Guitars

The Best Guitar Pedals

Guitarist using a footpedal

Any electric guitarist worth their salt will tell you that there’s no better way to vary your sound than using pedals. The world of pedals is varied, with the sound effects that you can generate from your guitar ranging from the tried and true to the truly unique. You can create wahs, adjust your volume for solos, add a distinctive crunch to your licks, or even add in a haunting echo effect to your guitar tones.

I’ve done a lot of research as a pedal enthusiast, and while it can be a bit of a difficult world to wade through, I considered each pedal that I researched a labor of love. In my opinion, when it comes to raw effects value, if I were to pick one pedal that would serve as our pick, it would be the Dunlop GCB95 Cry Baby Wah Guitar Effects Pedal.

Credit: Dunlop

Top Pick: Dunlop GCB95 Cry Baby Wah Pedal

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$79.99

In our testing, the GCB95 is the best choice to emulate classic wahs.

Why You Should Trust Us

As I’ve mentioned, I am a bit of a pedal fan. I actually have a full pedal board that has two overdrives, a delay pedal, a tremolo pedal, a tuning pedal, and a dedicated multi-effects pedal. Recently, my old wah pedal, the Ibanez WD7 Weeping Demon Wah Pedal, finally went out on me, so I went looking for a new one.

When it comes to wahs, there’s a bit of history. The original wah was produced by Vox, and it was the original Cry Baby Wah, which was named for its weepy sounding tones. I had heard of this wah in the past and while I was interested, I really loved my Ibanez model. When my Ibanez finally failed, I thought to simply buy another one at my local Guitar Center, but instead, I decided to try out the Dunlop version of the iconic Cry Baby, and I was amazed by its ability to craft a delicious-sounding tone.

I also decided to look deeper into my tone options when it comes to pedals in general. There are a ton of them out there; my Guitar Center had 100 in stock for me to try out. I also checked out several local guitar stores and online retailers so that I could really consider some of my other options in the pedal world.

As a result of this research, and in addition to the wah pedal that I am offering as my chief recommendation, I’ve also rounded up several other killer pedals that will really enrich a guitarist’s musical life. I’ve even picked a runner up, but before we get to those reviews, let’s take a look at what makes an excellent pedal.

How to Choose a Guitar Pedal

Simply put, there are thousands of guitar pedals on the market and each has different abilities that make that particular pedal unique amongst its competitors. Some types of pedals even have features that overlap with other types. For example, you can increase your overall gain through a distortion or an overdrive pedal, but as a general rule, distortion pedals tend to do a better job in this realm.

Let’s take a look at some pre-purchase considerations that you can take into account before you make your next pedal purchase.

Compact, Twin, or Full-Size?

When it comes to overall form factor, pedals are about as varied as you can get. Even the three different types that I’ve mentioned above don’t quite work for some of the various shapes of pedals on the market today. That being said, you’ll find that more than 95 percent of the pedals will have these types of form factors:

Compact – These stomp boxes usually have one, two, or even three switches that you can activate with your foot. These types, despite potentially having a few buttons to press, are relatively small. These are perfect for really having a lot of different sounds on your pedal board because they don’t take up much space. The chief downside of these is that they don’t provide a lot of real estate for larger feet, which means that you can accidentally miss the footswitch altogether.

Many compact models will have a series of dials toward the top that will help you change the waveform, modulate the delays, or add a bit of extra crunch. These types are really easy to adjust when brought to eye level, but can be a bit cumbersome to do the same thing when you have a guitar strapped on and you’re in the middle of a set.

Twin – Twin style stomp boxes can have two different foot pedals for you to activate or modulate the pedal’s chief effect. For these, the pedals themselves are usually relatively large so that those with larger feet will be able to activate the device’s functionality with relative ease

Full-Size – This is the type of pedal that most non-guitarists are familiar with. The Vox Cry Baby was the first popularized version of the full-size pedal, but country legend Chet Atkins had actually developed his own similar device in the 1950s. These pedals are great for detailed control, since they are easy to depress to a precise level.

On the other hand, for most full-sized pedals, there are no dials and switches like you’d find in twin and compact types. These types will sometimes simply not fit in the smaller pedal boards out there on the market. In this situation, you’ll have to put the full-size units outside of the pedal board, which kind of defeats the purpose of the pedal board.

Digital or Analog?

This is the quintessential argument that you’ll hear among true audiophiles. Which is better; analog or digital? Well, in my opinion, an analog signal is simply more complete and true-to-life than a digital signal. The biggest difference between the two signals is that with an analog signal, the waveform has no breaks. Digital signals, on the other hand, have breaks that are called discrete. This means that for a fuller, more complete sound, analog is best.

