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/practical to use pedals with an acoustic guitar?
A lot of the pedals we've highlighted aren't necessarily "acoustic" stompboxes.
About half are re-purposed electric effects.
I wanted to include a mention of a few extra acoustic pedals (exclusive to the acoustic guitar) that are worth your consideration, if you want an acoustic-only solution.
If I could pick 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.
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.
Pedal cabling or couplers?
For cabling between pedals, I recommend using the Planet Waves right-angle patch cables, which are low capacitance, shielded (practically noiseless) and come cheap in packs of three.
Shielded, low-capaciatance Planet Waves patch cables help cut down on noise and pedal hiss.
Gold pedal couplers will have the same effect and significantly reduce noise between pedals.
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 (and should) use pedals with an acoustic rig.
In fact, pedals can provide crucial functionality to an acoustic rig, beyond a few cool effects, that you shouldn’t be without.
What are the best acoustic guitar effects?
It’s difficult to know what kind 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 guitar, 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.
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)
I’ll also add that a stereo output (like the CH-1 below) is a bonus since it allows you to send a signal into two sources.
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 a nice bonus.
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 that I 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 CE-5 Chorus Ensemble
- Reverb: Lexicon MX-200 (multi effects)
This is your quick-hit acoustic guitar pedalboard for worship leaders.
You’ve got essential tone-shaping with volume, compression and EQ, then some light modulation with a chorus pedal and a rackmount reverb processor that can deliver additional effects, if needed.
These aren’t necessarily unique to worship leaders but, they’re a great place to start.
Any of the additional pedals in the full following list are worth considering as well.
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 falls under an E.LEVEL knob, functioning as a wet/dry mix control.
For a 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 mediums. 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
What I found with this chorus and the CE-5 Ensemble (also from Boss) was that cutting the RATE and DEPTH knobs too high caused 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's themselves.
But, with that in mind, I'd 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, I 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 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 a more dry signal from your acoustic guitar accomplishes two things:
- Helps prevent feedback
- Maintains a more subtle effect
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 settings that I found to be the most effective dials for my acoustic rig, which was essentially a Taylor 114CE going straight into a mixing board with a garden variety EQ:
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 of what comes standard, either in an acoustic guitar or even in an acoustic amp.
A lot of acoustic amps (particularly the cheaper models) don't have the level of control available to them that the Venue DI provides.
LR Baggs even manages to fit two different midrange controls into the five-band EQ, low mid and hi mid, for some added flexibility.
Furhter, the unit doubles as a DI box, allowing you to bypass additional amplification and go straight into a mixer or PA system.
A look at the back end of the LR Baggs Venue pedal. | Image via Soundpure
This is a fantastic tool for acoustic solos artists, worship leaders and acoustic 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 and a built in DI box.
Its price is usually on the higher end, though you can check used pricing which often dips 15 - 20% cheaper.
However, buying a preamp, tuner, noise gate and DI box separately would run you a lot more than what the Venue retails for.
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 does have an adjustable gain feature, designed for acoustics and, 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 any kind of external preamp, either in an acoustic amp or guitar, I'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 for good measure.
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 controls.
Likewise, 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:
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. | Image via Sheehan's Music
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 without this feature. 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 smooth 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.
Along with the chorus, the phaser is a fun acoustic guitar effect.
It adds a light effect layer to your tone without masking the natural appeal of the acoustic signal. No volume or signal boost to worry about; just a simple modulation that sounds great either as a rhythm or lead additive.
The Boss PH-3 is a digital phaser that allows you to simulate different numbers of stages (you can read more about phaser stages in our best phaser pedal post), which gives you a lot more control over your tone, compared to something like the MXR Phase 90 that only allows you to control the rate.
Additional controls on the PH-3 essentially make up a three-band phaser EQ:
- Res (resolution)
Use the PH-3 controls and add color to all your acoustic riffing and lead melodies
All this control means the PH-3 is capable of both subtle ambiguity and aggressive, staccato-style modulation, giving its user a wide range of intensity options. This is an ideal pedal for an acoustic player, since the touchiness and sensitivity of an acoustic rig often requires a tamable and "teachable" line of effects.
Since the PH-3 offers so much in the way of versatility, its compatibility marks are through the roof.
It's even a common addition to keyboards and bass player rigs.
