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There are some alternative ways to play effects like distortion without a pedal, and they include using the amp properties and playing the guitar with specific techniques. 

Many guitarists buy pedals to create specific effects, and therefore, they need to pay for a piece of additional equipment without knowing that they can do anything with a basic one. 

I was also misguided, but once, while playing a distortion using the pedal, my teacher said – “You need one amp, one cable, and one guitar to create it. It’s even more beautiful, and you’ll save money for a romantic dinner, too.” 

Since then, I have tried to use pedals as least as I could. I was more into learning new guitar techniques and experimenting with my amp. 

In order to help you find out all of the opportunities an amp gives you, this article contains various helpful information. The article includes:

  1. Can You Distort A Guitar Without A Pedal?
  2. How Do You Distort An Amp Without A Pedal?
  3. How Can I Distort My Cheap Amp?
  4. How Can I Get Guitar Effects Without Pedals?
  5. Conclusion

Can You Distort A Guitar Without A Pedal?

You can distort a guitar without using a pedal by using controls on your amp to create the distortion – many amps today come with controls and channels that could provide the dirty distorted sound without a pedal.

It is not an obligation to own or use a pedal to create a distortion. Moreover, some pedals create lesser distortion, mainly because of the way they artificially scramble a natural tone of the guitar. To have a pedal that gives terrific effects, you need to pay much more.

Also, many musicians say they choose a natural distortion for a recording studio as that effect sounds more beautiful than created by a pedal. 

The truth is that you can reach this beautiful effect with an amp only if you actually use the right amp. 

Here are 2 factors that can impact how an amp creates distortion: 


1. Amp Size

An amp size is a key factor to creating distortion. The lower the wattage is, the better the distortion is. It’s a bit weird because people think that strong, massive sounds from some rock recordings come out of a huge and mighty gadget. 

The circuitry in lower-watt amps allows the signal to break up faster than in cleaner, higher-wattage models. 

Many of the mega tones of Led Zeppelin’s recording came out of a single 12-inch speaker, and that fact actually confirms these words above. A smaller amp will immediately deliver a flawless distortion, for sure!

But, if you need something bigger to handle a live performance on a big stage, I recommend you consider using an amp with master-volume settings. Otherwise, you won’t be heard if you play through a small amp, and there will also be a chance to destroy it. 


2. Amp Type 

A good way to natural distortion on an amp is getting an old, vintage amp. Their power tech is not as good as in the modern ones, but that makes them a lot easier to distort. 

Also, tube amps are the best medium for producing a natural distortion. The distortion coming from the tube amp is warm, round, and easy to harness. 

But, a perfect amp type depends on what distortion type you actually want to achieve. Even though a vintage amp distorts more quickly, if you want some 90s tones, you won’t actually like it. 

Therefore, you won’t need any additional equipment to get a desired distortion – you only need a right amp. 

4 Ways To Create Distortion Without Pedal

You can distort an amp without a pedal by using the distortion channel on your amp – creating a natural distortion. You could also change the pickups or play with palm muting. 

These methods will make the distortion sound really good. Even some music stars create a distortion without pedals while recording in the studio or a live performance.

What’s important is that you have the right amp – a lower-wattage or the higher-wattage one with master-volume settings and a specific amp type that produces an accurate distortion. 

Also, the important thing is a playing technique and combining that with the right amp gives you the best possible effect. 

These mentioned ways of distorting an amp without a pedal are more explained below. 


1. Creating distortion using amp’s distortion channel

To create distortion without a pedal, simply turn on the amp’s overdrive channel called  ‘crunch’, ‘drive’, depending on the amp. 

By turning it on, you overdrive the tubes of your amp and you instantly get a nice crunch without using the pedal. The overdrive type or level varies, so it’s not the same on every single amp. 

After you turn up the gain, check the volume channel and adjust it to a comfortable level – don’t volume up too much.

Mesa boogie amp

Many amps today have clean and dirty channel. Switching to dirty channel gives you the distorted sound without pedal.

