7 Best Distortion Pedals For Metal (2023) Bring on the Chug!

The best distortion pedals for metal offer a blend of quality, high-gain tones, and ease of use. There is a vast variety of options in the market, and it may be a bit overwhelming to pick the best one for you.

Your own taste and criteria are central to picking the right distortion pedal for you. That said, there are a few considerations to take into account. Below, we list seven of the best distortion pedals for metal in the market today. Keep reading.

ImageProductFeaturesPrice
Editor's Choice
Gamechanger Audio Third Man Records Plasma Coil High Voltage

Gamechanger Audio Third Man Records Plasma Coil High Voltage

Features: True bypass switching, Momentary and latch settings, 6 Selectable effects types

Benefits: Huge range of distorted tones, Doesn't color tone when not in use, Provides visual feedback of incoming signal

10
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Best Value
Boss MT-2 Metal Zone

Boss MT-2 Metal Zone

Features: Metal housing, Dual gain circuitry, 3 Band EQ

Benefits: Iconic metal tones, Borderline indestructable, Easy sound shaping

8.5
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Best Budget
TC Electronic Fangs Metal Distortion

TC Electronic Fangs Metal Distortion

Features: All analog electronics, Mid frequency selector switch, Battery or DC powered

Benefits: Versatile tonal range, Extremely affordable, User friendly design

7
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Our Top 3

The Boss MT2 Metal Zone is our Top Choice. It comes with a dual-gain circuitry design and fantastic build quality. This is one of Boss’ most popular guitar pedals and is beloved for delivering excellent saturation and sustain while being easy to use.

The TC Electronic Fangs is our Best Budget option. This is an analog distortion pedal that features a rugged metal chassis and straightforward controls and operation. With a switch that lets you pick between Raw, Fat, and Scoop settings, this is a versatile and affordable choice. 

Finally, the Gamechanger Audio Third Man Records Plasma Coil High Voltage is our Editor’s Choice. This is a unique pedal that operates by transforming audio signals into an electrical charge, which then goes through a xenon-filled vacuum tube. An out-of-the-box and top-notch quality option for true pros.


Individual Reviews

Top Pick

The gateway to distortion pedals for over three decades.

The Metal Zone is one of the most popular pedals in history and for good reason. With just over three decades in the market, this pedal has been used by countless guitarists, as it offers aggressive distortion and an easy-to-use design.

The Boss MT2 Metal Zone features a dual-gain circuitry design that is capable of providing massive distortion tones. This is one of Boss’ most popular guitar pedals and is known for offering great saturation and sustain, and for being versatile as well.

The Metal Zone was one of our first pedals ever, and it was exciting to try it once again. We plugged our American -made Standard Strat into our Marshall combo amp and started our tests on the neck pickup. We got fat and penetrating distortion by activating the pedal with all the knobs in the 12-clock position. 

This legendary Boss distortion pedal comes with dual concentric dials. This gave us a more convenient and user-friendly experience, without the need to make the control panel larger to accommodate six knobs. With a 3-band equalizer and semi-parametric midrange control, we were able to come up with unique tones for different contexts. 

This pedal gave us everything from warm overdrive to scorching distortion. Additionally, we attempted some unorthodox EQ settings and got unique tones for out-of-the-box contexts. 

Another aspect that we liked about the Metal Zone is how well-built and sturdy it is. This pedal will likely last you a lifetime even in rough gigging conditions. You can choose to use it with a 9V battery or a DC power supply purchased separately. With over one million units sold and 30 years of uninterrupted production, the Metal Zone is as good as it is popular and is a great choice for anyone shopping for a distortion pedal. 

Verdict: The Boss MT2 Metal Zone is built with a dual-gain circuitry design that delivers everything from warm overdrive to aggressive metal distortion. With a three-band EQ, boost and sturdy design, this pedal is one of the most popular distortion units ever for good reason.


Best Budget

Simplicity and convenience meet power.

This pedal offers a great blend of simplicity, tone and durability all in an affordable and compact unit. With renowned TC Electronic quality and reputation, you get a distortion pedal capable of delivering the most common saturation tones and then some.

The TC Electronic Fangs is an analog distortion pedal built with a durable metal chassis and simple control knobs. Besides the four knobs for Gain, Volume, Bass, and Treble, this pedal adds a unique element with a switch that lets you pick between Raw, Fat, and Scoop settings. 

