John is a fervent writer, gamer, and guitar lover. He is a former automatic-transmission repairer, welder, and hobbyist game developer.
Choosing a distortion pedal is a bit of a headache at the best of times, but choosing a distortion pedal on a tight budget can be enough to make you want to pack up your gear and go back to playing in your bedroom. Fortunately, here are seven distortion pedals that bring the tone without breaking the bank.
It's got lots of colour, lots of dials, and LOTS of gain!
Behringer are the kings of inexpensive audio equipment, producing everything from mixing boards to full-on guitars for a fraction of the cost of other manufacturers. The Behringer UM300 is in keeping with that ethos, offering a great deal of control for a very low price.
Complete with four-band EQ, the UM300 offers you a degree of versatility that few pedals under $50 (or even $100 for that matter) provide. The tone this pedal produces is an authentic 80/90s metal sound that is reminiscent of bands like Metallica.
On the downside, the UM300 doesn’t quite have the depth of tone that more expensive pedals create, and the plastic housing feels a bit cheap when compared to the more traditional metal-bodied pedals. That being said, the cost of the Behringer UM300 makes it excellent value for money despite these flaws.
Behringer Product Video
TC Electronic's Dark Matter
A versatile pedal with a quality tone.
The TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion Pedal is a versatile offering that comes in an understated yet stylish black design. Sporting a dual-band EQ to accompany the usual volume and gain controls, the Dark Matter also offers an interesting “Voice” toggle switch. The voice switch throws the Dark Matter between deeper, modern and more retro tones, though you probably won’t feel the need to change it once you’ve decided which one you prefer.
TC Electronic Product Video
The metal housing feels solid, and the rubber feet ensure your distortion pedal doesn’t try to get away from you when you’re gigging. Tone-wise the Dark Matter has a lot of range, but it is particularly suited to modern rock.
All in all, the Dark Matter is one of the better pedals on this list in terms of what you’re getting. There are certainly cheaper pedals, and there are pedals with a higher quality sound, but the Dark Matter has a particularly good blend of low cost and quality tone.
Get Dark Matter
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JOYO JF-02 Ultimate Overdrive Pedal
Doing the job of a $120 pedal for less than $30.
The JOYO JF-02 may be known to some as a clone or copy of Fulltone’s OCD distortion pedal; a considerably more expensive offering. The quality difference between the OCD and the JF-02 does not match the price difference, however, with the JOYO JF-02 providing a solid sound that far exceeds its price tag.
The pedal itself is of typical design—a decorated metal housing with a latch switch and controls at the top end of the unit. Said controls come in the form of gain, level, and tone dials, as well as a high and low toggle. As you have probably guessed, switching between the low and high settings will give you a bass or treble boost respectively.
The JOYO JF-02 is good for recreating the tone of late 70s tube amplifiers, and for the price is well worth having even if it’s only as a backup. The controls have a tendency to betray that low price at times, feeling a bit cheap inaccurate, but in general, this is a solid pedal.
JF-02 Video Review
Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal
An oldie but a goodie.
When it comes to affordable guitar pedals, Boss has been doing it longer than most. Case in point; the Boss DS-1 Distortion pedal has been around for over three decades, and is still a favourite among many guitarists. It is particularly popular among the modding community, with a number of boutique pedal suppliers offering modded versions, and many enthusiasts opting to do it themselves.
DS-1 Video Review
Sticking with the stock pedal, however, the Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal is a solid product that does the job and does it well. You have three dials for tone, volume, and distortion. It uses an actual pedal rather than a more typical latch switch and said pedal has a nice large rubber pad so there’s no fear of your foot slipping when you go to turn it on or off.
The distinctive orange housing of the DS-1 will bring a touch colour to any pedalboard, and the classic rock drive that this pedal puts out will have most thinking your distortion pedal cost way more than it actually did!
Get the DS-1
Modtone MT-DS Speedbox Distortion
The dedicated pedal.
The Modtone MT-DS Speedbox Distortion Pedal offers a little more dedication than the UM300 or Dark Matter in the shape of a single-tone dial for shaping your sound. In short, this pedal does what it does, and if you don’t like that, you should look at other pedals.
Speedbox Video Review
The distinctive green metal housing with black flame decal is home to a single latch switch and three dials; tone, level, and gain. The beauty of the MT-DS is that it holds its tone remarkably well, no matter how far you turn the dials.
The MT-DS does what it does well, but it’s up to you to decide if what it does is what you want or need for your rig. That being said, if you’re looking for a vintage amp sound with overdrive, this is the pedal for you
Get the Speedbox
Donner Morpher Distortion Pedal
The tiny pedal that packs a heck of a punch.
The Donner Morpher Distortion Pedal, like the Modtone MT-DS, is a bit of a one-trick pony. It does one thing, and it does it well, but as to whether that one thing will meet your needs is something only you can decide.
A Donner Morpher Video Review
The Donner Morpher is a compact, robust pedal housed in a red metal case that takes up very little space—ideal for smaller pedalboards. It sports volume, tone, and gain dials, as well as a three-way toggle switch to choose between natural, tight, and classic distortion modes.
In truth, there’s not a lot of compromises to be had with this pedal. The distortion effect it gives is intended to be a real gut-shaking affair, and it succeeds admirably in that goal. As one of the cheaper pedals on this list, it is certainly worth your money if the tone it provides is right for you.
Get the Donner Morpher
Danelectro D-1 Fab Distortion Effects Pedal
The cheap pedal with a lot of range.
If nothing else, the Danelectro D-1 Fab Distortion Effects Pedal wins the award for its most distinctive appearance. As it turns out, however, this pedal isn’t all looks. The D-1 gives you three controls—volume, tone, and distortion—however, there is quite a lot of range in those settings.
The tone itself is very 90s, reminiscent of bands like Green Day, but with a bit of tweaking, you can find a tone that is akin to everything from Metallica to Smashing Pumpkins.
The plastic housing feels a little… well… plasticky, and may not stand up to a particularly rough stomping. In truth, this pedal is probably the weakest on this list in terms of tone and build quality, but it’s also the cheapest on this list, so choose your compromises wisely.
D-1 Fab Video Review
So there you have it; seven pedals under $50 that will help you turn your rig into a face melting, wall of sound producing machine without emptying your bank account.
© 2016 John Bullock