For you all rockers out there, let me assure you that, the debate for the winner among pedal distortion and amp distortion is yet to be settled. So, how to decide which sort of distortion you want?
A good amp with a built-in natural distortion would be a better choice for beginners in my humble and experienced opinion. Distortion pedals might be cheaper and versatile, but they often fall short when compared with the well-rounded smoother distortion of the amps.
Well, you cannot really make a decision based on such generic ideas about these two types of distortions, right? You might have to dive a bit deeper and that is why I am here for. Let’s see the nooks and crannies a beginner shout look-out for the best distortion for their causes.
Pedal vs Amp Distortion
So, we have sort of decided that amp distortion is somewhat superior to pedal distortion. Let’s compare their characteristics to understand their differences a bit more.
|Amp Distortion||Pedal Distortion|
|Type of distortion||The distortion sounds more natural, especially the tube/valve amps. Solid-state amps also sound very warm with a tint of digital vibe.||Some of the expensive pedals can successfully emulate the raw natural tone of the original amp. However the digital feel and mechanical sound is prevalent in the tone.|
|Usability||Setting the tone to the “just right” position could be tricky for the amps that have multiple control knobs.||Usually, distortion pedal knobs are quite straightforward (obviously the pedal is dedicated to distortion.|
|Performance scope||Performs perfectly in lower volume and has the capability of producing sufficient volume for a small-sized gig.||Performs well in a lower volume for room practice/studio, but the sound quality slightly degrades if the volume knob is all the way up.|
|Versatility||Every amp is built differently, so you get a core tone for distortion. So, the versatility is limited.||First of all, there are numerous pedals to choose from, and you can create a wide variety of distortion tones from the pedal, no matter what amp you are using for sound output.|
|Portability||Low portability since the amps are quite big and heavy.||Highly portable. You can put several distortion pedals in your bag pack.|
|Affordability||Amps that have good distortion and other effects are quite expensive.||Although the price range varies, you can get some really good pedals for a fairly affordable price.|
Just to be clear, when we are talking about the amps, we are mostly referring to the solid-state amps. Because, the vacuum tube amps (valve amp) are great, but they are a bit sophisticated and there are some disadvantages due to that.
And of course, for the pedal, we are referring to these pedals being used in a clean channel of an amp. There are some other factors that also affect the distorted tone, such as the guitar’s pickup type, guitar tone. We will look into these matters briefly as well.
Overview of a Distortion Pedal
The best things about distortion pedals are, these are small, compact and it offers a wide range of options to choose from. Some of the different types of distortion pedals are overdrive pedals, fuzz pedals, muff pedals, etc.
Since the electrical circuitry and other digital components prevail in the distortion pedals, the sound emulated is quite mechanical (although good enough). Basically, the electrical components here are modeling the desired distorted sound.
The majority of distortion pedals are often built with a consideration of emulating the sound of a certain musical genre, or a certain type of band. That’s why most often you’d need a range of different pedals if you need to rock out the music you look up to.
Distortion Quality of an Amp
I can safely assure you the natural distortion of a tube amp would blow your mind, just like love at first sight. What you get from it is the original tone for distortion.
For the solid-state amps, it produces similarly rich in tone and those are way sturdier and more convenient than the tube-amps.
With the amp distortion, you can make your own signature type of tone because it gives you the opportunity to know the distortion at its core. So, if you are passionate and meticulous about your distortion, then save some money and buy a killer amp!
Some of the Best Amps for Distortion
I know I said that amp distortions are way better than pedal distortions. But in reality, not all amps provide the rich fulfilling heavy metal distortion or hard rocky dirty tone.
Unless you are a professional musician (which I’m assuming, you are not), you’d have a real hard time eliciting a good distortion sound out of a regular amp.
First of all, there are amps that only have a clean channel. And there are single-channel amps with the option to switch between clean sounds and distortion. Finally, there are dual-channel amps, which are quite expensive but will give you the best experience.
So, we will briefly look into three of the great amps that are beginner-friendly as well as kick-ass!!! I won’t overwhelm you with the plethora of amazing amps that are out there.
Boss Katana 100W
One of the best solid-state distortion amps out there that comes with dual-channel and custom wattage settings. It also has several Boss effects embedded with it and is connectible to computers. So, not only you can create your desired distortion tone, but custom tones as well.
You can even store your amp setting in its built-in memory so that you won’t have to tweak the knobs every time. It has a 16-inch speaker that will enable you to perform in gigs as well as practice in your room at a lower volume by adjusting the wattage setting.
You probably heard of Blackstar Amps; it is that popular! If not, no worries, now you do know about this, especially about this HT1R model which is very compact and convenient to control.
Aside from being a high-gain amp, it has a built-in reverb that sounds as good as the distortion. Both the clean tones and distortion tones are praiseworthy.
This amp consumes only 1 watt of power, so it won’t compatible with larger rooms or gigs. But you can practice in your room or in practice pads with the master volume all the way up without compromising the sound quality. Besides, it is quite portable, so you have the option to carry it to the practice pads.
