Adding pedals is a lot of fun.
And adding cheap guitar pedals can be really helpful, perhaps as helpful as the expensive ones.
In my experience, the usefulness and value of guitar pedals is highly contextual, meaning that the right player in the right situation can make use of a lot of different effects.
The issue of price is almost always secondary.
This means that even the cheapest guitar pedals among us can have a lot of value if planted in the right scenario.
For this highlight, I'm choosing pedals based on the following criteria:
- Price (under $70)
- Have personal experience (I've actually used it)
- Brings enough quality/features to the table to be worth the $ amount
Choosing a list of pedals based off of these criteria will give you some reliable direction.
From there, I'll try and help you contextualize each pedal to see if it would be a good fit in your situation.
Let's get started.
Cheap Guitar Pedals in This List
Which ones make the cut?
Effects need three basic things to be valuable. First, they need relevancy, meaning a guitar pedal should be reputable, useful and longstanding within the guitar playing community at large.
Second, as the title would suggest, it should have a low price tag. And third, a high level of functionality and sound quality.
The combination thereof, gives us optimal value.
In other words, this isn’t just a list of cheap guitar pedals. Those are easy enough to find. Instead, this is a list of cheap pedals that I would recommend based on discernible metrics.
Because a low price, on its own, doesn’t do you any good. You need something worthwhile in return.
Buying for your Pedalboard
Part of getting value is buying something that you’ll be able to use within your guitar pedalboard. You need something functional and useful, not just a blind addition.
A quick sketch of your board and a look at the correct pedal order might be worth your time.
Perhaps it would look something like this:
If I could pick two...
BOTTOM LINE: The MXR Phase 90 is a simple analog phaser that allows you to add a lite layer of modulation to either melodic runs or rhythmic chord progressions in nearly any stylistic context. It's the most popular phaser on the planet, for good reason.
BOTTOM LINE: I've used this wah pedal since I was 15 years old (I'm 29 at the time of writing this) and it's still going strong. My guess is that once you use the "switchless" wah (no need to turn it on/off with a button) you won't want to go back to the switch-style wah setup. With this one, just step on it and start wailing away. The foot pedal even kicks back to its original position on its own.
If the sketch helps, great. If not, no worries.
Just make sure you have a plan in place.
Be familiar with what you like to play and know your own sound well enough to shop for it. I’ve wasted a lot of money on pedals that I’ve never used, and if I could do it over again, I would have pooled my resources and put them towards pedals that I knew would work with the sounds I wanted to make.
Making a list and jotting things down on paper can help to prevent impulse buying or just jumping at good deals.
Because yes, we want the deals but we also want to obtain something useful.
Let's jump in.
The Original Cry Baby wah is one of the most iconic guitar pedals in existence, having been widely used by professionals in a number of different guitar-heavy styles for decades.
It's by far the most popular of its kind.
Joe Bonamassa, Kirk Hammett, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix and Slash are some of the heavy hitters that have teamed up with Dunlop to create their own signature versions:
The Original Cry Baby retails for around $80, which is one of the lowest price points you'll find among popular wah pedals.
- Dunlop Original Crybaby: $79
- VOX V847A: $99
- Ibanez WD7: $109
- Morley VAI-2: $111
- Boss AW-3 Dynamic Wah: $119
- Morley George Lynch: $126
- Fulltone Clyde Deluxe: $211
If you look at used options, prices can drop near $60, making the Cry Baby a great value purchase since they tend to last a really long time.
The hard metal exterior will take plenty of abuse and is highly likely to retain all functionality.
Check out the photo below.
This one is probably years in the making:
The Crybaby wah pedals can take some serious abuse. | Flickr Commons Image via ZHarth
Uses and stylistic context
The Cry Baby's functionality and design is pretty straightforward as the pedal is engaged or "turned on" with a regular foot switch, which then allows you to rock the foot pedal back and forth to roll through the wah effect.
It's a widely-utilized sound that has relevance to nearly every musical style and genre that makes use of the electric guitar.
You might say that wah pedals are "agnostic of genre."
In other words, you don't have to be a strict blues or classic rock player to make use of a good wah pedal. Tony Rombola (Godsmack), Tony MacAlpine (Steve Vai) and Zakk Wylde are just a few of its more modern metal-focused supporting cast.
