The Best Cheap Distortion Pedals - Under $50 & $100

The Highest Rated Cheap Distortion Pedals

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Distortion is the sound that powers hard rock and metal. As such, many guitarists' first pedal is a distortion box, and the love for this effect continues to grow with experience, with some having tried many different distortion pedals by the time they're playing on stage.

As the demand grows, so does the supply, and so we have taken it upon ourselves to filter through the heaps of dirt boxes in the market. Our aim is to find the ones that are worth recommending, based on up to date reviews, ratings and recommendations from actual users and experts. For this 2020 update, we decided to narrow down our search to those that are more accessibly priced in two price ranges, sub $50 and sub $100.

The Best Distortion Pedals

Best Cheap Distortion Pedals under $50

Behringer UM300 Ultra Metal

86
GEARANK

86 out of 100. Incorporating 850+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$25
Behringer UM300 Ultra Metal Distortion Pedal

The Behringer Ultra Metal UM300 is an affordable distortion pedal that boasts high-gain capabilities and expanded EQ controls. Its features are far from what you'd expect of its price, and it's a good entry-level dirt box for those who prefer their distortion levels tweaked high.

The label ultra metal is justified by this pedal's built-in sweepable mid EQ, which lets you boost or scoop your tone to preference. It works in conjunction with the pedal's high and low EQ controls for shaping your tone. Finally, this pedal is housed in a standard size form factor which makes it easy to fit into most setups.

Features:

  • Controls: Dist, High, Low, Mid, Mid Freq, Level
  • Analog
  • Buffered Bypass
  • 9-Volt Adapter/Battery
  • Special Features: Expanded EQ controls

Pros
Value for money is its strong suit, many are satisfied with its tone, more specifically its high gain scooped tone, and they are impressed with what they got for the money. Many are also pleasantly surprised at how solid the pedal feels, strong enough to take the punishment of metal players.

Cons
There are some reports of unwanted hiss and noise with this distortion pedal, and there are a few who recommend moving the pedal away from the amp for better results. As expected, not everyone is happy with its high gain tones and some find it lacking in low frequencies.

Overall
If you're looking for a budget friendly high-gain capable distortion pedal, then this is definitely worth checking out.

Boss DS-1

89
GEARANK

89 out of 100. Incorporating 3000+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$50
Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal

At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Distortion Pedal Under $50 along with the TC Electronic Dark Matter.

The Boss DS-1 is a staple among electric guitar players, used by some of the most important rock acts in history on some of the world’s most influential albums.

The question is: what makes this unassuming orange box so special? The answer lies in its response, its distortion has a smooth increase and the EQ (while minimalistic) is effective in dialing in the frequency response that many prefer.

Features:

  • Controls: Tone, Level, Distortion
  • Analog
  • Buffered Bypass
  • 9-Volt Adapter/Battery
  • Special Features: N/A
  • Artists: Kurt Cobain, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Josh Klinghoffer

Pros
When looking at this pedal without considering its reputation, the key thing that stands out is its response. The pedal is simple to dial in, and you’d have to actively look for an objectively bad tone out of it. Coming from Boss, you can also expect this pedal to be quite durable.

Cons
The only thing that some may find lacking in the pedal is that it doesn’t give you as much control as some of the pedals above. However, its simplicity may actually be a selling point depending on what tone you’re looking for. It’s a true plug and play pedal, which is great if you don’t want a pedal that you have to invest time in to get a good tone.

Overall
It's easy to recommend this reliable distortion box, if it helped shape the tone of so many guitarists, both pro and hobbyists alike, it can most definitely help you.

TC Electronic Dark Matter

89
GEARANK

89 out of 100. Incorporating 750+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$49
TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion Pedal

At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Distortion Pedal Under $50 along with the Boss DS-1.

TC Electronic is known for versatile pedals that utilize the latest technology available, but with its straightforward design, the Dark Matter Distortion pedal is somewhat a departure from their usual products. Well it's not a complete departure because it does incorporate a voicing switch that lets you change the pedal's bass response - which gives it a darker warmer tone.

The pedal also comes with conventional controls which include Gain, Level, Bass and Treble knobs, all of which can be tweaked to give you the tone that you want. Finally, it comes in a standard stompbox size that matches other TC-Electronic pedals.

Features:

  • Controls: Gain, Level, Bass, Treble, Voice
  • Analog
  • True Bypass
  • 9-Volt Adapter/Battery
  • Special Features: N/A
  • Artists: Vernon Reid, Mark Tremonti, Andy Summers, John Taylor, Phillip McKnight

Pros
Many are impressed with its dark low end tone, but what really stands out in reviews is that a pedal labeled "Dark" is getting positive comments for how transparent it sounds! Some even describe the Dark Matter pedal as a versatile distortion box that can work like an overdrive pedal.

