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There are times when the actual sound of an electric guitar just doesn’t cut the mustard in a song. In such instances, you might opt to reach for a synth pedal, which can completely transform the guitar’s sound.
Today’s pedal market is filled with worthwhile synth guitar pedals suitable for players of any skill or budget range. If you’re in the market for a synth pedal, you’ll find the following pedals to be exceptional choices.
Source Audio C4 – Best Overall
It might appear to be a simple pedal at first glance, but don’t let its appearance fool you. Source Audio has made the C4 a platform designed to handle your wildest imagination when it comes to synth sounds.
This pedal is the ideal meeting ground between guitarists desiring a simple experience and those wanting full tone-shaping control. You can operate the pedal like any traditional guitar pedal, using a 3-way switch to select the waveform.
However, Source Audio has integrated the C4 with its proprietary tone-creation software. This allows you to create custom synthesizer sounds and download presets created by other guitarists in the community.
The C4 is packed with immense features, including:
- Sequencer capabilities
- 14 LFOs and 8 LFO waveforms
- 11 different envelopes
- 24 different filters
- MIDI capabilities
- Monophonic/Polyphonic tracking
- Stereo input/output
- Expression pedal compatibility
For the price, it’s hard to turn away from a pedal like this. Being able to download presets is like downloading a new pedal in itself.
Empress ZOIA – Best Premium
Make no mistake about it, the ZOIA is not for somebody looking to have a simplistic guitar pedal experience. However, the ZOIA is a dream come true for any hardcore pedal tweaker insane about crafting unique and custom tones.
The ZOIA’s layout might appear daunting at first glance, but it’s rather intuitive once you spend time with it. Anybody who has ever worked with samplers like the Maschine will feel right at home here.
In a way, the ZOIA presents itself as a digital version of the analog modular synth design. Over 80 different digital modules are included here, with modules ranging from:
- Analysis modules
- CV modules
- Interface modules
Plus it also has a module family dedicated to effects, with offerings such as
- Time-based effects
- Amp simulation
The ZOIA is insanely extensive and you could easily spend a lifetime learning its every nuance. With MIDI capabilities, SD storage, and high-quality audio, you could use the ZOIA in almost any circumstance.
To top it all off, the ZOIA also lets its owners upload custom patches and download patches created by others.
TC-Helicon Talkbox Synth – Best Budget
Looking for one of the most expressive synths you can find without spending an exorbitant price of admission? Give the TC-Helicon Talkbox Synth (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) some open-minded consideration.
Now, I know your mind probably jumps immediately to thoughts of Peter Frampton when a Talkbox is mentioned. Some people have an aversion to Frampton’s guitar work in Do You Feel Like We Do? which features extensive talkbox.
Well, this version from TC-Helicon is a much better upgrade than the original design. Originally, the effect required putting a hose inside of the mouth, which could become quite unsanitary.
The Talkbox Synth works by plugging in your microphone’s input, with an XLR output provided for the PA. In turn, it analyzes the input of what you are saying, which means that it can double as a vocoder.
The 2 main modes feature both a vintage and modern sound, both of which primarily track monophonically. You can have this effect on exclusively, or you can allow the dry signal to also pass in the “+” modes.
There are also 4 different synthesizer modes, in addition to 3 different reverbs. If you wanted to, you could easily just use this to only add processed reverb to your vocals.
This pedal is immediately recognizable due to its red graphics and multi-band slider design. The pedal itself creates some fantastic synthesizer tones through the use of octave filters.
Finding usable tones is a relative breeze in that the faders resemble the control that knobs have on synth modules. The POG2 is divided in half, with the left side controlling octaves, and the right side controlling expression.
On the left, you’ll have access to:
Level for dry signal output for blending
- +1 octave
- +2 octave
- -1 octave
- -2 octave
On the right side, you’ll find levels for note attack, overall frequency range, and detune warble. With just a simple arrangement like this, you can create a massive range of synth tones.
Electro-Harmonix Micro Synthesizer
The POG2 is a fantastic pedal, but it might resemble an organ a little too much than some would prefer. If this is you, the Electro-Harmonix Micro Synthesizer is worth checking out.
At a glance, you’ll notice that the Micro Synthesizer has an interface that is designed very similarly to the POG2. Despite its similar use of faders, the Micro Synthesizer is more tonally akin to a fuzz-influenced synthesizer.
What this means is that you could use the Micro Synthesizer as a flavorful sort of fuzz if you wished. However, if you want something a little more electronic sounding, the pedal’s Filter Sweep section can accommodate nicely.
