The best phaser pedal, if you go by popularity, might be the MXR Phase 90.
Thus the banner photo. We'll get to the gory details about MXR's most popular pedal.
If you agree, then I’ve just confirmed your preference and saved you some time. But what I'd like to do is give you some more options and roundup the best phaser pedals at the most welcoming price tags.
Because, while the Phase 90 is great, there are plenty of other phaser stompboxes that are worthy of your consideration as well.
Here’s a complete list of what we’ll recommend and review:
If I could pick two...
The PH-3 Phase Shifter from Boss is what we’d consider the “quintessential” phaser pedal, with stage selection (more on that below) and a robust EQ that gives you more flexibility than most of the analog options. It sounds great and is priced affordably. The PH-3 is our go-to phaser.
2. MXR Phase 90
As I alluded to earlier, the MXR Phase 90 is the standard bearer when it comes to analog phaser pedals. It sounds great, has a simple single-knob control (for speed) and is trusted by a slew of professionals, as it's easily the most popular phaser stompbox to date. Moreover, you can't argue with $79.
We’ve chosen these phaser pedals because of reputation, features, and sound quality (without regard to price).
Since there are fewer phasers on the market, price is less of a concern and not our focus.
Whether or not it’s wise to go with one of the more expensive options, truly depends on your situation and playing style.
We’ll talk more about that for each pedal.
Before we get there, I’ll go techie about what the phaser effect actually is and what makes one good or bad.
What is a phaser pedal?
A phaser, in its most basic form, is an electronic sound processor, or a filter, which takes an input (your guitar) and outputs a “wet” signal that’s characterized by a waveform made up of peaks and troughs.
If you go to the Wikipedia page, the image they use (the blue one) is typically how the waveform is represented.
Further, you can hear the ebb and flow of the effect when you listen to it, thus the peaks and troughs descriptor becomes obvious.
Here’s how it works.
How a phaser pedal actually works
First, you play something on your guitar.
Perhaps, something “phaser-friendly.”
The intro riff for “The Warmth” by Incubus will do nicely:
…go numb, but there’s a cold wind coming from… | View Larger Image
Upon entering the pedal the signal is split into two parts:
- The first is treated with an all-pass filter or a “stage.”
- The other is left “dry” or unchanged.
The original signal (from your guitar) gets broken up into two parts. | View Larger Image
For the signal that gets moved into the all-pass filter, there can be any number of stages, as shown in the following diagram:
The all-pass filter diagram for phasers, showing n number of stages. | View Larger Image
At the end of the signal, where the two paths are rejoined, the frequencies that are out of phase (created by the all-pass filters) meet with the in-phase signal, which creates the effect output.
By changing the mix, or the ratio of in-phase signal to out-of-phase signal, you can alter the speed of the phasing cycle.
Speed or “rate” is the primary control involved with any phaser pedal, which you might notice is the only control on the Phase 90.
A lonely speed knob on the MXR Phase 90. | Flickr Commons Image courtesy of Roadside Guitars
In fact, it’s not uncommon for phaser pedals to be limited to a speed knob and nothing else.
This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a low-quality pedal.
Other controls might include a level, wet/dry mix or a depth knob.
These are common characteristics of other modulation effects as well.
What about the number of filters?
The number of all-pass filters in a phaser circuit will vary widely.
In analog phaser pedals, you’ll typically have less than eight, while digital versions can simulate much larger stage numbers.
The correlation between the sound of the phaser and these stages can be mathematically defined as n/2, where n is equal to the number of stages in a circuit. This means that a phaser pedal with eight stages would pass through the circuit once and produce four troughs.
Digital phasers will often allow you to dial in the simulated number of stages via a control knob, like the Boss Phase Shifter:
Digital phaser pedals often allow you to dial in a simulated number of stages, like the Boss PH-3. | View Larger Image
Does the “analog is better than digital” rule still apply?
In a word, no.
Phaser pedals are a bit different because the effect is more often associated with the digitized music era.
Further, digital phaser pedals will usually offer more customization options, while analog phasers are often limited to just a speed or rate knob.
Take the EHX Phase Shifter, for example:
The EHX Small Stone phaser pedal with a rate knob and color switch. | View Larger Image
It’s a decent-sounding pedal but has only one control option aside from the color switch.
That’s not to say there aren’t analog phaser pedals out there that give you more control (we’ll cover several), but they’re not the norm, and are often more expensive than their digital counterparts.