2. Creating distortion using amp’s volume channel

You can force your amp to create a natural distortion even if it hasn’t got an overdrive channel by turning the volume up. 

While the amp is off, turn the master volume all the way down. Then, turn up the gain and volume channels to the maximum. 

Turn the guitar volume up and set the pickup selector to the bridge pickup. Turn on the amp and play the low E  string. Turn the master volume up until you hear the distortion. 

Related article: Clean Distortion: What Is It & How To Get (5 Improvement Tips)


3. Create distortion using bridge pickups

You should always play with the pickup selector set to the bridge pickup if you want to create a distortion without using a pedal. 

You can also replace the stock ones with the higher-output ones if you want more distortion thanks to pickups. 

Related article: Does Guitar Pickup Matter? Sound Difference On Type & Price


4. Create distortion using palm muting

If you play with palm muting and with the gain turned up, that creates a little bit of distortion, too. It clips the signal addressed from the guitar to your amp. 

How Can I Distort My Cheap Amp?

You can distort your cheap amp by adjusting its settings correctly – turn the gain down to reduce the crackling noise and use bridge pickups for more distortion. 

A cheap, solid-state amp sometimes gives you that crackling noise when you turn the gain up. Try to adjust the knob and reduce the gain until you get rid of that noise. Another way to cut that extra gain is by turning the guitar volume slightly down.

Also, consider changing your pickups, and combine playing with palm mute for a better-distorted sound.

You can’t learn to tweak your tone overnight, but you will soon get there and make your cheap amp sound way better, even more than a more expensive amp. 

Many cheap amps can give you a nice distortion sound coming out of it, even better than a $500 amp. It’s all about the settings (and managing your expectations!)

I talk about this topic extensively here (the amp settings you need): Clean Distortion: What Is It & How To Get (5 Improvement Tips)

How Can I Get Guitar Effects Without Pedals?

You can get guitar effects without pedals with a decent guitar,  decent amp, and a will for trying out new playing techniques. 

You can get any effect you want without using pedals because guitar effects actually emulate things that used to be done by changes in equipment or playing technique. 

Here are some factors that have an impact on creating a specific guitar effect.


1. The Equipment

Different guitars have different sounds. Also, some amps give you a nice effect you actually want. 

If you want to have a chorus running effect, you should consider playing a twelve-string guitar. Also, the mini guitar is good for getting the same effect as running a parametric equalizer. 

You can also change strings for a different sound and an effect you need. Also, the tuning sometimes helps to get the desired effect – re-tuning on a twelve-string to something other than octaves is the equivalent of using a harmonizer or pitch-shifter.

When it comes to the amps, it’s really important for you to find the right amp if you want to achieve an effect of distortion without using pedals – it needs to be a lesser-wattage one and a tube one if possible. 


2. Playing Techniques 

Guitar effects can be created with your decent guitar, decent amp, and a little bit of experimenting. 

For example, if you want a tremolo effect, you can produce it by rocking your volume knob back and forth. You can use your pinky to do this quickly. 

Or, if you want a vibrato, rock your fretting hand back and forth. Try pushing and pulling on the neck. You have to be a bit aggressive in playing to get this effect. 

This requires a little bit of experience and practice, but remember that everything is possible. 

For a playing-techniques-that-simulate-effects demonstration, here is a cool YouTube video. It will maybe give you the motivation to play a delay, tremolo, chorus, or octaver without pedal.


You can easily get a distortion without a pedal with your amp and guitar only. It’s not just a matter of saving the money but a matter of a better-distorted sound. 

The right amp is the key to reaching a nice, warm, and round distortion you desire. Also, you can combine amp features with some playing techniques or specific guitar and strings types. 

I recommend you to use a lower-wattage amp because it creates a nice distortion. Practice tweaking the tone, experiment with knobs, and you’ll soon reach that amp’s sweet spot where the distortion is the best possible.

Ifandi S.

About Ifandi S.

Ifandi started Strumming Bars to answer all the questions of a guitarist. As a self-learned guitarist, he remembered how frustrating it was to not find answers to his many questions in the journey. With Strumming Bars, that's no longer the case!

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