21 Ass Kickin’ Distortion Boxes(2)

Ask a guitarist what single piece of gear he or she could live without, and chances are good that a distortion pedal would not be mentioned. Fact is, good as today’s amplifiers are at delivering clean and overdriven sounds, most players still rely on pedals for at least some of their distortion tones. Your amp may have a great overdrive channel, but that sound—any sound for that matter—gets old after a while, and the search is on for something that will re-inspire you and hopefully make you sound better in the process. We’re tasked each month with finding cool gear to fill these pages, but the truth is, we’re always on the lookout for pedals for our own completely selfish reasons, be they classic tube-amp emulators, fuzztones, or signal boosting overdrives. For this Roundup, we gathered 21 pedals of all stripes and gave them all a thorough workout on gigs and in our studios. As always, a lot of them sounded pretty amazing, and some will be destined to find a new ho
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Arteffect Zenith

We instantly dug the crazy tattoo-style graphics that the Zenith ($225 retail/street price N/A) sports. The layout seems logical enough at first, with knobs for Drive, Volume, Treble, and Bass. The plot thickens a bit when you add a Voice control that can go from Flat to Fat to Focus. Things get more interesting still when you realize that the Drive control has a Pull for More function and the Volume knob says Pull for Punch. Hmmm . . . We fired it up and heard a very amp-like, dynamic tone. With the Pull for More knob in, the Zenith sounds more Tube Screamer-ish—not a tremendous amount of gain but a really sweet tone. Yanking the More knob ups the gain nicely—not overblown and very usable. The Punch function pumps up the low mids, but somehow clarifies the treble for a meaty sound that works great on humbuckers and simply rules for single-coils. There isn’t massive output on tap but the output remains pretty constant regardless of where the Drive control is set—a very cool thing. There aren’t really any bad settings with the EQ, and the Voice control adds several more usable colors. This pedal just sounds like an amp, and a great amp at that. A definite winner. —Matt Blackett
Kudos Huge array of tones. Amp-like sound and feel.
Concerns None.
Contact Arteffect, art-tone.com

Asonix Texas Dirt

The stout Texas Dirt ($160 retail/$125 street) grabbed my attention instantly with its yellow paint and big knobs. And I fully expected Texas-sized output, seeing as how plenty of guitar slingers from the Lone Star state like to pummel the front end of their amps. Unfortunately, setting it for a clean boost produced no boost—a little bit of a cut in fact. As I turned the Drive up the volume did increase, but even when the Drive and Output controls are cranked, there’s not much level increase over the bypassed signal. The quality of the distortion is nice, though, and there’s always some clean signal passing through along with the overdriven sound. This helps the tone cut through, but there’s no control to adjust how much clean signal remains so it’s impossible to get a completely overdriven sound. The EQ knob is actually a mid control, cutting mids in a pleasing way when you turn it counterclockwise and boosting them if you go clockwise. At high noon it doesn’t change the overall midrange character. This box is very dynamic and cleans up like nobody’s business when you turn down or even lighten up your picking attack. It sounded great with a PRS SC 245 and it was beautiful on the neck pickup of a Strat. Because of the lower output of the Strat’s single-coils, though, the Texas Dirt produced even less dirt. Those wanting lots of distortion or lots of output won’t find it here, but the Dirt’s open sound and sweet, dynamic overdrive will appeal to blues cats who want to add a touch of balls to their tone. —Matt Blackett
Kudos Dynamic, touch-sensitive overdrive.
Concerns Not enough output or grind.
Contact Asonix, asonix-corp.com

BBE Crusher

Right out of the box, the BBE Crusher ($130 retail/$80 street) has a sturdy pro look, with no-nonsense graphics and beefy knurled knobs. Cooler still, they give you not just super-easy battery access, but they also throw in a wall-wart power supply. Thanks! Plugging in and setting the Gain low and the Volume high, we found that the Crusher doesn’t really do much of a volume boost—there’s not a ton of output. With the Gain at five and the Volume cranked there’s a boost, but not a big one. The distortion is reasonably dynamic and cleans up well when you back off your guitar’s volume. That being said, the Crusher feels more like a distortion box than an amp. Not a bad thing, just something to keep in mind.

