Building your own guitar effects chain is one of the most adventurous and enjoyable journeys in any guitarist’s musical story. Pedals can be a great tool in your pursuit of the perfect guitar tone. They can also afford you the means to make your guitar sound very much unlike itself. Finding the right pedals for your chains can help to define your style as a guitarist, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to break the bank to do so. In today’s article, we’ve created a list of the fundamental pedals most guitarists look for when building their pedal chains. Each section has a budget-friendly option and options for those looking to splash some savings on more extravagant units.
Best Compression Pedals
Budget Buy – MXR Dyna-Comp
There is a healthy range of compression pedals to help you tweak the shaping of your overall signal chain. While the MXR Dyna- Comp only comes with two essential dials, it has a deceptively high rate of dynamic control when set at the optimum parameters. The primary dial on the Dyna-Comp adjusts the sensitivity levels of the effect, which means you can essentially set the volume threshold of when the compression is engaged. A second dial allows toggles the pedal’s overall output level, which is handy when you don’t want to over-compress your signal to achieve optimum volume.
Top Shelf – Wampler Ego V2
Wampler’s Ego V2 is a deceptively powerful effects unit that gives users meticulous control over their compression parameters. The pedal creates a compression similar to that of vintage devices used in older guitar amps. Guitarists can alter the attack and sustain parameters of the pedal, giving you extra dynamic control on how the signal is sculpted. There’s a blend knob that lets you mix your pedal’s dry signal with your compressed one for a more even overall signal. There’s also an additional tone dial that allows you to precisely EQ your compression. The more accurately you calibrate your compression, the more sound-shaping options you’ll have later on in your signal chain, and the Wampler Ego V2 more than delivers on versatility and reliability.
Best Distortion Pedals
Budget Buy – Boss DS-1
The Boss DS-1 is the perfect entry-level distortion pedal for most music styles. The pedal has been used by a long list of amazing songwriters like Kurt Cobain, Billy Corgan, and Kevin Parker. The pedal features three dials that cover, adjust the gain amount, pedal tone, and overall level volume output of the pedal. The gain settings on this pedal are focused around the mid to high-end frequencies to ensure that the tone cuts through a mix when the pedal is turned on. These three parameters are all one needs for a basic distortion unit, as the effect in itself is quite straightforward. The DS-1 is built using a very hardy stomp casing so that even the heaviest foot can bash away at it during sets or recordings.
Top Shelf – Bogner Ecstasy Red
Bogner is a boutique pedal company that specializes in unique and limited edition stompbox units. The brand’s Ecstasy Red pedal features a generous range of distortion options and modes to give help widen your tonal spectrum. The pedal comes with a three-band eq that allows you to enhance or dull out specific areas of your guitar’s distortion. There’s a Variac switch that applies dynamic compression to your overall signal, as well as three Structure patches to let you toggle the pedal’s gain characteristics. Distortion pedals don’t generally have to be this intricate, but if you’re using this pedal without any modulation effects, it can be very handy for diversifying your sound throughout performances. The Bogner Ecstasy Red would fit in very well with heavier rock music styles such as punk, grunge, or metal.
Best Chorus Pedals
Budget Buy – Mooer Ensemble King
Modulation pedals are the more colorful tools in the chains of guitarists. These pedals allow you to warp your signal to obtuse and even unrecognizable levels. A popular effects unit amongst guitarists is chorus units, and the Mooer Ensemble gives you a simple but highly effective chorus for subtle or intense tonal modulation. A single dial on the pedal can be toggled to adjust your chorus’s depth, rate, or overall level. Thi chorus pedal adds a lushness when used minimally in softer styles of music like dream pop or jazz. The pedal also works well alongside other modulation effects and won’t overwhelm other pedals in your signal chain. Guitarists who like to test their devices’ limits should find the Ensemble King to be an entertaining effects unit.
Top Shelf – Chase Bliss Warped Vinyl Hi-Fi
Even though this pedal comes with a slightly heftier price tag, it gives guitarists a near dizzying range of tone modulating options. The Chase Bliss pedal is more than just a standard chorus
pedal and features a series of extra effects and controls to give you impressively in-depth control of your chorus capabilities. Users can select between 2 sets of 3 primary waveshaping LFO’s, each with a progressively sharper and more distinct chorus effect. A ramp dial acts as a tone knob to let you place more bias on the higher or lower frequencies in your signal chain. The lag dial determines how quickly your chorus is activated after it receives a signal. The pedal also comes with a tap dial setting and can be linked into a mid device so that your chorus is always click-tight. If you’re looking for a single modulation effects unit to add to your pedal chain, the Chase Bliss chorus should be high up on your wishlist.
Best Delay Pedals
Budget Buy – Donner Yellow Fall
The quaint and bright yellow Donner delay pedal seems quite unassuming at first sight and touch, but it may be the best delay pedal in its price bracket. Users have a single distinct delay type to work with and can increase or decrease the depth, mix, and feedback parameters of this delay pedal. There is up to 620ms of delay at your disposal, which is more than enough range to create distinct echoey tones. If you’re a guitarist looking for a simple and easy-to-use delay unit at budget prices, the Donner Yellow Fall is highly unlikely to disappoint you.
Top Shelf – Strymon Timeline
The Strymon Timeline is one of the more sought-after delay pedals amongst experienced guitarists and gearheads. The pedal has a highly fluid and ergonomic interface that gives you quick access to a superb selection of 12 delay types and several modulation options. The Timeline also acts as a looper and can store rewritable patches that you can switch between during performances. The delay units built into the pedal are based on unique and revered vintage delay units, and every delay type has its own unique set of tonal characteristics. The Strymon also features a tap-tempo function to ensure that your effect always stays in time with your performances.
Best Reverb Pedals
Budget Buy – VSN Ocean Reverb
As the name suggests, the Ocean Verb is ideal for giving your guitar a deep aquatic effect to make it sound massive. The single stompbox unit features three reverb modes – a bright spring verb, a natural room sound, and a hypnotic shimmer mode for a more modular reverb. The pedal works with a true signal bypass meaning your guitar won’t sound drowned out when you apply some reverb to it. Added to the primary features are a tone knob and mix knob to help you set the right output levels for your verb and dry guitar signal. The Ocean Reverb is one of VSN’s top sellers are perfect for any guitarist looking to add a small but diverse effect unit into their pedal chain.
Top Shelf – Death by Audio Reverberation Machine
Don’t let the ominous name of this ridiculous effects unit fool you; this reverb pedal brings tons of life into your signal chain. There aren’t many pedals that we can compare this unit to, and a lot of special attention has gone into crafting a stompbox unit that is truly one of a kind. There are two reverb modes on this pedal, each with its own lush set of reverb building properties. The ‘Cavernous’ mode generates a deep and dark hall-type reverb that makes the guitar sound like it’s at the back of a cave. The other mode is a bright shimmery mode that is more like a bright plate or spring verb. The overall signal processing is majestic, and guitarists will have a hard time finding a pedal that can compete with the richness that the Death reverb unit generates.
The above-listed pedals are but a drop in the ocean of options available to guitarists today. As discussed earlier, the best part of hunting for new pedals is discovering new sounds and tonal options – and the list of sonic options available is truly endless. The more time and research you put into building your pedalboard, the closer you get to creating a sonic pallet that is authentic and true to you. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article as much as we did make it. Until the next one, happy hunting!.