We removed the MXR Dyna Comp, the Line 6 DL4, the Boss PH-3, DD-20 and GE-7, replacing them with the Donner Yellow Fall, the TC Electronic Flashback delay, Hall of Fame Reverb, the Boss RC-1 Loop Station and TU-3 Chromatic Tuner.
You’re an acoustic guitar player, almost exclusively.
Yet somewhere deep in your soul there’s a desire to branch out and at least be capable of more variety in your tone.
It’s not like you want a full pedalboard or a pile of stompboxes strewn across the floor. Just something that will provide more control; maybe a little color and flavor to your tone.
But what pedals “work” with an acoustic rig?
What effects would you actually use?
Is it even possible or practical to use pedals with an acoustic guitar?
Who has contributed to this content?
The following people have all contributed to this article and the recommendations thereof, either through written material or as a consultant. All of the recommendations made in this, and other Guitar Chalk gear articles, are based on the experience and expertise of actual musicians.
Educator, writer and guitarist since 1996.
Worship leader, PCA deacon and guitarist.
Session musician, guitar, keyboard & bass
Best Acoustic Guitar Pedal Picks
Some of the pedals we've highlighted aren't strictly "acoustic" stompboxes.
About half can work with electric or acoustic guitars.
We wanted to include a mention of a few extra pedals that are exclusive to the acoustic guitar and worth your consideration, if you want an acoustic-only solution.
If we could pick just two...
BOTTOM LINE: The Para Acoustic box is a five-band EQ, feedback controller, preamp and DI box all in one. It gives you all the tone shaping control you need for an acoustic guitar before sending a signal straight to your PA system.
BOTTOM LINE: A chorus is the first "color" effect you should add to your acoustic rig. The reliability of the Boss name and responsive controls make the CH-1 perfect for adding light modulation without having to worry about feedback.
While the acoustic guitar is certainly different than the electric, it shouldn’t be limited to bland strumming and a clean acoustic signal.
You absolutely can use pedals with an acoustic rig.
In fact, pedals can provide crucial functionality to an acoustic guitar, beyond a few cool effects, that you shouldn’t be without. Keep in mind that some of the pedals we recommend here serve a utility purpose and are not just for color or effect.
What are the best acoustic guitar effects?
Without a little research, it’s difficult to know what category of effects to target for an acoustic guitar, much less any particular pedal or stompbox.
First, we'll set up a simple list of the effects that are generally compatible with an acoustic signal, as well as the ones that are typically not.
After that, we’ll get into specific recommendations.
Best acoustic guitar effects
- Chorus, Flanger, Tremolo (general modulation)
Pedals to avoid with an acoustic rig
- Pitch Shifters
- Heavy Distortion
Now, there are some exceptions.
For example, certain distortions, like an overdrive pedal for acoustic guitar, can work in some situations.
But this gives us a good, if not broad, criteria to start with as we search for acoustic guitar pedals within the approved categories.
Designed for acoustic or just re-purposed electric guitar pedals?
We’re looking for pedals that are both specifically designed for acoustic guitars and those that are designed for an electric rig but, are also acoustic-friendly.
To make a few more generalizations, these pedals should have the following qualities:
- Compatible with passive electronics (soundhole acoustic pickups, etc.)
- Capable of subtle output (low saturation effects)
- Able to suppress or discourage feedback
- Able to control the effects level (wet/dry mix)
A stereo output (like the Boss CH-1) is a bonus since it allows you to send a signal into two sources. For example, an acoustic amplifier and mixing board are often both a requirement for acoustic players, which means having a way to route two outputs for your guitar's signal is helpful.
Acoustic Guitar Pedals for Worship
Leading worship or playing music in church with an acoustic guitar is an area that can get particularly mundane and “strum-happy.”
In that situation you have little or no flexibility with your tone and no ability to add color or flavor to your signal.
A look at Phil Wickham's pedalboard shows us we don't have to settle for that:
The Line 6 DL4 and Boss DD-20 on Phil Wickham's pedalboard. Image via Phil Wickham
If you’re wondering what pedals you could add that would work with an acoustic guitar and that would quickly alleviate these issues, there’s a baseline of recommendations we like to make, particularly for those who play in church services:
- Volume: Ernie Ball Passive Volume
- Compression: Boss Compressor
- EQ: Boss GE-7 EQ
- Chorus: Boss CH-1 Stereo Chorus
- Reverb: TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb
This is your quick-hit acoustic guitar pedalboard for worship leaders and a good snapshot of what we'd recommend to any acoustic player looking to start adding effects.