Cons
Ironically, its transparent tone gets some guitarists triggered, especially those who expect high-gain tones. They are definitely not happy when describing this pedal as more like an overdrive.

Overall
Don't let the label fool you, the TC Electronic Dark Matter is a versatile distortion pedal that can be used in many different styles.

Best Distortion Pedals under $100

RAT 2

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 1700+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$70
Pro Co RAT2 Distortion Pedal

At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Distortion Pedal $50 to $100 along with the MXR M104 Distortion+ and MXR M75 Super Badass.

The RAT 2 is a surprisingly versatile distortion pedal. Though it leans more to the “fuzz” side of the spectrum than many pedals featured on this list, the pedal is still capable of everything from light overdrive to heavy levels of distortion. Fuzz, while similar to distortion, is actually a notably different effect. For a good example, think of Jack White’s tone vs classic rock. The RAT 2, while primarily a distortion pedal, still has some of the characteristics of fuzz at high distortion levels.

The unit features a 'Filter' control that allows you to roll on/off the brittle high end frequencies to your taste. Lastly, the RAT 2 is also true bypass. True bypass pedals let your signal pass through the unit unaltered when the pedal isn’t engaged, as is preferred by many tone purists. This can be especially important if you plan on using multiple pedals.

Features:

  • Controls: Distortion, Filter, Volume
  • Analog
  • True Bypass
  • 9-Volt Adapter/Battery (Sold Separately)
  • Special Features: N/A
  • Artists: Jeff Beck, Joe Perry, Kurt Cobain (Territorial Pissings), Joe Walsh, Thom Yorke, Dave Grohl, Thurston Moore

Pros
Easy to use while sounding good, that's what the Rat 2 distortion pedal is to many of its users. It is well received for its full sounding bottom end, which even bass players appreciate. Sonic versatility also gets a lot of thumbs up, there are plenty of reports of it working well in low, med and high gain settings.

Cons
On the flipside, there are are users who caution that this pedal has a distinct tone, close to sounding like a fuzz pedal, that some may not like. There are also a few complaints about the need to buy a power adapter separately.

Overall
If you're looking for a classic sounding dirt box that borders on fuzz, this is the pedal for you,

MXR M104 Distortion+

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 475+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$80
MXR M104 Distortion+ Pedal

At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Distortion Pedal $50 to $100 along with the RAT 2 and MXR M75 Super Badass.

First introduced in the '70s, the humble MXR Distortion+ continues to be a staple in many pedalboards - many thanks to big name artists who have put the pedal to good use, including Randy Rhoads, Jerry Garcia, Dave Murray and Thom Yorke just to name a few.

The current production model retains the original straightforward design, with just an Output knob for adjusting output gain, and a Distortion knob that adjusts the level of distortion from crunchy to fuzz-like, all packed in a yellow metal stompbox.

Features:

  • Controls: Output, Distortion
  • Analog
  • Hardwire Bypass
  • 9-Volt Adapter/Battery (Sold Separately)
  • Special Features: N/A
  • Artists: Randy Rhoads, Jerry Garcia, Dave Murray and Thom Yorke

Pros
Its simplified control makes this the perfect plug and play pedal, especially for those who are into classic rock tones. And this is reflected in reviews, it impresses many with how easy it is to get good tones with. The simple reliability of only having two parameters and build quality are also big factors in why many rate this pedal highly.

Cons
This pedal is not for those who want more control over their tone, and it may not please those who want a more modern refined distortion flavor.

Overall
The MXR M104 Distortion+ is a practical solution for those who want a plug-and-play distortion box to play with.

Electro-Harmonix Metal Muff Distortion with Top Boost

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 850+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$94
Electro-Harmonix Metal Muff Distortion Pedal with Top Boost

The Electro-Harmonix Metal Muff Distortion Pedal with Top Boost is exactly what it sounds like, a Big Muff Pi geared towards metal and hard rock players. Though the pedal definitely invites comparison to the more well-known Big Muff Pi, it should be noted that this pedal is a very different animal.

The pedal can best be thought of as a metal distortion first and a fuzz second, giving you the focused distorted tone you find in metal with the grit you find with a fuzz pedal. Another cool feature of this pedal is the top boost, which helps to both increase the gain and tame some of the low-end you get with Big Muff style pedals.

Features:

  • Controls: Distortion, Bass, Mid, Treble, Top Boost, Volume
  • Analog
  • Buffered Bypass
  • 9-Volt Adapter/Battery
  • Special Features: Top Boostv
  • Artists: N/A (Doesn’t seem to be any)

Pros
As the name implies, this is a pedal that metal heads appreciate, and based on reviews, many of them are certainly impressed. The sensitivity of its EQ controls also get a lot of praise, allowing the pedal to handle everything from heavy riffs to soaring leads. Durability and reliability are also never questioned, as expected from an EHX pedal.

