Parent article: Best Guitar Pedals
Updated by Bobby
Recently updated on May 20th, 2021
Added new photos for the Walrus Audio Julia chorus, with the new face design.
BEST CHORUS PEDAL
MXR M234 Analog Chorus
The sound quality, usability, analog circuit, wide range of control, and a low price tag makes this an easy winner in the chorus pedal category. The M234 spares no expense and covers every aspect of the effect perfectly.
One of the coolest guitar pedals I ever managed to get my hands on was an old Danelectro chorus when I was 11 years old. 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 young, new-to-the-guitar mind, that was the best guitar pedal I could have ever purchased. And while I don't remember what I paid for it, the little pedal couldn't have been worth much more than 20 bucks. These days, I've moved onto better chorus pedals, namely five that we've tested and recommend most.
I'm going to focus on a total of five chorus pedals for guitar players, based on our first-hand testing. Looking for cheaper options? Checkout our cheap chorus pedal recommendations
All the pictures, video, and data are here to prove we've done the work of using and rating these pedals honestly. For each chorus pedal featured, I'm looking at primarily the following criteria, which you should also be considering if and when you're buying your own chorus pedal:
- Tone quality
- Versatility of control
- Features (true bypass, stereo connection, etc.)
- Reputation and community consensus
- Cost and value
Our Best Chorus Pedal Picks
Here are the five chorus pedals I've settled on. Read on for photos, audio demos, and a more detailed look into each one:
MXR M234 Analog Chorus Pedal
EarthQuaker Sea Machine Chorus
Walrus Audio Julia Chorus & Vibrato Effects Pedal
TC Electronic Corona Chorus Pedal
Boss CE-5 Chorus Ensemble
1. MXR M234 Analog Chorus Pedal
MXR's analog chorus pedal houses a bucket-brigade circuit, which is the truest form of "analog" you can get. That same type of 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.
Full review: MXR M234 Analog Chorus
Textures resulting are lush and liquid, ideal for layering lead melody. We really like the M234 with the rate lowered, giving you a soft sheen of modulation that doesn't impact the pitch of your clean sound. If you want more of a noticeable pitch shift, just turn the rate up for a deeper cut. For a really subtle clean rhythm layer, turn depth down and leave the rate control at about 50 percent.
Overall, the tone profile is really warm and would pair well with a tube amp where you're playing a lot of cleans and need some simple effects layering.
EQ and Tweaking
As I've already touched on, you'll get a lot of variety out of just the depth and rate controls. I worked a lot with those before even touching the level knob. The High and Low knobs (at the top) function as a two-band EQ for the wet portion of your signal, which were harder to get much variety out of unless we had the mix entirely on the wet side.
Still, getting a chorus pedal with a five-band EQ is a real treat, especially when you're working with a completely analog pedal. It would be interesting to see Dunlop put this control scheme on the MXR Phase 90.
As MXR is known to do, they've managed to produce a great-sounding, analog pedal in a small box for less than $100. This is where the M234 ultimately beats the Sea Machine. Because while the Sea Machine sounds better and has a bit more control, it's really expensive compared to the M234. If you're looking for value, the M234 is a clear winner out of every chorus pedal we've tested.
IDEAL FOR: Vintage chorus fans
2. EarthQuaker Devices Sea Machine V2 Chorus Pedal
All chorus pedals will add a slight shift in pitch, giving your tuning a bit of ambiguity. However, the EarthQuaker Devices 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 vibrato.
The Sea Machine definitely has an ambient quality to its modulation. It just seems to cover more than your average chorus effect, and at the same time has a bunch of different control mechanisms that you don't see in other chorus pedals, which I'll cover in the next section. Like the M234, you can lower the rate knob and get a subtle, warm layer of modulation, though the additional knobs give you a lot more options that are more "out there" than what you'd expect from a traditional modulation pedal.
EQ and Tweaking
The unique controls - namely Dimension, Shape, and Animate - all give you a much larger scope to work with, particularly in terms of pitch shifting and overall intensity of the chorus.
For example, the Shape knob actually changes the waveform of the effect, which then means each subsequent knob adjustment is going to mean something slightly different than it did for the other waveforms. It's a scale of a triangle to square wave.
The ambience I mentioned earlier comes from the Dimension control which adds a slight slap-back reverb sound. Turning the animate knob up will give you a wider swing in pitch. Note that the "Intensity" knob is essentially the wet/dry mix control.