On the feature side, you get a 3-band EQ for great tweakability. The EQ is indeed powerful but with a very bright top. Even at low settings, the high end can get a little raspy. The tone is nice enough with Bass and Treble on five and Mid on six or seven. The Mid knob was my favorite of the three and, although it won’t really do a Dimebag-approved metal tone, it can take you from scooped chunk to arena rock. —Matt Blackett
Kudos Rock-solid construction. Good range of rock tones.
Concerns Treble is a little over the top.
Contact BBE Sound, Inc., (800) 233-8346; bbesound.com

Carl Martin Hot Drive’n Boost MK3 Anniversary

The Tenth Anniversary edition of the Hot Drive’n Boost MK3 ($280 retail/$196 street) sports a revamped overdrive section that is designed to sound even more tube-like than the original MK3—a pedal that already ably met the challenge. The Drive section has the usual Level and Gain controls—both with lots of range—along with a Wave control that alters the EQ contour in relatively subtle but musical ways. There’s also a Boost section with its own footswitch and a Level control that adds up to 22dB of clean muscle power, and the two sections may be used independently or combined. A second output labeled Clean Out bypasses the internal circuitry (useful for feeding tuners and various other purposes). The MK3 has a built-in, regulated power supply with an attached power cable. The clean boost sounds great, with more than enough oomph to push any tube amp into breakup on hotter settings. The drive section is billed as being less aggressive with less gain than the MK1 and MK2 versions, and it is true that it excels at lower-gain tones—particularly those critical crunch sounds just this side of full-on distortion—but things intensify quickly as you crank up the Gain control, and with the boost added the MK3 crushes without mercy. This is a great all-purpose boost/overdrive/distortion pedal that is ideal for blues and classic rock tones, but can handle most other styles as well. —Barry Cleveland
Kudos AC operation. Massive boost. Bonus Clean output. Tube-like overdriven tones.
Concerns Minimal EQ.
Contact Gary Castelluccio & Associates (U.S. Distributor), (800) 888-1899; carlmartin.com

Electro-Harmonix Graphic-Fuzz

The Graphic-Fuzz reissue ($199 retail/$149 street) cops all the tone-twisting capabilities of its circa-1979 forebear, including a single-slider Distortion circuit, an Envelope section for adjusting the pedal’s response to your playing dynamics, and a 6-band graphic equalizer that provides 15dB of boost/cut at 125Hz, 250Hz, 500Hz, 1kHz, 2kHz, and 4kHz. You can also boost or cut the overall output by 15dB using the Output slider, and the EQ may be used independently of the fuzz. The reissue is a nearly exact replica of the original Graphic-Fuzz, with the exception of a redesigned power supply, which requires the use of the included 40-volt wall wart. The Graphic-Fuzz’s basic distortion sound is reminiscent of a Big Muff, but the pedal reacts more like a Fuzz Face in the way that it cleans up nicely when you roll back your guitar’s volume. The EQ frequencies are well matched to the guitar—especially the critical 1kHz and 4kHz bands—and may be used to compensate for the peculiarities of particular amps or guitars, besides crafting a wide spectrum of new tones. Additionally, the Dynamics control alters the attack envelope to make the pedal respond more fully to level and picking intensity shifts, while the Sustain control subtly governs the decay envelope. I was able to conjure myriad sounds from the Graphic-Fuzz—from conventional to freaked-out—but its incredible scooped-mids metal tones were arguably the most impressive, bringing the fury to even small combo amps. Recommended for everyone from tweak heads to headbangers. —Barry Cleveland
Kudos Highly versatile. Amazing metal tones. EQ may be used independently.
Concerns Requires special power supply.
Contact Electro-Harmonix, (718) 937-8300; ehx.com

Guyatone OD2+ Overdrive

Guyatone has revamped its OD2 circuit to create the OD2+ ($120 retail/$90 street) adding true-bypass switching, a Tone control, and a little 3-way switch labeled S, M, D (Shallow, Middle, and Deep), which boosts specific EQ curves for different types of drive. I gave the diminutive little box a stomp and realized that it doesn’t have a lot of output. Unless the Gain knob is more than halfway up, there’s really no boost to speak of, even if the Level is maxed. Inching up the Gain gives it more punch, but if you want to pummel the front end of a Deluxe Reverb, there are more effective ways of doing that. The quality of the dirt is nice, and you never sacrifice clarity, no matter how high you run the gain. The 3-way switch takes you from a darker, vintage voice when it’s on S or M to a brighter, edgier tone with more grit on D. I couldn’t hear any difference between S and M, but I didn’t really care—that ended up being my favorite setting, with the well-voiced Tone control just past high noon. This box would seem like a fit for players who want a good bluesy overdrive that they don’t intend to turn off. If that’s your game, the OD2+ is a good choice that won’t take up much space on your ’board. —Matt Blackett
Kudos Sweet overdrive sound.
Concerns Not enough output.
Contact Guyatone, dist. by Godlyke, (973) 777-7477; guyatone.com

