The first stompbox I ever managed to get my hands on was an old Danelectro chorus pedal.
It was one of the smaller ones, from the series that were all named after some kind of food.
This one was the "milkshake chorus."
In my mind, that was the best chorus pedal I could have ever purchased. And while I don't remember what I paid for it, it couldn't have been worth much more than 20 bucks.
Coincidentally, that was about 20 years ago, when my mom let me pick it out from a music store in the mall (no internet then) and fronted what was almost certainly too much money for such a funny-looking little plastic box.
These days, I've moved onto better chorus pedals.
Because I love the chorus effect for its simplicity, and for how easy it is to layer melodies or to give your dry signal a little extra texture.
If the sole purpose of the electric guitar is to layer and apply texture, then the chorus is universally useful, regardless of musical style.
Over the years my favorite chorus pedals have been the simple ones.
DOD's Ice Box, which you can still find on Reverb, and the Boss CE-5 Chorus Ensemble have been my go-to chorus stompboxes over the last two decades. Though these days I run all my chorus effects out of a rack-mounted unit.
We'll take a look at the CE-5 along with some of the best chorus pedals for the money, both with analog and digital circuits.
Here are all the pedals we'll cover:
What is a chorus pedal?
The chorus effect manipulates a dry guitar signal to sound like multiple, nearly identical pitches. This is why, on some settings, a chorus effect can sound just slightly off pitch.
This is part of the effect's charm and appeal.
This modulation of your signal is created by low-frequency oscillation, which is responsible for the pulsing and sweeping sensation that a chorus pedal emulates.
Chorus tones can be described as ambient, ethereal or "watery" in the way they saturate and layer your signal.
Typically you'll have two different ways to control this sound:
"Rate" controls the speed of the oscillation, while "depth" controls how broad or intense that sweep is.
Outside of rate and depth, level and mix are often included as well, which simply allow you to control the ratio of dry to wet (effected) signal.
Other controls you might see on a chorus pedal include the following:
Digital or analog chorus pedal?
As with phasers, the difference between digital and analog chorus pedals isn't tremendously significant. Some prefer the analog versions, simply because they're viewed as a more authentic effect.
In my experience, the digital chorus pedals are just as good.
Moreover, digital chorus pedals will usually have more customization options, while analog chorus pedals are often limited to fewer knobs.
That’s not to say there aren’t analog chorus pedals out there that give you more control (we’ll cover several), but they’re not typical, and are often more expensive than their digital counterparts.
As I did with phaser pedals, I'll offer a few reasons for tolerating, or even preferring, digital chorus pedals:
- More control options
- Sound quality is comparable to analog (in most cases)
- Popular in the “digital age”
How much should I spend for a "good" chorus pedal?
Chorus pedals are not tremendously expensive. Next to distortion and vibrato, they're one of the simpler sound effects to develop.
Thus, you won't often see a chorus pedal eclipse $150 and many are less than $100.
An acceptable "target" price range would be the following:
- Buy Low: $50
- Sell High: $180
What I've done is targeted chorus pedals that retail around $100 - $200, then I try to buy low on the used options around $50 - $120.
That's where you'll get the most value.
We'll link to some used options throughout these reviews and cover general info on retail pricing and expected cost for each pedal.
Let's jump into the mess.
MXR's analog chorus pedal houses a bucket-brigade circuit, which is the most organic form of "analog" you can possibly get. In decades past, that same circuit has been used for a number of other oscillating effects, including phasers.
The analog circuit in the M234 produces a distinctly retro sound, though with plenty of range per the control scheme.
Textures resulting are lush and liquid, ideal for layering lead melody.
In total, you've got five different ways to adjust the tone of your chorus effect, with a low and high knob as well as the traditional, level, rate and depth controls.
Control scheme for the MXR Analog Chorus pedal. | Image via Jim Dunlop
Per the analog flavor, sample settings hail from the '80s, '90s and 2000s, and are provided inside the M234 user manual.
It's retro, for sure.
Nothing modern about this one.
Sample settings provided by MXR for the M234 analog chorus pedal. | Image via Jim Dunlop
When I set my chorus pedal, I prefer to keep things subtle, meaning depth and rate both tend to stay fairly low. I like a "shimmer" more than a warbling sound. The M234 is accommodating of both extremes.
Rate and depth will provide the most noticeable adjustments for the effect, since they control the speed and length of the cut, respectively.
Controls on the M234 analog chorus pedal. | Flickr Commons Image via Rocadi
Thus, I'd advise starting with everything at 12 o'clock on the M234.