We now get to a point where the Sea Machine starts losing ground. From a value perspective it scores much lower than the other pedals in this list because it's nearly twice as expensive in most price comparisons. This is especially problematic if you buy this pedal thinking you're just going to use it as a "typical" chorus.
Guitar players who would get their money's worth from the Sea Machine would be those that intend to use the chorus in more of an unconventional way and take advantage of the wide range of sounds this pedal can achieve. For the average chorus buyer who doesn't care about the additional control, it probably isn't worth the doubling in cost from the M234.
If you do get excited about the additional and unique controls, buy confidently.
IDEAL FOR: Tinkering
3. Walrus Audio Julia Analog Chorus
The Julia is the second analog chorus pedal on our list, with a tone that compares closely with the M234. It's also a combination chorus and vibrato pedal, with a mix knob that works by blending between dry, chorus, and vibrato instead of a hard switch between modes.
Like Walrus Audio? Check out the Descent Reverb
You get a good blend of vibrato and chorus that does a nice job of respecting your clean tone, which we've noticed is a common characteristic of analog chorus pedals. They just seem to preserve your amps natural sound a lot better, which alone could make them worth the additional cost. The Julia is a much clearer modulation with less emphasis on pitch shifting and more of a focus on shimmer and layering, per the added vibrato.
While we've graded it below the M234, an argument could be made for either of those pedals being higher than the other.
EQ and Tweaking
When you use the d - c - v knob you'll move between dry, chorus, and vibrato modes or any blending thereof. As you move between these modes, the results you get out of the rate and depth knob will change, depending on which effect you're using. If you're judging purely on the chorus, it doesn't have quite as much versatility as the M234, though it does have the waveform mode selection.
For boutique-level single button pedals, the going rate seems to be about $200. This is a lot for a chorus pedal, but you're getting a lot of quality in return, especially if you value the vibrato additive. If that's not something you're looking for, I'd advise going with the M234 and saving the extra $100.
IDEAL FOR: Vibrato and Ambiguous modulation Tones
4. TC Electronic Corona Chorus Pedal
TC Electronic always does a great job of getting a lot of value into their pedals, and the Corona is a good example of that. Highlights include stereo i/o, two different chorus modes, and true bypass wiring, which perfectly preserves the tone of your clean signal when the pedal is off.
Full review: TC Electronic Corona Chorus
From a tone perspective it's really warm and smooth, and takes a heavy turn of the depth knob to throw off your pitch. This makes it a good choice for rhythm players who might want to layer clean chord progressions, or even acoustic players that want to decorate or thicken up their sound. However, it's similar to the CE-5 in that it doesn't do quite enough to beat the quality scores of the M234 and the Sea Machine.
Here's my own settings demo of the Corona that demonstrates some of its strengths in both modes (the pedal has both a Chorus and Tri Chorus mode):
EQ and Tweaking
The Corona boils down the High and Low knob of the M234 into one "Tone" knob, which seemed to be of little consequence. Neither configuration responded as well as the filter controls in the CE-5. And while the Tri-Mode is nice to have, it's essentially just a layered, pitchier chorus. In terms of versatility, the Corona is more of a set-and-forget kind of chorus pedal, and certainly not ideal for those that want to do a lot of tweaking.
As we saw with the Sea Machine, the Corona's price tag looks a little unpleasant when compared to the M234. That's not to say it doesn't have great value, because we do like it better than the CE-5 and the Sea Machine. It's a simpler, more straightforward chorus that gets you some boutique features and the TonePrint compatibility, if you're interested in that.
IDEAL FOR: Rhythm
5. Boss CE-5 Chorus Ensemble
The Boss CE-5 Chorus Ensemble is a marginally more involved version of the Super Chorus, with a filter control that allows you to cut both highs and lows out of the effect's EQ. Of the two, I've found the CE-5 to be more subtle and nuanced, better for rhythm playing and light layering. Personally, I prefer the CE-5, though both Boss chorus pedals are similar.
Read the full review: Boss CE-5 Chorus Ensemble
Here's a simple demo I recorded of my own CE-5:
While the CE-5's effect sounds good, I didn't find it quite as warm or inviting after using the M234 and the Sea Machine. Even compared to the Corona, the tone of the CE-5 sounds a little more processed and digitized, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's just the reason I didn't want to score it as high as the others. It's a great-sounding chorus, though with a higher price tag than the M234, I'd like to be a little more wowed by the tone quality, and it was just par for me.
