There are many lists of the so-called “Best Guitar Pedals of All Time”. We all know the classics, and a short-list wouldn’t be complete without pedals like the Maxon built Ibanez Tube Screamer, Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, Thomas Organ/Vox Crybaby, Klon Centaur, Digitech Whammy WH-1, Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi & Deluxe Memory Man, ProCo Rat, and the original MXR Phase 90 & Dyna Comp. Many of these guitar pedals (and countless others) have helped create some of the greatest guitar sounds of all time.
But we’re not here to hammer home the undeniable reputation of the past classics. If all the best guitar pedals had already been made, we wouldn’t be experiencing the golden age of guitar pedals we’re having today.
To keep music moving forward, it’s important to draw upon all the history that came before and forge ahead into uncharted territory. Sure, many of us will always want to grab our favorite vintage guitar and just plug right into our favorite old amp, but even the most traditional guitarists can find inspiration from adding an exciting new pedal to the mix.
This list focuses on the most innovative guitar pedals available today – pedals with a proven reputation among modern guitarists and pedals that may be signaling where the industry is headed. Many modern interpretations of iconic pedals are featured here, but this article aims to be more of a testament to the kind of bold creativity that sets apart the creative visionaries from the cloners (with a few exceptions of clones done exceptionally well). Some of these pedals create new sounds unlike anything heard previously, and some pedals utilize modern technology in creative ways.
You’ll notice multiple pedals here from several MVP builders who’ve been advancing guitar pedal design well beyond the status quo. Strymon arguably reigns supreme in the eyes of many guitarists when it comes to primarily DSP based guitar effects. Chase Bliss Audio is currently leagues ahead of other analog pedal builders with their fusion of digital control and 100% analog effects. Eventide holds the key to the future of digital effects and may continue revolutionizing how guitarists use and interact with pedals. Electro Harmonix is another long-running company who still maintains an innovative edge in a crowded market place. EarthQuaker Devices creates a wide range of great guitar pedals ranging from traditional sounds to the fringes of sonic exploration. Empress Effects just changed the game with an expandable DSP masterpiece. Source Audio has revealed themselves as another big player in digital effects. Xotic Effects is a leader in recreating classic tones for discerning guitarists. And TC Electronic remains a key company to watch as they continue offering high quality effects at very competitive prices.
This list has been 3 years in the making. It will continue to evolve and expand to include more great pedals that deserve recognition. The idea is that if it’s truly an innovative pedal, it should be included here. If you think we missed a great guitar pedal or think something not listed here should be brought to other guitarists’ attention, please leave a comment and voice your opinion.
A “best of” list such as this shouldn’t be regarded as the final word on what you should be playing. Consider this a starting point of where to look for your next guitar pedal. If you just want to sound like Clapton, Hendrix, or Gilmour, a different resource may better suit your needs. But if you want to venture into uncharted musical territory with your guitar, some of these innovative guitar pedals may be right for you. Use your own ears and your best judgement when buying guitar pedals and try keeping the GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) in check while you decide which pedals will best serve your music.
“The Next Level?”
I’ll provide a brief commentary for each pedal with ideas for design improvement. These are more so notes to builders and other guitarists who often think, “What if…?” While these are the best guitar pedals of today, the best of tomorrow is yet to come.
Now here they are, the Top 75 Best Modern Guitar Pedals!
Eventide has been a reputable name among professional studio engineers since the 70’s. Their H910 Harmonizer forever changed music with real-time pitch shifting. In the 80’s the H3000 become one of the premier guitar multi-effects rack units, used to legendary effect by Steve Vai on Ballerina 12/24 from Passion and Warfare. Eventide later shook up the stompbox world with their TimeFactor delay & ModFactor modulation pedals, followed by the PitchFactor Harmonizer & Space reverb.
The Eventide H9 Harmonizer is arguably the company’s most revolutionary product to date. The H9 starts with a compact stompbox foundation that features sounds from their entire lineup of pedals. You can get an H9 Core with their iconic H910/H949 algorithm preloaded. The standard H9 Harmonizer has 9 effects from their range of pedals including the H9 exclusive Ultratap. (You can buy additional algorithms via the H9 Control app.) Or you can get the H9 Max and have access to the entire collection of Eventide stompbox effects including the aforementioned Ultratap and other H9 exclusives like Resonator, EQ Compressor, CrushStation, & SpaceTime as well as any new effects that are released. I’d recommend getting the H9 Max. You can then add up to 3 other H9 Core/Harmonizer units to your Eventide account and have all units “Maxed” out with all effects.
Aside from the massive library of Eventide guitar effects there’s a wealth of other features that make the H9 an essential modern guitar pedal: Stereo I/O, Pre/Post effects routing in mono, 99 presets, extensive MIDI functionality, exp pedal control, true bypass, tap tempo, and the H9 Control app.
The Next Level? More algorithms! While Eventide takes their time with the quality H9 exclusive effects they create, it would be nice to see more risky & obscure effects. How about bit-crushers, insane granular delays, choppy pattern tremolos, synth-style high/low pass filters, modern plugin style synthesizers (oscillators, baby!), organ effects that outdo everything else, and more. There’s just so much untapped potential. How about an open source platform, so the world’s best VST effects creators can bring DAW effects to pedals? Also, an expanded double or triple H9 would greatly expand the possibilities.
Read the Eventide H9 Harmonizer review.
The Strymon TimeLine was the landmark pedal release that sealed Strymon’s reputation as one of the cutting edge pedal companies of today. Despite numerous attempts by other builders to dethrone this digital delay champion, the TimeLine is still the pedal to beat.
The TimeLine starts with 12 immaculately crafted delay machines ranging from classic analog delay, tape echo, and digital delay flavors to shimmering octave delays (Ice), reverse delays, lo-fi delays, and more. You can run it in mono (with the option to affect your delays with other effects) or stereo. It has 200 presets, tap tempo, optional delay trails, true bypass or buffered bypass, and more.
This pedal’s MIDI functionality is especially well integrated, making it very convenient to use with a MIDI effects switcher or automate from a DAW like Ableton Live. Strymon has been diligent with firmware updates to ensure that the TimeLine remains reliable in all situations. The TimeLine’s Looper also performs well and can have all its functions controlled externally via a MIDI controller.
In a classic Microsoft vs. Apple style battle, Boss tried to overtake the TimeLine with their DD-500, ditching their typical retro enclosure designs and stuffing in an equal number of delays while checking the boxes with similar tech specs to rival Strymon’s delay masterpiece. But the Strymon TimeLine has proven tough to beat, and Strymon will most likely be the builder to take the all-in-one digital delay concept to the next level if a “TimeLine 2” ever arrives.
The Next Level? I’d like to see the Looper be quantizable to MIDI Clock with Global Quantize settings for more precise external control. Also, it would be great to see Strymon’s flagship pedals encompass the full range of sounds from their similar smaller pedals (i.e. TimeLine’s dTape machine vs El Capistan dTape Echo). It’s also worth mentioning that some of our readers would really like to see a “Strymon H9” all-in-one pedal. That would be something.
Read the Strymon TimeLine review.
The analog delay pedal game has changed forever. Pedals like the Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man and the original Boss DM-2 are iconic analog delay pedals based on MN3005 BBD chips. The Chase Bliss Audio Tonal Recall brings that legacy of tone into the 21st century with presets, MIDI control, unbelievable parameter modulation (Ramping), a Tone knob, 6 tap divisions, a Warped Vinyl style mod section, tap tempo, a Hold oscillation function, and, yes, a super cool pedal name.
The Tonal Recall (you can call ‘im “Tony”) went through a surprising metamorphosis. It originally seemed like it would be the DMM/DM-2 killer everyone expected. Then it seemed to venture into a different, more lo-fi kind of delay. At the last moment, Chase Bliss Audio designer, Joel Korte, decided to make it more like the crowd pleaser everyone was expecting and hoping it would be. Good call as this pedal nailed it. Simply one of the greatest analog delay pedals ever created.
To speak of its subtleties, the Tonal Recall is noticeably quieter than most analog delays with a lower noise floor than the classic and modern units I’ve heard it compared to so far. The Tone knob is another draw as you can have a reasonably open and bright delay tone or roll it back to a dark and murky “oil can” style foundation beneath your playing. The Ramping is fun and novel, giving the pedal a more experimental vibe as well. But for many guitarists just having a quality analog delay with presets will be enough to make you want to “get your a– to Mars!”
The Next Level? It’s almost too early to say as Chase Bliss Audio is still far ahead of the curve. I expect any improvements to this pedal coming in the form of very minor revision tweaks. But we can still dream about a stereo version, no?
Empress Effects Reverb
Been a huge fan of Empress Effects for years. Their excellent Vintage Modified Superdelay, Heavy, & Compressor pedals have shown their wide range of engineering expertise in the analog and digital realms. The Empress Reverb pushes the boundaries of everything they’ve done and further changes what we can expect in multi-algorithm guitar pedals going forward.
The Empress Reverb features 24 studio quality reverb algorithms grouped in 12 onboard categories. As you turn the type selector knob to scroll through reverb categories, you’ll sometimes see the LED change to multiple colors on a given category. Each color indicates an entirely different reverb effect. For example, the Spring type has 3 stock types of reverb. Blue is base on a Fender Twin Reverb spring tank. Green is a Fender Deluxe inspired ‘verb. Red gives you an overdriven 60’s surf type sound. The Room type has a single Blue type called L.A. Studio that emulates a small room with dense early reflections. The “Beer” type is where uncategorizable ‘verbs are stored. Expect weird and crazy sounds to come. You have to hear the Ghost type for yourself. Hauntingly good!
New reverb algorithms will be freely available, and you can easily update the pedal via SD card. Empress Reverb owners can vote for new algorithms in the Empress Effects forums, so you can contribute to the creation of the pedal’s new sounds. The future is in your hands.
The Empress Reverb sounds incredible so far, easily earning a place among the best reverb pedals available. And it’s got MIDI, presets, tap/hold functions, exp pedal control, cab simulation, stereo, and more. Can’t wait to hear where Empress (and you!) take it.
The Next Level? Put my vote in the hat for a Plate mode that expands on the Catalinbread Talisman and a Beer mode for an EQD Afterneath/Adventure Audio Whateverb style ‘verb with reverb pitch warping.
DigiTech Whammy V
The DigiTech WH-1 Whammy is an all-time classic effect, and the latest iteration holds strong to that legacy. The Whammy V has 2 modes, Classic & Chords, which take you from a WH-1 Whammy flavor to a more stable modern polyphonic tracking that’s great with chords as the name implies. Actually, the Classic mode is noticeably more stable than the WH-1, so there’s been big improvements all around.
Aside from the pitch-shifting “Whammy” effects that let you send your guitar screaming up +1 or +2 octaves or descending down to a quaking -3 octaves on the Dive Bomb setting, there’s also a range of musical Harmony intervals to choose from. You can get that 5th up harmony for playing Rage Against the Machine’s “Know Your Enemy” intro or take it down a 5th for Steve Vai’s “The Animal”. The expression pedal will even let you shift between 2 preset harmony intervals.
While DigiTech’s The Drop and Whammy DT have more drop-tuning options, you can still use the -2nd, -4th, or -5th settings for solid drop tuned playing. There are also Shallow & Deep detuning settings for chorus-like effects.
When the Whammy IV hit the scene it brought along MIDI functionality, and that’s present here as well. You can use a CC message to control the Whammy sweep and program changes to activate and bypass the pedal in any mode with either Classic or Chords tracking. This works exceptionally well in use as you can control the Whammy V remotely via a MIDI compatible effects switcher or MIDI controller or even sequence impossible Whammy automation.
The Next Level? DigiTech rules this arena as the Whammy V, Whammy DT, The Drop, and recently released Whammy Ricochet all testify. Tracking improvements are always welcome, and having all jacks top-mounted on the Whammy VI would be nice. I’d also really like to see a complete compact Whammy series pedal similar to the EHX Pitch Fork with a MIDI in & exp pedal jack. Also, DigiTech, please give us an updated Space Station XP-300 with MIDI control, and make our wildest dreams come true.