For this test, we used our Strat and Fender Twin Reverb amp. We set out to get an overdrive sound to use in position two of our guitar. We were able to get a nice overdriven tone with the switch set on Raw, the gain at around 10 o’clock, and the remaining three knobs at noon.

Then we went for a more extreme metal-type distortion with scooped mids. We set the switch to Scoop and place the gain knob at 3 o’clock, with both the bass and treble below noon. We got a piercing and aggressive distorted tone with the mids nicely scooped, great for a variety of heavy contexts. 

However, our favorite setting for the switch was the Fat mode. Here we got a powerful yet articulate distorted sound that was great for everything from heavy rock to metal. We played around with the gain knob, placing it at different levels, and found the Fat mode to be the most musical of the three. 

In short, a very well-built distortion pedal that besides being affordable, also provides a good tone for different genres. 

Verdict: The TC Electronic Fangs provides analog distortion for folks on a budget. It comes with a durable metal chassis and simple control knobs. Additionally, you get a switch that lets you pick between Raw, Fat, and Scoop settings, making this pedal a versatile option that can be used in different contexts.


Editor's Choice

A superior option for discerning guitarists.

Gamechanger Audio joined forces with Jack White and Third Man Records to re-create the Plasma Coil high-voltage distortion pedal. This unique pedal transforms audio signals into a 3,500-volt electrical charge, going through a xenon-filled vacuum tube. This provides a unique process that results in incredible distortion that is truly unique.

The Gamechanger Audio Third Man Records Plasma Coil High Voltage pedal comes with five additional octave modes. These include two sub-octave modes, one upper-octave mode, and two mixed-octave modes. 

We were very excited to try out this unique pedal. We set up our Strat and Twin Reverb amp and started by playing with the Voltage knob. With this knob, we adjusted the amount of current sent to the Xenon tube, obtaining a very unique variety of distorted tones.

At lower voltage settings we got tons of contrast between our individual notes. On the other hand, when we turned the Voltage knob up, we got a very sensitive response to our playing, great for lines that excelled in sustain. 

This pedal is a fantastic tool for those that like to experiment, as it took us on a distortion journey that we’ve never experienced before. One of our favorite tones was a harmonically dense fuzz. We could clearly hear the input of Jack White on the design of this unique pedal. 

We also loved how the Low Freq and High Freq knobs significantly altered our tone. Because his pedal does not employ clipping diodes, driven tubes, or transistors, every distorted sound we got had a unique flair to it. 

In short, a well-built and unique pedal capable of face-melting distortion. This is a great choice for discerning folks that are not afraid to try something new. 

Verdict: The Gamechanger Audio Third Man Records Plasma Coil High Voltage pedal comes with six types of octave-down and octave-up circuits for unique distortion. With latch and momentary modes of operation, this pedal provides a unique playing experience with incredible levels of distortion.


Also Consider

A versatile pedal with plenty of control options.

This distortion pedal is a good choice for folks that play aggressive styles of music including metal and that want plenty of choice for dialing in their tone. With eight knobs, two footswitches, and a three-way mode switch, you get ultimate control over your tone.

The Empress Heavy Menace Distortion Pedal features a toggle switch that selects between Heavy, Heavier, and Lite(ish) modes. The first two modes are the same as those included on the popular Empress Heavy distortion pedal, while the new Lite(ish) mode offers less aggressive saturation. 

The first thing we loved about this pedal (besides how well-built it is) was the 3-band EQ. We started our tests by placing the Gain knob at 12 for powerful distortion and went on to test how the EQ affected our sound. We loved how sensitive the Low and High knobs were, great for tightening our bottom end or adding sparkle to the top. 

The Mid knob is sweepable from 200 Hz to 2.5 kHz and gave us everything from an aggressive scooped-mids metal tone to a muscular and balanced tone. This pedal also comes with a Weight control which alters a highpass filter in the distortion circuit. This knob allowed us to shape the low-end nature of our tone, ideal for heavier styles of music. 

Another feature that we loved on the Empress Heavy Menace was the foot-switchable noise gate. This allowed us much greater and cleaner control of our distorted sounds, making this pedal that much more precise. 

With great control over the user’s tone, fantastic distorted sounds, and a durable build, this pedal is a wonderful choice for metal. However, it may not be right for folks that value simplicity over deep editing choices. 

