In addition to being a private violin teacher, Alecia started writing music-related articles 3 years ago and has been enjoying this experience greatly. Loves quilting and scrapbooking in her free time.
Marcus has a vast experience in digital audio and sound design. Thanks to his knowledge, he actively helps musicians with technical problems, improving their audio quality and even promoting their tracks so that thousands of listeners could enjoy some really good music.
Last updated: February 18, 2021
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While some metal guitarists may criticize the use of pedals in metal guitar music, it is clear that pedals offer guitarists of all standards an affordable option to create more diverse harmonics and tonal varieties to enhance metal music playing.
Distortion pedals are relatively small devices that are designed to improve the sound of the music coming from the guitar. Metal is one of the most difficult genres to play since it is very fast-paced and requires a good degree of technical knowledge to enhance the musical feel. Distortion pedals are a way in which metal music can become more accessible to beginner guitarists are those wishing to transition or incorporate elements of metal music into their own playing. It is important to remember that purchasing a distortion pedal is a very personal choice that you should take your time over. It is personal in terms of musicality but also practicality as aspects such as pedal size and transportability should be important considerations before you commit to purchasing.
This article provides in-detail reviews with some of the best distortion pedals for metal music currently on the market. In addition, the article also includes a comprehensive buying guide and FAQ section to cover all the necessary information you need before purchasing a distortion pedal for metal music. The buying guide covers aspects such as power, size and weight and warranty information to guide you in the difficult choice of selecting the right distortion pedal for you.
The Triple Wreck is possibly one of the best-designed metal distortion pedals available on the market giving some of the heaviest and cleanest distortions sounds you may have ever heard. The sound created by the Triple Wreck is so strong and distinctive that some have concluded that it sounds similar to a 5150® amp.
Featuring three band EQ which gives you full access to low, mid, and high tones, the Triple Wreck prevents peaking out of the low and high tones. The pedal is so versatile you will definitely be able to recreate those iconic high notes and even discover your own unique tone that will define your musical style.
There are two clear voices available with the Triple Wreck pedal, referred to as Hard and Brutal. The Hard voice provides a higher gain with a gentler thump compared to the Brutal voice setting which is more sparkly and resembles a full audio spectrum.
You may be surprised to learn that in addition to the high gain sound transmitted by the Triple Wreck, the pedal also features a boost switch. The boost switch works remarkably well with the high gain, giving a couple of options on the Boost Contour blend control. The boost enables a counter-clockwise distortion effect which multiplies the distortion giving a bold sound that is perfect for solos.
The sound of the Triple Wreck is so strong and distinctive but also has the versatility that would encourage all types of electric guitarists to purchase. Whether you want fuzzy tones or brutal ear-popping distortion, the Triple Wreck is certainly will not disappoint.
What we liked:
Boost switch gives more sound options
Perfect for solos
Low to high gain tones
What could be better:
Requires good knowledge level to operate effectively
The Sweet Tea V3 is a well-rounded guitar pedal that can cover a variety of music genres including blues, rock, and heavy metal. The Sweet Tea V3 is perfect for those interested in developing medium to high gain tones to create a distinctive sound.
On the right side of the pedal unit is the new developed Moonshine V2, which creates a very unique version of the best-known overdrive that has ever been developed. One of the main additions to the Moonshine V2 is the increased gain, volume and tones that are available to enrich the distinctive mid-heavy tones. The “Clean” knob has also been added to mix the right amount of clean signal with the signal of the overdrive.
On the left side of the pedal unit is the latest iteration of the Angry Charlie, known as the V3, which has been very popular in recent years. It has high volume, drive, and the full Bass, Mid, and Treble tone stack, exactly the same as what you would expect on the amp.
The Sweet Tea V3 also includes the classic switching toggle which allows players to have the option to select the most suitable stacking tones to match musical choices. Whether you combine tones are used separately, the Sweet Tea V3 gives sufficient levels of overdrive to prick up ears.
