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Purists and simple rigs aside, the majority of today’s guitar players have a guitar pedal in their signal chain. Many musical styles demand and reap the benefits of using these pedals to create diverse sounds.
No matter what kind of guitarist you are, you’ll find a use for the following pedals. These range from utility tools, and integral items, as well as unique things that can expand your tonal possibilities.
JHS Bonsai – Best Overall
Just about everyone could use a little bit of dirt in their signal chain, with overdrives being a popular option. The JHS Bonsai (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is one of the best options, especially for newer guitar players.
One of the best things about this is that it offers a multitude of different overdrive types within one unit. Newbies can benefit from this because they aren’t necessarily limited to one type of sound and set of distortion characteristics.
Like a well-manicured bonsai tree of tone, the JHS Bonsai offers 9 different overdrive sounds, modeled after pedals such as:
- Ibanez TS7
- Ibanez TS808
- Ibanez TS9
- Ibanez TS10
- Ibanez Metal Screamer
- Boss OD-1
- EXAR OD-1
- Keeley Mod+
- JHS Strong Mod
As you can see, the Bonsai essentially contains the genetics of the classic Tubescreamer overdrive pedals. These have been widely used by guitarists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Trey Anastasio, and John Mayer.
The Bonsai keeps it simple, offering a rotary dial to switch between the overdrive types. Control parameters for Volume, Drive, and Tone are offered, just like you’d find on the original pedals.
For the price and its offerings, the JHS Bonsai is an incredible value.
Boomerang III Phrase Sampler – Best Premium
You probably know by now that a loop pedal is essential for being able to work on improvisation. While it is a newer technology, guitarists have built careers on their use of a loop pedal in their performances.
One of the absolute best loop pedals money can buy is the Boomerang III Phrase Sampler. This might be one of the more expensive loop pedals on the market, but it’s undeniably the most intuitive.
Most loop pedals tend to simplify design, which in turn, complicates the usage of the pedal itself. With the Boomerang III, you’ll find that this loop pedal works like how you’d expect a looper to work.
You won’t need to learn a fancy set of foot-tap sequences for the basic operation of this pedal. What you will get is a 3-channel looper with 2 assignable buttons, a range of commands, and 2 play modes.
If you wish to, you could sequence a song built from loops by using the Serial mode. This will play a recorded loop, queuing up the next recorded loop upon demand once the currently-playing loop ends.
Of course, you can use the Free mode to create loops that play at the same time. You can also stack recorded loops on each channel, creating an infinite amount of possibilities.
What’s nice is the bonus buttons, which can be assigned 2 different commands. These can be engaged by either tapping or holding the button:
- Play once
- Octave effect
- Reverse effect
- Start/stop all
If you wanted to, you could even opt to sacrifice a bonus button for another looping channel.
With stereo input/output and MIDI syncing, you’ll be able to easily integrate with other MIDI devices.
Plus, it’s rugged enough for even the most frequent of use.
TC Electronic PolyTune 3 – Best Budget
If you ever wish you play with other musicians, it’s a bare minimum requirement that your guitar is in tune. The same goes for if you aspire to perform in front of an audience.
The PolyTune 3 works just like a tuner should, offering a light-sensitive display comprised of LED lights. It offers 2 different modes:
- True bypass (cuts guitar signal when the pedal is engaged)
- Buffer (pedal is always on, monitoring the signal, while signal remains unaltered)
Compared to other tuner pedals, the PolyTune 3 goes a bit above and beyond the standard norm. This pedal will actually allow you to tune your guitar by strumming chords.
Plus, the PolyTune 3 offers the ability to tune in alternate tunings. Unless you’re Sonic Youth, you won’t need to remember the exact tuning of certain alternate tunings in mid-performance.
The PolyTune 3 is the cheapest pedal on this list, but also one of the most essential for any guitarist. At this price, there is literally no excuse to ever play the guitar out of tune ever again.
Source Audio C4
If you’re ever feeling uninspired, it can help to endeavor beyond your traditional guitar effects pedals. Synth pedals are notorious for giving a guitar a unique sound, oftentimes not even resembling the sound of a guitar.
