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There are many ways to achieve a great guitar tone. Everybody has their own approach.
From amps and effects to guitars and VST plugins, there are so many options to choose from these days.
But many metal players love using distortion pedals to achieve their sound. It’s no surprise, because combined with your amp, you can easily dial in a lot of different tones.
So, here are the best distortion pedals for metal compared. These are suitable for heavy metal, death metal and more.
Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer – Classic
Hold on a second. Isn’t the Tube Screamer more of a “mild” overdrive pedal or booster as opposed to a metal pedal?
Well, that depends on how you use it.
Sure, it can be used for a light distortion or even as a solo boost. But as it pertains to metal, its true strength lies in taking your distorted tone and adding a nice mid boost to it.
See, a lot of beginners make a mistake when it comes to their metal tone. Oftentimes, they will crank their distortion all the way up and scoop out the mids. That sounds fine when you’re playing alone. But try using that tone in a live or a recording situation and see how well you can be heard. You’re going to be drowned out by the drums and bass.
So, here’s the trick. First, dial those mids back in. Second, turn your distortion down. Third, add an Ibanez TS9 at the front of your amp and stomp on it. There you go – now you’ve got a killer metal tone.
Electro-Harmonix Metal Muff Distortion With Top Boost
The Electro-Harmonix Metal Muff has that huge “muff” sound, making it perfect for metal. In general, I would describe the tone as being more on the warm side, and though you can brighten it up with the treble control, too much treble sounds bad too my ears.
The controls do make your tone customizable, but not to the extent that you can draw completely different tones out of it. It sounds like a Metal Muff no matter how much you sit there tweaking. But the controls are still good to have, as they are quite responsive.
The Boost function is always nice to see, especially if you find yourself needing to switch between rhythm and lead playing quickly, as many metal players do.
If you like the tone, then there probably isn’t more to say. This pedal is for you. If you listen to a few demos and you aren’t sure, maybe it would be wise to broaden your search before settling on this Electro-Harmonix pedal.
TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion Effect Pedal
Sleek, affordable and simple. For those who’ve tried others and failed, the Dark Matter pedal could end up being just the pedal you’ve been looking for.
Why do I say that? Because this pedal gives you that amazing balance between distortion and overdrive (not easily achieved, as evidenced by the Truetone Jekyll & Hyde Overdrive/Distortion Pedal, which essentially has both effects built in) , the classic “tubes running a little too hot” sound. So, you can “make it metal”. But depending on how you tweak it, you could just as easily use it for rock or hard rock. It doesn’t have that overwhelming “woofy” sound that a lot of metal pedals have.
The Dark Matter distortion pedal will probably sound great to just about any kind of player. So, this pedal is for guitarists with discerning taste.
No, it may not be for everyone, but it’s hard to argue with the price tag. This Pedal from TC Electronic – I doubt you’ll regret it.
Blackstar LT Metal High Gain Distortion
A little pedal with a lot of attitude. The Blackstar LT Metal, at least to my ears, has a warm and big metal tone, though it does offer a bit of bite if you need it to.
The Gain, Level, Tone and ISF controls allow you to customize your tone for maximum impact.
This pedal does not contain a valve, but its dynamic response is still impressive thanks to the clipping circuit.
Most of all, and most importantly, the Blackstar just sounds good, and it doesn’t cost a whole lot more than your average stomp box. Win!
Wampler Triple Wreck Modern Rectified Distortion Pedal
The Wampler Triple Wreck pedal sounds exactly as a great distortion pedal should. As you can probably guess from the name, it emulates Rectifier style amplifiers. But it’s also capable of giving you a fuzz or Big Muff type sound too.
This distortion pedal features plenty of gain and sustain and it could be used all on its own for all your metal needs, though I could also see it working well as a “booster” pedal, much like the TS9.
Further, the Triple Wreck’s controls allow for many tonal possibilities. In addition to EQ, there are knobs for Volume, Gain, Boost Contour, and a two-way Voicing control, which allows you to switch between a vintage (Hard) and modern (Brutal) tone. Finally, it also has a Boost switch for solos.
Wampler pedals are cool, but they aren’t often cheap, so that’s something you should keep in mind if you’re thinking about buying one.
Rocktron Metal Planet Distortion Pedal
The Rocktron Metal Planet is a simplistic distortion pedal. The controls are minimal but still allow for many tonal possibilities. It isn’t just for metal. Depending on how you tweak it, it could easily work for blues, rock and other genres too. But dialing in a metal tone is easy.
Overall, the Metal Planet’s tone is warm, big and clear. It isn’t too brash, and it isn’t pure filth either. You could get some serious gain in combination with your amp though.
Beyond that, there isn’t much more to say. This is a great-sounding, affordable pedal. The Rocktron might just be what you’ve been looking for.
