Distortion is the most crucial effect in metal music, and it takes time to craft the perfect tone regardless of which subgenre you prefer.
Sometimes our amps don’t have great-sounding distortion, to begin with, or you need that extra kick to take things to the next level, and that’s where a good distortion pedal comes into play.
Here, I will share with you some of the best distortion pedals for metal that can accommodate a variety of budgets and come with different features depending on your individual needs as a metal guitarist.
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Rowin might not be as massive of a brand as some of the other pedal makers, but the Holy War is a popular distortion pedal right now.
This acclaim is because it’s one of the simplest distortion pedals, doesn’t take up a lot of space, and is quite durable, especially for its size.
People also love its price – you can grab one for under $50, which is nice, considering other guitar pedals can get expensive.
Sure, it might not have as many features as the others in this list, but it’s a cool straightforward distortion pedal that sounds particularly great for old-school styles like classic heavy metal and thrash. My only criticism is that it could use more low-end, and you’ll definitely need to use a noise gate if you really want to push this thing.
The Rat by Pro Co is another extremely popular no-frills distortion pedal that gets straight to the point and has been around for decades and used by many prolific artists and their records.
This pedal has only three knobs: distortion, filter, and volume, but they do a nice job of allowing you to shape your sound the way you want to.
- Used as a primary distortion, it excels at arena rock rhythm tones and soaring leads
- Nails that sweet spot where a tube amp goes from sparkly clean to warm overdrive
- Use the RAT 2 as a boost for solos and get the extra kick you need
You’ll need to listen closely to what’s happening, though, since you don’t have bass, mid, or treble knobs that you’ll typically find on distortion pedals.
However, as a reflection of its age and how it’s been historically used, this pedal is ideal for more vintage metal styles. It’s not as tight as many of the modern pedals, but it’s incredible for those early metal genres that were based around blues riffs and solos, like traditional heavy metal, doom metal, and even glam metal.
Boss is the king of guitar pedals, and like their overdrive pedals, they actually make quite a few different kinds of distortion ones, too. You might have heard of the Metal Zone (MT-2), and while that one is great, I prefer the Metal Core (ML-2).
Compared to the Metal Zone, the Metal Core sounds beefier, in my opinion, and it’s slightly easier to use. Despite having fewer controls, this pedal is super versatile.
- Disttion Guitar Pedal with Low High Settings Metal Construction
- Ultra-heavy distortion with sharp-edged attack for crushing metal riffs
- Road-tough BOSS metal construction
- HIGH control for screaming, metallic tone
Don’t let the name fool you – this pedal isn’t just for metalcore. It’s excellent for all extreme and modern metal styles, especially those that require a tighter and more focused low-end!
Though, if you want more controls, mainly the ability to dial in your mids, and perhaps a distortion pedal that’s more geared toward older metal subgenres, you might prefer the Boss Metal Zone. Watch this video for a comparison of both.
Another titan in the guitar pedal industry is MXR, a brand under Dunlop, which makes some of the best guitar picks and other great accessories. MXR has also put multiple types of distortion pedals, but the Fullbore Metal is my favorite offering by them.
The Fullbore is not only is it built like a tank, but it also gives you plenty of control over your EQ with the knobs and scoop button.
- Super high-gain distortion
- 3-band EQ with sweepable mid frequencies
- Tight, fast, switchable Noise Gate for syncopated metal riffage
- Internal Gate Trigger control lets you set the Noise Gate’s sensitivity
- Model Number: M116
One of the best features this pedal has, though, that helps it stand out from the others so far, is the built-in noise gate; this pedal can get intense, and this noise gate gives you the means to tighten up your tone on the fly.
The brutality of this thing makes it one of the best distortion pedals for death metal, and at around $100, it’s pretty reasonably priced, too. Definitely worth checking out if you’re into music with ultra-high gain.
While the previous three pedals are super well-known, Empress Effects is a smaller company that has been getting a lot of good publicity lately for putting out some of the highest-quality pedals you can get your hands on, or feet, rather.
The Empress Heavy is a top-of-the-line distortion pedal full of controls and features, including a noise gate, that will help you dial any tone for any metal subgenre. In addition, the two channels, heavy and heavier, will let you make changes on the fly, depending on the part.
- All Analog Signal Path – no digitals in here
- Super High Gain – It’s called the heavy, what’d you expect?
- Weight – An intuitive new control that changes the character of your low end
- 3 Band EQ – Selectable mid frequency lets you get precise EQ curves, with boost or cut up to 10dB per band
- Dual Channel Design – Heavy and Heavier let you set your channels similarly, for rhythm/solo, or completely differently for a wider range of tones
At around $300, the price is pretty steep, especially compared to the other options, but if you need some of the best-sounding distortion tones and can take advantage of what this pedal can offer, it’s totally worth it.
Check out Ola Englund’s reaction to the Empress Heavy in the video below, and listen for yourself! I think you’ll be impressed with this pedal.
If you feel it’s time to put the pedal to the metal, I hope that one of these distortion pedals finds its way into your guitar rig and becomes a staple of your tone.
Whether you’re a beginner looking for a cheap pedal, the average Joe who wants something that gets the job done, or a pro who wants a high-quality distortion, there is something for you here. You can also look into multi-effects pedals if you want more variety in crafting a metal tone.
However, regardless of your skill level, these come in various price ranges, so you can check out whichever suits your budget too! Metal should be accessible to anyone, and any of these will give your lead and rhythm guitar playing the personality it needs for the genre.
In addition to having a solid distortion effect, having the right pickups can make a massive difference in helping you get the metal tone you like. If you’re upgrading your equipment, be sure to take a look at my guide to the best guitar pickups for metal to learn more about what great options are out there, just like this article.