If you want a thicker shimmer, move the DEPTH and LEVEL knob up a bit higher:
Note that the LOW and HIGH knobs are both just an EQ control for the effect and would be the most natural sounding if they closely match the position of the bass and treble knobs on the amplifier you're using.
LEVEL is the wet/dry mix of the effect, so if you start with everything at 12 o'clock, you can make adjustments from that point.
If you want to checkout some of the sounds, this demo video by Reverb is short and does a good job of showcasing both the subtle and intense extremes the pedal is capable of.
Video demo for the MXR M234 analog chorus pedal. | Image courtesy of Reverb
All-told, I'd consider this pedal to be more on the subtle end of the spectrum, in that it excels when the tone it produces is nuanced and slight.
Even with the LEVEL knob cranked high, you'll notice just a little extra shine coming through, while your clean signal is still allowed to, for the most part, keep the lead.
Of course, cranking settings throws in an intense swirling effect.
Still, the strength of this pedal lies in its simplicity and organic flavor.
Less is more with the MXR M234.
The Boss CH-1 Super Chorus is what I might call the "de facto" leader of the chorus pedal free world. It's the go-to chorus solution, used by innumerable pros and amateurs a like.
Members of the CH-1's fan club include Robin Thicke's guitarist, Chris Payton.
Oh my God, the Super Chorus—I’ve absolutely loved that pedal since I was about nine years old. - Chris Payton, Robin Thicke's guitarist
As of 2012, Dave Navarro ran two Boss CH-1s on his pedalboard as well.
Dave Navarro's pedalboard with two Boss CH-1 Super Chorus pedals. | Image via Guitar.com
You can see one on the "main" line, between the Tube Screamer and delay, while another is positioned on the second channel of the A/B/Y selector switch.
Miki Berenyi's pedalboard with a Boss CH-1 Super Chorus pedal. | Image via Guitar.com
Miki Berenyi also keeps one amidst a small collection of other Boss pedals.
Why people love the Boss CH-1 Super Chorus pedal
To what should we credit all this appeal?
The beauty of the CH-1 lies in its simplicity, with a straightforward control scheme, stereo outputs and the stability that comes with a Boss stompbox.
Controls are the following:
- E. LEVEL
E.LEVEL controls the wet/dry mix of the effect, while the EQ knob allows you to better match the tone of the effect with the clean tone of your amplifier.
RATE and DEPTH are your garden-variety modulation controls, though they do provide plenty of range for the effect, allowing you to move between a subtle shimmer or a thick warbling sound.
Coupling this simplicity with an inviting price tag (usually in the $75 range) easily explains the CH-1's go-to status.
It's a value buy and the ultimate safe bet when it comes to chorus pedals.
All styles and skill levels are safe to apply.
All chorus pedals will add a slight shift in pitch, giving your tuning a bit of ambiguity.
However, EarthQuaker's Sea Machine has so much versatility in its controls, that you can dial in a warped sound that seems almost like a pitch-shifter combined with a vibrato effect.
The Depth and Dimension knobs, when moved up, will create this effect.
At the same time, you can back off the Intensity knob to keep the sound of depth while simultaneously keeping the pitch intact.
The Sea Machine is, overall, an extremely versatile pedal.
Controls include the following:
On the top row:
On the bottom row:
Six total knobs that you can use to manipulate the chorus effect.
Per the user manual, here's a more detailed description of what each one does:
EarthQuaker Sea Machine chorus controls. | Image via EarthQuaker
With all this control, the Sea Machine is one of the most uniquely-voiced and dynamic chorus pedals I've ever seen.
EarthQuaker Devices has even come up with a comic book character, "Octo Skull," based on this and a number of other effects they've developed.
Octo Skull comic developed by EarthQuaker Devices. | Image courtesy of EarthQuaker Devices
As far as I can tell, EarthQuaker Devices is the only guitar pedal company that puts out a comic book.
JustNickMusic demo's the Sea Machine V2 chorus's tone on their YouTube channel, and does a great job of showcasing the pedal's sound.
Price and Value of the Sea Machine Chorus Pedal
The Sea Machine chorus pedal hovers around $180 retail, putting it firmly above the price range of the Boss choruses, but still affordable by boutique pedal standards.
Unfortunately, used prices don't drop significantly.
If you buy, I'd advise buying new. The cheapest retail price I could find was Amazon at $165. You're getting good value at this price point, assuming you're going to use chorus a high percentage of your playing time.
