The best first guitar effects pedal to buy is the Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal. This is a great pedal for beginner guitar players, and an effect that almost every guitarist has in their arsenal. While there may be more focused pedals for heavy metal distortion, the BOSS DS-1 handles all types of distortion with ease and is a ubiquitous effect in the world of rock guitar.
The Boss DS-1 Distortion is a Great Beginner Effects Pedal
Most guitar players start out with a guitar and amplifier, a cord to connect them, and maybe a tuner. At some point in time you will want to branch out into the crazy world of guitar effects pedals. Whether you love the delay/reverb soaked wall of sound like Pink Floyd, or the raw distortion of metal, those elusive tones can be found in the often twisted combinations of effects stompboxes.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the different types of effects, digital vs analog, signal chains, true bypass, buffered, and a hundred other topics that relate to the “in-between” from the guitar to the amp.
That’s why I like to start simple. And to be honest, this pedal has a special place for me because this was my first effects pedal.
While working my first job during my freshman year of high school, I drooled over the Musicians Friend catalog every month. I dreamed about buying my first guitar pedal, and I had my sites on the pumpkin orange Boss DS-1 Distortion.
In my opinion, this is the best first effects pedal to buy. It is simple enough that it’s digestible for someone dipping their toes into the effects world, but it’s also a powerful little pedal that has a ton of tonal options and is a ubiquitous sound in rock and roll.
Best DS-1 Distortion Settings to Start Out With
This is my favorite setting for the DS-1. I have the tone turned down below 12 o’clock, and the distortion turned all the way down. Even with the distortion turned all the way down, this circuit still provides a good dose of overdrive.
The tone on the distortion can get a bit high pitched and tinny, so i recommend starting low with the tone (turned all the way left) and working your way back until you find what you like.
This setting provides some great classic rock and roll tones.
This medium distortion setting for the DS-1 works great for a heavier guitar tone, and soaring lead guitar lines. If you want to get more bite out of your solos, start here.
Notice the tone is rolled back a little to temper the high-end treble introduced by the increase in the distortion. Again, play with this setting until you find the sound you like.
TONE: This will vary pretty widely based on the types of pickups your guitar has. For single coils like my Strat, I run the tone almost all the way down and never below the 12 o’clock position. Start with the tone all the way left and then roll it back until you find the sound you like.
DIST: This is the magic of the pedal, and I find the sweet spot to be on the left side of the knob’s range. Above 12 o’clock the distortion doesn’t increase too much, and I think the tone starts to suffer a bit. Start with the distortion knob low like the tone knob and roll it in until you find the amount of distortion you want.
LEVEL: For all boost, overdrive, and distortion pedals I set the level knob generally the same. First, with the pedal off, play the guitar clean, then engage the pedal and set the level so that the volume increases slightly. When you are playing a song and you want the boost of the distortion pedal, typically you want that to be accompanied by a slight volume increase. That’s how I like to set the level of my distortion pedals.
Most things in the world of guitars are not cheap. The Boss DS-1 is one of the rare exceptions where the value you get out of it far surpasses the upfront investment.
Just the DS-1 itself is typically under $50. That makes the DS-1 a great, cheap and affordable distortion pedal. However, now that you have a pedal you need an extra instrument cable to go from the pedal to the amp. And don’t forget that you need something to power it. While you can use batteries, it’s not worth the pain and price of 9 volts because you will blow through them quickly. I promise you, don’t even try it.
Thankfully, BOSS has a package on Amazon for around $10 more that includes both an extra instrument cable and a 9v power adapter. It even includes a short patch cable to connect another pedal once you get another one.
But honestly, around $60 is a cheap price to pay for the amount of fun and versatility that you’ll get out of this pedal.