In total, I’d offer four general reasons for tolerating, or even preferring, digital phaser pedals:
- More control options
- Sound quality is comparable to analog (in most cases)
- Popular in the “digital age”
- Often have tempo (tap) control options (like the PH-3)
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.
How much should I spend for a good phaser pedal?
Like I said, we’re not discriminating against phaser pedals based on price.
However, your specific situation and musical leanings should inform and determine what kind of phaser pedal you buy.
Let’s give our dilemma some context.
The PH-3 is usually around $100, while some of the other boutique and analog phasers go up to $200 and above.
Because the phaser pedal is such a common and standardized effect, those who would consider themselves “casual” users, should avoid going too much over the $100 mark.
I suppose you could be “phaser pedal poor.” | Flickr Commons Image via Fritz Ahlefeldt
On the other hand, someone who expects to use the phaser pedal a lot, making it an integral part of their sound, would be justified in spending $200 and beyond.
Though for most, a phaser will only be useful in certain situations. While it’s a great effect to own, it’s not worth over-spending if you aren’t planning on using it a lot.
Let’s jump in with some of the obvious choices first.
We’ve already covered a lot about the PH-3, the most notable being its ability to simulate different stages.
It's versatility makes it almost universally applicable, ideal for garage band players and professional guitarists alike. The digital tone doesn't sound canned at all and is perfect for adding a shimmering effect layer to a guitar track in the studio.
The additional control makes it a much better companion for session guitarists than say, the MXR Phase 90, and is a good choice for those who enjoy pedal tinkering.
With so much room for tweaking, it's also one of the best phaser pedals for keyboards.
Here’s a full list of control options:
- Res (resonance)
- Stage Selector (with additional FALL, RISE and STEP modes)
- Expression pedal support
- Tempo setting ability
The RISE and FALL modes create a type of uni-directional phase effect, where you hear the sound going up over and over again or down over and over again, instead of the traditional sweeping pattern.
Here are a few settings from the PH-3’s manual:
Settings and suggestions for the Boss PH-3 from Roland’s official Boss effects guidebook. | Image via Roland
You can set the tempo via the tap functionality or use an expression pedal for real-time control of the unit’s speed.
Here’s a list of additional, compatible devices:
Like most Boss pedals, this one comes with a five-year warranty and weighs less than a pound.
It’s also compatible with bass guitars.
The Boss PH-3 picks up the “Great for Bass” tag. | Image via Roland
This is the go-to phaser pedal.
The sound quality is exceptional in what is ultimately the equivalent of a phaser Swiss army knife.
Further, it’s an updated version of the Boss Super Phaser (PH-2), which Mike Einziger owns two of.
Need I say more?
Mike Einziger loves Boss phaser pedals enough to by two of each. | Image via YouTube
FEATURES: Stage Simulation / Expression Pedal Support / Tap Tempo
2. MXR Phase 90
MXR was founded in 1972 and furnished the Phase 90 shortly thereafter in 1974.
The trademark is now owned by Jim Dunlop.
Since buying the rights to MXR’s brand, Dunlop has released three different versions of the Phase 90:
- Original “script logo” version
- Block logo (primary) version with 9V adapter option and LED indicator
- EVH (Eddie Van Halen) signature model
When MXR originally produced the pedal, there was no LED indicator or power option.
You had to use a battery.
And maybe that’s why they went bankrupt before being bought by Dunlop.
It’s got to be tough to sell pedals without those features.
The Current MXR Phase 90
Today’s version of the pedal is still fairly basic, with only a speed knob and the engage button.
Here’s a quick look from the owner’s manual:
Sample settings for one knob? | Image via Jim Dunlop
I can’t help but find it a bit comical that they include a list of sample settings where the last one is labeled YOUR SETTING with a blank white circle.
So yes, it’s simple, but the analog circuits give off a warmth and richness to the tone which has been used on a number of recordings over the years.
Who it's perfect for...
Your experience with the Phase 90 will be a simple one.
You'll take it out of the box, plug it in and set a speed. If the analog sound is your thing, it'll make ya happy. Otherwise, there isn't much you can do about altering the tone.
This pedal is perfect for those who want an out-of-the-box ready solution that doesn't need fussed over and can be boiled down to an on or off play call.
It's perfect for setting in a rack somewhere or leaving up to a guitar tech to control.