Verdict: The Empress Heavy Menace Distortion Pedal gives you a powerful growl with plenty of options to control your tone. With a toggle switch that gives you three operating modes, this pedal is built like a tank and offers stellar sound.


Also Consider

A true classic that is still relevant today.

The ProCo RAT 2 pedal is one of the most famous distortion stompboxes ever, used by countless generations of shredders. Well-built and simple to use, you get a compact distortion unit that delivers legendary tones.

The Pro Co Rat 2 is the continuation of the 70’s RAT pedal, a staple of pedalboards all over the world and spanning several decades. This unit is known for its quality and flexibility and has remained popular over time thanks to its ability to deliver everything from overdrive to classic metal distortion. 

With a simple yet effective 3-knob layout, the RAT is very simple to use and operate. We paired it with our Gibson Les Paul Standard and our Fender Twin Reverb for our tests. The Distortion knob allowed us to dial in the amount of saturation. From warm overdriven tones to aggressive distortion when turned clockwise, this knob gave us a very user-friendly and sensitive operation to dial in just the amount of distortion we wanted.

Right next to the distribution knob, we have the Filter knob. This is where the magic of this pedal happens, as it gave us a variety of sonic textures with a bit of a traditional flair that can be used in modern contexts. 

This pedal has been around since the seventies and is a testament to its simplicity, effectiveness, and fat-distorted tones that it is able to provide (one of the reasons it has so many clones). On top of that, it is extremely well built, ready to withstand the rigors of live work. As good as it is, it may not be for folks that gravitate towards a more modern tone and prefer to have greater control over their tone. 

Verdict: The Pro Co Rat 2 builds on the popular 70’s RAT pedal, a sort of paradigm among distortion pedals for several decades. With fantastic quality and ease of use, this pedal has remained popular over time and is still a good choice for folks that value quality and simplicity.


Also Consider

Powerful saturation molded after a classic pedal.

The Hell Melter is a new metal pedal by Electro-Harmonix, designed after the legendary Boss HM-2 from the '80s. With a very metal artwork on the enclosure, this pedal goes well beyond what the HM-2 could do and offers great control over your tone in a versatile distortion unit. 

The Electro Harmonix Hell Melter comes with dedicated Level and Distortion knobs as well as an active EQ with a parametric control for the middle frequencies. It is built with your typical EHX knobs and rugged chassis.

We set it up along with our Gibson Les Paul Standard and our Marshall combo amp to run our tests. We started by trying out both the Distortion and Level knobs at high levels (past the two o’clock positions) and the two-position switch set to Norm. We got that legendary Swedish chainsaw-buzz tone that Boss HM-2 was known for but with a much greater ability to alter and sculpt our sound and a hotter output.

We then changed the top switch to the “Burn” position where we got a sound that was a bit less compressed, and tighter. Burn mode made our transients more lively, and fast runs sounded more articulate. 

This pedal also includes a Dry Level control, which we used to blend our input signal for a tighter low end at very aggressive distortion settings. We also loved the foot-switchable boost section, for an overtly aggressive sound, for select occasions.

Because of the inherent noise that such a powerful pedal would typically come with, EHX included a noise gate on the Hell Melter. This was great to do away with any potential hiss in high-gain situations. In short, a well-built pedal that takes after the legacy of one of Boss’ most iconic distortion units. 

Verdict: The Electro Harmonix Hell Melter is based on the Boss HM-2 from the ’80s but adds far more control options, better sound, and a hotter output. With an active EQ and a parametric control for the middle frequencies, you can dial in your tone just the way you want it. A great choice for metal.


Also Consider

Convenience and versatility with great tone.

This pedal offers an ideal balance of simplicity and quality. You can think of it as two distortion pedals in one, which you can either stack for aggressive distortion or blend in a more musical way.

The Fender Pugilist features two gain stages for added versatility. With a clever design, this pedal allows you to run two gain stages in series or parallel. 

We started our tests by running the gain stages in series. With our Gibson Les Paul going to our Fender Twin Reverb, we got monstrous distortion with both the Gain A and Gain B knobs at 3 o’clock. Although this sound was massive, we still got good harmonic clarity in our power chords.

We then tried the Pugilist running in parallel. Here we got a result that was more musical, and we were able to use the Blend knob to dial in the precise balance we wanted between both of the gain stages. Here we were able to get everything from warm overdrive to straight distortion, in a responsive and very gradual way. 

