Best Distortion Pedal for Solid State AMP (Our Top Pick)
Wampler Dracarys Distortion
While the Dracarys is on the modern and heavy side of the distortion spectrum, it can be dialed back for smoother tones while easily handling the aggression of more "sterilized" solid state sounds. If you want the bargain, you can downshift to the TC Electronic Dark Matter.
In this roundup we're focusing on the best distortion pedals for solid state amps, which assumes you either own such an amp, or at least have a firm grasp on what they are.
If you want to do some research on solid state amps I would redirect you here:
Read more: Best solid state amps.
For this article we're focusing only on the distortion pedal side, digging up overdrives and preamps that we recommend specifically for solid state amps.
What to Look For
Since solid state amps don't have tubes, we're looking for a distortion pedal that can add a little bit of warmth and natural sound to your distorted tone. This doesn't mean the pedal needs to be analog or tube-driven itself, but it does mean we want something versatile that can either really heavy or subtle and bluesy.
How to Make our Picks
It's also important to know that when I make recommendations like this, I give you less options but with more experience. In other words, I try to only recommend pedals that I've actually used, or that people I know and work with have used. This means we don't list 15 pedals but limit it to five that I'm really confident in.
Best Distortion Pedals for Solid State Amps (top five picks)
In this table we've added our five selections with a link to their Sweetwater page (use these to help support the site) and a compare button. You can compare each distortion pedal to see pricing and basic features or you can just read the description and specs sheet on the Sweetwater page.
If you have questions or you want to recommend a distortion pedal be added to the table, drop a line in the comments section below.
TC Electronic Dark Matter
Mesa/Boogie Throttle Box Distortion
Wampler Dracarys Distortion
Diezel Herbert Pedal 2-Channel Overdrive
How we do Reviews
We've found that gear roundups listing individual bios for each product tend to be extremely long, overwhelming, and hard to read. Instead, we go into more depth about why we've chosen these particular pedals to recommend and why we think they'll work for you, in your situation.
Product descriptions and specs can be read elsewhere.
In other words, the main focus of our roundup is the roundup, which can be easily read through in the above table.
If you want to keep reading and go deeper into our reasoning, the following paragraphs are more in the weeds. They also provide more background on how and why we've made these particular choices.
Solid State Amps Need Flexibility
Most solid state amps tend to rely on having a fairly flexible tone profile. Many of them can sound vintage or modern, depending on how you dial in settings and what type of distortion source you're using.
The best distortion pedals for solid state amps are likewise going to be flexible and able to accommodate a wide range of gain levels.
In particular, pedals like the TC Electronic Dark Matter are extremely good at providing a wide ranging gain profile.
Read more: TC Electronic Dark Matter Review
What if I have a solid state amp with good onboard distortion?
Many of the solid state amps in today's market already have onboard distortion that sounds really good. In particular the Boss Katana and Line 6 modeling amps both have distortion tones that are digitally modeled but still sound great.
In an ideal world, I'd argue it's better to use your amplifier - if at all possible - as your primary distortion source.
The issue is that solid state amps tend to be cheaper and are not always great when it comes to providing a decent distorted tone.
Test out your solid state amp first to see if you like the distortion.
If you're happy with the way it sounds, consider using that as your primary distortion source and only adding a pedal as a secondary unit.
What if I have a solid state amp with bad onboard distortion?
If the opposite is true and the distortion with your solid state amp doesn't sound good, adding a distortion pedal will become more crucial. Of course, much of this decision should be left up to preference - what sounds good to you and what doesn't - but you just need to make sure you can get a high-quality distortion source from somewhere in your rig.
If that's not your amplifier, the pedals in this list can fill that role quite nicely.
In addition to providing a high-quality dirty tone, a good distortion pedal for a solid state amp will add some new layers of flexibility.
For example, we've selected distortion pedals that are known to provide plenty of control and a wide range of intensity levels. We want your distortion pedal to give you more control over your sound, especially when certain types of solid state amps tend to give you less.
