Welcome to our Top 8 Best Guitar Synth Pedals of 2015 – Buyer’s Guide!
In our ongoing quest to find the very best guitar effects pedals available today, we’ve decided to delve into the obscure market of guitar synthesizer pedals. In the tradition of our Best Fuzz Pedals & Delay Pedals articles, we’re going to help you decide which guitar synth pedal is right for you.
The very purpose of guitar effects pedals is to alter your sound in some way beyond the sound of simply plugging your guitar directly into an amplifier. While standard effects such as fuzz, delay, and modulation offer plenty of inspiration to guitar players, some guitarists seek far and wide for unconventional tones that will take their music to the next level. Guitar synthesizers offer some of the most extreme ways to manipulate your sound, creating entirely new sounds and timbres that will defy what you and your audience previously thought a guitar was capable of.
While guitar synth technology has been around for decades in some form or another, many advancements have been made in recent years that will allow you to achieve consistently great monophonic and polyphonic(!!!) guitar synth sounds from a standard guitar pickup.
A note on guitar synthesizers that require special pickups:
If you’ve ever plunked down your hard-earned money on one of those expensive guitar synthesizers only to spend countless hours struggling with a special pickup setup that never seems to track properly (and with unacceptable latency), you’ll be doing yourself a big favor by revisiting guitar synthesis with one of the synth pedals on this list.
While guitar synthesizers that need special pickups do offer some interesting sounds, the fickleness of randomly triggered notes often outweighs the overall usefulness of such systems, limiting them to a mere studio novelty. This list focuses on modern guitar synth pedals that track standard guitar pickup signals. But with that being said, I do look forward to the day when a guitar synthesizer and hexaphonic/divided pickup system is released that’s worthy of being included among the best guitar synth pedals available.
Electro Harmonix is currently leading the movement in digital polyphonic guitar synthesis with several pedals that can achieve great synthesized tones from a guitar equipped with standard single-coil and humbucking pickups. Several other builders are also creating some amazing monophonic analog guitar synth pedals that are certainly among the best of the best. These noteworthy companies include EarthQuaker Devices, Red Witch, Totally Wycked Audio, and Pigtronix.
I’d be proud to have any of these fine pedals on my pedalboard as they are truly the best guitar synth pedals on the market today. If you’re ready to take your music into new sonic territories, one (or more!) of these guitar synthesizers is probably right for you.
Without further ado, here’s our Top 8 Best Guitar Synth Pedals of 2015 – Buyer’s Guide!
I’ve made several references on Best Guitar Effects to a pedal I love from EHX called the POG2 (Polyphonic Octave Generator), the successor to the classic POG. The Electro Harmonix HOG2 takes this concept of polyphonic octaves & harmonic synthesis to mesmerizing new frontiers. With an octave range spanning -2 to +4 octaves (-3 to +5 octaves with the Octave Bend Exp. Mode!) and 10 total voices that can be used in any combination, the HOG2 is the premier guitar octave pedal. An Envelope & Filter section let you tweak the tone, attack, and decay of the effects. A big draw of electronic musicians and adventurous guitarists is the complete MIDI implementation across all of the HOG2’s parameters and functions. This is one guitar synth pedal has the potential to take your guitar to otherworldly places and could help create some iconic tones in the hands of the right guitarist. Plug into a HOG2 and discover its sonic potential for yourself!
When it comes to monophonic analog synth octave guitar pedals, the TWA Great Divide 2.0 is quite possibly the most ambitious undertaking you’ll ever find. This pedal is a monster, giving you control of 5 independent voices for shaping massive synth sounds from every single note you play. The -1 OCT and SUB tones are huge, bringing some earthshaking low-end to your rig. The SYN voice, with 4 unique sound options, must be heard to be believed. A +1 OCT voice adds some fuzzy octave up grit. Add a fuzz or distortion pedal to the Great Divide 2.0’s TRS effects loop (like I did in the review demo video!), and this synth monster gets even more vicious. Extra special kudos to TWA for putting so much passion into this pedal and bringing it to market. P.S. Bass players will find plenty to love here as well. Yes, your new octave bass synth pedal has arrived!
More info: www.GodLyke.com/GreatDivide2.0 &
Yes, you’re going to be seeing a lot of EHX on this list. The Electro Harmonix B9 Organ Machine is the most authentic sounding organ emulating effects pedal around. And – get this – it supports full polyphonic guitar input from a standard guitar and pickup. All your jazzy chord inversions are begging to be fed into this magical little stompbox. 9 convenient settings let you dial in the perfect organ tone with ease, and dedicated controls for the modulation and percussive “click” attack make this the best one-pedal solution to adding organ tones to your repertoire. EHX is really doing something special with the B9 and Ravish Sitar (see below), and something tells me that these won’t be the last unique instrument emulating synth pedals that Electro Harmonix releases.
More info: www.EHX.com/B9 &
The EarthQuaker Devices Bit Commander is really a special little synth pedal for a few reasons. It’s a 4 voice monophonic analog octave synth pedal, and it just so happens to sound incredibly awesome. Huge, beefy synth octave tones are to be found within this EarthQuaking Device! The Base tone is a squared, somewhat distorted version of your dry signal, there’s a super sweet transistor-based Up 1 (+1 octave) tone, and you get all analog Down 1 (-1 octave) and Sub (-2 octaves) voices. Jamie Stillman at EarthQuaker Devices stumbled into the creation of the Bit Commander while working on the Organizer, a happy accident that resulted in what is one of the best EarthQuaker Devices pedals and my personal favorite EQD pedal. (The Rainbow Machine is a close second though!) The Bit Commander also happens to be the most affordable pedal on this list for guitarists on a budget. The smaller pedal enclosure compared to larger guitar synth pedals is a bonus, too!