TC Electronic Ditto Looper (series)
The TC Electronic Ditto Looper revolutionized audio looping for guitar. Surprisingly, it did so by making looping as simple to use as possible, contributing to why the Ditto Looper is one the best selling guitar pedals currently in production. The success of this pedal spawned countless companies to try to emulate the formula TC Electronic nailed with this modern classic pedal.
But it would be TC Electronic to again push looping forward with the Ditto X2. Stereo I/O is a big draw for this update as are the Half Speed & Reverse looper effects, accessed from a dedicated 2nd FX foot-switch. The Stop FX function gives the Ditto X2 the edge and makes it especially useful for live performance. There’s even the option to export a loop for DAW processing, and you can store a loop to the pedal.
The Ditto Stereo Looper is a middle ground between the previous units. Housed in a PolyTune 2 sized enclosure, it gives you the single foot-switch control of the original Ditto Looper and the stereo I/O from the Ditto X2. The Import/Export loop functionality is also present.
The TC Electronic Ditto X4 Looper is the flagship unit, housed in a massive enclosure you’ll recognize from the Flashback X4 Delay. Essentially, this pedal is like having 2 Ditto Loopers you can use in Serial mode or synced together. They’ve also split the X2’s FX and Stop functions to separate foot-switches. The dedicated Stop function is invaluable, and there are now 7 total effects that can be assigned to the FX foot-switch including Half-Speed, Double-Speed, Reverse, the super fun Tape Stop, and more. A Decay knob will set a rate at which previous layers fade out so that you can evolve your looping soundscape in new directions. The X4 also has MIDI sync to lock the loops in time with MIDI Clock.
The Next Level? Give the Ditto X4 a firmware update for MIDI control of all functions like the Strymon TimeLine, including MIDI CC’s for each FX type. Also, it would help if looper triggering was quantizable to MIDI Clock for super accurate MIDI Clock sync.
Dr. Scientist’s The Elements is one of the ultimate Swiss Army Knife guitar pedals. It’s supremely useful as a boost, overdrive, distortion, or EQ pedal. For a long time I kept one in my chain for various needs and particularly favored it for tonal coloring in my signal chain. It has a ton of functions, none of which are tacked on, and the wide range of possible applications for this pedal makes it a defining modern guitar pedal that more guitarists need to experience first-hand.
The left flip-switch selects between high gain, for distortion and hotter overdrive sounds, and low gain for clean boosting, EQ’ing, and milder overdrive tones. The next flip-switch selects between no clipping and 2 clipping options, particularly useful for adjusting your drive character. The third flip-switch gives you a full open sound or 2 degrees of bass reduction for thinning out your sound. The far right slip-switch adjusts the mid-range frequency center for the Mid EQ knob, letting you scoop your mids in a particular band or carefully boost midrange for the perfect overdrive tone.
The EQ section can apply a significant presence to the lows, mids, and highs or reduce frequencies in those ranges. This is great for general EQ’ing and tone enhancing in your rig or for coloring your drive sounds when stacking The Elements with other pedals. I’ll often use it in conjunction with other distortion & fuzz pedals that don’t have deep tone controls. A killer pedal all around. Also, you’ve gotta love how each run has an entirely different look and visual appeal.
The Next Level? Being drive obsessed, I’d like to see variations with different drive/fuzz circuits. Also, I’d prefer a “smart” relay bypass that remembers if the pedal was on or off last time it was powered, useful for guitarists who use effects switchers.
Read the Dr. Scientist The Elements review.
The Effectrode PC-2A Compressor is such a tonal treasure that I’m surprised it isn’t more sought after than a Klon Centaur. Of all the pedals I’ve tried that supposedly have some kind of “magical” tone-enhancing quality, the PC-2A is the pedal I just never want to turn off. Recently, I found myself suddenly thinking this pedal was sucking my tone before realizing the PC-2A was bypassed, meaning my guitar was sounding worse without it than with the pedal simply engaged. I promptly engaged the pedal, and all was right in the world.
The PC-2A is inspired by the Teletronix LA-2A Leveling Amplifier, one of the all-time great rack compressor units. The PC-2A uses a military grade subminiature vacuum tube and audiophile grade components (including a silver plated circuit board!) in its uncompromising pursuit of beautiful and immaculate compression. It has a simple 2-knob interface for setting the “Peak Reduction” threshold and output level “Gain”. A Limit switch applies heavier compression and rounds out the LA-2A style control set.
Under the hood are an Attack & Knee trimmer for further tweaking the PC-2A to your liking. These are “set-and-forget” trimmers in most cases, but I’d highly recommend tuning them at least once when you get your hands on this pedal… if you can. Guitarists often find themselves on long waiting lists to get Effectrode pedals, and the PC-2A is their most popular pedal. Rightfully so, as it’s one of the best guitar compressor pedals ever created.
The Next Level? Guitarists with an ear for tone won’t have a problem dialing in this pedal by ear, but still, a gain reduction LED (or VU Meter?) would be useful. Also, external Attack/Knee controls would be useful for fine-tuning it with different guitars or when using it with bass & vocals.
Read the Effectrode PC-2A review.
The Ibanez Tube Screamer is an all-time classic, yes, we all know. Today you can find countless clones and variations from nearly every guitar pedal builder out there. From original builder, Maxon, to companies like Keeley Electronics, Electro Harmonix, and countless others, there is no shortage of great pedals out there that are derived from the classic TS-808, including the affordable Ibanez TSMINI.
The Ibanez TS808HW Hand-Wired Tube Screamer is a premium boutique grade iteration that remains true to the heritage of the original Tube Screamer while offering a consistent sound that recalls the iconic mid-boosted overdrive tones made famous by guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughan. While I also highly recommend auditioning the various mods and Tube Screamer variations by Robert Keeley (especially the higher-gain, limited run KE808), the Ibanez TS808HW is the defacto version to get if you’re simply chasing classic Tube Screamer tones. Once you plug in a Strat, select that neck pickup, hit the pedal, and start busting out the SRV riffs, you’ll understand why.
The Next Level? Kudos to Ibanez for keeping this pedal gem in production, but I’d still like to see the 1/8” power jack (and accompanying cable) replaced with a modern Boss-style barrel jack.
Read the Ibanez TS808HW review.
Source Audio Nemesis Delay
The Source Audio Nemesis Delay is one of the more unique and incredibly versatile delay pedals to come along in recent years. It also sounds stunning, rivaling Strymon & Eventide in the audio quality department. It has 12 onboard delay machines and 12 more available via the Neuro app. This pedal is simply awesome and delivers quality performance well beyond its humble size.
The Nemesis forgoes menu-diving for a knob based approach. It can be simple enough to dial in if you just need one perfect delay. Or you can use the pedal with a MIDI compatible effects switcher to save & recall up to 128 presets (8 can be accessed via onboard controls). This pedal also offers some of the deepest MIDI functionality seen in a pedal in addition to it’s stereo operation, tap tempo, and plenty more features than I have room to mention.
The pedal’s classic delay types – Analog, Digital, Slapback, Tape, & Noise Tape – are excellent, and even the outlandish Degrade, Helix, Shifter, & Rhythmic variations are worth the sonic exploration. It’s essential to use this pedal with Source Audio’s Neuro App to access the 12 “secret” delay types, including the great Double Helix, Complex Rhythmic, Lo-Fi Retro, Compound Shifter, Oil Can, & Warped Record delays, among others. The Nemesis really has a unique vibe compare to other digital delay pedals and is filled with great delays & unique sounds you won’t find anywhere else.
The Next Level? Deeper onboard preset management and access to more Neuro App functionality from the pedal itself would be handy.
Clyde McCoy was a trumpet player who experimented with a mute that would create a “wah wah” type sound. He actually had nothing to do with the guitar pedal design, but his name was used for marketing and further became synonymous with the “wah wah” pedal. While many companies including Dunlop & Fulltone have admirably attempted to reproduce the earliest wah sounds, the Xotic Wah XW-1 is one of the very best at capturing the classic vibe while pushing boundaries. Sure, Xotic Effects may not hold the “Clyde McCoy” & “Crybaby Wah” trademarks, but man, is this pedal amazing at capturing the iconic tones of those early Crybaby pedals while providing a modern feature-set for today’s guitarists.
An array of 4 knobs on the side of the pedal for adjusting Wah-Q, Bias, and Treble/Bass frequencies let you sculpt the perfect wah tone for your rig. The pedal is also 20% smaller than the classic Crybaby pedals for a little more pedalboard economy while still retaining a familiar wah feel. There’s also reliable true bypass relay switching, an LED Active/Bypassed indicator (a Godsend if you’re tired of wondering if you left your wah on or not), and fuzz pedal friendly buffering. An internal trimmer lets you set the Input Gain.
The Next Level? It doesn’t get much better than this, sound-wise. Making that Input Gain trimmer external would make it even closer to perfect. I’d personally love to see a Morley style switchless version.
Read the Xotic Effects Wah review.
The Effectrode SR-71 Blackbird is life changing. Taking its name after the Lockheed SR-71 “Blackbird”, an aircraft that could fly at Mach 3+ and outrun missiles, this builder has released what is perhaps the ultimate amp-in-a-box pedal. It’s essentially an all-tube preamp sporting a trio of 12AX7s that draws heavily upon the “blackface” Fender Twin Reverb amp in the clean channel (with similarly voice tone controls). And the Blackbird soars past other amp-emulating pedals when you kick on the Dumble inspired Overdrive channel.
The Overdrive channel has 2 distinct voicings, Classic & Creamy, that go from vintage rock overdrive and bluesy saturation to very aggressive, yet surprisingly articulate and focused high-gain distortion. While I was expecting a primarily “classic” range of tones from the Blackbird, the molten lava saturation and Gain control that remains usable throughout its range won me over big time. In fact, within less than 5 minutes after plugging in the Effectrode SR-71 Blackbird for the first time, I concluded it was one of the best drive/distortion pedals I’d ever played based on tone alone.
But that Clean channel may be all you ever need. It’s got a glassy sheen and high headroom that proudly lives up to its Blackface roots. Frankly, I never want to turn it off, and it’s like to become a foundation of your tone, also. The Blackbird is impeccably low-noise and playable in any situation.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that you can change tubes and re-bias the pedal to customize it to your liking. Track down some vintage tubes and have fun making it your own. There’s also a separate direct out with a transformer that sweetens the signal, perfect for direct recording and using with a cab simulation plugin. The Blackbird is the ultimate all-tube preamp. It’s also a brainer for being a top pick among amp-in-a-box pedals as the Blackbird is essential an amp’s front-end lovingly stuffed into a stompbox.
The Next Level? Those foot-switches might be a little close to the knobs for some guitarists (extra incentive to use a 2-button remote switch, maybe). Also, I’d like to see an internal volume trimmer on the Classic side to assist with level matching for those of us who want to configure the pedal for switching between all 3 channel options.
The Strymon Mobius is arguably the desert island modulation pedal. If you were going to get just one mod pedal, the Mobius really does just about everything you could ever want a mod pedal to do. In its 12 effect type groupings you’ll even find multiple uncompromising variations (For example: 5 Chorus modes & 3 Vintage Trem modes). Aside from being able to use the Mobius’ great effects in stereo, the “Pre/Post” routing allows you to use effects either earlier in your signal chain or later, an ideal way to make the most of this pedal in a mono, single guitar amp rig. The Mobius also gives you a whopping 200 presets, tap tempo, full MIDI implementation, and a user friendly menu interface.
The Next Level? Really wish the Rotary had all the features of Strymon’s Lex pedal. Also, it would be great if the Filter had synth-style high & low pass filtering modes will full range Frequency control. Otherwise, it’s near perfect and stands as the mod pedal to beat.
