Guitar effects pedals have been a staple in just about everyone’s rig. Some people may only depend on one or two, and others may have an enormous effects chain. The beauty of guitar pedals is that they are individualistic, and people will always have their favorites. This article will be your guide to some of the best guitar pedals on the market and discuss why I think each of them deserves a top spot in your guitar effects setup.
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What Guitar Pedals Do I Need?
The following devices will be what I consider to be some of the best guitar pedals that money can buy. These are the:
Depending on your needs, you may not find a use for a particular one. For example, depending on what kind of music you play, you may not need a distortion pedal, especially if you have all the gain you need from your amplifier. In that case, you’d probably benefit more from an overdrive pedal.
You might also be wondering, “where’s reverb?” I love reverb as much as the next guitarist, but I have never found it to be an essential pedal, and I’ve always either had it on my amps or added it in on my computer. Then again, I realized that there are a ton of amps with excellent overdrive or distortion and don’t require a pedal either.
Because of this, I came to the conclusion that other players might find reverb more useful than having an overdrive and distortion pedal, which can have redundancy, and aren’t meant to be used side-by-side.
If this sounds like you, I will also include a reverb pedal towards the end of this article, if that’s something you think you can benefit from it more than something else on this list.
It all depends on you; some people have a small chain with a few core effects, and others like to have a collection of several of them with basically every effect imaginable.
With that said, let’s get started on this guide to the top guitar pedals to start with!
An overdrive pedal differs from a distortion pedal in quite a few different ways, and there is sometimes a lot of confusion between the two.
Overdrive could be explained as simulating what your gain would sound like if you were to crank up a tube amplifier’s volume beyond what it can actually handle. The result is distortion; generally, at lower volumes, a tube amp has a cleaner sound which can progressively get more distorted as the volume increases. Essentially, overdrive can be considered a type of distortion, albeit a more tame or subtler one.
In comparison, a distortion pedal tends to be way more aggressive and may offer more sustain. Additionally, overdrives are sometimes used as a boost to an amplifier that is already set to have a bit of distortion and gain on it already. With a distortion pedal, one can set their amp to a clean setting and get a really heavy sound that way.
The G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) when it comes to overdrive pedals has to be the Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer which you can find on Amazon. This pedal, with its iconic green paint job, has been praised for generations as being the best guitar pedal for overdrive.
I believe that the TS9 really shines the most when it runs through an amp that is already distorted. Not only does it provide an amazing boost, but it can also give you a smoother, creamier sound. While Ibanez is mostly known for their guitars, their overdrive pedal is also one of their most significant contributions – don’t miss out on this one!
Since we’ve briefly dived into distortion pedals when we talked about overdrive in the last section, it just makes sense that we follow up with it next. Distortion pedals are great – if you don’t have a decent amp that gives you what you need.
Distortion, because of its very nature, is without a doubt one of the best guitar pedals for metal because it can provide more gain opportunities and give your tone even more “oomph” to it. However, sometimes distortion pedals undeservingly have a bad reputation. I think this is because many players don’t know how to correctly dial in their sound and just turn all of the knobs to 11. There is definitely such a thing as too much gain.
I personally think they’re great if you want to run a standalone distortion device through a clean channel, or if your amp’s distortion sucks and you need something better.
Boss is one of the most well-known guitar pedal manufacturers around, and believe it or not, they have three different types of distortion pedals available. You have the Metal Zone MT-2, the Turbo Distortion DS-2, and of course, the ol’ reliable DS-1.
These are all highly regarded, but I personally have to go with Boss’ DS-1 as the best guitar pedal with distortion. This is a classic pedal that has been around for about 40 years now, and it has made its mark in the development of the heavy metal sound.
If you’re a metalhead like myself, I think that you will enjoy this pedal for years. It is well constructed, and it’s also arguably more versatile than the other two distortion pedals from Boss.
If you’re looking to have a balanced and even guitar sound, a compressor pedal is a must. It works with the dynamics of your playing. If you like to play quietly, you don’t need to raise the volume of your amp to hear soft notes. You can also make excessively loud and noisy notes manageable with a compressor.
Overall, this is one of the most essential guitar pedals because if you have to play soft and delicately at times, a compressor can help you be heard in the mix, especially if there are a vast amount of overtones. Based on all of these factors, it is one of the top guitar effects pedals for recording and playing live.
Additionally, compressor pedals can be useful for improving your sustain, which means notes will ring out longer and not die out as fast. This makes it one of the best guitar pedals for solos and general lead guitar playing where you’ll be holding notes and using a lot of vibrato in your phrases.