It is also important to note that the Sweet Tea V3 pedal requires a standard 9V DC Negative power and consumes 51mA that measures 4.7”x3.7″x1.5″. It has more overdrive and distortion tones than you’ll know what to do with and is fully independent Moonshine V2 and Angry Charlie V3 circuits.
This Empress Effects dual-channel distortion pedal is renowned for providing fantastic high gain tones that are perfect for heavy metal music. This box of sonic might is perfecting for those wanting to rock out to some brutal distortions.
The pedal contains two independent channels known as Heavy and Heavier which can be similarly voiced to enable one channel to serve as the solo boost. Alternatively, both channels can be voiced completely differently through using the mid-range control as well as the mid frequency switch.
The Empress Effects pedal allows you to create a remarkably heavy sound. This happens through changing the lower end response of each channel by adding in different weight controls as well as fine-tuning your amp and cab combination by utilizing the global hi/low eq section.
Another bonus of the Empress Effects pedal is the very responsive and easy-to-use noise gate which guarantees a completely silent operation even when there are supremely high levels of gain being added through the pedal. This ensures that there will be as little or as much noise as you wish to come from the signal chain.
The pedal is also a very small size and is very easy to pack-up and transport to your various performance or practice locations.
A limitation of the Empress Effects pedal is the fact that the signal path is analog only. Some may prefer the back-up of digital access in areas of low analog signal paths. This is ultimately down to personal preference.
Maxon’s well-known “808” overdrive circuit has been an important ingredient in creating distinctive guitar tones over the last few decades. Despite the legendary status, the classic “808” did leave some guitarists wanting more, which has led to the development of the Maxon OD808X Overdrive Extreme.
Featuring all the classic Maxon features including the basic circuit architecture, the OD808X Overdrive Extreme has been altered to create a stronger more memorable overdrive tone.
Additions to the OD808X Overdrive Extreme include a wider frequency response to extend the tonal range of hi-frequency tones with becoming too overbearing and remaining very clear and crisp. The model also features a clipper pattern that is much harder than previous models to enable chord ringing through the driving tonal characteristics.
The added +5 dB of output level is also a significant new development of the OD808X that will certainly drive through the densest recordings with a superiority that previous models simply could not match. The added top-end levels also give the opportunity for the OD808X to be stacked on top of other pedals and the sound will not get crowded out.
Compared to the classic “808”, the touch and feel of the OD808X are remarkably similar, demonstrating the much-appreciated transparency associated the Maxon pedal designs. If you dig in you will get more break-up whereas reducing the volume will ensure you the clear guitar sound.
The OD808X is certainly more ‘extreme’ in tonal potential compared to its older sibling. Depending on your skill level and music genre, the OD808X offers a great deal added extras that are worth pursuing.
The Ibanez Tube Screamer has long been known as the most reliable overdrive pedal for guitarists to purchase. With the TS9B model, the classic Tube Screamer has been optimized for bass guitar with the same famous grit associated with the Ibanez model.
The TS9B model guarantees you will never lose your punch and clarity provided you with the tune the gain to a low level to ensure the vintage edge or turn the gain up for punchy bass distortion. The TS9B model certainly gives bassists some room for experimental maneuver alongside the lead guitarists.
The tonal character of the TS9B is defined as either a tight, fuzzy sound using the mix control or using the 2-band control to create a funkier sound. This gives bassists a good variety of options for an instrument that may commonly be perceived as very limited in its tonal character. Having such sound options for a bass guitar in a band can radically influence and revolutionize the creative musical process.
The TS9B comes with the classic level, gain, treble, bass and mix controls commonly associated with lead guitar pedals. One of the bonuses of this model is also its affordability. Bassists may be reluctant to try new sounding ideas, but TS9B does at least give you an affordable option to experiment with.
In addition to affordability, the TS9B comes with a one-year warranty agreement which provides purchasers with a degree of flexibility if the pedal does not meet your tonal needs.
What we liked:
Enhances bass guitar sound options
What could be better:
Only best used for bass guitars
Things to Consider
This buying guide and FAQ section will outline exactly what distortion pedals are, how they can enhance your guitar playing and what you should be looking for before purchasing one.