For "here and there" use, I might advise going with the Boss CH-1 or CE-5 Ensemble, the latter of which is up next.
Instead of the EQ knob found on the CH-1, the CE-5 gives us a FILTER control which has a HIGH and LOW option, effectively giving you a two-band EQ for your effect.
The CE-5 is a big tent chorus pedal solution, for all skill levels and styles, that can be had fairly cheap. While retail is $99, used prices can dip way down. I've seen them hovering around $60 and even lower if you're in the right place at the right time.
Settings are also fairly straightforward.
RATE and DEPTH knobs do the heavy lifting while the FILTER can be used for more subtle adjustments.
Sample settings for the CE-5 chorus pedal. | Image via GuitarMasterClass.net
My Experience with the Boss CE-5 Chorus Pedal
Before I moved most of my effects into a rack-mounted unit, the Boss CE-5 was my chorus pedal of choice, and I used it for years. Settings were almost always dialed to a subtle layer of chorus.
I found that cutting either the RATE or DEPTH knob much past 12 o'clock was just too intense and not nearly as usable.
As a subtle flavoring, it was a really effective pedal.
If that's what you're looking to add, the CE-5 is a fantastic value.
TC Electronic always does a great job of loading up their pedals with features and the Corona chorus is no exception.
For starters, you've got the four expected tone control mechanisms:
- Speed (rate)
- FX Level
- Tone (EQ)
Then, you have three different chorus "modes" to choose from via a selector switch at the top of the pedal.
The modes include the following:
- Tone Print
- Tri Cho
Tone Print is TC Electronic's hallmark feature that's included in most of their pedals, which allows users to download pre-modeled tones by professional guitar and bass players directly too their stompboxes via a USB connection.
You can read more about Tone Print if that feature perks your interest.
For me, I'm a big fan of this pedal, with or without the USB compatibility and software package.
Other Features of the TC Electronic Corona Chorus Pedal
The Corona chorus pedal includes stereo inputs and outputs as well as true bypass wiring, which perfectly preserves the tone of your clean signal when the pedal is off.
The USB connection I mentioned is on the front face of the pedal's exterior.
USB port on the Corona chorus pedal. | View Larger Image
An analog circuit preserves your clean signal as it passes through the pedal, all of which is housed in an extremely sturdy metal casing.
It's also a fairly small, space-saving box that didn't sacrifice features for a reduced footprint.
Notable pros who use the TC Electronic Corona chorus pedal
The Corona Chorus artist list boasts some impressive names that includes, but is not limited to, the following:
- Joe Perry and Brad Whitford of Aerosmith
- Scott Ian of Anthrax
- Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath
- Troy Sanders of Mastadon
Troy Sanders is Mastadon's bass player, which suggests the Corona is a good fit for bass as well, though I've never tried it with bass myself.
Bill Kelliher and Brent Hinds (Mastadon's guitar players) are also said to use the Corona Chorus, though I couldn't verify this.
Here's a look at the Corona on Sanders' board:
Troy Sanders' bass pedalboard with the TC Electronic Corona chorus pedal. | Image via Premier Guitar
Premier Guitar also gives us a glimpse of Scott Ian's pedalboard from the Anthrax years, which features a TC Electronic Corona Chorus in a rack tray, going into an effects loop.
The Corona chorus pedal on Scott Ian's pedalboard. | Image via TC Electronic
Pricing of the TC Electronic Corona Chorus Pedal
The Corona chorus retails at $100, or a bit higher, depending on where you're buying from.
Oddly enough, I didn't see a lot of used options, which is a good sign.
The turnover rate for this pedal is low because the satisfaction level is fairly high, as the Amazon reviews would suggest.
It's a step up from the Boss offerings, though still more affordable than some of the higher-priced boutique chorus pedals.
I like the Corona for just about any skill level and whatever style you can throw at it.
It's a fantastic value, especially if you get it for $100.
A lot of people get freaked out by the price of this pedal.
At $35, it's one of the the cheapest chorus pedals on our list, assuming you're looking at just the retail cost and not other used options.
It's also a popular choice, incurring a ton of positive feedback.
So, what's the problem?
If it's analog and true bypass, why not just buy this chorus pedal?
Is the Donner chorus pedal any good?
Understandably, it's not that simple, as the low price begs a few questions:
Is the Donner chorus any good?
Is it really analog?
Here's what I know.
- The pedal does have an analog circuit
- It's also an actual true bypass circuit
- The tone sounds incredibly good and competes with the more expensive options, in that regard
That's the good news, but we should note the reasons for the cheaper price tag as well.