You’ve got essential tone-shaping with volume, compression and EQ, then some light modulation with a chorus pedal and TC Electronic Hall of Fame reverb. We'll cover the CH-1 and the HOF more in depth, along with the rest of our recommendations.
Let’s get started.
The chorus effect is a fantastic choice for acoustic rigs for three reasons:
- It provides subtle modulation
- It works for both rhythm and lead
- It doesn’t encourage feedback or change the volume of your signal
If you just want to add a little bit of color or effect to your sound, a chorus pedal is an excellent go-to, requiring only basic EQ and level controls. The Boss CH-1 accommodates with an EQ knob, RATE and DEPTH controls, all of which fall under an E.LEVEL knob which functions as a wet/dry mix control.
For subtle modulation just set every knob at about 11 o’clock. You’ll get a thin, shimmering layer over your acoustic guitar’s tone that doesn’t drown out the natural resonance of the instrument.
The pedal doesn’t boost your signal or add any kind of volume. All you’ll hear is a clear, simple effect.
Additionally, the CH-1’s two stereo outputs allow you to easily split your signal between two amplification sources. Simply plug your primary source into output A (mono) and the secondary source into output B.
Per the user manual:
The connections diagram, showing you how to use the CH-1 in stereo for two different signal paths. Image via Roland
Cutting the RATE and DEPTH knobs too high will cause the effect to sound thick and chaotic. This is more so an attribute of the chorus effect in general and not a knock on the pedal itself.
With that in mind, we would advise taking Roland’s “formal” settings suggestions (pictured below) with a grain of salt, as long as you’re using the CH-1 with an acoustic guitar.
In most cases, we found that the pedal performed best on the lower settings, particularly with the RATE and E.LEVEL knobs cut before 12 o’clock.
To calibrate the pedal with your acoustic rig, start with each knob around 25% (about 9 o’clock) and gradually bring them up one at a time. This way you’ll be able to get a better feel for the impact that each control has on your tone.
Some settings suggestions for the CH-1 chorus pedal from Boss. Image via Roland
Using the LEVEL knob for better chorus tone
If you do want to turn the RATE and DEPTH of the chorus up to higher levels, you can use the E.LEVEL control to drop the wet/dry mix down for a higher percentage of your dry signal, which might make the more intense chorus sounds more workable with your acoustic rig.
Having more dry signal from your acoustic guitar accomplishes two things:
- Helps prevent feedback
- Maintains a more subtle effect, thus preserving your natural acoustic tone
When using a heavier chorus EQ, aim for a 70-30 split between your dry and wet signal, respectively.
Other settings that sound great with an acoustic rig
Here are a couple CH-1 chorus settings that we found to be effective for an acoustic guitar, tested using a Taylor 114CE going straight into a mixing board:
E.LEVEL: 3 / EQ: 4 / RATE: 4 / DEPTH: 4
If it’s too subtle, move the LEVEL and EQ up a couple notches, per the following settings:
E.LEVEL: 5 / EQ: 6 / RATE: 4 / DEPTH: 4
The Venue DI is essentially an amplifier without a speaker cab. If you go straight into a mixer or PA system this unit let's you customize your acoustic's tone in every way imaginable. While it's particularly ideal for someone who doesn't have an existing preamp in their acoustic rig, it outperforms most preamps that come standard in an acoustic guitar or even in an acoustic amp.
A lot of acoustic amps (particularly the cheaper models) don't match the control provided by the Venue DI.
LR Baggs even manages to fit two different midrange controls into the five-band EQ, low mid and hi mid, for some added tonal flexibility.
The unit also doubles as a DI box, allowing you to bypass additional amplification and go straight into a mixer or PA system. There's also a built-in send and return that you can use as an effects loop.
A look at the back end of the LR Baggs Venue pedal with an XLR output and send/return loop. Image via Soundpure
This is a fantastic tool for acoustic solos artists, worship leaders, session players or an acoustic rig that lacks a lot of control or a preamp source. Moreover, the Venue provides the additional functionality of tuning, feedback control, an effects loop and a built in DI box.
Its price is usually on the higher end, though you can check used pricing which often dips significantly below retail.
However, buying a preamp, tuner, noise gate and DI box separately would run you a lot more than what the Venue costs.
With the Venue, LR Baggs continues to solidify its reputation as one of the single best acoustic guitar resource manufacturers in existence.
Features, functionality and tone
The Venue has an adjustable gain feature designed for acoustics, which is compatible with both passive and active electronic systems. This is, of course, in addition to the five-band EQ we mentioned earlier.
