Last Updated Dec-16-2016. After a lot of thinkig, the team behind GuitarFella decided that showing you a list with a flashy title like “the top 10 guitar pedals” will not be enough. The reasons are many. There are just way too many pedals out there and showing you just 10 is not fair.
Table Of Contents
- The Big World Of Must Have and Essential Guitar Effects
- Recommended Reverb Pedals (click for full list)
- The Must Have Delay Pedals (click for full list)
- The Essential Overdrive Effects (click for full list)
- The Best Distortion Pedals (click for full list)
- The Top Rated Chorus Pedals (click for full list)
- The Outstanding Compressor Effects (click for full list)
- The Go-To Wah Pedals (click for full list)
- The Best Looper Pedals (click for full list)
- The Popular Volume Pedals (click for full list)
- The Great Fuzz Effects (click for full list)
- The Best Boost Effects (click for full list)
- The Best Tremolo Pedals (click for full list)
- The Best EQ Pedals (click for full list)
- The Best Noise Gate Pedals (click for full list)
- The Best Vibrato Pedals (click for full list)
- The Best Octave Pedals (click for full list)
- The Best Phaser Effect Pedals (click for full list)
- The Recommended Guitar Pedalboards (click for full list)
- Last Words
The Big World Of Must Have and Essential Guitar Effects
Ten is not enough. If you are not here for the first time and you already checked our article on the top acoustic guitars and the recommended electric guitars you know how we roll.And if we are going to review a lot more than just 10, why not split them into proper categories that will help you choose what is working best for you. As it will take a lot of time to write all these for you, please be easy on us.
It will take time to write and update all of the content at once. Come back regularly and I promise that there will be always something new for you to read, the list with essential guitar effects will be constantly updated. If you are just starting out, we recommend going through some online guitar training before you dive in the guitar pedals world.
So here they are, pick your category and read on:
The Effect:Reverb pedals have remained a staple pick in each guitarist’s arsenal in order to provide that extra sound refinement and enhancement when necessary. It may be tricky, learning to apply the right amount of Reverb, as too little may go unnoticed, and too much may sound silly, yet finding that sweet spot is definitely thrilling and satisfying. Great option for every beginner (or a so called must have guitar pedal) is the Boss FRV-1 63 Fender Reverb Pedal.
The Effect:To this day, there are 3 main delay pedal types coexist, Tape is usually the most expensive and sough-after (especially Vintage releases) type as they provide very natural sound reproduction. Analog were modernized in the 70’s and they worked on electronics, with a minor drawback according to some as they store up to 3 seconds of Delay time. Digital pedals is the type met with most frequency on today’s market, offering longer-than-usual Delay times and pristine sound reproduction, these are usually your best pick. A lot of players know that they want a delay effect but have no idea from where to start, if you are one of them, try the Boss DD-7 Digital Delay Pedal The most basic and often met controls on Delay pedals are Time, Level and Feedback, you’ll sometimes find them labeled differently but with the same function and purpose.
The Effect:These pedals keep the original clarity of your sound intact, depending on how you tune it, you can use a little bit of overdrive, that adds some grit to the signal, with higher tuning you can get relatively more aggressive overdrive sound that’s still tame and if you push your overdrive pedal to the limits you might get a similar sound to that of a distortion pedal’s lower settings. A good overdrive (like the Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer) is an essential solution for those of you wanting sound enhancement with lower interference, while having the option to add some aggression in your sound, but without taking it to extreme degrees.
The Effect:Distortion is one of the most popular and desired guitar pedal effects, especially among rock, hard-rock and metal players, The Kinks, Jimmy Hendrix, Metallica, to name a few. Prior to the introduction of effect pedals on the market, Distortion was mostly achieved by forcing an overwhelming amount of electricity passing through a guitar amp’s valves. Nowadays this is no longer necessary. Arguably one of the most famous and newbie friendly option and at the same time prime example for a distortion pedal is the classic Electro-Harmonix SOULFOOD.