Boss recommends the PH-3 for use with bass guitars, which bodes well for thicker acoustic signals. | Image via Roland
So the PH-3 solves two problems for the acoustic player:
- It provides a simple on/off modulation effect without volume variance
- It guarantees cross-instrument compatibility with numerous customization options and mode selection
Roland's settings suggestions (pictured below) are actually not a bad fit for acoustics. The one critique I would add, as I did with the chorus pedal, is to keep rate and depth a little lower.
In particular, a high rate, which increases the speed of the phase stage, can create a rather chaotic result and may over-saturate your signal. My recommendation would be to set the RATE and DEPTH at 12 o'clock, the RES (resolution) at 3 o'clock and then go with the 8-stage mode via the STAGE knob.
From there, you can use the tap tempo to match the phasing cycle to the rhythm of your playing.
Roland's formal settings suggestions for the Boss PH-3 Phase Shifter. | Image via Roland
Make simple modifications to the Vintage Phase Shift 1 settings for the ideal acoustic phaser tone
You could also just start with the “Vintage Phase Shift 1” suggestion but, with the DEPTH knob cut back to about 40%.
From there you can play around with the RATE and adjust things to taste.
A phaser effect is like boiling water. It's tough to get it wrong.
So while I'm a bit disappointed that there's no wet/dry mix, the other customization options on top of a fairly simple effect, make that a non-issue.
If you click the button below and checkout the used prices, you'll often see this one going way below its retail value.
Acoustic guitars and delay can sound really good together.
Rhythmic delays and the old tape echoes are prime real estate for acoustic guitars, having the ability to take a simple rhythm or strumming pattern and give it a major upgrade.
In fact, I'd be willing to say that delay is as useful to rhythm acoustic players as it is to lead electric players.
There's just no comparison between a dry acoustic rhythm and the punchy echoes you can get when your delay is timed just right. It's an absolutely beautiful combination.
The DL4 gets this done with 11 different modes. Some of the more acoustic-friendly options would include the following:
- Lo Res Delay
- Analog w/ Mod
- Digital w/ Mod
- Auto Volume (volume swells)
- Tape Echo
- Rhythmic Delay
Use the DL4 to add a perfectly-timed acoustic delay
After you've selected your mode, you can adjust nearly everything about the effect via the rest of the pedal's interface. Moreover, you can adjust the wet/dry mix for all 11 modes, which I find to be an invaluable tool when I pair this pedal with my Taylor acoustic.
The pedal includes a tap tempo feature and allows you to bank three presets.
Everything you need to add a delay effect and meticulously control the result is found in this pedal.
Once again, it's control and variety that win the day for your acoustic rig and the DL4 has plenty of both. I'd recommend checking out the RHYTHMIC delay mode first for a nice strumming additive.
Mixing delay and acoustic guitars properly
Depending on how it’s set, delay could be considered a “heavy” effect, which is bad news for a feedback-sensitive acoustic signal.
The DL4 offers so much flexibility that you can avoid feedback, even with thicker delays.
Here are a few best practices to keep in mind:
- Repeats: 2 to 3 echoes
- Delay time: less than 1 second
- Mix: below 50%
The more important of the three is to keep your repeat numbers down.
Once you get into the four or five echo territory, feedback and over-saturation can start to become a major problem.
Even on electric guitars, I advise people to stay in the two to three echo territory.
On the DL4, this can be handled pretty easily via the REPEATS knob.
Keeping the MIX at or below 50% also helps to avoid having too much noise going through your acoustic signal. Besides, you don’t want your entire acoustic tone saturated with delay.
Use the MIX knob to make sure your acoustic guitar still sounds like an acoustic.
The rest of the settings are an issue of taste and preference as long as feedback is under control.
Acoustic players who play on a dark stage and want a programmable, down to the millisecond, digital delay that's easy to use will find an ideal solution in Boss's popular DD-20.
It solves the problem of visibility with an LCD readout that clearly displays the delay time on a back lit screen.
It's also more functional, from a control standpoint, with two large Boss-style foot pedals that are easier to press than the metal buttons we're used to seeing on other boxes.
While it's perfect for the performer on a dimly lit stage, the DD-20 Giga delay is possibly the most complete digital delay pedal in existence and makes an ideal fit for any pedalboard.
Part of what makes it so usable for acoustic players is the combination of an E.LEVEL knob and feedback controller. This means you've got twice as much control over feedback and the saturation of the effect, both of which help ensure a pedal will work with an acoustic rig.
We would agree with the DD-20 homepage on Boss’s website. | Image via Roland
If you're in a situation where you'd like to use a lot of delay but don't want to overload your acoustic guitar's signal, the DD-20 gives you all the tools necessary to add the delay effect and then tailor it to your acoustic rig.
