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Memorizing Chord Foundations
For Raw Acoustic Blues


Acoustic Blues Chord Progressions

February 27th | 2015
Full Article

From the Blog


EHX Pitch Fork Review (Electro-Harmonix Pitch Shifter and Octave Pedal)

For such a small, simple-looking pedal, the Pitch Fork from Electro-Harmonix can make a lot of noise.

And it's good-quality noise too, with enough versatility to cover both the bizarre and the conventional sounds of pitch-shifting. If you start by watching the EHX demo video, you may even lose track of everything you can do with the Pitch Fork.

Should that be the case, we'll keep track for you here, showcasing the good, the bad and everything in the middle.

We'll also paint a picture for you of the ideal buyer.

But what exactly does that mean?

It means the purpose of this review (and all of Guitar Chalk's reviews) is not to demo the pedal, but instead to help you make an educated decision about whether or not you might want to buy it and whether or not it would suit your needs.

Because pedals aren't cheap, right?

We spend our hard-earned money to get these things.

So if you're interested in the EHX Pitch Fork, this review will help you make the call with some confidence.

EHX Pitch Fork Features

The first thing I want to point out is that, while the Pitch Fork supports an expression pedal, it doesn't ship with one.

That's a disappointment, especially since pedals like the Boss Super Shifter or Harmonist have expression functionality built in, while also supporting external expression. Though the Latch button does give you some control over the behavior of the footswitch, it doesn't meet the same functionality level of the Boss shifters.

Specifically, "Latch Mode" means that the button will cycle between "effect on" and a buffered bypass every time it's pressed.

In "Momentary Mode" the effect will stay on as long as the button is depressed, but will then cut off whenever it is released, which is intended for us during shorter periods of wanting to use the pedal, saving you a second button click.

But there's no real expression to be had without another purchase.

So that's a bummer.

On the positive side, you can move up or down (plus or minus) three octaves giving you a spread of seven total.

That switch in the middle, labeled "DUAL," lets you decide which direction you want to go. If you leave it centered, you'll combine both the high and low octaves together, allowing you to emulate an 18-string guitar spanning three different octaves.

So you're hearing the root note, the high octave, which is 12 semitones above the root and the low octave, 12 semitones below the root.

You'll then have 11 different switches on the "Shift" knob, with some oddly cryptic labeling.

However, these labels simply refer to  a series of intervals and octaves you can choose from.

Via the instructions manual, you can decipher each one fairly easily.

Not sure what these intervals mean or sound like? Here's a chart that will help clarify.

The blend knob simply adjusts the mix between the dry signal and the effected signal.

So at first glance, this pedal looks slightly complicated, but all the controls and features are intuitive, which you can't say about the Boss Super Shifter. Boss has even tried (and succeeded to an extent) to correct this problem with the Harmonist.

So there's a lot of noise to be made and the learning curve isn't too steep.

A simple interface is, perhaps, an underrated aspect of most guitar pedals, especially shifters.

Sound Quality

The tone quality here warrants little complaining.

Though EHX also hasn't done enough to set the Pitch Fork apart from other Shifters and octave pedals. So the sound is of good quality, if not generally familiar.

That said, there are still some specifics worthy of mention.

If you add the expression pedal, the pitch shifting mechanism is smooth and balanced, though I like the sturdiness of the DigiTech Whammy a lot better. In a pure sound-quality battle between the two of them, there isn't a great deal of difference.

The dual mode, which I expected to be a bit chaotic, actually sounds distinct and fairly clear. Even with some added gain, there's a lot of definition and projection of the effect.

If you go with the high octave, the notes sound incredibly pristine and shimmery.

In that mode it almost seems like a different instrument, especially on the higher frets where, keep in mind, you can still play three octaves in either direction. Those high pitches have their place, especially if you're trying to add subtle ambiance or background noise to a piece of music.

Dropped tunings have a thick, rumbling resonance to them, but still project notes with a fair amount of clarity. If you get low enough (an octave or so) your guitar will be able to match the pitch of a bass.

So the Pitch Fork doesn't miss a beat here.

Capable of most sounds you would expect from a good pitch-shifting guitar pedal, it delivers them all at high quality standards without cutting any corners.

In that regard, EHX did a great job with this box.

Useability and Practicality

With just the high octaves and the shimmery sound quality, the Pitch Fork could make a home in just about any genre.

Though I think the more important point in determining whether you could make good use of it, is whether you lean towards or work in the area of lead or rhythm guitar. Either side could find use for this pedal, but I would argue that it's designed for single notes and arpeggios, more so than full chords and rhythm.

In other words, a lead guitar player might find it more useful and practical.

If you're more on the rhythm side of the coin pitch shifting in general might not be a great fit.

