Distortion Pedal Buyers Guide
Distortion pedals include Fuzz and Overdrive. Both produce a warm and gritty sound. Fuzz produces a more distorted buzzy sound as in the Rolling Stones “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” while overdrive gives a warm tube-amp sound.
A Brief History of Overdrive
The overdrive sound originally came from a tube amp phenomenon. When you drive the signal beyond the capacity of the power amp, you get clipping (the cutting off of the top of the sound wave) which produces a gritty distorted sound. Some players achieved this by removing one of the tubes in the power amp or using lower wattage amps and turning them up higher. Later the sound could be achieved with less bother (or risk of shock) by turning up the preamp volume and reducing the master volume control of the amp. Early Marshall amps didn’t have a master volume control so some players would daisy chain two channels together to overdrive the amp. Later, distortion pedals added to a huge variety of gritty distorted tones available for all styles, from classic rock to heavy metal.
Fuzz Tone Distortion
Fuzz was first used by the Rolling Stones in (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. According to Keith Richards, he originally planned to use horns: “The fuzz tone came in handy so I could give shape to what the horns were supposed to do. But the fuzz tone had never been heard before anywhere, and that’s the sound that caught everybody’s imagination.” Keith never used the effect again, preferring not to repeat himself.
There are many good distortion pedals out there, offering a great variety of tonal characteristics. Here are some you might consider:
Boss is the name to be reckoned with for the sheer number and variety of distortion pedals its offers. Boss covers all bases, from the heavy metal overdrive tones of the Boss MT-2 Metal Zone pedal, to the Boss FZ5 fuzz pedal, to the hugely popular and value priced SD1 Super Overdrive Pedal. Boss pedals are known for durability and value. For a great all around pedal, consider the Boss BC-2 Combo Drive pedal. Starting from the sounds of classic British tube combo amps, The BC-2 lets you dial in power and tone that far exceed what the original amps could do.
MXR is another great name in distortion pedals with a number of great products. The Custom Badass 78 Distortion Pedal is well worth your consideration for its classic amp stack distortion tones and hot rodded circuitry.
For those on a budget, a great place to start is with the Fender Starcaster Distortion EQ Pedal. This is a very versatile pedal, ruggedly built, and at an incredibly low price. This is the perfect way to start your effects collection.