As an electric guitar player, there are few things more important in building your sound, than the right collection guitar pedals.
The only problem is, there are dozens of effects to choose from, and dozens of pedal options for each effect.
For many people, it take can take several years just to assemble a decent pedalboard worth of effects.
So for today, I’m going to help you shortcut all those years of frustration and wasted purchases by showing you everything you need to know about guitar pedals in this one ultimate guide.
So here we go…
Table of Contents:
- How the Top Picks are Chosen
- 1. Tuner Guitar Pedals
- 2. Wah Guitar Pedals
- 3. Compressor Guitar Pedals
- 4. Overdrive/Distortion Pedals
- 5. EQ Pedals
- 6. Harmonizing Guitar Pedals
- 7. Tremolo Pedals
- 8. Chorus, Flanger, and Phaser Pedals
- 9. Volume Pedals
- 10. Echo Pedals
- 11. Noise Gate Guitar Pedals
- Best Guitar Pedalboards
How the Top Picks are Chosen
If you’ve ever read through guitar forum threads on virtually any effect category…
You’ve already seen the endless debates on which pedals are best and why.
And in almost every case, it seems that no firm conclusions are ever reached.
Which makes sense of course, because the exact definition of “the perfect pedal” is extremely subjective and open to much interpretation.
So to avoid these arguments, the guitar pedals in this post have been chosen purely by reputation. Meaning 2 things specifically:
- Historical Relevance – how long they have been popular, and how much influence they have had in popular music.
- Current Popularity – how much they’re being mentioned online, and how well they’ve sold in recent years.
As you’ll notice, I’ve elected NOT to include sounds samples for each pedal. Reason being: The sound you hear in these recordings is too highly dependent on factors OTHER than just the pedal itself.
- the player
- the other effects in the signal chain
- the settings of the pedal
- the amp
- the recording quality
Having said that, it doesn’t hurt to give them a listen anyway as long as you keep things in perspective.
Now let’s get started with the first category:
1. Tuner Guitar Pedals
Regardless of what type of guitar player you are or want to be…
The one thing we all have in common is that we need to be in-tune to sound good.
And while there are MANY other ways to do that besides tuner pedals…
If you’re going to use a pedalboard anyway, you may as well have a quick and easy way to tune-up at any moment by simply glancing down at the floor.
So here’s how my top picks compare:
If price is your main concern, go with the Snark SN-10S. It’s the cheapest of all 4.
If simplicity and ease-of-use is what you want, go with the Korg Pitchblack, as it has very few settings to fiddle with, and is basically plug-n-play.
If reputation is what you want, the Boss TU-3, like most of the Boss pedals in this article, is an industry standard that has been around for a long time, and used by many musicians around the world.
And finally, if cutting edge technology is what you love, check out the TC Electronic Polytune 3, as it has two unique features worth mentioning:
- It’s the only polyphonic pedal, which means it allows you to tune all your strings at once.
- It’s one of the only pedals using strobe technology, which is by far the most accurate of all tuning methods.
Now here are the links to each pedal:
- Boss TU-3 – (Amazon/B&H/Thomann)
- TC Electronic Polytune 3 – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Snark SN-10S – (Amazon/B&H)
- Korg Pitchblack – (Amazon/B&H)
2. Wah Guitar Pedals
Depending on the style of music you play…
Blues or funk being the most obvious examples…
It’s pretty obvious in most cases whether a wah is a pedal you NEED in your setup, or NOT.
If you’re one of those who DO, here’s what I recommend:
The Original Dunlop Crybaby is by far the most popular pedal on the market, and if you know nothing about wahs or what you want, it’s the safest bet to start with.
The slightly less popular option, yet still very much a tried-n-true classic, is the Vox V847A.
For something with more tonal variations, the Dunlop 535Q is obvious choice.
And finally among the many custom crybaby variations made for famous players, the Dimebag Crybaby is probably the most popular of all.
