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Inspired by shoegaze bands of the 1980s and 1990s and wanting to build a pedalboard with those sounds? You might have found yourself to be a little baffled as to the actual pedals to use.
No worries! The following pedals will serve you well in achieving those signature shoegaze guitar tones.
Try some of these out and you’ll quickly find the kind of dirty, dreamy wash you’re looking for.
Old Blood Noise Endeavors Excess V2 – Best Overall
It might be somewhat of a paradox to think that one pedal could be suitable for shoegaze. After all, the genre has a reputation for guitarists employing massive pedalboards for innumerable tone combinations.
However, the Old Blood Noise Endeavors Excess V2 might actually be the only pedal you need. Old Blood Noise Endeavors has been making some insanely innovative and unique pedals, and this is no exception.
The original iteration proved to be a welcomed pedal among the shoegaze community, but this is a worthy upgrade. For starters, the size of the pedal has been shrunk to standard sizing, and an additional mode has been added.
But what good does any of that tell you if you don’t know what the Endeavors Excess V2 actually does? At its most basic explanation, the pedal combines modulation with distortion.
That probably seems simple enough, but the result is actually much greater than you might anticipate. The Endeavors Excess V2 is extremely capable of creating that grainy modulated sound that is so inherent within shoegaze.
It’s also capable of far more than that, providing a dedicated footswitch for both modulation and distortion. This means you can run either side independently for far greater versatility.
Each channel has 3 different modes, selectable by a 3-way switch. In the modulation section, the modes include modulation effects such as:
- Harmonized fifth (new mode for V2)
With the distortion channel, the 3-way switch controls the order in which the distortion and modulation are placed. This would give you the combinations of:
- Modulation before distortion
- Distortion before modulation
For the price, this pedal is an excellent value for the kinds of sounds it brings to the table. Not only can it give you the shoegaze basics, but you can easily dial things in to be weird.
This pedal can get ridiculously bonkers, especially when tinkering with the “Time” knob. The Distortion level can provide a clean crunch or some gritty dirt that just seems so tasty to the ears.
Plus, the Endeavors Excess V2 has some pretty magnificent artwork that would look snazzy on anyone’s pedalboard. The pedal requires a standard 9V DC power adapter for use.
Empress Reverb – Best Premium
You need only be vaguely familiar with shoegaze to know that reverb plays an important role in the guitar’s sound. For shoegaze, one of the absolute best available is the Empress Reverb (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon).
To be fair, this pedal is extremely pricey for a lot of people to justify spending on a guitar pedal. This is one of those instances where the high cost is worth the number of features the pedal comes with.
The Empress Reverb can handle your basic reverb needs, but go far above and beyond that, too. That means you could put the pedal to double duty in your blues or country cover band, too.
At a quick glance, the Empress Reverb introduces itself with an extremely clean and crisp layout. The pedal features standard controls for decay, effect mix, and output levels as you would expect.
In addition to this, the Empress Reverb has both a low-pass filter and a high-pass filter. These functions help to shape the color and tone of the reverb’s trail.
Now, things get unbelievably interesting with the Empress Reverb because it has 12 different reverb types available. Each of these can be easily selected by turning the pedal’s respective knob.
Once you do turn the knob, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find out that each mode has multiple algorithms. This means that the pedal is effectively packed with 32 different types of reverb.
The 12 overarching reverb family types offered on the Empress Reverb include:
- Ambient swell
- Beer (oddball reverbs that cannot be categorized)
- Delay + reverb
No matter which reverb you choose, the pedal provides 2 dedicated knobs (“Thing 1” and “Thing 2”) for custom parameters. The function of these knobs differs between each reverb, hence the ambiguity and fluidity of the knob names.
What good would a pedal with so much versatility be if it didn’t provide programmable presets? The Empress Reverb goes above and beyond, offering 35 different banks for custom presets.
