YOU probably know the sound of distortion already: from rock to metal, it’s the subject of most guitarists’ first forays into pedals.
The harder clipping of distortion can give tones a serious kick. Think of it more as an amp stack in a box, rather than something to complement an already overdriven valve amp.
Here, the soundwave peaks tend to be squarer than the smoother peaks created by overdrive. Some distortion pedals enable you to dramatically alter your EQ compared to an overdrive, too. This is especially true of heavy metal-type distortions that can offer super scooping of midrange, to accentuate ‘chunk’.
It’s a distinctive sound, but beware: the trade-off is the loss of mids, which can mean the loss of presence in the mix of a band.
Less dramatically high-gain pedals can be useful for distortion at any volume – simulating the break-up sound of a valve amp when you’re unable to use it at the volume needed to get those valves cooking.
They can also push a breaking-up valve amp to greater extremes of gain. Hard clipping saturation usually compresses your tone, accentuating sustain and harmonics more for leads compared to most traditional overdrives.