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12 of the Best High Gain and Metal Pedals

AmptweakerDiezelDistortionDr ScientistDual-DriveElectro-HarmonixEmpress EffectsFriedman EffectsKeeley EngineeringMarshall Style DistortionMESA/BoogieMetal DistortionMI EffectsMooerMulti-DriveRock Fabrik EffectsWampler+-

I’ve always liked high gain pedals but not necessarily the sort of music that gets made with them - usually not listening to anything heavier than Van Halen. Yet something has sparked my interest of late, and I picked up a favourite new band over Christmas which just happened to be metal - LA-based ’In This Moment’ I love the guitar sounds on all their albums - that rich and percussive tight rhythmic chugging. This has encouraged me more than even to concentrate also on heavier tones, and I’ve acquired a pretty substantial heavy artillery to date.


The most recent addition being the super gainey MI Audio Megalith Delta - which was initially intended as a some-time swap-out for the Empress Heavy, but now sits alongside it! In fact 5 of the listed pedals are in my chain, and I intend to get a few more to bolster this tone library - particularly in the are of MESA/Boogie Rectifier which is not yet represented - while there are several other pedals I have also got my eye on - including the Rock Fabrik Mind Abuse and Amptweaker TightMetal JR.


As always I have a preference for compact pedal enclosures - unless I am offered a dual channel feature or additional dials which require further real-estate. I favour tone, as well as utility, versatility and form-factor. It’s quite unusual that I actually have the Diezel VH4-2, as I’m normally put off by such large enclosures, but bizarrely really like this one. That said, my pedal chain space is tight, so any new acquisitions will be either out-an-out replacements / upgrades - or else temporary swap-outs just for different flavours.


All the pedals in the listing are potential targets, even though the Metal Muff and Throttle Box EQ are somewhat large and that will work against them. I’m always on the look for clever pedal evolutions, and I really like what James Brown is doing at Amptweaker. It’s not at all clear what my next Metal pedal will be as I have several in my sights - on this list and in addition, and it really depends on what inspires me, what is available at the time and at what price - oh - and size is sort of important too - to a degrees.


Pedals are listed alphabetically.

Amptweaker Tight Metal JR - £149


James Brown of EVH Peavey 5150 amp fame has built up a superb collection of mostly rock and metal distortion pedals. The majority of pedals come in 3 editions, compact JR versions, mid-size Regular versions and considerably larger Pro versions - the latter two have smart FX-loops included also. The JR versions tend to have 3 main dials plus switches, the medium have 4 dials+, and the large have 6 dials+ including a full 3-band EQ. I really love the detailed feature sets the Pro pedals carry, but they are seriously too large for my liking really - so I am left with the Medium and Compact enclosures to consider. In fact I have had my eye on an Amptweaker Tight Fuzz JR for some time, while my Amptweaker Metal pedal of choice is the TightMetal JR. I was considering forever as to whether I preferred the mid-sized TightMetal or FatMetal pedal, deciding in the end - that the JR version pedal which has both voicings is actually the optimal choice for me. This contains large Volume, Gain and Tone dials with a smaller Noise Gate dial - it also benefits from 2 x 3-way switches - an EQ which has Thrash | Regular | Smooth options, and a Tight switch which has Fat | Regular | Tight options. Obviously the JR foregoes the FX Loop, but carries a mix of Mid and Pro-size pedal settings - which is really cool. This is a great and really versatile metal pedal, and all the dials and switches have a significant impact on pedal voicing.

Diezel VH4-2 Distortion - £299


I came to the Diezel amp sound via Saga lead guitarist Ian Crichton - who currently rocks a Diezel Herbert. Diezel's most celebrated amp though is the magnificent VH4, and in particular Channels 3 & 4 from that Amp. The original Diezel VH4 pedal had just the Channel 3 voicing with single footswitch. The newer VH4-2 adds Channel 4, a separate footswitch to change Channels, and independent Volume and Gain for the extra Channel. This is my current 'Extreme' distortion pedal of choice, but I've also long harboured a desire to add the Turkish-made Mind Abuse into the mix for occasional swap-out purposes.

Dr Scientist The Elements - £209


This is THE Swiss Army Knife of Drive / Distortion pedals - with 6 dials and 4 different voicing toggles as such to give your pretty unprecedented tone-shaping ability in such a compact form-factor. Note that you really need a noise gate with this pedal as it has a fairly high noise floor, particularly on the higher gain stage - where I mostly like to play, and where I have the Gain set around the mid-way point / 12 for a sort of rich and fat hard-rock tone. This is one of my long-term favourite pedals, it sounds glorious and I would not swap it for anything. That said I would like to acquire a Keeley Filaments for occasional switching and experimenting etc. - I considered both those pedals head-to-head and sided with The Elements, although the Filaments is a really impressive pedal too.

Electro-Harmonix Metal Muff Top Boost - £89


This is obviously a very high gain fuzz pedal as such - but with lots of tone-shaping options, so you can tone down the fuzziness somewhat. A lot of players really love this pedal, but some can't get over the slight fuzz underpinning of most of the output tones. It's a well priced pedal for what you get, but relatively large. Yet regardless how decent a pedal it is, I don't see it competing for space with my existing Empress Heavy or MI Audio Megalith Delta. There are other more likely additions in this listing, but it's worthy of consideration particularly at its price level.