Why is the Donner chorus pedal so much cheaper?
Donner would probably claim that other companies are charging for their "name," which I wouldn't agree with. Rather, the accounting for most of the cost reduction, in Donner's pedals, is somewhat obvious.
...the Donner pedals are serviceable and not necessarily of poor quality. They're just not top of the line either.
Two reasons are primarily to blame:
First, the Donner pedals are extremely small and use less material to make the casing. Second, they're largely imported and not made here in the United States or by hand. That alone means Donner can charge a lot less.
This also means that the Donner pedals are serviceable and not necessarily of poor quality, if not mass-produced. They're just not top of the line either.
I like to recommend some of them, simply because of the price. They sound good, give you basic features and can be had for cheap.
Whether or not they're a good option for you will depend on your situation.
Who is the Donner Chorus pedal ideal for?
The Donner chorus pedal is fantastic for beginners or those who just want a cheap chorus effect that they can use sparingly.
I would not advise it for recording sessions, since its controls are more limited than other options. Though it can be a great live tool, particularly if you only need chorus for one or two songs and don't want to spend big money.
Thus, the value of Donner's chorus pedal is all about context.
The Red Witch Empress chorus has plenty to brag about, but it's strongest feature has to be its tone, plain and simple.
Its analog circuit just sounds fantastic.
Tone can be thoroughly controlled by a four-part knob system that includes the following:
- Mix (wet/dry signal)
- Depth (added vibrato)
- Voice (changes the delay time of the chorus)
- Velocity (speed of the modulation)
You'll notice the toggle switch at the top left side of the pedal's exterior. This is for switching between vibrato and chorus mode.
The toggle switch for either chorus or vibrato mode. | View Larger Image
The second toggle switch, on the right side of the pedal, with the two suns, is a bright and dark toggle switch, giving you a sixth dimension of control over the pedal's tone.
The bright and dark effect tone toggle switch on the Empress chorus pedal. | View Larger Image
Additionally, Red Witch provides stereo outputs on the Empress chorus pedal, allowing you to route your signal to two different sources from the effect.
Tone, Settings and Sound Quality of the Empress Chorus Pedal
You'll notice the LED light on the front of the pedal blinks according to the timing of your chorus and vibrato effect, which is helpful for fine tuning the sound, particularly if you need it to be exact for session work or recording.
The tone it produces is a thick and lush chorus, even on moderate settings.
Once you unbox the pedal, I'd recommend starting with your settings at the following positions, as your control:
Start with your settings here, then experiment with various knob-tweaking. | View Larger Image
If you want a deeper layer of modulation with more of a bottom-heavy resonance, try something like this:
Mix gets bumped higher for a thicker layer of modulation. | View Larger Image
We can cut back the Depth while maxing out the Mix knob to give us a thick layer of modulation, without the thick "cuts" that would ultimately send a warbling effect into the final result.
This is a great setting for adding flavor to an otherwise bland clean tone.
If you want the more intense modulation, the Voice knob is an easy way to get there, particularly if the Depth knob is moved past 12 o'clock.
Depth and Voice move up for a thicker, warbling effect. | View Larger Image
Moving the Velocity knob up can have a similar effect, as it increases the speed of the modulation.
This can actually bend the pitch of your notes, since the chorus effect is meant to create a slightly off-pitch ambience to begin with.
The Empress Chorus Pedal's Ideal Buyer
This is one of the more versatile chorus pedals you'll find on the market, and it's also one of the few that exceed the $200 retail price tag.
In most cases, I've seen the Empress going for around $220.
Used options dip near $200, though not much lower.
Those who stand to benefit most from the Empress chorus services would include recording artists or session guitar players who need a customizable and flexible chorus pedal.
Moreover, you're getting two effects in one if you consider the vibrato mode, which produces a vastly different swath of sounds, all its own.
It's not just a throw in.
If that's what you need, the Empress delivers in all facets.
I've got no complaints about the price tag in that scenario.
Bands and Artists that Use Chorus Pedals
There aren't a lot of guitar players that don't have a chorus effect of some kind, either in a rack system or a stompbox.
Some of the most iconic chorus pedal users have been Kurt Cobain during the Nirvana years, Kim Thayil of Soundgarden, Alex Lifeson of Rush and (oddly enough) Metallica's Kirk Hammett.
But you can look just about anywhere to find examples of chorus pedals on the pro's guitar rigs.
Here are a few famous pedalboards with chorus stompboxes in tow.
