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

The Highest Rated Budget Distortion Pedals

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Distortion is the name of the game when it comes to heavy music such as rock and metal. Many guitarsts have a distortion pedal as their first stombox effect. Even tone snobs and veterans have space for a distortion pedal or two on their boards for more textures and kicking up the gain.

For this July 2022 Edition we've retained separate recommended lists for Under $50 and Under $100 to help you select a great distortion pedal that fits your budget.

The Best Distortion Pedals

Author & Contributors

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

I've been an audio engineer for 20 years specializing in rock and metal recordings, and also I play guitar and produce original music for my band and other content creators.

Best Cheap Distortion Pedals under $50

Behringer UM300 Ultra Metal

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 2150+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$29
Behringer UM300 Ultra Metal Distortion Pedal
At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Distortion Pedal Under $50 along with the Donner Morpher.

Cons

  • Some unwanted hiss and noise
  • Lacking in the low end

Pros

  • Great value for money
  • Excels in high-gain scooped tones
  • Solid build quality

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.

It is housed in a standard size stompbox which makes it easy to fit into most setups.

As with many of these high gain distortion pedals, there is some unwanted hiss and noise - try moving the pedal away from the amp for better results.

If you're looking for a budget friendly high-gain capable distortion pedal with tons of EQ options, this should definitely go on your to-try list.

Specifications

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

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
YouTube Tim Guitar 90/100
YouTube SwedishGuitarNerd 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Demo

Rowin Plexion

89
GEARANK

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

Street Price: 

$33
Rowin Plexion Distortion Pedal

Cons

  • Noise issues with some power supplies and outlets
  • Sounds muddy on some settings

Pros

  • Straightforward controls
  • Compact form factor
  • Wide range of gain settings suitable for many genres

The Rowin Plexion is an affordable, compact distortion pedal with 2 gain modes (Normal and Bright) much like the amp it was modeled after.

This "Plexi-drive" style pedal offers an array of low gain tones as well as access to "hot-rodded" higher gain tones.

In normal mode, simulating the "normal" input of the famed Plexi amp, the distortion is sophisticated and full with a nice bottom end push.

On bright mode, it takes on familiar tones from the 80s with tighter palm mute tones and sizzling highs.

The Rowin Plexion is an affordable "M" amp style distortion that gets you close to the best tones of the 70s, 80s and beyond at a very affordable price.

Specifications

  • Controls: Volume, Gain, Tone, Normal/Bright Toggle
  • Analog
  • True Bypass
  • 9-Volt Adapter (Sold Separately)

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
YouTube Taylor Morgeson 96/100
YouTube DutchGuitarDude 92/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Demo

Donner Morpher

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 1200+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$40
Donner Morpher Distortion Pedal
At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Distortion Pedal Under $50 along with the Behringer UM300.

Cons

  • Noisy with an unfiltered power supply
  • Tendency to fizz up at higher gain settings

Pros

  • Great for thick tones
  • Midrange push makes solos stand out in a mix
  • "Tight" setting capable of serving modern metal (it chugs)

Modern rock and metal has come a long way from the scooped midrange tones of the 80s and 90s. The Donner Morpher is one "riot" of a pedal with a modern take on the high gain distortion.

It features 3 different gain toggle settings as well as controls for Level, Tone and Gain. The circuitry is housed in an all-metal enclosure.

The toggle switch enables you to go from from Natural mode: a thick sounding overdrive tone, Tight mode for modern sounding distortion to Classic mode: a UK-style gain response perfect for classic rock.

The Donner Morpher is a gem of a pedal at this price range - excellent for thick leads and modern heavy riffing.

Specifications

  • Controls: Tone, Level, Gain, 3 way Toggle for gain settings
  • Analog
  • Buffered Bypass
  • 9-Volt Adapter (Sold Separately)

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
YouTube Tim Guitar 90/100
YouTube Justus Gash 93/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Best Distortion Pedals under $100

Boss DS-1

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 6850+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$63
Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal
At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Distortion Pedal Under $100 along with the ProCo RAT 2 and MXR M75 Super Badass.
This review was written by Alden Acosta who has also provided an extended version that includes some of the settings he uses along with recorded samples.