Empress Effects Heavy - £269


So I had the Wampler Dracarys in my chain for a while - and is does the Ola Englund chug / djent thing pretty well as expected, but does not really have a huge range of tones otherwise even with the tight / open voicing switch. So I started looking around for more versatile metal pedals, and came across the Empress Heavy via a variety of means - although mostly demos on YouTube. It did not take me long to set up my 2 channels - the left is a fat sounding heavy Marshall tone, while the right is a more tight, dark and percussive tone - both sound amazing, in fact the only complaint being when you cut the Middle frequencies you could really do with some extra volume on-tap. So that's the one thing I would change on this pedal - more volume really. My pedal-chain is pretty long and extensive, so another option is simply to recalibrate every pedal in the chain - which is significant work - as it is at the moment it actually works pretty well - a really great and properly versatile metal pedal.

Friedman BE-OD - £199


I've already covered this pedal in my Marshall pedals overview - this is kind of the heaviest Marshall tone I make use of - tight and percussive and pretty high gain too. It's actually the least gainy of my heavy artillery, coming in before the Empress Heavy, Megalith Delta and Diezel VH4-2. I don't really change the voicing much here - it's typical set to tight and percussive really. Lots of metalheads really like this pedal and I can totally see why.

Keeley Filaments - £179


When I acquired the Dr Scientist Elements, I mostly compared it to the Filaments as both are pretty similar in setup. Sure they have slightly different tone-shaping elements, but both have full 3-band EQs and further dials and toggle switches to boost certain key frequencies. Overall I kind of prefer the tone of The Elements, but both are excellent really, and for a while I could have gone either way. In any case the Filaments is definitely on my wishlist, and will be acquired eventually.

MESA/Boogie Throttle Box EQ - £295


I have quite a lot of amp tones in my chain, but nothing covering the MESA/Boogie Rectifier style distortion - Double, Triple or otherwise. The Throttle Box EQ does its best to give you the Boogie Rectifier experience in a pedal, and features both high and low gain channels (all distortions really though), along with that famous 5-band EQ, and a smart Mid-Cut Dial and Boost switch. I'm kind of torn between this one and the Wampler Triple Wreck at the moment - which is Brian's homage to those amps. For reasons of size etc. I'm currently leaning towards the Wampler, but I would kinda sorta quite like both. I feel that that this MESA/Boogie pedal could be slimmed down somewhat too! It's a really versatile and great sounding metal pedal though.

MI Audio Megalith Delta Distortion - £214


This is my second heaviest pedal in line with how I set the gain - with the Diezel the most extreme, although I could easily reverse those - it just depends how you dial it in. This is one of my most recently acquired pedals, and I love its range of tones and clever tone-shaping options - particularly the EQ Shift toggle and Contour dial which are somewhat unusual. This produces enormously fat metal tones with real oomph in the low end frequencies. It's not quite as versatile as the Empress Heavy, but I would say it's a touch gainier overall. I also have the Super Crunch Box from MI Audio - both pedals are brilliant.

Mooer Rage Machine Metal Distortion - £50


I have a fairly lengthy wishlist of Mooer pedals - yes I'm still a fan of the mini pedals too, and the 2 heaviest distortion pedals Mooer does is the Rage Machine, and the Blade Metal Distortion, with my preference lying with the first mentioned, although the Blade is pretty decent too. These do not quite have the harmonic richness of the other pedals listed here, but then their circuitboards are half the size - these are both pretty decent pedals, and I will likely get me a Rage Machine eventually some day.

Rock Fabric Mind Abuse Distortion - €219 (direct)


I've mentioned this superb Turkish-made pedal before, with its brutal distortion tones within 3 voicing settings - Classic | Vintage | Modern, usual 3-band EQ, and usual Volume and Gain dials. Sounds amazing right across the range of voicings and gain levels. It's been on my wishlist for a while and I've loved every demo I've heard. I fully intend to get this for occasional swap-out for the Extreme distortion slot currently and mostly occupied by the Diezel VH4-2 - which has the advantage of 2 Channels.

Wampler Triple Wreck - £249


I mentioned above that I had nothing yet in my chain to represent the high gain MESA/Boogie Rectifier sound, and the obvious way to get to that is via the proprietary Throttle Box EQ above, or Brian Wampler's own take on the same sound. Each approach has its pros and cons, but I think overall I prefer what the Triple Wreck delivers - in a significantly more compact package. I like both, and may well get both eventually for proper swapping around, yet as it stands the Triple Wreck will be added first.

Final Thoughts

I'm not the biggest fan of metal music, but boy do I love those metal crashing chords of doom - those dark and heavy, tight and percussive rhythmic grooves. To an extent that I already have 5 of these High Gain pedals in my chain - in ascending order of gain - as I have it dialled in - Elements | BE-OD | Heavy | Megalith Delta | VH4-2.


There are a number of pedals here I am keen to add too - I have long liked the MESA Rectifier sound, which means a Triple Wreck is surely on the horizon, but then I'd really like a TightMetal JR and Keeley Filaments too - and the Mind Abuse as mentioned. There's also a number of the Boss metal pedals I'm quite intrigued by - and always confused by the Metal Zone as to whether I should buy an original or some modded version - and then which one?


I think few can argue against the quality of this fine selection of high gain and metal pedals - there should be something here for everyone. All these pedals have piqued my interest in some way and remain probable and potential targets.

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
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