This guide is a follow-up to my previous one about the best guitar pedals that you should absolutely have in your set-up. In that one, I listed 5 of the most essential pedals you need, and while this article will be similar, these are cool effects pedals that are absolutely worth your time, but might be more situational than the previous ones we’ve talked about. I have no doubt that you’ve at least heard of some of these, and just like the last one I will also be giving you what I think is the best guitar pedal in each category.
Table of Contents
Why Use Guitar Pedals Like These?
In this section, I will give you a quick overview of some guitar effects pedals that I think have the potential to earn a place in your setup. Like I said earlier, they are cool, and some may argue that they are must-have pedals, while others may only find situational uses for some of these – many of them are modulation-type pedals. Without further adieu, these are the 10 pedals that this article focuses on:
- Noise Gate
There’s a lot of ground to cover in this guide! Compared to the last one, we are practically doubling the number of pedals because I feel that each of these may be very useful. Some may be used more than others, and that’s okay. The whole point is to talk to you about some of the applications of these and why they’re worthwhile, right?
Right off the bat, we’ll be starting this article with what I think is most likely the most practical guitar effects pedal on this list. This is one of those devices that some might think should belong with the essentials.
I agree with the noise gate as an effect being crucial to many guitarists, including myself. However, is it just as essential in pedal form?
It is possible that a noise gate can be accessed through other means. For example, you can activate a noise gate through a plugin, if you’re doing some recording sessions. You wouldn’t need a pedal in this case.
On the other hand, you might want a noise gate pedal if you plan to perform live and don’t want to deal with crazy feedback when you stop playing. Even for home use, your amp may be so frustratingly noisy that you’d benefit from this one the most. These are the primary situations where you’d probably want to pick up a noise gate.
The best noise gate guitar pedal that I can recommend is ISP Technologies’ Decimator II. Just like the original Decimator, this one is high-quality, and it will deal with the noise coming from all sources. This includes excess noise coming from your cables, your other guitar effects pedals, and of course from super high gain.
The wah effect is part of the signature sound of some of the most famous guitarists. Two that immediately come to mind are Jimi Hendrix and Kirk Hammet. While they’ve found an exceptional use for this type of pedal, chances are, you may use this one a bit more seldom.
The way these devices work is through an altering of the guitar’s signal, which creates an effect known as a spectral glide, which describes the up and down movement of the frequency filter.
Regardless of how often you decide to use one of these, the wah’s distinct crying sound can make its way into your playing, especially for lead guitar sections that can call for it.
Everyone’s favorite wah pedal (including mine) is the Dunlop GCB95 Classic Crybaby Wah. This one on Amazon actually comes with two small patch cables so you can connect your other pedals along with it. It may not be as old as the Vox wah, but the quality is excellent, and its wah sound has still been used reliably for many years, making one of the top guitar wah pedals. It has “classic” in its name after all.
The tremolo is actually one of the oldest guitar effects to be created, with origins dating to the 1940s. Many amps used to include this effect on them, but over time, a lot of them started to phase them out for some reason.
It actually isn’t anything like tremolo picking, nor is it like a tremolo system on your guitar. This gadget works by making changes to the volume signal. This modulation effect may sound like being underwater, and you may have heard it if you’ve come across some surf music.
If you’re into the classic guitar sounds of the ‘50s to the 70s, you’ll definitely find a use for a tremolo pedal. An affordable one that I suggest you check out is the Kmise A0967 Belcat TRM-507. If you’re looking for a great guitar pedal under 50 dollars, this one will do the trick. It’s a fraction of the Boss pedal equivalent, and it’s just as good.
If you’re looking into getting a noise gate and a compressor, you’ll probably want to grab an EQ pedal while you’re at it. Much like the other two, this one is also a pedal that works with the dynamics, and it can be useful in shaping and cleaning up your sound.
Without an EQ, producers wouldn’t be able to mix and master songs properly, so while it’s not an actual effect, it has major implications on how music sounds.