Again, that's not an exclusive rule, just something to consider if you're worried about finding use for the EHX Pitch Fork.

We should also consider that the DigiTech Whammy (and perhaps the Boss shifters) are the big league hitters in this market, as just about every pro you can think of who owns a pitch shifter, uses the DigiTech Whammy.

And if it comes down to choosing between the Pitch Fork and the Whammy, I like the Whammy a lot better.

Here are a few of my reasons:

  1. Expression pedal is built in.

  2. More modes and settings.

  3. A hallmark of professional pedalboards.

You can't help but think the Pitch Fork is kind of the new kid on the block who is trying to fit in.

Does that mean it's a bad pedal?

Not at all.

But it might mean that the guitar pedal world is getting crowded and that it just makes more sense to go with the original king of the hill.


What could change your mind is the price tag of the Pitch Fork.

At $130 it's the cheapest of the three we've discussed. Here's a broader price comparison:
So what the Pitch Fork lacks in reputation and "gravitas" it makes up for in affordability. The only one that competes with its price is the Boss OC-3, which is similar in terms of functionality.

I think this helps give us the "ideal buyer" for this pedal.

If you'd rather not spend the big money on a niche effects pedal and you don't care about the reputation or history behind it, consider the EHX Pitch Fork as a more affordable and a fairly well-designed alternative.

Here's my final word on this box.

Want Guitar Chalk to review your product?

We do reviews of popular, widely-known gear and websites, but we also review products for smaller companies and educational resources.

Our reviews are complete, thorough and genuinely written in a long-form and conversational manner.

We aren't just throwing something together for another link or for paid press. Our reviews help the reader and win customers, provided your product is of a high-standard of quality and that it has relevance to today's guitar player.
You can read more about our reviews here.
Still Image Courtesy of JJ Tanis

Print Friendly and PDF

About Robert Kittleberger

Bobby is the founder and editor of Guitar Chalk and Guitar Bargain. You can get in
touch with him here, or via Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.


Memorizing Chord Foundations (Progressions) for Raw Acoustic Blues

Memorizing Chord Foundations for Raw Acoustic Blues

There's something excellent about an instrument that you don't need to plug in.

I've always liked the acoustic guitar for this reason, for its organic and traditional appeal. There's something to be said for relying entirely on the integrity of an instrument's craftsmanship and your own playing ability.

No amps, effects or electricity, just raw material and talent.

That's what I mean by "raw acoustic blues."

We'll cover some chord progressions that are directly applicable to this style of playing on an acoustic guitar.

Of course the principles are transferable to other guitars and rigs (we'll even use examples from electric guitarists). At the same time, we should understand that there are optimal techniques for different types of guitars, which is not to downplay the versatility of the instrument, but simply to recognize the differences in how we approach it.

So while we enjoy versatile guitars, we can also learn different styles and genres in their optimal context.

In this lesson, we'll focus on identifying some foundational chord progressions that are acoustic guitar-friendly (though not exclusive) and have a bluesy flavor to them.

Why Blues and the Acoustic

So why are we mixing acoustic guitar and blues?

Well, for starters, most of the original blues greats were not primarily electric players.

Robert Johnson, Huddie Ledbetter, Lightnin' Hopkins and many of the blues guitar players from the 1950s and 1960s played acoustic guitars, and were recorded straight through a microphone with limited ability to further edit the material after it had been tracked.

Eventually electric guitars became blues and rock centerpieces at the hands of Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan and many others leaving the acoustic guitar in its own, separate, category.

Blues and the acoustic guitar went together, originally. So we're using the acoustic as our context for this lesson, as a way to understand and recognize the roots and tradition of the music.

But hey, you can still use an electric guitar.

It's all for a fretboard of your choosing.

First, we'll pick a key and lay down our chord progression.

Establishing a Goal Starting in the Key of E

Before we start, let me clarify to you what our goal will be for this lesson:
Memorize foundational chord progressions that we can use and refer to for acoustic, blues improvisation.
We're going to come up with conventional and useful progressions that are based on music theory and have a high re-playability value for acoustic blues artists.

So now that we have our goal established, let's choose a key to begin.

The key of E will do nicely.

Chord Progressions within the Key of E

Blues rhythm is anything but complicated.

It's simple, catchy and easy to nail down as a result, especially if you already have basic rhythm knowledge on the guitar. The variety comes more from your strumming patterns than the chords themselves.

For a simple example, start with the following chord.

It's nothing more than an open E power shape.


Our picking pattern will break the chord up into two parts:

  1. Root

  2. Intervals

In our case the root note is the low open E, while our intervals are the other two notes (a perfect fifth and an octave of the root).

Start by picking down through the open E and then grabbing the two intervals on the upstroke.


By using alternate picking, we can cycle back and forth between the root and the intervals, adding some definition to our rhythm.