Some of the most notable artists include the following:
- Eddie Van Halen (of course)
- Jerry Cantrell
- Slash (Saul Hudson)
At one point, Slash used the script version (a Jim Dunlop reissue) of the Phase 90, which can be seen on his board via the guitar.com rig diagram:
A shot of Slash’s pedalboard back in 2011. | Image via Guitar.com
Ace showing us Slash’s pedalboard and the MXR Phase 90. | Image via Moshcam
It also looks as though Slash has abandoned the script logo reissue in favor of the generic “block” logo version.
What does it sound like?
Jim Dunlop’s “formal” demo video is fantastic.
It does a great job of presenting and exploring the pedal’s sound and tonal spectrum.
You can really hear the warmth in the peaks and troughs.
There’s also a clear and distinct “swooshing” sound that you can hear through the thickness of the effect.
It’s a basic modulation tone, but it’s done right.
The Phase 90 is easily one of your best and most straightforward phaser pedal choices.
FEATURES: Speed Knob / Analog Circuitry
While it’s pricey, the Moon Phaser from Red Witch does give you some added control to an analog phaser pedal.
This is done by mixing a typical phaser with a type of tremolo effect.
I think the most ideal buyer would need to find the additional tremolo add-in a highly desirable aspect of the pedal. If that's not "your thing" then you'll be paying for features that ultimately won't be much use to you.
On the other hand, if the thought of having the two effects combined into one catches your attention, the Red Witch solution could be uniquely ideal for you. The mixture of the two effects in their phaser pedal sounds tremendously good and turns out to be a functional and complimentary relationship.
Otherwise, purists who are fans of true bypass and analog circuitry will be treated to both in this boutique-style pedal, that still manages to provide a fair amount of control.
Allow me to decrypt the oddly-named knobs:
- Velocity (phase speed)
- Trajectory (depth or wave form shape)
- Cosmology (six-way switch - three different phasers, two tremophase modes and one for just tremolo)
A more accurate way to describe this pedal would be a two-in-one phaser and tremolo pedal, which the reviewer from GuitarProShop.com is calling “tremophase.”
If you go to the Moon Phaser’s home page, you can actually control the pedal knobs and sample all the sounds.
You can demo all the pedal’s functionality on the Red Witch website. | Image via Red Witch
The pedal supports stereo use with a second output and gifts you with a true bypass circuit, which you’d expect at the high price tag.
But should I spend this much?
There are some features here that you don’t get elsewhere.
If they’re high on your list of “must-haves” they might make the investment worth it.
Here’s what should really matter to you when it comes to this pedal:
#1: True bypass
Many phaser pedals don’t come with true bypass, which is a hallmark of most boutique guitar pedals.
If this is high on your priority list, the Moon Phaser is one of just a few options that will satisfy.
#2: Analog with more control
Again, I can’t tell a significant difference between most analog and digital phasers.
If you can, and you want the added control, it might be Moon Phaser or bust.
#3: The tremolo add-in
The tremolo add-in is a part of the cost increase, simply because Red Witch can market it as a two-in-one unit.
If that aspect doesn’t interest you, the high price tag starts to look especially gloomy.
FEATURES: Tremolo add-in / Analog Circuitry / True bypass
The setup here is similar to that of the PH-3.
Thus, much of the appeal will be the same.
You're getting plenty of digital versatility, with a lot of tweaking and experimental potential. This gives the SP-7 a lot of practical usefulness in the studio where you might have session work that's a little more demanding and diverse.
Being able to send a stereo signal and simulate multiple stages could both prove to be incredibly helpful in that situation.
At the same time it's a universally functional phaser pedal, ideal for anything from bedroom jamming all the way up to professional gigging.
Features and controls
You have a digital phaser with three controls and a total of seven phaser types.
The controls are as follows:
The depth knob is essentially a wet control, allowing you to adjust the mix between the effect and clean signal.
The Modify knob has different functionalities depending on what phaser type you’ve selected.
Here’s a shot of the modify knob controls for each one, per the user manual:
Knob functionality chart for the DigiTech SP-7. | Image via DigiTech
Those types include the following:
- 2 Stage and 4 Stage
- 10 Stage
#1: 2 Stage and 4 Stage
The 2 Stage setting is really subtle, more ideal for faint layering over a melody and rhythm playing.
In fact, there’s little motion in either the 2 or 4 Stage setting.
They both sound vintage and subtle.
The modern knob is basically the 4 Stage type with more defined sweeps, similar to what you hear on a lot of Incubus tracks.