In other words, feedback and excessive noise are not likely to be an issue with this pedal.
Further, there's a Smooth and Twist knob that allow you to control the subtlety of the delay; another bonus feature for the acoustic player.
Since the pedal is a little bigger, here are the dimensions from Roland’s website, for those of you who are pedalboard planning:
Physical dimensions of the Boss DD-20. | Image via Roland
It’s also worth noting that Roland includes this in their Acoustic Products Catalog:
The DD-20 making an appearance in the Boss Acoustic Catalog. | Image via Roland
As far as settings go for the DD-20, you could spend a lot of time experimenting and working through everything it’s capable of.
I recommend starting with some of the basic settings via the DD-20’s manual.
Here’s a shot of the first few:
Some recommended settings for the Boss DD-20. | Image via Roland
Not surprisingly (for a pedal of this size) the DD-20 supports a stereo connection, which is also cataloged in the user manual:
Setting up the DD-20 in stereo with two amplifiers or mixers. | Image via Roland
Simply put, all the features you could ask for in an acoustic guitar pedal are included here. Boss manages to get it all in for under $200, which gives the DD-20 a leg up in price over many of its competitors.
It's a no-brainer inclusion to this list.
It’s also priced surprisingly well, hovering around the $150 in most used markets, the options of which you can browse via the button below:
If you play an acoustic guitar but don’t own an amp and prefer not to (perhaps because you almost always play into a mixer or 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.
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.
I 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 up of the five-band EQ on the L.R. Baggs Para DI. | Image via L.R. Baggs
Additional perks include a D.I. out, built-in effects loop and 48V phantom power.
It’s a complete acoustic preamp and, for what it’s worth, one of my favorite acoustic rig recommendations.
Be sure to checkout the used options via the button below. They can usually dip down close to 20% cheaper than the retail price.
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. What to do? | 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 I’ve always thought that even the less-expensive volume pedals are still way over-priced.
In fact, they’re just glorified volume knobs.
That’s part of the reason I recommend the volume pedal that’s under $70.
I wouldn’t advise paying much more.
Some noteworthy features
The VP Jr. has a tuner out, which is a nice add-on if you don’t have a pedal tuner.
It’s also smaller, which I prefer over the larger wah-sized volume pedals.
This particular model is designed for passive electronics (essentially a pickup without its own booster or preamp), which will play nice with most acoustic pickups.
Passive soundhole inserts, like the Fishman Neo, are particularly good companions.
EQ pedals have become less common in electric rigs, though I still like to recommend one for amplified acoustic guitars.
The extra control can be especially helpful for acoustic guitars that don’t have a built-in preamp, or that have one with limited controls.
There are a few good ones out there, though I always come back to the Boss GE-7.
The GE-7 home page on the Boss website. | Image via Roland
Adding the GE-7 EQ gives you +/-15db for each band, which is ideal for controlling feedback.
Since it has a level control, you can also use the GE-7 as a volume boost.
We recommend putting it at the end of your effects chain, second to last if you’re running a compressor pedal.
A compressor can serve two purposes:
Primarily, it’s a tool to even out your signal, meaning that softer notes get a little boost and notes played too heavily get mellowed out.
As a secondary function, the OUTPUT control can act as a booster, giving you a little extra volume if you turn it higher than your amplifiers master volume.
The MXR Dyna Comp is a simple solution that covers both aspects of compressor functionality quite well.
Here’s a shot of the feature verbiage from the Jim Dunlop (they own MXR) website:
I’ve used this compressor for a long time and I wouldn’t recommend pushing the output too much higher than your amp.
It can just get loud, especially with an acoustic guitar.
The best settings usually involve keeping the OUTPUT and SENSITIVITY near 12 o’clock.
Out-of-the-box settings do pretty well with this stombox. It’ll smooth out your tone and make the strumming sound more consistent.
I’d also advise putting this at the end of your pedal chain.
It’s the last line of defense before the acoustic signal gets to your amplifier.
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.
But I would bet that nearly every acoustic player could benefit from having at least the following three effects.
- Compressor (the MXR Dyna Comp is still our favorite)
- Chorus (either of the Boss CE-5 or CH-1 will do nicely)
- Equalizer (the GE-7 is still the gold standard for pedal EQs)
Start with these.
If you enjoy having the added dynamics and ability to customize your sound, add a delay and a phaser.
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.
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