The best explanation is that our ears are analog devices. When we hear a tune, we are able to hear all of its components. On the other hand, when a digital device attempts to emulate a sound, there is a lot of frequency loss, which means that parts of the initial sound will sound distorted and strange. It’s the reason that when you hear an original recording and then hear a mp3 of that same recording that you notice subtle differences.

How does this work for a pedal? Well, when you strum your guitar, the metal string vibrates and the pickups receive the signal that’s generated as a magnetic wave. The result is that the signal is then transformed into a voltage signal that is then transmitted to the amplifier. When there is an analog pedal between the guitar and the amplifier, there is less of an issue transmitting this fully analog signal.

With a digital pedal, on the other hand, software is used to process the sampled sound that is broadcast from your guitar strings. With the analog signal, there is an infinite amount of variations that the circuit can produce, but with a digital pedal, it can only process through the program’s set limitations. As a result, the produced sound will be altered based on the software that’s processing it. On top of this, some parts of the original sound will be permanently lost in the process.

Multi-Effect or Stomp boxes?

This is actually part of the digital versus analog discussion. As a rule, multi-effect pedals are almost always digital. This means that while you may be able to produce some of the individualized effects that can come from individual pedals on a multi-effect unit, the dedicated pedals will almost always sound much better.

Multi-effect pedals still have their uses though. They are perfect for producing some decent effects on a relatively low budget, and they also save a good amount of space because they can effectively perform as a full pedal board.

Batteries vs. AC

How you power your pedal will depend on the brand and the pedals unique features. Most pedals will allow you to jack in directly to an AC current that you can get from most wall outlets. This is very convenient, but since some gigs may have power that’s at a relative premium, so having a battery backup option is very useful.

For many pedals on the market, you can simply plug in a 9V battery, and you’ll have enough pedal power for more than a few gigs. These are very convenient, so it’s always a good idea to try and purchase a pedal with a few power options so that you can have versatility.

Should You Use a Pedal Board?

Technically, you don’t need a pedal board, but before you dismiss the pedal board out of hand, you should be aware that they make having multiple pedals very convenient. Most pedal boards are light; they won’t weigh much more than ten pounds, so this means that you can attach your various pedals by Velcro, zip-ties, or through a clamp system and then simply carry them with you in a gig bag or in a dedicated pedal board case.

In addition to this convenience, these products also make keeping things organized much easier so that you can know where your delay is, where your overdrive is, or where you need to place your foot to accurately tune your guitar.

The Competition

After hours of testing and research, here's the final competition.

InstrumentRatingCurrent Pricing
Dunlop GCB95 Cry Baby Wah
Ability to emulate classic wahs so that you can reproduce some famous solos$79.99
Digitech POLARA Lexicon
The top left knob is for volume control, which is useful for a reverbCheck on Amazon
TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb Pedal
Unique feature allows you to use a PC application to customize the sound of your reverb$149.99
Danelectro D-1 Fab Distortion Effects Pedal
It's most noticeable feature is its fire engine red$19.99
Boss MT-2 Metal Zone Distortion Guitar Pedal
The dial that is on the leftmost of the pedal controls the volume of the distortion effect$97.75
MXR M169 Carbon Copy® Analog Delay
Has some great sounding, high-fidelity tones$149.99
Boss DD-7 Digital Delay Pedal
Digital delay does a great job of providing an almost analog-quality delay effect$159.95
Joyo JF-09 Tremolo Guitar Pedal
Sturdy and responds well to numerous stomps

Our Top Recommendation:
Dunlop GCB95 Cry Baby Wah

Credit: Dunlop

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As I’ve mentioned before, there are few sounds more iconic than the wah, and the Dunlop Cry Baby Wah is simply the best at generating this unique sound effect. The overall shaping of this pedal will remind you of an overlarge stapler, and its die-cast construction will be tough enough to withstand plenty of hard stomps.

This wah pedal also has a Hot Potz potentiometer that really helps the device generate that iconic wah sound. Like the rest of the wah, this potentiometer is designed to last for thousands of performances. The pedal itself is also very responsive. Simply rock your foot, and you’ll change the sound output drastically.

If you press the pedal toe down, you’ll get more treble in your tone. If you press down with your heel, the wah will generate more overall bass. Which sound-type you select will greatly depend on your personal preferences and style.

The iconic sounds that this pedal can generate will boggle the mind. Basically, this Cry Baby pedal has the ability to emulate classic wahs so that you can reproduce some famous solos. Dunlop was smart to include a selection of settings so that you can achieve some of the most iconic sound sets like:

  • Frank Zappa’s famous honking solo tone
  • Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” tone
  • Pete Frampton’s Talk Box Style Wah, which was made famous in “Do You Feel Like We Do”
  • Jerry Cantrell’s Chewy Sweeping Lead tone
  • Bob Marley’s Smooth Lead tone
  • Jimmy Page’s “Dazed and Confused” tone

In the 1990s, the wah pedal was gaining in popularity again. Some artists of that era found that the Dunlop Cry Baby didn’t quite deliver in some aspects, so as a reaction to this, Dunlop upgraded the wah range selector so that it provided a six-position range.