This mode is a vintage mimic, similar to the Phase 90.
Cuts and sweeps are more intense, though can still be mellowed out by the rate knob and feedback control.
#4: 10 Stage
Ten Stage is a heavy phaser effect with deep sweeps.
More depth means that the feedback from the Modify knob becomes a lot more pronounced.
Turning the Modify knob up almost gives it a tremolo-like quality.
Envelope adds a sweep effect over what sounds like a wah pedal locked in the middle position.
The Modify knob controls the sensitivity of the sweeps.
This mode is similar to the 10 Stage sound, though in this case you have control over the sensitivity.
To my ear, the difference wasn’t terribly significant, especially during routine, melodic picking patterns.
The sensitivity control shows through a bit more on rhythmic strumming patterns.
DigiTech throws in true bypass and stereo outputs to sweeten the deal.
If it’s between this and the PH-3, I’d say go with the PH-3 for a few bucks less unless you’re really crazy about the few extra modes you get with the SP-7.
Here’s a full list of technical specs, including battery life and I/O summary, straight from DigiTech’s website:
|Input||Separate Left and Right ¼” Unbalanced (Tip-Sleeve)|
|Input Impedance||1 MOhms (stereo), 500 kOhms (mono) -- effect on|
|Output||Separate Left and Right ¼” Unbalanced (Tip-Sleeve)|
|Output Impedance||1 kOhm -- effect on|
|Controls||Speed, Depth, Modify, and Effect Type knobs|
|Switches||On/Off foot switch|
|Power Supply||9 VDC, 630mW consumption, 70mA draw|
|Battery Type||Single 9 VDC|
|Battery Life||5.25 hours|
|Power Supply (US and Canada)||120 VAC, 60 Hz Adapter: PS200R - 120|
|Power Supply (Japan)||100 VAC, 50/60 Hz Adapter: PS200R - 100|
|Power Supply (Europe)||230 VAC, 50 Hz Adapter: PS200R - 230|
|Power Supply (UK)||240 VAC, 50 Hz Adapter: PS200R - 240|
|Dimensions||3.5″ Width x 5.5″ Length x 2.25″ Height|
|Unit Weight||1.3 lbs|
FEATURES: Seven different phaser modes / Analog circuitry / True bypass
Before we get into the gory details of all the different sounds this pedal is capable of, let’s take a look at the highlight reel.
Our favorite features include:
- All-analog circuitry that’s controlled by a digital microprocessor (best of both worlds)
- Expression, MIDI, and external audio controllable
- Eight selectable waveforms
- Tap tempo
It is one of the more expensive phaser pedals I’ve seen.
|Power Input Voltage||9 - 18 V DC (Negative tip)|
|Power Input Connector||2.1mm barrel connector (Negative tip)|
|Enclosure Material||Die Cast Aluminum|
|Input connector||1/4″ Jack|
|Output connector||1/4″ Jack|
However, I would conclude that the price is justified when you consider its capabilities.
The biggest selling point would have to be the analog circuit that’s digitally controlled, which makes room for all the control, unique tones, and tap tempo inclusion.
This is also one of the few phaser pedals where I could really hear the analog circuits making a big difference.
It just sounds better and warmer than the others on this list.
Who it's ideal for
For the analog fans that are shopping for a phaser, this is hands down one of your best options. The warmth and tone of the effect is hard to resist and much more noticeable than on other analog phasers like the Phase 90.
With so much tweaking it's a highly desirable studio pedal and recording companion, while the tap tempo gives it some performance appeal as well.
The main issue will be the price tag and deciding whether or not the analog circuits and digital customization options are worth it.
If you want to go the boutique/analog route, this is just a fabulous choice, even if it is a bit pricey.
The Eight Wave Forms
If you look on the front of the pedal (right beneath the bypass and tap switches), you can see details on all eight waveforms:
Detail of the waveforms and modes for the Empress phaser. | Image via Empress Effects
You get a predictable blend control for adjusting the overall wet/dry mix of whatever effect you’re using, a stage selector (2, 3 or 4 stages), and a gain knob.
The Mode Switch
If you look at the top, right-hand side of the pedal, you’ll see a mode switch with three options:
The mode switch options on the Empress phaser. | Image via Empress Effects
- Knob (speed/ratio)
The Tap and Knob options (predictably) allow you to control the tempo of the pedal by using either the tap button or the speed knob, which is also pictured above. Auto mode reacts to your picking pattern, which is one of the more unique ways to use this pedal and makes it similar to the DynaTrem.
