Amp Distortion vs. Pedal Distortion II

Posted: October 5, 2013 by phanson in Tips & Tricks

DemonLast week I interviewed a young guitarist from a very famous band. Donna Grantis, from Prince’s, Third Eye Girl. The interview is at “Boss Tone Radio“. I’ll get to Donna in a minute. 

I started playing in an era when amps didn’t have master volumes and we had to have our amps modified to include this feature. Most of us believed that amp distortion was the best distortion and a master volume helped us distort the amp at any volume. Eventually, in the late ’70s amp companies added stock master volumes so we could overdrive our amps easier without modifications. Then, switchable channels became necessary so we could click a button to get to our amp’s clean sound. This is the way we guitarists have worked for years.

Fast forward to 2017. Have you noticed a multitude of new pedal companies? It’s overwhelming. I do the gear settings for Guitar World Magazine’s transcriptions and yesterday I discovered the “Queens of the Stone Age” guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen uses a Fuzzrociuos “Oh See Demon”, and an Earthquaker Devices “Dispatch Master”. Have you heard of these pedals? I hadn’t. A few years ago when I wrote my first post on this topic I was not paying attention to this explosion of new pedals. 

There are new pedal companies everywhere!! Keeley, Wampler, Red Witch, Pigtronix, Way Huge, Fulltone, Voodoo Lab, Route 66… and the more traditional brands, Boss,TC, MXR, Eventide, Dunlop, Digitech, Tech 21, Morley and Electro Harmonix are cranking out new pedals all the time. Now, also amp companies including Bogner, Blackstar, Budda and others are making pedals. This is just a short list. 

An advantage of having all these pedals on the market is that there are hundreds, maybe thousands to choose from. So, if you want a pedal to make distortion, instead of only a few choices like a Fuzz Face, Big Muff, Boss DS-1 or an MXR Distortion Plus, now you have virtually unlimited choices. You can also have a company like Keeley modify a pedal if you like.

Getting back to that young guitarist I mentioned earlier; this guitarist sets the amp clean and gets distortion from pedals. Also, this guitarist has a bunch of different distortion pedals and can choose the distortion that’s right for the song. Today’s new generation of guitarists don’t have the mind set that the distortion has to come from the amp! Also because of competition and modern technology, pedal distortion has come a long way!

There are some advantages to having your distortion come from pedals too. One, is that you don’t have to run separate lines to and from your amp’s effects loop! Since your distortion is coming from pedals on the floor, just insert your delays and reverbs last in the effects chain. Since the distortion is before the other effects they will sound as pristine as if they were run in an effects loop. A second advantage is that you’re more portable. Just have a clean amp ready at the gig, you bring only your guitar and pedalboard!  

A third and most important advantage is, it’s fun and creative to collect and arrange your own pedals on your own custom pedalboard! Since no two pedalboards are alike your tones also become very personalized and it’s easier to dial in original tones. Amp distortion is not always best anymore. Long live pedal distortion!


  1. HoosierDaddy says:

    Very good article. I always did in the past use Amp distortion, but it is for sure limiting. With effects you do have a choice at least. I however, don’t use that many effects, except some verb, and delay with lead and from time to time a wah. That said, I’m really into experimenting lately, and I think I’m going to buy a nice multi effects if I can find one with delays that have tails, etc,. Thanks again. Great stuff, and really appreciated by an old guy like me.. :-)

Leave a Reply