Cons

  • Noisy operation at high gain settings
  • Can sound harsh, thin and annoying
  • Needs a real amp and cab to sound good

Pros

  • Boss compact pedal tried and true reliability
  • Versatile sound that works with lots of genres
  • Excellent price-to-performance for a benchmark pedal

The DS-1 Distortion pedal has made its way into my setup more than once or twice in my playing career.

Enamored by its simplicity, ruggedness and sheer ability to mangle a pristine amp tone, this is a pedal I know well.

The DS-1 has a sound and feel that I describe as "real". It has a great way of distorting your signal while retaining the characteristic sound of your guitar - being analog ensures no latency whatsoever and it really feels like a carburetor as opposed to a fuel injection powered car to use an analogy - completely connected to your tone.

A perspective shot of Alden's DS-1

It runs the risk of being thin and shrill at times, I would sometimes use it as a simple boost for amps with an already good drive channel. Also, as I have gotten older and more experienced, I have opted to use less and less of the "DIST" setting mitigating its tendency to be harsh and unpleasing to the ear.

It works great for punk music and with the volume pot on your guitar rolled off is great for some blues and pop alternative. But lacking the dual-stage chug that something like a Boss MT-2 has, I don't see it succeeding in many metal situations.

I tried to use it in a recent recording that I was working on and found no useable tones straight into the audio interface. It works best with a real amp and it doesn't react to VST amp and cab simulators very well.

It's good to have a copy of such an iconic pedal. You won't reach for it that often, especially if you don't have an amp that has opposite tonal characteristics (extremely clean and warm). Many would be quick to pooh-pooh the DS-1 in favor of boutique pedals. But give it a shot, it might be the perfect blend of sweet and nasty your guitar sound needs.

Specifications

  • Controls: Tone, Level, Distortion
  • Analog
  • Buffered Bypass
  • 9-Volt Adapter/Battery (Sold Separately)
  • Artists: Kurt Cobain, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Josh Klinghoffer

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Gearank Alden Acosta 84/100
Guitar Chalk Bobby 76.75/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Demo

ProCo RAT 2

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 2300+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$80
Pro Co RAT2 Distortion Pedal
At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Distortion Pedal Under $100 along with the Boss DS-1 and MXR M75 Super Badass.

Cons

  • Overly distinct at times - not a chameleon pedal
  • Not suitable for modern metal

Pros

  • Easy to operate
  • Full sounding bottom end
  • Sonic versatility with staple tones at low, medium and high gain

The RAT 2 is a surprisingly versatile distortion pedal with an unmistakable sound signature. 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.

Also, 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.

If you're looking for a classic sounding dirt box that can do it all but still sound like itself, the RAT 2 is an excellent distortion pedal to try.

Specifications

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

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Producer Hive Nathan Scholz 94/100
Gearspace Pale Pyramid 75/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Demo

MXR M78 Custom Badass '78

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 550+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$90
MXR M78 Custom Badass '78 Distortion Pedal

Cons

  • Not for modern, tight metal
  • Lacks versatility - has one sound

Pros

  • Distortion sound adds harmonics and depth to your guitar tone
  • Pushes even clean amps into tube-like saturation
  • Dynamic re-imagining of a classic 70's distortion tone with more warmth and mids

MXR took a classic distortion circuit and hot-rodded it for sizzling gain.

The MXR M78 Custom Badass '78 distortion is a fresh take on a well loved classic.

It features Output, Tone and Distortion controls as well as a crunch switch that adds more gain on tap with a slight boost to the brightness.

As the name implies, the MXR M78 oozes attitude and grit. If you need an aggressive sounding distortion pedal for big rock riffs, you shouldn't overlook this modern pedal with a classic sound.

