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For many people, the sound of the guitar is perfect, whether it be a clean tone or using minimal effects. But what if you want your guitar to sound like something completely uncharacteristic of a guitar?
This is where a synth pedal comes in to save the day. The following synth pedals are perfect for ambient uses, or for adding a bit of spunk to your funk.
Source Audio C4 – Best Overall
Since this pedal’s release, guitarists have held this synth pedal to high acclaim. Many consider it to be the best synth guitar pedal ever created.
On the surface, the C4 seems like it’s a straightforward pedal. It provides a 3-way switch for different wave settings, including:
Aside from these waveforms, the C4 also offers various additional effects, including:
- 2 envelope filters
- 2 sequencers
- FM synthesis
- Pitch shifting
Basic control parameters are also provided for the input volume, the mix of effects into the signal, and oscillator control. However, the C4’s capabilities go far beyond this basic design.
Under the surface, the C4 offers nearly limitless possibilities, ensuring that guitarists of any kind can easily use it. There are 6 presets under the hood, with an additional 128 presets by connecting the MIDI function.
If for some reason the 128 presets aren’t suitable, your options aren’t limited. Source Audio allows users to upload their own settings, which you can download for your own use.
Many synth pedals fail to properly track the guitar, especially with many notes being played. While that can provide charm, the C4 has perhaps the best tracking of any pedal on the market.
On top of that, the C4 also has harmony capabilities, which further expands the tonal possibilities within. This feature alone is evidence of the C4’s nearly flawless note tracking.
The C4 is definitely a dream come true for all guitarists looking for unique tones. You’ll have the ability to create endless synth tones that remain quite musical, with the option for bizarre, as well.
Electro-Harmonix Micro Synthesizer – Best Premium
Electro-Harmonix is certainly no stranger to producing synth tones, and the Micro Synthesizer is one of their best. This pedal has a fairly straightforward design, utilizing multiple faders in a similar fashion to their popular POG pedals.
In the voice section of the pedal, you have many options, including parameters for:
- Octave down levels
- Octave up levels
- Dry guitar signal level
- Square wave level
Just this section alone can produce some iconic sounds. The higher octave setting is very similar to the Octavia octave fuzz used by Jimi Hendrix.
You can also adjust the attack of the synth itself, which further diversifies the way you can use this pedal. Turning this down will give the notes a swelling effect similar to how a volume pedal operates.
Of course, the Micro Synthesizer’s capabilities don’t end here. There’s another bank of adjustable parameters to control the synthesizer itself, including settings for:
- Start frequency
- Stop frequency
- Rate of oscillation between start/stop parameters
- Amount of resonance between start/stop parameters
- Trigger to control the volume of the synthesizer itself
Overall, the Micro Synthesizer is especially ideal if you’re looking for synthesizer tones that are downright filthy. This pedal works extremely well with a bit of crunch already present in the guitar’s tone without the pedal.
You’ll find that the Micro Synthesizer is especially ideal for playing guitar leads drenched in synthesizer tones. If you’re looking to create lush synthesizer pad sounds, this probably isn’t the pedal for you.
Nevertheless, the Micro Synthesizer is a true classic that can really give your tone some extra raunchiness.
Keeley Synth-1 – Best Budget
This pedal offers the ability to utilize 3 different waveforms, including:
Unlike other pedals, this pedal utilizes a unique 3-way switch for changing the waveform. This switch’s position is changed by pressing the switch, rather than flicking it from side to side.
Along with this, Keeley has provided a large rotary dial with an exaggerated point to control the wave frequency. There are convenient markers placed on the pedal’s graphics for easy position identification when remembering certain tonal settings.
This convenient graphic design has also been applied to the other adjustable parameters, which include:
- Volume level
- Blend amount
The tones of the Synth-1 primarily fall within the range of synthesizer tones that are distorted with grimy grit. That’s certainly not to say that the tones this pedal produces aren’t musical.
In fact, you can get some pretty squirmy and squiggly synth tones in a relatively quick manner. The ease of use is perhaps one of the most notable things about this pedal overall.
Aside from the basics already outlined, the Synth-1 has a 2-way switch for operating in standard mode or Chaos mode. The Chaos mode adds a degree of unpredictability that can be downright fun to experiment with.
Furthermore, the Synth-1 also offers the capability to be used in conjunction with an expression pedal. This is especially great for controlling the attack, with swells that match the expression pedal’s positioning.
Overall, the Synth-1 is a great synth for somebody on a budget. This is another synth pedal that falls more in line with a fuzz pedal than something more ambient and pad-like.
Boss is one of the biggest names in the guitar pedal industry. It’s certainly no surprise they would create a synth pedal.
However, Boss went above and beyond when they created the SY-200. To put it simply, the SY-200 gives you access to 171 different synthesizer sounds to work with.
These synthesizer sounds can be categorized into the following groups:
- Sound effect
On top of this, Boss included an LCD screen so there is no guessing as to which setting you’re using. There are also 3 controllable parameters for each synthesizer tone being used.
You’re going to be busy for hours exploring the tonal capabilities of the SY-200. However, this pedal rewards your hard work, offering the capability to store up to 128 different presets.
If you’re looking for expanded options, the SY-200 delivers, offering capabilities for both MIDI and an expression pedal. There’s even an effects loop built into the pedal for utilizing other guitar pedals and multiple amplifiers.
As far as sounds go, there really isn’t a sound that the SY-200 is unable to produce. Whether you want something crunchy, or completely from outer space, the SY-200 is more than capable.
Perhaps the only downside to the SY-200 is its large size. But, considering what it can do, this sizing can likely be accepted and tolerated without issue.
Another synth pedal making waves in the guitar world is the Meris Enzo (see price on Sweetwater, Guitar Center). This pedal offers a somewhat straightforward design but is in no shortage of lush synthesizer tones.
The Enzo has both monophonic and polyphonic modes within its capabilities. As such, it offers 6 filter types, which can be accessed by turning the Filter knob.
Likewise, the Filter knob also adjusts the overall brightness of the synthesizer tone itself. Anything from dark and mellow to bright and crispy is on tap and easily achievable here.
This pedal also offers the capability to add elements of different octaves. By adjusting the Pitch knob, you have access to 2 octaves above and below the normal tone.
The Enzo’s Sustain knob gives you the ability to control how long the actual synthesizer rings out. Turning it all the way up will produce a tone that continues on infinitely.
Adjusting the Modulation setting will give the Enzo’s synthesizer tone a hint of motion. You could think of this as similar to a pitch shifter or a flanger.
The Filter Envelope knob controls how the filter presents itself. You can choose from short and staccato to long and drawn out, or anything in between.
Furthermore, a tap-tempo function is also provided to control the delay effect within the synthesizer. Capabilities for expression pedal usage and MIDI-controlled preset functions are also provided.
Overall, the Enzo is very similar to the lush synthesizer sounds of the late 1970s. You’ll find plenty of musical tones here, with some bizarre capabilities as well.
The Enzo’s arpeggiation function is especially tasty, and can really bring a performance to a new level.
Looking for something straightforward but doesn’t fall short on delivering classic synthesizer tones? The Electro-Harmonix SYNTH 9 (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) might be exactly what you’re looking for.
As you might guess from the name, the SYNTH 9 provides 9 different classic synthesizer sounds. These tones are very recognizable from the 1970s and 80s, and include:
- OBX (very reminiscent of 80s arena rock)
- Profit V (similar to what is heard in Toto’s song, Africa)
- Mood bass (akin to early electronic bass synthesizer tones)
- String synth
- Solo synth (square wave with octave)
- Poly VI (sweeping filter synth)
- Vibe synth (delayed vibrato)
- EHX mini (synth with envelope filter and a range of 4 octaves)
- Mini mood (gliding Portamento synth tone)
In addition to all of these great synth tones, Electro-Harmonix has provided a number of different controllable parameters. Each synthesizer has 2 different controls that are unique to its specific setting.
Along with this, Electro-Harmonix has included level controls for both the dry guitar and the synth. You’ll also be able to isolate the mix with the associated wet/dry signal output capabilities.
Overall, this is a very straightforward synth pedal compared to most. This particular model leans more on the lush side of things, often emulating synthesizer keyboards rather than fuzzy, distorted tones.
It’s also relatively affordable compared to other synthesizer guitar pedals found on the market. You’ll want to check this out if your band lacks a keyboard player as this can get the job done.
EarthQuaker Devices Bit Commander
This synthesizer pedal offers a range of 4 octaves (1 up, normal octave, 2 down) and utilizes a square wave. You’ll find that this pedal is especially ideal if you’re looking for some glitchy golden goodness.
The best area for tracking tends to range above the 7th fret, as this does an exceptional job. However, anything below that will give you some unpredictability, which definitely isn’t always a bad thing.
For the most part, you’ll find this to be fairly on par with a highly-defined fuzz pedal with multiple options. The octave ranges provide plenty of different tones that sound like they were squeezed from a vintage analog TV set.
Playing full chords likely won’t be something you’ll be doing here. Rather, you’ll be utilizing the Bit Commander as it is its own instrument.
Overall, this is a very dirty synthesizer pedal, offering monophonic capabilities with some polyphonic sounds. Using the neck pickup on your guitar will help to clean up the tone a bit if you need it.
However, you’ll definitely be in tonal glory with the Bit Commander if you enjoy heavy, dirty tones. The best part is, the Bit Commander is quite affordable but doesn’t sacrifice in its gritty capabilities.
What To Look For When Buying Synth Guitar Pedals
The world of synth pedals grows exponentially every year. While this is a great thing for guitarists, it doesn’t make things easier when buying your first synth pedal.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed as you can’t ever be sure if a certain pedal will meet your needs. Demo videos and descriptions can only go so far in giving you an idea of how a pedal operates.
When you’re looking to buy a synth pedal, be sure to keep the following points in mind. This information will help you navigate the landscape of all things related to synth pedals for guitar.
One of the biggest areas you really need to consider is the actual sounds that the synth pedal produces. Synth pedals come in a wide range of different varieties, and no two synth pedals are the same.
Something to consider is whether or not you’re looking for something more traditional. These types will typically offer the basic options of square waves, sine waves, and triangle waves.
Along with this, you might consider whether or not a bit-crushing synth pedal is more akin to your liking. These types of pedals are similar to a fuzz pedal in the sense of their distortion and clipping properties.
If a bit-crusher does trip your trigger, it is worth considering whether a traditional fuzz will fit the bill. Many fuzz pedals can produce a thick and synth-like tone, often without the associated price tag.
Of course, there are also synth pedals that operate more like filter pedals. In these instances, you’ll want to discern whether the tone is more like an auto-wah rather than a synth.
Most synth pedals of the filtering variety will tend to incorporate both LFO filters and wave types. However, some discretion is needed to determine if the tones produced are fitting for your personal application.
It isn’t uncommon to find a synth pedal that excels primarily at producing tones similar to an organ. This isn’t a bad thing, but again, really comes down to your own personal tastes.
Then, there are synth pedals that seemingly take on tonal qualities unlike a guitar at all. These types of pedals can create sounds ranging from orchestral string instruments to flutes, and beyond.
Your options certainly aren’t limited here as manufacturers are continually breaking new ground in this area. Don’t be afraid to experiment!
The number of options a pedal has can determine whether the pedal has multiple uses, or is a one-trick pony. You need to have a decent idea of how you’ll be using a synth pedal before you buy one.
Some synth pedals have a very straightforward design, with fairly limited adjustable parameters onboard. These aren’t necessarily bad, as they offer a concise approach to acquiring certain tones.
However, those that use synth pedals tend to be more experimental by nature. As such, it is often a vital necessity to have a good number of adjustable parameters.
Something to keep in mind is whether the synth pedal has multiple channels within its build. These pedals can offer more versatility as well as an expanded range of tonal options.
Those that do enjoy tweaking pedal settings might find a benefit in having a pedal with preset capabilities. This will allow you to save certain settings that might have taken hours to really dial in.
Presets also offer the ability to recall certain sounds to use within specific parts of different songs. Something like this can make the pedal far more versatile, ensuring it has multiple uses.
If you appreciate simplicity, you might find yourself overwhelmed with having too many adjustable parameters. For that reason, it’s best to remember your personal tendencies, though you shouldn’t be afraid to try new things.
You will want to try each pedal out for yourself to really grasp what the playing experience is like. Take note of the sounds produced, as well as how easy it is for you, personally, to operate the pedal.
If you find something difficult to use, chances are high that you might end up wasting your money. The result would be a pedal you slap on your pedalboard that gets minimal use.
Another thing to keep in mind is the actual size of the pedal itself. You need to make sure that your pedalboard can accommodate the pedal(s) you have an eye on.
Otherwise, you’re bound to end up having to rearrange your board or sacrifice some pedals altogether. A sacrifice might not always be ideal, especially if you have a specific use for each pedal.
If you can, it’s worth considering a miniature pedal. However, in the realm of synth pedals, this isn’t always a reality.
It’s quite easy to blow your budget when buying guitar pedals. This is especially true when purchasing synth guitar pedals.
The most expensive pedal might not always be the most appropriate for your needs. Don’t be afraid to look at the used market, as used pedals tend to be a bit less expensive.
Of course, the exception with the used market is that rare pedals tend to be quite expensive, regardless of condition. In those cases, you will need to consider the alternatives or bite the bullet if you can logically afford to.
Keep in mind, it often isn’t worth putting yourself in dire straits for the sake of a good tone. Your unhappiness with your financial situation will outweigh any enjoyment you may reap from sounding good.
Best Brands For Synth Guitar Pedals
Today, there are more manufacturers producing synth guitar pedals than ever before. Consider checking out the following brands during your research phase.
Source Audio has been innovating the pedal space since 2005 with cutting-edge technology. Legions of guitarists regard their pedals as some of the best to be found on the market.
Electro-Harmonix is one of the oldest pedal companies still producing effects pedals today. Many of their iconic pedals have pushed the boundaries beyond what was thought possible with regard to guitar effects.
Top Synth Guitar Pedals, Final Thoughts
Today’s guitarists are truly blessed when it comes to creating otherworldly sounds with their instruments. In some ways, modern synth pedals have become the embodiment of futuristic music itself.
It is quite promising to consider what tomorrow might bring with regard to the possibilities of synth pedals. Modern synth pedals continually raise the bar with regard to the options they provide guitarists.
Be sure to try some of these synth pedals mentioned here for yourself!