We are going to check out the best guitar pedals today. It doesn’t matter when they were made, or who they were made by. These are the most widely used, best-sounding, and most popular pedals to date! Let’s take a deep dive into the essentials every guitarist should have!
- Best Distortion/Overdrive
- Best Fuzz Pedals
- Best Chorus Pedals
- Best Delay/Echo Pedals
- Best Reverb Pedals
The Best Guitar Pedals: There’s A Long History!
Guitar pedals. Just about every guitarist at one point is totally obsessed with their tone. Most people really want to craft a unique tone that is all their own. Different pedal combos can make your sound unlike anyone else. And that’s part of the point of playing guitar, finding your own unique voice.
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But when it comes to guitar pedals, there are so many out there these days that it can get overwhelming. As you know, we like to cater to the beginners here at EJ, and give you some advice that the other guitar sites might not mention. So today we are looking at the best guitar pedals, for all kinds of applications. For the newbies, AND for the pros.
As usual, we are only writing about gear that we have specific experience with. It’s hard to talk in length about a product you have never used!
We will also be reaching out to reddit, to see what some of your favorite pedals are! We will update this article as we gain more favorites!
Some of these pedals may be newer, and some may be classic pedals. But they will have something in common…these “best guitar pedals” are tried, true, and tested to be versatile. Not only are they versatile, but they are great for any level of guitarist when it comes to experience. We will be checking out a few favorites from each category/style of the best guitar pedals:
Every type of pedal has a purpose and application. How you choose to use them is what makes all the difference. However we tried to pick only the ones that provide great tone with minimal amounts of tweaking. So let’s check out the best guitar pedals of all time and do a deep dive into why each one is amazing!
The Best Guitar Pedals: Distortion
Distortion is exactly what it sounds like. It distorts your guitar signal to sound like an overloaded amp. Distortion often gets lumped in with fuzz and other effects, but make no mistake, distortion is it’s own thing.
Most modern amps have a distortion channel that people prefer. So where do distortion pedals fit in?
Distortion can be very versatile. It can be used alone on the clean channel of an amp or it can blended with the amp’s distortion to make your tone different. It can also be used to boost your lead tones, or boost your distortion sound for particular parts of a song. But how you use it is totally up to you! Let’s take a look at the best guitar pedals for distortion effects.
The BOSS DS-1 Distortion is legendary. We have talked about it before, when discussing the best distortion pedals for beginners. The orange BOSS DS-1 was first introduced in 1978, and it has seen many pedalboards of the most famous guitarists. The DS-1 is so popular because it has a very versatile and distinct tone that blends well with other types of distortions.
But even if you are not blending the BOSS DS-1 with another type of distortion, it gets the job done all by itself. You have probably heard it at countless concerts before. Not to mention it has been used in almost every recording studio on the planet! This makes the BOSS DS-1 one of the best guitar pedals ever made. From BOSS Official:
“The DS-1 is the top-selling BOSS compact pedal ever, and its original, unchanged design continues to inspire the creation of great music everywhere. The classic DS-1 tone is behind the signature sounds of numerous rock legends, and is ready to fuel your own signature sound today.“
The MXR Super Badass Distortion is another that we have talked about before. MXR basically took their famous distortion pedal to the next level with the Super Badass Distortion. MXR took their original design, and changed the circuitry around to give the pedal more headroom for EQ.
This gives you TONS of control of the sound of your distortion. While many distortion pedals are great for blending with amplifier distortion, the MXR Super Badass is more geared towards being a singular solution for all your distortion needs. You can achieve a lot of tones with this little guy. I used it through the clean channel of my amp for a while, to great results.
The EQ allows you to dial in anything from modern “Djent” tones, to scooped mids like Pantera. The sky is the limit for versatility with this MXR beast. If BOSS isn’t really your thing, then MXR definitely is a contender for being one of the best guitar pedals on the market for distortion.
The Best Guitar Pedals: Overdrives
Overdrives are often mistaken for “distortion pedals”“. They are…in a sense. While distortion pedals make you sound like you are completely maxing out an amplifier, an overdrive is much more subtle. It still distorts the sound, and makes it distorted. But the sound is more organic, and works better as a “booster” for distortion.
With a tube amp, overdrive pushes the signal harder, and makes the amp distort. Hence the name, “overdrive”. So let’s take a look at the best guitar pedals for overdrive.
The Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer is the most famous of all overdrives, and is still constantly used today! The Tube Screamer not only boosts the signal of your guitar, but it also acts as a “mid-boost” to make your distorted tones clearer.
Many modern metal musicians use the Tube Screamer today in front of their amp, to boost the natural amp distortion sound and get a “tighter” response from their palm mutes. This is especially prevalent in progressive Metal music. The mid-boost is what kicks the distortion sound to the next level. Put a Tubes Screamer in front of a great high gain amp, and you get some tight distortion!
The Ibanez Tube Screamer was one of the best guitar pedals out there, 35 years ago. It remains that way today!
Fulltone OCD Overdrive
Like the Ibanez Tube Screamer, the Fulltone OCD Overdrive pedal is a more modern version of a classic. The Fulltone “Obsessive Compulsive Drive V2” (OCD V2) replicates the dynamics and harmonics of a fully-wound tube amplifier with its typical output stage distortion, which makes it perfect for boosting your amp sound!
It also boosts the mid frequencies really well, but the OCD comes with a twist. There is a low pass/high pass switch that allows you to control exactly where the mids sit in the signal. This gives you a little more control than the Tube Screamer supplies. personally I like the Fulltone OCD because I can boost the mids in the bass frequency on my 7 string guitars.
BOSS Blues Driver Overdrive
The Boss Blues Driver is a more “standard” overdrive pedal. What I mean by this is that it doesn’t work great as a boost for your amp’s distortion. But it does work great as a stand-alone pedal and is one of the best guitar pedals in the world to get a solid “crunch” tone.
The Blues Driver gives you a great tube breakup sound that sounds very natural. I usually call this type of tone the “AC/DC tone” because it makes that sound almost exactly. It sounds a lot like a cranked up low-wattage style of amp. The breakup/distortion does not sound fizzy or fake. The Blues Driver is still one of the best selling pedals on the market for this reason.
The Best Guitar Pedals: Fuzz
Fuzz is often confused with distortion and overdrive, as it is a type of distortion. But fuzz is nastier and meaner than your normal distortion sounds. This is because of the way fuzz clips the signal of your guitar. Stay with me on this, we are getting a little technical!
Think of your guitar signal as a shape. It can be a straight line, or it can be wavy or a square. This all depends on how you manipulate the sound! Fuzz pedals distort the “shape” of your guitar signal much differently than other types of distortion. It effects the high end and the mids in a much different fashion. It changes the “shape” of your distortion, in a unique way.
This separates fuzz from a regular distorted sound. Fuzz is noisier, and uglier than your normal distortion tones. Changing the “shape” of your guitar signal lends fuzz to cause some serious sustain during leads
Fuzz is the essential sound of Doom Metal, and has ben for decades! All the way back to the beginning, fuzz has been an essential component of Doom. Outside of the Doom Metal genre, fuzz pedals are also used in alternative Rock, and even some Blues Rock!
Let’s start with an absolute classic!
Dallas Arbiter FUZZ-FACE
The Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face is one of the most popular fuzz pedals on the market, and is one of the best guitar pedals of all time. It was popularized in the late 60’s by people like Jimi Hendrix and it continues to be used by pro guitarists all over the world.
The Fuzz Face is still made today with the same germanium transistors that made it famous in the first place, and the unique character of the Fuzz Face makes it perfect for several applications. Most people use it in front of the amp, and blend it with an overdriven amp to boost the distortion sound.
Although if you are looking for a mild fuzz sound, the Fuzz Face works great all by itself with the clean tone of your amp. The versatility of this pedal is undeniable, and vintage ones are still highly sought-after today.
BOSS Tone Bender Fuzz
The BOSS Tone Bender has a long history that we have already discussed before. This is one of the best guitar pedals ever made, and it goes way back in time to the 1950’s. BOSS recreated the original Tone Bender just this year and have built it to similar specs from the original pedal. When recreating one of the best guitar pedals of all time, BOSS collaborated with the original designers!
This is one of those pedals that sound amazing mixed with another type of fuzz or distortion. It almost acts like an overdrive pedal the way it boosts the signal of your guitar. That being said, it also sounds amazing all by itself!
Because of Covid-19, there have been delays this year in production and BOSS has yet to let these out to retailers. But I am sure they will be available to buy soon, as the world catches up.