Dunlop also got rid of the high band pass filter on this pedal. Some guitarists didn’t like the way it modified the Q, which directly affect the narrowness of the band pass filter. As a result of this wider range of tones, this Cry Baby revitalized the line for a new generation of guitarists.

In addition to these six preset selections of the wah effect, you will also be able to select the center and range of the overall wah effect. You’ll also have the option to adjust the boost of the effect to your specific preference. Since this wah-wah is powered, you can also plug it into a wall via an AC adaptor, which is not included with the purchase.

This adapter can be found fairly easily online, so don’t overspend if you can avoid it. Usually, it’ll be less than $10. If you opt to not purchase this extra adapter, then the wah can also operate by using a nine-volt battery.

The Dunlop GCB95 Cry Baby wah isn’t very expensive. Current Amazon.com price: $79.99

Runner Up: Digitech POLARA Lexicon

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Since my original search expanded a bit from just looking for a new wah to looking for new pedals in general, there was one other product that really caught my eye. I think this is partially due to a great-looking aesthetic, but the Digitech Polara Lexicon Reverbs Stereo Pedal is really a great pedal in its own right.

The first thing I noticed about this reverb pedal is the cool-looking design that covers the entire stomp box. This aesthetic features a line art figure that stares at you from the face of the pedal. The entire pedal is pea green and the lines on the art are purple, and I was instantly interested in how this pedal would look on my own pedal board.

When it comes to features, the Polara Lexicon has several great ones that make it a really excellent product to buy for any guitarist. Firstly, it has true bypass feature so that when you connect this pedal to other pedals on a pedal board, the tones are preserved accurately without any loss.

The face employs a single footswitch and four unique dials. The top left knob is for volume control, which is useful for a reverb. Directly underneath the volume knob is the knob for liveliness, which directly controls the base amount of that you can hear. The bottom right knob is for decay. This determines the length of the reverb effect. Finally, the top right knob is for choosing the type of reverb effect that you’ll be using.

This reverb is a bit pricey, but you can find it on Amazon for Check on Amazon

Other Pedals to Consider:

TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb Pedal

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One of the unique features of this reverb pedal is its Toneprint proprietary feature. This unique feature allows you to use a PC application to customize the sound of your reverb, which really gives you some great tone options. The TonePrint editor has a wide variety of templates and sound options that you can record and save. Once designed, you can then download the sound that you created on your PC so that you can use it on your reverb.

You can even create unique tones on an application on your Smartphone for use with your guitar. You can also allow other musicians who use Toneprint to be able to use the sounds that you created when they are playing.

Like the Digitech Polara, this pedal has four knobs for various tone settings. Also like the Polara, it incorporates a pre-delay switch as well. Using the four knobs, you can emulate the reverberations that would happen in a church, the tone of a Gibson Les Paul, or a Fender Telecaster. This is a digital pedal, but the device features true bypass so that you can easily hook it up to a pedal board without too much in the way of frequency loss.

Danelectro D-1 Fab Distortion Effects Pedal

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The Danelectro D-1 Fab Distortion Effects Pedal is a great product that typically comes in at one of the lower price points. This neat pedal is relatively inexpensive. It’s most noticeable feature is its fire engine red. Couple this with its truly unique, 1950s inspired aesthetic design and you’ve got a great low-cost pedal for just about any musician. As a matter of fact, I almost bought this pedal out-of-hand because of its low price and seeming versatility.

To adjust its tone and distortion settings, the Danelectro D-1 Fab Distortion Effects Pedal has three dials positioned towards the top of the product. These are in a fairly unique place, but they seem like they could be hard to adjust during a set.The pedal itself is comprised of plastic primarily, but this plastic construction does stand up well to being consistently stepped on.

The D-1 Fab distortion pedal is actually part of a line of effects pedals that come from Danelectro, but unfortunately, they don’t daisy chain that well together from an audio point of view. When it comes to powering these, you can use the traditional 9V battery or you can use a 9V adapter to plug it directly into a wall outlet.

Boss MT-2 Metal Zone Distortion Guitar Pedal

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This is an excellent pedal that has a lot of versatility. Firstly, it doesn’t utilize a simple footswitch; it actually has a relatively large pedal that is perfectly sized for most feet. Secondly, the product also has four dials for the adjustment of the distortion effect. The dial that is on the leftmost of the pedal controls the volume of the distortion effect. This is perfect when you wish to sound slightly more subdued or you wish to crank out your distorted tones.