Luckily, EQ pedals aren’t as big and scary as the equalizers you’d see on DAWs or real mixing boards. The most I’ve really seen EQ pedals go up to are 10-bands, but I’m pretty sure 6-band ones are the most common.
This allows you to precisely hone in on the frequencies that matter the most for guitarists. An EQ gives you another way to control your sound. You can make it thicker, give it a boost, and in some cases, make a bad tone sound passable.
MXR’s 6-band EQ will most likely be more than enough for your needs, but if you know that you’ll need more, they do make a 10-band version. This guitar pedal is built nicely, and the LED lights compliment it well. A good EQ like this one will fix or improve your sound.
A looper is a great pedal because it has some good utility, but it’s also just plain fun.
It’s pretty simple and straightforward to use, and with the tap of your foot, you can record your playing until you decide to hit it again to stop recording.
My favorite use of using a looper is to jam and improvise over chords and other ideas that I’ve come up with on the spot. It’s a nice change of pace to jamming over backing tracks, in my opinion.
Also, they can be handy for live situations. If you’re the only guitarist in a band, you’ll definitely be able to take advantage of one these. The only practical alternative to this would be to have pre-recorded backing tracks from a computer.
Boss’ RC-30 Looper is easily the best looper pedal for live performance and casual use that I’ve got my hands on. There is a smaller version called the RC-1, but it doesn’t have nearly the amount of features as the RC-30. There is also the RC-300, which is a massive loop station, but the average player who also plays gigs probably won’t have significant use for that one.
Compared to the RC-1, the RC-30 can store up to 3 hours of recording time on 99 slots versus the 12 minutes on the RC-1. The RC-1 is simpler to use, but you’ll get the hang of the RC-30 and have more to work with while you’re at it.
Chorus pedals are a type of modulation device which works by taking your guitar signal and creating another that is just a little out-of-tune with the other one. This makes it sound like two different instruments are playing at once.
This is how the effect got its name; choruses have many different voices going at once, and each person will sound different from one another. Even with a conductor, each singer won’t be in perfectly in-sync with each other 100% of the time.
If you’ve ever heard a chorus at a church or some other event, you’d agree that it’s a pretty distinct sound. Likewise, this also applies to the chorus pedal. In fact, the chorus effect has had a profound impact on a lot of the tones in the 1980s, especially in power ballads. The intro to the Guns N’ Roses song Paradise City is a solid example of chorus use.
As for chorus pedals, I thought that Donner’s Tutti Love Analog Chorus is fantastic. Despite being super compact, it’s very well-made, will give you the sound that you are looking for, and it’s one of the best guitar pedals under 50 dollars. Compare with the giants out there, like Boss and MXR, and this one is about a third of the cost of theirs.
The flanger can sometimes be confused for chorus effects, especially when played on a clean channel. The way that they produce their sound is quite similar to one another, and both have made their mark on the 80s sound.
In my opinion, I think the flanger sounds more prominent when used over a distortion channel. This results in a sound that resembles an airplane flying overhead. The best example I can give you off the top of my head is the main riff in the intro of The Number of The Beast by Iron Maiden. More than likely this is my first exposure to the flanger sound.
Like their chorus pedal, Donner makes a great flanger known as the Jet Convolution, which I think is a pretty appropriate name, since the effect can be compared to the sound of a jet. It is compact like the chorus one, and you can expect the same great quality from this one.
If you thought it could be difficult to tell a chorus and flanger apart, you might struggle with phasers and flangers. In reality, flanging is just a different type of phasing, so the confusion is understandable.
So how do you tell them apart? It’s kind of challenging to describe with words accurately, but I’d say it’s similar to a “woooooosh” rather than airplane noises. This video demonstrates it infinitely better than I ever could, so check it out and see for yourself:
The phaser was one of the oldest and top guitar effects pedals for many of the guitarists of the 70s and 80s. Eddie Van Halen was one of the most prominent users of this effect, and their song “Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love” heavily uses the phaser effect.