My favorite compressor has been Boss’ CP-1X. It’s one of the few pedals that use the latest MDP (Multi-Dimensional Processing) technology, which analyzes the signal in actual time, adapts to your playing and makes adjustments on the fly. The gain reduction meter is also a very neat feature that sets it apart from many other compressors. Definitely check this one out, especially if you plan on recording.
Delays are one of the most versatile guitar effect pedals for sale. Just like reverb, they can provide more depth and atmosphere to your tone. The delay effect is basically an echo, and it can sound cool whether you are playing clean passages or high-gain shredding. You can make them very intense or as subtle as you’d like.
Delay pedals are also relatively straightforward to use and can be fun to experiment with. However, like distortion and the possibility of using too much gain, the same goes for delay. Having too much delay can make your sound muddy. It can also sometimes mask mistakes; having some delay is awesome, but don’t sacrifice having a proper guitar technique.
These pedals also have two different types – digital and analog. While both have their individual advantages, I really like the MXR’s M169 Carbon Copy Analog Delay I found on Amazon.
I think it has a warmer and natural sound compared to digital delays. In general, people tend to appreciate a more organic tone with a lot of life, which is why I think this one of the best guitar delay pedals. I’m confident that you’ll enjoy this pedal too; a fantastic delay like this can really add a lot to your sound.
Out of the original 5 essential guitar pedals that I recommend, the volume one is the last of them. The volume pedal may not be as fancy as many other effects out there, but it can be a remarkable asset in your pedalboard setup because of its utility.
By having one of these, you can adjust your volume without having to take your hands off of your guitar. Have a part in a song where you need to go silent right away? It’s just a step away, literally.
Perhaps you need to fade back into the song gradually. A volume pedal has got you covered. If you’ve been wondering what guitar pedals to get first, this is absolutely one of them.
The most reliable volume pedal I’ve ever checked out has been Boss’ FV-500HI. You can just look at it, and it seems like a very sturdy device. It’s made of aluminum, and the foot-area has rubber, so your feet won’t slip and slide around.
I was also told that the high-impedance is ideal for passive pickups when I bought it. If you have active pickups or plan on getting some in the future, you may want to look into the low-impedance version.
This is a pedal that is built to last, and you can take it on the road with you. Whether you’re playing on stage or in the comfort of your own home, this pedal won’t hurt your tone in any way. It’s pure volume control.
Reverb (Honorable Mention)
Like delay, reverb can add some atmosphere to what you are playing, and it’s an essential part of many guitarists’ tones.
There are typically other ways to get this effect without spending money (i.e., being on your amp already) but that’s not always the case, and a reverb pedal can be very useful. Even if you have reverb on your amp, if you don’t have a footswitch for it, it’s just impractical to turn the knob when you’re playing.
If you want reverb during one part, but not in another, a pedal makes that totally possible.
Luckily, you don’t need to spend too much on a good reverb, and I got the chance to try out Donner’s digital reverb pedal, which comes with 7 different modes on it – Room, Hall, Church, Spring, Plate, Studio, and Mod.
This pedal is also very compact and should have no trouble fitting in any setup, and I think it’s decently-made for its price.
There are more expensive reverb pedals, but overall, I was pleased with this one because it gets the job done, and I can vouch for it. I’m pretty sure you’ll like it too.
Summary and Conclusion
With a massive selection out there, you may have been wondering how to choose guitar effects pedals. Don’t worry! I’ve helped you narrow it down to a few of the ones that you should keep an eye out for.
To recap, we’ve chosen the following best guitar pedals to have for these categories:
- Overdrive – Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer
- Distortion – Boss DS-1
- Compressor – Boss CP-1X
- Delay – MXR M169 Carbon Copy Analog
- Volume – Boss FV-500HI
- Reverb (Honorable Mention) – Donner Digital Reverb
It may seem like I am totally in love with Boss products, but I do give other manufacturers a shot too. In my objective, unbiased opinion, Boss has consistently brought us great pedals over the years. However, I must give credit where it is due, and Ibanez does have the greatest overdrive with their Tube Screamer, and MXR has a fantastic delay that I’m sure you’ll love too.
Hopefully, this article has given you some insight if you were on the fence about buying a specific type of pedal or even multiple ones. With so many out there, it can get overwhelming at times – I’ve been there! For now, stick with the best guitar pedals and form your core effects chain, and from there you can expand.
If this is something you plan on doing in the future, be sure to check out my 2nd part to the best guitar effect pedals right here, where I talk about 10 more that aren’t necessarily essential but can still earn a lasting spot in your rig. Effects are fun, and if you can’t get enough of them, I think you’ll enjoy the read!