Electro Harmonix Big Muff Fuzz
The Electro Harmonix Big Muff is absolutely legendary when it comes to all types of Doom Metal. But that’s not all! It was also very popular when grunge came around. Bands like Nirvana, and Mudhoney used the Big Muff Fuzz on their albums religiously, and the reason is simple: Nothing else sounds like it.
The Big Muff came around in the late 60’s and was designed by Sovtek, a Russian company known for amazing amplifier technology. The Big Muff caught on fast and became one of the best guitar pedals of the 70’s and 80’s. As mentioned above, the Big Muff had a sort of revival mode during the 90’s as Grunge became a popular genre.
The Big Muff was also used by Bass players as well. This is because the Big Muff has really pronounced mids and low end frequencies. Not only does it produce a solid fuzz tone, it also sustains your signal. This can make the Big Muff a pretty noisy pedal. But that is exactly why people love it!
The Best Guitar Pedals: Chorus
Chorus is a tricky effect. Some people absolutely love it, while others despise it. Now that I think about it, I don’t know anyone that has “luke warm” feelings about chorus. Love it, or hate it, chorus makes up a ton of the best guitar pedals ever made.
Chorus is in the modulation family of guitar pedals. Modulation effects doubling, time, delay, and does everything that is “not distortion”. Chorus in particular is interesting. It makes your guitar signal double, essentially. But the doubling effect is affected by time, and there is a slight delay along with a small bit of pitch change. This makes the sound “wet” to some people’s ears, or under water.
Let’s take a look at some of the best-selling chorus pedals of all time!
Electro Harmonix Small Clone Chorus
The Electro Harmonix Small Clone is a legendary pedal, that was made popular in the 80’s with a lot of Hair Metal bands. But it really got some attention as being a favorite pedal of Kurt Cobain, and can be heard on “Come As You Are”. The wet, under water sound defined the guitar parts of that song, and the Small Clone started selling in droves all over again.
The Small Clone is one of the simplest guitar pedals to operate on the planet. You have one knob in the center that controls the rate and depth, and that is all. It doesn’t get any easier than this to get a tone or sound that you want. Th only problem with the Small Clone to me, is it does one thing really well. Not too much versatility, but still considered one of the best guitar pedals of all time!
Walrus Audio Julia Chorus
The Walrus Audio Julia Chorus is a great example of simple, yet versatile. Remember when I said that modulation and Fuzz can change the “shape” of your guitar signal? The Julia allows you to choose the shape! There is a wave shape control knob that allows you to choose just how you are going to manipulate the guitar signal. Lots of the best guitar pedals have a similar feature, but the Julia pulls it off the best, in my opinion.
The lag controls allow you to make this not only a great chorus pedal, but also a vibrato pedal at the same time. There is a crazy amount of versatility to be had with the Walrus Audio Julia. How you use it, will determine just how great it is! In my personal experience, this pedal really shines for lead playing, and that’s what makes it one of the best guitar pedals.
BOSS CH-1 Chorus
The BOSS CH-1 Chorus Pedal is one of the best guitar pedals ever made, and has become a classic over the years! You have probably noticed that BOSS has shown up more than once on this list. This is for a very good reason. BOSS makes some of the best guitar pedals on the planet, and they are inexpensive. Pros enjoy BOSS so much because they are a consistent company, and if a pedal should fail while on the road, you’ll be able to find BOSS pedals EVERYWHERE!
With all of that being said, the BOSS CH-1 Chorus has been used for decades by guitarists all over the world. This has a solid analog sound, and the controls are pretty versatile. You can get the “warbly underwater” sound out of the BOSS. But where it really shines is the “in between” settings. This can make your guitar solos soar, and sound very smooth.
Like most BOSS pedals, they CH-1 Chorus is still made the same way it was made decades ago. There is no reason to change it up, if it works!
The Best Guitar Pedals: Delay/Echo
Delay is also part of the modulation family of guitar pedals. But unlike chorus effects, delay doesn’t just double a sound…it makes it repeat! If you are a fan of Pink Floyd or any modern Metal musicians, then you know the sound of delay pedals. Delay, when used properly, can make your guitar sound huge.
Delay can be mono, or it can be used as a stereo effect. There is a difference in sound, for sure. Stereo can make your guitar solos sound vast, and wide. While mono delay is more like an echo or repeater. Every guitarist has a different opinion about which delay is the best. So today we will cover a couple different styles of delay.
