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Guitar pedals are an essential component of any creative musician’s toolbox. That’s all thanks to their infinite tone-shaping abilities and their potential to fundamentally change the instrument’s character. Also known as stompboxes due to the way they’re controlled, guitar pedals are miniature effects units that are often placed on the ground. They use knobs and footswitches to apply any number of alterations to the guitar’s sound, from echo and distortion to reverb and pitch-shifting. Pedals aren’t just for guitars, either. With the right equipment, they offer unique creative options for keyboards, vocals, drum machines, and just about any other audio source. Whether you’re looking to give your guitar a little bit of subtle pre-recorded polish or you want to create an enormous wall of otherworldly sound, this roundup covers all the best guitar pedals of all types.
- Best all-in-one: Line 6 POD GO
- Best amp emulation: Universal Audio UAFX Dream ’65
- Best budget: BOSS GT-1
How we chose the best guitar pedals
The guitar pedal market has come a long way since the commercial introduction of the first-ever stompbox back in 1948. Many of the manufacturers of the pedals in this list have been in the industry for nearly as long. Electro-Harmonix was founded in 1968, BOSS released their very first chorus pedal in 1976, and Ibanez released their first tube-style distortion box in 1979.
We included the newest reissue versions of many of these aforementioned classic pedals due to their ubiquity and versatile sound, which allows them to appeal to many players across a number of genres. This list also includes pedals from relatively newer manufacturers like Xotic and JHS. These brands have nonetheless built reputations for creating high-quality products and sounds. While we aimed to highlight the most versatile and desirable versions of commonly used guitar effects, please bear in mind that there is rarely an objectively “best” option when it comes to creativity and experimenting with sound. Sometimes, different jobs require different tools.
The best guitar pedals: Reviews & Recommendations
Best all-in-one: Line 6 POD GO
Why it made the cut: The Line 6 POD GO features a wealth of built-in effects and creativity-inspiring controls in a backpack-friendly design.
- I/O: 1/4″ instrument, stereo FX loop, stereo out, amp out, expression, USB, headphones
- Effects: Distortion, fuzz, tremolo, chorus, vibrato, delay, reverb, amp emulation
- Power Source: 9-volt DC power supply (included)
- Dimensions: 9 x 14.1 x 3.46 inches (L x W x H)
- Weight: 5.2 pounds
- Over 250 onboard effects, including customizable amp emulations
- Built-in USB interface for recording, reamping, and preset editing
- Very light and portable design
- Some lighter components don’t feel durable
If you’re looking to get the most out of a single guitar pedal for your electric guitar, the Line 6 POD GO is our favorite multi-effects unit. It offers a user-friendly interface, a portable design, and a wealth of over 250 onboard presets and effects. It features creativity-oriented expansion options like a headphone output, an effects loop, USB connectivity, and third-party IR compatibility for loading up your favorite reverbs and amp settings.
Best of all, it only weighs 5.2 pounds and can fit in a backpack. The lightweight design makes it perfect for touring and stage use. The Line 6 POD GO is our best overall choice because it packs a near-infinite number of sonic combinations. Beyond that, it is also uniquely suited for studio use thanks to its built-in USB recording interface. Users can use the POD GO to record and reamp pre-recorded samples and guitar parts to apply effects. They can also take advantage of the unit’s software editor on Mac or PC. The POD GO is an incredibly intuitive tool for creative exploration thanks to its integrated expression pedal, large LCD screen, and wealth of buttons and encoders. While we feel that some of the components could stand to be more rugged due to their lite weight, the POD GO should stand up to the normal rigors of touring if cared for properly.
Best amp emulation: Universal Audio UAFX Dream ’65
Why it made the cut: The Universal Audio UAFX Dream ’65 packs one of the most faithful emulations of a legendary American tube amplifier into a high-tech box.