On an extremely brief overview, the C4 has features such as:
- 11 envelope followers
- 4 independent voices
- 8 LFO waves
- 2x 16-step sequencers for use at the same time
- 24 filters
- Standard mode or Preset mode (with 128 presets available)
Despite the C4’s complexity, Source Audio has managed to keep things relatively simple from a design perspective. This ensures that every guitarist will be accommodated, no matter how far they might wish to get into sound design.
And, if you’re somebody who loves to spend hours designing custom tones, the C4 is the pedal for you. Source Audio has software for the designing of tones, which can be saved directly onto the pedal as a preset.
Plus, you’ll be able to download patches of other effects created by users all around the world. Talk about an endless supply of tones you never imagined to be possible!
There was a time when the chorus was not considered to be a very “cool” effect. However, the general consensus seems to agree that the chorus has found its way back into the cool kids club.
As such, the CE-2W has a 3-way switch, allowing the pedal to operate the following circuitry:
- Boss CE-2
- Boss CE-1
- Boss CE-1 vibrato channel
The CE-1 (which originally had stereo output) is a tad bit warmer than the CE-2 (which had mono output). This offering from Boss allows you to run both choruses in a stereo output formation for an increased chorus effect.
It might not have the customization of other pedals, but the CE-2W provides classic chorus tones and a simple design. Adjustable knobs for Rate and Depth are all you need to dial in some iconic sounds.
Walrus Audio Eons
It’s never a bad thing to have a fuzz pedal handy, especially in situations that require an aggressive edge. The Walrus Audio Eons (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is a fuzz pedal with many different options.
One of the biggest ongoing debates in the fuzz community is what type of fuzz pedal sounds the best. Fuzz pedals typically have either silicone transistors, germanium transistors, or LED diodes, all of which sound different.
The Eons offers 5 different modes that replicate these different types of fuzz pedals. With this pedal, you won’t have to settle for the sound of one particular type of construction.
Having this amount of options on a fuzz pedal is what makes it one of the best around. Plus, Walrus Audio has included an adjustable power function so you can emulate the sound of a dying battery.
Old Blood Noise Endeavors Sunlight
Sometimes, it’s not a bad thing to have a few pedals that allow you to craft sounds beyond the norm. Such pedals can turn out to be an invaluable creative tool in the right hands.
The Old Blood Noise Endeavors Sunlight is perfect for anybody that enjoys creating sonic landscapes. This is a pedal that will truly give you hours and hours of experimental exploration.
Compared to other pedals on this list, the Sunlight is definitely one of the more complex offerings. At its heart, the Sunlight is a reverb pedal, but this isn’t your traditional reverb pedal by any means.
The Sunlight has a dynamic response in its circuitry, which, of course, can play a role depending on your preferences. You’ll also be able to infinitely loop tones and play over top of them without affected signal.
If we’re to be honest, explaining this pedal in words is a futile endeavor. This is truly a pedal that you need to hear for yourself in order to actually understand its vast possibilities.
It isn’t often that a pedal like this emerges on the market. Old Blood Noise Endeavors proves that guitar effects pedals still have room for serious growth beyond the traditional effects.
Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Boy
The Memory Man delay pedal has been an iconic pedal amongst guitarists for decades. And, while Electro-Harmonix still produces them, they can end up running a price larger than you’re willing to pay.
Part of what makes the Memory Man so iconic is the unique tone produced by its analog delay circuitry. Some have considered this slightly distorted sound to be one of the holy grails of guitar tones.
As its name would suggest, the Deluxe Memory Boy is a scaled-down version of the Memory Man. However, there isn’t a whole lot that you'd miss out on if you opted for this over the Memory Man.
On the surface, the Memory Boy offers a Tap-Tempo function, along with 5 different delay subdivisions, including:
- Eighth note
- Dotted eighth note
- Triplets (both quarter notes and eighth notes)
- Sixteenth note
The Memory Boy also offers the ability to add modulation into the delay’s repeats, with triangle and square waves available. On top of that, you’ll be able to connect an expression pedal, with the Expression Mode offering control over:
The Boss DD-8 (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is the latest in Boss’s highly-reputed lineage of digital delay pedals. For a delay pedal, this has almost everything you could ever want in a simple, yet affordable, package.