Specifications

  • Controls: Tone, Level, Distortion
  • Analog
  • Buffered Bypass
  • 9-Volt Adapter/Battery (Sold Separately)
  • Special Features: Crunch Switch

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
Premier Guitar Steve Ouimette 90/100
YouTube Elmo Karjalainen 70/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Demo

MXR M104 Distortion+

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 600+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$90
MXR M104 Distortion+ Pedal

Cons

  • Dark sounding
  • No tone knob for fine tuning the EQ

Pros

  • Just 2 controls make it truly plug and play
  • Definitive classic rock sound heard on many records
  • Solid build quality and reliability

First introduced in the '70s, the humble MXR Distortion+ continues to be a staple on 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.

Its simplified controls make this the perfect plug and play pedal, especially for classic rock tones. The simple intuitiveness of only having two parameters and its time-tested build quality are also big factors in why this classic pedal continues to be sought after to this day.

Although a banger of a distortion pedal, it's not for those who want more control over their tone, and it may not please those who want a more modern and defined distortion flavor.

The MXR M104 Distortion+ is a practical plug-and-play solution if you want a distortion pedal that's simple, sweet and a true classic.

Specifications

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

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
YouTube Elmo Karjalainen 88/100
YouTube Jack Fossett 90/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Demo

MXR M75 Super Badass

92
GEARANK

92 out of 100. Incorporating 700+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$100
MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion Pedal
At publication time this was the Equal Highest Rated Distortion Pedal Under $100 along with the Boss DS-1 and ProCo RAT 2.

Cons

  • Pedal output gets loud too quickly - hard to dial in

Pros

  • Highly versatile and tweakable with complete active EQ settings
  • Amazing thick tone
  • Dynamic distortion range - from clean boost to extreme modern distortion

The MXR M75 Super Badass Distortion Pedal is arguably one of the most versatile distortion pedals currently available in this price range, 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.

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.

A minor gripe is the pedal's output getting 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.

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

Specifications

  • Controls: Output, Bass, Mid, Treble, Distortion
  • Analog
  • True Bypass
  • 9V Power Supply/Battery (Sold Separately)

Rating Source Highlights

Website Source *Rating Value
YouTube DawJockey 96/100
YouTube Guitar World 99/100
*Displayed values are prior to the Gearank Algorithm's adjustments it makes when evaluating the source.

Demo

Things to Consider When Buying a Distortion Pedal

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 cable. 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

The first Edition was published in 2017 and the current Edition was published on July 14, 2022.

With so many distortion pedals in the market, gathering data on just the popular ones that are actually widely available is quite the undertaking. We focused on those that are actually labeled or marketed as distortion, excluding fuzz, overdrive and multi-effects pedals. We decided to keep the list budget friendly by limiting the price to $100. Even with these limitations, we still ended up placing 15 distortion pedals on our short-list, which you can see in our Music Gear Database, and collected over 19,400 data sources that included reviews, ratings, forum discussions and expert recommendations.

All these data were processed using the Gearank Algorithm which then gave us the rating scores our of 100 that we used to narrow down the list to just the best of the best. For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.

About the Author and Contributors

Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide's production - click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.

Lead Author & Researcher

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

I've been an audio engineer for 20 years specializing in rock and metal recordings, and also I play guitar and produce original music for my band and other content creators.

Aside from endlessly window shopping and watching hours of gear reviews for leisure, he enjoys playing competitive FPS games, MMORPGs and caring for his 5 cats. He is primarily influenced by guitarists like Kurt Ballou and Paul Gilbert. His favorite pieces of gear are his Ibanez RG550RFR, Orange Brent Hinds Terror amplifier and EQD Acapulco Gold fuzz.

Contributors

Alden Acosta: Boss DS-1 Review.
Alexander Briones: Supplemental writing.
Mason Hoberg: Supplemental writing.
Jason Horton: Editing and Illustrating.

Media

Main/Top Image: By Gearank.com using photographs of the MXR M104 Distortion+, Boss DS-1 and MXR M75 Super Badass.

The videos above have been embedded in accordance with YouTube's Terms of Service.

The individual product images were sourced from websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation provided by their respective manufacturers with the exception of the Plugged in DS-1 which was photographed by Alden Acosta.

Comments

GOOD LISTE.

GOOD LIST.

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.