Check them out:
- Dunlop Original Crybaby – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Dunlop 535Q Multi-Wah – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Vox V847A – (Amazon/B&H/Thomann)
- Dunlop Dimebag Crybaby – (Amazon)
3. Compressor Guitar Pedals
The funny thing about the electric guitar is…
Despite naturally having a very LARGE dynamic range…
It almost always sounds better restricted to a very SMALL dynamic range…
With all notes sounding at relatively consistent volumes.
Which is why, possibly more than any other pedal on this list, a compressor is an absolute must-have, no matter what type of music you play.
Now…if you’ve ever spend time around recording studio geeks…
You might know already know that the process of compression is actually quite complex and difficult to use intelligently.
But luckily for us, most compressor pedal makers understand this, and have found various ways to make their pedals more user-friendly to the average Joe.
Of the 4 on this list, the easiest to use is the MXR M102, as it only has two knobs:
So you really can’t mess up the settings with this one. Which is probably why it also seems to be the most popular compressor pedal, period.
However, if you need more control, and prefer to use something that more closely resembles the “standard” compressor controls…
The Boss CS-3 is another industry standard, and like all Boss pedals, you might call it the “safe bet”.
For a much cheaper version of the Boss pedal with similar controls, there’s the Behringer CS400.
And finally for the most interesting option of all, there’s the Xotic SP Compressor, which features numerous advanced tonal options, and is considered by many to be the most transparent of all pedal compressors…
Likely due to the “blend” knob which controls the ratio of dry to compressed singles, giving you the compressed effect, without killing the original dynamics.
Here are the links to each pedal:
- MXR M102 – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Boss CS-3 – (Amazon/B&H/Thomann)
- Xotic SP – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Behringer CS400 – (Amazon/Thomann)
4. Overdrive/Distortion Pedals
Take a look at any online music superstore…
And what you’ll see is that distortion pedals outnumber every other category of guitar pedal by at least 3x.
And it’s no surprise because distortion has undoubtedly been the most popular and versatile effect in popular music since back in the days of Hendrix.
No surprise either that it’s the most OVER-used effect as well…but that’s a topic for another post.
The problem we’ll address right now, is how to choose just 1 or 2 from the hundreds of possible options.
And since distortion is literally a “degradation” of sound quality…GOOD distortion can be a very subjective thing to define.
Which makes finding the “BEST” distortion pedal even harder.
So in this case, unless you’ve played with a ton of distortion pedals over the years and know exactly what type of sound you’re after…
It makes sense (at least to me) to start off with the classics…the ones that have been the most influential over the decades, and can be heard on the most classic albums by our favorite guitar heroes.
So here they are:
- Ibanez TS9 – (Amazon/B&H/Thomann)
- Ibanez TS808 – (Amazon/B&H/Thomann)
- ProCo Rat – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Boss DS-1 – (Amazon/B&H/Thomann)
- Big Muff Pi – (Amazon/B&H/Thomann)
- Dunlop Fuzz Face – (Amazon/Thomann)
5. EQ Pedals
Unlike most of the other pedal categories on this list…
EQ is not an really an “effect”…
But instead, more of a tool to shape the overall frequency balance of your existing effects.
If you’re new to the electric guitar, then you probably won’t even know what to do with your EQ pedal once you get one.
So for now at least, I’d recommend it as one of the later pedals to add to your setup.
Also, depending on who you ask, some players will argue that you don’t even need an EQ pedal at all, as there may already be sufficient EQ controls on your amp, and possibly other places in your signal chain as well.
However, if you are at the point where you believe and EQ pedal makes sense for your current setup, here are the most popular ones on the market to check out:
- Boss GE-7 – (Amazon/B&H/Thomann)
- Behringer EQ700 – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Danelectro DJ14 – (Amazon)
- MXR 10 Band – (Amazon/Thomann)
6. Harmonizing Guitar Pedals
As probably the most dramatic effect of every category on this list…
Harmonizing pedals, AKA octave pedals, AKA polyphonic pedals…
Have the ability to alter the sound of your guitar so much that it barely resembles the sound of a guitar anymore.
