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16 of the Best Rat Style Fuzz/Distortion Pedals

1981 InventionsAnimals PedalBasic AudioBuild Your Own CloneBYOCCaroline Guitar CompanyDr ScientistEarthbound AudioElectro-HarmonixFoxpedalFuzzFuzz-Drive and FuzzstortionJAM PedalsLone Wolf AudioMagnetic EffectsOpAmp FuzzProCoRatRat Style FuzzThorpyFXVFE PedalsWalrus Audio+-
2019GPX16Rats700-min.jpg

I think that the Rat style is possibly my favourite style of dirt pedal. It really depends how distinctly you classify all the Marshall pedals I have versus the already 8 Rat-style pedals in the collection (Actually 10 really, but 7 in the top 16 feature).

 

So my current all-time Rat-style champ is not always associated with the genre even though it is a full-throttle OmpAmp-driven fuzzstortion chaos machine - I am of course referring to Dr Scientist’s formidable Frazz Dazzler which is one of the most unassailable pedals in that category, and one that has been practically glued to its pedal-chain slot since the new and improved version came out a few years ago. I typically like my Rats to have slightly extended tonal controls and additional clipping options - which is why my own collection features the JHS-modded Rat 2, Foxpedal Wrath 2, Magnetic Effects Lonely Robot and VFE Pedals Alpha Dog amongst others. That is not to say I don’t like the simpler pedals - as I already have the Basic Audio Shore Bird and ThorpyFX Warthog - and really would like the 3-knob 1981 Inventions DRV too.

 

In fact looking as this particular selection, and considering this is pretty much mostly probably, no really my favourite pedal type - I’d actually pretty much like to own all those featured that I don’t own yet. How and when I acquire those is usually fairly random, as I’m not at all currently starved for choice - so I tend to stalk Ebay, Reverb.com and other on a permanent mission to find my desired pedal/s for a good deal - this frequently means ex-demo / lightly used / pristine second hand, or Labor Day specials and other discount events to name a few varieties. I track probably 100 pedals or more at a time, and depending on account balance, prevailing mood and degree of opportunity - I strike when the time is right!

 

This selection has been very carefully pondered upon, considered and curated, and hopefully includes the right balance of new and older and something different. If you don’t have one already - there is almost certainly a Rat pedal out there with your name on it - you just haven’t found it yet! Hopefully I can be of some assistance. Remember that pretty much everyone of the above pedals has its fair share of detractors as well as legions of fans - just because I say it’s great, it may not be your version of great - some of these pedals are highly subjective to pedalboard placement - like the Wave Cannon MKII in particular - so by all means factor that in too.

 

Pedals are listed alphabetically by brand - following a chosen proper ProCo Rat version at the top:

 

(Note that I could have had a larger selection, but felt that the 16 limit was a good exercise in rationalising which pedals deserved to be featured - there are further alternatives listed below)


ProCo RAT 2 JHS Pack Rat Mod - £159

There are lots of authentic/official Rat pedal preferences - late 70's or early 80's models or the very well-received '85 Whiteface Reissue. If you're buying a current stock version then my pick would be the newest Fat Rat edition - which is based on the '85 Whiteface with some additional clipping option and some low-end frequency fine-tuning. My personal choice, and the one I actually own is the above pictured JHS Pack Rat modded ProCo Rat 2 with 3-way clipping - Vintage, Open Boost, and LED Turbo Rat. Josh's team switches out the main OpAmp chip and other components for a significantly lower noise floor and slightly better dynamics. Of course many prefer the more unfettered raw noise of the originals - and there's plenty of options for those too - and plentiful supply usually on Reverb.com for most of the key types.


1981 Inventions DRV - $250 (Direct - Small batch manufacture)

1981 Inventions is one Matthew Hoopes who started as a DIY pedal builder, who in the process of doing a re-creation of his favourite '85 Whiteface Rat came up with his own rather splendid evolved take on that. For my taste the enclosure is a touch large for just 3 dials - DRV, CUT, VOL but Matt has achieved a really well-balanced and richly harmonious core tone with plenty of range, and without needing to rely on additional clipping options. Of course I personally would like some options, and a smaller enclosure - but this pedal is still very much on my wishlist - even though it is a touch on the pricey side too - but it is nicely packaged and presented. These are made in small batches of silver, black and pink so far - and they pretty much sell out within moments. Matt should be talking to Dave at Boutique Amps Distribution or Jon Cusack at Cusack Music to help ramp up the production - as you really need to strike while you're hot.


