Your first impression of the phrase ‘Distortion’ may be the feeling of someone who is overplaying their guitar; and when the volume amp is exceeding the limit and the tone is becoming distorted, it might not sound too pleasant.
However, overdrive or distortion soon becomes an inspiring phenomenon for the spirit of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal – It is because of its power. Distorted sound effects, when successfully used, could really bring you extra life to your playing with its ultimately powerful, manly, rough tone. The use of distortion can make every sound have its own personality and makes other instruments look primitive and obsolete. That’s why for a lot of touring musicians or players, the right distortion is the most important pedal on the board.
The raspy, rough tone of a distorted electric guitar effect is an irreplaceable element of many genres, including blues and many rock music genres such as rock n roll, hard rock, punk rock, hardcore punk, acid rock, and heavy metal music. While the combination of the distorted effect and bass guitar has been essential in a genre of hip hop music and alternative hip hop.
There are many types of equipment that provide you the Distortion, Overdrive, and Fuzz effect from pedals, rackmounts, pre-amplifiers, power amplifiers to speakers and digital amplifier modeling devices, and audio software. These effects are used with electric guitars, electric basses (fuzz bass), electronic keyboards, and more rarely as a special effect with vocals.
So, in this topic, we would love to give you the picture of the ultimate, killer weapon – the distortion effect.
|Contents: 1. A short brief for a new-in-town 2. How it works? Over-drive vs Distortion vs Fuzz 3. How to effectively use Distortion Pedals. 4. Review 7 best distortion pedals|
- A SHORT BRIEF FOR A NEW-IN-TOWN
The Distortion effect (or you may hear some of the phrases like Fuzz, Overdrive, Reverb and Delay) are the effects equipment (pedals, racks, etc) that offer you the ability to change the sound and the tone of a musical instrument in a way that you’re keen or the music genre probably requires. That’s one of the reasons why, besides the arrangement, one song could be so different depending on the guitarist. Effects soon become the irreplaceable elements to create your own styles.
Dynamic effects alter an audio signal based upon its frequency content and amplitude level – Compression, Distortion, Overdrive, Fuzz
Modulation Effects – Wah Wah, Phaser, Flanger, Chorus, Pitch, Octave…
Time-based effects – Reverb, Delay, and Echo
Spectral effects – EQ and Panning
- HOW DISTORTION EFFECT WORKS.
The first guitar amplifiers invented were kind of quality, and often distorted the tone when their volume (gain) was increased to exceed their designed limit or if they had some minor damages. However, in the 50s, many blues bands took this flaw in their current amp to create some of the “low-down and dirty” bluesy sounds. In rock, the player often turned the amp’s volume’s knob all the way to the point the speaker started screaming for a grittier, nastier, more ferocious electric guitar sound
In the 1960s and early 1970s, fuzz effect or distorted effect devices were introduced and widely used in the music industry. Hard rock bands such as Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath forged what would eventually become the heavy metal sound through the combined use of high volumes and heavy distortion.
Technically, in every distortion equipment, the dry signal sound wave will run through two main processes called Saturation and Clipping for a distorted tone.
Saturation is a linear process, or “volume adjustment” that the dry signal will be amplified in a proportional (or “linear”) way so as to dramatically increase or decrease the volume of the sound without changing the tone quality
Clipping, or commonly known as overdrive, is a non-linear process that reproduces the frequencies in the audio signal. These frequencies can be harmonic overtones, not depending on whether the input signal frequencies are already in harmony. The clipping process could be a “Soft-Clipping” or a “Hard Clipping”
The graph illustrated the amplify of the signal and the clipping process
Illustrated in the graph, after the wave’s amplitude increases, the signal peaks cross the dotted lines, the system is unable to recreate this part of the signal. So, “Soft clipping” gradually flattens the peaks of a signal in both positive and negative cycles which creates a number of higher harmonics that share a harmonic relationship with the original tone, while “Hard clipping” will cut the peaks abruptly, resulting in higher power in higher harmonics. The more clipping is increased, the more the signal resembles a square-wave. As a result, the tone becomes “harsh”, raspy and screaming.
Overdrive vs Distortion vs Fuzz
Is there any better way to recognize a sound than literally listen to it? Of course not. Therefore, take a look at this short video to have a full view of this.
If you are not a seasoned player, recognizing the difference between these three will be a huge challenge. It is because these three commonly used effects literally share the same principles. The only difference is how harsh the effect is applied. That requires good ears rather than knowledge
Overdrive is the most “gentle” among these three friends. The dynamic is far more sensitive. The harder you play the more distortive it gets.
Distortion adds a consistent crunch or growling to what you’re playing. While an overdrive takes your original tone and pushes it harder, a distortion pedal is more like a narcissistic friend that they don’t really care about how you are trying to sound.
Fuzz is the most aggressive style of compressed distortion. Fuzz heavily alters the waveform into a square wave and brings you the fear of severely breaking your amp.
- HOW TO EFFECTIVELY USE DISTORTION PEDAL
Distortion pedals can be used in several ways, from providing all the gain into a clean amp to ramping up an overdrive channel into infinity. Distortion pedals are usually put at the beginning of the chain by many guitarists though it’s not unheard for some to run theirs at the end or even in the effects loop.
Mentioning the functions you can probably find in a distortion pedal, there are not many. But here are some:
Input/Output: These jackholes can easily found in a regular pedal and it’s your choice to decide when and where to put it in your effect chain.
Level: controls the intensity of the effect applies to the duplicated dry input signal
Bass and Treble: Like the name, these knobs offer you the ability to alter the sound higher or deeper in proportion
- 7 BEST DISTORTION PEDALS
1. Electro-Harmonix Soul Food
There is no doubt that Electro-Harmonix is on the list because of its reputation among the popular names in the effect pedal market. With this Soul Food pedal version, you may probably find the sound somewhere in the middle of fuzz but not too extra. And it’s perfectly fit for the fan of jazz and blues but loves to add some rock flavour.