The Micro Synthesizer is best looking for a sort of honky synthesizer that has a little bit of grit. It definitely possesses the gravitas to push a synth lead above the mix in the middle of a tight groove.
When compared to the POG2, which is better is really only determined by personal preference and taste toward synth tones. The Micro Synthesizer drives a little more, and it costs a little less money than the POG2, too.
This is actually quite the extensive synth pedal, with just over 170 different synth tones available for tasty sonic creations. While the pedal is loaded with options, Boss has found a way to make this pedal relatively easy to use.
For starters, the SY-200 has a rotary knob to switch the synth mode, with sounds from the following families:
- Sound effects
There is a convenient digital view screen provided so there’s never any confusion as to what you’re doing. The screen actually plays an important role in communicating the function of the 3 adjustment knobs.
As each synthesizer-type is different, the function of the knobs can differ from one synth to another. You will also have dedicated knobs for the dry level and effects level, as well as a variation knob.
The SY-200 also boasts MIDI capabilities, 128 programmable presets, and expression pedal capabilities.
Upon its release, the Enzo quickly became a hit among guitarists looking for authentic synth tones. The pedal offers the ability to operate in monophonic or polyphonic modes, proving that it’s suitable for anything.
There really is quite a stunning range of synth tones that are large and robust in sound. The pedal’s arpeggiation mode takes things another step beyond what was thought impossible to create with a guitar.
With the Enzo, you’ll have an easy time dialing in the sound you’re looking for. The pedal offers pitch-shifting abilities up to 2 octaves above and below standard pitch, with glissando provided if desired.
Plus, if you wanted to, you could use the Enzo as a pitch shifter without any synth sound at all. It’s never a bad thing when a pedal can have multiple functions like that.
Many people have claimed over the years that the Enzo has some of the best note tracking on the market.
Electro-Harmonix Superego Plus
EHX’s original Superego design was an innovative breakthrough for its time, quickly finding dedicated users adopting its use. The Superego Plus takes all of the original’s capabilities and adds an astonishing number of different upgrades.
Perhaps the biggest upgrade is that the Superego Plus has an entirely new section of additional effects onboard. With a turn of a dial, guitarists can easily utilize the:
- Ring mod
- 2 different tremolos
- Pitch shift
In addition to the effects unit, there are controllable parameters that are unique to specific effects. Electro-Harmonix has attempted to provide the most tone control possible in a sleek layout design.
The signature aspect of the original Superego was its ability to hold a note indefinitely. That same “Freeze” function is offered here, which can be perfect for landscapes or as a basis for improvisational solos.
Sometimes, synth pedals can become overcomplicated. This, in turn, causes higher prices with features that guitarists might never use.
The SYNTH9, on the other hand, is almost the exact opposite of that. For one reasonable price, Electro-Harmonix has provided 9 different synthesizer types in one pedal, including:
- Profit V
- Vibe synth
- Mood bass
- Poly VI
- String synth
- EHX mini
- Solo synth
- Mini mood
The tones provided here range from that ideal early 1970s synth sound to the keyboard-driven synth of the 1980s. You could almost fill in for keyboard roles in a cover band if you have this pedal in your rig.
In addition to the synth modes, the SYNTH9 allows blending by providing level controls for both synth and dry levels. Each synthesizer-type has 2 different dedicated controllable parameter knobs.
The SYNTH9 also provides a 1/4” output for both wet and dry signals.
Technically, this isn’t a synthesizer in any fashion, but it does operate in a similar manner. Perhaps the biggest commonality is that it completely changes the guitar’s sound as a synth would.
This pedal actually takes its inspiration from a Mellotron, which originally utilized short tape recordings looped infinitely. Press a key, and that recording of a few seconds would continually play until the note was released.
You’re probably familiar with the Mellotron if you’ve dug into the later 1960s works of The Beatles or King Crimson. The instrument produces a very familiar sound that is unmistakable once you know what it is.
Like the SYNTH9, the Mel9 features 9 different Mellotron types, including:
- High Choir
Using this in conjunction with some basic pedals can actually produce quite desirable results. This is definitely a viable option if you want something synth-like with its own unique flair.
Strings and synth seem to go hand-in-hand depending on the type of music being played. Unfortunately, not every synth pedal has a string synth sound, and some honestly aren’t the greatest.
