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5 powerfully creative distortion tools

Output Thermal
(Image credit: Output)

Whether you're looking for a gentle growl or some serious bite, there's no shortage of ways to distort your signals. Read on for five of the most effective and creative ways to introduce distortion into your mixes.

1. Stompboxes

Distortion is probably the most-used effect by rock guitarists, and as such the stompbox realm is full of powerful drive effects. There are pros and cons to using stompboxes in the studio. 

Being aimed at guitarists, pedals tend to be monophonic and operate at a lower level than a standard synth/drum machine output. You’ll likely need to drop the volume which might increase background noise (not necessarily undesirable). On the plus side, they’re easy to use and cheap, with decent options starting at around £50.

Elektron Analog Heat

(Image credit: Future)

2. Elektron Analog Heat

Elektron’s desktop unit stands out from the hardware effects crowd by marrying the best of analogue with digital convenience. The distortion circuits themselves here are all-analogue, offering eight flavours of drive that can be further shaped using the two-band EQ and resonant filter. 

There’s onboard modulation too with an LFO and envelope shaper. On the digital front, Heat can operate like a plugin using Elektron’s Overbridge application and can even function as a USB audio interface.

3. FabFilter Saturn 2

A perennial favourite when it comes to plugin distortion, Saturn is one of the most flexible and well-equipped effects on the market. In its Version 2 form it offers a whopping 28 distortion styles, individually applicable to up to six frequency bands. 

Modulation tools come in the form of customisable LFOs, envelope generators, MIDI inputs and XY pads. In short, there’s not a lot Saturn 2 can’t do when it comes to applying and manipulating creative distortion effects.

FabFilter Saturn

(Image credit: FabFilter)

4. Output Thermal

While distortion is Thermal’s primary concern, it could really be called a multi-effect plugin. This is a multiband processor that can split the signal into three bands and apply different types and amounts of distortion or waveshaping to each. 

Each band also features additional effects slots that can apply things such as reverb or delay, as well as a width control and individual modulators to apply movement to each band. Powerful, but a good preset library and ‘easy’ base-level interface make it approachable for all.

5. CableGuys CrushShaper/DriveShaper

CrushShaper and DriveShaper both exist as part of CableGuys’ excellent ShaperBox 2 multi-effect. ShaperBox itself is an LFO-centric multiband processor, which lets users apply highly customisable modulation to a variety of parameters of each of its effect types. 

CrushShaper and DriveShaper, available individually or as part of the overall bundle, offer two sides of the distortion coin, with a variety of digital bitcrushing and analogue-style drive effects respectively. They’re best used alongside other ShaperBox processors – try pairing distortion with modulated filters, glitches or stereo effects.

CableGuys

(Image credit: CableGuys)