We go down through the zero and up through the stacked twos.

Then, we repeat:


It's alright (and even preferable) to start off slow to get a feel for the rhythm.

It should sound something like this:

I know, the recording quality is sort of like Lightnin' Hopkins' old tracks on Spotify, but it serves the purpose.

It's just so you can hear what you're reading on paper.

Go ahead and add the major third interval at the first fret, just for kicks.

Try the same strumming pattern and listen for that major note.


Technically, it's still just a repeating E chord, which is usable, but a little boring.

However, we can use this technique and rhythm on any chord, or group of chords.

It's an easy rhythm with a bluesy feel that we can bank in our memory. That said, if you need to get a blues rhythm in your head and you're just a little unclear as to what that is, this simple pattern is a great place to start, and it'll work no matter what chords you're using.

So the question now becomes: What could we do with this pattern?

How could we expand on it and make it more interesting?

Well, we could add some chords (we are after all trying to lay down chord progressions).

But what chords do we add? How do we know what works or what sounds bluesy?

Let's first look at a few chords that actually fall in the key of E. Here are a few from that list:









Keep in mind, we're looking for a bluesy sound, and that doesn't mean that every single chord has to come from the key of E.

But this short list does give us a few ideas and and a place to start. It gives us a structure from which to pull.

For instance, we see that there's an easy connection to make with E, A and B chords.


You can also use E, F# B and A


We can break this one down to just the root note, for a simple pattern, reminiscent of "House Full of Bullets" by Joe Satriani.


You can hear that the progression progression has a bluesy, pentatonic feel to it.

But what if we wanted more chords to work with?

Thus far we've stuck to chords that actually fall within the key of E, though we can branch out and work with other chords by changing our keys and looking at the music theory surrounding the twelve-bar blues (TBB).

Deriving Progressions from the Twelve-Bar Blues and the Key of C

The formal theory involved here is simple and useful.

So don't worry about getting out your marker board.

While it's true that there are a myriad of  12-bar blues variations, the most basic form comes from the first, fourth and fifth chord of a given key.

That's all there is to it, folks.

Here's a chart of chords that are in the key of C:

Memorizing Chord Foundations for Raw Acoustic Blues
You can see that there is a number (roman numeral) for each chord.

All we've got to do is match the TBB chords using the first, fourth and fifth numeral. So in this case, the TBB progression could be written simply as I-IV-V.

Memorizing Chord Foundations for Raw Acoustic Blues
That gives us Cmaj, Fmaj and Gmaj.

You could also use C7, F7 and G7 or an interchangeable mix. Each bar consists of one chord, thus writing out the entire progression could be done this way:


Three rows of four chords each, gives us 12 bars.

This is why, from a theory perspective, it becomes important to identify which key you're playing in. Because once you do, it becomes easier to start building chord progressions and knowing where to begin, that is, if you know which chords apply.

So here's the process we can use to build simple blues chord progressions on the acoustic (or on other guitars, as the principle translates):

  1. Identify a key.

  2. Identify the chords within that key.

  3. Find the first, fourth and fifth chords of the key.

  4. Build your chord progression from those three chords, using either major or seventh chords.

You can memorize the chords of particular keys you typically play in, write them down or do whatever works for you.

It doesn't matter how, just get them in your head so you can recall the chords.

Just to summarize, you'll want to know which chords exist within a key and how those chords are numbered. It might take some boring book work, but in this case, the boring work actually has some significant payoff.

You'll thank me later.

There are other variations of the 12-bar blues, like minor, jazz and bebop. Wikipedia actually has a pretty decent page devoted to them if you want to check out something that sounds a little different.

So how do we tab all this out?

What can we do with all this theory?

Well, we have the structure, so let's go ahead and build some tabbed chord progressions that are based on that structure and that we can use later.

Please keep in mind, these tabs are not meant to be exact blueprints of the recordings.

Furthermore, the recordings are simply to give you an idea of what the progression could sound like. The purpose of the tabs and tracks are to give you tools for creating your own sounds, not simply copying what I've done here.

So don't get confused if you feel the tabs aren't matching up with the track. They aren't really supposed to.

1. C, F and G Major Open Variation

F F C C 

C Pattern


F Pattern


G Pattern


2. C, F and G Major Power Variation

F F C C 

C Patterm


F Patterm


G Patterm


Here's one of my favorite examples of a TBB power progression, courtesy of Needtobreathe, albeit in the key of B and on electric guitars. The concept still applies to acoustics.

It's hard to see, but the chords here are similar to what I tabbed above.

Great band too.

Once again, don't get caught in the idea that there's an exactly right way to play this. We're establishing idea pieces and reliable templates, so that you can be more creative and have an easier time coming up with your own music.

