How to Lock Down Basic 12 Bar Blues Progressions

In the context of the guitar, 12 bar blues often refers simply to bluesy-sounding progressions comprised of three chords. Formally, the three chords are the first, fourth and fifth in a given key, written in roman numerals. So in the key of E for example, a 12-bar blues progression would be the following:

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14 Dirt Cheap Distortion Pedals

14 Dirt Cheap Distortion Pedals

This isn't to say that you might want a dirt cheap distortion pedal, but you might not want to spend big money on one either.

All I'm saying is that the cheap ones do exist, and they're more plentiful than many people realize.

For whatever reason, the market (both retail and resale) is flooded with a number of different distortion stompboxes. I suppose people buy a lot of them, then turn around and resell them so they can get something else.

I really don't know.

Somehow a lot of them end up on sites like Amazon, EBay and Craigslist going for a fraction of retail cost.

We're going to "curate" the cheapest, which will take into account the typical used cost and what you can expect to pay if you buy it new.

If you just want a distortion pedal and you're not terribly picky, this is where you'll find a good fit.

It's distortion pedals for your guitar at yard sale prices.

Forget you, Black Friday.

1. Boss MT-2 Metal Zone Distortion

Boss MT-2 Metal Zone Distortion
Though it retails for around $85, the Boss MT-2 Metal Zone distortion pedal is frequently available via Amazon and EBay for under $50.
Amazon Search Link
Reviews of the Boss MT-2

2. Joyo JF-36 Sweet Baby Low-Gain Overdrive

Joyo JF-36 Sweet Baby Low-Gain Overdrive
Despite the cheap price, this unit gets pretty solid reviews and feedback on Amazon and other websites.

It retails for around $30, and only gets lower.
Amazon Search Link
Reviews of the Joyo Overdrive

3. DigiTech DGR Grunge Analog Distortion

DigiTech DGR Grunge Analog Distortion
This pedal has been around for a long time but is a fairly popular economy option that still has a good sound. It generally retails for $50, but can dip down close to $20 on a pretty regular basis.
Amazon Search Link
Reviews of the DigiTech DGR Grunge Analog Distortion

4. Boss DN-2 Dyna Drive

Boss DN-2 Dyna Drive
This is a close cousin of the Boss DS-1 Distortion and runs around the same low price.

Retail is usually $45.
Amazon Search Link
Reviews of the Boss DN-2 Dyna Drive

5. Donner Distortion Vintage Overdrive with True Bypass

Donner Distortion Vintage Overdrive with True Bypass
The unit is pretty small and retails at or above $30 in most cases. Though it does come with all the controls you would expect from a decent distortion pedal, and for the price you couldn't ask for much more.
Amazon Search Link
Reviews of the Donner Vintage Overdrive

6. DigiTech XD Tone Driver Overdrive

DigiTech XD Tone Driver Overdrive
Though it retails for $70, it's not unusual to find this unit available for less than $40. It features two outputs (one for an amp and one for a mixer) as well as a "morphing" control.

What does that do? Your guess is as good as mine, but it's cheap.
Amazon Search Link
Reviews of the DigiTech XD Tone Drive OD

7. Danelectro DJ-16 Mini Amp & Distortion

Danelectro DJ-16 Mini Amp & Distortion
Either you love Danelectro pedals or you can't stand them. Then again, you might just want a cheap distortion.

And if that's the case, this could be the perfect solution as it doesn't get much cheaper.
Amazon Search Link
Reviews of the Danelectro DJ-16 Distortion

8. Boss DS-1 Distortion

Boss DS-1 Distortion
Perhaps one of the most popular and sought-after distortion pedals is the Boss DS-1. That popularity means there are a lot of used units floating around the internet, while new ones retail for about $50.

That low price makes the used market pretty cheap, sometimes dipping under $30.
Amazon Search Link
Reviews of the DS-1 Distortion

9. Danelectro D-1 Fab Distortion

Danelectro D-1 Fab Distortion
Once again Danelectro makes the list based on a rock-bottom price. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for, but if you want to go cheap, this is one of the cheapest. At $15 retail, you hardly even need to look at the used options.