Delay in my opinion is best used during guitar solos. But there are some seriously creative bands out there like Minus The Bear, or Polyphia that use delay in unique ways with chords. There is no right way or wrong way to use ANY type of pedal. It’s entirely up to you! So let’s take a look at some of the best guitar pedals when it comes to delay effects…
MXR Carbon Copy Deluxe Delay
The MXR Carbon Copy Deluxe is one of the most interesting, and versatile analog delay pedals. This pedal can do just about anything regarding delay effects, and even has a built in “mod” feature. The mod feature uses the delay circuits to make a chorus/flanger sound. This takes your sound from big and wide, to HUGE.
But the best feature about the Carbon Copy is the “tap tempo” feature. You never have to change the delay by hand, you just tap the button with your foot to the beat of the song, and the Carbon Copy automatically adjusts the tempo of the echo/delay. This makes the Carbon Copy one of the best delays to use in a live situation.
Behringer VD400 Delay
The Behringer Vintage Delay is an amazing pedal. It’s also good to note that this pedal sells brand new for about $20! But that is what Behringer is all about, they are a budget company that produces great gear for people that need pro gear but can’t spend a fortune.
This doesn’t mean that Behringer skimps on the quality. The Vintage Delay is not the most versatile delay pedal out there, but it gets some great tones. The controls are easy to use and pretty straight forward. You have three knobs that control the amount of delay, and how it sits in the mix of your signal.
I cannot stress this enough: Do not write off Behringer as a “cheap” company. They make great budget-minded products, and a ton of their pedals are very well made. They often get shunned for being a “BOSS Clone” but over the years, Behringer has come into their own as a company.
Strymon Timeline Delay
The Strymon Timeline is one of the best guitar pedals ever made because it may be the last delay pedal you EVER buy. This pedal is so versatile with the different features and presets it has, that you have no shortage of delay and echo tones to play with. Strymon designed the Timeline to do a little bit of everything, and it does.
On top of the usual control parameters you see on other delay pedals, you also have several preset options that do some very cool effects. My personal favorite is the “lofi delay” which sounds like a broken, old, tape delay machine. But you also have swells, and more traditional delay effects. Each preset is very different. On top of all of these features, the Strymon Timeline also has a built in looper!
Strymon is definitely considered to be a “boutique” pedal designer. They make some of the best guitar pedals on the market, but the features come with a premium price. personally, I think it’s worth it to buy the best of the best and end your endless search for pedals. When I said the Strymon Timeline might be the last delay pedal you ever buy, I wasn’t kidding!
The Best Guitar Pedals: Reverb
Reverb is the final piece of the modulation family we will be checking out today. Reverb can be tricky to pull off in a guitar pedal. Many guitarists have built in “spring reverb” in their amps and never buy a pedal for reverb. While many other guitarists prefer a pedal for their reverb needs.
So to make it worthwhile, a reverb pedal has to be something special. Luckily, I have a lot of experience with reverb pedals, as i never had an amplifier with built in reverb that I loved. So let’s take a look at the ones I have used over the years, and check out why they are some of the best guitar pedals out there…
Electro Harmonix Holy Grail Reverb
The Electro Harmonix Holy Grail is one of the most simple reverb pedals, but don’t let that deceive you. This little box can do all kinds of analog reverb sounds that are organic and feel real. The Holy Grail is a lot like their Small Clone pedal in operation, and that simplicity means it does one thing really well: Sounds like organic spring reverb.
The single knob controls intensity, while the switch changes the type of reverb you are using. The spring delay is pretty light, and emulates an amplifier sound really well. The hall and flerb settings are a little more extreme. You can get anything from a light “room reverb” to a huge cavernous sound.
If you would describe you sound as “classic” then these Electro Harmonix offerings are perfect for you. They are not only some of the best guitar pedals ever made, but their sound is classic and unmistakable.
Earthquaker Devices Afterneath Reverb
The Earthquaker Devices Afterneath is one of the most versatile reverb pedals I have ever tried, and the first time I used it I knew I had one of the best guitar pedals ever made in my hands! In fact, it is easy to get lost just playing around with the settings on this thing.
The Afterneath does your usual analog reverb sounds, but that’s not where it shines at all. It has become almost the “standard” when it comes to ambient reverb effects. You can make your guitar sound like it’s at the bottom of a cave somewhere. Lots of people looking for abstract reverb sounds for ambient passages turn to the Afterneath, and for good reason.