Tony Rombola throwing down with the Crybaby wah pedal. | Flickr Commons Image via RockShowPics
In most cases, wah pedals are utilized in a lead guitar context, often to fill in solos or single-note melodies. Strictly rhythm players might have a more difficult time finding a lot of use for the wah sound, which is just something that potential buyers should consider before pulling the trigger.
It can, however, work in either context.
In most cases, the Original Cry Baby is a fantastic beginner wah pedal.
Moreover, all skill levels can benefit, whether on the road or simply jamming in your living room.
Since the wah pedal is the centerpiece of most rigs, it's nice to know you can get one of the best for under $70.
The Big Muff from EHX could be considered a kind of classic fuzz pedal and is often utilized by bass players because of how well it handles lower frequencies.
Fuzz pedals are characterized by a low, almost octaver-sounding, EQ level.
In addition to having a bass-friendly EQ, the Big Muff is also well-known for a lengthy amount of sustain, something that EHX developers wanted the Big Muff to represent from the beginning.
EHX founder Mike Matthews was one of them:
“When I got the prototype from Bob (Meyer), I loved the long sustain.” - Mike Matthews, Electro-Harmonix founder, on the development of the Big Muff.
Though this version of the pedal lacks the on-board compressor and extra tweaking options of its older brother, the Deluxe Big Muff, it’s the original design that EHX produced.
The Deluxe version just has more bells and whistles.
Moreover, the original Big Muff is still known for producing a classic distortion sound that many guitar players have used for decades and recognize as being specific to EHX's original prototype.
Among some of the more notable professional users are John Frusciante, Dave Dederer and Jimi Hendrix.
A Big Muff Deluxe distortion pedal that has taken a serious beating. | Flickr Commons Image via Terekhova
What does the distortion sound like?
Speaking of Hendrix, his tone is a great way to explain the Big Muff's sound.
I'd peg it as a Hendrix-style distortion, that's a little more rough and edgy. It's the same amount of gain and sustain with a little extra grit.
But what if you're not a Hendrix fan?
If you're looking for a smoother more modern tube distortion, the Big Muff simply isn't your deal.
It's far more popular among the classic rock and blues crowd, which makes it a well-liked pairing with rigs that are quarterbacked by Fender Stratocasters, Jaguars or Mustangs.
The Big Muff distortion pedal with a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar. | Flickr Commons Image via NRTPhotos
I'd recommend it to fans of such styles, as the tone it produces is likely to be most satisfying in those contexts.
While most of that popularity is due to the distinct '70s-leaning gain levels and sustain, the pedal also attracts vintage rock fans for its analog circuitry and true bypass, features that are shared by its younger brother, the Big Muff Nano.
Anyone looking for a retro or classic distortion pedal should apply.
Once in that style, it can work great as a live-gigging companion or as a studio/recording tool for session guitar players.
At the price point, I like it as a beginner distortion pedal as well.
This pedal is almost always available used at nearly a 50 percent discount.
While the BD-2 Blues Driver retails for around $100, it routinely dips into the $60 price range if you check used and refurbished options.
This Boss pedal is technically a distortion and overdrive, though the intended market is blues guitarists specifically. LEVEL, GAIN and TONE knobs offer basic, easy-to-understand controls and a short learning curve.
...a happy medium between the natural clean tone of your amp and the gain levels produced by the pedal.
Anyone who needs a less-saturating distortion should consider the BD-2 as it's a fantastic low-gain suitor.
What does it sound like?
The tone put out by the BD-2 is a very warm and smooth overdrive, that's made to accommodate the lead technique and melodies of blues guitar players.
Here's a quick demo we pulled off SoundCloud:
Bends and vibrato are especially addictive with this pedal as they produce a smooth "wailing" tone that sounds like a happy medium between the natural clean tone of your amp and the gain levels produced by the pedal.
Those looking for heavier gain levels or a modern distortion pedal will be disappointed.
The BD-2 is simply not a heavy distortion.
A shot of Robert Keeley's modded BD-2 Blues Drive. | Flickr Commons Image via Aaron Warren
At one point, Robert Keeley produced a modded version that had an additional gain switch, giving you a little more tone variety, though it's no longer in production.
However, that doesn't mean you'll be disappointment with the un-modded version of the BD-2.
In the right stylistic context, it's a fantastic pedal.