Read the Strymon Mobius review.
The Chase Bliss Audio Spectre is the CBA pedal I’ve been most critical of, yet it also happens to be Mr. Joel Korte’s best and most inspired work aside from Tonal Recall (…so far). The Spectre is a true through-zero (TZ) analog flanger that uses twin BBD delay lines in addition to a mixable dry(ish) voice to achieve some truly awe-inspiring tones. Some people find it a little noisy, think the “whale songs” at higher Regen settings are too intense, and have trouble wrapping their heads around how “TZ” flanging works exactly. But if you click with this pedal, you’ll be mesmerized. It sounds particularly amazing after dirt, so try placing it after your fuzz, distortion, and overdrive pedals or in your amp’s effects loop. Also, after the uniquely colored “dry” sound grew on me, I found myself doulble-tracking with just the dry voice added on a second guitar track. Toanz for days.
And, yes, all the Ramping, ModuShape, presets, 16 dip-switches, MIDI functionality, CV/Exp control, etc., you’d expect from Chase Bliss Audio are all here.
The Next Level? I got a reasonably quiet unit, but noise level improvements are always welcome. Wish the Mix was rampable, too. And maybe a dedicated Volume knob. Curious what CBA could do with a slightly larger enclosure and an extra knob or two.
Read the Chase Bliss Audio Spectre review.
The original Fuzz Factory and newer Fat Fuzz Factory have attained classic status in the fuzz pedal arena, and the limited edition Fuzz Factory 7 is the current pinnacle of this circuit design. Using a pair of rare 1956 Amperex black glass germanium transistors, the FF7 has a slightly more distinctive tonal character in comparison to the standard Fuzz Factory & FFF. (See the demo in our ZVex FF7 review for a comparison.) But what really makes this pedal stand out is its 9-position “FAT” knob that lets you change the sub oscillation range for ridiculously huge low-end or very trebly and brittle tones (in a good way). A foot-switchable Tone knob lets you roll of the high-end for taming any excess harshness and rounds out what is one of the most tonally versatile and best fuzz pedals you’ll ever play. It’s complex and can get crazy but well-worth the amazing sonic journeys it’ll inspire. Get one before ZVex runs out of NOS transistors.
The Next Level? Presets, just presets. Imagine a diverse Fuzz Factory style pedal complete with FF7 style Tone knob & FAT modes with presets. Ultimate fuzz pedal right there.
Read the ZVex Fuzz Factory 7 review.
The original Shin-ei Uni-Vibe was a phase shifter effect that attempted to emulate the “doppler” sound of a rotating Leslie speaker cabinet. While it didn’t quite nail that sound, an all-new effect was born and made famous by guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, Robin Trower, Stevie Ray Vaughan and countless others.
The DryBell Vibe Machine V-2 was a labor of love from a small Croatian builder to create the ultimate “Uni-Vibe” inspired guitar pedal. While the Vibe Machine V-1 was already the most advanced compact vibe pedal around, the V-2 takes it to the next level with features like Tap Tempo, a Custom input impedance option, and the convenience of no longer needing to open the pedal to adjust the bonus parameters. In short, it doesn’t really get any better than this pedal. The Vibe Machine V-2 nails the fat pulsing throb and gives your guitar that huge, liquidy texture and oily presence in the mix.
The Speed & Intensity control the rate and depth of the effect, respectively. There are switches for the expected Vibrato (wet only) and chorus modes as well as a Bright/Custom/Original switch for a classic “Uni-Vibe” tone, a more modern sound, or your own sweet spot in between. There’s also an expression pedal jack, essential for achieving real-time Speed control. (The Mission Engineering EP-1 works great.) The new DryBell F-1L is an essential companion for unlocking Tap Tempo or jumping between 2 speeds. There are several additional parameters including an output Volume side trimmer, Range & Symmetry trimmers to adjust the throb feel, and more.
The Next Level? Not sure what more could be done with this one. Presets, maybe? This is the vibe to get.
Read the DryBell Vibe Machine V-2 review.
We can’t go any further down this list without mentioning the Strymon BigSky. This mind-blowing reverb pedal comes in the familiar TimeLine/Mobius sized enclosure denoting its status as Strymon’s flagship reverb pedal. It has 12 immaculate reverb machines ranging from the expected Room, Hall, Spring, & Plate modes to more unique Bloom, Swell, Shimmer, & Chorale modes. There’s also the great multi-head echo of the Magneto machine. The BigSky produces some of the cleanest and most detailed reverbs you’ll hear in a guitar pedal.
Expected features like 200 presets, MIDI functionality, stereo I/O, and more are present, including a unique Cab Filter that’s great for using in conjunction with an amp-style pedal if you’re running your guitar direct.
The Next Level? I’ve been playing the BigSky since its release, and I still can’t really find any serious room for improvement. Maybe a Global setting for changing different Cab Filter voicings. But I’ll toss in another vote for Strymon to release an all-in-one effects processor featuring all of their cutting edge effects machines from BigSky, TimeLine, Mobius, & their other compact DSP pedals.
Read the Strymon BigSky review.
Bogner Ecstasy Red/Blue
There’s arguably no one more qualified to attempt an amp-in-a-box pedal than the amp’s creator, so it’s no surprise that Mr. Reinhold Bogner was able to produce a very convincing reproduction of his classic Ecstasy amplifier head in pedal form. The Ecstasy Red & Blue pedals seek to replicate the 2 distinct channels of that amp, and they come as close as you could probably ever get without vacuum tubes and massive transformers.
The Ecstasy Blue covers clean and low-gain tones but can get pretty mean on the Blue mode with the Boost kicked in. The Plexi mode offers a great take on classic Marshall tones. The Variac mode is particularly useful if you want to increase the touch sensitivity and responsiveness of the pedal. The Pre EQ and Structure options let you further tweak the subtle characteristics and sound of the pedal with the Structure modes letting you emulate the vibe of various iterations of Bogner’s Ecstasy amp heads.
The Ecstasy Red picks up where the Blue leaves off and can take your guitar into even more heavily saturated territories. The mode options vary from a subtle Mellow, to a looser Full, and to a more focused Tight setting, adding to the myriad ways to create the perfect saturated tones. It’s important to emphasize that on both the Red & Blue pedals, these parameter options don’t stray too far from the Ecstasy’s core sound; these subtle options are present to let you refine the response of the pedal(s) to take your guitar playing ever closer to the pure land of sonic Shambhala and discover your own tonal Ecstasy.
The Next Level? I love the Remote input for activating the Boost/On foot-switch functions from a compatible MIDI effects switcher (using a TRS cable). I keep hearing a version in my head that’s a cross between the Red & Blue pedals. Ecstasy Purple, anyone?
EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run
The EarthQuaker Devices Avalanche Run is a standout digital delay with tap tempo and also features a simple and great sounding reverb built in. It takes the concept of their Dispatch Master delay/reverb to the next level in every possible way. The Avalanche Run is incredibly easy to use while offering plenty of great sounds. And those sounds are gorgeous thanks to EQD’s new high-end DSP template.
The 6 available tap divisions are easily selectable from a dedicated knob as are the different expression pedal options; these are signs that the Avalanche Run is about convenient use for live performance first and foremost. There’s also Normal, Reverse, & Swell modes for a solid selection of ambient focused delay options.
Be sure to try setting the pedal to Reverse mode with an expression pedal set to Toggle between Normal & Reverse. This lets you retain access to the Tap accessed oscillation when pressing and holding the foot-switch. If you’re using Normal or Swell modes with an expression pedal, you can still access the oscillation function; in Reverse mode with no exp pedal, the tap will toggle back to Normal delay mode while the Tap switch is pressed and held. A rad performace delay and arguably the best EarthQuaker Devices pedal to date.
The Next Level? I wish it had “smart relay bypass” and a TRS input for remote tapping and activating/bypassing the pedal from an external switch.
Dwarfcraft Devices Twin Stags & Happiness
The CV pedal takeover continues! The idea of using pedals is a modular approach to creating a single chain. Dwarfcraft Devices’ various CV compatible pedals take this to the next level, letting parameters of these pedals modulating parameters on other pedals. So meta, right?
The Twin Stags is a dual tremolo pedal. Each tremolo has controls for Rate, Shape, & Depth. Rate sets the speed of the trem effect. Shape adjusts the waveform from saw to triangle up to ramp. The Depth adjusts the intensity and further tweaks the feel of the trem in conjuction with the other parameters. (That’s putting it simply.) Things get more interesting when you flip the 2Mod1 switch as this lets the 2nd tremolo’s LFO modulate the 1st tremolo’s LFO for crazy polyrhythmic effects. External CV sources can be patched in to control either or both LFOs, and the LFO’s can output CV to other destinations. Expression Pedals inputs also allow control of either or both LFOs.
The Happiness is a massively powerful filter pedal built on a similar modular framework as the Twin Stags. Its Rate, Shape, & Depth knobs are similar to the Twin Stag’s controls, except in the Happiness the LFO is modulating the filter’s Frequency. The Rez controls the resonance, and you better keep this at noon or below until you’re ready to play with self-oscillation (cut the Master output down first, then crank the Rez and go nuts). The State switch selects High Pass, Low Pass, or Band Pass filtering. The Scramble switch activates a smoothed sample and hold random filtering, the rate of which is set by the Speed knob. You can also input CV to control the Filter or Scramble speed. You can output the LFO as well. And there’s exp pedal control of the LFO or Filter.
Okay, that might seem like a lot to take in unless you’ve already ventured into the land of modular synths. The good news is that this becomes pretty intuitive once you get a basic understanding of what each pedal does. Then just grab a few 1/8” patch cables and start syncing them up. The fun is endless and opens up a whole new world of inventive sound design.
The Next Level? Just give us more CV pedals! These pedals become much more fun when you connect them to other CV compatible pedals.
The aptly named Empress Effects Compressor is the innovative Canadian builder’s excellent take on a stompbox FET guitar compressor. It has incredibly low noise (be sure to mind your Input & Output levels for best results) and an intuitive studio style knob layout with a Ratio switch (2:1, 4:1, & 10:1) and Mix knob for parallel compression blending. The Meter LEDs can monitor the Input, Gain Reduction, or Both at once, which if anything, just looks cool even if you don’t typically monitor the response.
What really sets the Empress Compressor apart is the Sidechain Input, a feature I’d really like to see on more compressors. You can use a TRS cable to send your signal to a filter/EQ and have the pedal only respond to certain frequencies, maybe ducking when too much low-end is present, for example. Also, you can send a kick drum to the compressor for side-chain triggering for that “pumping” effect heard in electronic dance music to make your guitar move and breathe with your tracks. Very cool.
The Next Level? I’d like to see an amazingly clean VCA or FET analog compressor with Sidechain like the Empress Compressor, but with presets. Aside from having multiple compression settings for different instruments and styles of playing, this would be the ultimate compressor for electronic music if it were possible to instantly recall different Attack, Release, & Ratio settings for a different “pumping” feel with various BPMs.
Read the Empress Effects Compressor review.
The secret is out. The Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret is one of the best amp-in-a-box pedals you’ll ever play, particularly if you like Marshall flavors of grit and drive. The default sound is based on the early 70’s Super Lead amps, but you can also coax out some “Plexi” style sounds at lower Pre-Amp levels. The real secret of this pedal is its Super Bass mode, accessible via an internal flip-switch. This reconfigures the sound and tone controls for a deeper, more open sound that’s less compressed. And it begs to be stacked with other dirt and fuzz pedals, fitting considering that Catalinbread refers to this as a “foundation overdrive” pedal. In addition to the Marshall-style tone controls, you’ll find a Presence trimmer inside for tweaking the high-end to suit your rig. A killer pedal all around that never fails to impress.
