Rick Belluso: 7 Boutique Distortion Pedals For a Tone That Stands Out

Rick Belluso

7 Boutique Distortion Pedals For a Tone That Stands Out
By Rick Belluso

Gut-punching distortion is the foundation of any shredder’s story.

But let's be real. It's hard to craft a full-bodied and aggressive tone that actually sounds original these days. High-quality gear has never been more affordable, and the “secret” tricks to masterfully configure it all can be had with a simple search of the old Google (sometimes).

So how do you manage to craft a tone that kicks ass and is all your own? Use gear that nobody else has!

In terms of boutique distortion pedals, there are many options out there for you to choose from. It’s actually an incredible time to be a gear-head.

Call it Shark Tank nation. Call it the Etsy revolution. I call it the American way. Passionate musician craftsmen the world over have unprecedented access to design, build, test, market and ship their software and hardware creations, and compete on a much larger scale than ever before. You can have the most rare and exquisitely designed gear shipped to your door in a matter of days, in a lovingly wrapped gift box, with a handwritten note from the builder. And at a reasonable price!

Here are 7 boutique distortion pedals I think deserve a little amplification.

Producer: ZVEX
Hand Wired: Yes
Cost: $219

The Box of Metal (BOM) offers a massive distortion sound, and at only $219 it’s an incredible value from a company that is so committed to quality and individuality they hand paint their pedals. The BOM has an incredibly effective noise gate that can be adjusted to allow feedback and hum to ring through. Hand wired in the USA, the BOM comes with a lifetime warranty and is made to last.

Producer: Death by Audio
Hand Wired: Yes
Cost: $270

If you’re not afraid to get weird with your sound, you need to check this pedal out. Not restricted to just distortion, it’s an analog, multi-effect chimera with immense customization for sounds that include: octave-shifting; tone bending; ring modulation; and of course, gritty, driving distortion. While some of the tones seem a bit impractical, as a whole the pedal offers a lot of diversity and quality sound.

Producer: Joe Gore (via Vintage King)
Hand Wired: Yes
Cost: $179

A deceivingly simple overdrive / heavy fuzz box with tons of variation. Take a listen to the demo on VintageKing.com. You turn the knob to make it louder - yes, “duh”, but the art is in the nuance. Slight adjustments will delight you as you move through the dynamic range. Fat, chunky lows, an airy mid-section and sparkling highs make this retro fuzz really special. Plus, it just looks cool. Check it out.

Producer: ScreaminFX
Hand Wired: Yes
Cost: $199

ScreaminFX is a one-man show out of Austin, Texas, producing all analog, high end pedals. While their distribution is currently limited to only Texas, the pedals can be purchased by emailing the owner. The Betrayer is a massively versatile pedal with a range of distortion and EQ options that allow a range from high-gain metal tones to bluesy classic rock. With such minimal production, you can be assured you’ll rarely—if ever—meet another guitarist with the same sound.  

Producer: Red Witch
Hand Wired: Yes
Cost: $99

At only $99, the Ivy Distortion from Red Witch pedals is an amazing value. It’s as simple as a distortion pedal comes: just a gain and volume knob, but the Ivy offers a punchy array of hand-wired, metal tones. It’s also rechargeable. Plug it into a standard 9V power supply for four hours, and you have 220 hours of use.

Producer: Barber
Hand Wired: Yes
Cost: $139.95

The Dirty Bomb is one of the more versatile of this list. From deep thumpy rhythm tones to screaming leads it offers every style of shredder distortion that you could ask for. It’s versatility and quality outweigh the BOSS DS-2, and it’s at a comparable price to any mainstream metal stompbox.

Producer: Gerhat
Hand Wired: Yes
Cost: $136

Made with a musician’s budget in mind, the Gerhat Super Metal is an E.U. produced pedal that offers a wide array of distortion tone. Capable of screaming very high-gain distortion, the Super Metal’s tone is likely the most generic of this list but is still a great alternative to the major producers in Guitar Center.


Lot of great choices out there. If you have the luxury of attending a NAMM conference any time soon, I encourage you to do so. You’ll see and experience tons of amazing boutique gear packed with personality and power. Internet videos don’t really do them justice - head to the conference or take a chance and order one of these cool pedals today! Rock on.

Rick Belluso is the Co-Founder and CEO of Ninebuzz, a boutique music software company based in Rhode Island, USA. They make the metronome app Drum Beats+ (Top 50 — App Store/Music), Guitar Jam Tracks - Scale Trainer (Top 25 — Guitar World Magazine) and several other lead practice guitar apps.