Cons
Metal tone is not everyone's cup of tea, so you can skip this pedal if you're planning on using it for anything less than high gain.

Overall
This pedal is great for metal players looking for a unique lead and rhythm tone.

Boss DS-2 Turbo

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 1000+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$100
Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion Pedal

The Boss DS-2 is an upgraded version of the DS-1. It’s essentially a DS-1 with an additional gain circuit built in. Picture it like this, imagine you have a normal distortion pedal. What’s going to happen if you use a second distortion pedal at the same time? You’re going to get more distortion, right? That’s essentially what’s happening with the DS-2. The cool thing about the DS-2 is that you still have access to the same basic tones as the DS-1, but you also have the option to use higher levels of gain.

This is why many users of the DS-1 eventually purchased a DS-2 as well, because it has a similar tone (the tone of the two pedals is close enough that many would have a hard time distinguishing between the two) and the option of more distortion. The DS-2 also has a special feature that many pedals in this price range lack. When using the pedal with an optional footswitch from Boss (like the FS-5L) you can switch between the first and second gain stage without having to bend down to adjust the pedal.

Features:

  • Controls: Level, Tone, Distortion, Turbo
  • Analog
  • Buffered Bypass
  • 9-Volt Adapter/Battery
  • Special Features: Turbo Switch
  • Artists: Steve Vai, John Frusciante, Kurt Cobain, Dave Navarro

Pros
The general consensus is that this pedal expands on the DS-1 nicely, without totally changing how the DS-1 sounds. It is recommended by experienced users for use with Rock and other styles that you'd use the DS-1 for, only this pedal can go a notch higher in terms of gain. And like all Boss pedals, durability is a given.

Cons
Even with its extra features, this pedal still sticks to the voicing of the DS-1. As such it will not please those who want versatility, or those who want extreme distortion, both subtle and high-gain.

Overall
If you're a fan of the original DS-1 but want a bit more dirt without going far from the original tone, then this pedal is for you.

Boss MT-2 Metal Zone

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 1400+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$100
Boss MT-2 Metal Zone Distortion Pedal

The Boss MT-2 Metal Zone Distortion Pedal is a very controversial unit. It’s a love it or hate it pedal. Some musicians feel that it sounds harsh and tinny, while others feel that its their key to high gain awesomeness.

So why does the MT-2 get this reputation? Well, it’s actually pretty simple. The pedal makes it really easy to entirely scoop out your mid-range frequency response. Since the guitar is a mid-ranged focused instrument, and it’s focus in a mix is mid-range, when you cut out your mid-range your tone gets flabby and weak in a band. So long as you don’t cut out your mids, the pedal has the potential to sound just as good as any other high gain stomp box. The only thing to keep in mind with this pedal is that the EQ makes a huge difference with this pedal, so expect to take some time to dial in the tone you’re looking for.

So with that out of the way, when you look at the pedal on its own merits it really is a fully featured little unit. The MT-2 comes with a three-band EQ, allowing you to adjust your low-end, mid-range, and high-end frequencies. There’s also plenty of gain on tap, so if you’re looking for hard rock and metal tones you’ve come to the right place.

Features:

  • Controls: Level, High/Low, Middle, Distortion
  • Analog
  • Buffered Bypass
  • 9-Volt Adapter/Battery
  • Special Features: N/A
  • Artists: Limp Bizkit, The Vines, Warren Haynes

Pros
While some experts may cross out the Boss MT-2 Metal Zone in their list of favorite distortion pedals, the market sharply disagrees, as it continues to rate highly among actual users. It gets a lot of kudos for its versatility, thanks to its expanded EQ option, and contrary to what some would say, many stand by how good this pedal sounds.

Cons
There are a few who feel that the pedal sounds too thin, but as some users have suggested, this can be remedied by minor tweaking of the EQ. Some recommend pulling back on the settings to get good tones.

Overall
With its versatility and good market standing, the Boss MT-2 Metal Zone is definitely worth having a closer look.

MXR M75 Super Badass

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 375+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$100
MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion Pedal

At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Distortion Pedal $50 to $100 along with the RAT 2 and MXR M104 Distortion+.

The MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion Pedal is arguably one of the most versatile distortion pedals currently available, being able to cover everything from sweet overdrive to pounding hard rock. This is largely due to the active EQ section with Bass, Mid and High controls that have their frequency ranges well tuned to many styles of music. That means there aren't a lot of "wrong" combinations when you're tweaking so you'll be choosing between great sounding options with varying textures rather than trying to find a sound that's usable.

The MXR 75 is also true bypass and analog.