The Next Level? The DLS is currently in its MKIII iteration, so it could be redesigned again. I’d like to see the Presence trimmer be external. Also, as tough as it may be to implement, the Super Lead/Super Bass switch needs to be outside so that guitarists can more easily explore those great hidden tones.
Read the Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret review.
The Electro Harmonix HOG2 expands the range of tones available from the classic EHX POG2 with a massive 10 voice polyphony. In addition to octaves that span from -2 to +4, you’ll find intervals of +5th, +1 oct & a 5th, and +2 oct & a 3rd. There’s also a wealth of modes including the “Whammy” style Octave Bend, a (whole) Step Bend, Volume, Freeze+Vol, Wah Wah, & Filter. Also, the awesome Freeze+Gliss mode is an expression pedal controllable version of the effect that inspired the standalone EHX Superego guitar synth. (The HOG2 is also the platform from which the B9 Organ Machine, C9 Organ Machine, Key9 Electric Piano Machine, and Mel9 Tape Reply Machine, a Mellotron simulator, are all derived.) The HOG2 also has an awesome resonant low pass Filter and an Envelope section for shaping the Attack & Decay of the upper and lower octave frequencies. There’s even complete MIDI implementation that allows some unbelievably wild control possibilities from external MIDI controllers and DAWs/sequencers like Ableton Live. If you’re going deep with the HOG2, grab the HOG2 Foot Controller for preset selection.
The Next Level? Tracking is excellent, but improvements are always welcome. I wish the awesome MIDI controllable Filter was routable for separate use on the Dry Signal or other audio sources. And is there any way to shrink it while retaining all functionality?
Read the Electro Harmonix HOG2 review.
The Xotic RC Booster was the best clean boost pedal I’d heard. The Xotic RC Booster V2 is even more versatile. It’s impeccably pure and true to your guitar’s tone when engaged. If you need to bring out the upper or lower frequencies of your instrument, simply apply a mild boost of the Treble or Bass, respectively. Or cut them both and raise the Volume a bit more for a mid boost. If you crank the Gain you can get a bit of mild overdrive from the pedal, but even that sounds more uncolored than most so-called transparent overdrive pedals.
Essentially, the V2 is the production version of the limited edition Scott Henderson variations. Hitting the 2nd foot-switch brings in an additional 2nd Gain knob for a bit more grit. Even the original RC Booster still outclasses just about any boost pedal you stack it up against, but the V2 is a most tempting upgrade.
The Next Level? Sounds flawless. The foot-switch spacing might be too close for some guitarists.
Read the Xotic RC Booster review.
Origin Effects Cali76 (series)
The Origin Effects Cali76 changed expectations of modern guitar compressor pedals by delivering a circuit and sound inspired by the iconic Urei 1176 FET rack compressor. While some companies throw around references to the “1176” in hopes of selling their wares, the Cali76 has been expertly derived from the schematic topology of the venerable rack units with painstaking attention to detail by an experienced engineer, Mr. Simon Keats. His long-standing history in guitar compression helped Origin Effects achieve a similarly iconic sound in guitar pedal form.
There have been several versions of the Cali76, including a few limited editions that have unique tonal characteristics. (See our Origin Effects Cali76 & Cali76 Compact & Compact Deluxe review for more.) The Cali76-CD is the ultimate compact version of the pedal, featuring a full parameter set and parallel compression Dry signal knob. Although, don’t discount the Cali76-C as its simpler design somehow produces a higher output level. The bigger TX & TX-L units maintain the larger circuit topology and utilize either Origin Effects’ own Iron-Core transformer or a Lundahl transformer, respectively, and can produce higher-gain transformer saturation if you’d like a little extra character. These pedals are modern masterpieces in guitar pedal design through and through.
The Next Level? I’d be curious to see a mid-sized Cali76 that brings the transformer (and germanium?) options to a smaller compact format.
Read the Origin Effects Cali76-CD & C review.
Chase Bliss Audio shattered the paradigm of analog guitar pedals with the lo-fi Warped Vinyl. Fusing digital control with analog design, this pedal ushered in a bold new perspective in guitar pedal design. Then they took it even further with the Warped Vinyl MKII by adding a Tone knob and lowering the noise, simple design tweaks that make this the ultimate analog chorus pedal. You can still get those dark and murky, lo-fi warped record sounds, or you can brighten up the sound for more conventional chorus and vibrato sounds. The lo-fi noise is still available at the flick of a dip-switch. The Warped Vinyl (and MKII) also introduced guitarists to Chase Bliss Audio’s unique ModuShape modulation waveform interface as well as their trademark Ramping functionality that lets you set parameters to modulate in real-time. No company does analog modulation like Chase Bliss Audio, and the Warped Vinyl MKII is a modern masterpiece in guitar pedal design.
The Next Level? Anyone with me on wanting a stereo version in a slightly wider enclosure to accommodate top-mounted stereo I/O and a Ramp-able Tone control?
There really isn’t any other pedal out there like the Strymon Deco. Yes, some pedals offer some variation of simulated double-tracking using digital delay and modulation, but nothing comes close to the sounds of the Deco.
A range of tape style flanging, chorus, slap-back, and tape echo effects can be achieved by adjusting the spatial timing difference between the Deco’s 2 virtual tape reels. The sounds are beautiful to behold in mono and stereo, and modulating Deck 2 via an expression pedal lets you morph between the different tape effects in realtime.
While traditional in its inspiration and general application usage, the Deco represents the boldest release yet from Strymon and is alone its class as the best guitar pedal to capture the essence, sound, and feel of making music with reel to reel tape decks.
The Next Level? I’d just like to see MIDI functionality and presets. There are simply too many great sounds available in the Deco. It would be fantastic if Strymon made a few hardware/software tweaks to get more out of their compact guitar pedals.
Read the Strymon Deco review.
The EarthQuaker Devices Palisades threw the Tube Screamer from a steep cliff and rebuilt it from the ground up to redefine the definitive rock ‘n roll overdrive pedal. Legendary guitar pedal engineer, Robert Keeley, put it best in saying, “Tube Screamers weren’t punk until the Palisades.”
This monster overdrive pedal has 2 channels, each with their own Gain controls, and a separate foot-switchable Boost section. There’s overall Volume & Tone knobs as well as a unique 5-position Bandwidth control that thickens or thins out the sound and provides unique results depending on how other parameters are set. A 6-position Voice knob lets you choose from No diodes, LED, Mosfet, Asymmetrical Silicon, Symmetrical Silicon, and Schottky Diode clipping for a range of tonal variation that eclipses any TS-808 derived pedal to date. There’s also Normal & Bright modes as well as an optional Buffer. The Palisades could be the only overdrive pedal you need and is one of the best guitar pedals to come from EQD yet.
The Next Level? I like that the Boost applies only when the pedal is activated. Some guitarists would prefer it to be independently switch-able for pushing your amp into overdrive without the TS flavor. An extra flip-switch to give guitarists the choice of operation would be an ideal solution.
Read the EarthQuaker Devices Palisades review.
I love filters – all kinds of filters – from Mu-Tron style envelope filters and the high & low pass filters of a vintage Korg MS-20 to basic wah pedals. Filters offer dynamically expressive ways to alter the tonality of your audio signal, and the WMD Protostar is the most unique and widely applicable filter pedal released.
The Protostar was first unveiled back at Winter NAMM 2015 as the new iteration of the WMD Super Fatman, complete with a modular synthesizer inspired CV patch bay. At Winter NAMM 2016 the Super Fatman got a snazzier inverted paint-scheme and an even cooler interstellar name. After some final tweaking, the Protostar finally reached the hands of guitarists.
This pedal offers a wormhole of options. The 70’s funk auto-wah effects are the most basic and sound killer; the Protostar’s built-in Compression circuit tames resonant peaks for the smoothest textures. The LFO can also modulate the filter from an extremely slow glacial churn to a warp speed pulse that folds time and space into oscillating overtones. 4 filter modes give you high pass, low pass, band pass, and notched filtering. A Send & Return even loop lets you apply another effect to the mix.
The Protostar’s biggest draw is the CV (control voltage) patch bay, and the Protostar takes CV/Exp control into bold new frontiers where no pedal has gone before. You can route the EXP OUT to control LFO Rate, LFO AMT, FREQ, or Feedback (Resonance). Or you can have the envelope (that responds to your pick attack & guitar signal) dynamically control one of those 4 parameters. You can also get crazy and have the Protostar control your other pedals with CV compatible exp pedal inputs. I’ve been a long-time advocate for pedals having expression pedal jacks that are CV compatible, and this pedal is arguably the best reason to have a few extra CV compatible pedals around. Imagine dynamically controlling your phasers, flangers, pitch-shifters, bit-crushers, and other CV compatible pedals. Suddenly, your other pedals have a host of new ways to be played. The other surprises the Protostar has in store are yours to explore.
The Next Level? There are so many crazy sounds in here that you’ll wish for presets.
Keeley Electronics Dark Side & Loomer
Keeley has been on unleashing a slew of great all-in-one “Workstation” pedals, each containing a plethora of fun and inspiring effects. One of the more successful Workstation releases was the Monterey, a classic style fuzz combined with various Jimi Hendrix inspired effects. While that pedal is a great pedal in its own right, Keeley & Co. really outdid themselves with the Dark Side & Loomer, pedals respectively inspired by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd and Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine.
Both the Loomer & Dark Side feature the same Big Muff inspired fuzz section. It’s a seriously killer fuzz that’s even more versatile than Keeley’s Psi Fuzz, one of my personal favorite Muff variations. The Level, Filter, & Fuzz let you dial in the output level, tone, and amout of gain. The fuzz section’s Flat, Full, & Scoop flip-switch lets you dial in the perfect foundation for coloring with the Filter control.
The Dark Side is the more versatile of the two pedals. Its biggest draw (aside from the awesome fuzz) is its multi-head tape delay with 12 selectable tape head configurations for great pattern delay effects. Then there’s selectable modulation variations: Flange/Rotary & Phase/U-Vibe. When the Mod flip-switch is set to either of those 2 options, the Blend knob will select from one of the two Mod choices in either extreme position. What’s extra interesting is that you can set the Blend knob in the middle to blend between the two Mod effects for hybrid modulation sounds.
The Loomer takes that great fuzz foundation and adds a reverb section with 3 unique modes. The Focus option recreates the Soft Focus patch from the Yamaha FX500. It takes a dense reverb and adds two delays (250mS & 380mS) and a 4 voice chorus. Sounds very lush. The Reverse mode gives you a backwards reverb sound in the style of the Yamaha SPX90 & Alesis Midiverb II. In Reverse Mode the Depth knob controls the depth of an envelope controlled trem bar detuning effect. The Tone knob emulates a Fender Jazzmaster’s rhythm pickup tone control. The Hall mode is a hall reverb with ascending shimmer. It’s serene and gorgeous.
The Next Level? Each of these pedals originally shipped with a TRS jack that allows you to patch other effects between the Fuzz & Mod section or route the 2 effects to different areas of your rig. Keeley recently replaced this option with an Order switch (particularly useful on the Loomer for feeding the reverb into the fuzz, shoegaze style). The verdict is out on which option is better. Perhaps we could have them both. ;)
Hologram Electronics Dream Sequence
It feels like I had been waiting forever for a pedal like this to come along. The Hologram Electronics Dream Sequence is a programmable rhythmic octave pedal that allows you to create sequenced octave patterns. You can record and automate knob movements to save as presets or even use a DAW like Ableton Live to control the Dream Sequence in real-time via MIDI. And yes, you can save externally sequenced patterns as presets, too. This pedal unleashes the kind of music making potential that I’ve been dreaming about.
The Dream Sequence’s 5 LED grid provides an indication of the volume levels of the 3 voices (-1 octave, middle octave, & +1 octave), the Tap Tempo rate, and the Hold status for the sample function. This lightshow display gives you an intuitive view of the octave sounds you’ll hear.