The dial which is situated on the far right dial of the device is a distortion knob, which will let you adjust the amount of distortion that can hear. The two centermost dials are used for equalization. When you use these two knobs, you’ll be able to adjust your highs, lows, and mids with ease.

When I tested this unit, it was clear from the beginning that metal is its intended purchase. Even the name “Metal Zone” makes it clear that this product is perfect for adding that metal-friendly distortion to your licks. It even helps you produce more sustain and produces heavy mids and lows that make your guitar sound very overdriven and distorted. This pedal is also very reasonably priced; you won’t spend more than $90 for it.

MXR M169 Carbon Copy® Analog Delay

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Delays pedals are designed to reproduce your tone after you’ve strummed it. The timing of the delay is typically controlled by the device, and how many times you hear it repeated is another option that many delay pedals that are currently on the market have.

The MXR M169 Carbon Copy® is an analog delay pedal that has some great sounding, high-fidelity tones. You can customize your delays with a high degree of personal preference; as a matter of fact, you can even add up to 600 milliseconds of delay time to your reproduced tones.

There are three dials on the face of this pedal and a single footswitch. The three dials include regen, which controls the number of the echoed tones that are reproduced per signal input. The second dial is mix, which controls the volume of the reproduced signals so that there can be a subdued effect on your delay.

The final dial is delay, which will let you adjust the amount of time between your guitar signal and the reproduced echoes. These really sound nice, especially when you’re in a song. As a matter of fact, with maximum delay and the regen turned up, you get a haunting sound that is really unique to this type of pedal.

Boss DD-7 Digital Delay Pedal

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Our next delay pedal is a digital delay that I was actually fairly impressed with. I know I said that analog is always better than digital and that is certainly the case, but this digital delay does a great job of providing an almost analog-quality delay effect.

With the Boss DD-7, you get a lot of tone options. It has four dials on the front and a wide pedal on the front that will accommodate any foot. The first dial, which is labeled E. level, lets you adjust the volume level for the effect. The second dial, which is labeled F. Back, will allow you to select the precise number of echoes per signal.

The third dial, which is labeled D. Time, will allow you to adjust the timing of the repeated signal. The fourth and final switch on this delay has several settings that include 3200ms, 800ms, 200ms, 50ms, and hold. Each of these numbered settings will let you select the time frame between the echoing signals. The hold selection will allow you to create a loop effect for your tone that can last up to 40 seconds.

The Boss DD-7 just provides a ton of great options that really offsets its digital nature, and at $159.95 you really can’t go wrong.

Joyo JF-09 Tremolo Guitar Pedal with True Bypass Wiring

Credit: Amazon.com

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The Joyo JF-09 is a great option for those who want to have an enhanced tremolo effect on their guitar strums. These types of pedals make recreating the surf rock songs of the 50s a breeze. This particular pedal has a bulldog on its face, which is a distinctive design note for the pedal. The device is also yellow, which makes it stand out among the different colored pedals of the average pedal board.

The pedal’s footswitch is also very sturdy and responds well to numerous stomps. This is important because stomp boxes take a lot of punishment during most live performances and Joyo did a great job at making this pedal feel sturdy. It is also slightly larger and feels less compact than many of the button-style pedals that are on competing products.

This is also a great low-cost tremolo pedal, which is amazing considering what the effect can do to your guitar signal. This is an all-metal pedal, which you wouldn’t expect a pedal this inexpensive to have. It does have the ability to use a 9V battery or a 9V power adapter. Its biggest weakness is the fact that it only has two effect adjustment dials.

Wrapping It Up

The world of guitar pedals takes years to truly understand. There are so many great sound options that are available in your pedal board that you might be overwhelmed by it all. Of the pedals I tested and reviewed, the Dunlop Crybaby Wah really came out ahead because of its unique sound and customizability options, but the other pedals on the list have a lot of great versatility and function as well. The best thing about pedals is the fact that they can be used in conjunction, so take a look at some of the guitar pedals that I reviewed and give them a try.

Sources

  • Gerlinda Grimes (2015). How Guitar Pedals Work Retrieved from http://electronics.howstuffworks.com/gadgets/audio-music/guitar-pedal2.htm
  • Unknown, Guitar Pedal Buying Guide Retrieved from http://www.sweetwater.com/insync/guitar-pedal-buying-guide/
  • Seth (2014) In This Article, I Explain The Difference Between Analog And Digital In Some Gory Detail, Retrieved from http://screaminfx.com/tech/analog-verse-digital-guitar-pedals.htm
  • ProGuitarShopDemos (2011), TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhtCcKDvVIA
  • Mareo Lopez (2015) History Of The Jim Dunlop CryBaby Wah-Wah Pedal Retrieved from http://www.proaudioland.com/news/history-of-the-jim-dunlop-crybaby-wah-wah-pedal/

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