Numerous rock guitarists have put Marshall Amp on their hot favorite list. Not only it is an iconic brand that classic rock artists have been using, but it is also one of the very best and looks aesthetic!!
Marshal MG50CFX is equipped with 2 channels that provide you different types of tones. Besides distortion, it has several other effect controls such as reverb, delay, and EQ.
This amp is 50 watts, which means it is gig compatible. It might be a bit expensive and heavy to carry to the gig. But you can provide a killer performance at the gig with this amp, provided that your guitar playing is good!
Popular Distortion Pedals to Try Out
Not gonna lie, I’ve used distortion pedals myself; several of them actually. Some of them were horrible but I came across some of the decent yet cheap pedals. Also, in recent times, they are getting better every day.
So, if you consider limited budget, versatility, and portability as a priority, then here are some of the good distortion pedals you can try out.
Boss ML-2 Metalcore
Starting with one of the most well-known pedal brands, Boss, and its budget-friendly distortion pedal ML-2. “Boss Metal Zone” has its own fanbase, but this is probably the best metal tone you can get with this distortion pedal within this budget range.
The pedal is sturdily built with 4 knobs: volume, High, low, and distortion knob. Although a “mid” knob seems missing from its EQ, you won’t have any trouble tuning into a killer tone for heavy riffage and lead playing.
Revv G3 Distortion
Among the modern distortion pedals, Revv G3 is undoubtedly one of the best choices. It is fairly affordable, looks very modern, and has decent distortion.
Apart from the typical volume, gain, high, low, and mid control knob, it has an “aggression switch”. It is a 3-way switch to let you choose 3 different levels of attack in distortion. Pretty cool, right?
Also, this pedal is very in a very compact metal casing, so it is very convenient to carry around or place it into a pedalboard.
Friedman BO-ED Deluxe
I’ve kind of saved the best and the most expensive pedal for the last. Obviously, it is not that expensive that you’d have to break your bank. And the quality of this pedal is very much worth the price.
This distortion pedal is super versatile, just like Marty Friedman is. It comes with two channels, 2 stage operation, volume, gain, 3 band EQ control, and a ‘boost’ and a ‘tight’ switch. You can imagine how many ways you can tweak your distortion.
Cases When Distortion Pedals are More Convenient
There was a time when I was in a gig frenzy; I even had to attend two gigs on a single day. During that time, I borrowed a pedalboard previously set up from a friend which was a life-saver.
So, if you are in a similar position, or there is such a possibility in the near future, then it might be a good idea to set up your own pedalboard. Once you set up the pedalboard and established your tone, you can just to go gigs and play that in the clean channel of the stage amp.
In other cases, such as, you already have an amp with only a clean channel or your amp doesn’t have a foot-pedal/switch, then you can buy a distortion pedal two complements that amp.
Even if you have an amp with a single distortion channel, you can opt for a distortion pedal to boost your tone and switch it between different tones such as lead or riff.
Combine for the Best Result
We’ve often seen that the hybrid approach gives us the best possible outcome. Our case is no different. Even though I’ve said that amp distortion is better than pedal distortion, the combination of a distortion pedal and a killer amp can bring out an unprecedented outcome that you’d surely love.
Modern musicians like John Mayer or Steve Vai, follow such an approach. Not only it gives them more versatility, but it also helps them stabilize their tone during their performance. And they use other effects pedals such as wah pedal, delay pedal, reverb pedal, tube screamer, noise-gates, etc.
So, here is the protip: for the best distortion out there, you can combine both the pedals and amp (if you can manage the budget). And of course, when you use the pedal in the amp, put it through the effects channel or drive channel rather than the direct input of the amp.
Also, set up the signal path properly so for the best outcome.
Are Distortion and Overdrive the Same?
Overdrive and distortion are not the same, but they consist of similar type amplifier circuits. Overdrive tone s a bit smoother than the distortion because of the soft clipping of signals. So that is better for rock music whereas distortion is the choice for heavy metal.
If you get an overdrive pedal and plug it in with your amp’s distortion, you’d get a rich and killer tone. Besides, you can play both genres of music with one setup.
How Can I Increase the Distortion of My Amp?
There are two basic ways to do that. First of all, use a good distortion/overdrive pedal as a preamp gain. Secondly, you can use the gain boost pedal. I’d suggest you opt for the first method.
Can You Use Multiple Distortion Pedals at Once?
You can if you want to use different types of distortion pedals in the signal chain. However, if you use two distortion pedals at once for a dirtier tone, then you’d need a good noise-gate pedal. Eventually, you won’t need to use distortion pedals to get a heavier tone if you combine a distortion pedal and the amp distortion.
So, amp distortion is better in my opinion. But pedal distortions are good enough if you choose the right one and tweak it properly. And the best would be the combination of these two. I guess now you are knowledgeable enough to set up your gig-rig. All the best!