Overall Best Guitar Pedals (our top picks)
Empress Heavy, Strymon BigSky, and more
Obviously the best guitar pedals will depend on the category of effect you're addressing. We've covered gain (distortion), modulation (chorus, flanger, etc.), and ambience (delay, reverb). The Boss HM-2w, TC Electronic Hall of Fame, and Line 6 DL4 (MK2 version) are some that we've included. Note that we've tested these in-hand. Enjoy.
Updated on October 18th, 2023
Checked links and removed some informational content. All the pedal recommendations are still the same, since these are based on some of our highest-rate reviews. Formatting has changed a lot as well to make the page more streamlined and easier to read.
In this article we'll cover the best guitar pedals out of what we've tested and actually used. These are not secondhand recommendations based off reading an/or re-hashing product descriptions. All of these pedals have been bought, played, and used by those who contributed to this article. We're doing guitar pedal reviews based on those that scored the highest in our rating system.
7 Best Guitar Pedals Overall (top rated)
Empress Effects Heavy Distortion
Line 6 DL4 MK2 Delay
Strymon BigSky Reverb
TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb
Walrus Audio Fathom Reverb
Boss HM-2w Waza Craft
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1. Walrus Audio Fathom Reverb
Best boutique reverb pedal
Walrus Audio's Fathom is a unique style of reverb containing four intriguing algorithms, which all sound totally different from one another. You can use the mix knob to completely remove your dry signal from the output, which preserves only the wet side of the effect. This produces some bizarre, ethereal sounds that we haven't been able to duplicate with other reverb pedals.
Going through our grading systems shows no glaring problems with the Fathom. In terms of shear tone quality and versatility, the Fathom is one of the best pedals we've ever used. Tweaking it's settings provides a range of significantly different sounds, as opposed to being being a subtle variation on a theme. Those looking for ambience on their pedalboard, and prefer to experiment with different effects and reverb sounds, should consider the Fathom an immediate top recommendation. Even with the boutique-level price tag, we'd say the Fathom is well worth it.
IDEAL FOR: Ethereal ambience for studio and stage
- Four different reverb algorithms
- Sustain button sounds awesome
- True bypass
- Trails mode (turn reverb trails on or off)
2. Boss HM-2w Heavy Metal Waza Craft Distortion
Best Swedish metal, modern distortion
Easily, the most defining characteristic of the HM-2w's tone is sustain. It has a lot of it at just about every setting. Whether you're on the lower gain side or higher gain, you'll have a really long trail of saturation. The distortion sound of the HM-2w is modern and modeled after the Swedish "chainsaw" metal sound produced by the original version
These are the qualities that most describe this distortion:
- Very high gain
- Percussive low end
- Swedish chainsaw metal sound
- Lots of sustain
The HM-2w is not a good fit for more subtle styles like blues or classic rock. It's way too heavy for that category. In my demo you can hear how it responds at all the EQ levels. I would note that the high filter seemed to give me more variety than the low.
Where the low is concerned, the pedal usually sounds pretty bass-heavy. I like that sorta thing.
Read the full review: Boss HM-2w Heavy Metal (Waza Craft)
IDEAL FOR: Heavy metal, modern rock, percussive rhythm, and recording.
- Sustain is some of the best we've ever heard
- Metal and modern rock sound is perfect
- Nice variety from the hi filter
- Tons of thump and percussion
- Analog circuit
- Not what you'd consider versatile. It's pretty hard to dial in a non-intense sound. Then again, that's not what it was made for.
3. Strymon BigSky
Best digital reverb (best reverb overall)
Strymon's BigSky is one of the most powerful digital reverb pedals available. It has 12 different reverb modes that can each be adjusted by seven different controls, where two of those - PARAM 1 & 2 - change depending on which algorithm (mode) you're using. There are also 300 different presets available for banking sounds, making the BigSky extremely convenient for session guitarists and live performers.
However, the BigSky is really expensive, limiting its appeal to beginners or those who are working on establishing their pedalboards. Otherwise, guitar players who rely on ambient sounds will get a ton of use out of the BigSky.
For semi professional and professional guitarists, there's no scenario where we wouldn't recommend the BigSky.
IDEAL FOR: Ambient layering over clean tones, recording, ethereal playing styles, and advanced players who use a lot of reverb
- 12 total reverb algorithms
- MIDI controllable
- 300 presets
- Infinite sustain
- Dry path runs analog
- Quite expensive
4. Empress Echosystem
Best digital echo pedal
Variety is one of the Echosystem's greatest strengths. There's just a ton of different sounds to experiment with, and when I tested it, the tinkering was very addictive. It felt like you really just couldn't get around to everything. More over, all the tones and models sounded incredibly good, making the tone quality pretty easy to assess. It was fantastic across the board. I particularly liked the analog/tape-style models, which were really percussive and rhythm-focused. You could dial in a really punchy rhythm but maintain the chime and sheen of an ambient delay.
This also provided more distinction between the modern digital delay models and the analog-leaning algorithms.