Aside from the rhythmic octave effects, you can use the Auxillary Modes to play the octaves as an accompaniment to your dry signal and set the volume manually. Whether you play with the octaves in a traditional manner or create tremolo patterns for the various octaves, all of these sounds can be saved as presets for recalling in the future. You can even save the settings of the digitally controlled analog Drive & Tone parameters.
The Dream Sequence is a new kind of instrument. By combining elements of classic effects like octave synthesis, tremolo, and analog drive with powerful rhythmic programming potential, guitarists who take the plunge into Hologram Electronics’ debut release will discover surreal dreamscapes of melody beauty.
The Next Level? In isolation the octaves sound a bit wobbly. Would love it if they could be even smoother. Not really an issue though when sequencing patterns. Also, top mounted jacks would be nice.
Neunaber Immerse Reverberator
The Neunaber Immerse Reverberator has the most gorgeous sounding reverb algorithms you’ll hear in a compact guitar pedal of this size. Seriously, this pedal sounds amazing and easily rivals the offerings from Eventide, Strymon, & Empress. In fact, Neunaber’s ethereal shimmer effects are the best I’ve heard in any pedal to date.
The Immerse essentially takes the great sounds of the Expanse Series of pedals and makes them easily accessible via an 8-position rotary knob. There’s even reverb+detune and reverb+echo multi-effect modes in addition to the 2 immaculate shimmer modes and equally great spring, plate, hall, and wet modes. Each of these reverb effects stands out, and there isn’t a filler sound in the Immerse.
Functional perks include mono/stereo I/O that can also handle mono to stereo and stereo to mono signals, even allowing use of TRS cabled signals on the input and/or output side. A Kill Dry gives you an all-wet signal for running parallel signal paths. The Trails switch gives you reverb spillover when bypassing the pedal. Also, the Immerse has a smart relay bypass that’ll remember if the pedal active or bypassed when last powered up, using in rigs with effects switchers.
The Next Level? I think we’re all hoping Neunaber releases a reverb pedal with onboard presets and MIDI functionality at some point. Fingers crossed.
The Electro Harmonix Pitch Fork is one of the most versatile and affordable pitch shifter pedals you’ll find. You can either plug in an expression pedal or use the foot-switch in momentary mode for pitch bends up to +/- 3 octaves. There are 11 pitch intervals for transposing or drop tuning. Also interesting is the Dual mode which gives you several presets of dual harmonies selected via the shift knob. The +1/-1 harmony setting also gives you sounds pretty close to EHX’s own Micro POG, although the levels of these 2 voices can only be blended together instead of individually. Still, the POG-like sounds add to the overall utility value of this pedal. Most importantly, it sounds great for the price and is a worthy pitch shifter pedal for budget-minded guitarists. Also, the CV control works incredibly well if any modular synth manglers want to add this to their hybrid pedal/synth rig.
The Next Level? Tracking improvements are always welcome. Knobs for blending Dual voices and adjusting output level could be useful. While using a MIDI to CV converter works well with the Pitch Fork (I tried one), I’d love to see a compact pitch-shifter with MIDI functionality built in.
Read the EHX Pitch Fork review.
A tremolo pedal like the Chase Bliss Audio Gravitas seemed like an obvious offshoot to the successful Warped Vinyl & Wombtone pedals. Chase Bliss Audio already had a great modulation template going, so why not release a tremolo pedal? But what seemed like an add-on pedal to fill the lineup actually turned out to be an amazingly beautiful vintage inspired tremolo pedal.
Gravitas brings all the parameter modulating Ramping, ModuShape waveform editing, tap tempo, presets, MIDI, and more to a compact tremolo. The big surprise of the Gravitas is the beautiful Harmonic mode that applies the LFO to the Tone knob and the Both mode that combines the Harmonic mode with Standard tremolo. The Gravitas became a sleeper hit and is the best and most original analog tremolo pedal I’ve seen since the discontinued LightFoot Labs Goatkeeper GK3.
The Next Level? For smooth, classic tremolo, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Read the Chase Bliss Audio Gravitas review.
Old Blood Noise Endeavors Dark Star V2
Old Blood Noise Endeavors is a perfect example of a pedal company that has an entirely unique vibe that comes through in everything they do. From the art, to the packaging, and the beautiful circuits in between, you can probably tell by a glance if this pedal or this builder might be for you.
The OBNE Dark Star V2 is the second iteration of company’s unique “Pad Reverb” pedal. That effect designation should give you a starting point about what to expect. The Dark Star creates lingering pad-like soundscapes. It’s about moving people and evoking emotions through the mesmerizing journeys this pedal can take you on.
There are 3 effects types onboard – Pitch, Delay, & Crush – that alter the sounds of the Dark Star greatly. Pitch gives you dual pitch-shifted harmonies that span from a -1 to +1 octave range. Crush trades one harmony for a sample rate deduction, bit-crushing control. Delay puts a delay after the reverb that’ll carry your sound to what lies beyond eternity. V2 brings in a soft-touch bypass foot-switch and expression pedal input. An internal switch let’s the exp pedal and momentary foot-switch alter either the Reverb or CTRL 1 parameters.
The Next Level? Just needs smart relay bypass switching. Brilliant otherwise.
Seymour Duncan Palladium Gain Stage
Since Seymour Duncan got back in the pedal game, they’ve been killing it with great pedals like the Vapour Trail Analog Delay, Pickup Booster, & 805 Overdrive. The Palladium Gain Stage is their take on the ultimate amp-style distortion pedal, and man, does it deliver the goods big-time.
The Palladium is all about gain and giving you complete control over defining your perfect distortion sound. It excels at medium to higher gain tones and is one of the best pedals you could use to add an extra crunch or lead channel to your rig. The pedal has a very tight & responsive feel that really lends to the amp-like vibe, and it’s great for both lead and rhythm playing in a variety of styles.
The Palladium rules over lesser amp-in-a-box distortion pedals thanks to its in-depth tone controls that include Presence, Treble, Mid Level & Mid Freq, Bass, and a unique Resonance knob that increases gain in the lower frequencies to emulate the massive thump of playing through a 4×12 cabinet. This versatile EQ section gives the Palladium the ability to cover a wide range of classic to modern rock, prog, & metal guitar sounds. It’s also surely no accident that this pedal can be contoured for any pickup combination considering it’s made by the world’s premier builder of guitar pickups; from single-coils to humbuckers and everything in between, you’ll have no problem pairing this pedal with any distortion hungry guitar.
The 805 Overdrive inspired Boost section (the Palladium’s icing on the cake) lets you add a little extra grit and cut for solos and adds even more versatility to an already great foundation. Also, the pedal’s “smart” true relay bypass switching remembers if the Palladium was engaged or disengaged when last powered, making it a great addition for pro guitarists with effects switchers and/or rack rigs. Now which color combo do you want, matte black & silver or glossy white & dark green?
The Next Level? A built-in gate might help tame this monster when using the more extreme gain sounds.
Source Audio Reflex Universal Expression Controller
There’s no shortage of expression pedals out there. I’ve used plenty and still have several from various builders. But the Source Audio Universal Expression Controller is different and changes the way guitarists control their effects in realtime.
The big draw is the Reflex’s 3 expression outputs. Each of these 3 outputs can be configured for Normal, Reverse, or CV by adjusting a few dip-switches on the bottom of the pedal. You can also program the sweep range and shape of the sweep and save your configurations as presets.
Using a MIDI switcher with MIDI-enabled pedals? A MIDI compatible lets you conveniently change presets. You can also control up to 3 MIDI parameters on your MIDI pedals in realtime. Class compliant USB-MIDI interfacing even lets you take control of your DAW. Time to fire up Ableton Live! There’s even a Sensor Out that interfaces with other Source Audio pedals (Nemesis Delay, anyone?) for control of parameters.
If you need to control more than one pedal via exp pedal, the Source Audio Reflex is the pedal to get. Bottom line: it really is the most advanced expression pedal you’ll find.
Next Level? The Reflex is amazing. The only thing I wish it could do is allow MIDI-to-EXP/CV control, but that might be for another product altogether.
Electro Harmonix Mel9
Electro Harmonix has become the modern leader in compact, affordable polyphonic guitar synthesizers. The huge success and reliable polyphonic tracking of EHX’s POG, POG2, HOG, & HOG2 pedals led to them adapting that platform to create new sounds & textures with the Ravish Sitar, Superego, and more recently, the B9, C9, & Key9 pedals. But their latest offering is the boldest yet, and dare I say, the best of the “9” series pedals so far.
The Electro Harmonix Mel9 Tape Reply Machine produces sounds inspired by the Mellotron, a unique keyboard instrument where each key controls the playback of a single pre-recorded sound from magnetic tape. Think of it as an early example of a sampler. The Mel9 features 9 preset banks of sounds with many classic Mellotron inspired settings including Orchestra, Cello, Strings, & Flute among others. The Mel9 will take your guitar to Strawberry Fields, Kashmir, and the Court of the Crimson King.
While the 9 presets and dedicated Attack & Release are adequate for shaping the Mel9’s tones, more flexibility opens up if you split the signal via the Effect & Dry outputs and process your guitar and the Mel9 voices separately. While additional tone sculpting controls would have been welcome, you can’t argue with how easy it is to get great sounding Mellotron style sounds with this one simple pedal. Maybe consider adding a guitar compressor up front to even out your dynamics for a more consistent volume level. This will give you the smoothest results.
The Next Level? Electro Harmonix has been milking the “9” synth pedal format for a while. While we’re waiting on a MIDI & user preset enabled all-in-one pedal, I’d like to see a “Har9” with harps, harpsichords, and… harmonicas maybe?
The Malekko Scrutator is incredibly innovative for a number of reasons. First, this pedal utilizes Malekko’s new DSP platform which is already leading to other crazy pedals such as their Charlie Foxtrot & Sneak Attack.
In addition to the Scrutator’s awesome sample-rate and bit-reduction effects (aka “Bit-Crushing”), the Scrutator has a 2-pole resonant filter with Bandpass & Lowpass modes. You can essentially use this pedal as a bit-crusher, a filter, or both at once.
Things get even crazier when you add in an expression pedal or control voltage source. You can program the sweep range of the Rate, Filter, Q, & Bit, controlling up to all 4 parameters at once in either direction. This is what really pushes the Scrutator over the top as the ultimate compact bit-crusher/filter pedal.
Rounding it out are a Mix knob for keeping the Nintendo Power’d tones in check and an analog Preamp with level knob & clipping LED to attenuate input gain.
The Next Level? The power jack could be more conveniently located. Also, it would be handy if the relay switching remembered if the pedal was active or bypassed, very useful for effects switchers and MIDI rigs. But wherever Malekko goes with their DSP effects will be worth keeping an eye on.
The EarthQuaker Devices Rainbow Machine is the pedal that established EQD as a builder that embraces the fringes of sonic exploration by jumping into the rabbit hole of mind-melting guitar pedal psychedelia. The Rainbow Machine is a pitch-shifting modulation pedal that hearkens back to some of the crazier sounds I remember from the Boss PS-3.
The Rainbow Machine has controls for Primary & Secondary voices and a master Pitch knob that’ll tune the harmony voicing from a 4th down to a 3rd up. Tracking adjusts the delay time of the harmony, and a Tone knob rolls off high-end to tame the overtones if necessary.
The Rainbow Machine is all about the Magic, activated with a dedicated foot-switch and dialed in via the Magic knob. It essentially takes this pitch oscillating spice trip into even crazier otherworldly dimensions.
The Next Level? If EQD added CV control, it would be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But if they include the relay switching that they’ve rolled out on other recent pedal releases, it’ll be like someone picked all the marshmallows out of my box of Lucky Charms.
The Rivera Sustain Shaman is a pro-grade 2-channel VCA guitar compressor. It has a familiar expanded Ross-style control set but differs from a Ross-style comp in that it’s quieter and more transparent. The Tone & Blend let you set the amount of compression while brightening or darkening the compressed sound as you turn the Tone from a flat response at noon. Attack lets you make room for your pick attack or squash it while Sustain dials in the overall amount of compression.