Distortion pedal – change the tone of your music
Distortion is a well-known guitar effect that you will undoubtedly be aware of when you hear it since it is very common in all sorts of music genres for many decades.
Although distortion is used widely across all types of music, it is most commonly associated with metal music.
What makes a really good metal tone?
The answer is not straight forward and is subjective to various opinions. That being said, the official process to follow for you to understand your favorite metal sound would be by purchasing a proper tube amplifier to get all the varieties of dirty channels so that you can decide the best metal sound for you.
Tube amplifiers are very expensive, however. For those seeking affordable options that enable you to play around with different metal sounds, a pedal is a great option, as no matter which amplifier you are using, the pedal can distort your electric guitar sound and gain needs.
Budget should not be too important.
As the market for pedals has grown, there are good quality pedals available at most price ranges. Do not simply reject a cheap pedal based on its price as you may be missing out on the best value option. Likewise, if you do not have a budget, do not assume that the most expensive is the best as sometimes the market and certain retailers may overprice certain items.
To create the distortion effect, the majority of pedals will use transistors which is generally a cheaper technology that delivers less consistent results.
This where the price of a pedal is affected as pedals with high-quality transistors will cost more than those with low-quality transistors. Most transistor pedals tend to be priced in the budget to medium price range.
Distortion types to consider
There are different types of distortion that create different sounds and operate in different ways. You should be aware of these before purchasing a pedal, in order to maximize the sound potential.
So, what is distortion?
It’s a sound which consists of oscillating pressure waves that contain positive and negative polarity and a neutral center of silence.
For distortion to occur, the oscillation has to exceed the ceiling limit imposed by the carrier, which in turn forces the sound wave into a different shape and consequently a different tonal character. The act of pushing the signal even harder into the ceiling is commonly referred to as “gain” or “drive.” To apply this to guitar distortion, here are the different types:
Overdrive/Saturation—known as the original distortion. This effect happens the input circuit is overloaded by the input signal. The overload clips the peaks of the sound wave in a gentle way, leading to an increase in warm tones that are embedded in the same dynamic range.
Tape distortion comes from a hot signal that goes beyond the headroom boundary of magnetic tape. This distortion creates a bold and warm sound accompanied by a hiss. The peaks for this distortion are clipped which means the same dynamic range is maintained.
Tube distortion is a common type of sound saturation that is best known for the crunchy and warm tone. It is the distortion most associated with blues or rock music and creates an iconic tone.
Valve saturation enables an increase in harmonic possibilities provided you push the gain levels. Depending on the design, the valve will normally have a distinctive color, with triode valves providing increased even harmonics compared to pentodes which offer odd tonal choices.
Fuzz is a form of clipping that is normally pretty extreme and occurs in low-quality speakers. The tone that is created is harsh and fuzzy and reduces dynamic range for the guitar to a bare minimum. It is a tone associated with the legendary Jimi Hendrix.
Wave-shaping is a digital form of distortion that makes sound waves adapt to rigid wave shape. This leads to an infinite number of tonal possibilities to play around with.
Setting up the distortion pedal – useful tips
A good tip to set up your distortion pedal is to get a sheet with an annotated layout of the different pedals and switches to make sure you can remember which combinations create the sounds that you are after.
Similarly, if you have a smartphone nearby, you can take photos of the pedal and record the sounds as they are played to jog your memory in case you were to forget. In doing this, make sure you write down the settings of your amp to ensure that the sound can be reproduced in the future.
Most pedals will only give you two different sound options if you are performing on stage. To ensure these two sound options are exactly what you want, take a good degree of practice time to work your way around the different distortion effects on your pedal.
It is important to note that in pretty much all cases, the distortion pedal does not rival the dynamic range of a tube amp. The pedal is in most cases an affordable option or a tool for inexperienced guitarists to become accustomed to the potential of distortion. If you are a regular performer, the higher resolution and variety of a tube-amp will always exceed the distortion pedal.