For feedback control there's a Garret Null Notch filter and a clipping light that will tell you when you're feeding back or when you need to cut down your output.
Other perks include a full chromatic tuner and a boost button that gives you a nine decibel jump, ideal for solos or instrumentals.
The tone shaping is incredibly responsive, giving you a wide range of sounds and EQs to choose from. If you do have an external preamp, either in an acoustic amp or the guitar itself, We'd recommend bypassing it if you can, or just setting it to something as "garden variety" as possible.
Let the Venue do the heavy lifting.
Outside of color and flavoring effects, you can rely entirely on the Venue for whatever acoustic tone you can think of.
LR Baggs throws in a nifty carrying case.
If the LR Baggs Venue is a little too expensive for your taste, the Acoustimax Sonic Maximizer preamp from BBE gives you a lot of the same controls at less than half the price.
Like the Venue, the Acoustimax is ideally designed for the gigging or studio acoustic guitar player who wants to have more control over their tone and be able to adjust for different rooms and environments. BBE delivers this control with a five-band EQ, as well as feedback and frequency dials.
This unit has additional value for those who don't already have a preamp built into an amplifier or their acoustic guitar.
As with the LR Baggs offering, this unit has a DI out that can send your signal straight into a mixer or PA system. An EFX loop, line out and tuner out are also included.
A look at the back of the Acoustimax preamp. Image via MusicStoreLive.com
The rest of the pedal is essentially two parts:
First, you've got the preamp side of the Acoustimax, which is made up of the five-band EQ controls:
A look at the preamp controls on the BBE Acoustimax.
You have gain, treble, mid and bass, while the mid's frequency can be controlled for a Low or Mid leaning.
The right side of the pedal is a feedback controller and a series of knobs that allow you to adjust the Sonic Maximizer feature. This hallmark of the Acoustimax basically streamlines your guitar's tone, matching up the lows and highs of your acoustic's resonance and projecting them at the same time.
Without this feature, the tone of an amplified acoustic can be inconsistent, projecting higher frequencies earlier than the low end resonance.
While it's hard to hear this phenomenon on its own, it becomes really noticeable after you've heard the signal with the Sonic Maximizer. Once you do, you won't want to play your acoustic guitar without it. In fact, you can get the Sonic Maximizer feature on its own, either in a pedal or rackmount form:
The Sonic Maximizer basically evens out the response, causing all levels of the EQ to sound simultaneously.
This feature sounds quite good, giving you a much smoother and musical-sounding tone. However, the preamp controls on the Acoustimax didn't feel as responsive as the ones on the Venue DI.
They're good to have, though the Sonic Maximizer is the feature that really gives this pedal its value.
Looping is one of the more useful effects capabilities an acoustic guitar player can have, particularly if you spend a lot of time in the recording studio or as a solo act.
The RC-1 allows you to quickly record and loop back your signal which can then be layered over with something new, making it really easy to play both a rhythm and lead line. To get a feel for how it works, checkout this clip of Josh Wilson playing his looped rendition of "Amazing Grace".
Jump to the 1:00 mark of the clip to skip the intro:
He's not using the Boss RC-1 specifically, but the capabilities you'd have would be similar, and we like the RC-1 for its compactness and affordability.
The pedal has a check and loop indicator so you can easily know where you are in the record/playback process. And while there are advantages to using looper pedals with multiple controls (the RC-1 only has one footswitch) the RC-1's setup didn't take long to learn or get used to.
For as small as it is, the looping system feels intuitive and surprisingly functional.
Minimal design for the RC-1 and the Boss website. Image via Roland
It's really just a matter of starting and stopping at the right time while keeping an eye on the looping indicator lights, which count as your loop runs down.
Boss's own demo video covers it in less than two minutes:
For acoustic players who are often flying solo, or at least without other guitarists, the RC-1 is an affordable and invaluable addition to the pedalboard.
There are two different Flashback pedals that have been put out by TC Electronic, and both are recent products. We're highlighting the original Flashback, which is a bit more familiar to us. However, the Flashback 2 has all the same features with some additional treats like a responsive expression control, three dedicated TonePrint slots and a few other perks.
You can check reviews and pricing for both here:
While the original Flashback is far cheaper than the new addition, we're fairly confident about recommending both, depending especially on how you feel about the expression feature of the newer one. That functionality is where you get a lot of the value (and additional cost) of the newer model.
Here's a quick demo from TC:
For the acoustic guitar pedalboards, we'd probably recommend staying with the original Flashback just because the newer features of the Flackback 2 seem more focused on electric guitar.