And besides, the TBB is easy and basic. You can go wherever you want with these patterns without a lot of work.

So don't think to hard.

Just enjoy the progressions.

Chord Progressions in Other Keys

We've got some good tabs thus far, but I'd like to lay out a few more progressions in different keys so we end up with a more versatile tab sheet.

I'll use a mix of seventh, fifth, power and a few other chords here to give us more chord progressions for our acoustic memory bank. If it helps with memory, start with only memorizing the root note, then adding the intervals of the chord later on.

The root note is going to be the backbone of the chord progression anyways.

Where applicable, I've included a track and artist example.

3. G5, Fsus2add13 and C7(no5)


Memorizing Chord Foundations for Raw Acoustic Blues

4. E9, A7 and B


Memorizing Chord Foundations for Raw Acoustic Blues

5. E, D and A Power Variation (think Monte Montgomery)


6. Bm, D, A and E7 (think Everlast)


Memorizing Chord Foundations for Raw Acoustic Blues

7. E7, G5, A7(no5), A(no3)


Memorizing Chord Foundations for Raw Acoustic Blues

What do I do with this information?

I would handle all of this information in three parts:

  1. Memorize the individual chords.

  2. Memorize the order of the chord progressions by root note.

  3. Learn how to start the progressions in different keys at different frets.

Also, don't worry about memorizing the tabs. They're fine to use as a guide, but aren't intended to be tracked note-for-note, as I've already mentioned.

So don't do it. It won't be much help in that way.

Once you've done the dirty work of memorizing, you'll be able to call to mind, more quickly, chord patterns that you know work and sound good with acoustic blues.

For example, if you're playing in the key of E, you'll know that F#, B and A are included in that key.

You'll also be more familiar with what the changes between those chords might sound like.

Whether you're writing music or trying to follow a pre-determined piece of sheet music, these chord progressions and patterns will be extremely helpful to you. This is especially true when you're studying based on the conventions of a particular style of music.

Since these progressions occur so commonly in acoustic blues, they'll be the most useful.

All that's left is to do work.

So dress for action and get it done.

It's all you.

Other Places to Learn

For more lessons on acoustic blues, you can check out our archives or try Guitar Tricks 14-day free trial, which gives you access to hundreds of lessons, with an acoustic style section included. It's a great resource, even if you only use it for the two weeks.

You can learn a lot in that amount of time.

Additionally, here are a few articles I would recommend covering in conjunction with this one:
If you've got thoughts to share, let fly over at Facebook and Twitter.

We're always happy to hear from you.

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About Robert Kittleberger

Bobby is the founder and editor of Guitar Chalk and Guitar Bargain. You can get in
touch with him here, or via Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.


D&A Icestand Acoustic and Electric Guitar Stand Review

D&A Icestand Acoustic and Electric Guitar Stand Review

A guitar stand is kind of like a kicker in football. They only really do one thing.

But they're a necessary part of your rig, if not often overlooked. It's easier to just set the guitar down on the floor or put it back in your case, at least when faced with the prospect of actually obtaining a stand (finding, purchasing, etc.).

Maybe it's just that most guitarists don't wake up in the morning thinking, "Gee, I'd really love to have a nice stand for my guitar."

There just isn't the same motivation that might be there to spend money on other types of gear.

It's new pedals, amps, or an entirely new guitar that typically clouds our minds and our wallets.

Yet a guitar stand is the kind of thing that you get, then wonder how you ever lived without. And if you're going to buy one, the D&A Icestand gives you good value in several areas.

In addition to holding your guitar upright and keeping it accessible (which is, of course, the primary reason for the investment) D&A stands have some notable features that are worth your consideration.

So we'll review both versions of the stand here.

  1. Icestand Acoustic

  2. Icestand Electric

We'll look at the features, pricing and overall value of both, as well as compare them to the cost of other guitar stands.

Keep in mind that we're treating this as one product, since the difference between the two stands isn't significant, aside from the size of the base as each one is intended for a different type of guitar.

We will, however, touch on the price differences between the two stands.

Let's get started.

The Icestands Unique Appeal

When you get the Icestand, it'll come packaged in its "folded up" state (which is pictured here). I should mention that it took me a bit of time before I figured out how to unfold it, which is likely a personal problem with coordination, math or something else.

I should've known better.

Allow me to save you seven minutes:

First, pull it apart from the thinner side, or the tip (vertical), then pull the two sides left and right (horizontal) to form the base. 

You'll notice right away, from the box, that the stands come with a lifetime guarantee, which is remarkable considering that these stands are expected to do a lot of traveling and take some abuse. They're certainly strong, but I can't imagine they wouldn't be susceptible to cracks and road wear.

And while I didn't try running over it with my car, I suppose that would be an interesting way to see if these stands really are as strong as the warranty would suggest.

