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12 of the Best Medium and Large High Gain / Metal style Distortion Pedals

AmptweakerBogner AmplificationBrown Sound DistortionDiezel AmplificationDistortionDual-DriveEmpress EffectsEVH ElectronicsEVH GearHorizon DevicesMarshall Style DistortionMESA/BoogieMetal DistortionMI EffectsMulti-DriveRockfabrik EffectsSeymour DuncanWampler+-
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Not unusually for me, but pretty much all of these that I don’t have yet are on my wishlist, and I’m still deciding on what order to acquire those in and which ’I need’ the most! My current big metal pedal trio consists of the excellent Diezel VH4-2, Empress Heavy and MI Effects Megalith Delta - I set the Diezel at the most extreme gain, then the Megalith Delta, and then the two voicings of the Empress Heavy. Each of these is a dual drive so there are myriad options here.

 

I don’t think I would replace these in their primary slots, the additional acquisitions would be for rotational purposes as I feel that those I have already are my nearest preference matches anyway, although there is still plenty of competition for each slot. Interestingly all of these pedals have my much-loved 3-band EQ, while some offer even more clipping, voicing and tone-sculpting options.

 

Alas there are really no bargains to be had here either as they pretty much all start from around £200 and rise up from there - price is not necessarily an indicator of quality or versatility. Many of these are based though on flagship distortion amps which cost several thousand pounds, so based on that this is a significantly more cost-effective means of acquiring those sorts of tones.

 

For the Diezel VH4-2 slot I would have the Diezel Herbert, RockFabrik Mind Abuse and the Wampler Triple Wreck on sometime rotation - the Triple Wreck is probably the pedal that’s been on my wishlist the longest so I’m thinking that it may be the next acquisition in this group.

 

On the Megalith Delta slot, the Horizon Devices new Apex PreAmp seems like a good alternative, and I would alternate with the Amptweaker Tight Metal Pro and Mesa Throttle Box EQ.

 

Finally, as alternatives for the Empress Heavy, I would acquire the Bogner Ecstasy Red, EVH 5150 Overdrive and Seymour Duncan Palladium. The rotation placement is partly decided by principal slot pedal footprint and partly on suitability as replacement for that pedal’s abilities. All bar two pedals here are dual-drive / drive+boost, while the Mind Abuse has a 3-way voicing selector - it would have been cool to have a second footswitch on that pedal to switch between voicings.

 

In any case these are all stellar pedals which all perform at the upper reaches of high gain - albeit some go slightly higher than others, have more low-end or tightness etc. I think most metal style players could be happy with any of these, although some are more sensitive on the dial-in.

 

Pedals are listed alphabetically by brand.


Amptweaker Tight Metal Pro - £279

There are several pedals here that vie for 'Tweakability' supremacy, and the Tight Metal Pro has to be in the front line for that with its myriad dials, switches and no less than 3 built-in FX loops. Overall you probably have the most setup options here - and this pedal is fully fierce right out of the gate and on the lowest settings. James Brown obviously has some serious high gain pedigree and he's put all that expertise on show here - a most capable tight modern metal pedal. It features 3-band EQ plus Tightness dial, and 5 2- and 3-way switches - Mid Boost, Mid EQ / Trash, Edge, Gate and Gain, plus two mini dials like the Bogner for boost volume and gain.


Bogner Ecstasy Red High Gain Distortion - £199

Even though the Bogner Uberschall is supposed to be Bogner's main high gain pedal - most people prefer the super saturated crunch of this far more versatile pedal. I'm a big fan of Reinhold Bogner and already have the ltd Bubinga editions of his Burnley and Wessex studio pedals. The Ecstasy Red comes with really clever clipping and voicing options which impact on Sag and EQ shift - giving you all manner of beautiful high gain sounds. I love the core tone of this pedal, and it's definitely an imminent acquisition - I had thought to wait for the Mini (medium-size version really), but I feel that may sacrifice too much of the versatility - I really like the two mini dials to control gain and volume on the separate Boost footswitch - more pedals should take up that control topology.


Diezel Herbert - £269

This is another classic Diezel Amp-based pedal - known for its super-flexible mid-range frequency control - which is here applied by way of a secondary 'Mid Cut' footswitch (with MidCut Master and MidCut Intensity Controls) - allowing you to have two distinctive tones for your rhythm and lead sounds. I think on balance that I still have a slight preference for the core tone of the VH4-2 - which is also a touch more extreme - but this would make for an excellent deputy.


Diezel VH4-2 - £329

I've had both the Diezel VH4 pedals, and the newer dual footswitch one featuring both Channel 3 & 4 from that celebrated amp make it a worthwhile upgrade. I have this in my chain as the most extreme distortion - but this is much to do with how you set the pedal up and how much you dime it. I've long been a Diezel fan and relish the opportunity to employ these tones within a controlled pedal platform environment. The magic has much to do with the 'Deep' low-end feedback circuitry per that employed in the amps. You need to be a touch judicious with the dials, but this can sound amazing if you get it right.


Empress Heavy Dual High Gain Distortion - £269

This is another of my perennial high gain favourites - where you can dial in 2 very distinctly different voicings - with a myriad of tone control dials and EQ switches as well as smart gate controls - the 'Weight' dials also allow you to dial in degree of tightness / elasticity. I sometimes think we could do with separate Hi and Low dials, but it mostly works out just fine - and there's plenty of range on-tap here - this is a really solid performer.