Animals Pedal Tioga Road Cycling Distortion - c£120 (Reverb.com)

I've featured this pedal a couple of times on my site before and indicated a willingness to acquire this Wren and Cuff collaboration with Japanese brand Animals Pedal. It's another cool take on the Rat in a neat enclousure and at a very reasonable price point. I still can't find any UK dealers for this brand, but there are plenty on Reverb.com mostly in USA and Canada - I will wait a wee while longer to see if this makes it into European distribution - otherwise I will just go Reverb.com in the end and find the best offer.


Basic Audio Shore Bird - £169

These are largely out of stock at the moment, but I was luck to spot and snap one up at the start of the year (Reverb.com of course). It's a slightly refined take on the Rat - still with plenty of grunt, but it never gets gnarly - I'm generally a huge fan of Basic Audio pedals. You have 4 controls this time with an extra 'Fat' dial to more finely control the lower frequencies. There are other Rats which are significantly more raw and raucous - which I also like - this is one is largely for the more tuneful stuff!


BYOC Mighty Mouse : discontinued - c$60 Kit, c$100 built (Reverb.com)

his pedal is discontinued, I have its little brother the Li'l Mouse, but really want this 6-mode version with Vintage Symmetrical Distortion, LED Turbo Distortion, Asymmetrical Distortion, Symmetrical OD, Asymmetrical OD, and MOSFET OD clipping options - and then the usual Volume, Distortion and Filter dials. I keep an eye on Reverb.com for the right one to turn up eventually. Most of these tend to be just the raw grey enclosure, but there are others finished to a slightly higher level.


Caroline Guitar Company Wave Cannon MKII SuperDistorter - £171

While the original Wave Cannon was a sort of hybrid Rat/DOD-250 type pedal using a single OpAmp. The newer MKII version essentially takes the Quad OpAmp core from the Haymaker and beefs it up with cascaded gain stages to push the hard symmetrical clipping towards Super-Distortion levels. You have 4 control dials - Volume, Gain, Mids Focus and Tone, alongside a 'Rumble' switch or sort of bass-boost. You then also have an additional 'Havoc' footswitch which overloads the pedal with high levels of feedback. For me this is bang on Rat style 'Fuzzstortion' territory, and is one of the best of its kind. I still think they could shrink it down to the same size as the Frazz Dazzler, but generally I don't mind medium enclosures if there are a larger number of controls and more than a single footswitch. Some players don't get on with this pedal as it's pedalboard placement is somewhat sensitive - and you really need to treat it like a vintage Germanium fuzz - and stick at or near the start of your chain.


Dr Scientist Frazz Dazzler - £219

This is my current 'Rat' style champion - obviously an OpAmp-based Fuzzstortion with copious amounts of gain, including additional gain stage activated by separate footswitch - on top of that we have 3-band EQ, Dry>Wet Mix, and a Voltage Starve 'Volts' dial. This pedal is just all-round superb and can delivery all kinds of tones including a veritable electrical storm of high gain fuzzy distortion - there's a reason why this one is my favourite - and it all happens within that cool compact enclosure.


Earthbound Audio Iron Pig - $180 (Direct)

This is another wishlist item I keep meaning to acquire, but as I already have 10 Rat-style pedals, new ones of that genre are not necessarily priorities - while this one mixes things up somewhat with a 6-way clipper - featuring Germanium diodes, Silicon diodes, Silicon Diodes + LED mix, LEDs alone, MOSFET + Germanium mix, and no clipping. We have Tone, Drive, Level, Clean/Wet Mix and Attack controls - the last of which fine-tunes the Gain channeled through the mid-high frequencies. The pedal obviously has the Clean control to make it more usable for Bass players - I would probably have preferred to sacrifice that for the sake of 3-band EQ - but in any case this pedal still sounds fantastic, although it is in somewhat short supply right at the moment.


Foxpedal Wrath - $179 (Direct)

Another pretty classic and great sounding Rat clone with the authentic LM308 OpAmp at its heart and the Reutz Mod / Sweep applied via fourth dial - alongside the typical Level, Gain and Frequency Cut controls. There's also a sort of clipping/gain stage switch in the middle of the pedal which has more distortion and compression to the left, and a more open and louder tone when switched to the right. I'm a big fan of Foxpedals - with 4 in the collection, including this one, The City V2 Tube Screamer type, Defector Russian Muff type and Kingdom Combo V2 Klone - all excellent - and all with somewhat extended tone-shaping and clipping.


