BOSS DS-1 Distortion Pedal Review, Settings and Sound

Updated on January 13, 2020
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Michael is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.

BOSS DS-1 Distortion Pedal
BOSS DS-1 Distortion Pedal

DS-1 Distortion

The BOSS DS-1 is an iconic distortion pedal that has been around for decades. Because of its price and simplicity, it serves as a rite of passage for new guitarists looking for their first good distortion pedal. Because of its sound, the DS-1 also finds its way to the pedalboards of advanced guitarists and professional musicians.

As for me, I’ve always loved BOSS pedals. They’re durable, well-made, and typically sound great. Even though I have several distortion pedals, I decided to pick up the DS-1 and add it to my collection. You can never have too many distortion pedals, right? Besides, it’s a classic, and at a price of around $50 it was hard to pass up.

In this article I will give my review of the BOSS DS-1 Distortion, including some opinions on how to use this pedal, and what types of guitarists and styles of music it is best for.

My favorite distortion pedal on my board is my EVH 5150 Overdrive. It’s a monster, and at a quarter of the price, I never expected the DS-1 to outperform that beasty. I was more interested in how it would fare against some of the less expensive pedals in my collection. So, let’s check out this mighty little orange box and see what it can do.

BOSS Pedals are typically rugged and sturdy and the DS-1 is no exception.
BOSS Pedals are typically rugged and sturdy and the DS-1 is no exception.

Construction and Features

Like most BOSS pedals or at least all of them that I have owned, the DS-1 comes packed in a sturdy metal casing with a hinged footpad that engages the effect. This is in contrast to many guitar effects pedals, which often have a metal button that engages the effect.

It is a design I have always liked. I tend to be a little clumsy when it comes to stepping on effects pedals without hitting a bunch of other stuff, but BOSS pedals have never given me a problem.

Just I have always liked the way the battery compartment on BOSS pedals is accessible via a simple thumbscrew. There is no need to whip out a screwdriver to remove the back of the pedal or find an edged object to pry open a battery compartment.

I have been powering my effects with a Truetone 1 SPOT lately. It's quiet, it really makes managing a string of pedals much easier, and you don't have to worry about dead batteries. The DS-1 has a jack for an external power supply like the 1 SPOT, and easily swaps in an out of my pedal chain.

The DS-1 features three simple controls, each manipulated by a sturdy knob. They are:

  • TONE: This is your tone knob. I liked it best around noon, give or take a notch. It does cover a wide spectrum of frequencies.
  • LEVEL: Makes it louder. Or less loud.
  • DIST: This is the distortion control. The DS-1 is not a high-gain pedal, but it does have a very good sound for rock and hard rock. I prefer the gain around one o’clock for rock rhythm. Anything higher and it gets a little fizzy.

Overall, this unit seems rugged and tough and, like other BOSS pedals I’ve owned, perfectly capable of standing up to years of use and abuse.

BOSS DS-1 Distortion Overview

BOSS DS-1 Settings and Sound

I’ve used the DS-1 with my Marshall DSL40 and Peavey 6505+ 112 tube amps as well as my Peavey Bandit Red Stripe solid-state combo.

The Peavey 6505 has so much gain. For me, there is little point in using a distortion pedal to get even more gain, but like any overdrive, the DS-1 can be used as a boost. This job is generally left to my Ibanez Tube Screamer TS9, and after a little experimentation, I decided the DS-1 would not be replacing it on my pedalboard.

This isn’t a knock against the DS-1 – there are few pedals in the guitar world that do this job better than a Tube Screamer.

So that leaves the Marshall and the solid-state Bandit. With both amps I like the DS-1 best with the distortion knob dialed in between eleven and one o’clock, and with the tone knob at half or less. It has a great crunch that’s perfect for a classic hard rock sound, and surprising warmth to it.

Dial the distortion back even further for a bluesy drive, which sounds especially nice through the clean channel on my solid-state amp. I do think guitar players looking to add a little richness to their solid-state rigs might benefit the most from the DS-1.

BOSS Distortion Guitar Pedal, Single Mode (DS-1)
BOSS Distortion Guitar Pedal, Single Mode (DS-1)
The BOSS DS-1 is a classic that has been around for decades. Dialed in right you can expect thick, crunchy rhythm sounds and searing lead tones. It’s a smart budget-friendly choice for beginners, but expert guitarists use it as well.

I have read some reviews saying the DS-1 sounds thin with solid-state amps, but I didn't feel that was the case with the Bandit. However, the clean channel on the Bandit is also fairly warm.

Again, I prefer the Tube Screamer as a boost with my Marshall, but I liked the DS-1 simply for its overdrive sounds. I’ve also read that many players like to leave it on all the time, and I can see how that makes sense, depending on what sounds you are looking for.

One thing I learned pretty quickly is not to crank the tone and/or distortion controls to ten. The result is buzzy and brittle, and that is certainly not where this pedal shines. Instead, by backing off on both controls I can get those warm, crunchy sounds. The only caveat here is that you may prefer that kind of tone for leads, so you could certainly experiment.

What about metal sounds? Again, cranking the distortion probably isn’t going to make you happy. Instead, you may prefer to take advantage of that crunch in combination with the onboard distortion from your amp

The BOSS DS-1 runs off a 9-volt battery or external power supply.
The BOSS DS-1 runs off a 9-volt battery or external power supply.

Final Thoughts

Like all of my gear reviews, remember that everything you’ve read here is based on my opinion. I encourage you to do your own research and draw your own conclusions.

In my opinion, the BOSS DS-1 is one of the best distortion pedals for beginners. It is inexpensive and will allow a newbie to experiment with a distortion pedal in several ways. At a price of around fifty bucks it is tough to beat.

Then again my TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion was around the same price and frankly is a much better pedal, in my opinion. However, it is also a very different pedal. It is geared toward the overdriven British tube amp sound, and it does that very well. If you want your amp to sound like a Marshall, the Dark Matter might be for you.

My 5150 Overdrive is the same way. It completely alters the sound of your amp, which is what you might be looking for in some cases.

By contrast, the DS-1 is more vanilla, in a good way. You can dial it in how you like, and it will compliment and color the sound of your amp rather than completely alter it. You may use it for your main crunch sound, or leave it on all the time to thicken your overall tone. As a guy who has been playing a while, I see many merits to the DS-1 for the advanced guitarist.

Final verdict: I think the BOSS DS-1 Distortion is worth checking out for guitarists at any level, especially those who prefer a crunchy, moderate-distortion rock sound.

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