For starters, the DD-8 has 11 different modes of delay to use at the turn of a dial. Some of the delays you’ll be able to utilize include:
- Warp (can be used with an expression pedal)
- Delay with reverb
- Loop recorder (up to 40 seconds with the ability for overdubbed layers)
The DD-8 is incredibly simple to use and maintains the layout that has been used on past Boss delay pedals. You’ll have adjustable parameters for the effect level, feedback, and time (with 10 seconds of delay possible).
Plus, you’ll have the ability to always ensure your delay is in time with the pedal’s handy tap-tempo feature.
This is a delay pedal that you’ll have on your board for years to come. Its mono/stereo possibilities ensure there won’t be a situation where you can’t use the pedal for any reason.
Electro-Harmonix Oceans 11
It’s actually quite astonishing what a reverb pedal can do, especially considering the range in how they can be used. Whether you need a hint of saturation or a long and swelling resonance, a reverb pedal is your ticket.
One of the best available is the Electro-Harmonix Oceans 11 (see price on Sweetwater, Guitar Center). This gives you 11 different reverb types in one standard-sized pedal and a ridiculously affordable price.
You’ll be able to access the following reverb types with the simple twist of a dial:
When you push the Mode button, you’ll often find multiple variants of the reverb you have engaged. The Oceans 11 even allows for the connection to an expression pedal for even more expanded reverb effects.
For the price, the Oceans 11 is an absolute no-brainer for all of your basic reverb needs. You can even simulate the crashing of a spring reverb by tapping the footswitch twice.
Wampler Mini Ego Compressor
A compressor is a vital utility pedal offering tonal balance, and maybe a bit of punch and resonance, too. The Wampler Mini Ego Compressor (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is one of the most practical choices available.
In the world of compressor pedals, the original Ego Compressor is highly regarded and consistently recommended. The Mini Ego Compressor essentially offers the same utility and function in a miniature pedal form factor.
This makes setup a breeze, offering just 3 knobs and a couple of 2-way switches to worry about. The nice thing here is the blend knob, allowing for the mixing of wet compression with the dry, unaffected signal.
Plus, the Mini Ego Compressor is pretty affordable compared with other compressors found on the market.
Dunlop 535Q Cry Baby
There are some guitarists out there who think that the wah effect is incredibly cheesy. These guitarists tend to think of the effect as being especially dated, with its usefulness long gone.
However, a statement like that couldn’t be further from the truth, and every guitarist should have a wah pedal. The Dunlop 535Q Cry Baby (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is a modernized offering of the traditional classic.
This pedal works just like most wah pedals, with an engage switch clickable by rocking the footswitch forward. The rocking motion of the pedal itself is what creates the iconic “wah” sound.
While the wah pedal is a simple design, it doesn’t always have the most ideal tone response when engaged. The 535Q Cry Baby provides a remedy to this by offering a degree of adjustable controls.
With this pedal, you’ll get:
- Adjustable parameters for “Q” factor
- Level boost
- Customizable sweep and frequency ranges
Gone are the days of having to endure ungodly treble responses and a sense of unpredictability. The 535Q Cry Baby allows you to really dial everything in according to your liking.
If you’re at your wit's end with trying to figure out your guitar tone, it might be time for an EQ pedal. The Boss GE-7 (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is a time-tested option that will never go out of style.
Are you familiar with the graphic equalizers often found on car stereo systems and PA mixers? The GE-7 essentially has a 7-band EQ in the form of a graphic equalizer with movable faders.
You’ll be able to adjust a massive range of frequencies from 100Hz in the bass to 6.4kHz in the treble. Each fader allows you for unity level, with the ability to boost/cut up to 15dB per frequency.
Along with this, you’ll be able to control the overall volume level coming from the pedal with its Level fader.
The GE-7 is an essential pedal for any guitarist, especially those who are frequently performing with an acoustic guitar. When plugged into a PA, the GE-7 can help reduce any feedback that may present itself.
Electric players will be able to use the GE-7 to dial in their preferred tones with any amp. This ensures tonal consistency, no matter the gig or the kind of gear being used.