Electro-Harmonix Flatiron Fuzz/Distortion - £67

I believe this is the most recently released pedal here, although the JAM Pedals Rattler has also had a recent update - while the EHX Flat Iron is their brand new take on the Rat. It features those very familiar 3 dials - Volume, Filter and Drive and runs off an undisclosed OpAmp chip. As always I will wait for JHS to release their juiced up modded version of this - hopefully with a few more clipping options and some sort of further gain/distortion boost - I must say I'm quite looking forward to seeing what shape that takes. I have nearly all the compact or 'nano' series EHX fuzz pedals as they classify them - in JHS-modded variations with extra options on top of the stock default tones.


JAM Pedals Rattler - £179

This pedals has fairly recently been updated and re-tuned I suppose - to grand effect and as demonstrated on a couple of the recent That Pedal Show episodes - including today's one I believe. You can acquire the Rattler in two editions - Standard and Plus varieties - where the latter pricier version activates some sort of softer clipping for its Lower Gain switch option. Otherwise you just get the usual Level, Tone and Gain dials - but this is a really finely tuned Rat-type with beautifully balanced rich harmonics right along the gain stage - darn it if I don't want one of these too!


Lone Wolf Audio Plague Doctor - £269

I've take more of an interest in LWA of late as I've been researching higher gain pedals quite a lot recently - and I like most of that which emanates from Mr Lone Wolf himself - Joe Anastasio. Joe is probably most famous for his Left Hand Wrath HM-2 clone, but his Plague Doctor (Formerly Plague Rat) circuit is near enough the same degree of feisty. This medium-sized Rat is one of the most evolved circuits yet - with separate dials for Volume, Filter, Sub, Gain, Feedback, Hi-Cut, Lo-Cut, Blend, Variable Clipping and Depth. The last mentioned is a key control for shaping the distortion, which you can further ramp up by hitting the separate Feedback footswitch. This is another pedal where there aren't very many in circulation, but for tone-tweakers like me - all those extra dials are perfection! (Note demo version is older model - newest model is pictured up top!).


Magnetic Effects Lonely Robot - £125

London-based Magnetic Effects run by The Datsuns frontman Chris Livingstone is one of my favourite pedal brands and I have five of his pedals to date - including this one, with a couple more in the pipeline. This 6-knob version features the Reutz Mod Gain Frequency Sweep on the EQ dial, and has further variable Clipping Threshold, Bass and Treble dials for Tone-shaping, in addition to Gain and Volume. This is kind of a cousin to the Foxpedal Wrath above and does much the same sort of thing just in a slightly different way, and with Separate Bass and Treble dials in place of Tone, and the 'Clip' dial instead of a toggle! Another great sounding Rat in any case - beefed up further by internal voltage doubler.


ThorpyFX Warthog Distortion - £185

I've covered this pedal quite a lot recently - it's an OpAmp driven Fuzz/Distortion, so a Fuzzstortion really as I like to call it - which is obviously inspired by the core Rat tonality. There are just 4 dials to contend with here - with a lot of the magic happening courtesy of the Calibre dial which adds further character and harmonics to the distortion profile. An all-round superior distortion which sounds as great as it looks. Another one of the favourites from my collection.


VFE Alpha Dog : discontinued - c£160 (Reverb.com)

These were discontinued a while ago, but Pedal Zombie Master Peter Rutter keeps reviving his classic pedals for one more special run - so I'd been chasing this one for several months - and then a unique Brand New Mint Green edition magically appeared on Reverb.com as if made just for me! I am a huge fan of VFE pedals, another of my favourite brands - where you typically get a mix of 3 large and 3 small control dials - which on this occasion are Level, Gain, Filter, Fat (Bass Boost), Variable Hard Clipping, and Variable Soft Clipping. This is a fairly unique style of Rat pedal - capable of some very smooth flavours here as well as those more raucous tones. I of course have many Rat pedal favourites and this one is definitely up there in the top three or 4 - where the Frazz Dazzler is still king, but the other challengers continue to shift in prominence and preference.