Whenever you pick a note, the phase peak will run until you hit the string again at which point it will drop down and then start back over.
It’s like an Auto Wah, expect with a phaser swirl.
There’s an additional switch to control resonance with the following options:
Empress even throws in a convenient control for setting the functionality of an expression pedal, should you choose to use one.
Square Wave Mode
While the tonal scope of this pedal is far too wide to address here (check the Empress homepage for demos and sound clips), I do want to mention the square wave mode.
Square wave mode can be selected by turning the waveform knob to either the seventh or eighth spot.
The square waveforms on the Empress phaser are numbers seven and eight on the waveform knob. | Image via Empress Effects
This causes the phase sweep to go into a hard stop before beginning again, thus you get a square wave shape instead of the typical series of parabolas.
The result is an almost delay-like phaser sound that can be controlled by the tap tempo.
You can hear it at about 5:45 of the ProGuitarShop demo video.
They aptly describe it as a “percussive” sound, due to its rhythmic and delay-like quality.
While there are plenty of more conventional sounds to be sampled here, I liked the square waveform because it’s a unique, yet useful mode that you wouldn’t expect to find in a phaser pedal.
I’m also a bit of a delay junkie.
FEATURES: Eight waveforms / Tons of control / True bypass / Knob, tap or auto mode
I’ve always appreciated the old DOD pedals, like the envelope filter and EQ boxes they used to make.
The Phasor 201 is a newer generation model from DOD (now a DigiTech-affiliated brand) and a handsome alternative to the more expensive options on this list.
It’s similar to the Phase 90 in setup.
|Dimensions||4.68” x 2.63”x 2.25” (L x W x H)|
|Weight||~0.62 lbs. / 0.281 kgs.|
|Input||(1) ¼” Instrument|
|Input Impedance||470k Ohm|
|Output||(1) ¼” Instrument|
|Power Supply||9V Alkaline Dry Battery; PS0913DC power supply|
Analog circuitry and the lone speed knob make an appearance here, but for $30 less than the MXR Phase 90.
In Sweetwater’s demo video, Matt Calder makes the observation that the pedal is highly usable at all speed points, which I would agree with. Even with the knob cranked or dropped all the way down, the phaser effect produced is warm and doesn’t sound too hectic.
It’s a simple, low-cost solution, perhaps ideal for someone who uses a phaser sparingly or only in a few spots of a set list.
DOD throws in true bypass as a nice bonus.
The 201 or the Phase 90?
To be honest, I can’t tell a bit of difference between the two in terms of sound quality.
They’re both analog with one speed control, so technically-speaking there should not be a lot of discrepancy.
It’s possible that DOD is just willing to take a smaller profit margin than MXR, which would make sense, considering MXR’s long-standing popularity and the success of the Phase 90 (thus they can charge more).
My bet is that it’s like the generic brand of acetaminophen compared to Tylenol.
They both accomplish the exact same thing with the same level of effectiveness.
Yet, one costs less.
If you want a low-cost, basic phaser to use here and there, the 201 will do just fine and you’ll save $30.
FEATURES: Speed knob / Analog / True bypass
The “big brother” of the Phase 90 also happens to be far less popular.
It’s intended to make up for the lack of control the Phase 90 offers, which is done by adding an intensity knob next to the familiar speed control.
The intensity knob is a four-position rotary switch, allowing you to select four different waveforms.
Here are a few sample settings from the manual:
Setting recommendations from the Phase 100 manual. | Image via Jim Dunlop
Notice there’s no empty white circle for “your setting.”
Good move, Dunlop.
The circles you see on the pedal itself represent the depth of modulation, while the arrow represents the width of sweep frequency:
Circles equal depth and arrows equal width. | Image via Jim Dunlop
The amount of flexibility this creates is surprisingly broad.
You can go from deep warbling effects to smooth peaks and cuts, none of which can be as clearly defined in the Phase 90.
The thicker circles can almost give off a vibrato effect if you turn the speed up, similar to what you can achieve on the Empress and Red Witch phasers.
This or the Phase 90?
The Phase 100 is middle ground between the Phase 90/DOD 201 and the Empress/Red Witch boutique phasers.
If you’re happy with a speed knob and don’t envy the more advanced controls, don’t bother with the Phase 100.