You can easily switch from a clean boost to rich distortion, or turn it to the destructive point for an aggressive, distorted lead tone. One of the advantages is with a higher drive setting, you can somehow adjust your mids so that the mix tone would be more chill and pleasant. And the treble is designed to reproduce a transparent sound quality. The offer of a true bypass or buffered bypass is a huge plus for those who are looking for a versatile pedal.
Inspired with a vintage concept, light yellow creaming cover with a contemporary typo, Soul Food not only set a distinguished look from other competitors but also quite parallel with the undoubted quality of the brand.
+Switch between True or Buffer Bypass
+ Transparent sound quality
+ Vintage Look
2. Boss MD-2 Mega Distortion
With the Boss brand, you may find the DS-1 version more popular of all the kinds, and also, more reviews could be found with the DS-1 version. But if you are looking for a more effective one within the same price range, this MD-2 Mega Distortion is not a bad option. It is because MD-2 can work well whether you are keen on a heavy or light tone of distortion. So it must be more useful for those who have diverse needs.
The tone can be switched from thick and full, with smooth saturation to light and warm, it’s kinda like a fuzz-style distortion which means it’ll sound messier in the high setting with treble-leaning EQs.
MD-2 Mega Distortion is a perfect match for those who need a modern distortion pedal that can also get light and subtle
+ Four-band distortion EQ
+ Good on the lead and rhythm side
+ Heavy saturation
+ Five-year warranty
+ True bypass excluded
+ Lack of noise gate control
3. Pro Co RAT2
What makes Pro Co RAT2 stand out is not only thanks to the legendary ancestor, but also the tone it produces fits right in between a not-too-aggressive overdrive and a too-extra distortion. If you require a strong growling, screaming lead, this item is the one but not only that it can also be more controlled, in a shaped, compressed rhythm. With the ability to adjust the “filter” function, you can either cut out some of the high frequencies or play a little bit gentle and chill
This unit literally hasn’t changed much in style from the 80s version, still grey, shaped like a rock. But it’s not a bad thing after all because the quality has been proven. Maybe its reputation speaks for itself.
+ A Legendry distortion pedal
+ Versatile usage
+ Incredible quality
+ Though it’s not the right fit if you have a poor budget, the price is really impressive compared to the benefit it would bring to your sound.
4. EarthQuaker Acapulco Power Amp
It’s stunning! That’s a compliment for this golden vibes, treasuring, artistic design pedal. This could be the coolest looking item you have ever found. The mixing of the smooth black background with the gold artwork and a huge knob right in the face may cause you confusion whether you should purchase a good quality one or a good looking one.
What about its sound? Powerful. It could be a poor function, single knob pedal, but that function is an impactful one. When turning the knob to the right, you will experience a crazy powerful distortion or fuzz. Therefore, it is noted that the pedal’s sound is influenced considerably by the guitar output that means with the right set up, the tone would become less aggressive like a fuzz.
Unlike the sparkling out-look, the EarthQuaker is kind of an ideal robust one for those who are looking for some “cool stuff”. The only discomfort you may probably find is that the beautiful large knob may be a bit higher when put to other pedals in a chain.
+ Gorgeous look
+ Loud, right-enough distortion
+ Superb build quality
+ The knob may be quite big when put together with other pedals.
5. MXR M75 Super Badass
A badass guy may bring you an unexpected experience. With this “super badass,” your experience would be beyond a normal just-a-pedal feeling. This item is super versatile, capable of offering you everything from light overdrive to growling, screaming distortion.
This is because this pedal is fully equipped from head to toe with five separate knobs on the body from the bass, mid and treble, even the output and distortion. It is perfect for those who expect a deep, careful adjustment for creating your own unique sound. You can do whatever you want except maximizing the volume to your expectation, that’s the only disadvantage of this item.
Sound quality is great due to the analog components inside. The outlook is simple and strong with a metal solid case. This Badass just fits right in, not too simple, not too much.
+ Easy to personalize your own unique sound
+ Good analog sound quality
+ True bypass
+ May not exceed your gain expectation
6. Xotic Effects SL Drive
What makes this Xotic Effects SL Drive stand out from all the pedals mentioned in the list is probably the unique tone it produces. This fat, warm tone is very “Marshall”, and of course, you could easily emulate the sound of an overdriven Marshall without an actual Marshall amp.
Besides the tone, drive, and volume knobs on the surface, there are Super Lead and Super Bass dip switches on the inside that you can customize your own sound. With the warm, high-end quality and easy to alter, you will experience many different things with this compact-size pedal.
The look may not be too impressive for the high price. But every boutique item has it distinguished strength to be worthy.
+ Super high quality
+ Unique distorted sound
+ Plenty of customization available
+ A boutique price
7. Empress Effects Heavy
The advantages of this “The Heavy by Empress Effects” lies in two ultimate points: High gain and control versatility.
With a bunch of function knobs, your customized tone could be big, thick, and saturated or also smooth and tight, even in more intense settings. Power chords sound full and responsive, while palm-muting gives off a distinct and satisfying chunk.
This item is perfectly fit for metal, tinkering, and high gain fan stylistically, but you can alter the function for other genres as well. With the right setting, Empress Effect Heavy could be a great partner no matter who you are in the studio or on stage.
The only disadvantage is probably the boutique price, however, if you are a true fan of distortion, this item won’t fail you.
+ Dual channels
+ Many function control
+ Analog sound quality
+ Warm, saturated tone
+ Noise gate supported