Keeley Modded Boss DS-1

Robert Keeley has made quite a name for himself amongst pedal freaks for his own designs (like the much sought-after Keeley Compressor) as well as for his mods to time-honored products like the Keeley Modded Boss DS-1 ($129 direct). The Modded DS-1 has cool knobs, a level-indicating LED, and a mini-toggle to switch between his Seeing Eye Mod (SEM) and Ultra Mod. The SEM sounded a lot like a stock DS-1 we used for comparison, which is a great all-around distortion box if you haven’t tried one in a while. Switching to Ultra clarified the mids, pumped up the lows, made everything more open sounding with a less buzzy top end, and boosted the volume. The stock Boss has healthy output, but the Keeley in Ultra mode is way louder, making it an excellent choice for overdriving the input of an amp. No matter how loud it got, though, it remained very quiet for a high-gain pedal, thanks to select component replacement (such as metal-film resistors) on Keeley’s part. The Keeley also gets cleaner much more easily—kind of remarkable given how much distortion it’s capable of. The extended bass response also makes this pedal more single-coil friendly than a stock DS-1—a Strat and a G&L ASAT sounded sweet and creamy through it. The Boss DS-1 is one of the most popular pedals of all time and a flat-out classic, and the Keeley represents a pretty significant improvement over that classic. Bravo. —Matt Blackett
Kudos Great distortion. Huge output. Beautiful dynamics.
Concerns None.
Contact Keeley Electronics, (405) 341-2025; robertkeeley.com

Kendrick Cactus Juice

Armed with Clean and Juicy channels, the Cactus Juice ($349 direct) differentiates itself in a big way by using three 9-volt batteries—one each for the two channels and another to power the three LEDs. There’s no adapter jack on the welded-steel chassis, but at least the batteries reside in three separate pull-out drawers for easy access. It might seem a little weird to have to deal with multiple batteries, but the concept is that you can use different kinds of batteries to affect the dynamic response—say, a weaker carbon type on one channel to elicit more sag, and a stronger alkaline type on the other to increase headroom. We tested the Cactus Juice with its factory installed Eveready Gold alkalines. The Pre Gain and Volume controls for each channel make it easy to preset your distortion and output levels for quick changes when playing live. The Clean mode is great for everything from softly fuzzed rhythm parts to stoutly overdriven crunch and lead sounds. The dynamic response is happening, and the Cactus Juice’s fuzzy distortion entices you to leave this channel on and use your guitar volume to control its range of textures. The Juicy channel starts out where Clean leaves off, delivering high-gain tones that are reminiscent of Billy Gibbons’ ’70s-era fuzz-tortion. One thing that make this tri-color box stand out is how clear it sounds. Even in its most distorted configurations, you hear your notes clearly and without the usual clashes of overtones that fuzzes often succumb to when being force fed intervals and chords. —Art Thompson
Kudos Great range of distortion. Clear and detailed sounding.
Concerns No adapter jack. No tone controls.
Contact Kendrick Amplifiers, (512) 932-3130; kendrick-amplifiers.com

Krank Distortus Maximus

Designed to pack much of the metal punch of Krank amplifiers into a pedal, the Distortus Maximus ($225 retail/$150 street) features the same Master, Treble, Bass, Midrange, and Gain controls found on many amps. The pedal can be powered with a single 9-volt battery or via an adapter, it’s equipped with true-bypass switching, and the “user manual” is conveniently printed on the bottom plate. The unit is very solidly constructed, and the knobs are textured for sure gripping with even the sweatiest fingers.

The Maximus sounds and responds to playing dynamics much like a tube amp might, so it gets a big thumbs-up for accomplishing its primary mission. It also cleans up fairly well when you roll back your guitar’s volume, and provides good note definition within chords. The Treble control does little in first half of range, but otherwise adds an effective sizzle. The Midrange control is well voiced and reasonably versatile, though, ironically, it can’t pull off a convincing mid scoop. The Bass control covers a decent range, but imparts a slight flabbiness to the bottom end when cranked. There’s plenty of gain, but less than one might expect given the pedal’s name, and some peculiar artifacts were audible on higher-gain settings.