Additions From Our Friends On Reddit:
We asked the reddit community what they think the best guitar pedals are, and we will continue to update as we get more submissions! This is a great opportunity to share your thoughts about pedals. So if you would like to submit your idea, then click here and join the convo!
I would like to thank the people that added their submissions for the best guitar pedals. You guys were very insightful, and I really enjoyed hearing an outsider’s perspective on some pedals I have never used! Let’s see what some of our reddit users had to say!
Earthquaker Devices Dispatch Master Reverb
Earthquaker Devices make some really cool stuff, and some of the best guitar pedals in the mid-range price market. This pedal was submitted by user “FEEEGGSDRAGDAD” on reddit, as his favorite reverb pedal. This is what he had to say about it:
“The EQD Dispatch master is what I consider to be pretty much a perfect pedal. I feel like I’m always recommending this pedal but it fully deserves it. It’s an perfect mix of slightly modulated hall reverb and ambient delay that can be massive, or subtle and never really get in the way of your dry signal.
Every setting on it is good and it never self-occilates at max settings, just huge washy ambience. I currently use mine as reverb only with the time all the way down but the repeats up which makes the reverb “bigger” as kind of a hidden control. It could replace 3 other pedals on my board though.“
This is a great option for reverb if you are looking for all out versatility. It’s not quite as obnoxious as the aforementioned “Afterneath” reverb pedal, and it can be dialed back to the perfect sound for any setting.
I have to be honest here…I have not tried a lot of DOD effects pedals. The ones I have tried, are definitely good. I was surprised when reddit user “Jarnvidr” brought this pedal to my attention. He says it might just be the perfect delay pedal and one of the best guitar pedals he has ever used! This is what he had to say about the Rubberneck:
“The two things I love about delay pedals are analog repeats, and lots of cool or unique features. Usually you have to pick one or the other. The Rubberneck gives you both. If it cost twice as much, it would still be a bargain as far as I’m concerned.
The fact that you have manual control over the tone and gain on the repeats is not something you usually see on an analog delay. Not to mention tap tempo and ratio controls which are also rare on an analog delay.
The modulation sounds incredible, although I find myself usually staying below 9 o’ clock on both the rate and depth. It gives it that perfect analog warmth and texture that damn near rivals the DMM.
The control sweeps are quite wide, and if you aren’t fairly conservative with your settings, it’s very easy to push it into self oscillation. I appreciate that they trust the user with a lot of power. It goes full wet, and can do tails, or kill-dry. Also quite rare features for an analog delay.
All of this mentioned and we haven’t even gotten to the the footswitches. Each of the two footswitches has a press-and-hold function. On the left, it increases delay time by 100% which, as you probably know, causes the pitch of the repeats to drop by one octave.
The rate of that time/pitch shift is controlled by a trim knob, so it can be instant, or it can kind of ramp down over time. I don’t think this has ever been built into an analog delay before. I like it just a hair over instant, which lets me manipulate the repeats into crazy space noises that are completely musical.
The other footswitch is a regeneration control with a trim pot. If the knob is at zero, it will kill your repeats. As you increase the knob, it gradually starts feeding more and more of the wet signal back through the delay, so you can control the self oscillation without having to touch a knob at all.
Bottom line: it’s probably the best sounding analog delay I’ve ever heard, it has BY FAR the most features I’ve ever seen on an analog delay, and it’s shockingly inexpensive and easy to find. If this had a boutique builders logo on it, it would be a $299 pedal!“
After checking out some video demos of this pedal, I have to agree with him! This is THE delay pedal for someone looking for out of the box ideas, and wanting to experiment endlessly with their sound. There is a lot to this pedal that you may not see at first glance. It also has an effects loop built in!
The Best Guitar Pedals Ever: Wrapping Up
There are a ton of great guitar pedals out there, and as we try more, we will continue to update this list. Whether you want a modern sound, or something classic and analog, there is a pedal out there for you. Not to mention, there are all kinds of budgets out there for pedals.
In the end, I suppose the best guitar pedals are the ones that you find a specific use for. Some people need tons of versatility, while others need their pedals to do one thing really well. Sometimes we even stumble upon something really strange, that gets the job done!
You could take a look at 100 guitarist’s pedal collections, and they would all be very different. We truly are living in the golden age of guitar, where you have more choices than ever before.