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Hot Fuzz & Top Boost - The Best Distortion Pedals

Published: Fri September 06, 2013  News Feed

Hot Fuzz & Top Boost - The Best Distortion Pedals

By Hugh McKenna

Best Distortion, Fuzz, Overdrive Pedals

 Thanks to MXR for the resources.

Distortion has been with us since the earliest days of recording, from the earliest Edison recorder with it's scratchy sound through to the digital clipping we all know and hate when the red light goes on in our DAW. With a century spent trying to remove distortion it might seem odd to want add it back in. However certain kinds of distortion can be pleasant and used for creative effect.

What Is Distortion?

The picture at the top of the page isn't just for show, it's also a pretty handy demonstration of how distortion works. If you start out with a simple sine wave it only has one harmonic at a fundamental frequency, by adding distortion you get extra harmonics to make the sound more full and complex. The frequency of these harmonics relative to the fundamental affects how you perceive the sound. If all that sounds a bit complex then check out this excellent video for an explanation.

Which Distortion Pedal?

Best Boost Pedal

So we've covered the building blocks of distortion (and sound in general) and that's all great for feeling a little smarter but you came here to find out which is the best distortion pedal for you? Well we've broken it down by category from clean boost through overdrive, distortion and fuzz.

Best Boost Pedal

Ideally you would stick a clean boost before a valve amp to push it into the red zone. Giving you a kick without sacrificing the true tone of your guitar, clean boosts also help you overcome high frequency loss in long cable runs as described here. The TC Electronic Spark Mini tucks in neatly at the start or end of your pedal chain.

Best Overdrive PedalBest Overdrive Pedal

When you need to crank things a little more there is always overdrive. Often using electronic opamps and diodes for a mild clipping of the signal, overdrive is still best used in conjunction with the amp to create a rich and thick sound. Many of the original and best overdrive pedals were designed and manufactured by MXR and they've stayed at the cutting edge ever since. With the Badass Modified Overdrive they've paid attention to one of the most important aspects, EQ. A 100Hz cut and a bump switch allows you to change the voicing to suit your individual style.

 

Best Distortion Pedal

Best Distortion Pedal

Distortion pedals are frequently used going straight into a clean amplifier, relying on the pedal distorting for your dirty tone. This is an effective alternative to using tube amp distortion, creating a harder and more present sound. For our choice of best distortion pedal we've gone with something Boss and orange but it's not the iconic DS-1 (also a good choice) but rather the all new DA-2 Dynamic Distortion. Using specially develop technology the DA-2 reacts to dynamics in a totally new way, it's best to check out the Boss demonstration to see for yourself. A distortion for the 21st century.

Best Fuzz Pedal

With a fuzz pedal anything goes, distorted to the point it sounds more like a broken speaker than a guitar and the dynamic range of a particularly flat pancake. None of that really matters in practice however, the main thing is that it sounds great. Pure distorted transistors are the mainstay of the best fuzz pedals, from the original Fuzz Face up to the Zvex Fuzz Factory it's all about the snarl. Jim Dunlop recently released a complete range of Fuzz Faces in compact new enclosures. Silicon fuzz has more odd harmonics and so is harsher and more filthy, germanium is the classic with a smoother character and the Hendrix model as a more pronounced octave fuzz quality. We took a look at a Fuzz Face shoot out to find out which was best.

Best Fuzz Pedal Shoot Out

Best Classic Distortion

Electro Harmonix East River Drive

Electro Harmonix have been going overdrive crazy lately and the East River Drive represents their take on a classic Green Meanie. Based around the 4558 opamp this OD pedal gives you some iconic tones, from SRV style blues to the perfect push for a metal amp. So it's versatile and it doesn't exactly cost the earth either.


 
 
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