Reservations notwithstanding, the Maximus easily nailed lots of classic metal and hard rock tones, and with the Gain pumped up it produced a melodious and beautifully articulate single-note sustain. Perfect for adding a high-gain “channel” to your clean amp. —Barry Cleveland
Kudos Nails tube-amp tones. Highly responsive to playing dynamics.
Concerns Generates odd artifacts on some settings. Can’t cop scooped-mid tones.
Contact Krank, (480) 976-5803; krankamps.com

Line 6 ToneCore Crunchtone

Sporting a digital engine lifted from Line 6’s amp modeling technology, the Crunchtone ($139 retail/$99 street) features 3-way switch for selecting Blues, Pop, and Crunch modes; a 3-postion Gate switch; and Drive, Level, Bass, and Treble controls. The Crunchtone module fits into the standard ToneCore Mono Dock, which accepts all the other mono effects modules that Line 6 offers. If you’re looking for one pedal that can deliver on a variety of fronts, look no further. The tube-like characteristics are readily evident in the distortion tones, which also clean up well when you back off on your guitar volume or lighten your picking attack. The Blues setting is a little rawer and edgier than the Pop model, and both sound cool for rhythm work and lead playing as long as you don’t need Santana-approved levels of sustain. The Crunch mode delivers a stout rock/metal rhythm tone at lower Drive settings and can slather on the grind for soloing when you turn up the Drive. The Crunchtone has bodacious output, so you can get plenty of amp overdrive happening if you need it, and the Gate function does a great job of nuking the noise when you’re not playing—and without chopping off your sound in the process. —Art Thompson
Kudos Flexible sounds. Built-in gate. Distortion tones are warm and balanced.
Concerns None.
Contact Line 6, (877) 865-4636; line6.com

Love Pedal COT

The super simple COT ($179 direct) is equipped with a single unmarked control that adjusts the bias of the transistor to deliver everything from mild old-amp grind to heavily saturated textures. The powder-coated steel case houses a neat PC board circuit, and you get a bypass LED and an adapter jack (battery changes require the removal of four screws). Designed to replicate the sound of a late-’60s plexi Marshall, the COT is kind of a one-trick pony, but it’s a great trick nevertheless. Its throaty bark is perfectly voiced for classic rock, and though the output level is not adjustable, you do hear a jump in volume when you kick the effect on—even at low gain settings. The COT has excellent note detail and definition, and it responds beautifully to changes in your guitar’s volume. Ideal for players who want the minimal amount of junk between their guitar and amp, the COT is kind of a set-it-and-forget-it affair. You can leave it set to a pretty heavily overdriven sound and just use your guitar’s volume control to sweep from edgy, slightly overdriven “clean” tones to full throttle rage and all points in between, and never feel like the pedal is imparting anything more on your guitar sound than just great distortion. —Art Thompson
Kudos Killer sounding distortion. Very dynamic.
Concerns Not highly flexible.
Contact Love Pedal, (248) 766-8660; lovepedal.com

Maven Peal The Howler

The Howler ($450 retail/street price N/A) is a warm-sounding distortion box that deals out some very tube-like tones over a wide gain range—from soft breakup to super saturation. Powered by an 18-volt adapter only (included), the unit features high-grade components and neat construction. Maven Peal is best known for the patented Sag circuit found on its amplifiers, which allows you to increase the compression and sustain without having to crank the gain or volume. The Howler incorporates this function in its Peal control, and what I like most about the Howler is its abundance of smooth sustain, and the fact that you don’t have to jack the Gain control all the way up to get it. Puzzlingly, though, the Peal (sag) control also doesn’t have any perceivable effect on the sustain or the dynamic feel. The Tone knob also only slightly rolls off the highs, and the Volume control does not drop the level to zero when it is turned all the way down, making it harder to use this pedal for low-volume shredding. Given the Howler’s nice sustain characteristics, one has to assume that Maven’s Sag circuit is doing its thing, but it would be nice to be able to vary it for different playing styles. (Maven Peal’s Dave Zimmerman tells us that the issues with the controls will be resolved in future production models.) —Art Thompson
Kudos Smooth, warm distortion. Great sustain.
Concerns Unresponsive controls.
Contact Maven Peal, (802) 456-1607; mavenpeal.com