JHS 3 Series Harmonic Tremolo
Have you ever found yourself stumped trying to figure out the missing link to your vintage-inspired tones? You might be surprised to realize that a tremolo was the very effect you’ve always been looking for.
The JHS 3 Series Harmonic Tremolo (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is a fantastic pedal, offering 2 different tremolo types. This pedal was released in September 2022 and expands upon the 3 Series lineup, where budget and value are prioritized.
With this pedal, you’ll have a simplistic layout, with knobs for Volume, Rate, and Depth. Rate controls how fast the tremolo is, while depth could be thought of as the tremolo’s intensity.
You might be wondering how the Harmonic Tremolo gets its name, especially considering that it doesn’t create harmonic pitches. If you’ll notice, there’s actually a 2-way switch located just below the Depth knob.
When you push the switch downward, you’ll effectively engage the pedal in Harmonic mode. This specifically replicates the Fender amplifier tremolo effect that has played a part in many iconic recordings over the years.
With this mode, the signal essentially gets doubled, with one signal remaining dry and the other affected by tremolo. This gives the tremolo a much more nuanced sound rather than the hard on/off of the standard tremolo sound.
You’ll know the moment you plug this in that this is the missing key. For a simple pedal, it has many uses, proving to be a great value at this low of a price.
Ernie Ball 6180 VP JR 250K
Believe it or not, a volume pedal can be incredibly versatile for just how simple of an effect it provides. One of the best volume pedals available is the Ernie Ball 6180 VP JR 250K (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon).
You’re probably thinking, really, a volume pedal is something that everybody should have? After all, it’s not typically the first thing you’d likely think of when you decide to buy a guitar pedal.
However, the ability to do volume swells can be another tool to have at your disposal for musical creation. Plus, it doesn’t hurt to have a main “controller” of volume when it comes to your overall rig volume.
The 6180 VP JR 250K is essentially the equivalent of a volume pot found in a guitar. This is controlled with a rocking footswitch, with tension held by a string, and options offered for tension preferences.
And really, for the price, it’s hard to find a more rugged volume pedal. This thing will last you many years of hard use as long as you keep its internal string safe.
What To Look For When Buying A Guitar Pedal
Are you looking to buy your first guitar pedal, but aren’t sure what you should be looking for? It’s easy to become overwhelmed in this area of guitar accessories, but fortunately, it doesn’t need to be difficult.
Use the following information when you’re researching guitar pedals you might like to add to your rig. Keeping this all in mind will prevent you from becoming burdened and overwhelmed.
Consider The Basics
If you don’t have any guitar pedals in your rig, it’s important to consider the basic pedals first. Is your money better spent on something you’ll use 1 time for 10 seconds, or in nearly every single song?
The answer to that question really depends on whether or not you have the basics covered. Things like overdrive/distortion pedals, tuners, and compressors are things that could be considered utility tools.
Once you have the basics covered, you’re free to add things that you might only use for certain occasions. Delays and reverbs can add some depth to your sound, even though you probably won’t use them all the time.
Modulation and filter pedals can also make for an excellent addition for moments that need a little something different. Again, these likely aren’t things that you’ll be using all of the time.
Do you see where this is going? By starting with the basics, you’re able to build a rig from the bare essentials.
The bare essentials are really the only things you’d need on your board during a professional gig. Going the other route will leave you in a sticky situation, especially when playing live.
Define Your Need
What is it that you feel your signal chain or tone is missing? If you can’t answer that question, buying a guitar pedal to fill the void might not be the right answer.
Before you even consider buying a pedal, you should have a decent idea of what you need. This doesn’t have to be a difficult process, and chances are likely that you might have some idea.
Usually, there is an external event that happens which prompts us to consider adding a pedal to our rig. While instincts can prove to be true, it’s always a good idea to sit with your considerations for a while.
Do you really need a synthesizer pedal with 6 LFOs on your board if you’re playing with a country band? Every guitarist is free to follow their primrose path, but at least be cognizant of your needs.
In other words, take care of your priorities before splurging on something completely unique. You’ll notice that this line of thinking closely resembles the material covered in the previous section.
It can be fun to purchase a pedal on a whim without research. But, unless you have endless cash, it’s usually best to do your research first.
