Beginner’s Guide to Distortion Pedals

Ever dreamed of becoming the next lead guitarist of a soon to be famous band? Then you would have already some kind of background with distortion and overdrive. Distortion and overdrive are types of audio signal processing that are specifically used to change the sound amplified by electric musical instruments.

These are the reasons why the music you tend to hear sounds “gritty” or “fuzzy.” If you are using an electric guitar then distortion is your friend. However, distortion pedals can also be used for electric piano, bass guitar, and Hammond organ.

What is a Distortion Peal and How Does it Work?

Before we dive in, let’s ask the question “what is a distortion pedal?” Now, let us do a little history checking. Early guitar amplifiers were somewhat low quality when it came to the reproduction of sounds. Around the 1950s, guitarists began experimenting with sounds and intentionally increasing gain beyond the usual levels of the guitar so that it could achieve a warmer sound.

Moving on to the early 60s, pre amplifiers gained widespread popularity among musicians and finally, in the late 60s and early 70s, some of the most notable rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath officially created what we know today as the “heavy metal” sound, which is achieved by combining the use of heavy distortion and high volumes.

A distortion pedal is one of the effect pedals used by musicians. Basically, this is a piece of electronic equipment that helps tune the pitch, tone, or sound of an electric guitar. With the right distortion pedal, you can achieve effects, amplify the guitar sounds, and simulate the level of music to adhere to the type of genre that you play.

All of these genres are inserted to the path where the signal is present between an amplifier and a musical instrument. It alters the signal from the musical instrument all the while adding effects that make the sound more interesting. Basically, distortion pedals make the sound more appealing.

One of the best ways to understand distortion pedals is to understand the instrument that greatly affects it – the electric guitar. Most electric guitars are absolutely passive.

What do we mean by passive? It does not consume any power and you do not have to plug it in for power. The strings vibrate, which produces a signal in the pickup coil. That unamplified signal that comes out of the guitar is the signal that is picked up and amplified by the amplifier.

Now, if you are still not convinced that distortion pedals are a good investment as a musician, then let’stalk about basic distortion boxes.  By definition, these distortion pedals help the sound become more adulterated. To use a rough analogy, distortion pedals are to tube amplifier tones.

The overdrives are from a pushed to cranked tweed Bassman, while distortion pedals are to a Bogner Ecstacy, Boogie/Mesa Triple Rectifier or a Laney-full-stacks tricks in a 3” by 5” box. Depending on the output, volume and level settings, these pedals can also boost the guitar signals, and that the sound we hear is still convergence of guitar and pedal.

If you don’t have a lot of space and can’t be too loud, take a look at our list of the best 5-watt tube amps.

A network of clipping diodes and transistors are what’s inside a basic distortion box. This is for the purpose of altering the wave form and boosting the signal. However, most units roughly resemble the type of overdrives that have tone-shaping stages, output and input barriers, and heavy work done by opamps.

The proliferation is most distinct in the number of pedals that go beyond the standard distortion sounds. These are the ones that generally produce the archetypal sound of crispy highs and thudding lows.

Many are adjustable for any type of genre, from metal to classic rock. It comes with a tone control that accentuates or reduces mids rather than regular high cut/boost, and often a “reverberation” control or similar for the purpose of adjusting the bass fullness.

There are a number of musicians that may argue that there is not much difference between an overdrive pedal and a distortion pedal but, in fact, there are many. An overdrive pedal boosts the guitar signal without boosting the guitar volume. A distortion pedal, on the other hand, clips the waveform of the guitar signal.

There are times where the two will be pushed into a single pedal. Overdrive pedals have an overall application for blues while distortion pedals are mostly for heavy rock or heavy metal application.

I hope this answers the question of what is distortion pedal. Whichever it is that you choose, remember that effect pedals do not make you a better guitarist, practice does.