EVH 5150 Overdrive - £184

Eddie Van Halen's core tone still seems to be a critical benchmark and mainstay of metal - with lots of players still preferring to dial into that core tone and usually boost / push it with a Tube Screamer or something like the Horizon Devices Precision Drive. The signature EVH pedal does everything you need it to do, but it would have been nice if they made more use of the real-estate - as they have done with the Horizon Devices Apex PreAmp on that same chassis / enclosure. I think an additional Boost here would do wonders for this pedal - particularly in this elite company.


Horizon Devices Apex PreAmp - £299

Misha Mansoor's MXR collaboration sees a proper tight and percussive high gain metal style distortion as its second pedal. Occupying the same size chassis as the EVH 5150 - the Apex PreAmp comes loaded with a few extra features - a separate 'Tight' footswitch, alongside surface-mounted Noise Gate dial and Cab Sim contour dial. Per the above Ola Englund demo it sounds suitably impressive too if you're after those modern metal tones. And although it does not range quite as tight, I feel that the MI Effects Megalith Delta generally suits me a little more as it can better cover the extremes of modern and vintage distortion. That said, the Apex makes an excellent deputy for the Megalith and will likely be many players' first choice here.


Mesa Engineering Throttle Box EQ - £262

Mesa's signature high gain pedal has the same 5-band EQ as the amps, with a number of switches and minor dials to sculpt and enhance the tone. I have been considering this pedal for a while - and really I'm just hoping to catch it at a sufficiently appealing price before I pull the trigger. As I've said before, many are put off by too many dials and switches, while I really like the versatility they bring and the increased ability to dial in to perfectly accompany guitar, amp and existing pedal-chain. The Mesa Boogie Rectifier sound is one of the corner-stones of high gain, and this is a really good format to deliver those tones.


MI Effects Megalith Delta High Gain Distortion - £221

Based on Michael Ibrahim's high gain behemoth - the 180 watt super saturated amp of the same name - this is a truly spectacular high gain pedal with tonnes of low-end frequencies on offer. The smart 3-way EQ Shift toggle and additional Contour dial really give you a very versatile and adaptable base for full-throttle distortion. It could possible do with a gate and tightness control to enhance it's more modern metal capabilities, and I would like to see the mini boost dials here you get on the Amptweaker Tight Metal Pro and Bogner Ecstasy, but generally, this performs fantastically for me under all conditions.


RockFabrik Mind Abuse Distortion V2 - £229 (Effekt Boutique)

I've featured this Turkish pedal before which I've also had on the wishlist for a while. I've seen several excellent demos of this, and since it's now available via regular German vendors, it's relatively easy for me to get my hands on. In fact there is now a brand new V2 version which moves the 3-way mode switch from the right side to the top face of the pedal. I would prefer the switch a little longer and more like on the Spaceman Sputnik - so I can easily switch with my toes! The magic of this pedal apart from its excellent core tone is that highly versatile mode switch which significantly changes the tonal profile from Classic to Vintage and Modern distortion - with fine-tuning coming courtesy of and excellent full-range 3-band EQ. Note that the V2 version is released in 2 weeks according to the website.


Seymour Duncan Palladium - £259

Seymour Duncan makes some really excellent pedals which somewhat seem to fall under the radar of most - when they should really be taking note of star performers like this one. It goes further than most of the pedals on this page with a parametric mids control to enhance that 3-band EQ, moreover it contains additional Presence and Resonance control dials for fine-tuning the top and bottom end. Combined with a smartly definable separate Boost you have a superbly versatile workhorse which sounds fantastic.


Wampler Triple Wreck Distortion - £259

The heaviest of Wampler's pedals, which I was hoping the more compact Dracarys was going to be more like, but each has its own space really. As Ola demonstrates above, this pedal sounds tremendous and I would actually acquire both this and the Mesa Throttle Box EQ above even though they occupy very similar territory. They are just different enough for me to justify ownership of both. This pedal has been the longest standing entrant on my rolling wishlist - it's really time I hit the trigger on this one, especially as they are seemingly in short supply at the moment, and I fear may be discontinued before long.


Final Thoughts

All of the above pedals can overlap significantly, but have enough differences about them to justify individual inclusion / selection. I think most players would be happy with any of these if genuinely seeking those full-throttled high gain tones, and while there is significant overlap they all tend to be quite different experiences in how you dial them in and utilise them.

 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the three ones I already possess - the Diezel VH4-2, Empress Heavy and MI Effects Megalith Delta - all are stellar performers. But there is nothing wrong either with supplementing those with a more extended arsenal for sometime slot rotation. I don't really think there is a weak performer among them, although the EVH 5150 probably offers the least degree of variety and flexibility. I would really like to see a second boost footswitch in there to make the most of that real-estate and help propel that pedal to the slightly higher gain levels most of these others reach.

 

Each of these is enormously appealing to me, and I will look to acquire all / most of these eventually, with probably the Triple Wreck and Throttle Box EQ at the top of that list, followed by the Bogner Ecstasy Red and Horizon Apex PreAmp.

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