Maxon OOD9 Organic Overdrive

We’ve come to expect great things from the company that designed what became the original Tube Screamer circuit and, over the years, Maxon has delivered consistently, despite (or maybe because of) the fact that they set the bar so iconically high early on. When the Organic Overdrive ($260 retail/$195 street) arrived—in a green enclosure no less—the pressure was on. I plugged a Les Paul into this overdrive, feeding the Cornford Carrera. With only two controls, Drive and Level, there are only so many options, so I set the Drive low and the Level high to see if this box would do the SRV front-end clobber. I switched it on and what had been a squeaky clean, low-volume tone from the Cornford instantly turned into a barky, punchy tone that was loud. This box has plenty of output and worked with the Carrera in a lively and inspiring way. There’s no tone control, so you need to dig the midrange character that it imparts to any amp, but I do in a big way. To my ears, the tone speaks clearly and powerfully, with just the right amount of snotty brashness. Moreover, it keeps the amp sounding like an amp. I cranked the Drive level and got a smooth, Santana-style voice that still cleaned up really well. This is a great sound too, but the OOD9 does the low-Drive/high-Volume thing so well that I would gladly take up valuable pedalboard real estate just for that. Nicely done. —Matt Blackett
Kudos Excellent overdrive flavors. Healthy boost. No-brainer operation.
Concerns No tone control.
Contact Maxon, dist. by Godlyke, (973) 777-7477; maxonfx.com

Musician Sound Design Bonnie Blue

Designed to unleash classic rock tones of the ’70s, the Bonnie Blue ($300 retail/street price N/A) is a straightforward distortion/overdrive pedal that features a tough, stainless-steel case and voltage-doubling circuitry for enhanced headroom and dynamics. A convenient battery hatch is provided, as is a jack for an external adapter. One of Bonnie’s handiest functions is the Gain switch, which lets you optimize the pedal for low- or high-gain sounds. The Low setting worked great for humbuckers, providing a beefy, dynamic distortion tone that was clear enough for rhythm parts, and able to transition smoothly into singing sustain when I cranked up my guitar. In High mode, the Bonnie Blue will elicit a torrent of grind from single-coils, and is definitely the go-to place for aggressive rhythm and lead tones. The Bonnie Blue is not a metal pedal per se, although it would work fine for any heavy overdrive sound that doesn’t require a big midrange scoop. What it really excels at is sweet, throaty distortion that harks back to the Les Paul-fired wails of a certain Mr. Duane Allman. These toothy tones are absolutely dialed in for hard blues and rock, and even when operating in a gained-out setting, the touch sensitivity and dynamic feel are excellent. The well-voiced Tone control also has a handy center detent so you can quickly tell the range you’re tweaking. —Art Thompson
Kudos Bold, dynamic distortion. Handy Gain range switch.
Concerns Battery hatch is difficult to open.
Contact Musician Sound Design, dist, by Godlyke, (973) 777-7477; godlyke.com

MXR Classic 108 Fuzz

Sporting a similar turquoise green hammer finish as Dunlop’s Jimi Hendrix Fuzz Face, the Classic 108 Fuzz ($216 retail/$119 street) is essentially a ’Face that has been updated with a different enclosure (one that features a handy battery hatch), a bypass LED (the circuit is also true bypass), and a selectable buffering circuit that, among other things, nixes the weirdnesses that can occur when using the Jimi-approved wah-into-Fuzz Face configuration. To test this, we ran a vintage-style Moollon wah into the Classic 108 using both the buffered and unbuffered settings, and the differences were pretty startling. The wah sounded so much clearer and more present when the Classic 108’s buffer circuit was active (a bright blue LED illuminates to tell you its status) that it would seem senseless to use it otherwise. And, when just running into an amp by itself, the Classic 108 also sounded a tad more robust with the buffer on—and this is a very beefy sounding fuzz to begin with. It has all the distortion range and dynamic coolness of a good Fuzz Face, allowing you to control the effect level via your guitar’s volume knob. Bottom line: If you don’t need the circular housing to fulfill your Fuzz Face cravings, the Classic 108 is clearly the better mousetrap. —Art Thompson
Kudos A great update on the classic Fuzz Face.
Concerns None.
Contact Jim Dunlop Inc., (800) 722-3434; jimdunlop.com