Programming custom presets is as easy as getting the sound you want and saving it in the bank directory. You’ll have an easy time going from preset to preset thanks to the lighting designation and footswitch dedicated to scrolling.
If you thought that was all the Empress Reverb could do, you’d be wildly mistaken. The pedal also offers up to 10 minutes of looping capabilities when an SD card is inserted into the pedal.
Plus, you can even choose the location of the looper in relation to the actual reverb effect itself. The Empress Reverb also offers multiple banks so you can layer as you wish.
Believe it or not, the Empress Reverb offers even more capability than what’s already been outlined. The pedal gives you complete control over every aspect of how the effect is applied to your signal.
In turn, the Empress Reverb also gives you flexibility in choosing either mono or stereo output. Support for MIDI connections is also provided, as is cabinet simulation for pristine, professional sound.
If you couldn’t tell by now, it wasn’t a joke when I said the Empress Reverb was worth the money. Even at this price range, there are still pedals that only do a fraction of what this pedal can do.
This is truly a powerhouse of a reverb pedal that could very well be the only reverb you’d ever need. Empress offers downloadable update patches so you can always keep the pedal current with the times.
EarthQuaker Devices Plumes – Best Budget
Need to add some gain to your signal but don’t want to resort to the traditional pedals? The EarthQuaker Devices Plumes (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is more versatile than its price initially suggests.
While the Plumes isn’t exactly traditional, it does take its design inspiration from traditional overdrive pedal layouts. As such, the Plumes offers 3 different controllable knobs to adjust the parameters of:
If you’re familiar with overdrive pedals, you’re probably scratching your head at why this is any special. It practically has the same control layout as something like the Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer.
Part of why this is so special is that it’s equipped with a JFET op-amp to provide distinct clipping characteristics.
The secret sauce with the Plumes is in its discreet 3-way switch sandwiched within the pedal’s knob layout. Each position alters the clipping, as the Plumes is actually stocked up with different diode options.
Adjusting the switch will put the Plumes in the following modes of operation:
- LED (which is quite round, nearly compressed, and sounds almost polished)
- Isolated JFET without diodes (acts more as a boost, and is louder and more natural)
- Asymmetrical silicon diode (resembles traditional overdrive clipping, akin to the TS9)
The Plumes has a massive amount of headroom for a budget overdrive/distortion pedal. This pedal is sure to sound quite tasty when paired with a reverb pedal and some modulation.
This is a pedal that could very well be considered its own type of instrument. The results you achieve with this pedal will be dependent upon how much time you spend with it.
At its core, the Polymoon is a delay pedal with modulation. It offers up to 1200ms of delay time, with traditional controls over time, feedback, and mix.
While that sounds simple enough, the Polymoon will blow your socks off with delight. The pedal’s “Multiply” controls the number of repeats while “Dimension” controls blending and smearing.
Where things get interesting is with the pedal’s dynamic flanger and the hidden ALT mode. You’ll be able to apply simple LFOs or completely demolish your delay’s sound with glitchy fun.
The Polymoon is incredibly extensive and it will take a little time to orient yourself to its capabilities. It’s one of the only delay pedals that sort of resemble a modulated synthesizer available at this price.
Walrus Audio Melee: Wall of Noise
Walrus Audio combined the essential elements of shoegaze into one convenient pedal. The pedal comes packed with distortion and reverb, along with some unusual aspects that make it that much better.
Perhaps the feature that grabs the most attention is the Melee: Wall of Noise’s joystick. Moving up/down controls the level of distortion, with right/left maintaining the level of reverb.
This is especially ideal as it means you can alter the pedal’s parameters without having to use your hand. You’ll no longer have to skip over guitar parts that previously required a studio (or a free hand) to perform.
Along with the joystick are a number of switches for control over:
- Distortion/Reverb signal path placement
Just the aforementioned features alone make this worthy of any shoegaze pedalboard. However, the pedal also has 3 different modes, including:
- Ambient (featuring long trails)
- Octave down
- Reverse (which can induce hints of ring modulation-type sounds)
Another amazing aspect of the Melee: Wall of Noise is the fact that it has momentary features. You can latch notes and ramp reverb trails to propel your performances to uncharted waters.