Boss's Blues Drive is simple, though sounds incredibly rich and satisfying as a lead compliment and is made-to-order for the blues and jazz enthusiasts among us.
Some other uses and contexts might include Christian worship music, light jazz, fusion, funk, country and any kind of music where your electric guitar's clean signal needs a lightly-distorted boost.
4. Pro Co Rat 2
Since its inception in the late '80s, the Pro Co Rat 2 has garnered a faithful fan base, made up of both professionals and amateurs alike.
The professional roster is quite impressive.
Notable users included Blur's Graham Coxon on his 1993 pedalboard that featured two Pro Co Rats, placed side by side in his pedal line (see the photo below).
I'm also fairly certain he used it for the production of "Song 2" per the official music video.
A more extensive current artist list includes:
- Justin Chancellor (Tool's bass player)
- Thom Yorke (Radiohead)
- Johnny Buckland (Coldplay)
- Tom Linton (Jimmy Eat World)
Other artists who have used the Pro Co Rat, in the past, include:
- Jeff Beck
- Kurt Cobain
- Peter Buck (REM)
- Joe Perry (Aerosmith)
- Mike Campbell (Tom Pettey and the Heartbreakers)
There are a few more names on the Pro Co Rat's official artist list.
It's a distortion and sustain pedal that leans vintage, though is capable of achieving a wide range of tones, which some would even describe as more of a traditional solo boost.
A look at two Pro Co Rats on Graham Coxon's Blur pedalboard from 1993. | Image via Guitar.com
While it's known for being incredibly versatile, the Rat 2 is most often used in a hard rock or grunge context, often paired with a heavy tube amp like the Marshall JCM series.
It was actually the first distortion pedal I ever owned.
My own experience with the Rat
In my experience, Pro Co's claims of the Rat's versatility are fairly legit, primarily because I found that it could be subtle enough to use as a simple booster pedal or heavy enough to use as a saturating distortion effect.
In particular, dialing the DISTORTION knob back and forth had a tremendously varied impact on my guitar's tone, while still seeming usable at both extremes.
That's big points for Pro Co, especially when you consider that some distortion pedals, like the Boss Metal Zone, make it really easy for you to dial in an awful sound. With that pedal, settings are touchy and EQ extremes are a big no-no.
Using the Rat, on the other hand, was like boiling water.
It was hard to screw up.
The only thing I didn't like about the tone was that it seemed hard to "thicken" up.
In other words, the gain would be high, and it sounded good, but it was hard to get that nice "thud" in the bass.
Based on my own personal taste, I like a distortion to have some punch on the low end, and the Rat didn't quite to get there.
Features and using the Rat 2
The entire spectrum of control is handled by three knobs:
Predictably, DISTORTION sets gain levels (I already mentioned that) while the FILTER knob serves as a basic EQ allowing you to filter in highs or lows.
Like the DISTORTION knob, the FILTER control was responsive and seemed usable at most levels.
VOLUME serves as a master output, independent of the gain level.
Everything about the Rat 2's construction feels really strong, right down to the knobs and bypass switch. It's built like a tank and seems like it could take a few bullets without skipping a beat.
Gigging musicians and those who do a lot of travel will find that to be an underrated feature.
Can I get it cheaper?
While the retail price hovers near our $70 limit, the Pro Co Rat 2 has been around long enough to have a strong presence in the used market.
If you check these options, you'll see the unit hit $50ish regularly.
It's tough to pass up that kind of discount, especially when you know you're getting a reputable distortion pedal.
Uses and the ideal buyer
While it's built for heavy road work and roughed up pedalboards, the Rat is an equally helpful studio companion, since it provides such a warm response and lengthy sustain. For these reasons, its presence has been heard on a lot of albums over the years.
At a price point that's within reach of a teenager's allowance, the Rat 2 is a value-packed gold mine that has enjoyed a solid reputation over the years, is built to last and can help you in almost any musical situation where you need distortion.
I'd consider it universally applicable to all skill levels and playing scenarios.
Ernie Ball's volume pedals are among the most popular because of their sturdy design and wide price range.
The VP Jr. is one of the smallest in their lineup, designed to work with both passive and active electronics, which makes it a good option for acoustic guitars that might be running a passive pickup system.
For volume pedals in general, the most practical use is in a live gigging situation.
Particularly for acoustic players who play live and don't have an onboard preamp, getting a pedal like this one might be the only volume control they have.