Aside from the convenience of having 2 channel operation in a guitar compressor pedal, Channel B has an additional Super Sustain switch that takes the sustain over the top for killer “Fernandes Sustainer” or “Sustainiac” types of sounds without the need for a special pickup. For clean tones you’ll want to use this effect with restraint as the noise floor and volume rises (as with any compressor) as you increase “sustain”. But for screaming leads that sustain and feedback with ease, this mode is indispensable. Try using Channel A for a normal compression setting and kicking in Channel B with “Super Sustain” just for certain notes or moments when you need it. Without a doubt the most under-rated and under-appreciated pedal I’ve played.
The Next Level? A jack for switching channels via an external foot-switch could be handy. Also, some guitarists might want a smaller single channel version.
Read the Rivera Sustain Shaman review.
The Death By Audio Apocalypse is a monster fuzz pedal and will likely be a staple on this list and our best fuzz pedals list as long as it’s in production. The Volume & Drive controls are self-explanatory, letting you set output level and gain. The Sweepable Frequency Equalizer knob gives you a super wide range of tonal variation and is musical throughout its range, rare in a single “tone” knob.
The 5-position mode selector is where things get interesting. The “Twin-T Scoup” gives you a heavy fuzz that’s greaty for palm-muting. The “Gainiac/War Fuzz” is a variation of what you’ll hear in the Fuzz War and discontinued Thee Ffuzz Warr Overload pedals. “Dual J-FET/Square Wave” is similar to the previous setting but with dual J-FETs and a clipped waveform for a “balls to the wall” sound according to Death By Audio. The “Octave Rect/Octavious” setting creates monster octave fuzz tones. The “Gain x1000/Wave Form Shifter” setting is an extreme and gnarly sounding fuzz for terrorizing your unsuspecting audience. (Or maybe they know what’s coming?)
The Next Level? Would be nice if it were in a somewhat smaller guitar pedal enclosure. Don’t touch the sounds… unless more modes can be added.
Read the Death By Audio Apocalypse review.
TC Electronic Sub’n’Up Octaver
The TC Electronic Sub’n’Up Octaver is a one of newer entries to make the list, but the incredible tracking stability and sound quality of this pedal earns its inclusion. TC Electronic has included pitch-shifting & octave effects in their flagship Nova System guitar effects processor units, but this is the first time TC Electronic has brought us a compact digital octave pedal. They obviously spent a lot of time ensuring that the Sub’n’Up can handle single notes and chords with ease.
The Sub’n’Up’s Classic mode emulates the tones and feel of classic monophonic sub-octave pedals. The Polyphonic mode is an ultra-modern take that sounds great with just about anything you throw at it. The TonePrint mode gives you a default “guitar organ” sound with modulation out of the box. This mode seems aimed at giving the EHX B9/C9 a run for their money considering this pedal offers a great organ-like sound with the regular octave modes for an incredibly affordable entry fee. Also, with the TC Electronic TonePrint Editor app, you can create a whole suite of amazing sounds with flange, chorus, and other modulation while also completely tweaking the tonality and sound of each octave voicing. This is one of TC Electronic’s most impressive offerings and hopefully a sign of more great things to come.
The Next Level? An “Up 2” voice would be nice even if you could only add it in via the TonePrint Editor. Would like to see an expression pedal input and MIDI with more available TonePrint presets for the Sub’n’Up X2 if TC Electronic should release such a pedal.
The Free The Tone Tri Avatar Multi-Dimensional Chorus is a stereo tri-chorus pedal that recalls the famous Roland Dimension D & Dyno-My-Piano TSC rack units in concept but offers an all-new digital tri-chorus sound. The 3 chorus voicings are staggered 120 degrees (sequentially, not in a circle) and have individual depth controls to create an incredibly lush and vibrant chorusing effect that sounds equally great in mono or stereo. The Tri Avatar also has 4 on-board presets, an expression pedal input, and MIDI functionality for integration with professional grade effects switchers and complex rack rigs. A killer chorus with impeccable design and build quality.
The Next Level? Some guitarists will have wished for vibrato sounds, but digital chorus doesn’t get much better than this.
Read the Free The Tone Tri Avatar review.
Sonic Research Turbo Tuner ST-300
The Sonic Research Turbo Tuner ST-300 & ST-300 Mini are the successors to the company’s successful Turbo Tuner ST-200. The ST-300 pedals feature zero latency true strobe displays driven by your guitar’s analog input signal, not to be confused with the simulated strobe tuning display of other guitar tuners with so-called “strobe” modes. Both pedals feature the same unparalleled ±.02 cent accuracy of the ST-200 and are fully programmable for alternate tunings and temperaments. The pedals feature 6 tuning presets including a default chromatic mode. The reference pitch can be shifted from A=440Hz down to A=300 or up to A=599.9 in .1 Hz increments, letting you create an A=432Hz guitar tuner preset or just about any other elusive tuning.
The noteworthy changes from the ST-200 to these pedals as follows. The ST-300 Mini is smaller and more compact. The bigger ST-300 has optional Pass-through Modes, letting the signal always pass through the pedal; the foot-switch can then be set to either turn the tuner on and off or mute the output. The ST-300 has an extra power output for daisy-chaining other pedals when using an external power supply. Both pedals feature a new relay bypass that fades the signal in and out to prevent clicking, a very handy feature. While I was initially concerned about the pedal defaulting to “bypassed” when powered on via external power supply, you can set both pedals to default to “on” (even though it’s not currently mentioned in the ST-300 Mini’s manual). This is extremely useful in rigs with MIDI effects switchers.
The Next Level? Some will wish the ST-300 Mini had the Pass-through modes of the larger ST-300. But these are arguably the best guitar tuner pedals currently available.
I fell in love with this pedal back at Summer NAMM 2015. Pedals don’t always live up to the hype after NAMM, but I came to view the Orion as something even more special once I has able to spend more time with it. Now don’t assume this pedal is an emulation of the spring reverb found in your Fender Twin Reverb or your favorite old amp-top unit. The Orion is an all-new spring reverb design that should be judged on its own merits.
Spaceman built the Orion first and foremost as a live performance reverb. It’s size is evidence of that as this pedal is much smaller than any clunky amp-top reverb relic. The spring unit inside is also suspended within the pedal so that stage vibrations don’t cause disruption to the smooth ‘verb sounds. (You can give the pedal a kick if you want to get a pan-crash effect. It’s solidly built and can handle some unabusive bumps.) The switching is also very quiet, so activating the pedal doesn’t yield an unpleasant reverb pop.
The controls are practical and essential, with Volume, Blend, Tone, & Dwell fulfilling their self-explanatory functions. The Tone is particularly useful for dialing in dark and brooding reverb tones or very bright reverb. Some settings can be a bit noisy, particularly if you go for those super bright reverb sounds. The noise shouldn’t be an issue in a mix, but guitarists who’ve been spoiled by pristine digital spring reverb emulations might be taken aback by the Orion’s old school analog charm. But those who love real analog spring reverb will surely get what the Orion is all about and love it for what it is.
The Next Level? Any improvements to the noise floor would be appreciated. Top mounted jacks would make it even more pedalboard friendly.
The Keeley Electronics Compressor Pro is the Oklahoma based builder’s flagship compressor pedal. Keeley is one of the definitive names in guitar compressors, and this is the company pulling out all the stops. It’s incredibly transparent (as a good VCA comp should be), and it’s got a range of studio-style controls, including a rarely seen Knee control for a Soft or Hard attack curve. The Auto mode is incredibly useful as this bypasses the Attack & Release knob settings to let the compressor (with true RMS level detection) respond naturally to your input source material, basically giving you a quality compression sound without needing to painstakingly tweak it to dial it in just right.
On a side-note, the Keeley GC-2 Limiting Amplifier is in essence a simplified version of the Compressor Pro. If you need an all-purpose comp, the Compressor Pro may be the best choice, but the preset hard knee and Threshold, Ratio, Gain setup of the GC-2 make it excellent for brick-wall limiting duties in a complex rig with a lot of pedals. It’s great for taming volume spikes anywhere in your signal chain. While I personally favor the GC-2, the Compressor Pro can cover these duties and more, making it a more versatile pedal overall.
The Next Level? Some guitarists may like to see a dedicated Blend control for parallel compression. I’d just like to see a Sidechain Input for letting an external audio source trigger then compression of this excellent pedal.
Read the Keeley Compressor Pro review.
The TWA Great Divide 2.0 is an all-analog monophonic octave synth pedal. It lets you blend 5 voices (including your dry signal). It has a -1 Oct, a Sub that’s tunable from -1 octave to -2.6 octaves, a screaming Octavia style +1 octave, and a Syn voice that gives you various chopped, squared, & modulated tones and is also tunable down to -2.6 octaves. There’s an Envelope switch as well as a slew of internal trimmers for customizing the sound and response of the pedal. While the EarthQuaker Devices Bit Commander is another favorite and a worthy cost-effective alternative, the Great Divide 2.0 surpasses it in its sheer range of sounds and options.
The Next Level? The Great Divide 1.0 prototype had presets but would have been too costly to produce. If a builder could nail sounds & tracking this good in a smaller enclosure with presets, minds would melt & heads would explode.
Read the TWA Great Divide 2.0 review.
The MXR Phase 90, the EHX Small Stone, the Mu-Tron Phasor II & Mu-Tron Bi-Phase – all classic phasers, but the Chase Bliss Audio Wombtone eclipsed everything that came before. The Wombtone MKII sweetened it even more. Starting with a Mu-Trun inspired foundation, the Wombtone takes it to luscious sonic extremes and adds all the signature CBA features like presets, MIDI implementation, Ramping functionality that modulates parameters, and the ModuShape waveform editor. The MKII also adds an extra 2-stage phasing mode to go along with the 4 & 6 stage modes from its predecessor. You can use an expression pedal to control any Ramped parameters or manually sweep the phase or create notched phase effects when no parameters are set to Ramp. This pedal is dripping with mojo. If you want the ultimate analog phaser pedal, nothing comes close to the Wombtone MKII.
The Next Level? It’s hard to imagine improvements here except maybe a stereo version or even more stage options.
Read the Chase Bliss Audio Wombtone MKII review.
The Strymon DIG isn’t to be confused with the great Dual mode from their flagship TimeLine. The DIG features 3 all-new digital delay machines inspired by classic 80’s digital delay rack units. The 24/96 mode comes the closest to the TimeLine’s pristine dual but adds some dynamics processing for a very consistent and smooth sound. The adm mode offers a sound that favors rhythmic playing. 12 bit offers a warmer, more lo-fi digital delay than the other 2 variations. A plethora of tap divisions lets you create ultimate dual delay ambience while tap tempo keeps things in sync. The DIG is yet another fantastic delay pedal from Strymon.
The Next Level? Really wish this one had onboard presets and MIDI. Like with the Strymon Deco, there are just too many great sounds in this pedal.
Read the Strymon DIG review.
Dr. Scientist BitQuest
The Dr. Scientist BitQuest is one of the most fun and uniquely inspiring pedals I’ve ever played. It’s filled with 8 cool effects: flanger, HP/LP filter, bit crusher, infinite reverb, notch filter, ring mod, pitch shifter, and delay. Also, there are two modes of operation – clean & fuzz – making this pedal a killer “fuzz + other effect” in addition to using it to mangle other dirt pedals or whatever else you want to destroy/alter. Between pedals like BitQuest, The Elements, and nanotechnology-infused Heisenberg Molecular Overdrive, Dr. Scientist is one of the more avant-garde and exciting effects pedal builders to keep an eye on.
The Next Level? Maybe a slightly bigger enclosure with more effects (i.e. crazy sounds), stereo, presets if possible, an extra exp jack for manipulating another parameter, and MIDI since we’re dreaming here. That would be the ultimate BitOdyssey.