It’s pretty obvious that you should at least have a decent understanding of what your pedal of interest actually does. However obvious it might be, you will need to go deeper than with the sheer basics of the pedal’s operations.
Take some time to research whether the guitar pedal is based on a certain pedal manufactured in the past. You might also want to pay attention to the actual components themselves, as they contribute to the pedal’s overall sounds.
Along with that, consider whether or not the pedal has a simple design or is more complex. Neither is better, but if something is difficult to use, you might be less likely to use it.
Another thing to consider is whether the pedal itself offers any extra features beyond its basic operation. Many pedals will have different modes, which can increase the range of tonal possibilities.
Plus, expression pedals can also provide the ability to use the pedal in an interactive way. Features like stereo output ensure that you can make the most out of a certain pedal’s effects.
Not everyone desires special features, but it’s always worth looking into what a pedal has to offer. You could discover something that unlocks a creative door you never considered opening before.
Pedalboards are notorious for running out of space, so be mindful of the pedal’s overall size. Mini pedals can often provide the same functionality as traditional sizes, often only occupying half of the real estate.
While it usually always gets mentioned last, your budget is actually one of the most important aspects when buying pedals. Simply put, if you don’t have money, there’s really no possibility of you being able to purchase certain pedals.
If you look around, you’ll notice that guitar pedals definitely aren’t the cheapest item to be found in a store. Some pedals could cost you a week’s worth of pay (or more), so it’s imperative to define your budget.
Traditionally, most basic and entry-level pedals will usually run around $100, give or take a few dollars. However, budget-priced pedals do certainly exist and you could surprise yourself with something that only costs $30.
Even if you have the funds for an expensive pedal, take some time to analyze everything it offers. You might be able to find something more affordable that offers everything you need without the bloating of features.
Of course, it goes without saying that you should never spend beyond your needs when buying a guitar pedal. If you can’t afford something, save until you can, or investigate other options.
One of the most economical and practical ways to purchase pedals is by buying used pedals. These are typically much cheaper and allow you to get those desired tones without spending a certain amount of money.
Plus, should you decide you don’t like the pedal, you can always turn around and sell it yourself. You’ll be able to retain nearly all of the money you spent on the pedal in the first place.
Best Brands For Guitar Pedals
Are you finding yourself at a bit of a loss with where to begin your research on guitar pedals? You’re not alone, as it can be easy to feel like you’re drowning in a constantly-growing supply of new pedals.
If you should ever feel lost, it can be to your benefit to start with pedals made by well-known producers. More often than not, their pedals are the ones often being cloned by boutique up-and-coming pedal manufacturers.
The following companies hold prominence in the landscape of guitar pedals based purely on reputation alone. You really can’t go wrong when looking these companies over when you’re in the market for some classic pedals.
Boss was founded in the early 1970s and has since become one of the industry’s leading effects pedal manufacturers. There are many instances of certain Boss pedals setting the standard for how certain effects should sound.
With decades of acclaim, Boss’s reputation is truly time-tested. The company has since expanded into the creation of amplifiers and other guitar accessories.
JHS is a company that has become one of the industry’s leaders in innovative designs. The company was founded in 2007 by Josh Scott and currently operates one of the best channels on YouTube.
What makes JHS so great is its willingness to provide both the classic sounds as well as the bizarre. Plus, you’ll often get a good history lesson about why certain pedals are so sought after.
Electro-Harmonix has been one of the most well-known pedal producers since its introduction to the market in 1968. The company has its fair share of iconic pedals and continually raises the bar of tonal possibilities.
Today, Electro-Harmonix continues to have a strong footing in the market. Guitarists seek these pedals out when they need reliable function, classic performance, and maybe a bit of bizarre oddity.
Must Have Guitar Pedals For ALL Guitarists, Final Thoughts
Whether for utility or creative inspiration, guitar pedals will always be a hot item of interest for guitarists. These little boxes filled with electronic circuitry have been responsible for creating the most famous sounds of all time.
The nice thing is that many pedals tend to have a timeless quality to them, ensuring their relevance in music. You can be certain that the pedals on this list will serve you for many years to come.