Therefore, it’s one of those effects that you either know you want, or know you don’t.
And unless you’re reading this post looking for this specific category of effect, you can probably skip ahead to the next section.
But if you ARE interested, here are the differences between the 4 pedals I’m about to show you:
The Boss OC-5 is the simplest of the 4, and it basically allows you to produce doubled notes, 1 or 2 octaves down from the original.
The Micro POG allows you to layer notes both 1 octave up and 1 octave down.
The more advance POG 2 has controls for both 1 or 2 octaves up and 1 or 2 octaves down, plus a variety of other tone shaping features as well.
And finally, Digitech The Drop allows you to detune one semitone at a time all the way down to a full octave.
Here are the links:
- Boss OC-5 – (Amazon/B&H/Thomann)
- EHX Micro POG – (Amazon/B&H/Thomann)
- EHX POG2 – (Amazon/B&H/Thomann)
- Digitech The Drop – (Amazon/B&H/Thomann)
7. Tremolo Pedals
Since way back in the earliest days of the electric guitar…
The terms “tremolo” and “vibrato” have been used somewhat interchangeably…
And often times when a person is referring to one, they actually mean the other.
The classic misnomer example is the tremolo bar on guitar, which actually creates a vibrato effect.
So here’s the real truth:
- The term “tremolo” refers to a variation in VOLUME.
- The term “vibrato” refers to a variation in PITCH.
Now that we’ve cleared things up, let’s move on to the tremolo pedals that made the list:
For the most part, all these pedals have the same basic functions…
With speed and depth controls to adjust the volume modulation…and some variation of a “tone” control to adjust the overall sound texture.
Since tremolo pedals are one of the LEAST popular categories of effects, none of the pedals on the list are quite at the level of “legendary” status.
So I suggest relying heavily on user reviews when choosing between them.
Here they are:
- Boss TR-2 – (Amazon/B&H/Thomann)
- Donner Mod Square – (Amazon)
- Danelectro DJ-5 – (Amazon)
- Rowin Trelicopter – (Thomann)
- Dunlop MXR – (Amazon)
8. Chorus, Flanger, and Phaser Pedals
These 3 effects, although each achieved using entirely different, and complex methods…
Which are well outside the scope of this article…
Are typically lumped together in the same category of effects…
Most likely because the overall sonic impression you get from each one can feel somewhat similar.
They’re also among the more DRAMATIC guitar effects…
So again…you either want these, or you don’t. But you certainly don’t need them.
NOTE: As you will notice, most of the guitar pedals on this list are chorus pedals. Which is simply because Chorus is generally a more popular and versatile effect than the other two.
Anyways, here’s the list:
- Electro Harmonix Neo Clone – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Danelectro FAB Chorus – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Boss CH-1 Super Chorus – (Amazon/B&H/Thomann)
- MXR Phase 90 – (Amazon/Thomann)
- MXR EVH Phase 90 – (Amazon/Thomann)
- MXR M134 Stereo Chorus (Amazon/Thomann)
9. Volume Pedals
Unlike the other pedal categories on this list…
Which have a more subjective element that separates the good from the bad…
With volume pedals, the goal is crystal clear.
A good volume pedal should:
- allow you to smoothly and accurately adjust the volume as you play, while…
- minimally coloring the existing sound, and being as transparent as possible.
And the one pedal in particular that is the overwhelming favorite here is the Ernie Ball VP Jr. So unless you have a specific reason to go for something else, it’s the obvious choice.
For the two others on the list, there’s the Boss FV-500H, which as a larger footprint than the VP Jr, and the Dunlop DVP4 which has a smaller one.