Walrus Audio Slötva
Want to add a reverb pedal to your board that offers multiple reverb types with additional capabilities? You might want to consider checking out the Walrus Audio Slötva (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon).
A few years ago, Walrus Audio released their reverb pedal named Slo, which quickly found success among guitarists. The Slötva is actually an upgraded version of the original design, expanding the functionality by adding preset capabilities.
Within the Slötva are 3 different reverb types:
- Dark (which utilizes a lower octave reverb)
- Rise (which removes attack and swells in)
- Dream (deep and lush reverb with vibrato)
Each of these 3 reverb types is easily accessible thanks to the pedal’s 3-way switch. Interestingly enough, this 3-way switch also selects the modulation effect to be actively engaged.
These modulation effects are more akin to different waveforms and are primarily applied to the reverb’s tail. This includes effects such as:
- Sine wave
Each reverb type has its own custom parameter which is designated to the “X” knob. In addition to that, the pedal provides control knobs for:
- Overall mix
- Filter (primarily the highs)
Another thing that makes the Slötva worthwhile is its momentary features. You can hold the sustain for momentary reverb, or choose to create an infinite pad to play guitar over top.
As mentioned earlier, the Slötva is an upgrade to the original in that it has 3 programmable preset banks. This means you’re not tied to one specific setting on this reverb, which effectively triples its utility.
Catalinbread Soft Focus
While the pedal has a very minimalistic design, the Soft Focus produces some amazing reverbs. Its inspiration actually comes from a popular multi-effects pedal that had a “soft focus” reverb setting.
Those original multi-effects units are hard to find and much too expensive for one specific effect. Catalinbread’s Soft Focus closes the gap by bringing that 1990s plate reverb sound into convenient, modern sizing.
As far as controls go, the Soft Focus has controllable parameters for:
- Mix level
- Reverb level
- “Symph”, which gives a more orchestral sound by adding pitches an octave up
The Soft Focus is incredibly ideal for creating reverb textures. Slap some drive in the mix and you’ll be well on your way to shoegaze tone heaven.
Let’s face it, aside from the Ibanez Tube Screamer, the Blues Driver is one of the most popular overdrives available. What this means is that they are extremely easy to find, and you can come across some used bargains.
But, why would anyone care about buying a BD-2 if there are so many other overdrives out there? That’s a bit of a difficult question to answer, as much of it is purely subjective to personal taste.
With that being said, the BD-2 has a classic sound that is quite different than the Tube Screamer. The BD-2 has noticeably more grit and gain on tap compared to its green-colored distant cousin.
Finding a useable tone is a snap as the pedal’s control layout is akin to nearly every other overdrive pedal. The difference here is that the BD-2 helped pave the way to make that layout become standardized.
And really, you only need controls for level, gain, and tone to find a good tone. Crank up the gain and you’ll be confronted with the perfect amount of loose grit to combine with a reverb.
Plus, for the price, the BD-2 provides a relatively affordable entry into the world of distortion. Try this first before experimenting with more complex overdrive and distortion pedals.
You might just find that the BD-2 works plenty well for what you need. There are generations of guitarists who have said the same thing.
Electro-Harmonix Green Russian Big Muff Pi
This fuzz pedal is instantly recognizable due to its signature green chassis and quasi-militaristic font. It’s also characteristically different than every other Big Muff Pi in the Electro-Harmonix pedal lineup.
A good number of people have claimed that the Russian Big Muff Pi is the worst fuzz available. However, it’s important to note that taste is subjective, and this pedal actually serves a practical purpose.
One reason why non-shoegazers overlook the pedal is that it tends to have less gain overall. Some feel that the pedal just lacks the presence to really stand on its own.
But, what the pedal gains in return is the ability to pair up nicely with other pedals. This stackable nature is what makes the Russian Big Muff Pi such a desirable addition for fuzz needs.
Not only will this go well with reverbs, but it can also stack wonderfully with other overdrive/distortion pedals. One popular combination puts the Russian Big Muff Pi in front of the ProCo Rat distortion pedal.
There’s definitely a reason why the Russian Big Muff Pi has continued to stay relevant all these years. Today’s editions feature the same design as the original, minus the excessively large chassis.
What To Look For When Buying Guitar Pedals For Shoegaze
Guitar pedals have been used in a broad range of genres, but they are crucial to shoegaze. After all, the genre essentially gets its name from the fact that shoegaze guitarists are always looking at the floor.
Shoegaze itself is a broad term, but the rampant use of guitar effects and big sounds is a staple characteristic. If you’re unfamiliar with shoegaze, consider checking out the following bands that many feel are staples of the genre:
- my bloody valentine (Loveless is their classic album)
- Slowdive (Souvlaki is considered an essential album in the genre)
- Beach House
- The Jesus and Mary Chain
For the most part, a good chunk of shoegaze does rely heavily on elements of pop music. However, because of the commonality of using effects, noise-based groups (such as Sonic Youth) tend to be lumped into shoegaze.
In most of these cases, the delineation between shoegaze and noise is almost pointless. Many shoegaze guitar tones can become obnoxiously bonkers just as much as noise music guitar parts.
The obvious distinction can be made on the radical ends of both genres’ spectrums. Plus, noise groups may allow noise to become unruly for much longer whereas a shoegaze band might be more controlled.
The golden era of the shoegaze does seem to be in the 1980s and 1990s. Much of the recordings of that time period are characterized by a lo-fi sound, which gives a unique listening experience.
Shoegaze music can really make you feel like you’re in the middle of a fuzzy, nostalgic dream.
Consider The Essentials
When building a shoegaze rig, it’s of utmost importance to first consider the essential pedals of the genre. While shoegaze often utilizes numerous pedals, the fundamentals actually come down to a combination of 2 pedals: reverb and distortion.
Reverb is applied to make the guitars sound extremely massive, playing into that signature dreamlike quality. Distortion is applied to give the reverb a unique character, usually dependent upon the type of distortion employed.
One of the most common things you’ll find shoegaze guitarists doing is experimenting with pedal placement. Traditionally, it’s considered normal to put distortion before reverb in a signal chain.
Reverb is generally considered to be a sort of “final touch” kind of effect. Going the traditional route will produce a result that is homogenous to most music you’d hear on the radio.
However, if you place the reverb before the distortion, you get a wildly different result. This causes the actual reverb to be distorted, which, in turn, creates an extremely large sound.
It doesn’t hurt to throw some delay into the mix once you at least have some distortion and reverb. Many shoegaze guitarists will have reverb pedals at both the beginning and end of the signal path before the amp.
After you have those, it’s worth looking into modulation pedals as well as different flavors of overdrive. To create some sonic landscapes to get lost in, you’re going to need to experiment.
When it comes to actually deciding on pedals, you’ll want to take into account a few different things. Resist shelling out the cash before you’ve considered these following thoughts for yourself.
The first would undoubtedly have to be: How many features does it offer, and how easy is it to use? A pedal that is crammed to the gills with features is worthless if it’s too tedious for you to use.
Find something that offers the control you desire with accessibility that doesn’t hinder the playing experience. There’s a fair chance you may be tweaking pedal settings on the fly, so make sure that’s physically possible.
One benefit that we have today compared to the past is that many pedals come with programmable presets. For a genre in need of creative tones, presets will expand your possibilities and make all that experimentation worth it.
Another thing to keep an eye out for is whether a pedal has momentary functions. These are usually secondary features providing a short duration of effect but can be quite potent in the right places.