The Effect:Chorus is one of the most recognized pedal effects, dating back from the beginning of the 70’s, and later on popularized in the 80’s, it was the most used effect on guitar pedals back then, and no guitarists dared to step foot on stage without the classic Boss CH-1 Stereo Super Chorus Pedal or MXR Micro-Chorus, to name a few. Originally, Chorus pedals came in Analog form, however today the market is mixed with both Analog and Digital pedals, with the difference between the two being that Analog modifies the signal directly, while Digital takes the original analog sound coming from your guitar, converts and modifies it into digital form, before finally converting it back to analog form prior to its release.
The Effect: Compression rose to fame in the rock and roll era, many famous musicians used (and still do) compressor pedals in order to add distinctive sustain in their performances, attracting the listener’s attention and making them stand out from the diverse instruments playing along. Some of the most famous compression pedals are the “Ross Compression” and the classic “MXR Dyna”, which have been subject to imitations and remakes ever since their original releases. Compression pedals have remained popular to this day, and are considered a must-have in many guitarist’s arsenals.
The Effect: Wah pedals are primarily based on inductors, and later on Fasel inductors – serving as integral parts which play a big role in the outcome of the sound itself. They work on a basic principle, by adjusting a wah pedal’s footswitch your sound frequency’s behavior is modified, resulting in a “wah wah” tone – for further clarification take a listen to “Voodoo Child” by Jimi Hendrix. Naturally, effects may vary slightly or greatly depending on the model in question. Some of the most popular modern wah pedals are Dunlop’s numerous Cry Baby iterations and Vox’ marvelous classic enhanced remakes. The thing that sets wah pedals apart from other types in a unique way, is the fact that they rarely feature any controls, it’s just the footswitch and a dynamic range of impressive funky tones at your disposal.
The Effect: Loop pedals essentially operate as recorders that have the ability to infinitely spin the recorded bits and possibly alternate them in a variety of ways. The main function of any looper is to be able to record a musical part, and then automatically put it on loop until ordered not to do so anymore. Depending on the complexity of the pedal, loopers can offer multiple layers, overdubs, as well as options of recording more than a single instrument. They range from simple single-switch stompboxes all the way to powerhouse loop workstations. Check out our full reviews to see which one is your perfect match. If you are looking for the quick winner, the Boss RC 3 is a great contender.
The Effect: Volume pedals are a simple, yet frequently essential piece of equipment for many musicians out there. This device’s function is quite self-explanatory – it allows the user to control the level of the sound output, allowing them to increase or decrease the volume of the instrument. Additionally, many of these products can also operate as expression pedals, or a control for some of the other effects on your pedalboard. These gizmos are typically known for being strong and sturdy pieces of gear, as they should since they get stomped on quite a lot. If you are looking for a proven solution, go for the Boss FV-500H, if not, check out our Best Volume Pedal reviews to find your perfect match.
The Effect: Fuzz is among the oldest ‘dirt’ effects you could subject your guitar signal to, and one of the most underrated as well. Grandfather of the modern day distortion, fuzz is a much more chaotic type of signal distortion that allows you to retain the raw dynamics of your guitar’s tone.
In other words, it will slather the tone with raw dirt without affecting the core of the signal. A lot of people mistake fuzz pedals for distortions due to their more aggressive nature, but these beasts of old are definitely unique. One of the best examples of what a fuzz box sounds like is the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi – a fuzz pedal whose circuitry gave birth to countless other models.
Boost pedals are essentially an extension of your guitar’s volume knob. Their main purpose is to give you additional gain to work with. This extra gain can be used to accentuate your solo sections, give you more girth in your clean channel, or even push your tubes into a slight overdrive. A great example of a booster pedal is the legendary Electro-Harmonix LPB-1.
One of the most important attributes of boost pedals is their transparency. In other words, they need to able to boost the signal without changing the signal itself. As easy as it sounds, achieving good transparency is pretty hard and not many pedals are capable of doing so. With that said, a good booster pedal is a pretty powerful tool in the right hands.
By all standards, tremolo is one of the oldest, as well one of the simplest effects you can get these days. The whole idea behind a tremolo pedal is to give you that wave type effect by reducing and increasing the volume of your guitar’s original signal. You can adjust the speed of the effect and how deep those dips in volume are going to go.
