My First Distortion Pedal: The Gear Gods & Demigods Edition | DISTORTION WEEK

Welcome to Gear Gods’ Distortion Week! We’re kicking it off by asking the Gear Squad about their first distortion pedals and why they chose them. What was yours?

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Trey Xavier – Editor in Chief

Just like Joey Sturgis, my first distortion pedal was the Boss Metal Zone. A truly polarizing pedal now, but at the time I was blissfully unaware of the war raging among gear heads. I was also unaware of the button on my Peavey Bandit 112 that would engage a distortion that sounded a great deal better than the Metal Zone. I was 13 or 14 at the time, and I went to the music store with my mom and asked for the pedal with the most distortion. Little Trey was looking for quantity over quality (like I would have known quality if I heard it!), and I was presented with two options – the Metal Zone and the Pro Co RAT. The Metal Zone had a saturation that the RAT couldn’t match so the choice was obvious. The salesman also impressed me by pointing out the Zone’s 4 knob EQ, which I would later spend hours turning without ever finding a tone I liked. I remember even then being impressed by the sheer amount of gain inherent in the pedal, and it was my go-to tone for at least a year. You really could turn those knobs forever with no audible improvements if you didn’t know what you were doing – lost in an endless labyrinth of ever-shifting useless sounds.

Max Frank (Senior Editor)

Ditto. Metal Zone, purchased in 2004. Still own it, here’s a pic I just took with my telephone:

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It seems to me like if you’re a guitarist between the age of 25-35 (aka you started playing before Garageband and amp sims), and you were interested in heavy music, you probably owned this pedal. I bought it because of the color scheme and because I figured that’s how you sound like James Hetfield.

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Uhh…. you guys sure about that?

I still whip this pedal out on occasion – in my last recording session with Colin Marston, we used it on a bunch of stuff for stylized effects. But for the life of me, I haven’t been able to rediscover this one incredible, perfect tone I got out of it when I was trying to mimic Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.” I had the pedal running through a Fender Deluxe amp – which I sadly had to sell – and for some reason, twiddling the knobs around one day, the Metal Zone just sang.

Whoda thunk that instead of rediscovering that tone, 12 years later, I’d end up just making a sketch with Revocation‘s Dave Davidson, parodying the entire premise/marketing idea of the Metal Zone and music gear culture like it…

Alex Nasla

The first distortion pedal I ever bought and used was a Boss SD-1. But I wasn’t going to use it as part of a guitar rig. Nope, this was for my keyboard because I felt the distortion effects on it were pretty lacking. Even though I was using a Roland Fantom X keyboard which apparently had a lot of the same effects from Boss pedals, it just didn’t do it for me. Before I made my choice with the SD-1 though I tried out some of my brother’s distortion pedals first. He is a guitar player and at the time had a decent amount of pedals. I remember trying his Boss DS-1 and MT-2. Both had WAY too much distortion for any of the keyboard sounds I was going for so from there I knew I needed something a little tamer. The SD-1 was pretty much perfect. Had just the right amount of distortion I needed when the Drive and Tone knobs were turned all the way When I first got into keyboards I got really obsessed with trying to make my favorite sounds used in a lot of my favorite songs. The majority of which at the time were Dream Theater and Stratovarius songs. I was really into trying to make all of Jordan Rudess and Jens Johansson’s keyboard sounds and I decided I wanted to start with their lead sounds. After doing some internet research I found that Jens used from old kind of obscure distortion pedal by Morley called the JD-10. It actually turned out to be similar to the SD-1 but its EQ options gave me better control over the tone. The JD-10 pretty much completely replaced my SD-1 and I have been using it for my Jens Johansson lead sound ever since!

Connor Gilkinson – Intern

I remember when I was 13 and I bought my first distortion pedal ever… the Electro-Harmonix Metal Muff! After searching through a sea of YouTube demos I had finally settled on this box of wonders to spend my hard-earned money on. I ordered it online and it came to my front door a couple weeks later, right in time for a big event! I was a part of one of those summer “rock camps” we all know about, and I got the pedal the day before our final concert. It was at a great sounding venue in Vancouver, and they had backlined all the students with Fender tube amps, which were unheard of for kids with little Line 6 practice amps in their bedrooms. I grabbed a Blues Junior and plugged in my Metal Muff, and when it came time to turn it on and sound check, I flicked the standby switch, turned on my pedal… and I was absolutely blown away! It was by far one of the best “new gear day” moments ever! Huge, monstrous rock tones coming out through the PA with just a Blues Junior, a cheap Ibanez, and a little box of wonders. We then proceeded to play a Metallica, Billy Talent, and Paul Gilbert filled set, all of us with massive smiles on our faces.

Little 13 year old Connor had a fine day… a damn fine day.

Zeke Ferrington – Intern

I have a confession. I had never owned a distortion pedal until this year, when I bought a Behringer HM300. It is kinda late-to-the-game for someone that’s played guitar for 15 years and metal guitar for… as long as I’ve played guitar. But, honestly, I’ve always just preferred the tone of a sturdy amp distortion. Plus, back in my day all we had to choose from was the Boss Metal Zone or the DigiTech Death Metal. And you wouldn’t wish those on your worst enemy.
So why did I go with Behringer, of all brands, for my first distortion pedal? Well, I wanted to grind out on some Disgrace/Harms Way/Nails kind of songs and the HM300 is actually a fairly decent Boss HM-2 clone (for about $150 less). It’s got that signature Sunlight Studios chainsaw-sustain and mid-grind, when all the knobs are maxed out.
I’m running it through one of those Orange MicroTerror 20w amps, into a 2×10, and it’s actually one the best bedroom tones I’ve ever had. If you can get your hands on one, it’s a nice cheap alternative for that Swedish Death Metal sound.

Maxwell McAllister – Intern

My first distortion pedal—that I damn near forgot about entirely—was an Ibanez TM5 “THRASHMETAL” Soundtank that my cousin gave me when I was 10. Santa hooked me up with a little Fender Frontman and a used Fender Duo-Sonic restrung lefty the year before, but what the jolly bastard didn’t know was that I was a fucking tone connoisseur.

Enter cousin Alec. He’s a few years older than me, and was similarly a young tone god at the time. After he taught me how to read the tabs for “Some Kinda Hate,” we both knew the Frontman wasn’t cutting it. Alec selflessly sacrificed the Holy Grail of ‘90s distortion pedals—the rock solid, plastic-chassis Ibanez TM5—so that his tone-thirsty younger cousin could get brutal. The 9V powering it eventually died with my Misfits infatuation, and I started strumming along with Buddy Holly tunes shortly thereafter.

Oddly enough, these things are kinda pricey on Reverb. I’d be willing to let mine go for a drink or two.

Lucas LeCompte – Intern

Well, in the 16 years that I have been playing guitar, I have never actually owned a physical distortion pedal. My first amp was a 10 watt marshall, then I moved on to a VS100 Valvestate that I used my Johnston J-Station with. After that my first tube amp came at 23, a H and K statesman, which had a gain boost built in. After that I moved on to the Axe Fx II, which has a lot of overdrives in it, but no distortion pedals. So I guess you can say that I have never really owned one because I never really needed one.

Written by

As Editor-in-Chief of Gear Gods, I've been feeding your sick instrument fetishism and trying unsuccessfully to hide my own since 2013. I studied music on both coasts (Berklee and SSU) and now I'm just trying to put my degree to some use. That's a music degree, not an English one. I'm sure you noticed.