If you do, think $10 or less.
Amazon Search Link
Danelectro D-1 Fab Reviews

10. Neewer CP-18 Overdrive and Pre AMP

Neewer CP-18 Overdrive and Pre AMP
Since there aren't too many of these pedals on the market (has anyone ever heard of Neewer?) the used options are limited. Though it hardly matters when the pedal new is only $24.

For what it's worth, most of the reviews I've seen have actually been pretty positive.
Amazon Search Link
Neewer CP-18 OD Reviews

11. Danelectro DJ-10C Grilled Cheese Distortion

Danelectro DJ-10C Grilled Cheese Distortion
If you don't like the mini-amp in the DJ-16, the "Grilled Cheese" distortion leaves that out in favor of a more traditional pedal.

You've got level and resonance controls (don't often see resonance on a distortion pedal but whatever).

The best part? It'll only cost you $25.
Amazon Search Link
Danelectro DJ-10C Reviews

12. Pyle Pro PPDLOD Ultimate Overdrive

Pyle Pro PPDLOD Ultimate Overdrive
Where in the world do these companies come from?

I should mention there are only two reviews on this one, so it's hard to say what you're getting. For $25ish it's low-risk and low-reward.
Amazon Search Link
Pyle-Pro PPDLOD Reviews

13. Joyo JF-12 Ultimate Octava: Fuzz and Octave Pedal with Distortion

Joyo JF-12 Ultimate Octava: Fuzz and Octave Pedal with Distortion
You'll find more reviews on this unit which are pretty mixed. For around $30 you're getting a lot in one pedal with a fuzz, octave and distortion effect all built in.

There are quite few resales available on Amazon starting around $20 and going up from there.

For whatever reason, this unit holds value pretty well.
Amazon Search Link
Joyo JF-12 Reviews

14. Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive

Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive
This is another pedal that despite being plentiful in the market seems to really hold its value. It retails around $50 and doesn't typically sell used for less than $40.

Still, it's a small price to pay for a decent distortion pedal that consistently gets great reviews.
Amazon Search Link
Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive Reviews

Are they worth it?

The electronics of a distortion pedal are fairly simple, which is part of what contributes to the low cost. Yet it doesn't change the old adage that you get what you pay for.

What I've found to be characteristic of most cheap distortions is that they're lighter and more bluesy sounding than their more expensive counterparts. If you want a really deep, modern distortion with a lot of low end, the cheaper pedals probably aren't for you.

At the same time, if you're looking for a light distortion, many of these will do the job.

Particularly if you're into classic rock, blues or jazz, a lighter sounding distortion will probably be a better solution for you.

So are they worth it? That just depends on where you are as a musician and what sound you're looking for.

What if I want to spend big money?

Some of the nicer Boss pedals, like the ST-2 Power Stack or the DA-2 Adaptive Distortions are excellent pedals for around the $100 mark.

If you've got $300 to spend (and who doesn't?) you could go with something like the Hughes and Kettner Tube Factor which is a tube-based distortion and one of the best distortions on the market.

For a more versatile distortion modeler, try the Line 6 DL4 for around $250.

Anything to add?

Do you know of a cheap distortion pedal that didn't make the list?

I'd love to hear about it.

Get in touch over at Twitter or Google Plus.

Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of victoriagrayphoto

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About Robert Kittleberger

Robert 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.


How to Teach Recurring Patterns in Modern Chord Progressions

How to Teach Recurring Patterns in Modern Chord Progressions

Skip to the 5-step summary.

So much of what we can learn and understand in our world is based on patterns that have already been established.

For example, a good Bible teacher will tell you that the Scriptures are based on themes and patterns.

Likewise, computer programmers base their methods off of data structures and algorithms. In most disciplines, if you understand the skeletal patterns that exist beneath the noise, the rest of the material will make far more sense.

Music is no different.

In fact, modern music is particularly adhered to a predefined set of patterns.

Those patterns are fully explained by music theory, yet are simple and easy to understand, even within theoretical language and constructs.