Dunlop MXR M116 Fullbore Metal Distortion Guitar Pedal
Looking for a metal pedal with a sharp, filthy, ugly tone? Then the MXR M116 Fullbore Metal Distortion pedal is for you. And, there certainly is a time and a place for a tone like that.
No need to combine this pedal with your amp’s gain channel. It’s got more than enough gain all on its own and will deliver plenty of dirt besides.
I would love to say that the various controls allow you to customize and sculpt your tone to your liking, but that’s not exactly the case. From what I can tell, you can either get a heavy tone or a less heavy tone. But hey, that’s metal, right?
If you don’t have a huge budget and you’re looking for a pedal that will instantly deliver a metal tone, check out the Dunlop.
What Should I Look For In A Metal Distortion Pedal?
We’ve looked at a lot of distortion pedals here, but there are so many more. Plus, an average distortion pedal (like the BOSS DS-1) can sometimes give you just the right amount of crunch you’re looking for, without even necessitating a full-on “metal” pedal.
Tone is highly individual. And, it ultimately depends on the type of project you’re involved in. Metal runs the gamut, as there are so many genres and stylistic approaches to it.
So, finding what’s right for you could take some time. But here are a few criteria worth considering while you’re on the hunt for a pedal.
A Tone You Like
When buying a metal distortion pedal, most other factors don’t matter. What you’re looking for is a sound you like.
So, don’t get caught up in the hype. There are plenty of players that will recommend certain pedals because they are in love with them. They could even be endorsed by some of your favorite players.
You could plug in the same pedal, set it up the same way, play through it and still feel dissatisfied with your tone.
I spent years hunting for my perfect tone, and ultimately, I did not find it in a pedal, but rather in an amp.
But assuming a pedal is what you need, you should test out a bunch to get a feel for what you like. You could try them at a guitar store, but unless you bring in your own guitar and amp, you’re not going to get a good sense of what it sounds like. I would suggest renting a bunch of pedals and bringing them home to try out, as that should give you a more accurate reading on which one is right for you.
A Tweakable Tone
I think the ability to tweak your tone is important. But there’s a bit of a stipulation here. Just because a pedal appears to have more controls doesn’t mean there’s a huge range of tones you can tap into, and just because it has fewer knobs doesn’t mean you can do a lot with it.
So, again, this is not something you’re going to know unless you try it out for yourself, watch demo videos, and/or read online reviews.
Three to four knobs are relatively standard across the board, while some pedals offer more knobs, switches and buttons that allow you to do more with it.
The tricky part is that your amp is also going to play a part in how your tone ultimately sounds. So, you’re going to have to take all your gear into consideration when crafting your tone.
A Price Point That Doesn’t Break The Bank
You can spend a lot on a pedal. And, in many cases you do get more when you spend more, but sometimes you can get incredible sounding pedals for just a little bit of money.
Thinking about your budget can help you narrow your options, which is why I suggest it’s a criteria worth considering. When presented with unlimited options, it can be hard to make up your mind, but if you’ve got limited resources to work with, you’re probably going to end up seeking out the best solution for the money.
Maybe money’s not an object, in which case feel free to buy up whatever pedals you want in your collection.
Is There A Difference Between Metal Distortion Pedals & Other Distortion Pedals?
If you listen to a lot of music, then your ear probably already differentiates between different guitar tones.
Depending on the exact combination of player, picking method, amp, guitar and pedals, you can end up with dramatically different results.
But there is a tone that characterizes metal, whether it’s Metallica or Avenged Sevenfold, isn’t there?
And, in general, I will say that a metal tone is more readily achieved with the use of a metal distortion pedal over other types of distortion pedals.
Whether it’s that biting, round tone from Metallica’s “Seek and Destroy”, or that gritty, warm tone from Avenged Sevenfold’s “Nightmare”, I think an identifiable metal tone is much easier to achieve using a pedal than with other means.
But as I’ve already noted, tone is individual. Maybe you get what you need using a Randall Thrasher 50 head and a BOSS OD-1. Who am I to argue with you? If it works, then use it!
So, yes, I would say there is a bit of a difference between a distortion pedal and a metal distortion pedal. And, the main differences seem to be gain and tone.
But there are no rules against using “normal” overdrive and distortion pedals in place of metal pedals. As I already mentioned at the beginning of this guide, if you’ve got a good amp already, then adding the TS9 at the front could end up sending you through the stratosphere.
The Best Distortion Pedals For Metal, Final Thoughts
Choosing gear that makes you sound and feel good is important. But that’s just the starting point. The next step is taking time to understand your gear and know how it all works together.
Not only will this help you avoid embarrassing mistakes at gigs or in the studio, it will also give you an easy way to troubleshoot and problem-solve on the fly. After all, your tone is going to sound different in different rooms, so the ability to adjust based on the situation becomes more important, especially as a performing musician.
Let us know in the comments which you choose. 🙂