Nonetheless, D&A thinks that they'll outlive you, so there's something to be said for that much confidence in your product.

When the stand unfolds from the narrow end, it'll form what's close to a right angle. As you pull the two ends of the stand apart, you'll hear a latch click into place once it's completely extended, though you might have to press on the latch to get it to click.

D&A Icestand Acoustic and Electric Guitar Stand Review
At the points where your guitar actually comes into contact with the stand, there's a soft polymer lining that protects your guitar from getting scratched by the stand, which is otherwise made of a hard lattice ribbing.

Though I'm not certain, I believe this is a type of vinyl. Feel free to correct me if you know different.

It feels like plastic, which I'm not crazy about. But the lattice pattern does make it a lot stronger, and probably isn't breakable with bare hands.

The cuts in the bottom of the stand are cut just big enough for an electric guitar.

On the acoustic stand, the dents are larger and fit my Taylor 114CE just fine.

Though it's not clear whether there might be sizing issues with other guitars, my guess is that these shapes are pretty standard and aren't likely to have issues fitting your axe.


The stand weighs just 20 ounces according to D&A's website, and to be honest, it doesn't feel like it weighs anything significant.

The clear and sleek design just feels light, so it's a breeze to transport.

I suppose you could make the case that a heavier stand is better, because it's going to be stronger and more likely to prevent your guitar from falling. In that case, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, because some people do prefer a heavier stand. At the same time, D&A is putting an emphasis on portability, which means a light stand is a must.

If that's not what you're looking for, then it's possible that the weight could actually be off-putting to you.

But again, these stands are guaranteed for life, so the likelihood of having one break on you is low, despite the low weight.


Like I mentioned, this stand has two distinct moving parts.

It opens from left to right and locks into place, but the top of the stand, that moves up and down, doesn't have a locking function.

When you push it forward with the stand in its full, open position, it does give a little bit.

If you were to force it down, the top part would push the two legs of the stand together, which are locked into place, and would probably break the stand, given enough pressure. Now, I'm not totally sure if this functionality is by design, or if D&A just decided to not put a lock on the top part of the stand without concrete reasoning.

As far as I can tell, there's no real need for that portion of the stand to move at all when the stand is in its upright position.

I might feel a little better about this product if it locked on both planes, but it's just something to note, and not a major problem.

D&A Icestand Acoustic and Electric Guitar Stand Review
I also tested out a few clumsy mishaps to see how the stand held up when the guitar its holding gets knocked by the careless arm of a passerby.

To be certain, it's not meant to protect your guitar from such accidents.

Slight bumps and a stray hand are enough to knock the guitar over, or at least come close. You've also got to take some care when placing the guitar in the stand, since the center of gravity seems to be a fairly small area.

But that's typical of smaller guitar stands, as they're not necessarily meant to safeguard against all hazards.

Otherwise, the stand is sturdy enough to do its job.

Keep in mind, the lifetime guarantee is for the stand itself, not for the guitar that it might be holding. So it definitely does not protect against falls or unfortunate run-ins with moving objects.

Portability and Pricing

Where the Icestand really wins out, is with those who are looking for a portable option.

Because this is truly one of the more portable stands available, because of how thin it becomes when it's folded up.

At its thickest point, the stand is barely the width of the tip of my finger to the first joint.

When laid flat, its length is less than my hand.

D&A Icestand Acoustic and Electric Guitar Stand Review
Clearly, it'll fit in most gig bags without any fuss.

Cases might be a different story, since they're usually fitted to a guitar. But even the back of an amplifier, if it has open casing, would be suitable.

So D&A is doing a good job of cornering this market and making a product that is truly easy to transport.


But what about some of their competition?

Let's look at a few other small guitar stands and their prices:
The Icestand for the electric guitar retails around $32, while the acoustic version comes in a little higher at $36.

So with a quick, albeit simple, glance at the market, the Icestands are on the high end of the price range.

Now, could you cheap out on this part of your rig and get away with it? Of course you could. I'm not going to tell you that it'll be a disaster if you buy a stand for $10.

That's not true.

Plenty of people have done just fine with those stands.

Amazon reviews prove it.

At the same time, I believe that the value is there with D&A's stands, and with some of the more expensive stands as well, meaning it's not at all a waste of money to spend a bit more to get one of the good ones.

You get the portability, which the cheaper versions can't compete with, and you get the lifetime guarantee.


Thus the Icestands, despite being a bit pricey, are a solid investment, especially with such a good warranty.

If it's the last stand you have to buy, then the $30 isn't bad price point.

Consider what the portability means to you as well. If that's important to you, this stand might be an easy front runner. Gigging and professional musicians should take note.

If it's just something that's going to sit in your living room and hold a guitar that you play at home, then some of the cheaper options might be a better play in your particular situation.

