From Ramones to Green Day to Blink-182, the sound of Punk music is as distinct as Country or Jazz.
While each of these bands have their own unique sound, the core of that sound is still a raw punchiness that has this perfect balance of dirt and clarity.
The cornerstone of that raw sound is the distortion pedal. But which distortion pedal is right for the Punk sound?
Here are a few of my picks for the best distortion pedals for Punk and Pop Punk.
3 Best Distortion Pedals for Punk & Pop Punk
What the Wampler Ratsbane has to offer is really right there in the name. It’s Wampler’s take on the classic Pro Co RAT circuitry with a few modern features added on top.
The Ratsbane impressed me right out of the box before I even started playing around with the different gain and voice settings. On the center or “stock” gain setting, I was already getting this big, punchy distortion from the pedal.
It’s also a very vibrant, lively distortion. Few things put me off faster than distortion pedals that sound flat and characterless.
Then there are the two gain boosts which is where the fun really starts. The left is almost a straightforward gain boost for when you want to push the distortion further. To my ears, it thickens up the distortion quite nicely.
Right, on the other hand, starts pushing the distortion into fuzz territory. For a Punk sound, I like adding a bit of fuzz to dirty up the sound a bit. I feel a bit of dirt just adds to the attitude of the Punk sound.
The gain settings can then also be shaped further by the two voice settings. The left is a bit more old-school, slightly scooped sound. The right is a bit more modern, slightly compressed.
The way I like to picture the two voicings is left for old-school Punk like Bad Religion, NOFX, The Offspring, and right for modern-day Blink 182, Green Day, and Sum 41.
I am most impressed by the level of control on offer with the Ratsbane, and the fact that all of this comes in such a small package. Honestly, I can’t really find anything wrong with this incredible little pedal.
Maybe the only issue I can see anyone having with this pedal is the fact that it doesn’t take batteries. You will have to make sure you always have a power connector if you’re going to make it a part of your pedalboard.
JHS’s new budget range 3 Series of pedals offers a solution to almost any pedal needs you might have. One of those solutions is the distortion pedal in the 3 Series range.
Like the other pedals in the series, the Distortion is a zero thrills pedal. Even with its fairly basic setup, I think the 3 Series Distortion is a fantastic pedal.
It has your standard Volume, Filter, and Distortion knobs, but my main focus is going to be the gain switch. There are two positions on the gain switch: up and down.
Down, the gain is a bit quieter but with a very nicely compressed and saturated sound. I like this type of distortion for palm-muted power chords because it adds a nice punchiness to their sound.
Up, the gain was almost the opposite for me. In the up position, the gain is much more open and loud with a decent crunch. I would switch to the up position whenever I played a chorus part. It just gives it that presence and volume that makes a chorus stand out.
The Volume, Filter, and Distortion give a good amount of control and I was able to really dial in my sound until it was just right.
Something about the way this pedal looks, and all the 3 Series pedals, bothers me. They are all very plain-looking. I have pedals that are just plain black or white, I don’t need all my pedals to have artwork, but the 3 Series looks like it’s still in the prototype phase.
Apart from the pedal type written at the top, they all look identical at a glance. I wouldn’t put two 3 Series next to each other on a pedalboard because you will get confused and turn the wrong one on in the middle of a song.
The TC Electronic Dark Matter is another pedal that delivers quite a lot compared to its relatively small size and simplistic controls. What you’re getting with the Dark Matter is a Gain, Level, Bass, and Treble controls along with a voice switch that shapes the midrange of your tone.
The Gain control is the main attraction with the Dark Matter in my opinion. Most gain controls tend to just adjust the amount of gain, but I feel like the gain on the Dark Matter is actually shaping the sound.
At lower levels, I got a nice bluesy drive, with it becoming a bit more crunchy closer to 12 o’clock. Past 12, it became more saturated and I was firmly in Punk territory.
At very high gain I do feel like the Dark Matter starts to become a bit noisy and even starts to lose a bit of character. I think it shines between 9 and 3, at least this was where I had the most fun with the Dark Matter.
The Bass and Treble controls are also nice and responsive. I usually don’t use the Eqs on my pedals that much, but the ones on the Dark Matter seem to actually make enough of a difference, so I play around with them a bit.
The voice switch only changes the mids and I actually think it’s a bit too subtle. It could be very easy for someone with less sensitive ears to notven notice the difference and feel like they have been cheated.
Unlike the Ratsbane and the 3 Series, the Dark Matter has the option to be battery-powered. This isn’t a game-changer for me personally, but it does make the Dark Matter a bit more travel-friendly since you don’t need to always carry an external power supply with you.
Choosing the Right Punk Distortion Pedal
When I think of what I want my distortion to do when I play Punk, there are probably two things that come to mind.
I want the pedal to be as punchy as possible. I want this because palm muting and Punk music go together like Blues and the pentatonic scale.
A punchier distortion is going to give palm-muted power chords the attack they need to really stand out. Of course, you can set your EQ to get that attack, but having a naturally punchy pedal makes life so much easier.
The next thing I look for in a pedal is one that can add some dirt without treading into muddy territory. You want to find that perfect balance of dirt while still keeping your sound clear and articulate.
I mentioned that I think a slightly dirty sound adds to the Punk attitude. Fuzz pedals or pedals with a bit of fuzz like the Ratsbane usually give me the perfect amount of dirt.
Whatever you choose to go with, I think it’s important to remember that Punk as a genre has always been defined by its simplicity -both in its playing and in its sound.
You don’t need complex pedals to achieve the Punk sound, and I personally think that less is always more when it comes to Punk. And I believe these three pedals represent some of the best distortion pedals for Punk out there today.