Features:

  • Controls: Output, Bass, Mid, Treble, Distortion
  • Analog
  • True Bypass
  • Power Supply Option
  • Special Features: N/A
  • Artists: N/A

Pros
The key to the pedal’s versatility lies in the range of its distortion and its three-band EQ. These two features together make it possible to dial in a ton of different gain profiles, all of which are pretty convincing in their own right. And this sentiment is shared by many owners, who would swear by the good tones that they are getting from the pedal.

Cons
There are a few who complain about the pedal's output, which gets loud too quickly as you tweak the output. Unity gain sits at about 10 o'clock on the volume dial so keep this in mind.

Overall
The MXR M75 Super Badass is a real badass when it comes to tone and versatility.

Things to Consider When Buying Distortion Effects

If you’re not sure how to figure out which distortion pedal is going to work best for you, or if you’re just looking to brush up on you’re background knowledge before you throw any money down, check out the specifications below.

  • Buying Your First Distortion Pedal

  • The most important thing to know when buying your first distortion pedal is that your amp is going to have a huge impact on how your distortion pedal sounds. If you are using a single-speaker solidstate combo amp, it will be hard to replicate the sound of artists who utilize expensive tube amp heads with 4x12 cabinets. If you’re looking for a super full and dark distorted tone, you’re going to want a distortion pedal that allows you to emphasize low-end and mid-range tones, or you can use a separate EQ pedal to achieve similar effect.

    While you can get reasonably close to a particular distorted sound, don't get too obsessed about getting to perfect - unless you can invest in other important factors like amps, cables, other pedals and most important of all - playing technique.

  • Versatility vs. Usability

  • As a general rule, guitar pedals emphasize one of two things: usability or versatility. Pedals that emphasize usability generally have less controls you can alter but have a great tone at almost every setting. Pedals that focus on versatility have more controls but require more tweaking to get the best possible tone.

    The best option depends on what you’re looking for. If you just want to plug in and get to playing, odds are you’ll be frustrated with a pedal that requires a lot of tweaking to get a good tone. Likewise, if you prefer having as much control as possible over your tone you’re going to want a pedal that will facilitate that.

  • Bypass

  • Terms you’re going to hear thrown around a lot when you’re looking for a pedal are: buffered bypass, hardwired bypass, and true bypass. These three terms describe what happens to your guitar’s signal when the pedal isn’t engaged.

    True bypass is where your guitar’s signal passes straight through a pedal unaffected, essentially making it the same as if your signal was just going through a cord. A lot of guitarists prefer this because they feel like it makes their tone more transparent. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. The main effect that true bypass has is that it shortens the overall distance your signal travels before it reaches your amp. This can help your signal maintain high-end response, because as the distance from your guitar to your amp increases you gradually start to lose high-end frequencies (this starts at roughly 18.5 feet, according to BOSS). However, true bypass doesn’t do anything to improve your tone.

    Buffered bypass is where the signal still passes through the pedal and its circuitry, but is boosted. This helps to strengthen the signal, and actually does more to preserve your signal than true bypass pedals. Buffered bypass pedals are especially helpful if you’re using a large signal chain (lots of pedals).

    Hardwire bypass is where your signal passes through a pedal’s circuitry and is not boosted. Hardwire bypass can cause you to lose some high-end response, especially if you’re using multiple hardwire bypass pedals.

Best Distortion Pedal Selection Methodology

This guide was first published on December 22, 2017 written by Mason Hoberg and the latest major update was published on January 28, 2020 written by Alexander Briones with contributions from Mason Hoberg.

With so many distortion pedals in the market, gathering data on just the popular ones that are actually widely available is quite the undertaking. So to make sure that we feature only distortion pedals, we focused on those that are actually labeled or marketed as distortion, excluding fuzz, overdrive and multi-effects pedals. For this update, we decided to make the list more budget friendly by limiting the price range to under $100. Even with these limitations, we still ended up analyzing 25 distortion pedals, along with over 17,000 data sources that include reviews, ratings, forum discussions and expert recommendations.

All these data were processed via the Gearank algorithm, which then gave us the scores that we used to narrow down the list to just the best of the best. For more information about this process see How Gearank Works

Comments

Dude what the hell is this

Dude what the hell is this list? The DS-1 and Metalzone are some of the absolute worst distortion pedals with no midrange at all. Good luck trying to cut through a mix with those.

There were two dudes and a

There were two dudes and a dudette that worked on this guide :)

The selection methodology is described above - note that the Boss DS-1 wasn't in our recommended list but included as an 'honorable mention' due to it's popularity and often being the first distortion pedal many guitarists try.

The Boss MT-2 Metal Zone was included in our recommended list based on its high ratings, but if you read what we said again, you'll notice that we mentioned the controversy surrounding it in the first paragraph and went on to describe the mid-range issue in the second paragraph.

GOOD LISTE.

GOOD LIST.

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