Walrus Audio Iron Horse Distortion V2 - £179

The latest incarnation of Walrus's Iron Horse was somewhat beefed up from its predecessor. There's a little more gain and drive in this version while Walrus has also worked on smoothing out the lower gain delivery. You have the usual 3 dials - Level, Tone and Distortion, along with a 3-way Gain/Compression Clipper - where Left is some compression, Right is most compression and Middle is Open with a little more volume as is usually the case. This is another well-loved Rat style pedal loved by most.


Other Notable Alternatives - Past and Present

What with all the Tube Screamer and Marshall type pedals - the Rat style has to be the third most popular variety of dirt pedal, as pretty much every pedal builder seems to have made a version at some stage, although all are not necessarily current, and several have been discontinued.

 

Since there are so many varieties out there - I thought is necessary to compile a list of some other notable Rats that didn't quite make the my top 16 cut - as below, which also includes another one of my own favourites - the Catalinbread Katzenkönig which is actually a very unusual hybrid of Rat and Tone Bender - so obviously with an even greater fuzz-focus within the Fuzzstortion spectrum:

  • Abominable Electronics Don's Shred Me / Deluxe
  • Acid Age Electronics Acid Pig
  • Arc Effects Soothsayer
  • Beavis Audio Research FKR (Four-Knob Rat)
  • Big Ear Pedals Wood Cutter
  • Big Tone Music Brewery Classic Distortion
  • Blakemore Effects R.O.U.S.
  • Catalinbread Katzenkönig
  • Chicago Stompworks Mister Vermin
  • CmatMods Plague Rat / Ratified
  • Dunwich Amplification Volt Thrower
  • East River Touch Distortion
  • Emma Electronic ReezaFRATzitz Distortion
  • Freakshow Effects Rabbit (Various)
  • Fuzzrocious Cat King / Cat Tail
  • Hartman LM308 Distortion
  • Himmelstrutz Fetto Custom Distortion
  • Ibanez FC10 Fat Cat Distortion
  • IdiotBox Effects Blower Box Distortion
  • Jerms TAR Distortion
  • JHS All American Distortion
  • Landgraff Mo'D Distortion
  • Little-Bear R.ATTACK RT-2
  • Matthews Effects The Harbinger Parametric Distortion
  • Mojo Hand FX Socrates
  • Mooer Black Secret
  • Moose Electronics Battlehammer Distortion
  • Randale Pedale Blackout
  • Retro-Sonic Distortion
  • Reuss Germanium Dirt
  • Roger Mayer Mongoose
  • Stomp Under Foot Skinner box
  • Tortuga Werewolf
  • Vick Audio 85 Classic Rat
  • Zander Circuitry Cranium Dual Gain Distortion

Final Thoughts

If memory and filing serves my correct, I have 10 Rats in my collection overall - all quality and each with a slightly different tonality at its core - albeit several also have significant overlaps. I really have all the Rats I need, and don't need to be looking for any more - but will inevitably possibly likely acquire several more of these - including and solely in alphabetical order - the 1981 DRV, the Animals Tioga, BYOC 6-way Mighty Mouse, Caroline Wave Cannon.... Let's be honest actually - I want pretty much all of the featured ones I don't have already - including a JHS modded version of the Flatiron which will likely materialise around mid-summer.

 

There is often a debate as to whether a Rat is a Distortion or a Fuzz - where it is really both - more of a Fuzzstortion - witch a very clearly audible Fuzz texture often buried within the thick and rich harmonic texture of the distortion. Depending on how the circuit is tuned - you can make the fuzz element more or less present/prominent overall - while I have no qualms about this belonging to the Fuzz genre, and it's a variety I dearly love in all it's forms - from almost buttery liquid smooth to the most raw, raucous and ugly electrical discharge cacophony!

 

I think there is a Rat pedal out there for everyone, but people will like different types depending on their own preferences and styles of music they play. As my tasted are excessively eclectic, and I love richly textured harmonic content - this genre of pedal is the perfect match for me. When my Empress Multidrive was one of my principal drives (It still gets rotation), I always mixed the Fuzz voicing together with the Overdrive and Distortion flavours to get richer and more complex tones. I'm still at a loss to understand why so many people ay they don't like fuzz, and why they try to deny that the Rat pedal is actually a surrogate of both the Distortion and Fuzz families.

 

I feel the selection above is as strong as any you will find on the web, and hopefully your ideal Rat is amongst their number!

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Stefan Karlsson
Stefan Karlsson
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