Pigtronix PolySaturator

The concept for the PolySaturator ($209 retail/$169 street) sprang from requests to make just the overdrive/distortion section of Pigtronix’s popular OFO Disnortion pedal available as a separate unit. But the pig peeps upped the ante by retooling and expanding the gain structure to provide more range, including adding a class A J-FET gain stage to the front end, and there’s also a JRC4558D-powered active 3-band EQ section that provides ±12dB per octave filtering at 180Hz, 420Hz, and 1kHz. The pedal features true-bypass switching, comes with a lightweight 15V power supply, and the initial lot are hand-painted by Jason Myrold. Rather than churning out yet another Face or Screamer clone, Pigtronix and circuit designer Howard Davis sought to make the PolySaturator as versatile as possible—nailing sounds from clean boost to metal meltdown, with “tweed,” “plexi,” and other gradations of distortion along the way.

The first thing I noticed was how lively the PolySaturator sounded on all gain settings, with lots of crisp and tight buzz and bite. It does the clean boost bit well with the Gain control rolled back, some of the overdriven tones truly are reminiscent of vintage tube-amp breakup, and the pedal even cops some multi-gain-stage modern amp sounds. That said, the PolySaturator has its own personality, and the versatile tone controls allow you to dial in myriad new sounds. Exceptional playing dynamics and single-note articulation within chords, and the ability to dramatically clean up when you lower your guitar’s volume add to the fun. —Barry Cleveland
Kudos Ultra-responsive to playing dynamics. Versatile EQ. Tube-like tones.
Concerns None.
Contact Pigtronix, (917) 941-2861; pigtronix.com

Pro Tone Body Rot II

The blood-splatter paint job and gangrenous name might make you think that the Body Rot II ($169 retail/street price N/A) is a one-trick death-metal pony, but this straightforward stompbox, with knobs for Volume, Distortion, and 3-band EQ, is capable of a wide variety of sounds. With everything at 12 o’clock it spit out a cool crunch tone that was definitely more rock than metal—kind of like a smoother AC/DC. Rolling the guitar’s volume back showed the Body Rot II to be dynamically sensitive and created a delicious semi-dirty tone that sounded great on arpeggiated chords. Cranking the Distortion control thickened everything up and made single notes and chords sing with sustain. The tone still wasn’t as metallic as I would have thought—more John Sykes than James Hetfield. Turning down the Midrange control definitely produced a much more convincing thrash tone, which through a 4x12 cabinet sounded pretty huge. Conversely, cranking the mids gave me an excellent Michael Schenker sound that was punchy enough to cut through any mix. Fans of the Schenker/Brian May mid-heavy tone should definitely take a listen, and not be turned off by the concept of naming a pedal after a bloated, decaying carcass. Anyone who is into the concept of body rot should absolutely check out the Body Rot II. —Matt Blackett
Kudos Flexible distorted tones. Good sustain. Powerful EQ.
Concerns None.
Contact Pro Tone Pedals, protonepedals.com

Seymour Duncan Twin Tube Mayhem

Powered by two mil-spec 6205 subminiature pentode tubes, the Mayhem ($325 retail/$229 street) features Bass, Treble, and Midrange controls; a 2-position switch that lets you select a midrange center frequency of 600Hz or 1.4kHz, and a footswitchable Boost function that can be set to increase the output level by +4dB or +8dB. The generous-sized steel enclosure takes up a little extra pedalboard real estate, but the spacing of the controls makes it very easy to grab knobs and tweak sounds on the fly. The tube portion of the signal path is fed by a high-voltage internal supply, which is why the unit can only be powered by the included 16-volt wall-wart adapter. The Mayhem excels at delivering furiously overdriven tones with gobs of gut-shaking bass and sizzling highs, and if you’re not quite satisfied with the depth of the mid scoop with the frequencies centered at 1.4kHz, a flick of the switch to the 600Hz setting will take your tone straight to Satan’s doorstep. A most capable weapon for the death metal crowd, the Mayhem can also be dialed in for less demonic distortion sounds needed for hard rock and classic metal. As you’d expect from a tube circuit, the Mayhem has excellent dynamic response and high-gain definition. It feels more like you’re playing an amp than a pedal, which is one of the best reasons to consider the Mayhem if you’re not already using a multi-channel high-gain tube head to get your sound. —Art Thompson
Kudos Tons of gain. Selectable midrange. Lots of output.
Concerns Microphonics from the tubes are occasionally noticeable.
Contact Seymour Duncan, (805) 964-9610; seymourduncan.com

