This may seem a silly opinion to offer as, after all, the BOSS DS-1 is one of the most recorded and recognizable pedals of all time. Even still, I believe this little orange box remains, by and large, misunderstood and unjustly chastised. From the pedal’s introduction in 1978 to, perhaps, the mid-2000s the DS-1 was a ubiquitous part of most musician’s pedalboards though, recently, it seems to have fallen out of favor almost entirely with the advent of the boutique pedal company.
Now, this is not meant as a sleight to boutique makers; most of the truly great ones scoff at the term and would hardly consider themselves as such. My own pedalboard features the handiwork of Brian Wampler, Paul Cochrane, Bill Finnegan and other makers that I deeply respect as craftspersons. Still, the BOSS DS-1, and I don’t mean to gate-keep, holds a special place both sonically and visually amongst guitar pedal aficionados.
These words aren’t insults, they’re accurate descriptors for one of the best-selling pedals of all time and a large part of the sonic palette of popular music for the better part of 40 years. Hundreds of artists, across all genres have utilized the BOSS DS-1 as a part of their sound, from Kurt Cobain and John Frusciante, to Prince and The Commodores; this list alone should provide evidence of the versatility of the pedal and, yet, it is still remains maligned by guitarists the world over.
I strongly encourage you to give the BOSS DS-1 a shot. As of March 2021, they’re still relatively affordable on the used market, at $20 — $35 for one in good condition. Do yourself a favor and don’t get hung up on whether it’s black-label or silver label, MIJ or MIT — all of these models are part of the lexicon that is, or was, popular music. That sound has become synonymous with guitar distortion, whether we like it or not, and has paved the way for hundreds of clones and modifications.
Throughout the article, I shared some of my favorite BOSS DS-1 settings as well as a Spotify playlist of songs that utilize the DS-1. I’m not Chris Buck or Pete Thorn, but I hope that these settings help you to see this ugly orange pedal in a new light. A few things I hope you pay attention to with the DS-1 are how “pick sensitive” the pedal is, in addition to how well it cleans up with the guitar’s volume control. These characteristics, in my opinion, are the signs of a good circuit and something I hope you can appreciate as well.
Like many of you, this was my first guitar pedal and, before getting bit by the “gear bug”, it made me so happy to plug into it. Will it replace your Wampler, Fuzzrocious, or Way Huge? Probably not. That’s okay, though. It won’t replace mine either, yet every time I plug in I’m immediately transported back to playing some of my first guitar riffs. To me, that feeling is what is truly irreplaceble.
Here’s a link to a Spotify playlist featuring some cool BOSS DS-1 tones.
Leave your favorite DS-1 settings in the comments, or tell me about your very first guitar/bass pedal!