortion pedal which assures to cater all your metal needs relies heavily on your personal preferences. Your choice is also limited to the genre of metal and your role in the band. For starters its better to find out something neutral and less wild. By this we mean a distortion pedal which isn’t too heavy on gain and have some decent tone shaping options.
The last thing you should consider while choosing ur distortion pedal is noise. In more casual environment you can get away with it but on a stage its just turns into getting hit by rotten tomatoes. Most of the models on the review list are mostly quiet, some more than other. Like the MXR M116 Fullbore metal comes with a noise gate which definitely controls excessive noise in the signal.
Minimising the effect of gain on your tone
Gain is like a sharp double edged sword, it is so easy to go overboard without even noticing. What turns gain into a wild beast is that many guitarists put the distortion plug straight into a clean channel which as result offers the fastest route to half decent tone. What’s wrong with this method is that it can overwhelm you in a matter of seconds.
A much better remedy is to plug your distortion box in a dirty channel of amplifier. This way you are not adding the amp with outside gain rather using it as a boost to your dirty channel. The only caution you can take is to dial in a balanced gain on your distortion box and you can nail your performance by such an ease.
Are distortion pedals useful in a more serious setup?
As said earlier, the ultimate way to switch in distortion in your music signal is by using a good tube amplifier but this doesn’t make the distortion pedals useless. Nothing is useless in this world what matter is our preferences are . In simple analogy, a chef will use all the required spices to cook a special dish but he might add more of his favourite herbs. Same is the case with guitarists they might use different sources of distortion to add in their performance but for added pinch of girth might use a distortion pedal.