Getting the right guitar tone is essential to playing in any genre, especially metal. The high-gain, distorted sound sets metal tones apart from other music genres. From Black Sabbath to Metallica, metal tones have evolved over time.
Whatever metal sound you are going for, getting the proper distortion or overdrive pedal can help you get there. Here we will go over the best metal distortion pedals for electric guitar.
How to Get a Metal Sound With Distortion Pedals
To choose the right pedal for you, it is crucial to understand how distortion pedals work.
Generally, a big part of what makes your tone sound a certain way is the amp it comes from. Tube amps and solid-state amps each have their own characteristics. The same is true for the brand that makes them. And each type of amp also has a unique sound profile.
A distortion pedal amplifies the gain of your sound beyond its normal peak levels, giving a guitar tone the gritty, heavy sound associated with metal. Like with amps, different distortion pedals can have vastly different effects on the color of a guitar tone.
Your amp and pedal combined will give you a unique range of tone settings. Experimenting with both settings allows you to dial in that perfect tone you are searching for.
Distortion Pedals vs. Overdrive Pedals
Distortion and overdrive pedals are technically different, although plenty of pedals can be considered either/or.
Simply put, distortion pedals change your guitar tone more dramatically and aggressively, giving substantial grit and distortions for metal music. They can make a clean tone sound completely metal.
On the other hand, overdrive pedals mainly boost your existing tone, especially on the high end. They added some distortion to do this, but generally not enough to alter your entire sound. Overdrive pedals are great for making leads cut through a mix.
List of the Best Distortion Pedals for Metal
This list is in no particular order because each pedal can help you achieve a unique sound. Choosing the right one depends on the type of guitar tone you are trying to achieve.
The Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer Classic has been used for metal distortion for decades. Used by top-tier guitarists from Kirk Hammett from Metallica to John Mayer, the Tube Screamer is a versatile distortion pedal that doubles as an overdrive.
This pedal can take an amp’s clean tone and make it gritty and full of gain. It’s also great for boosting an existing metal tone to give it more saturation.
The MXR M116 Fullbore Metal Distortion Pedal was made for metal. With six knobs, this pedal is one of the most versatile.
The knob settings include volume, frequency, gain, low, mid, and high, allowing you to adjust your guitar tone to fit perfectly into whatever mix you are playing with.
It also has a built-in noise gate, so the excess noise that usually comes with distortion pedals is not an issue. MXR is a reputable brand with great pedals, and the MXR M116 is no exception.
Another pedal that you can use as both a distortion pedal and an overdrive pedal, the Fulltone OCD 2.0 pedal, does not disappoint.
Great for achieving a modern lead tone to cut through a saturated metal mix, the OCD has three knobs to keep things simple: volume, drive, and tone.
The great thing about the OCD is that it is not as gain-heavy as other metal distortion/overdrive pedals, so it’s perfect for complimenting an existing tone well. Clean tones and distorted tones alike can benefit from the added saturation of the OCD pedal.
The Pro Co RAT2 is great for both rock and metal tones. It can enhance your rhythm tone to have more grit and gain or give your leads more saturation.
The high level of distortion offered by the Pro Co RAT2 can take a low-gain tone to the next level. On the other hand, it may not be ideal if your default amp tone already has significant distortion.
What makes the RAT2 stand out is its ease of use and versatility across genres, including metal.
Another classic distortion pedal used for decades, the BOSS WAZA Craft Metal Zone Guitar Pedal, is built to create aggressive metal guitar tones. This pedal can turn a small Fender amp with little options for distorted tones into a metal amp with its powerful gain settings.
The three-band EQ lets you scoop unneeded frequencies to achieve an ideal metal guitar tone that compliments the rest of a band. The distortion level delivers very high gain levels even without any gain coming from your amp.
The Boss WAZA Craft Metal Zone distortion pedal is perfect for a 90s/early 2000s heavy metal guitar sound.
The second MXR pedal on this list and the most expensive pedal on the whole list, the MXR EVH5150, is well worth the high price tag.
This Eddie Van Halen signature pedal replicates the metal distortion tone of the famous 5150 amp.
The three-band eq allows you to dial in the perfect distortion frequency for any mix. The gain offers a lot of versatility, as well, allowing you to either saturate a lead tone or turn it higher to get a crunchy, modern metal tone.
The built-in noise gate cuts out unwanted noise, while the boost setting helps your tone punch through a saturated metal mix. You cannot go wrong with this distortion pedal.
Whether you are looking for distortion pedals or overdrive pedals for metal music, this list has you covered. Each pedal offers unique settings and tones for whatever amp setup you have. Hopefully, one of these pedals is the key to obtaining the perfect metal tone you have been pursuing.