Broadly, I'm a pretty big fan of this one.

D&A Icestand Acoustic and Electric Guitar Stand Review

Want Guitar Chalk to review your product?

We do reviews of popular, widely-known gear and websites, but we also review products for smaller companies and educational resources.

Our reviews are complete, thorough and genuinely written in a long-form and conversational manner.

We aren't just throwing something together for another link or for paid press. Our reviews help the reader and win customers, provided your product is of a high-standard of quality and that it has relevance to today's guitar player.
You can read more about our reviews here.

Print Friendly and PDF

About Robert Kittleberger

Bobby is the founder and editor of Guitar Chalk and Guitar Bargain. You can get in
touch with him here, or via Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus.


The Very Best Distortion Pedals and Honorable Mentions: 2015 Edition

Best Distortion Pedals

Distortion pedals are one thing that guitar players can enjoy without spending a lot of money.

Part of the reason is that they're widely produced and made cheaper by the simple laws of supply and demand. There are a lot of them, so they're getting more affordable.

Additionally, there's a lot of quality spread across a wide price range.

That's good news.

But we still have to find the ones that work for us; the ones that fit our rig and playing style.

And that's what this post (and others like it) are all about. It's about making the process a little less confusing, less foggy and giving you options that are all viable, in order to reduce the risk of making a bad purchase.

In doing so, we'll cover a wide range of pedals and prices, giving you a better chance of finding a good fit and get familiar with what, I believe, are some of the best distortion pedals available.

Can I make the "wrong" choice?

While there are different types of distortion, different styles, etc., I wouldn't say that there are a lot of boxes out there that you would completely dislike in terms of sound quality.

Because most of them sound pretty good.

There are, of course, exceptions, like the ultra-cheap distortions that are poorly made and don't measure up to professional standards.

But even the Boss DS-1, which retails under $50 and can be had for as low as $35, sounds fantastic.

It's still true that you get what you pay for, but the odds of ending up with a truly awful sounding distortion pedal are slim.

So I wouldn't worry about making a bad choice in that way. Where you can lose, is when it comes to getting value in your purchase.

Because if you pay a lot and get something that's more than you need, or just doesn't suit your playing style or expectations, you've lost money and you've lost value in your purchase, no matter what you've spent. So while there are plenty of pedals to go around, getting good value requires some work.

It means we've got to adjust the sliders and narrow down our purchase so that it both serves our needs as guitar players and our budgets.

Let's get started.

1. ZVex Fat Fuzz Factory ($199)

Best Distortion Pedals

Used Price: $150ish

Warranty: 1-2 Years

Based on the original Fuzz Factory, the Fat Fuzz Factory has a few extra features, namely an incredible amount of low end.

It works via a small switch, called the "Sub Switch" near the right side of the pedal (between the drive and stab knobs) that has three different positions. Each position increases the low-end more, and is heavy enough to work great for baritone guitars or even bass guitars.

Just FYI, the first setting of the Sub Switch is meant to mimic the original Fuzz Factory.

One thing I like about the Fat Fuzz Factory is that it does both conventional and bizarre really well. You can get a nice traditional fuzz distortion, or you can tweak some of the other settings and kick in the Sub Switch for some intensely strange sounds that have almost a synth-like quality.

What I Like: Zvex paint jobs are great and versatility is impressive for a fuzz pedal. The tone is warm, thick and holds good sustain.

What I Don't Like: It's on the north end of what you'd like to pay for a distortion pedal.

2. Xotic EP Booster ($116)

Best Distortion Pedals

Used Price: $100ish

Warranty: Manufacturer

The volume knob you see on the top of this small pedal isn't actually the only control you can access. There's also an internal switch that allows you to toggle between bass boost and bright settings.

Other features include a compact size and true bypass.

Tone is warm and plays well off of your amp, adding a nice smooth distorted tone that's not too aggressive, but enough to give you that extra bite. The sound kind of reminded me of a blues driver-type distortion, with lots of sustain reminiscent of a Fender tube amp.

What I Like: Compact size and simplicity are highlight features. Tone is excellent for a booster pedal.

What I Don't Like: It doesn't do a lot for $116. Hard to change internal switch on the fly.

3. TC Electronic Spark Mini Booster ($80)

Best Distortion Pedals

Used Price: $75ish

Warranty: 1 Year

What amounts to a pedal similar to the Xotic EP Booster in functionality, gets a place on this list for several key reasons.

First, it's cheaper.

At $80 retail, it's a more desirable price point for a pedal that, despite sounding fantastic, only does one very basic thing.

Additionally, the Spark Mini Booster has true bypass, analog circuits and a cool feature called PrimeTime switching. It basically means that you can engage the pedal by holding the button down for a few seconds, where it will disengage as soon as you let off. This functionality is designed to decrease the need for a second pedal click if you only want to use it for a short period of time.