Skreddy Pedals Screw Driver

There are several things that distinguish the Screw Driver ($195 direct) from many of its competitors: It offers amazing output even when using very low settings on the Gain control, and its Sharpness knob provides a lot of shaping control over the bass frequencies and doesn’t just roll off the highs. The Screw Driver’s distortion voice is rich and meaty with just enough fuzz around the edges to keep things interesting. And the fun doesn’t stop there, as you get a side mounted Pregain trimpot that adjusts the gain of the input Mosfet transistor—allowing you to set the overall gain of the pedal to best suit your needs—as well as a side-mounted Brilliance trimmer that adjusts the overall treble response. These extra functions make it easy to tailor the Screw Driver for just about any requirement—from old-school grind to vicious high-gain sounds—adding a lot of utility to what on the surface would seem like a pretty simple stompbox. Another cool aspect of the Screw Driver is its neat handwired circuit and fully exposed components. It’s always a drag when you see a bunch of glop poured over the parts, and to its credit, Skreddy makes it fun to look inside. —Art Thompson
Kudos Rich distortion tones. Doubles as a clean booster. Very effective Sharpness control. Externally adjustable gain and EQ trimmers.
Concerns None.
Contact Skreddy Pedals; skreddypedals.com

Visual Sound Angry Fuzz

The Angry Fuzz ($207 retail/$140 street) took a little getting used to but it’s definitely capable of some very cool, otherworldly sounds. It’s a fuzz/octave effect but, as the manual explains, “It is not at all like an Octavia or other vintage pedals.” True that. The controls consist of Volume Level, Fuzz Level, and Anger Level (which governs the octave), plus a bright switch. The awesome cartoon graphics feature a pissed-off little fireball guy who might just be flipping you off (although it’s impossible to know because he only has four fingers). As strictly a fuzz (with the Anger Level at zero), you get a smooth, sweet square-wave tone, with good sustain and healthy output. The fun really begins when you up the Anger Level. When you play an interval of a fourth with the octave cranked, the Angry Fuzz adds a sub octave to it for huge power chords. On a root-fifth-root power chord it adds a beautiful, just-intonated major third. You can hear the octave much better with the guitar’s volume backed off about halfway, and doing so gives rise to a bunch of amazing Wurlitzer/pipe organ sounds and all-out ring modulator tones. This might be where the Angry Fuzz is at its best. It’s great as a straight fuzz, but as a weird secret weapon, this box rules. It’s almost impossible to imagine the Angry Fuzz not adding vibe and color to a track. —Matt Blackett
Kudos Unique, musical tones. Solid construction.
Concerns None.
Contact Visual Sound, (931) 487-9001; visualsound.net

Z.Vex Box of Metal, USA Vexter Series

I came to Z.Vex’s Box of Metal ($359retail/$299 street) hoping that it would help me achieve the kind of distortion tone on stage that I had carefully sculpted in the studio: super aggressive on the lows, rich and full in the midrange, and understated on the top end. And while the BOM is great for guitarists who want modern metal distortion, the unit’s flexible EQ section (Bass, Mid, Treble) and variable range of drive makes it a viable option for those vying for a heavy sound, but don’t want to be stuck with a purely Hessian attack. In fact, pulling the treble nearly all the way back resulted in the top end being only moderately overdriven, while boosting the bass to around one o’clock and filling in the mids at approximately 11 o’ clock gave me precisely the kind of overdrive sound I was aiming for. While I generally avoid using gates, the BOM’s gate proved an unlikely asset. Left mostly open, it suppressed all the right noises without robbing me of the most crucial element of my sound—loads of sustain. And because the BOM is relatively quiet for a high-gain pedal, I can disengage the gate to let the feedback swell and not be concerned about noise. The Box of Metal sounds a little different every time I turn it on, but it’s a great pedal and will have a permanent place on my board. —Matt Harper
Kudos Highly tweakable. Heavy-duty construction; Quiet operation. True bypass.
Concerns Knobs are too close together for comfort. Side-mounted power jack is bit of a nuisance. Gate can only be used in tandem with Drive.
Contact Z.Vex Effects, (952) 285-9545; zvex.com