So my initial encouragement to guitar teachers (or teachers of any instrument):
Don't skip music theory with your students.
It's tempting to omit, because theory is complex and no student really wants to learn it. But the value of theory is seen in the fact that it gives meaning and definition to the patterns of modern music. It helps us to put the abstract into the English language.

If we can take the abstract and illustrate it with a reliable pattern, in language that a guitar student can understand, it's worth laboring through some basic elements of music theory.

So to summarize:
Music theory leads to understanding the patterns, which provide constructs for creativity.
This is the process that we need to learn and teach.

In the long run, it makes the guitar a far easier, more enjoyable and a more discernible instrument.

Chord Progressions

So when it comes to the guitar, where do we start?

The best place to start illustrating patterns on the guitar, is chord progressions.

While there are stylistic differences and variations, the most utilized progressions are largely the same across modern musical genres. When memorized and properly understood, those recurring progressions become cornerstones that we can draw on later for improvising, guitar solos, fills, melody and songwriting.

If our task is to provide a road to creativity, we must first begin to understand and familiarize ourselves with these progressions and structures.

And it will involve some music theory.

But how do we make theory less complicated for our students?

Starting with Basic Theory

When you learn music theory on the guitar, it doesn't need to be complex.

The note circle, reading sheet music and similarly mosaic topics, though important, are unnecessary components because they don't have practical use for this lesson. Your student is not going to read music, so there's no reason to teach it yet.

Yet guitar players who don't want (or need) to read sheet music, often throw out theory in its entirety.

That's a mistake.

Because ultimately we need some basic theory to help communicate the fundamental elements of the guitar.

Identifying Common Chord Progressions

Let's start by trying to answer this question: What makes a chord progression "common?" Why do certain progressions show up all the time and others don't?

This happens in part, because there exists a set of chords (or notes) within every musical key.

Those chords are written with roman numerals to designate each one.

Let's take the key of G for example:

Chords in the Key of G Diagram
What do you first notice about this pattern?

From a chord progression perspective, the first thing you should notice (or point out) would be the three major chords; Gmaj, Cmaj and Dmaj.

These chords form what we would call a 12 Bar Blues chord pattern and the incredibly common G-C-D progression you hear on countless tracks.

Chords in the Key of G Diagram
Now if you have a student that's beginning to learn chords, this diagram will be significantly helpful and relevant.


Because not only are you showing them what chords are worth their time to learn, but you're also showing them which groups of chords will fit together in a given key.

These chords, regardless of how you arrange them or in what order they're played, each will sound palatable because they're all part of the same key. As the teacher, it would be prudent to examine what key you see a student gravitate towards, and then base the chords you focus on off of that.

For instance, they might play a D chord often. If so, provide them with the list of chords that fall under the key of D and go over the specifics of each one.

Chords in the Key of D Diagram
By teaching these diagrams we're accomplishing several important things for our guitar students.

  • We're giving them concrete information that they can memorize and take with them.

  • We're providing a structural tool that can assist them at all stages of their playing ability.

  • We're laying the roots for a solid understanding of music theory and not just becoming a good guesser.

At this point you can either move a student into more complex music theory or more practical application. For instance, you might want to use this diagram to divulge into the gory details of major and minor triadic chord progressions.

It's up to you to decide based on two factors:

  1. Does the student learn better with more complex, music theory specifics?

  2. Is the student able to absorb the information in a way that benefits them?

Perhaps the student would be better off to begin applying the G, C and D chord progression and forgo more theoretical explanation.

It really just depends on the individual, how they learn and how easily they're able to process different kinds of information.

Personally, I'm a practical and audible learner. Therefore it wouldn't be as helpful for me to read or be instructed on the more detailed aspects of music theory. At the same time, I know there are musicians who need to know these things in order to play.

They need to have music in front of them and be able to discern exactly what needs to happen and why.

As a teacher, it's important to understand the difference between those types of learners and recognize which type you're teaching.

But in either case, we've identified where chord progressions come from and why some of them occur more often than others.

Let's compile a few more.

Some of the Most Typically Occurring Progressions

We've already seen how to get G, C and D, so I won't make a new diagram for each one. But if you want to check my sources, I'll link to the page for each key that I use.