Not to worry though; quick on-off stomp switching still works.

The sound is comparable to the EP Booster, yet the Spark is a bit more bluesy and distorted. Of the two, I'd prefer the spark.

What I Like: Matches a lot of the features of the Xotic EP for a much better price tag. The artwork is top notch.

What I Don't Like: There isn't much to complain about, unless you don't dig the artwork.

4. DigiTech DSB Screamin' Blues Analog Overdrive ($50)

Best Distortion Pedals

Used Price: $40ish

Warranty: Manufacturer

As far as blues-style distortions go, it's hard to beat this one at the retail tag of $50.

The thing looks cheap (and it is made of plastic) but sounds absolutely phenomenal, almost regardless of how you have the controls set.

High notes wale with a nice chime and low notes have that bluesy growl, ideal for Fender guitars.

Features are basic with a level, low, high and gain knob. Note that you do get a second output for a mixer (or second amp).

Keep in mind this is not a good fit for someone looking for a big gain distortion or a metal tone. But for the blues fan, or somebody looking for a smooth, subtle distortion, this box produces some of the nicest tones I've ever heard, especially for a scant $50.

What I Like: Beautiful blues tone for a surprisingly low cost. Controls are very responsive.

What I Don't Like: The high knob can get a little too shrill if you don't dial it back.

5. Rivera Amplification Metal Shaman ($300)

Best Distortion Pedals

Used Price: Retail

Warranty: Manufacturer

Aside from being one of the harder-hitting distortion pedals out there in terms of pure gain, the Metal Shaman from Rivera also has its own built-in noise gate with sensitivity and release controls.

That's a big plus for metal fans since the response from a built-in gate is going to be better than using something external. This allows you to get that quick shut-off distorted sound (kind of like what you heard on "Going Under" by Evanescence.

Otherwise, it's just a fantastic sounding metal distortion, with a lot of low-end boom.

That low-end, which is easily noticeable right out of the box, can be extended by the "brutality" switch, which throws some added bass into your tone.

You'll also notice a "disintegrate" button. This is yet another boost function that pushes your gain up a little bit higher, ideal for solos or adding just a little more volume. It also seems to add a touch of treble to your tone, making things bite just a little more.

So it's a distortion, a booster and a noise gate all in one.

What I Like: Low-end tones are thick and sound just about as metal as you could want. Built-in noise gate is a great feature.

What I Don't Like: The two boosts are a bit gimmicky, and the $300 price tag is pretty steep.

6. Wampler Ace Thirty Overdrive ($235)

Best Distortion Pedals

Used Price: Retail

Warranty: 5 Years Parts and Labor

The Ace Thirty or "Thirty Something" has a versatile control set, capable of simple amp boosts as well as a more full and thick distortion.

It's still what I would consider a classic overdrive, closer to blues than metal. But you're getting a pedal with plenty of control and a fairly balanced approach to gain and feedback.

Sustain is a little harder to come by on certain settings, seeming to hinge a bit on higher gain levels.

Features include true bypass, a boost mode that can be used when the pedal is off and a five-year warranty.

What I Like: Boost works when the pedal is off. Tone is warm and bluesy at most levels.

What I Don't Like: I had a tough time dialing in good sustain. Could be a personal problem.

7. Ibanez JD9 Jet Driver ($90)

Best Distortion Pedals

Used Price: $80ish

Warranty: Manufacturer

Part of why I like the JD9 Jet Driver better than the Tubescreamers is because it has a more transparent overdrive, which means it preserves the tonal character of your pickups and clean sound when in use.

The Tubescreamer tends to cover it up and kind of take over your tone.

I've always preferred a distortion pedal that lets your amp do some of the talking (especially at lower gain levels) so the Jet Driver is a favorite of mine.

Additionally, if you move the drive knob up past, say, five or six, you'll get a much heavier and saturating distortion, which almost has a metal feel to it, without quite as much aggression and feedback. Think warm, tube-like crunch instead of searing highs.

Its been around for awhile, but the Ibanez Jet Driver is still one of the best distortion pedals in its price range.

What I Like: Does a great job of maintaining the character of your amp's tone.

What I Don't Like: Is the color a little odd or is it just me?

8. Boss MD-2 Mega Distortion ($70)

Best Distortion Pedals

Used Price: $35ish

Warranty: 5 Years

The Boss MD-2 is a nice balance between the heavier, metal-style distortion pedals of the world and the more subtle, classic rock overdrives. Though I will say that it leans metal, with a distinct modern flavor to the tone it produces.

Controls are a bit different, with a "tone" knob embedded in a "bottom" knob. That bottom knob gives you a lot of bass and crunch.