The String9 aims to remedy this dilemma by featuring 9 different string synth types. As you might guess, the pedal itself is a sibling to the Synth9 and Mel9, offering modes such as:
- AARP (80’s inspired)
- Symphonic (orchestra)
- June-o (Juno)
- Vox freeze
- Orchestra freeze
- Synth freeze
- Crewman (brass/organ combo)
- Floppy (features a wobbly warble)
The String9 is incredibly competent and capable and will surprise you with how well it sounds. You can emulate an entire orchestra, with flavors ranging from in-person to video-game textures.
If you’re recording a cover of the Chrono Trigger soundtrack, you might want to have this on hand.
Source Audio Ultrawave
Like the idea of the C4, but want something a little more focused on fuzzy-driven synth sounds? The Source Audio Ultrawave (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) has what it takes to be a lifelong solution.
This pedal blends the world of fuzz, synthesizer, and tremolo into a platform ripe with infinite possibilities. If you’re looking for those signature synth lead lines saturated in grit, the Ultrawave will get the job done.
You can run the Ultrawave using either square, sine, or triangle waveforms. From there, the pedal offers controls very similar to that of a basic fuzz pedal, with knobs for:
- Overall volume level
- 2-band EQ (Treble and Bass, adjustable using ALT switch)
- Sustain & Bass (again, adjustable using ALT switch)
Of course, knowing Source Audio’s penchant for packing in value, there’s much more under the hood. An online library allows you to download custom patches, ensuring a nearly infinite number of sonic possibilities.
If you’re playing guitar for a DJ’s live EDM performance, the Ultrawave is an ideal tool to have. It has the gravitas to get a crowd to dig in a little deeper with the groove of their dancing.
Need something that’s packed with features but doesn’t take up any more space than a standard-sized pedal? The Boss SY-1 (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon) is another time-tested Boss synthesizer for this function.
What makes the aforementioned SY-200 so excellent was its 170+ different sounds. The SY-1 is about half the size and offers just over 121 sounds, with synthesizers from the families of:
- Sound effects
Each type also has 11 different variations, which have their own dedicated rotary knob. By use of stacked knobs, Boss managed to provide all of the controls you could want with a smaller synthesizer.
The only bad thing with the SY-1 is that it doesn’t have preset capabilities. What you hear is what is set up, making the SY-1 an expensive one-trick pony.
Nevertheless, it deserves a mention due to its legendary history within the guitar community.
EarthQuaker Devices Bit Commander V2
Let’s face it, those Nintendo-era music tones are tasty, but a standard fuzz pedal doesn’t come close to getting there. The Bit Commander V2 focuses more on being a synthesizer with some fuzz for saturation purposes.
This pedal is ideal if you want those ultra-thick and grainy organic synthesizer sounds. It can get heavy and grainy, but either way, it packs a little punch where it’s needed most.
The Bit Commander V2 uses the 7th fret as an equator for predictable (or unpredictable) note tracking. Stay above the 7th, and things will be accurate, but go below and things get devilishly squirrelly.
You can also bias the synthesizer’s sound to favor the low-end, high-end, or both.
Pigtronix Space Rip PWM Synth
Perhaps the 2 best things about the Space Rip PWM Synth is that it’s a miniature pedal and is inexpensive. This synth pedal is designed to provide sonic punishment by means of overly-saturated fuzz combined with synthesizer.
The pedal primarily operates using either sawtooth or square waveforms. A discreet button (Shape) allows you to easily change the mode, which does affect the tone a fair amount.
This pedal also allows you to blend as much dry signal into the mix as you want. Kick on the octave button to run the synth and octave lower for extra rumble and fuzz.
Its lack of presets makes the Space Rip PWM Synth a one-purpose pedal. But, for the price and size, it’s a worthy option as a tool for elevating jams at crucial moments.
This pedal has a 3-way selector switch to change the synth type between:
Engage the small “Chaos” switch and these modes go a little haywire (in a good way). So, from a foundational point of view, the Synth-1 at least provides 6 different synth sounds.
The most obvious thing that draws the eye’s attention is the pedal’s Filter knob. This rotary dial biases the sound of the synth to favor different frequency ranges.
For the most part, the Synth-1 is on the dirty and gritty side of things. But, it can provide some signature synth tones for a relatively affordable price.
Electro-Harmonix Mono Synth
Don’t want to spend much money, but also not looking for a synth pedal that doubles as a fuzz? The Electro-Harmonix Mono Synth (see price on Sweetwater, Guitar Center) is an affordable option providing clean synth tones.