The “best phaser pedal” of all time award has to go to MXR’s Phase 90. This is the exact pedal model that Eddie used, and later, a version of it with his signature Frankenstrat stripe design was released. I know that Dave Murray had one of these in his rig dating back to the Number of The Beast tour days. I wouldn’t be surprised if every big name back then used an MXR P90.
Even though it’s a reissue of an amazing guitar pedal, you’ll still be able to recreate that classic sound from those timeless songs. However, if you can find an MXR Phase 90 from about 40 years ago, you’re a lucky player, and you’ve basically struck gold.
An octaver is a lot like a chorus pedal in that it creates another signal and makes it sound like there’s more than one instrument; however, instead of making it out of tune and time like a chorus, an octave is more specific. It literally creates a signal that is one octave higher or lower than the original.
While using octaves is a valid way to harmonize, it should not be mixed up with a harmonizer, which will be talked about shortly.
I think octave pedals can sound awesome in certain situations, and you can sort of emulate a bass sound with them if you wanted to. Of course, it won’t be the real thing as a bassist, but it can get pretty close!
The best guitar octave pedals on the market are Boss’ OC-3 Super Octaves. The OC-3 is the very first pedal to be polyphonic, which means it can process more than one note at a time, like full chords. Originally, the octaver was only monophonic, so their uses were more limited compared to now. Because of this alone, getting the OC-3 as your octave pedal should be a no-brainer.
Harmonizer pedals are awesome! They’re a pitch-shifter like the octaver, but they can do so much more.
The primary use for a harmonizer would be if you were the only guitarist in a band, and you wanted to harmonize a section, particularly melodic leads. It normally takes more than one person to harmonize, but with a pedal, you can create that effect on your own.
If you’ve been looking around for the best guitar harmony pedals, look no further. TC Electronics’ Quintessence Harmonizer is easily the one I’d recommend the most out of any harmonizer pedal. Because of its options, the Quintessence is the most accurate one you can get.
On this pedal, you have the option to select the key you’re playing in and choose whether it’s sharp or flat. You can even select what scale or mode you are using. Of course, you can select which interval you want to harmonize in as well.
If you’re like me and love the twin-guitar harmonies of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, your knob will be set to thirds 99% of the time. I love this one, and you probably will too.
Summary & Conclusion
Since there are so many pedals to choose from, it’s only natural that there’s a lot to converse about when it comes to these useful gadgets. That’s exactly what these ones are – useful, but depending on your preferences, may or may not be considered essential or must-haves.
Regardless, if you’re wondering which guitar pedal is best, all of the ones that we went over are awesome in their own right and should be given at least one chance. Here are all of the types of effects pedals that I chose for this guide as well as my personal recommendations:
- Noise Gate – ISP Technologies Decimator II
- Wah-Wah – Dunlop GCB95 Classic Crybaby
- Tremolo – Kmise A0967 Belcat TRM-507
- EQ – MXR M109S 6-Band EQ
- Looper – Boss RC-30
- Chorus – Donner Tutti Love Analog Chorus
- Flanger – Donner Jet Convolution
- Phaser – MXR Phase 90
- Octaver – Boss OC-3
- Harmonizer – TC Electronics Quintessence
What a diverse group! Not only is there a good mix of dynamic, utility, and modulation ones, there’s also a good assortment of some of the best guitar pedal brands. However, I’d understand if you’re loyal to your favorite brand.
As mentioned in my last guitar pedal guide for the essentials, I do love Bosses, but these other brands are right on-par or better than them. Some are even a fraction of the cost of a Boss, and you can’t beat that!
If you’re looking to step-up your pedal game and fill up your floorboard, consider getting some of these. Of course, make sure you have enough patch cables and power supplies; otherwise, you’ll have to carry some 9V batteries with you.