Fairfield Circuitry Randy’s Revenge
The Fairfield Circuitry Randy’s Revenge is primarily a ring modulator, an effect that creates inharmonic, bell-like, often metallic sounding tones. The Freq knob controls a fast LFO that generates these frequencies. When set to the range of Hi speeds, it generates screaming pitching overtones; when set to low speeds, its sounds range from soothing tremolo to inducing bell-like, resonating frequencies. Square & Sine wave options further adjust the character of these strange tones and when dialing in trem sounds, they’ll give you either a smooth vintage tremolo or hard choppy sound. There’s also a built-in Low Pass Filter which can be used to tame the higher frequency tones or apply a general high frequency roll-off to your sound.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspects of this pedal are its connectivity possibilities. You can use an expression pedal to control the Freq, LPF, or both at once. Furthermore, you can route CV sources to control either or both of these functions and even control the oscillator from the pedal or an external CV source while outputting the VCO to another device. The modular synth pedal takeover continues.
The Next Level? This pedal is already too good the way it is. Maybe a resonance control for the LPF could be interesting.
The Atomic AmpliFire is one of the more surprising pedals I’ve played in the past year or so. I’ve been disappointed by digital amp emulators more times than I can count, but a few companies like Fractal, Kemper, and now Atomic Amps & Studio Devil have defied expectations. Also, while Boss, Line 6, & others have been doing the amp-sim/multi-effect floorboard thing for a while, the reasonably compact Atomic AmpliFire is finally a product that can more easily integrate with the guitar pedals you already have instead of attempting to replace your whole pedalboard.
The AmpliFire has dual ¼ & XLR stereo outs for running directly into a mixer or audio interface. There’s also a mono/stereo effects loop for placing delay, reverb, or modulation pedals between its virtual pre & power amps. And the AmpliFire having its own onboard effects means it can replace redundant pedals on your pedalboard if you need it to. The AmpliFire’s 3 foot-switches are fully programmable and can be used for activating a boost, engaging onboard effects, or even activating the effects loop, among other things. Full MIDI implementation means you can use it from a MIDI compatible effects switcher as well, so you can change AmpliFire’s amps & onboard effects along with external guitar pedals all at once.
AmpliFire originally started with 10 amp models, but Atomic have already been rolling out software updates with more, including an awesome Friedman BE-100 inspired model that’s a great Marshall Plexi alternative. You can mix & match cabs and load 3rd party speaker impulses for more customization. Also, more guitar effects including a quad-tap delay are on the way. Atomic’s commitment to advancing this already great product through continuous software development is what really impressed me and makes the AmpliFire worthy of consideration. It’s become a staple of my grab’n’go gig rig.
The Next Level? Just keep giving us software updates with more amps, more effects, and maybe more options for bank/preset selection from the foot-switches. A larger screen for easier effect editing would be helpful if there’s ever a hardware update.
The Echoplex EP-3 become as highly regarded for its preamp as its delay echo tones after guitarists such as Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, and later Eric Johnson among others took notice of the tone-enhancing effects the Echoplex’s preamp had on their overall sound. The Xotic EP Booster has been the most successful attempt at recapturing the vibe of plugging into an EP-3 for its tonal magic. I’d say there’s arguments to be made for just how accurately it reproduces the sound of a given vintage example of an EP-3, but regardless, modern guitarists have decided by and large that the EP Booster is something special in its own right.
In addition to providing up to 20dB of boost via the single knob, there’s an internal dip-switch for lowering the minimum boost from 3dB down to 0dB if you just want some magic sprinkled on your guitar tone without a signal boost. You can also activate a “Vintage” mode which cuts a little high-end for what some guitarists argue is a more authentic Echoplex preamp style sound. The EP Booster is a definite modern classic guitar pedal.
The Next Level? Come on, Xotic Effects, give us a version with at least the “Vintage” mode accessible via an external flip-switch. That would be worth paying a few extra bucks for.
Read the Xotic EP Booster review.
The Afterneath is one of the best EarthQuaker Devices pedals and one of the most unique reverbs ever devised. The Drag knob controls the spread of a bunch of short delays, creating stuttering, “pingy” effects. Turning this knob while letting notes and chords sustain creates mind-warping sounds that must be experienced to be understood. Well, you still may not fully comprehend what you’re hearing, but few would deny that the sounds of the Afterneath are indeed awesome. You can Diffuse and smear out the tones and Dampen the reverb for darker sounds. Pushing up the Reflect will make it oscillate into an endless expanse of reverb. One of EQD’s crowning achievements so far.
The Next Level? The limitations of the reverb chip used disallows expression pedal Drag control, but if that could somehow happen, more amazingness would ensue.
Read the EarthQuaker Devices Afterneath review.
Morley Steve Vai’s Bad Horsie 2 Contour Wah
It doesn’t get more modern than optical & switchless. If you’ve had an old wah get worn-out pots, this may be the wah for you. If you hate not being sure if you’ve clicked the wah on or off, again, this may be the wah for you. I’ve been a long-time fan of Morley’s wah pedals with the Bad Horsie 2, Mark Tremonti Wah, & Maverick being solid contenders, especially for live performance. I gravitate towards the bigger units for “lively” stage shows although you can get by on the smaller Maverick if you have a cramped board or don’t move much on stage. Between the Tremonti & the Vai, I don’t just recommend the Vai model over the Tremonti because I’m more of a Vai guy; it’s the expanded options that edge the Bad Horsie 2 as the winner in Morley’s lineup.
The default Bad Horsie 2 wah sound is voiced to the maestro, Steve Vai’s tonal preference. If you want to carve out your own sound, the pedal gives you an extra foot-switch that activates the Contour Wah mode with dedicated Contour & Level knobs for dialing in the tone and loudness.
Also, just in case you’re not sold on the whole “Optical Is Better” spiel, and want classic pot-based wah tone, Morley just upgraded their line-up with the M2 pot-based switchless wahs. Will keep you posted if one of them can top the Bad Horsie 2.
The Next Level? The only possible issues would be tone or size related, but Morley has several wahs that sound different and are smaller if your needs call for something else.
Pigtronix Infinity Looper
The Pigtronix Infinity Looper was groundbreaking when it first came on the scene several years ago, and it’s still one of the best looper guitar pedals available. What makes it so enduring? Forget the marketing hype. The bottom line is that the Infinity Looper gives you two sync-able stereo recording loops with no noticeable latency and sounds immaculate thanks to its pristine 24-bit / 48kHz high-definition sound quality. The sound quality alone puts Infinity in a class of its own. You also get the expected Reverse mode and a unique “Stutter” mode for glitchy fun. Varispeed allows you to play back loops in half-time or double-time. You can also store 50 presets (100 Loops!) and export HD audio via USB. I’m a big advocate for MIDI integration, and Pigtronix made great effort to allow complete external MIDI control and MIDI clock syncing with quantizing for using Infinity Looper with a DAW such as Ableton Live. That’s not even scratching the surface. And big props to Pigtronix for consistently improving the Infinity Looper via firmware updates, a testament to their commitment to excellence.
The Next Level? Individual MIDI CC control for Record, Overdub, Play, & Stop functions on both loops that override the “Infinity Rules” would make sequencing via DAW or playing with an external MIDI controller much more intuitive.
The Klon Centaur is a modern legend regardless of the hype or if it suits your particular guitar playing style. Its mild overdrive tones and great clean boosting give the Centaur some very desired sounds in conjunction with the right guitar and amp. The J.Rockett Archer gets pretty darn close to sounding like an actual Klon Centaur. J.Rockett worked with Klon designer, Bill Finnegan, when he was initially setting out to build the Klon KTR Overdrive, the Centaur’s successor. When the partnership ended J.Rockett decided to create what some consider the ultimate “Klone”.
The differences between this unit, the Archer “iKon”, KTR, Wampler Tumnus, an actual Gold or Silver Centaur, and even the EHX Soul Food along with any other reasonably accurate Klone aren’t “apples to oranges” – it’s more like comparing Granny Smith apples to red delicious or Fuji apples. Ultimately, if you’re that sensitive about your tone, you may need to try a few variations of this “iKonic” circuit to pick the one you like best. Either way, it’s hard for most sensible guitarists to argue that the second-hand Centaurs on eBay are worth their inflated prices in comparison to the strikingly similar tones you can achieve for far less with the Archer.
The Archer gets listed here over other Klones for its spec-accurate (and compulsively response measured) circuit, very Klon-ish tones, and its efficient design with top-mounted jacks.
The Next Level? Give us a flip-switch for Silver & Gold “iKon” diodes in a single pedal. While I like the sturdy steel enclosure, a lighter folded aluminum enclosure would be nice for minimizing weight on flight gig boards.
Read the J.Rockett Archer review.
The Wampler Ego Compressor is hands-down the best Ross Compressor/MXR Dyna Comp inspired comp I’ve heard. It wins for 2 reasons. It’s incredibly low-noise, surprising for an OTA style comp. And the Tone knob & Blend help to create a sense of transparency, more so than with most other MXR/Ross style compressors. Wampler recently announced a Mini Ego Compressor that supposedly delivers the same great sounds in a smaller pedal enclosure, but many will still appreciate the greater control of the full-sized Ego along with the space-saving top-mounted jacks on the latest hardware update.
The Next Level? Since the Ego Compressor doesn’t use “smart” true relay bypass, I tend to always grab either the Xotic SP Compressor or equally quiet Free The Tone Silky Comp instead. Really wish Wampler would update their relays to make their pedals more effects switcher friendly.
Read the Wampler Ego Compressor review.
Menatone is one of the more surprisingly obscure boutique pedal builders out there although Mr. Brian Mena has been on the scene for 20 years building point-to-point wired classics such as the Red Snapper, Workingman’s Blue Overdrive, and King of the Britains. Utilizing a new through-hole design to alleviate costs, Menatone’s The King. is arguably the current pinnacle of Brian’s Marshall inspired dirt pedals. (Yes, that’s “The King *period*”)
6 knobs give you a wide range of tonal variation with the Drive & Gain being essential to dialing in cleaner JTM45 inspired clean and bluesy tones to Plexi crunch and more modern high gain sounds. The internal trimmer and Modern/Vintage switch are also essential to tuning this pedal to suit single coils or humbuckers.
The Next Level? It would be handy if the internal controls were accessible without having to open the pedal.
Read The Menatone’s The King. review.
Okay, one more “Klone”. The Electro Harmonix Soul Food is the company’s take on the famous (or infamous) Klon Centaur. While the mega hyped Klon sells for ludicrous amounts on the second-hand eBay market, the Soul Food produces a similar vein of sounds for a tiny fraction of the cost. This budget friendly pedal can be used for overdrive tones or simple clean boosting and even has optional buffering and true bypass modes. A great value and an important reminder that great tones can be found in affordable pedals.
The Next Level? Would love to see a premium “Made in NYC” version that uses boutique grade components while still priced within reason, the fine dining experience if you will. Come on, Mike Matthews, give us a second helping!
Read the EHX Soul Food review.
The Pigtronix Keymaster is a wildcard. It does a lot more than a guitarist may need it to, like impedance matching between all kinds of audio sources and letting you use microphones with guitar pedals. Okay, those things can actually be quite useful. But what’s really unique about this pedal is that it allows you to combine 2 guitar pedals or 2 separate chains of guitar pedals in parallel. This means you can blend 2 different effects on your pedalboard or 2 entirely different pedalboards full of pedals. I once spent an afternoon combining dozens of distortion, overdrive, and fuzz tones into all sorts of interesting hybrid dirt sounds. Imagine running 2 modulation pedals in parallel. Crazy potential here. Hook an expression pedal up to the Keymaster for maximum fun. There’s also a Series mode for letting it act as a simple dual effects loop switcher, but it’s really all about the Parallel mode. In Boost & Out Boost knobs let you adjust levels to compensate for lower volume effects.
