Boss DS-1 Distortion Review – Best Guitar Distortion Pedal?

Review of: Boss DS-1 Distortion

Reviewed by: Rating:4On June 22, 2013Last modified:October 6, 2016



The Boss DS-1 Distortion pedal has been around for over 30 years, long enough to be regarded as a certifiable classic. Guitar legends such as Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and Kurt Cobain have used this pedal for guitar sounds heard by millions. Is it really that good? And at a cost that any guitarist can afford, is it the best guitar distortion pedal for the money? You’ll find out in our Boss DS-1 Distortion pedal review.

This humble pedal debuted way back in 1978 and has remained a staple in the Boss lineup ever since. It’s one of the best selling guitar pedals of all time. You’ve either played one or know someone who has.

It is also a very popular of after-market modification. You can order custom-modded variations of this pedal from countless boutique pedal suppliers. And it makes a great pedal for do-it-yourself modding without much worry over destroying it since it cost you less than $50. There are enough schematics around the Internet for the aspiring DIY pedal maker to keep you busy tinkering with the DS-1 for a while.


Classic Boss distortion tones for guitar and keyboard

Reproduces dynamics of playing, from soft to hard

Distortion, Level, and Tone controls to tailor overall sound as desired

Rugged metal Boss stompbox enclosure

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Sound & Performance:

I started out placing the DS-1 directly between my Strat and a flat clean channel. Kicking in the pedal with the knobs at 12 o’clock produced an immediate jolt into a hard-driving classic rock-style distortion. It immediately induces a desire to play some AC/DC-style riffs.

At moderate settings this pedal has a little hair on top, but not too much sizzle. The DS-1 adds a noticeable amount of harmonic richness to the sound. The interplay of the Level and Distortion control will allow you to find just the right amount of gain for a nice chunky rhythm sound.

The Tone control lets you brighten or darken the sound to taste. I find that if the sound gets too harsh on top, cutting down the Tone a bit balances things out just right. Adjusting the core sound of your amp is recommended as the DS-1 just puts the icing on the cake.

I find that Distortion settings around 1 or 2 o’clock and below allow for the greatest amount of dynamics as advertised. Roll back the volume and this pedal cleans up reasonably well. You can use your pick attack to easily make certain notes cut through the mix.

Push the Distortion really hard and the pedal gets a bit fuzzy. This also compresses the signal more and squashes the dynamic range. But there are still useable sounds to be found here if you want to make some noise. It’s not the most extreme distortion by itself, but pairing it with a distorted amp is a different story altogether.

I really like how this pedal responds to an already dirty amp. Kick in the DS-1 for a searing boost of gain for your solos. This pedal adds a nice over-saturation that works well for big lead sounds. Try it with a Boss DD-7 Digital Delay for seriously epic lead tones.

One thing I’ve learned about this pedal: don’t listen to the haters. A tasteful player can get some great tones out of the DS-1; it’s one of those great pedals that packs plenty of value. At the price they’re practically giving these things away for, it’s definitely worth the money for any guitarist wanting to expand their tonal palette.

Let’s see the conclusion.



The Boss DS-1 Distortion pedal is an indisputable classic. Whether you want classic rock drive or more gain to push your solos over the top, the DS-1 delivers. This is one of those simple, no-nonsense pedals. It does one thing and does it respectably well. At a price within anyone’s reach, the Boss DS-1 Distortion pedal is a contender for best guitar distortion pedal on a budget. And the sound is anything but “cheap”. Not just for beginners, this is a serious distortion pedal that you may use to define your sound for years to come.

That concludes our Boss DS-1 Distortion pedal review. Thanks for reading.


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Beginner guitarists check out our guide to online guitar lessons.

Gabriel Tanaka


  1. Ro S

    June 8, 2016 at 8:51 am

    best distortion pedal? DS1? No.

  2. Emil Kirilov

    February 10, 2015 at 12:22 pm

    Hi Gabriel,

    Great review of DS-1! I really enjoyed the part where you mentioned the DIY mods. I have something really hot. A new concept of distortion that can be modified by a 6-year-old without any experience in engineering.

    It is still in prototyping phase and you can be the first to write about it. Write back if you have interest.



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