In that situation, some kind of volume pedal is nearly a must-have.
Other features and pricing
The Ernie Ball VP Jr. is also one of the few volume pedals that has a built in taper switch, giving you two distinct swells, which allow you to easily cut back and forth between two volume points without having to be exact with the foot pedal.
It's also a major space saver, if you have a smaller pedalboard.
Retail hovers around $65 in most markets, while used choices dip around $50 and, in some cases, even lower.
6. MXR Phase 90
What is perhaps the most popular phaser pedal, also happens to be one of the cheapest, retailing under $70 and potentially dipping into the $50-$60 range depending on the used and refurbished options.
The Phase 90 from MXR houses analog circuitry which gives off a warm, vintage tone, closely resembling Eddie Van Halen's use of the effect (his signature MXR phaser is pictured below).
Since the number of phase stages is hard-wired into the circuits (I believe it's four stages), the only control mechanism you'll have is speed, which is really all you need, since the pedal sounds great out of the box.
You just don't need to change much about the Phase 90.
Those of you who are set-it-and-forget-it type of players will appreciate that aspect of the pedal.
Even phaser speed is a preference issue, and usually sounds fine set at 12 o'clock. Its not uncommon for pros (and some amateurs) to pull the speed knob off and hard wire the Phase 90's speed setting into place.
Eddie Van Halen's signature Phase 90. | Flickr Commons Image via ToxicWeb
So, it's not the most ideal fit for someone who enjoys the tinkering aspect of owning a guitar pedal.
Instead, think of it as a light modulation effect.
It's simple to use right out of the box and doesn't need a lot of maintenance.
Uses and application
In just about any situation, you can set the phaser speed low to give a nice, subtle texture, which can help add flavor to melodies that might seem stale and otherwise uninteresting.
This makes the phase sound useful, almost regardless of style or skill level.
Once you get familiar with the phaser sound, you'll notice that in a lot of songs it's used to add that extra texture and modulation layer, even if it's really subtle.
Thus, we have a pedal that can be applied universally.
All skill levels and scenarios are accommodated.
Normally I don’t recommend pedals that are this cheap.
The DJ-14C from Danelectro retails for at or under $30, making it one of the cheapest equalizer pedals available, much like the other offerings in the Danelectro mini pedal series.
That said, the DJ-14C enjoys a relatively solid reputation and has value since an EQ's job is pretty basic.
I also like that it’s incredibly small and easy to fit on your pedalboard or even on top of your amp. It's one of the smaller EQs available, weighing less than 10 ounces.
For those with smaller pedalboards who might be trying to save space, this could be your best bet.
Is quality a concern at such a low price point?
The good news for people who want to buy a cheap EQ pedal is that the technology is basic.
Like volume pedals, I believe they should be low-cost.
And the DJ-14C, while cheap, responds well and performs exactly like you would expect an EQ to perform. Controls are smooth and responsive, and there's no excess noise to worry about.
The only down side of this pedal, compared to more expensive options like the Boss GE-7, is that its construction is a lot cheaper.
Danelectro uses a hard plastic, which does hold up, though isn't as strong as the metal casing you usually get in more expensive boxes.
Yet, for the price, it's hard to go wrong, especially if you just want to try an EQ out on your board.
All styles and skill levels can make effective use of one.
This is one of the few wah pedals I’ve seen (and it might be the only one) that allows you to adjust the tension of the foot controller.
This means you can either tighten or loosen the spring-back function.
I've found a lot of foot controllers in other wah pedals to be frustratingly clumsy and "clunky" feeling, so this is a feature that really catches my attention.
The design is reminiscent of the old Ibanez Tone Lok pedals, which Ibanez stopped making. It’s strange though, because those guitar pedals were popular back in the day and are still sought after.
The WD7 with an old Ibanez Ton Lok pedal. | Flickr Commons Image via Theleom
The WD7's retail price still holds in the three figures, usually hovering around $110.
However, used pricing routinely dips into the $60 range.
Potential buyers should check these options before buying new, as the likelihood of snagging a discount is pretty high.
Where it's Most Practical
Wah pedals are usually used in the context of lead guitar, for solos and any kind of melodic sequence.
And while the WD7 is not the most traditional of designs, it does give the user a lot of control over the tone and range of their wah. This can make it particularly useful for recording or for session players who need a little more control over their sound.