There is a varied price range of pedals currently available on the market and prices will typically be between $100 to $400. As previously discussed, price does not necessarily assume quality and suitability for your needs. First, understand your own metal guitar needs and creative motivations before looking at product quality and price.
Features to consider while buying the best distortion pedal for metal
This section will briefly discuss specific aspects that you should look for in a distortion pedal for metal guitar playing.
Box material and size
Check the durability and size of the metal box that accompanies the pedal. It needs to be well-matched to your foot size as well as making sure that there are no errant knobs in the way of your foot hitting the pedal, as this may accidentally ruin your sound during a song.
Bass and gain
Bass and gain are essential aspects of heavy metal guitar playing. The “Low” and “Bass” knobs on the pedal will operate the same distortion effect. Trying playing some riffs to see whether the pedal creates good low notes as well as a sustained droning sound.
A high gain level is what your guitar needs to create a deep distortion effect. You should use a pedal that provides both high and low gain settings as it will provide you with some broader tonal possibilities.
You want to avoid purchasing a pedal that makes its own noise, particularly when performing on stage as it can become very distracting. Look for pedals with a noise gate such as the Empress Effects Heavy Dual-Channel Distortion Pedal to reduce or eliminate any pedal noise.
Digital or analog?
Pedals can either come in digital or analog forms.
Analog pedals create a full and warm sound whereas the digital sound tends to have a brighter tone. There are good and bad analog / digital choices, it is down to your personal preference as to which you prefer.
Buffered bypass, hardwired bypass, and true bypass are three terms that describe your guitar signal when the pedal is not engaged.
True bypass is where the signal of your guitar passes through the pedal unaffected signal passes straight through a pedal unaffected.
Buffered bypass occurs when your guitar signal passes through the pedal but the circuit is boosted which strengthens your signal.
Hardwire bypass can cause your guitar to suffer losses in high-end response as the signal passes through but is not boosted.
Most products will specify the recommended power voltage and capacity of the pedal. For example, the JHS Sweet Tea V3 requires 9V DC Negative power and consumes 51mA. It is good to know your electric capacity of the venue or practice room where you will be playing as using a pedal that requires excessive power supply may affect the pedal usability.
Does the pedal have additional effects such as an order toggle to stack up your distortions or specific tuned sound effects? It is good to have a look at the product specifications to fully appreciate the potential of a pedal.
If you are new to pedals, looking for a pedal with a long warranty is certainly worthwhile. For example, the Wampler Triple Wreck V2 reviewed here has a 5-year limited warranty which may give you added purchasing flexibility. Make sure you always read the terms and conditions of warranty agreements to ensure you are sufficiently protected.
In general, metal distortion is best achieved through metal distortion pedals, however, there are exceptions to the rule. Other pedals with sufficient overdrive can also achieve similar metal distortion effects.
Unfortunately, guitars that have single coil pickups are famous for being difficult in picking up distortion effects and can lead to very hollow tones. That said, pedals can certainly enhance the sound of single-coil guitar but do not have high expectations of sound quality.
As previously discussed, the best way to achieve distortion for metal music is through using a tube amplifier. But distortion pedals used in harmony with a regular amplifier to change and enhance your sound. Even the most accomplished guitar players will use pedals to add variety to their sound.
Distortion pedals tend to provide more gritty sound that is harsher to the ear. Overdrive pedals, on the other hand, have a warm and crunchy tonal character and replicate the sound of a tube amp when the volume is increased.
Hopefully, this article has given you a good idea about what distortion pedals are and some of the best products on the market. Our top three choices are:
The Wampler Triple Wreck V2 is best for its versatility on tonal range, offering guitarists clear, top-quality metal distortion options at low, medium and high ranges.
The JHS Sweet Tea V3 is best for the distinctive Moonshine and Angry Charlie circuits that will enable guitarists to tune it to these famous metal tones.
For you to find the best distortion pedal for metal for your musical taste, it is important that you do significant research online and read customer reviews and product descriptions to ensure that you select the best value pedal. We hope this article has helped you.