The BOSS DS-1 may be the world’s favorite distortion pedal. It came about in 1978 and has remained popular among stars in many genres ever since. From ‘80s virtuosos like Yngwie Malmsteen to ‘90s grunge icons like Kurt Cobain and onward, the orange BOSS pedal has its place on the big stages.

BOSS revolutionized the distortion pedal concept, and thereby the sound of rock and roll, when the first BOSS DS-1 hit the market. It offered an aggressive bite and thick sustain without squashing the transients. At the time, most competitors produced unrefined, buzzy distortion that couldn’t keep up with rising demands.

Factor in the tone controls and the fact that it doesn’t take up much space, and it’s easy to see why it became so popular. It’s still in production using the same formula that created the signature sounds of many guitar legends. Let’s see how it fares these days.

BOSS DS-1 Sound

It’s easiest to pin down the sound if we think of where we’ve heard it. Nirvana and Red Hot Chili Peppers both shaped their sound with BOSS DS-1 distortion pedals. So did both Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. Death metal godfather Chuck Schuldiner also used a DS-1. However, it’s not only for rock guitarists, as the renowned jazz icon Mike Stern proves. It even makes an appearance on the pedal board of Mark Speer of Khruangbin.

You’ve certainly heard it everywhere, which is a testament to its versatile and forgiving sound. Although heavy distortion always sounds best on humbucker pickups, guitars with only single-coils can still handle the DS-1 at moderate settings.

On mild settings, it can give a warming boost for solos or help drive a tube amp into overdrive. Higher settings make it very crunchy but retain a lively dynamic range. Your guitar’s characteristic sound comes through with extra saturation, rather than squashed and deformed altogether. It scoops out the midrange somewhat but retains a raw and fuzzy nature.

While the tone control on typical distortion pedals is a simple low-pass filter, the BOSS DS-1 is more elaborate. Turning it clockwise drops the low frequencies while raising the treble. Counter-clockwise does the opposite. Together with the mid-scoop, this gives you a wide range of tones to use.

BOSS DS-1 Features

Other than the orange color, you could confuse it for almost any other BOSS stompbox. The BOSS DS-1 has a sturdy metal chassis with slip protection and a big, square footswitch and three knobs. One controls volume, one sets the distortion amount, and the third is the tone control. These knobs give you a wide range, from very subtle to extreme, especially the distortion knob.

The distinct BOSS DS-1 sound comes from the combination of op-amps and transistors in its gain circuits. This was the pedal that introduced the concept, which is a common feature these days. Thanks to this elaborate design, the distortion is quite transparent, keeping the low end rich and the dynamics alive.

Technical Specs

  • Size: 2.9 x 5.4 x 5.1 inches
  • Weight: 13 ounces
  • Input level: -20 dBu, 1 megohm impedance
  • Output level: -20 dBu, 1 kiloohm impedance
  • Controls: Gain, Tone, Level, Bypass
  • Power requirements: 9-volt battery or AC adapter (not included)

Altogether, this makes the BOSS DS-1 a powerful and versatile distortion guitar pedal in a compact form. It’s affordable and comes with the usual BOSS 5-year warranty.

Is BOSS DS-1 The Best Distortion Pedal for You?

It’s clear to see why BOSS DS-1 is such an immortal classic. It’s excellent for rock guitarists, in particular. Moreover, it’s suitable for most other genres too. There’s nothing complicated or exaggerated about it; a BOSS DS-1 does one thing, and it does it very well. That’s not to say it’s crude or simplistic, as you can fine-tune the sound to your liking.

I’d say the BOSS DS-1 hits the sweet spot between deluxe pedals and cheap ones. You get a lot of bang for the buck, and you can count on it. Also, it’s suitable for guitarists of every skill level.

That concludes this BOSS DS-1 review. If you want to see some alternatives, take a look at my list of the best distortion pedals. Thank you for reading.