EQ and Tweaking
The CE-5 uses the exact same control scheme as the M234, again making the $120ish price a bit of a disappointment. There also just isn't as much variety in the depth and rate control as what we got out of some of the other chorus pedals in this list. Still, all the basics are there and it is a five-band EQ for a single chorus effect.
Even with its limitations compared to the other chorus pedals in this list, the CE-5 has a lot of value. I'd like to see it come under the $100 price point, especially since it measures so close to the M234. Yeah, those who are loyal to Boss pedals or who just happen to prefer a digital processor won't be disappointed. We like the CE-5 in all situations where a clean effect layer is needed.
IDEAL FOR: Basic modulation
Our Chorus Pedal Testing and Rating Process
Chorus pedals are a little harder to test because a lot of them sound really similar. It's one of the most subtle and un-intrusive effects sounds, especially when you aren't dialing in any kind of intense pitch-shifting. Our process had to take this into account and make sure that we looked for more nuanced differences between each effect. How usable are they when the rate is turned up? How good does it sound over a strumming chord progression?
At a practical level, we take each chorus pedal and put them through a rating system with seven metrics, scored on a scale of 1-100.
Once those metrics are filled out, we can get an average final score for each chorus pedal. This is essentially the same system we use for rating all guitar pedals. In some cases, we'll make minor changes if there's a category that doesn't apply or doesn't make sense with a certain type of effect.
Pinpointing High Value
This is to avoid simply providing you with the most expensive chorus pedals. Instead, you should aim for a mix of a good price and high grades in the rating categories we've established. Crossing these ratings with price is a big part of how we settle on which chorus pedals to present to you. Even within this grouping, we can plot the same graph and give you an idea of which chorus pedals give you the most bang for your buck:
Overall Tone Grade
Every pedal we test and review, regardless of what type of effect it is, gets an overall tone grade. This is simply meant to denote how good the pedal sounds and how effectively it accomplishes its said goal. When assessing tone quality in a chorus pedal, we look at several nuanced aspects of the sound:
- Is the chorus effect true to what most would expect a chorus to send like?
- Does it sound good when used as a light layer and as a heavier pitch shift?
- Does it preserve the quality and nuance of your clean tone?
- Does the effect side of the mix match the volume of the clean side?
These are just a few of the ways you can grade tone quality. And while it's true that there's some subjectivity involved with this process, we try to be as objective as possible and analyze the sounds of the pedal based on concrete factors, like those I just mentioned.
Versatility Grade (modern/vintage)
We grade pedal versatility based on how applicable they are to different styles. Broadly, this can be broken down into modern and vintage tones. The clearest of example of this is with distortion pedals, where you often have types of distortion that are either modern or vintage, but not both. With chorus pedals, this is a little more ambiguous because modulation can generally be applied to a wide range of styles.
An example might be the EHX Small Clone chorus that Kurt Cobain used. While we've never tested that particular pedal, it's widely considered to be a more vintage-style chorus. The Earthquaker Sea Machine would be considered a more modernized style of chorus. A pedal will get a higher grade in this area if it's usable in a wider range of styles.
Again, it's hard to make a distinction here with chorus pedals. I'd be willing to think of it more as a pass/fail system with anything above 80 percent getting the P grade. Again, we've included the Donner chorus to show what some typical lower scoring results.
This is a far more concrete rating as it takes into account the exterior control available to you on the actual pedal. For chorus, this should mean at least basic modulation controls, which include rate and depth. The nicer chorus pedals go above and beyond this scheme, however, adding things like waveform selection, hi and low EQ controls or other controllable parameters.
Not only are we rating on the available knobs but we're also looking at how effective those knobs are in terms or providing variety. For example, how usable is the pedal when the rate knob is turned low? What about when it's turned up high?
Does each control actually make the pedal better and more usable, or is it just something you won't really use? Typically, we see analog and digital chorus pedals providing a decently wide range of control, as we see in both the M234 and the Julia.
How much should I spend on 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 $250 and many are less than $150. An acceptable "target" price range would be the following:
- Buy Low: $80
- Sell High: $220
One cost-cutting strategy is to target chorus pedals that retail around $100 - $200, then try to buy low on the used options priced around $50 - $120. That's where you'll get the most value.
Conclusion and Questions
Have a different chorus pedal that you swear 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 and what we've actually tested, which means we 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.
Works Cited & Other Resources
- Jim Dunlop. "MXR M234 Analog Chorus Pedal." M234 ANALOG CHORUS (n.d.): n. pag. Jim Dunlop USA. Web. 1 Dec. 2016
- "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
- 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