You than have two more controls, aside from level, called "DIST" and "GAIN BOOST."

The difference is a bit hard to explain, but essentially the DIST knob controls saturation, while GAIN controls feedback and sustain. I've found that the pedal's distorted tone is aggressive enough that the GAIN knob doesn't have to be very high.

In true Boss fashion, the MD-2 gives you a lot for a little, at only $70 retail. Used options can go much cheaper, sometimes dipping under $30.

What I Like: Thick, modern tone with lots of bass. Control scheme is a nice change of pace.

What I Don't Like: Gain can envelope your amps tone if you cut it too high.

9. Jim Dunlop SF01 MXR Slash Octave Fuzz ($140)

Best Distortion Pedals

Used Price: Retail

Warranty: Manufacturer

Despite being one of the more unique pedals on this list the SF01 is also quite useful as your main distortion, with plenty of control and versatility.

You can turn the sub octave knob all the way down and avoid engaging the UP button if you want to avoid having any octave along with the fuzz. Though the combination of the two effects sound quite good.

Controls are simple with a volume, tone and fuzz knob, while the octave controls allow you to use a low and high octave, or engage both simultaneously.

Other notable features include all-analog circuitry and true bypass.

What I Like: The fuzz distortion sounds good at both ends of the tone knob. Octave is a great combination.

What I Don't Like: It's a bit of niche sound. I don't really want Slash's logo on my pedalboard.

10. Visual Sound V2JH Jekyll & Hyde Distortion ($285)

Best Distortion Pedals

Used Price: $120ish

Warranty: Lifetime

This pedal is broken down into two parts; the overdrive side and the distortion side, with separate controls for both.

Overdrive Side

Added controls on the overdrive side include a bass boost that does a good job of thickening up your tone, even on the higher notes and smaller strings. You've also got drive, tone and volume that you can use to shape the overdrive sound.

It is a bit bluesy and far more subtle than what you'd expect from a distortion pedal called "Jekll and Hyde," but it's nice to have if you're looking for a pedal with some versatility.

This one definitely has it.

Distortion Side

The distortion side adds a Sharp/Blunt switch, where Sharp gives you a little more high end and Blunt cuts those high tones down for a thicker sound.

You have four additional controls for this side of the pedal that include drive, treble, mid and volume.

Keep in mind, this is not a metal-head's solution.

It has a nice, modern tone to it. But we're in the arena of tube amp distortions and classic overdrives more so than modern rock and metal. That said, it can still handle a wide range of sounds and could still find some use with more alternative players.

What I Like: It's two pedals in one with plenty of tone-shaping options.

What I Don't Like: Can be a bit shrill if you don't keep the mids and trebles down. Would like to see a more aggressive gain setting.

Time-Tested Honorable Mentions

There are some conventional and chronically reliable guitar pedals that are mostly known about, and this list wouldn't be complete if I didn't at least mention them.

These pedals are often cheaper (sometimes because of used pricing) and commonly found on professional and amateur pedalboards alike.

One thing I will point out is that Boss pedals are rarely a bad choice, so you'll see a few in this list.

If you didn't find something above, taking your pick from this bunch is a safe bet.

Again, I'd advise to try and buy used first, especially if you pick one from this bunch.
All this is of course not meant to say that you can't have a perfectly good experience with a number of other distortion pedals out there.

This list is, admittedly, subjective, though I do take into account conventional wisdom while trying to be objective. But my encouragement would be for you to do what I've done and just try a bunch of different distortion pedals.

Go down to a Guitar Center or a local music store and just plug in a few that you'd like to try.

Because your best distortion pedal might not be on this list.

It might be something you haven't even heard of.

So as always, take this column with a grain of salt and use it to get oriented towards what might and might not work for you.

Building a pedalboard takes time, so my encouragement to you would be to take that time and get something that suits you and works with the sound you're trying to create.

Research Helps

Don't get me wrong, I like the internet

I'm also in full support of the technological turn that our world has taken.

But at the same time I know that it has caused us to become functionally lazy and uncreative, especially when it comes to our shopping habits. So what I would advise for those looking to make an optimal purchase, would be to actually read and do some research.

Don't just glance over a few reviews and then throw your hard-earned money at your tone problem. Pick up an actual magazine (I like Guitar Player) and read some of their columns.

They have great writers that review gear and do an excellent job giving you a picture of what you would be getting if you decided to buy.

Additionally, go on YouTube and listen to some of the demos and reviews on there.

Just absorb information.

It'll put you in a better position to make a purchase if you spend the time researching. Hopefully this article can be a springboard for that research.

We try.

Give me a shout over at our Facebook page and we'll talk about it.

Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of Nitevision

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About Robert Kittleberger

Bobby is the founder and editor of Guitar Chalk and Guitar Bargain. You can get in
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