We'll make a list to keep things simple.
1. G, C and D: the key of G

2. C, F and G: the key of C

3. C, Amin, F and G: the key of C

4. E, A and B: the key of E

5. A, F#min, D and E: the key of A
Right away we see that the 12 Bar Blues patterns are incredibly common. And if we have even a modest amount of familiarity with modern music's chord progressions, we know these show up all the time.

That's a great place to start if you're trying to get your student to recognize a familiar pattern.

Using the 12 Bar Blues to Teach Simple Progressions

As I mentioned before, the 12 bar blues (or any group of three chords) can also be identified as triadic chord progressions, which is a more technical term and not necessary for most situations. Though again, if deeper theoretical terms and concepts help your student, it's worth explaining.

Otherwise, just stick to the basics.

For starters, you would want to craft a tab sheet based on G, C and D and E, A and B since they're two of the most typically occurring chord progressions.

Here's a simple tab and chord sheet.

Feel free to print and use it for your own lessons.

Follow this up by explaining the pattern and giving your student some memorization tools so they recognize it if they see the same sequence of chords somewhere else on the fretboard. In this case, we do that by isolating root notes and explaining intervals.

The graphic has already touched on this.

So here are our root notes for each progression.

G, C and D




E, A and B


If we want to move or transpose the structure of the progression we can use intervals to identify the pattern based on the root note.

So let's take the E, A and B example and then move the root note to G instead of E.

The entire pattern moves two whole steps (four frets) up, giving you:


Thus the pattern becomes G, C and D.

If we move the pattern up one more whole step we get:


The progression now becomes A, D and E.

In each case, our root note is the first note of the chord progression.

So what you end up with is essentially an interval-based structure, where you can play a 12 bar blues progression anywhere on the fretboard. If you know what key you're playing in, simply start the progression at that note on the fretboard.

The interval structure would look like this:

So you've got your root note (in this case at the fifth fret on the sixth string), a perfect fourth and a major second.

That's pretty easy to memorize, right?

Summarizing the Theory Elements in This Lesson

Just to do a quick recap, let's identify the elements of music theory that we've touched on in this lesson.

First, we've identified chord progressions based on the key that you're playing in. So if your student knows they're playing in a given key, they can find a group of chords within that key and thus have a starting point for creating chord progressions.

From there we've identified some of the most typical chord progressions and used the 12 bar blues interval pattern to memorize them.

Here's a quick key to define our interval components.

  • Root Note: The note that matches the key of a song or chord progression.

  • Perfect Fourth: The interval between the root and second chord of the 12 bar blues.

  • Major Second: The interval between the second and third chord of the 12 bar blues.

Teaching chord progressions this way means you're giving a student both practicality and a baseline theoretical understanding that helps to promote said practical use and reuse of the concepts.

You're also able to target chord progressions that are the most useable and applicable for your students.

Writing your Own Lesson Plans: A 5-Step Summary

So for the purpose of writing you own lesson, here's a summary of what you should cover.

  1. The key that a progression is in.

  2. Each chord in that key and their designated roman numeral.

  3. The most typical and common chord progressions within that key.

  4. The root note and intervals of each progression.

  5. How to use the root note and intervals to change the key of (transpose) the progression.

There you have it.

That's your five-step guide to teaching recurring patterns of modern chord progressions on the guitar.

Using this Writeup

Feel free to use this entire writeup as a lesson for students (there's a print button at the bottom of every article), though you might be better off to write your own consolidated version based on the 5-step summary above.

You might also want to prepare something for the student to take home with them.

Again, how helpful that is will depend on your student and how they learn. For those who are self-motivated and would actually use a worksheet, send them home with something in their hands.

For some people that will work and for others, it'll be a waste of time and paper.


So if you want to teach chords, teach basic theory and help your student know how to find and use the patterns.

In other words, give them a fishing pole instead of a fish.

Exercise of the Intellect

Do you have a  teaching (or learning) experience? How do you teach patterns and chords that might differ (or reflect) what we've covered here?

Let us know what you think.

We've got Twitter and Google Plus for that.

Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of Kmeron

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About Robert Kittleberger

Robert 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.