9 essential distortion, fuzz and overdrive pedals
Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi
This big fuzzy bastard pioneered the trend for filthily suggestive effects names.
Key to the Muff’s sound is its huge amount of silicon transistor gain (unleashed by cranking the sustain control), and its tone control, which can take you from woolly mammoth to angry wasp in 180 degrees. David Gilmour is a fan, as is Jack White, but the undisputed ‘King Of Muff’ is Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis.
Buy it: £45/$75
Hear it: Smashing Pumpkins, Pink Floyd, Dinosaur Jr
Boss DS-1 Distortion
Boss’s workhorse drive is a pedalboard classic, not least because a brand-new one is around £40/$65.
It was introduced in the late 70s to meet the increasing demand for higher gain in rock. Despite the price, the hard-ass gain of the DS-1 has been used by many big-name players: Steve Vai couldn’t get enough of it on Passion And Warfare.
Buy it: £40/$65
Hear it: Nirvana, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani
Ibanez TS-808 Tube Screamer
This green stomper has helped countless blues, rock and metal players push their valves amps to go ‘one louder’.
There have been many revisions of the Tube Screamer, beyond the 808 and TS 9, but classic variants use the sought-after JRC4558D op-amp chip to provide a mid-rich, smooth gain.
Buy it: £175/$290 (reissue), £250 to £400/$400 to $650 (vintage)
Hear it: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Machine Head
Jim Dunlop Fuzz Face
First made by Dallas Arbiter, the Fuzz Face brand is now owned by Dunlop.
Originals were loaded with Germanium transistors, quickly replaced with silicon jobs. Hendrix wouldn’t leave home without his, and neither will Bonamassa, who has had two signature versions. A one issue with the FF is its size, but in 2013, Dunlop released three Fuzz Face Minis. Problem solved!
Buy it: £99 (mini versions)
Hear it: Jimi Hendrix, Joe Bonamassa, Eric Johnson
Use it: For smooth blues-rock fuzz
Boss HM-2 Heavy Metal
The Boss HM-2 is a cornerstone of a genre.
It’s responsible for the Swedish death-metal ‘buzzsaw’ guitar sound, with enough gain to burn a building, coupled with the rare ability to boost or cut your mids using the H (high) Colour Mix. Boss now produces the MT-2 Metal Zone, with similar midrange control.
Buy it: £40 to £60/ $65 to $100
Hear it: Bloodbath, Entombed, Dismember
Use it: For down-tuned alternate-picked death-metal carnage
Pro Co Rat 2
Frankly, we don’t care if you have the ‘Bud Box’, ‘Small Box’ or any other iteration.
We always return to the rodent that’s been in Pro Co’s catalogue the longest, and that’s the RAT 2. If you want edgy, fuzzy gain then look no further, as the RAT is under the feet of the likes of Dave Grohl, Sonic Youth and even Jeff Beck.
Buy it: £60 to £70 / $100 to $110
Hear it: Foo Fighters, SonicYouth,Jeff Beck
DOD Overdrive Preamp/250
The 1970s saw a boom of amp-in-a-box stompers, and that’s what the Overdrive Preamp 250 delivers.
More overdrive than distortion, this yellow (originally grey) box shares its lineage with the MXR Distortion+ and has become an often cloned DIY classic. DOD reissued a ‘limited’ edition in 2013.
Buy it: £80 to £90 / $135 to $150
Hear it: Yngwie Malmsteen (DOD), Randy Rhoads, Iron Maiden (MXR Distortion+)
Z.Vex Fuzz Factory
The Germanium-powered Fuzz Factory can take you from Jimi to all-out self-oscillating synth-y madness.
Gate, compression and Stab (stability) controls allow you to alter the decay, tone and dynamics of your fuzz sound. It really has to be heard – and it’s no wonder Matt Bellamy has one built into his guitars.
Buy it: £129
Hear it: Muse, Buckethead, Red Hot Chili Peppers
Marshall’s wedge-shaped pedals included the Shredmaster, Bluesbreaker, Drive Master and the Guv’nor.
This inexpensive (at the time) pedal is full of smooth-rock overdrive. Marshall still makes a version of the Guv’nor today (the GV-2 Guv’nor Plus).
Buy it: £45 to £100/ $75 to $165
Hear it: Gary Moore, The Pixies