In other pedals, there often isn't a ton of noticeable difference between them.
This is not the case in the echo system.
There's so much variety in the Echosystem that it's hard to narrow in on specific tone qualities, though the overall tone quality is easy to grade. It's absolute fantastic.
I'd recommend setting the mix at 12 o'clock while you test and then move out from there.
It's one of our favorite delay pedals to date. Empress rarely fails to impress.
Read the full review: Empress Echosystem
IDEAL FOR: Clean tone layering, ambient styles, church/worship music, pop, rock, advanced players and general effects-focused rigs
- More algorithms than you'll know what to do with
- Analog models are especially good
- Lo Fi and Whiskey models are awesome (definitely recommend playing around with these)
- Strymon-like tone quality
- Expensive, but probably worth it
5. TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb I and II
Best value reverb pedal
The reverb effect finds its most appealing, somewhat-low-cost option in the Hall of Fame pedal series from TC Electronic. The unit has several different modes of reverb, along with a decay, level (wet/dry mix) and tone control, giving you tons of varied reverb sounds to experiment with. At the price, it's incredibly functional and a perfect alternative for those that want to avoid the sticker shock of the BigSky and other expensive units.
If you're using an amp or PA system without onboard reverb (or a reverb you just don't like) the Hall of Fame can supplement nearly any type of ambient sound you could want. With so many modes and the level control, you can have a thick reverberated covering or just a subtle layer of ambience. It's useful in any scenario, regardless of playing style.
IDEAL FOR: Basic ambience, budgets, beginner to intermediate pedalboards, recording, amps without reverb
- 11 reverb modes
- True bypass
- Stereo i/o
- Decay, tone, and FX level controls
- None for the price
6. Line 6 DL4 MK2 Delay
Best delay pedal overall
There are two categories of delay algorithms in the MK2, which give you a total of 30. This is made up by old modes that were on the original DL4 and new ones that are unique to the MK2. These new modes are similar to some of the algorithms in the Line 6 HX Stomp.
Read the full review: Line 6 DL4 MK2 delay
Here's how the effects in the MK2 break down:
- 15 legacy modes (original Line 6 DL4 modes)
- 15 MK2 or HX modes (modes unique to the MK2)
A couple other new features we really like:
- MIDI controllable
- More presets
There's a lot more in the way of combining effects like reverb, modulation, and even pitch-shifting, which we're seeing more often in digital guitar pedals. It's not a multi-effects pedal, but it certainly gives you more effects categories that you can use to get more out of a single delay algorithms.
The HX modes in the MK2 are definitely taking this approach.
Both the legacy and HX delays sound excellent - no issues with tone quality.
We'll leave you with Bonedo's demo below. He always does a great job.
IDEAL FOR: Those who loved the original DL4, clean layering, recording, playing live, pop, rock, church, pretty much anything
- 30 delay modes...crazy
- Lots of effort from Line 6 to build on the original
- MIDI controllable
- More presets (this was a big one for me)
- HX effects give you a ton of variety
- More expensive than the original (at least for now)
7. Empress Effects Heavy
Best distortion pedal overall
This Empress Effects distortion pedal is completely analog with two channels and a three-band EQ dedicated to each one. It packs a modern, Mesa-sounding distortion capable of tons of smooth gain and low-end punch. It's expensive, but also worth the price of admission as the highest-functioning distortion pedal we've ever tested.
In our rating system, "EQ Comprehension" considers how much control you have over a pedal's sound. The Empress Heavy scores a 98 in that category with a three-band EQ for each channel and two global EQ controls. This is one of the Heavy's most notable strengths, along with its overall tone grade. It's a perfect distortion for live performance, recording, or even as an amp or preamp replacement.
IDEAL FOR: All modern distortion needs
- Gain tone is fantastic
- Two channels
- Noise gate is the best around
- True bypass
- Expensive but worth every penny
Best Guitar Pedals for Your Situation
Like I said, choosing the best guitar pedals for your situation will depend on what type of effect you're shopping for. At the bottom of this article, I've linked to guides I've written for a bunch of different types of pedals and effects categories. On this page I've also put together a highlight of the guitar pedals that have performed best in our reviews and rating systems. When I review a guitar pedal, I make sure I have it in my hands so I can take my own pictures and record my own demos.
Our Rating System
We've also built up a rating system for each pedal we review, so I've put the highest scoring options in the list at the beginning of this article. You can refer to that list if you want to browse through pedals based on my own research.
At the same time, you need to make the call for yourself.
Decide which effects you want to pursue and checkout some of our other guides. If you need help or have any questions, don't hesitate to reach out via the comments section below.
Good luck pedal shopping.
Concluding and Additional Questions
Have questions about this roundup?
Maybe you want to know more about why we've chosen these pedals out of everything we could have chosen. Again, we've used and tested these pedals with our own gear, so we've taken the time to make sure what we're recommending is actually worth buying.
For more information about our experience or just general questions, feel free to drop them below in our comments section.
We're happy to answer their and help out as much as possible.