It can be a little frustrating when you’re on a budget and looking for a synth guitar pedal. More often than not, inexpensive synth pedals will focus more on providing fuzz saturation.
With the Mono Synth, you’re getting 11 different synthesizer types, which include:
- Nu Wave
The pedal also provides a dedicated footswitch for presets. You can program a preset for each of the 11 synthesizer types.
This is actually a very ideal option for anyone on a budget, especially a beginner guitarist building a rig. If your rig could stand to have some synth, this has enough to get your feet wet and find out.
Who knows, the Mono Synth might have everything you could be looking for. In that case, spending this much on a lifelong solution to synth guitar tones is an absolute bargain.
What To Look For When Buying A Synth Guitar Pedal
Feeling a little overwhelmed when it comes to whether or not a synth pedal is worth your time? Don’t feel bad, out of all the pedal effect families, this is one that seems to be growing the fastest.
In fact, you could wake up tomorrow and find that 3 different synth pedals have been released. With this number of options available, anyone is prone to a little decision paralysis every now and again.
Fortunately, synth pedals do have a basic foundation from which they are built. Understand these core principles and you’ll begin to realize what unique benefits certain synth pedals have packed into them.
What Is A Synthesizer?
Before going any further, it’s best that we spend a little time focusing on what a synthesizer actually is. In terms of musical instruments, this digital instrument is one of the newest instrument inventions, having been born in 1964.
During that time, the synthesizer has proved to be one of the most important and innovative instruments ever created. It has completely revolutionized music, with its impact being heard in almost every genre of modern music (keyword: almost).
In most basic terms, the synthesizer is completely digital and works by using electronic impulses. Its design is in stark contrast to the guitar and other instruments, which rely upon physical vibrations to produce sounds.
How does the sound get produced if there isn’t something physical to start the pitch? Well, synthesizers actually produce their sound by use of oscillators, and generally come in 3 different sound waveforms:
Of course, this allows the synthesizer to produce an extremely large number of different sounds. The signal can be routed through different electronic segments (modules) in order to apply certain effects to the sound.
You could think of this modular design as working very similarly to how a guitarist sets up guitar pedals. Each pedal (or in this case, module) has its own knobs that affect the effect’s parameters.
The function of these modules can vary greatly in function, but for the most part, are either filters or modulations. Adjustment of frequencies plays a very large role in coloring the tone of the synthesizer’s overall sound.
Traditionally, the synthesizer is attached to a piano scroll keyboard, using the piano’s keyboard schematic as a foundation. Due to fortunate advancements in technology, synthesizer technology has been able to use the guitar as its base layout.
There are some different variations on the guitar synth in terms of the method of synthesizer. Guitar pedals are perhaps the easiest, but another method would be through the use of MIDI technology.
With dedicated technology, you could turn the guitar into a MIDI controller, bypassing its analog nature. This definitely has its benefits, but for the sake of this article, we will be focusing primarily on guitar pedals.
Synth pedals can be as basic or as complex as you could ever want them to be. You really need to decide on the particular kinds of sounds that you wish to achieve with the pedal.
Some pedals focus more on using the 3 aforementioned waveforms in raw form as the basis of their sound. Others will have innumerable combinations of different filters and modulations for infinite capabilities.
Monophonic synths can only support single notes while polyphonic synths can handle entire chords.
There can be benefits to both, as simplicity allows for a more direct and straight-to-the-point playing experience. More features can give you more possibilities but could be more difficult to use than is practical.
Weigh out what is important to you and go from there.
Depending on how many features are available, you’ll want to pay close attention to the pedal’s layout design. Are all of the features readily accessible, and does every aspect have accessible adjustment knobs?
Part of what makes the synthesizer fun to play is that every parameter to the synthesizer’s sound has a knob. If you have to press certain buttons to access menus, you might be a little deterred from using the pedal.
The pedal shouldn’t have a learning curve that prevents you from using the entirety of the pedal. In other words, make sure that the pedal is easy enough for you to use every aspect of its offerings.
Again, this plays into the simplicity vs complexity argument that was touched upon in the previous segment. Try the pedal out for yourself so you can see if it’s too complicated for you.
It’s important to remember that you’re not deficient in smarts for not being able to grasp how a pedal works. Some people are just wired to prefer different experiences when it comes to how a pedal operates.
Pedals can quickly become larger than you might have thought them to be possible, and synth pedals are no exception. This might not be such a bad thing if your rig is minimal or you’re not using a pedalboard.
