Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal Review – Welcome to Distortion Pedals 101

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Boss is a prolific name in the musical community. With a pedal catering for every effect you could dream of and a whole raft of famous musicians spanning multiple decades using their products across many genres, they well and truly deliver when it comes to musical equipment, in particular effects pedals. One of their more famous pedals produced is the Boss DS-1 distortion pedal; in production since 1978, the Boss DS-1 has been used by rock, metal and punk bands primarily for decades to define an era of music.

“When I first started experimenting with harmonics, I’d sometimes hook up two distortion boxes just to get my strings ‘frying,’ which helped bring out the harmonics.”
– Dimebag Darrell.

The DS-1 is a staple of professional musicians, with notable users including Kurt Cobain, Glenn Frey, Doug Aldrich, and Joe Satriani. Its popularity among guitarists has lead to whole slew of successors including the DS-1X, DS-2, and MD-2, and and even a limited edition 40th Anniversary model being manufactured by Boss.

But how does their DS-1 distortion pedal stack up when under the reviewer’s microscope? Below, we’ve reviewed the pedal’s design and appearance, features and controls, and sound quality.

Design & Appearance

The Boss DS-1 uses the classic rugged ‘blocky’ pedal chassis with a bright orange paint job (which means it won’t be lost in a hurry!). Beneath the sturdy stomp pedal itself is a 9 volt battery that powers the pedal when not plugged in, accessible through unscrewing the screw to the front of the pedal.

A simple control interface containing tone, level, and distortion knobs allow you to easily tailor the tone to your liking without needing to read any instructions – it is simply plug in and play. An input jack is found on the right-hand side of the pedal’s body, and the output jack is found on the left hand-side.

The DS-1’s classic blocky enclosure shape means it can be easily slotted into both the Boss BCB-30 Compact and Boss BCB-60 Deluxe pedal board cases as well as other pedal board cases, for easy transport and use when gigging or practicing away from home.

The Boss DS-1 Distortion pedal can be powered via either a 9 volt battery or a 9 volt power adaptor, and can be chained to other effects pedals through the use of a standard instrument cable or daisy chain cable.

Features & Controls

The DS-1 is pretty much ready to go once out of the box, with an intuitive easily configurable control interface at the top of the pedal providing a multitude of tone options; simply plug in a battery or external adapter, find your sweet spot by twisting the three control knobs, and play away!

The control interface is made up of three knobs, each controlling an aspect of the output sound. The tone knob allows you to brighten or darken the output sound. The distortion knob allows you to increase or decrease the amount of distortion in the output sound. The level knob allows you to increase or reduce the volume of the effect in the output sound.

Although the DS-1 a relatively simple model of pedal with a sole function of providing a tasty distortion effect, the musical community has found multitudes of  ways to mod the pedal, breathing new life into the decades-old DS-1 model.

Just a few of the wide range of available modifications for the DS-1 include the switching out of stock circuitry components to alter the sound output, to changing LED colours, and even frankenstein-ing the case with new custom control knobs and casings. With the immense range of modifications available, it’s very difficult to be bored with a DS-1 as the possibilities for change are near endless.

Sound Quality

The DS-1 is marketed as a distortion pedal, and doesn’t disappoint in results.

Combined with an overdriven amp, the DS-1 provides a deliciously gritty output that mimics a typical hard rock tone. In addition, although marketed as a distortion pedal, it can also achieve overdrive effects if you’ve got the time and experience to experiment with finding the right balance of tone and distortion.

Experimenting with the distortion knob cranked to 6/7 and the tone knob at around 1/2, a muddy and gritty sound can be achieved that suits a thick bar chord strum. With the distortion set to 6/7 and tone turned up to 5/6, a brighter and more cutting sound can be achieved to make soloing stand out.

See the below video for an in-depth DS-1 pedal demonstration.

Overall Result

Overall, the Boss DS-1 is a fantastic budget pedal that is still used by professional musicians worldwide and deserves a spot at the top for being a pedal that defined (and still continues to define) decades of music.

It is an essential pedal for aspiring musicians to try, even as a springboard on the way to more complex and expensive pedals such as the Pro Co RAT2 or the MXR M116 Fullbore Metal.

With its low price and defining tone, it is well within the beginner’s budget range whether you’re just starting, or creating your first pedal board (especially if you’re aiming for that quintessential classic rocky tone).

The Boss DS-1 distortion pedal gets a well deserved 4.5 stars from us.

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