Should the distortion pedal be analog?
Should your distortion pedal be analog?
It can be, and a couple that we've recommended in this list are analog. But it's not a requirement, even when you're using a solid state amp. First, keep in mind that there are different levels of analog and digital.
- Tube-powered distortion
- Analog (JFET circuits)
- DSP (digital signal processor)
- Hybrid (analog/DSP mixture)
When we say analog distortion, we're usually talking about the physical analog circuits or JFET transistors. While these are nice to have, they're certainly not a requirement for a solid state amp.
Part of the reason is that DSPs have gotten so good at emulating analog tones that it's much harder to tell the difference now then it used to be.
Particularly with distortion, digital models have come a long way.
Plus, we aren't just trying to "tubify" your solid state amp.
Solid state amps have their appeal and we don't want to just cover them with a tube-esque distortion pedal. Instead, we want to find a pedal that will work with your solid state amp while maintaining its character and expanding your distortion options. That can happen with both analog and digital distortions.
Which pedal in this list is best for metal?
The Wampler Dracarys is probably the heaviest, most saturated gain profile represented here. It's a good candidate if you want a heavier, more modern, or metal distortion source.
Which pedal is best for blues and lighter styles?
The Fulltone OCD has a warm, subtle profile that's great for blues and less intense gain settings. It's also one of the most popular overall distortion pedals on the market.
Which distortion pedal in this list is most versatile?
For pure versatility, I'd recommend the TC Electronic Dark Matter. It can do bluesy, subtle tones just as well as the heavier, more percussive gain levels.
Solid state amps and distortion pedals can mix well and give you a powerful, flexible guitar rig. Though it's helpful to know your gear, the style you're trying to go for, and the type of music you want to produce. I've made recommendations based on my own experience that I think have the highest chance of being a good fit for the most people.
If you have a solid state amp, you can use these suggestions as a guide to give you an idea of what you might want to look for, even if you don't find a perfect fit among the five recommended.
Though I can vouch for them based on the work and research I've done.
Hopefully that's helpful to you as you look to pair your solid state amp with a solid distortion pedal.
Your Questions and Additions
If you have questions about the distortion pedals I've recommended for solid state amps, feel free to drop them in the comments section below and I'll help out as much as possible.
Suggestions and additions to this list are welcome there as well. If we end up adding a pedal you suggest, we'll give you an update credit at the top of the page.
See you in the comments.
Wow… TC Electronic does not make the OCD. Fulltone does. Or did… Major typo. Proofread…
Bobby Kittleberger says
Likewise great article…glad I found you. I’m cleaning up a 1973 (ish) Sunn Studio Lead 2×10 solid state combo. I snatched this up because when these amps were new & I was 16 the top rocker guitarist in Portland demoed one with a P90 Melody Maker dimed and I LOVED it! His eyes blinked hard with every pick of the strings. Freakin’ loud! Not much info on these around nowadays. I recall a great tone… SS Sunn amps were not cold & sterile sounding… I still use my Entwistle-era Coliseum Bass amp for bass. No buitin distortion. Not sure how it will take overdrives; I like the Fender blues & JCM 800 sounds. I’ll try the Fulltone OCD & TC Dark Matter or Angry Charlie for distortion.
I’ll checkout Sunn Studio. Never heard of that one.
FWIW, I’d go Dark Matter. Great value there. Thanks for sharing!
Curt Marano says
Great article..i have a small solid state practice amp ..i have an OCD pedal..but I always thought of it as more of an overdrive pedal than a distortion pedal..i am looking for a full size amp that takes pedals well and saw a video that strongly recommended the fender deville 60 watt 4 x 10 ..was wondering do you think it would sound well with pedals at lower volumes.i know that amp has lots of headroom or is there a choice you can recommend that would be ideal for pedals..thanx Curt
Hey Curt – I actually did a write up on that here: https://www.guitarchalk.com/best-guitar-amps-for-pedals/
What kind of music do you like to play? What’s your price range for a new amp?