The Story of the BOSS DS-1

Rock 'n' roll came a long way since its inception back in the 1950s. Starting as a genre that was pretty much based on just blues music, it transformed into a whole variety of different styles and sub-categories. The main component responsible for its explosive evolution over the years was the electric guitar.

But the thing is, back in the old days, it wasn't really easy to get that dirty and saturated distorted tone. Some have even resorted to damaging their amps in order to achieve the desired sound. One thing led to another, and the first-ever distortion devices came into production. However, back in the 1960s, these were all pretty much noisy fuzz pedals, like the Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face or the Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz-Tone. In order to get that tighter distorted sound, guitar players in the late 1960s and the early 1970s still relied on pushing their tube amps over the limits. It was only in the mid-1970s that manufacturers began making a bit more controlled, but still dirty enough distortion pedals. We would like to take the opportunity to focus on one of these pedals here, legendary BOSS DS-1, labeled simply as "Distortion."

Introduced in 1978, DS-1 is one of the earliest BOSS products and it's being made even to this day. The idea here was to have a distortion that would keep the dirt but without going into those noisy areas. The earliest versions included the Toshiba preamp and not a classic operational amplifier you'd find in other pedals. This is why the tone was warmer despite the overall harder clipping that the pedal produced.

And these were the times when other pedals like the Pro Co Rat and MXR Distortion Plus emerged. Before that, you could either achieve a soft overdrive or a completely reckless fuzz. DS-1 Distortion pedal was just what the music world needed at that moment in history.

Sometime in the mid-1990s, the Toshiba preamp was replaced with the ROHM op-amp. This changed the tone and gave more control and versatility to the pedal. However, some vintage gear fans are still in love with the older version.

The latest change with BOSS DS-1 came in 2000 when BOSS added a Mitsubishi op-amp to it. This brought louder operation, and it gave more fuzzy tones in higher gain settings. This is the type of DS-1 we have today.


The DS-1 is a pretty straightforward pedal that still delivers some solid punches. First off, it features three basic controls – volume, tone, and distortion. The tone control is a bit different compared to many other distortion pedals since it mostly focused on modifying the lower mid-range of the spectrum. By scooping this part, it gives more space for the bass and the high-end tones.

The distortion control responds differently depending on the version. The one that's been out since 2000 can provide more versatility and goes from slight dirt anywhere into buzzing heavily saturated fuzz tones.


It's one of the first pedals to be produced in Boss' classic casing you can find with almost all of their products today. What made it so special, and what makes it stand out even to this day, is its peculiar shade of orange. The moment you see it, you know that it's the BOSS DS-1 Distortion. Everyone knows it by now.


But being such a game-changing piece of equipment, it's only obvious that DS-1 is going to inspire so many other guitar pedals. The first significant evolution came in 1987 with the enhanced version called BOSS DS-2 Turbo Distortion. It offered an additional switch with a second mode featuring more distortion and a more powerful mid-range punch.

Many other manufacturers began replicating the DS-1 in one way or another. Today, you'll find countless clones, mods, and even digital modeling amp presets that give their own twist on this legendary pedal.

Over the decades, it became pretty much a standard among the guitar players. No matter the genre and no matter the preferences, guitarists are still hooked on the DS-1. And even those who don't use it are fully aware of its power and legacy.

Being such a great piece, DS-1 has been a weapon of choice of many masters of our favorite instrument. One of the most notable of its users is Joe Satriani, who even based his signature Vox pedal on this circuit. Aside from Joe, many other legends have found this pedal a place in their signal chains over the years. The list includes Dave Navarro, Steve Vai, George Lynch, and even the almighty Gary Moore.

One thing is certain – there won't ever be a pedal that influenced the music world as much as the BOSS DS-1 did.

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  • I apologize, I’m actually looking for more info on the newer edition, I’m tracking down serial numbers and found a discrepancy. I have a 2001 with a 90s opamp in it. I collect and mod pedals. I’m surprised the nerds out there don’t have all of this listed somewhere. Carry on.

  • Kinda lame. The DS-1 has seen many changes in opamp, and reissues through the years. From the original, 1994-2000, 2000-2006 and a new version with a tiny board and surface mount components which is an un moddable pedal. Your “story” is hardly a story.

    Robert Jay

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