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Guitar Distortion Pedals: Which is Right for You?

With so many guitar effects pedals to choose from, which one is right for you?  One very popular category of pedals is the type which increases the gain or signal strength from your guitar.  The most well-known of these is the distortion pedal.  But don’t worry; you don’t need to be in a death metal band to appreciate this type of effects pedal.  Many of these gain-boosting pedals are designed to mimic the sound of an overdriven classic tube amplifier and have been must-have accessories throughout rock & roll history.

All gain-type pedals amplify your signal and some contain additional electrical circuitry which also add layers and thickness to your sound.  Typically, these types of pedals are placed earlier in your signal chain near your guitar.  They come in many varieties, some which don’t distort your signal at all.  We’ll start with those which add no distortion and work our way up.

Signal Boosters – These types of pedals increase the signal strength and aren’t usually intended to add color to your tone.  They were originally intended to push tube amps into distortion, but some modern boosters do have circuitry to manually add distortion to your sound.  Boosters can also affect other pedals further down your signal chain and help keep your signal strong.  You can experiment with them in different spots in your chain and see how it affects your sound.  Boosters also work well to add volume to guitar solos or other song sections.

Compressors – Compression pedals color your sound more than pure boosters, but have the least added distortion of the gain-type pedals.  They are known for their subtle and smooth thick tone.  Compression effects work by softening the attack or front edge of a note and adding sustain to the end of a note.

Here’s a great demo video featuring the Henretta Pinkman Dirty Boost and Henretta Orange Whip Compressor so you can hear how they sound.


Overdrive – The most popular of the gain-boosting pedals.  Overdrive pedals were also first used to push tube amplifiers, but with some added circuitry.  Nowadays, many come with all sorts of knobs and options to shape your tone and add extra texture.

Below is a video featuring the Modtone Bohemian Overdrive guitar pedal.


Fuzz – Think Jimi Hendrix playing Purple Haze.  Fuzz pedals distort your signal more than the previous pedals and create a thick, dirty, layered sound.  Try turning down the effect and see how it sounds as they often work best in moderation.

Listen to the fuzz sound here featuring the Henretta H-Bomb Fuzz effect pedal.


Distortion – If you’re going for that heavy metal sound, these pedals are essential.  Aside from the added gain, distortion effects pedals have additional circuitry for sound shaping.  Many are pre-set to accentuate the highs and lows while reducing the mid-frequencies.  Since they already greatly distort your signal, try playing them through a cleaner amplifier setup, for best results.

Finally, let’s hear the true distortion pedal.  Watch Robert Baker test out the Modtone Flextortion guitar pedal.


Aside from variations in sound, guitar pedals also vary in size and simplicity.  Some are small with a single knob, like many Henretta Engineering pedals.  And others are bigger with 3 or more knobs.  For most, this is a personal decision, but keep in mind how much available space you have on your pedal board and how often you like to vary your pedal’s settings.

There are many gain-type distortion pedals to choose from, but that just means more interesting options to experiment with while finding your ideal sound.  Have any questions, please contact us at .

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