More info: www.EarthQuakerDevices.com/BitCommander &
The Red Witch Synthotron is perhaps the quirkiest little guitar synth on this list. It has 2 separate synth channels, one for a +1 or +2 octaves voice and one for a -1 or -2 octaves voice. You can adjust the decay of each voice and add tremolo to the synth tones. There’s also a Filter with its own dedicated foot-switch and a sample & hold function. The sounds of this pedal capture that 8-bit video game synth vibe, perfect if you dig chip-tune music or retro synth sounds in general. It’s also surprisingly compact for a pedal that packs in so many adjustable parameters.
More info: www.RedWitchPedals.com/Synthotron &
The Electro Harmonix Ravish Sitar is really a one-of-a-kind pedal. For anyone who’s ever been fascinated by the sitar, Indian music, or if you just want to add some unique textures to your setup, the Ravish Sitar delivers. Just as Ravi Shankar inspired George Harrison, the Ravish Sitar (notice the name reference) will inspire you! You can also change the tuning of the resonant sympathetic strings and program in up to 17 notes (including microtones!) with your guitar. A second foot-switch also gives you access to 10 presets, so you can save all the cool sounds you create for instant live recall. With EHX dominating the market with polyphonic synth pedals such as the Ravish Sitar and B9 Organ Machine, who knows what they’ll cook up next!
More info: www.EHX.com/RavishSitar &
The Pigtronix Mothership Analog Guitar Synthesizer is a monophonic guitar synth with individually selectable VCO (with triangle & square wave options), Sub Octave, and Ring Mod voices. These may be blended to taste with the dry signal for 4 note polyphony. Fine-tuning the VCO and Ring Mod voices lets the Mothership pull off some cool synth chord sounds from single notes. Tracking is super fast and responsive. There’s even an adjustable Glide knob for soaring glissando note transitions and 100% analog synth “whammy” effects when using an expression pedal! The Pigtronix Mothership has been around for a few years but is still one of the most ambitious and inspiring guitar synth pedals around.
More info: www.Pigtronix.com/Mothership &
The Electro Harmonix Superego Synth Engine combines granular synthesis, sampling, and infinite sustain to create another original gem of a guitar synth like no other. The Superego essentially samples what you play into it and creates a texture to play over or combine with additional layers. There are also glissando effects (similar to the HOG2’s Freeze+Gliss mode) that let you morph notes and chords from one to another. The Superego even lets you plug additional pedals into its dedicated Send/Return effects loop to add further complexity to the sounds produced. The Superego also works well with distortion and generating fuzzy textures. The Superego is a pretty unique concept synth pedal that adds a vast amount of possibilities to the creative guitarist’s bag of tricks.
More info: www.EHX.com/Superego &
That concludes our Top 8 Best Guitar Synth Pedals of 2015 – Buyer’s Guide!
Best of luck with your search for the best guitar synth pedal to take your music to interesting new places!
What’s your favorite guitar synthesizer or synth pedal?
Tell us about your top guitar synth in the comments!
January 19, 2016 at 11:40 am
Digitech synth wah
All day long
Great synth sounds and an auto wah in one board friendly sized box.
May 30, 2015 at 6:53 am
Wow there are some amazing sounds there very helpful reviews
January 11, 2015 at 8:48 pm
Your descriptions of these pedals do not address the very real need of being able to use a guitar to record MIDI notes into a sequencer. I have been seeking a guitar synth for this very purpose for quite awhile and do not know which way to turn. It was my intent to buy a segmented pickup style guitar synth, but here in your article you are saying ‘don’t waste your money!’ So what gives?
December 3, 2014 at 4:30 am
The reviewer is a bit out of touch, I would have agreed a few years ago.
I’ve used Guitar synths for over 25 years and the Roland GR55, does track and track well.
and setting up the pickup 15 mins no probs.
February 6, 2015 at 3:39 am
I agree, Bob. I think that these particular pedals employ a completely different technology ie signal processing, in relation to midi triggering used Roland system. That said, the guitar modeling used by Roland does use string processing.
January 8, 2018 at 1:45 pm
Factually wrong. All Roland models use digital signal processing (DSP). DSP is pretty ubiquitous these days. It does not provide any distinction whatsoever. GK-3 pickups divide the pickup so that each string can be digitally processed separately. This is not MIDI and has nothing to do with MIDI. MIDI conversion takes place elsewhere within the GR 55.
June 7, 2016 at 1:55 pm
Agreed 100%. This isn’t 1992 guitar synth any more.
I’ve got GK3s on a Classic Player Jag HH (traditional trem+TOM) and a stock, boring ol’ Squier Bass VI.
The VI was quite a bit harder to set up – the Jag took longer to replace the strings than configure the GR55.
Both track stupid well, sound good, and do *far* more than anything on this list, both in standard traditional “look, it’s a recognizable instrument” and weirdo synth central.
Yea, it’s more expensive, but tracks better than the EHX stuff by a mile and does more than pre-canned sounds.
November 25, 2014 at 5:34 am
Looks like you missed out on the Snazzy FX Mini-Ark, the ultimate synth pedal!!