At the same time, a wah pedal is a distinctly personal piece of gear for guitar players.
When you find one that "works" for you, you'll tend to stick with it for life.
The affordability factor is perhaps the DigiTech Grunge's most attractive feature.
It's price point is nothing if not wallet-friendly, routinely being released for around $35. Yet, it still holds its value quite well, considering the retail price hovers at $40 in most markets.
Whether you're buying new or used, you're getting an awesome bargain.
It might not cost much, but the Grunge isn't "cheap."
While it has been formally discontinued by DigiTech and is no longer in production, its popularity continues to carry throughout most major retailers, meaning it's still easily accessible to new buyers.
Uses and target buyers
The Grunge's popularity has brought it to nearly every musical context, from bedroom jamming and garage band fodder to professional pedalboards, both in performing and recording scenarios.
I think the price point makes it particularly ideal for beginners who just want to try a distortion pedal
Because, while it might not cost much, the Grunge isn't "cheap."
In other words it doesn't feel like a beginner guitar pedal or a temporary solution. Rather it feels like a real, professional stompbox that will outlast your beginner years.
You're getting value on a budget, making it worth considering for any skill level and most musical scenarios.
Can I set it up in stereo?
You can setup a stereo connection using just this pedal.
The Grunge comes with two outputs:
One is labeled AMP while the other is labeled MIXER.
These two outputs are the same and can be used interchangeably. You could utilize two amps, mixers, swap the amp and mixer input...it doesn't really matter. Both outputs are exactly the same, simply allowing you to run a stereo connection from the pedal itself.
Per the user manual, here's how you could potentially set one up:
Other features and tone
Additionally, the pedal has a two-band EQ, including a LOW and HIGH knob along with a GRUNGE and LOUD control which allow you to dial in gain and volume respectively.
The tone produced is a less refined distortion, similar to the Seattle grunge scene of the early '90s with a lot of rough edges and sustain.
Think Kim Thayil of Soundgarden, Jerry Cantrell and Kurt Cobain.
If that's where you live, the Grunge provides.
This is the chorus effect that Kurt Cobain used on “Smells Like Teen Spirit” during the two-note fill on the verse.
He also used it on "Come as Your Are."
It was his go-to chorus pedal and one of the few effects he used on his pedalboard.
I've compiled a thorough assessment of his effects pedals and amp settings which includes a full fledged infographic with all the details. Here's a clip of that infographic that shows the effects he was using before his death in 1994.
The Small Clone chorus pedal making an appearance on Cobain's rig. | View larger image
You can checkout the full infographic if you want the settings as well.
To get a feel for the Small Clone's sound, you could probably just close your eyes and pick any number of Nirvana tracks.
He used that thing a lot.
Here's a clip of the EHX Small Clone with a vibrato mod installed.
The Small Clone's tone and features
The Small Clone produces a vintage chorus sound that has a distinct shimmering quality and provides a nice texture over clean notes, especially on a lower rate setting.
Turning the RATE knob up creates a deeper, almost warbling effect, while the lower cut is far more subtle, ideal for texturing and light modulation.
There's also a DEPTH switch, which changes the intensity of the effect.
For what it's worth, Cobain had his guitar tech (Earnie Bailey) hard-wire it to the "up" position, which I believe is the more intense of the two settings.
Other examples of the Small Clone setup in pedalboards
Typically the Small Clone, like most chorus pedals, gets placed in the middle of a pedal chain, after a distortion pedal and before delay.
You can get a feel for the non-vibrato tone from EHX's demo video below, then checkout some of the rig configurations to see how folks (including Cobain) use and place the Small Clone.
EHX demoing the Small Clone chorus...
Kurt Cobain's pedalboard diagram from 1994 with the EHX Small Clone. | Image via Guitar.com
The EHX Small Clone in the middle of a pedal chain. | Image via SetupFX
The EHX Small Clone in a small, basic pedalboard setup. | Image via Imgur
Other features and uses
Part of the Small Clone's vintage appeal is the fact that it's entirely analog.
No digital chips, whatsoever.
It's also true bypass, meaning your signal, when the pedal is off, isn't going into any of the pedal's circuits. Rather it's as though the cable just goes straight through.