Tone and Features of the Original Flashback
The original Flashback has a tone profile that can be as subtle or as intense as you want, where we found the more subtle dials to be very accommodating to an acoustic guitar's signal.
Echos felt mellow and didn't take over the acoustic's natural resonance.
Since the "LEVEL" control lets you mix between your delayed and dry signal, it was easy to dial down and avoid feedback issues. It also looks like the signal runs analog via "analog dry-thru" which basically means the dry signal is separated from the digital processor and run through a true analog circuit.
The Flashback appears to run your dry signal through a separate analog circuit. Image via TC Electronic
This makes sense, considering the delay has a very organic sound and appeal.
Also helping the acoustic tone is a true bypass circuit, particularly when you mix the wet/dry signal 50-50. Playing with the 11 different modes is a lot of fun, though we found ourselves gravitating to just a few after cycling through all of them.
The only thing that felt like a drawback was the lack of a tap tempo control. This meant that any changes to tempo had to be handled manually.
However, there are plenty of situations where delay on an acoustic guitar can be more of an ambient layer and not a time-sensitive echo, in which case the lack of a tap tempo is a non-issue.
As a layering tool, the Flashback is extremely friendly to acoustic rigs.
For acoustic guitar players (and electric players) there is simply nothing to dislike about the Hall of Fame reverb pedal, unless you just dislike ambient effects in general. The HOF is one of the most well-put together ambient stompboxes we've ever used, and it's perfect for acoustic guitar tones.
When you're adding effects to your acoustic guitar, reverb is one of the best suitors for several reasons.
- It's ambient, but not time-sensitive (unlike echo or delay)
- Reverb is extremely easy to layer over a clean tone
- Can be added as a subtle effect
In this regard, all reverb pedals can make good additions to an acoustic guitar pedalboard. However, the HOF does the job particularly well for an astoundingly good price tag.
Features and Tone of the Hall of Fame Reverb
First, you have 11 different modes, including the TonePrint option, just like the Flashback delay. Then you have a true bypass circuit with an analog dry-through signal, which perfectly preserves the natural tone and EQ of your acoustic guitar (again, similar to the Flashback's setup).
When you're using the effect, we would advise tinkering with the mix to get about 35-50 percent of your dry signal coming through.
This will give your signal a more natural and organic feel while allowing enough of the reverb effect through to create a nice texture.
Reverb works well for acoustic guitars because it's a less intrusive effect that doesn't overtake the clean signal. Echo and delay pedals can be more difficult to tame from a feedback perspective, especially when the echoing trail gets too long. With reverb, you can have a thick effected layer with a relatively short trail behind it, especially with the HOF's short/long switch.
Another acoustic-friendly feature of the HOF is the "TONE" control, which allows you to dial in either a crisp or warm EQ for your wet signal. This is helpful for acoustic guitars which tend to benefit from the warmer side of the EQ, especially for rhythm and strumming patterns.
That same knob can be thought of as a control to adjust the "dominance" of the effect, meaning it's really easy to have a blunted reverberated tone that leaves your acoustic's natural signal to do the heavy lifting.
At the price, we honestly can't find a single thing to complain about.
If you play an acoustic guitar but don’t own an amp and prefer not to (perhaps because you almost always play into a PA system) then this preamp is ideal for your situation.
Not only does it give you the added control over your tone but, it also eliminates the need for an acoustic amplifier entirely, similar to the Venue DI.
It’s also much cheaper than an amp.
Settings and other features
The Para DI allows you to control gain, which is basically the volume that goes into the master volume or output.
This means it’ll be easier to control feedback and have a more compressed response.
We recommend dealing with EQ preferences after you’ve set volume and gain the way you want.
Here’s a closer look at the controls:
A close look at the five-band EQ on the L.R. Baggs preamp. (View Larger Image)
Additional perks include a DI out, built-in effects loop and 48V phantom power.
It’s a complete acoustic preamp and, for what it’s worth, one of our favorite acoustic rig recommendations, particularly as a more affordable alternative to the Venue DI.
Typically it’s not as easy to control volume on an acoustic guitar as it is on an electric guitar.
With some acoustic pickups (like the Woody from Seymour Duncan, for example), you have no control over the volume from the guitar itself.
Great pickups but, no volume knob. Image via Seymour Duncan
Thus a volume pedal is nearly a must for acoustic rigs.
The Junior Ernie Ball volume expression pedal is a good combination of quality and price.
Particularly, it’s the best volume pedal for acoustic guitars with no onboard volume control.
