Distortion

The distortion effect was first created back in the 1950’s by overdriving the tubes of a guitar amplifier, usually by turning an amp all the way up. This caused the guitar signal to distort or “break up.” While this effect was originally considered bad by amp manufactures, early rock players found it exciting since it provided a new tone for the electric guitar’s sonic palette. A tone that had an edge and power that fit perfectly with the new type of rock playing that appeared in the 1960’s. As amplifier manufacturers embraced distortion, they began adding more gain to their amps, which resulted in more distortion and lead to styles such as metal and shredding. Pedals have been created to simulate all these types of distortion.
Typical Use

Distortion pedals are normally used to simulate overdriven tube amplifiers. They can also be use with tube amplifiers to produce higher gain tones. DIstortion effects are common in almost every style of poular music.

Terminology

Distortion is a generic term used to cover all styles of distortion effects pedals, but they can also be broken down into several categories.

Fuzz

The first type of distortion pedals were fuzz boxes. They produced a distorted tone that allowed guitar players to play singing leads. Like the name says, the tone was more “fuzz” than tube distortion, sounding like a damaged speaker cone, Still, fuzz pedals can be heard on countless recordings from the 60’s (think of the opening guitar riff in the Rolling Stone’s I Can’t Get No Satisfaction or just about any of Jimi Hendrix’s riffs.) Fuzz pedals remain popular today.

Distortion

This term usually refers to solid state transistor distortion, which is a harsher type of distortion than tube distortion but still more “amp-like” than fuzz pedals. These pedals were the second generation of distortion boxes.

Overdrive

These pedals attempt to accurately reproduce tube-type distortion. Some even use real preamp tubes in their circuitry. These pedals are often used in conjunction with a tube amp to push the amp into higher gain tones.

High Gain/Metal

These pedals emulate the multistage gain of modern tube amplifiers producing a high gain, saturated distortion that works well for soaring leads or metal styles.