True bypass "bypasses" the circuits in your guitar pedal when it is off, thus preserving your guitar's tone. (View Larger Image)
The Small Clone is definitely a vintage-leaning chorus, making it a good fit for the classic rock enthusiast, Nirvana fan or any guitar player who has been heavily influenced by the early '90s.
At the same time, the chorus effect is so widely used that it can have application in nearly every musical style.
I'd say both stylistic leanings and skill levels are non-issues.
All who want a warm chorus tone should apply without hesitation.
The Amazon reviews for this pedal are every bit as inviting as the price tag.
Pedals like the EHX LPB-1, with simple and singular functionality, should be cheap, so it’s nice to see this booster come in under $50.
In most cases, you can snag used options in the $30 range.
Uses and Features
A booster pedal provides a simple jolt of volume, which is typically used to bring a guitar either into or out of the forefront of the ensemble.
Solos are often times "boosted" in this manner to make them more prominent in the mix.
Once the solo is over, just turn the booster pedal off and everything goes back to normal levels.
This particular booster acts as another level of gain control, as it will back off along with the intensity of your playing. If you play softly you’ll hear little or no gain while playing heavy will kick in the full compliment of overdrive.
For anyone who performs live and needs some additional volume control, this is a fantastic bargain.
Particularly if you play in a group with more than one guitar player or a keyboard player, being able to move in and out of the front of the mix is going to be really helpful.
While this pedal retails close to $80, its used price point hovers around $60, making it easily accessible under our established budget.
Moreover, it's a lot of pedal for the money.
There are a total of seven different flanger modes. To be honest, I didn’t even know there were that many different kinds of flangers. This gives you a ton of modulation versatility in one pedal, which you'll get a lot of use out of.
You can see each mode listed underneath the knobs.
They include the following:
- Voice 1
- Voice 2
- Voice 3
- Trig Up
- Trig Down
Considering that you can turn down rate and depth, (like a phaser) and use the sounds as a light texturing tool, there's a ton of opportunity to actually apply this pedal, regardless of musical style.
In addition to the modes, you have what is essentially a three-band EQ for each type of modulation:
This is more than enough dials to have full control over each flanger mode, which together offer a wide range of tones that are all highly usable.
Even the higher speed and depth settings, while more intense, still sound like they have practical use.
As a bonus, DigiTech throws in stereo outputs, perhaps in an effort to compete with the Boss BF-3 Flanger which boasts a similar stat line and is setup in much the same way.
I like both pedals but, for the price, the DigiTech offering gets you what is essentially the same features (with more Flanger modes) for a fraction of the cost.
Good job, DigiTech.
I’m a big fan of the Morley wah pedals (Steve Vai’s models, which we’ll get to soon).
Their Little Alligator volume is a solid offering as well.
It also happens to be a member of Vai's signature pedal series.
The sleek black and green unit retails in our price range, around $65 while used prices get into the $50 range.
The one feature I really like in this pedal is a minimum volume knob setting that allows you to go back and forth between two specific volume levels. This feature is similar to the defined volume points offered by the Ernie Ball volume pedals.
Otherwise, it's an extremely simple pedal, as a volume should be.
Uses and ideal setting
A volume pedal is going to be most valuable and practical in a live situation, and can be even more useful for acoustic rigs that might need an alternate method of controlling volume.
For some acoustic guitars, a volume pedal will be the only volume control.
Though some think of the volume pedal as one of the most important on any one pedalboard, and would assume it gets heavy use in just about any rig, regardless of situation.
I wouldn't say it's quite that important. Rather, it's a distinctly situational need.
Here are a few of those situations that I would say definitively make you an ideal volume pedal candidate:
- You play in a group with a second guitar player or keyboard player
- You use an acoustic guitar with a pickup that doesn't have a volume control (sound hole pickups, etc.)
- You play live music sets that have fluctuations in volume
- There's no third party controlling the mix at your live shows
Folks outside of these scenarios aren't precluded, and a volume pedal can still be useful in even the simplest playing situation.
Though live performers who don't own a volume pedal, specifically, should give serious consideration to the Little Alligator.
I bought this pedal when I was 15.
I'm 29 at the time of writing this and it's still my only wah pedal (still have the exact same one), the only one that I've ever used with regularity.
Here's why I like it so much:
The switchless kickback lets you engage the wah without hitting a button, which is something I would never want to be without in a wah pedal. In my opinion this unit is one of the best-sounding and most functional available.
It's also one of the only wah pedals that supports the "switchless" functionality.
Retail Cost and Used Options
You can grab one new for just a shade under $110.
That price has held for as long as I can remember and unfortunately, boots it out of our $70 limit.
However, used discounts tend to be really steep, often dropping into the $50 range.
Those are worth checking from time to time for possible bargains.
Who would use a wah pedal?
As I pointed out, in regards to the Cry Baby wah, these pedals are more useful for lead guitarists.
However, they do have a wide range of stylistic application and relevance, having been used in a ton of different musical genres.
Rock, blues and metal are the primary areas where you'll hear the effect.
I started playing guitar when I was 10 years old and didn't buy this pedal (or any wah) until five years later. Looking back on it, I think that timing was pretty good, as I'd been playing long enough to have a feel for lead melody and soloing, which made the wah pedal more useful at that point.
For those who have a little experience under their belts and want to take their soloing to the next level, Vai's Bad Horsie wah is a good way to do it.
A low retail price ($50) keeps the used tag fairly close to the same number.
Sometimes it’ll dip down to $40 or $45.
The sound of the EHX Doctor Q is ideal for guitarists who are into funk or disco sub-genres. It’s not the Q-Tron Filter (the Dr. Q's older brother) but it’s a great compromise if you’re on a budget.
Features and tone
If you're not sure what an envelope filter does, think of it as a type of auto wah.
In the Dr. Q, the RANGE knob controls the extent of the sweep, meaning there's almost no sweep when that knob is all the way down. As you turn the knob up, the sweep of the wah sound gets more broad as though you're pushing a wah pedal back and forth.
It's actually a fairly simple pedal, in that regard.
The Dr. Q adds a bass boost switch that pushes some additional lows into the EQ.
Would I use this pedal?
While it's most popular in a funk context, you can get a feel for its versatility by looking at some of the artists who use (or have used) an envelope filter.
Johnny Greenwood of Radiohead and DJ Ashba of Sixx AM are two of the most prominent in recent years.
Wes Borland has been know to keep one on his pedalboard as well.
A DOD envelope filter on Johnny Greenwood's pedalboard. | Image via Guitar.com
Another DOD envelope filter on Sixx AM's DJ Ashba's pedalboard. | Image via Guitar.com
Other notable users include Tim Mahoney of 311 and Peter Holmstrom, both of whom used an envelop filter in the early 2000s. And this is all just to name a few and to present some tangible examples.
It's fair to say that the pedal is well-suited for a lot of different styles and rock sub-genres, especially when you consider the diversity of the groups I've just mentioned.
As far as skill level goes, I'd recommend it more to intermediate and advanced players.
Beginners aren't precluded, though some might have a difficult time knowing how to place the effect and when to use it.
Can it replace my wah pedal?
While it does sound similar to a traditional wah pedal, a filter isn't going to do the same job.
The main issue is that a pedal like the Dr. Q can't be adjusted by your foot, beyond the on/off toggle.
It's all manual, meaning if you want to change the sweep, you've got to stoop down and do it by hand. This is why a filter or auto-wah is often used in a rhythm context or in the studio, where you can set the sweep by hand and then leave it.
If you like the sound of the filter and you decide to get one, I'd still recommend pairing it with a traditional wah pedal.
You'll find they serve two different purposes.
The Atomic Phaser II from ModTone is a useful modulation pedal with a simple control scheme and manageable price tag. Retail tends to hold in the $60-$70 range.
You can checkout current pricing here.
The main difference between this pedal and some of the other phasers on the market (namely the MXR Phase 90) is that this one adds a depth control.
In my view, that drastically increases the usefulness of any phaser effect.
Tone and features
Turning the depth knob down while leaving the rate around 12 o'clock gives your clean tone a nice texture that's easily implemented in a lot of different scenarios, without regard to style.
Being able to control depth gives you more flexibility with the intensity of the phase cycle and means you can be really subtle without having to slow the phaser down as much as you would without the additional control.
In that respect, I like the Atomic Phaser II more than the Phase 90.
However, I would not say that the Atomic Phaser II beats the Phase 90 in terms of tone.
It just doesn't sound as good.
Which one? | Image via Willie Vega
The Atomic Phaser II loses the warmth and analog richness that you get with the Phase 90, so if your choice is between the two, you've got two distinct options:
- Paying for control (ModTone)
- Paying for tone (Phase 90)
Both are good pedals but unique in terms of what they prioritize.
Those who want the extra customization will be better off with the ModTone, while those who want a more classic phaser with a nicer, more analog sound should opt for the Phase 90.
Before Kurt Cobain's death in 1994, he switched from the Boss DS-1 to the DS-2, after being a faithful DS-1 user for most of his career.
What is oddly baffling about this switch is that, according to his guitar tech Earnie Bailey, Cobain didn't use the "TURBO" mode on the DS-2 at all, which is the only distinguishing feature the DS-2 has when compared to the DS-1.
Whatever makes you happy, Kurt.
Features and controls
The TURBO mode offered by the DS-2 gives us an added level of push and gain that's a bit heavier than what you get with the DS-1. The DS-2 also supports use of a Boss remote control which means you can switch between the two modes on the fly.
Here's how the selection would be broken up:
- First mode (Regular DS-1)
- Second mode (Turbo DS-2)
The Boss FS-5L footswitch is "the remote" that you'll want to pair with the DS-2, which can be hooked up like this:
Though retail exceeds our budget, used and refurbished pricing routinely drops under that amount and can even dip into the sub-$60 range if you check at the right time.
Fans of the DS-1, and vintage rock distortion in general, who also want a little extra aggression from their sound, will find the DS-2 to be an ideal upgrade.
Live performers who want to use it as a boost pedal should give strong consideration to added the remote.
In most other cases, the remote is more of a convenience decision.
Boss's most affordable distortion pedal is also widely popular, ideal for almost all skill levels, scenarios and a wide variety of styles.
You'll find the pedal to be most comfortable as a classic or vintage distortion box. It tends to thrive when paired with a tube amp or a more treble-leaning guitar like a Fender Stratocaster.
The tone of the DS-1 is a warm and light overdrive, similar to a Hendrix-style fuzz.
A more edgy grunge tone is also achievable, as indicated by Cobain's nearly career-long relationship with the DS-1.
The Boss DS-1 distortion, looking quite artistic. | Flickr Commons Image via RamsesOriginal
I'd also compare its tone to the onboard distortion from some of the mid-range Fender tube amps.
It's smooth with a lot of gain but not overwhelming or too saturating.
Implementation and uses
I've most often seen it used at the beginning of pedals lines, placed behind a wah pedal and tuner, though before all other effects.
In the pedal line pictured below, you can see the DS-1 in front of the phaser and delay pedal:
The DS-1 works best at the beginning of a pedal chain, as pictured here. | Flickr Commons Image via WetWebWork
Bedroom jamming, professional rigs or studio recordings can all be a workable situations for the DS-1, especially if you're looking for a lighter distortion that leans more into blues and soft rock.
It's definitely not a heavy or "metal" distortion.
And while the basic three-band EQ does add some versatility and control, don't expect it to turn the DS-1 into a metal monster.
The unit prices around $50 and often far less if you check the used and refurbished guitar pedal options.
Other Guitar Pedal Buying Resources
We’ve published a lot of buying guides that are designed to help give you some direction when you’re looking for new gear.
Here are a few that you might find useful if you aren’t seeing what you need in the above listings.
Boutique Guitar Pedals: A roundup of boutique guitar pedals and their respective companies.
Cheap Guitar Pedals (the original article): An older, though still regularly updated, roundup article featuring some of our favorite cheap guitar pedals.
Best Multi-Effects Pedals: Rounding up and reviewing some of the best multi-effects guitar pedals available.
Best Phaser Pedals: A collection of the best phaser pedals for the money from the most reputable and trusted manufacturers.
Got some insight or experience with one of these pedals?
Let me know about it over at Twitter or in the comments section below.
Could you use more gear help?
Producing “great tone” is a worthy pursuit, but not always an obvious one.
We all own a unique collection of gear that seems to sound different all the time. That’s normal, but still something we need to learn to deal with.
We need to learn our gear.
If you want to access some resources that will help dealing with a specific tonal pursuit, piece of gear or other questions related to your rig, I’d recommend giving Guitar Tricks 14-day free trial a test run - there’s no obligations and you’ve got nothing to lose - except two free weeks of one of the most comprehensive and thorough guitar education websites in existence.
You’ll learn a lot and get access to a number of other resources that all guitarists can benefit from.
Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of Kyle Gaddo