Along those lines are expression pedal capabilities, MIDI support, as well as mono/stereo input/output. It’s hard to know where your experimentation will take you, so it’s best to be as prepared as possible.
If you’re going to play shoegaze, you might as well accept the fact that you might have a large pedalboard. Unfortunately, you’ll find that there are quite a few venues where a guitarist having a large pedalboard is entirely unfeasible.
Some venues will literally have you playing in a corner. Where do you think your pedals will go?
Plus, let’s be honest for a second. Being a shoegaze guitarist, you’re going to be consistently acquiring guitar pedals.
Regardless of your pedalboard’s size, you will always need to be aware of its open real estate. The size of a guitar pedal is a deciding factor on whether a pedal gets added to a board.
Most pedals do tend to come in a standard size, with some miniature versions usually offering the same utility. But you’ll also encounter pedals that seem ridiculously large for no apparent reason (usually vintage pedals where technology required it).
Always take the time to weigh out whether the features a pedal offers are worth the space it takes up. If it doesn’t pull its own weight on the board, it will inevitably be replaced by something with more capability.
You might readily assume that you need a massive budget to be able to have a worthwhile shoegaze rig. While money can buy some insanely interesting pedals, you actually don’t need to spend a fortune.
If you’re just starting out, it’s actually best that you don’t spend a ton of money building a board. Familiarize yourself with the essentials as was previously aforementioned before branching out.
It’s also probably best to give a good amount of attention to the used market if you’re actively seeking pedals. Aside from vintage/rare pedals, used pedals sell at a discounted price to what they are priced in a store.
This could easily mean that you acquire 2 pedals for the price of 1 brand-new pedal. If the pedal doesn’t suit your fancy, you can make your money back much easier.
By buying new, you’re paying a premium, which is then lost when reselling on the used market. You’ll make some money back, but not the entire amount as you could if selling a pedal you bought used.
That isn’t to say that buying new pedals doesn’t have its own merits. Sometimes, it’s really the only way to get your hands on certain guitar pedals.
As far as price goes, it’s important to weigh out both the pedal’s capabilities and usability compared to its cost. Try to really determine why a pedal might have the associated price tag that it carries.
Most brand-new basic pedals will run around the $100 range. Around $150 to about $300, pedals will offer more versatility, often with preset capabilities and additional features.
Beyond $400, a pedal should be packed to the brim with capabilities and things that would make playing more convenient. It’s generally advised that the beginner or casual hobbyist not spend this amount of money on a guitar pedal.
Best Brands For Shoegaze Pedals
As each year passes by, it seems as if new guitar pedal companies enter the industry. There has been a massive amount of growth in pedal manufacturing, making it hard to keep up with current events.
This number of options can also make it unbelievably difficult to make a decision on what to even look at. Pedals from the following companies of outstanding reputations are well-suited for any shoegaze guitarist.
Walrus Audio is an American company that has been manufacturing effects pedals since 2011. Compared to the rest of the industry, Walrus Audio has some of the most pedals designed specifically for shoegaze.
It’s a common sight to see at least 1 Walrus Audio pedal on a shoegaze pedalboard. The company’s designs manage to stay continually fresh, modern, and innovative.
Electro-Harmonix is one of the oldest (and most-popular) effects pedal companies in the industry. Since 1968, EHX has released pedals that have completely revolutionized the pedal industry on numerous occasions.
Many guitarists will have EHX pedals on their board because they are reliable in both durability and application. Plus, depending on the model, EHX pedals are usually relatively affordable enough for any budget to afford.
Top Shoegaze Pedals, Final Thoughts
Part of what makes playing shoegaze guitar so fun is the experimentation of different pedals and finding new sounds. This experimentation is almost a requirement to help continually push the genre of shoegaze into uncharted waters.
Prepare yourself to try everything under the sun that you can realistically afford to get your hands on. Along the way, you’ll encounter some hidden gems and pedal combinations that might seem highly unlikely.