Collective Soul's Dean Rolland and the Boss CH-1 Super Chorus
Image via Premier Guitar
Shinedown's Eric Bass and the EBS Uni-Chorus
Image via Premier Guitar
Derek St. Holmes (Ted Nugent) & the Boss CE-2 Chorus Pedal
Image via Premier Guitar
Don Felder and the Boss CE-5 Chorus Pedal
Image via Premier Guitar
Uli Jon Roth's Pedalboard with a Boss CH-1 Super Chorus Pedal
Image via Premier Guitar
Kurt Cobain and the Nirvana Chorus Sound
Kurt Cobain was arguably the single, most influential guitar player when it came to his use of the chorus pedal.
He almost always used the EHX Small Clone, though on certain songs would use an old EHX Poly Chorus as well.
He can be seen with both in this photo:
Kurt's implementation of the pedal was simple.
The EHX Small Clone only has two controls, a RATE knob and DEPTH switch, the latter of which is said to have been hard-wired into the up position on Cobain's pedalboard.
A lot of chorus fans take their cues from Cobain's method.
They keep it cheap and, if at all possible, painfully simple.
Where to Place a Chorus in your Effects Chain
This topic is tough because it's somewhat subjective.
Outside of a compressor and tuner being first in your pedal chain (after your guitar) it's not entirely clear what the best arrangement is. Moreover, modulation effects are particularly difficult to place, since they're considered strictly "flavor" effects.
It is generally recommended that a chorus pedal, and all modulation effects, be placed after distortion but in front of timing (ambient) effects, like delay or echo.
In other words, they don't impact volume, gain or timing.
Most of the time the chorus effect will simply be referred to as "modulation," which means placing a flanger, phaser or chorus pedal will all be the same.
It is generally recommended that a chorus pedal, and all modulation effects, be placed after distortion but in front of timing effects, like delay or echo.
Strymon gives us a few different ways to line things up.
Placing a Chorus Pedal without an Effects Loop
Placing a Chorus Pedal with an Effects Loop
Note that in the second diagram, Strymon puts "ambient" effects (delay and reverb) in the effects loop, leaving everything else (including the chorus pedal) in the original signal chain.
Thus, the short answer is to go in this order, depending of course on which pedals you have:
- Modulation (chorus, flanger, phaser, etc.)
- Ambience (delay, reverb, echo, etc.)
If you want to mix things up, that's fine too.
Do what works for your rig and don't over-think it.
Your Thoughts and Input
Have a different chorus pedal that you live by?
Maybe one we didn't mention in this list?
Let me know and I'll check it out. I try to stick with what I have first or second-hand experience with, which means I can't get to everything.
Leave it in the comments section below.
Questions about the aforementioned chorus pedals (or anything else) will be answered there as well.
Other Guitar Pedal Buying Guides
Delay Pedal Roundup: A collection of our favorite delay and echo pedals.
Phaser Pedal Roundup: Our phaser pedal recommendation list, highlighting ten of our favorites.
Tremolo Pedal Roundup: Our tremolo pedal recommendation list, highlighting seven of our favorites.
Distortion Pedal Buying Guides: All of our content related to buying and using distortion pedals.
All Effects Pedal Buying Guides: Our archive of effects pedal buying resources and roundups.
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“Miki Berenyi – Lush – 1994.” Miki Berenyi – Lush – 1994 | Guitar.com. Guitar.com, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016. Miki Berenyi Pedalboard with Boss CH-1 Super Chorus Pedal
“Dave Navarro – Jane’s Addition – 2012.” Guitar.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016. Dave Navarro’s Pedalboard with Two Boss CH-1 Chorus Pedals
“EarthQuaker Comics.” EarthQuaker Devices. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2016. EarthQuaker Devices Guitar Pedal-Inspired Comics
“Scott Ian | Guitar.com.” Scott Ian | Guitar.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016. Scott Ian’s Pedalboard and Gear Rundown
Steve Cook November 26, 2014. “Rig Rundown: Mastodon (2014).” Premier Guitar RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016. Mastadon’s Chorus Pedals and Guitar Gear
Rebecca Dirks October 30, 2012. “Rig Rundown - Anthrax’s Scott Ian and Rob Caggiano.” Premier Guitar RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2016. Rig Rundown of Scott Ian’s Pedalboard, Including his Chorus Pedals
Strymon. “Setting Up Your Effect Signal Chain - Strymon.” Strymon. N.p., 12 Sept. 2016. Web. 01 Dec. 2016. Where to Put your Chorus Pedal in a Signal Chain
Flickr Commons Image courtesy of Misswired