Here are the links:
- Ernie Ball VP Jr – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Boss FV-500H – (Amazon/B&H/Thomann)
- Dunlop DVP4 – (Amazon/Thomann)
10. Echo Pedals
In the umbrella category of “echo effects”…
There are two close siblings known as:
While essentially the same effect, in the sense that they both create repeating and decaying copies of the original signal…
They differ in the sense that delay produces distinct separate echoes…
While reverb produces a wash of indistinguishable echoes that mix to create a blurred ambiant effect.
Because of the fact that reverb should literally produce hundreds or thousands of unique echoes in just a second or two…
There are few, if any, reverb pedals than can compete with the multi-thousand dollar rack units used in recording studios and high-end guitar rigs.
Which is why it’s a much less popular pedal effect than delay, which requires far less processing.
As such…the first 3 pedals on the list are all delay pedals.
The first, and simplest one is the MXR Carbon Copy which has 3 simple controls:
- DELAY – to set the time between echoes
- REGEN – to set the number of echoes
- MIX – to blend the effect with original signal
And that’s it.
The next pedal on the list, the Boss DD-7, is definitely a classic, and adds a few more customizations including and analog setting, a modulation delay, and a super cool reverse delay that you really have to hear for yourself to comprehend.
After that, there’s extremely popular EHX Deluxe Memory Man which essentially combines delay, vibrato, and chorus into one pedal to create a single one-of-a-kind effect.
And finally, there’s the new TC Hall of Fame Reverb which is really the next generation in reverb pedals, and it is quite possibly the only pedal in its class.
Two specific features about this pedal are worth mentioning:
- There’s the unique pressure sensitive switch that essentially functions as a mini expression pedal, allowing you to alter the reverb effect on the fly.
- There’s the advanced computer software integration which allows you to customize many of the reverb parameters exactly to your liking.
Now here are the links to everything we just covered:
- MXR Carbon Copy – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Boss DD-8 – (Amazon/B&H/Thomann)
- EHX Deluxe Memory Boy – (Amazon/B&H/Thomann)
- TC Hall of Fame Reverb 2 – (Amazon/Thomann)
11. Noise Gate Guitar Pedals
More so than every other category of pedals in this post…
Noise gates have the WORST reputation by far.
In fact, many guitar players argue that not only do you NOT need one, you actually SHOULDN’T have one at all.
Because in order to eliminate hum or any other unwanted noise from the signal, noise gates essentially work by automatically lowering the volume during the time when no notes are being played.
So once you actually do play something, the noise comes back. Which can sometimes make the noise seem even more noticeable than without the gate.
However…despite all the haters, there are just as many who absolutely love them and swear by them.
If you currently find yourself in favor of them, or you’re at least curious to try one out, check out the 4 most popular models which I’ve listed below.
I won’t comment on any of them, as they mostly all work in the basic same manner. So I suggest going through a few user reviews before making your final decision.
Here they are :
- Boss NS-2 – (Amazon/B&H/Thomann)
- MXR M-135 Smart Gate – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Behringer NR300 – (Amazon/Thomann)
- Electro-Harmonix Silencer – (Amazon/B&H/Thomann)
Best Guitar Pedalboards
Now that we’ve gone through each category of pedals…
I’ll wrap things up with a list of the top pedalboards…
If you happen to be putting together your first setup, and you need of one of these as well.
Of the 4 pedalboards on the list, the simplest of all is the Gator GPT.. which is made of 2 parts: one simple pedal board and a carry bag made of heavy duty nylon.
The small version holds 4-6 pedals.
The problem that most players will have with the design of the Gator GPT is that it does not incorporate any sort of power bus or effects sends, which severely limits your routing options.
So instead, for most folks, I recommend either the Behringer PB1000, or the Boss BCB90, which have both those features and more.
And finally, there’s the Gator GPT, which actually comes in 4 different versions, from extremely simple, to fully loaded.
Below I have linked to the fully loaded version, because for most players, the added cost is well worth the extra features.
Here are the links: