Introduction: Distortion/Overdrive Effect in Audacity

Picture of Distortion/Overdrive Effect in Audacity

The distortion effect was first created by guitar players overdriving their amps so that the waveform would become clipped. A similar effect can be done in a free and open-source program called Audacity.

Step 1: What You Will Need

Picture of What You Will Need

You will need:

A computer capable of running Audacity (Linux, Windows, or Mac)


A guitar recording (can be done in Audacity)

Step 2: Getting Sound

Picture of Getting Sound

Open Audacity and record/import something. It is a good idea to save a backup copy as a .aup file.

Step 3: Leveller Effect (Part One)

Picture of Leveller Effect (Part One)

Select the audio track by double-clicking it and then apply the leveller effect by clicking on Effect...Leveller.

Use these settings:
Degree of Leveling = Heaviest
Threshold Noise = -35 dB

Then repeat that effect by selecting the track and clicking on Effect... Repeat Leveller

Step 4: Leveller Effect (Part Two)

Select the recording by double-clicking it, then click on Effect...Leveller.
This time use the settings:

Degree of leveling = Heaviest
Threshold Noise = -50dB

Step 5: Compressor

Picture of Compressor

The compressor effect will reduce the overall range from soft to loud. Double click the recording to select it. Then click on Effect...Compressor.
Use these settings:
Threshold = -9dB
Noise Floor = -40dB
Ratio = 5:5:1
Attack Time = 0.2 seconds
Decay Time = 1.0 seconds
Enable "Make up Gain for 0dB after compressing

Step 6: Equalizer

Picture of Equalizer

To make the recording sound better apply the equalizer effect. Double-click the track to select it then click on Effect... Equalization. Use the acoustic preset.

Step 7: Finished

Playback the recording. It should have a distorted sound. Export it or mix it with another layer. Have fun!

I have attached an example in MP3 and OGG formats. The OGG format will play directly in Firefox.


A_Funky_Twit (author)2016-05-04

How do I make it super extreme (ear bleed). I need to know!

FinnH7 (author)A_Funky_Twit2016-05-28

Repeat leveller a couple of times

AdamK38 (author)2015-10-12

I can't find the acoustic preset.

PedroHenriqueGuida (author)2015-04-28


Rozaq_adi (author)2014-12-28

thank you... it's nice

twinbornuncle (author)2014-06-02

That does make distortion, but it doesn't sound near as good as even a throw-away pedal. I'm glad you went to this effort, but that just wouldn't cut it for any kind of track.

macman808 (author)2011-03-04

what kind of guitar is that

just a picture of a Fender Squire from the internet

What guitar(s) do you own?

macman808 (author)freeza362012-08-06

if you were asking me an ashton acoustic and a squire electric

Whhisper (author)2012-03-14

Thank you!!! I've recently started to discover that I have a million posibilities with my keyboard, a cable and this simple but great free program! And the biggest problem is... emulate an electric guitar. Your example sounds very very aproximate to a real guitar! I'm still experimenting with the preset sounds of acoustic guitars in the keyboard and adding the distorsion as you explained, and I cannot get something acceptable by now, but now I have a way. Thanks!

You're welcome. You might also be interested in this Python script for guitar distortion.

jpeltier (author)2011-03-21

i'm looking for where you actually download this program... i can't find it

Audacity can be downloaded from: and the plug-ins can be downloaded from

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