The Next Level? It might be neat if the Crossfade knob could be controlled via CV & MIDI.
The Strymon El Capistan is notable for 2 primary reasons, and I’m not talking about the fact that its name is a portmanteau of El Capitan Beach, a Southern California locale, and a “capstan”, an essential component of a tape deck’s transport mechanism. No, ole El Cap has 2 other big things going for it. One, it’s one the best sounding emulations of tape echo you’ll find in a pedal or anywhere else, and two, it has tap tempo. It would be a mistake to understate how these two simple aspects of the El Capistan have changed the way guitarists achieve delay sounds reminiscent of real tape echo. No more cleaning tapes, rollers, spindles, and performing other maintenance to keep your tape echo machine running. Just get an El Capistan, and amaze your fellow guitar playing buddies when you invite them to the studio and do a double-blind test between your classic analog unit and this little pedal. And to be able to get the El Cap’s luscious tape echo repeats perfectly in time with your music via a few simple taps seals its reputation as an essential modern guitar pedal. Leave your real tape echo at home; gig and tour with El Capistan.
The Next Level? While Strymon does allow use of their favorite switch to recall a preset, I’d love to see MIDI integration if there’s ever a hardware update.
Read the Strymon El Capistan review.
Does it get more modern than the Red Panda Particle? Forget about tape echo, bucket brigade chips, and digital delays. The Particle chops your signal into bits and warps your guitar beyond recognition in the most beautiful and dissonant ways imaginable. Sure, it’s digital, so you can get a simple digital delay sound out of this little pedal. There’s also some cool reverse delay sounds in here. (Tip: use an expression pedal to switch between forwards and reverse delays!) But with all the crazy pitch-shifting possibilities and LFO modulated & random settings (in addition to plenty of other modes), the Particle is a must play for guitarists who like to tread new ground. And seriously, hook an expression pedal to this thing or get it into your modular synth rig via control voltage. Every noise making experimental musician needs to experience what this Red Panda Particle can do.
The Next Level? Presets & MIDI. That’s it. Make it happen, Red Panda! Maybe CV inputs for all knobs while we’re getting crazy.
This is the pedal we all wish Electro Harmonix made years ago. Seriously, a whole collection of tones inspired by the Big Muff Pi’s most sought after incarnations, what fuzz loving guitarist wouldn’t want that? Luckily for gearheads, JHS & the wizard behind Cusack Music made this idea a reality.
The JHS Pedals Muffuletta is a veritable history lesson on the EHX Big Muff Pi. It delivers modes based on 5 legendary BMPs: the early Triangle Muff, the ’73 Ram’s Head Muff, the late 70’s “Pi” Muff, the Civil War era Muff, & the Russian Muff. JHS even included their own new take on the Muff circuit. People talk about cloning like it’s a dirty word, and JHS Pedals has a received a lot of criticism over the years for copying circuits. But this is an example of how to do it right. Make something inspired the originals, but present it in an all-new form.
The Next Level? The Muffuletta is great the way it is, but wouldn’t it be weird if EHX released their official take and sold it for 1/3 the price?
There’s no justification for not including the EarthQuaker Devices Bit Commander on this list. It doesn’t matter if we already have the Great Divide 2.0 on here. Every time I hear this pedal, its massive tones and sheer simplicity inspire me. If you ever catch EQD at NAMM, any other convention, or at their HQ in Akron, Ohio, check out one of the display pedalboards. Give this pedal a stomp, and it’ll always grab attention. But put it on your own board, and wield the massive, earthquaking power yourself to wreck havoc upon your band’s own audiences.
While the Bit Commander gives you heavy -1 & -2 octave options, it also has a mean octave up, and the Base tone is squared for a more aggressive sound. A Filter tames it, but you may not want to. And I’ve gotta mention, this is my personal favorite all EarthQuaker Devices pedals.
The Next Level? I dream of a version of this pedal with a CV controllable LPF section.
The Free The Tone Flight Time quickly grabs attention thanks to its Back To The Future “DeLorean” interface. That’s right, no knobs, all buttons. But it’s what’s under the hood that makes the real difference, and the Flight Time gives you some of the most articulate and customizable digital delays you’ll ever hear. Maybe that’s why Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour added 2 of these pedals to his live rig.
Among the noteworthy features are the expected Tap Tempo & plenty of subdivisions. There are also high & low pass filters that let you fully contour the tonality of your delays. Modulation is present with tweak-able Rate & Depth. There’s also an Offset parameter that lets you adjust the fine timing of the delays for a more rushed or laid-back feel. And the Flight Time’s unique BPM Analyzer option will make real-time adjustments to its tempo if your drummer’s groove speeds up or slows down a little. Yes, it surprisingly seems to work pretty well. I’m a big fan of the MIDI implementation and automating the Hold function for stuttering glitch effects. And of course there are 99 preset slots to save & recall your delay sounds. Optional Spillover is savable per preset, too.
The Next Level? Just make it stereo and maybe include some unique panning options.
Read the Free The Tone Flight Time review.
This pedal is a gem. The Xotic SP Compressor is one of the best “always on” compressors you’ll find for adding a little squash and even-ness to your sound. It’s also one of the more minimally colored Ross-style compressors. There’s dip-switches inside for further tweaking the sound and feel of the compression, and the flip-switch on the outside gives you 3 different levels of compression. The value for money is certainly worth mentioning, but I think Xotic could’ve charged at leave $20 more for it, and the SP Compressor would still be a great value.
The Next Level? I’d like to see the flip-switch on the top replaced with a variable mini-knob. Maybe add some premium components to reduce the noise floor even further.
Read the Xotic SP Compressor review.
Source Audio Programmable EQ
The the Reflex Universal Expression Controller, the Source Audio Programmable EQ is a utility pedal, only an EQ is technically an effect and can have considerable influence on your tone and overall sound. It provides easy access to 7 EQ bands including 125Hz, 250Hz, 500Hz, 1K, 2K, 4K, & 8K. An optional extra band for 62Hz give you additional low-end flexibility, particularly useful for bassists.
A big draw is the fact that the Programmable EQ gives you access to 4 presets. This lets you shape your sound around certain songs or different guitars. There’s also a MIDI input for selecting presets via MIDI, activating/bypassing the pedal, or even directly controlling parameters. An Output mini-knob lets you apply additional clean volume boost if necessary. The Programmable EQ could essentially be your ultimately boost pedal for carefully defining the frequencies that interactive your amp when you push it into overdrive.
Also, if Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour added 2 Programmable EQ pedals to this live rig, you know it’s gotta be good.
The Next Level? More presets & more EQ bands!
Black Arts Toneworks Pharaoh Supreme
The original Pharaoh fuzz was a big, wooly, Muffish fuzz pedal with a serious stone rock and doom metal vibe. The Pharaoh Supreme kicked it up a notch with a variable Input control replacing the Pharaoh’s Hi/Lo switch. It also gives you 6 different clipping options, dwarfing the Pharaoh’s 2 options. It’s a big mean fuzz with tonal presence throughout the frequency spectrum. Even if you boost the highs, the Pharaoh Supreme still lets you beef up the low-end. The full mid-range is another hallmark of this pedal. It’s the ultimate version of the signature offering from Black Arts Toneworks, and it’s the kind of modern guitar pedal that offers way more flexibility than your old 2-knob fuzz pedal.
The Next Level? The more I play this pedal, I do find myself wanting even more mid-range control and a way to tighten up the lows even more.
Space – the final frontier in multi-algorithm reverb pedals. The Eventide Space sought to boldly go where no pedal has gone before. While the Eventide H9 includes all of Space’s algorithms (including the new H9 exclusive SpaceTime reverb delay), this pedal still gets special mention because it’s just that good.
After the success of the Eventide TimeFactor, PitchFactor, & ModFactor, reverb was obviously one of the next effects arenas to conquer. But Eventide pushed the boundaries of their “Factor” platform, dropping that word from the name and adding a bigger, easier to navigate digital display. It’s all about the incredibly high-quality sound reverbs, many of which were derived Eventide’s acclaimed rack processors. And there’s one included effect that’s a real standout: BlackHole. This effect puts your guitar (or any source material) in a sonic vacuum and must be heard to be appreciated.
I could argue against the H9, considering it relies heavily on an app for in-depth control. The Space remains crucial due to its intuitive interface and tactile hands-on control on your pedalboard or in the studio. The Space is definitely one of the “big 3” of the best reverb pedals around, and until Eventide releases a BlackHole plugin, some studio engineers will keep one of these pedals on hand for external processing.
The Next Level? Eventide has already gone there in a lot of ways with the H9. I’m imagining a future platform with all the effects of H9 (including Space) and their famous rack units – everything! – with more tactile knob control like the Space.
Electro Harmonix Glove
Builder: Electro Harmonix, Pedal: Glove, Effect Type: Overdrive
It’s no secret that the Electro Harmonix Glove is this builder’s take on the classic Fulltone OCD. But the Glove is half the price and sounds arguably as good, although maybe a little darker or warmer. The Glove overdrive sports a simple 3 knob layout of Gain, Tone, & Vol. The Tone is a high end rolloff. The Gain is versatile enough to allow the Glove to function as a boost when set to minimum. Pushing the Gain higher brings in a mild to medium crunch. Taking it past noon brings is a hot-rodded distortion that instantly adds a second channel to any clean amp.
The Shift switch takes your tone from a flatter sound to having a bit more presence in the mids and upper mids. The Shift also works well for helping maintain brightness with cleaner settings. Be sure to open the pedal and try flipping the Internal Voltage Switch. This bumps up the voltage from 9 to 18 volts (be sure to use only a 9-volt power supply) and gives you a more open, less compressed sound. A lot of versatility for a very reasonable price makes the EHX Glove a worthy consideration for budget minded guitarists.
Next Level? I think guitarists would be willing to pay a little extra for a premium “Made In NYC” version.
Diamond Compressor (Series)
The Diamond Compressor is one of the most noteworthy pedals to come from this Canadian builder. The idea was to make a “channel strip” for a guitar with studio grade optical compression, EQing, and Level adjustment. The original Diamond Compressor was a success and won over the hearts of guitarists. Then they wanted it smaller, so the Diamond Comp Jr was made. It captures a similar sound & feel of the larger version but in a compact pedal with top-mounted jacks. Diamond also once released a Comp SE, a special edition with premium components. The Compressor SL is the production version of that pedal with similar components and the regular wiring of the original Diamond Compressor. Which should you get? Most guitarists like the way the original and JR slightly enhance your guitar sound; I prefer the more transparent sound of the SL. The choice is yours.
The Next Level? The next level is enlightenment. They are already perfect. Well, maybe top-mounted jacks on the bigger units.
Keeley Electronics 30ms Double Tracker
The Keeley Electronics 30ms Double Tracker is an exceptionally special pedal. It’s all about capturing the vibe of classic double-tracking techniques used in the studio and having them on your pedalboard.
The 30ms Double Tracker gives you 3 modes: Dimension, Abbey Mode, & Slapback. Dimension is a chorusing effect with 2 voices that are tuned with the Tuning knob. The Abbey mode adds a modulation that’s inspiring by a tape machine. The Slapback mode extends the Time to 30ms-120ms. In all 3 modes the Reverb knob adds ambience inspired by a 1960’s chamber reverb.
The biggest draw is probably the Double Tracking Pro Mode, accessed via an internal dip-switch. This changes the control layout to give you individual tuning control over the 2 double tracked voices. It sounds good, very good. You can even use a TRS cable on the pedal’s output to achieve lush stereo double-tracking. You’ve gotta play this pedal if you dig gorgeous clean, chorused or double tracked guitar. Definitely a modern classic.
The Next Level? Will let you know if I think of anything. Maybe a second output to make stereo operation a little easier to use.
That concludes our roundup of the Top 75 Best Modern Guitar Pedals currently available. If there are some effects pedals that you think should be included in a future update, please let us know in the comments.