However, if you’re somebody that likes to be organized and plays professionally, you probably do use a pedalboard. And, if so, you’re probably all too familiar with the conundrum that comes along with conserving space.
When you have a decent pedalboard composed, it takes serious consideration to want to mess up your own hard work. It’s for this very reason you’ve probably heard that guitarists are always unhappy with their pedalboards.
But, let’s say for a moment that your pedalboard is nearly perfect, with a standard-size space left available. You have your eye on a synth pedal, but it’s slightly larger than that space…so, what do you do?
Chances are likely that you’ll buy the pedal anyways and resort to reconfiguring your board upon its arrival. If you’ve ever done this before, you know that this can take more time than you’d like to admit.
With that being said, there are some cases where you might end up having to remove a pedal altogether. Sometimes, this is the only way to be able to put a new pedal on a pedalboard.
If you’ve taken years to craft your tone, this kind of sacrifice might not be realistically possible. Do you buy a new pedalboard just to be able to accommodate one slightly large pedal?
Whenever possible, always consider whether the size of a guitar pedal is worth the number of features it provides. You might find something smaller that is capable of producing the same kinds of sounds.
Pedals do come in 3 general sizes, with the standard being roughly 3.5” x 1.5”. You will find pedals in a standardized miniature sizing, with larger pedals varying greatly in accordance with no rigorous standards.
More often than not, mini pedals will operate and produce the same tones as a standard-size pedal. They might sacrifice some controls, or reconfigure the layout entirely for this kind of convenience.
As you’ve witnessed with our list, the price of synth guitar pedals can range wildly from pedal to pedal. Whether something is worth a specific cost is entirely subjective, but there is at least something for everyone.
With that being said, no matter your budget, you’ll be able to come across a usable synth pedal. Of course, what you get for a certain price will be a little dependent upon a few things.
Generally, if you’re spending less than $200, the synth pedal will tend to be fairly basic in nature. You might have a fair amount of controls and a few different sounds, but that’s about it.
Synth pedals under $200 won’t be the most practical thing for somebody looking for more than a handful of sounds. You’re probably more likely to find 1 or 2, maybe 3 different sounds under these circumstances.
Beyond $200, synth pedals begin to get much more interesting. There seems to be some healthy competition around the $250 to $300 in regards to features provided for the price.
Beyond $300, things start to become a little more specialized and powerful. If you don’t have much synth experience, it might be best to start with something more basic and inexpensive first.
One thing to really consider, especially with synth pedals, is to look around at the used market. Quite often, you’ll come across what you’re looking for at a significant discount because it’s been played with.
If you can, test out used gear before committing to a purchase so you know you’re getting your money’s worth. More often than not, the condition will reflect close to what you would get brand-new in a store.
Plus, this familiarity with the used market will allow you to feel comfortable leveraging it for your own use. You can easily sell what you don’t like, recouping most of your initial purchase to put toward another pedal.
Best Brands For Synth Guitar Pedals
Let’s face it, if you’re an absolute beginner guitar player, you might be lost when it comes to synth pedals. Not only can some pedals be insanely complex, but there are so many it’s hard to know what is what.
It never hurts to be somewhat familiar with some of the bigger brands within a certain niche in an industry. While buying brand-name items might not always be ideal, they can provide a benchmark for measurement.
Consider looking at pedals from the following companies if you want to see what the industry standard looks like. Whether a pedal is good or not is often based upon how it compares to pedals from the following companies.
Electro-Harmonix (often referred to simply as “EHX”) is one of the most legendary guitar pedal companies in the industry. Founded in 1968, EHX is responsible for creating some of the most innovative pedals ever conceived.
Despite the company’s penchant for innovation, many of its pedals do tend to fall on the affordable side of things. For the most part, each EHX pedal is extremely reliable in both durability and the effect provided.
Boss is undeniably one of the biggest guitar pedal manufacturers in the world. The company is owned and operated by Roland, the famous corporation famous for its pianos.
Boss pedals have a signature look, with many specific pedals earning a place in the fictitious pedal hall of fame. The company has since begun to experiment with incorporating its massive library of effects into the world of amp modeling.
Top Synth Pedals For Guitar, Final Thoughts
As you can clearly see, there is no short supply of solutions available for transforming your guitar’s sound. Whether you need something orchestral or something a little “phat” for a nasty solo, a synth pedal can provide it.
Just make sure to spend a good amount of time doing your own research and trying each pedal for yourself. What one person finds tasteful and usable, another might find that same thing to completely miss the mark.