Ernie Ball to the rescue. The VP Jr. Homepage. Image via Ernie Ball
Though we’ve always thought that even the less-expensive volume pedals are still way over-priced.
In fact, they’re just glorified volume knobs.
Since the functionality is so simple, going with the cheaper options is a totally viable option. The VP Jr., in its price range, is a solid compromise.
Some noteworthy features
The VP Jr. has a tuner out, which is a nice add-on if you don't want the tuner in your main signal path.
It’s also smaller, which you might prefer over the larger wah-sized volume pedals.
This particular model is designed for passive electronics (essentially a pickup with a battery) which will play nice with most acoustic pickups.
Passive soundhole inserts, like the Fishman Neo, are particularly good companions.
Yes, there are other tuners out there.
However, all three of the contributors listed at the top of this article own either the Boss TU-2 or the TU-3 and absolutely swear by them. First, having a tuner built into your pedalboard, even if it's an acoustic pedalboard, is optimal simply because you can control everything from your feet.
We like the Boss Chromatic line because of how quickly they respond to the strings and how well they handle multiple instruments.
Here's a picture of Bobby's Boss TU-2 setup on his acoustic pedalboard for church.
My acoustic pedalboard for church with the Boss TU-2 at the front of the line. The TU-3 would be even better. (View Larger Image)
There's a lot to like about the reliability of Boss pedals, particularly their more utility-related stompboxes. The TU-3 is a good example of that reliability with a solid exterior and some easy-to-read controls up front, right underneath the bright LED strip.
Here's a closer look at the TU-3's front panel:
Closeup look at the front panel of the Boss TU-3 chromatic pedal tuner. (View Larger Image)
The numbers you see on the LED line are drops that you can use (6, 5, 4, 3, 2 or a single flat) making drop tunings and bass tunings easy to visualize. It also has a brightness control, which would mean more to you in a performance scenario. The mode button, to the right of the pitch indicator, is to change between guitar and bass tuning.
We included this pedal in our list because of two things:
- It's very economical
- The tone is surprisingly good
Together, these make the Yellow Fall a commendable option. However, we do not believe that this is an "analog delay" in the strictest sense of the term. Typically an analog delay pedal runs on a bucket brigade circuit, which requires a certain amount of physical space. The Yellow Fall is simply is not big enough to house these circuits.
You'll also notice in the product description Donner uses the term "whole circuit delay" when referring to the analog circuit. This verbiage is typically used as a way to elude to a dedicated digital circuit without actually using the word "digital".
Moreover, the PT2399 chip - inside the Yellow Fall - is a digital echo processor which you can find here.
You'll notice it's also extremely cheap, even cheaper when purchased in bulk.
Thus, we don't concede that this is an analog delay pedal.
The Yellow Fall'S Tone and Value
However, it does seem to support a true bypass connection and sounds really nice with an acoustic resonance. The tone is warm, bass-driven and friendlier on lower EQs, but still has a nice chime on the higher register.
For those looking to stock an acoustic pedalboard on a budget, it's a good compromise that gets you a performance-worthy tone without having to spend much.
We usually don't recommend pedals this cheap, but there's some value with the Yellow Fall, given the right situation.
Are effects for the acoustic really necessary?
Buying pedals for an acoustic can seem a little unorthodox.
Since you can get along fine without them, adding a pedalboard and any number of stompboxes to an acoustic rig might seem like overkill.
That can be true to some degree.
At the same time, nearly every acoustic player can benefit from having at a few basic effects like chorus, reverb and volume.
Start with those.
If you enjoy having the added dynamics and ability to customize your sound, add a delay and build out from there.
Over time, you’ll settle on a pedalboard that feels useful and isn’t just there for the fun of it.
Other Acoustic Guitar & Effects Content
Best Overdrive Pedal for Acoustic Guitar: A look at the best practices and gear to employ when adding distortion to an acoustic guitar.
Pedals, Preamps and DI Boxes for Acoustic Guitars: Recommendation for a variety of acoustic guitar pedals, processors and PA system-related gear.
Best Acoustic Guitar Roundup: Listing and review of our favorite acoustic guitars under the $1000 price threshold.
Taylor 114ce Review: Bobby's full review of his own acoustic guitar.
Questions about anything?
If you have questions about the pedals or any of the gear mentioned in this article, please post them in the comments section below as that's the easiest way for us to respond and also the best way to make sure that information is available to future readers.
We also welcome gear suggestions and corrections, assuming they're well-reasoned and respectfully submitted.
Usually Bobby responds to these comments directly, within 24 hours.
Thanks for reading.
Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of Kmeron