- I/O: 1/4″ instrument, stereo in/out, USB, Bluetooth
- Effects: Amp emulation, boost, reverb
- Power Source: 9-volt DC power supply (not included)
- Dimensions: 5.5 x 3.62 x 2.56 inches (L x W x H)
- Weight: 1.24 pounds
- Fender Deluxe-style reverb and vibrato
- Three distinct speaker-microphone combinations and three amp variations
- Bluetooth-powered presets and advanced editing
- Lacks XLR outputs, recording interface functionality
The UAFX Dream ’65 is one in an acclaimed series of new amplifier emulation pedals from Universal Audio. It’s also one of our all-time favorites that we’ve tested. It features an incredibly faithful modeling of a vintage Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb. That includes all the tube-style breakup, reverb, and vibrato that come along with it. Unlike a conventional amplifier, the UAFX Dream ’65 also allows users to access emulations of modified units and even different configurations of speaker and microphone with the flip of a switch. While it’s hard to beat the real deal if you’re stuck deciding between a traditional amp and an amplifier pedal, the UAFX Dream ’65 easily holds its own in live sound and recording studio settings alike. Plus, you can crank it up and use it with headphones.
Best budget: BOSS GT-1
Why it made the cut: The Boss GT-1 packs over 100 effects into a rugged and portable unit at an affordable price point.
- I/O: 1/4″ instrument, stereo in/out, USB, headphones, AUX, expression
- Effects: Delay, modulation, reverb, overdrive, looper, amp emulation
- Power Source: 4 x AA batteries or 9-volt DC power supply (not included)
- Dimensions: 6 x 12 x 2.9 inches (L x W x H)
- Weight: 2.9 pounds
- Expression pedal and large effects bank in a small package
- Integrated USB interface
- Great value for the money
- Control has a moderate learning curve
The BOSS GT-1 multi-effects pedal offers some of the best bang for your buck on the guitar pedal market. That’s largely because of its compact design and extensive bank of amplifier emulations and effects. It would pair very well with our favorite electric guitars for beginners and a small amp as a result. It may not have the same tonal flexibility or intuitive interface as more expensive all-in-one guitar pedals. But the GT-1 packs a 24-bit recording interface, a 32-second looper, and 198 preset patches into a battery-powered package that can easily fit in a backpack or tote, making it a fantastic option for guitarists on a budget. Users can even edit presets or download others’ favorites via BOSS’s Tone Studio and Tone Central interfaces on any PC or Mac.
Even more guitar pedals to transform your guitar’s sound:
- Best premium: Fender Tone Master Pro
- Best reverb: Fender Marine Layer Reverb
- Best overdrive: Ibanez TS808 Vintage Tube Screamer Reissue
- Best distortion: ProCo RAT2
- Best fuzz: JHS Pedals The Crayon
- Best tremolo: Strymon Flint V2
- Best compressor: Xotic SP Compressor
- Best chorus: BOSS CE-2W Chorus Waza Craft
- Best phaser: ROSS Electronics Phaser
- Best delay: BOSS RE-2 Space Echo
- Best pitch shifter: Electro-Harmonix Pitch Fork
- Best looper: BOSS RC-5 Loop Station
- Best tuner: Peterson StroboStomp HD
Q: How much do guitar pedals cost?
Guitar pedals can cost anywhere from about $40 new to upwards of $1,000 for sought-after vintage models.
Q: How do you use a guitar pedal?
The most basic way to use a guitar pedal is to put it in the middle of a connection between a guitar and a preamp. For example, to add a distortion pedal to a basic guitar-to-amp connection, simply plug the guitar into the pedal input and use an additional cable to connect the pedal output to the amplifier input. Many pedals are powered by 9-volt batteries, but AC adapters—especially those that can power multiple pedals, like the Truetone 1 Spot—are the most reliable way to power a pedal.
Q: What does a compressor pedal do?
Compressor pedals add definition to your playing by increasing the attack of each note, evening out the volume between gentle and hard playing, and increasing sustain when notes are held. Because they can often add extra volume and body to a signal, compressor pedals are often used as a “boost” pedal when soloing. They’re also great when used on subtler settings for their ability to make a guitar sound “mixed” or like it’s part of a finished recording.
Final thoughts on the best guitar pedals
Adding guitar pedals to your setup is one of the easiest ways to explore the full creative potential of the instrument. If you’re new to pedals, we recommend starting with a distortion or overdrive pedal, a reverb pedal, and a tuner. As your collection grows, consider our list of the best pedalboards to help you build the most suitable arrangement of effects for your personal style and creative needs. Above all else, collecting and arranging guitar pedals is a creative journey unto itself. Don’t be afraid to break the rules, experiment, and push your effects to their absolute limit.
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