Some more advanced models, like the Wampler Latitude Tremolo Deluxe, bring a much more complex set of features, which include choosing the waveform and more. Whether you are looking for a good way to spice up your tone without impacting the nature of your signal, or you are just in need of a great vintage style effect, tremolo is the one to go for.
Most guitar players will refuse to put an EQ pedal in the same bag with effects such as overdrive, or any modulation effect for that matter. The truth is that equalizer pedals are more of a tool than an effect. Most modern EQ pedals will either sport a graphical EQ design or a parametric EQ design.
The reason why you would want to have one of these on your pedalboard is simple. An EQ pedal allows you to adjust a variety of frequency bands and shape your tone based on your own requirements. As you evolve your skill and knowledge, you will soon realize that you can’t play without a pedal of this type. When it comes to some notable models, Empress ParaEQ comes to mind as the best choice.
Noise gate pedals are not necessarily a guitar effect in the traditional sense of the term. The whole idea behind these pedals is to nullify the hissing noise that can occur due to an number of factors, including a hot amp, single coils, a chaotic pedalboard and more.
Some of the best pedals in this segment, like the TC Electronic Sentry, will allow you to set both the volume threshold where the noise gate kicks in, and the type of interference you want to filter out. The important thing to remember about noise gate pedals is that they only eliminate hissing when you don’t play. As soon as you do, the pedal disengages and the noise comes back. With that said, noise gate pedals are essential for a good tone.
Vibrato effect, often mistaken for a tremolo, is the type of guitar effect that alters the pitch of your signal. The result is very similar to that which you get when you operate the tremolo bar on your guitar. There are different types of vibratos out there, but the most common division is between analog and digital units. Analog vibratos are known for their clarity and organic feel that comes from analog pitch shifting.
On the other hand, digital vibrato pedals might offer a bit more versatility when it comes to different features. One great model that represents the analog side of the story is the Diamond Vibrato, with it’s carefully crafted circuitry. Vibratos are great in a sense that you can use them successfully with any genre of music.
The octave effect does exactly what its name says. It takes the raw signal from your guitar and adds one or more of its copies which are pitch shifted for an octave up, or down. Some models come with both upper and lower octave available, while others allow you to use as many as three octaves. One of the best examples of this type of pedal is the Electro-Harmonix Pitch Fork.
Octave pedals can be simple, or incredibly complex. The main thing to look for is good tracking. This is the pedal’s ability to create the octave effect as soon as you move from one note to another. This type of effect pedal is not really meant to be used with chords or similar complex forms, although some models meet such applications
Phase shifters, or phasers as they are commonly known, use a form of frequency filter which creates an effect you would get if you moved a speaker around you in a circular motion. You achieve that effect of the sound going far away and then coming back near you.
Phasers like the popular DOD-Phasor 201 are a perfect example of what a solid phaser pedal should sound like. Modern designs allow you to control many aspects of this effect, which makes them pretty versatile and suitable for most genres of music. Guitar players like Van Halen heavily rely on phasers to build their foundation, while some have even become famous due to their use of phasers. Phase shifters are generally very flexible and are among the most utilized modulation effects today.
Pedalboards are not guitar effects, but are an essential piece of equipment for every musician utilizing more than 2 or three pedals. Essentially, a pedalboard is a casing for guitar pedals, specially crafted to house a number of effects – typically ranging from 4 to 12. In some cases, boards come as just casings and it’s up to the player to sort out the electronic department and powers supply; in other cases, all the electronics are included in the mix and even cables are included. So in a nutshell, boards make your pedal use far more convenient and practical. In our opinion, they are an absolute must-have for any player who has more than two effects in use. For a first pedalboard I would recommend the Donner DB-2 as a great option.
I know that you are used to seeing things like “the number 1, the number 2” etc. When it comes to stomp boxes I believe that I do not have to be that strict. If I am recommending 8 different pedals to you, then there is no 1st and 8th position. All of the pedals that we will review are worth checking out. If it is bad, we will just skip it. Never forget that you can combine your pedal with a good guitar amp with some built-in effects. Also if you do not see a specific model or brand, it does not necessarily mean it is bad, the market is just huge and very competitive, updating will take time!