On the other hand, if you like the detail and flexibility of the more expensive phaser pedals but don’t want to unload $200 or $300, the Phase 100 could be a nice compromise.
A Couple FYIs
From what I can tell, the Phase 100 is not true bypass and is run off digital processors instead of analog circuits.
I wasn’t able to find any information one way or the other.
- No true bypass
- No analog circuit (all digital)
What that usually means is that they’ve gone with the less popular of each variable, non-true bypass and digital signal processing.
While these aren’t deal-breakers (at least not for me) they might be a disappointment, especially when all you really get (compared to the Phase 90) is the four intensity knob modes.
FEATURES: Intensity selector / Speed knob
The main problem I have reviewing these Ibanez pedals is that Ibanez no longer makes the Ton Lok series.
In fact, they’ve been off the formal market for a long time, having survived on used sales.
That said, you can still get your hands on them easily via Amazon, eBay, Reverb or even Musicians Friend in some cases.
Let’s start with the basics first.
As far as controls, you’ve got the following four knobs:
You’ve also got a mode switch that’s simply marked “1 and 2.”
Without being able to consult a manual, the difference between these two modes seem to be one of effect depth or thickness, where mode two is just a much heavier phaser, almost like an added wet/dry mix knob or an additional stage.
In the first mode, most of the controls have a more subtle impact and don’t drastically change the signal from one extreme to the other.
You can dial in the typical classic phase or the warbling effects, depending on how you’ve set the speed and depth.
The Locking Controls
The most popular trademark of the Ton Lok pedal series is what they’re named after.
If you press down any of the control knobs, they actually drop into the pedal and lock into place, meaning you can set your dials and then keep them from getting bumped or moved.
The PH7 knobs locked into position. | Image via Skifmusic.ru
While I like these pedals for the price (they’ve always been decently affordable) the knob-lock feature has always seemed a bit gimmicky to me.
Perhaps the knobs on my other pedals just don’t change on their own.
Is that a real problem?
I guess it depends on who you ask.
FEATURES: Locking controls / Two phaser modes
From Robert Keeley himself:
“The Keeley phaser is for players that like delicate nuances.”
The Phase 24 is a boutique-style analog phaser pedal that uses two JFET transistors to create two and four-stage phasing.
Keeley is able to market the pedal as a “nuanced” phaser, primarily because of how subtle it is in the two-stage mode.
It’s meant to steer away from the heaviness that often comes with modulation effects and replace it with a more airy and ambient tone.
The guts of the Keeley Phase 24, exposing the dual FET transistors. | Image via Keeley
You’ve got three ways to adjust the pedal:
- The stage switch (2-stage or 4-stage selector)
- Depth control
- Rate control
The depth control knob is a bit deceptively named, since it controls the wet/dry mix of the pedal.
Hiking the rate knob, particularly in the 4-stage mode, is reminiscent of the Phase 90, in so much as it gives off a lot more warmth and definition.
The Phase 24 picture on Robert Keeley’s website. | Image via Keeley
Using the two-stage mode with the two knobs at 12 o’clock definitely embellishes the “nuanced” aspect of this pedal as it can, at times, be difficult to discern whether you’re hearing the phaser effect at all.
Personally, I find this to be a fantastic feature.
A lot of times my clean tone just needs something and I find myself falling back on a digital phase effect to add some thickness.
And while not all other phasers are “over-saturated,” it’s nice to see one that’s made specifically for people who want to use a phaser in this manner.
FEATURES: 2 and 4 Stage Phaser / Analog / True Bypass
While the Helix is capable of subtlety, it’s a far more dynamic phaser than the Keeley offering.
There are no stages listed, but you do have three modes to choose from:
Vintage mode is the most nuanced, which reminds me of the analog sounds of the Phase 90 and the Keeley 24.
Bumping up the mix and feedback knobs creates a deeper and more intense effect. The feedback knob in particular is more sensitive than what you typically see on other phaser pedals.
TonePrint mode allows you to control the pedal from the TonePrint app or engage the settings that you have stored to the pedal.
(more on that below)
Smooth was my personal favorite.
In this third mode, the depth you get from each peak almost has a flanger-like quality, which can be heard even with the knob at a lower depth setting.
This gives the Helix a truly unique phaser tone, before you even get to the Tone Print shaping features.
TonePrint is an interface built by TC Electronic that allows you to manipulate the tone and settings of your pedal from a computer program that’s PC, Mac and iOS compatible.