Another feature that we loved on the Pugilist was the Bass Boost switch. We plugged in our Strat at this point to test it out. Our single coil pickups got an extra layer of fat added once we engaged the Bass Boost switch. This is a great feature to have and makes the Pugilist more versatile and a great choice for heavier styles like metal.

This pedal also delivers nice convenience. We liked the battery compartment with easy access, and getting to it was seamless, perfect for emergency battery changes during a set. Another great detail was the LED-backlit knobs, so you can see exactly what you’re doing even in dark environments. In short, a great-sounding and very convenient unit that can act as a two-in-one pedal. 

Verdict: The Fender Pugilist comes with two gain stages for added versatility. You can operate this pedal either in series or parallel, so you can either stack both gain stages or blend them in a more musical way.


How to Choose The Right Pedal For You

Choosing the best distortion pedal for metal for you can be very exciting. However, it may also be a daunting task, as there are so many choices out there. Although your taste and criteria have a lot to do with your final choice, there are several factors to consider. Below are some key characteristics to look for.

Gain and Distortion Range

Metal music often requires high levels of gain and distortion. In other words, an overdrive pedal is not gonna do here. Specifically, look for a pedal that offers heavy saturation. Ideally, you want to look for something that provides enough gain to produce thick, aggressive tones without becoming overly muddy or noisy.

As for the age-old question of how much gain is enough… only you can answer that. Try a few pedals beforehand so you can develop some sort of criteria and make an informed decision. 

Tone-Shaping Controls

A good metal distortion pedal should have effective tone-shaping controls. Besides the usual options such as bass, mid, and treble knobs, look for units that allow you to scoop your mids, as that is a very used sound in metal. 

Naturally, if you hate scooped mids (and many folks do), then just ignore that suggestion. Again, this is largely a personal choice, based on your own taste and preferences. 

In any case, look for a pedal that will allow you to shape your tone and cut through the mix, ideally with a good blend of aggression and clarity.

Tightness and Articulation 

Speaking of clarity, you need a pedal that can deliver it, as well as articulation, which are two very important factors to consider, especially in high-gain settings. Trust me… you do want a pedal that is muddy where you can’t really tell one chord from another.

A good metal distortion pedal should preserve note definition and provide good string separation, allowing you to play fast, intricate passages with precision. 

Noise Suppression

Metal involves high gain and high volume levels, which can result in excess noise and unwanted feedback. Look for a pedal that incorporates some type of noise gate or noise reduction. This will minimize hiss and unwanted hum when you’re not playing, and make you sound much better altogether. 

Durability 

Metal is typically associated with tough gigging environments that can be demanding on your equipment. Pick a distortion pedal that is built to last and can withstand the rigors of live performances. Look for sturdy construction, reliable foot switches, and road-worthy components.

Versatility 

While it’s essential to have a pedal specifically designed for metal, having some degree of versatility is also important. Look for a pedal that can handle a range of tones, from classic metal to modern high-gain styles. This way, you can adapt the pedal to different genres or experiment with various sounds within the metal spectrum.


Final Thoughts

Like most things guitar-related, the best distortion pedal for metal for you is largely a personal choice. It will depend not only on the specific subgenre of metal that you play but also on your taste and playing style.

In this article, we have provided seven fantastic choices that deliver the goods. As always, try a few distortion pedals beforehand so you know exactly what they sound like and how they feel. 

To recap our options, the Boss MT2 Metal Zone is our Top Choice. With a dual-gain circuitry design and fantastic build quality, it builds on one of Boss’ most popular guitar pedals and is beloved for its saturation, sustain, and ease of use. 

Next up, the TC Electronic Fangs is our Best Budget option. With an analog design and rugged metal chassis with simple controls, this is a versatile and affordable choice. 

Last but not least, the Gamechanger Audio Third Man Records Plasma Coil High Voltage is our Editor’s Choice. This is a unique pedal that offers an alternative way to produce distortion and is a good choice for discerning folks that are not afraid of something new.  

Author

  • Rodrigo Sanchez

    Rodrigo is an award-winning songwriter (Best Popular Song Of 2018 for Ibermúsicas), and has worked with the prestigious EMI Music Publishing Latin America. He has production credits on artists such as Descemer Bueno, and has also composed alongside Grammy and ASCAP award-winners such as Sebastián De Peyrecave and José Luis Morín.