The main selling point of TonePrint is the input of a number of popular guitar players, allowing you to use “their tones."
Among them are John Petrucci, Paul Gilbert, and Devin Townsend.
While the idea isn’t bad, the outcome gives off more of a marketing scent than any kind of practical usefulness.
The TonePrint interface allows you to connect your pedal via USB to a tone-shaping application. | Image via TC Electronic
Plus, I think there is such a thing as too many options.
TonePrint is another level of control over your settings which allows you to, in a sense, control what the knobs on your pedal actually do.
Yet, I haven’t ever felt like I needed more control over a phaser pedal with four knobs and three different modes.
So, I wouldn’t rate the value of this pedal based on TonePrint.
I’d be more interested in it with a delay or distortion pedal.
On the phaser, it’s a cool feature, but one that I think most players would be unlikely to make much use of.
Since the Helix pedal itself is so good, the TonePrint additive is a moot point.
A couple other features worth noting are true bypass and stereo I/O.
FEATURES: Unique and usable tone / TonePrint enables / True bypass
Bands and guitar players that use these phaser pedals
At some point the phaser went from being an Eddie Van Halen classic sound, to a favorite of guys like Einziger and Marcos Curiel.
There’s nothing “vintage” about those dudes.
Today, the effect is most often used as a way to decorate short guitar fills and melody lines.
And while you may hear the sound on an album, it doesn’t always mean that the guitarist goes around with a phaser on their pedalboard. In many cases, a phaser effect will be added in the mixing and production stages.
But, for pedalboard inspiration, here are a few guys that keep (or used to keep) a phaser with plenty of velcro.
Deftones’ Stephen Carpenter
Stephen Carpenter dropped an MXR EVH Phase 90 near the end of a complex pedal circuit back in 2011.
Part of Stephen Carpenter’s pedalboard from 2011. | Image via Guitar.com
Carpenter eventually switched out his entire pedalboard for a patch system, which you can see in Premier Guitar’s rig rundown:
Stephen Carpenter’s patch system that replaced the full, analog pedalboard. | Image via Premier Guitar
Thus he no longer travels with a full compliment of pedals like you see in the diagram, favoring instead to have everything patched in.
Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood
Back in 1997, around Radiohead’s hay day, guitarist Jonny Greenwood ran an EHX Small Stone analog phaser pedal at the front of a second pedalboard.
Jonny Greenwood’s second pedalboard back in 1997. | Image via Guitar.com
The many Radiohead sounds come from a variety of sources, though Jonny’s guitars and gear have remained relatively simple and unchanged through the years.
In the diagram, the Small Stone phaser is the first stop for his guitar’s signal.
Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl
Back in 2000, Dave Grohl used an MXR Phase 90 on a simple pedalboard which went straight into an amp selector.
A look at Dave Grohl's fairly simple pedalboard from 2000. | Image via Guitar.com
Not much has changed as you can still spot his phaser, old Boss delay, and Whirlwind A/B selector.
Grohl’s board has remained relatively unchanged over the years. | Image via PMTOnline
He’s not known for heavy effects use or for making many changes to his rig.
Perhaps he’s learned from the guy he used to play drums for.
Where to place a phaser pedal in your effects chain
Let’s chat about phaser pedal placement:
Before we look at conventions, we should first understand that there are no “rules” when it comes to your effects chain.
There are best practices and good advice (which I’ll give you), but there’s never a set-in-stone method.
Now, our conventional wisdom:
The phaser, which is classified as a modulation effect, is typically placed near the back of effects pedal chains, close to the amplifier.
In this example from Boss, the Flanger serves as the de facto modulation box, representing phasers and chorus pedals as well:
Boss places modulation effects (phasers) near the back of the chain, but before delay. | Image via BossUS
Personally, I would move the Compressor, EQ ,and Noise Suppressor to the back of the line, with a chain that looks like this:
AMP / Noise / EQ / Comp. / Delay / Modulation / Distortion / Wah / GUITAR
This of course assumes a typical guitar - pedal - amp rig diagram and doesn’t take into account the possibility of a rack-mounted processor, dual signal chains, and effects loops.
The phaser effect (and modulation in general) is subtle enough to fit anywhere on your board.
Keep it behind the distortion and wah.
Otherwise, I wouldn’t worry.
Phaser Pedal Settings and Best Practices
We’ve already seen a few settings examples from the manuals.
I’d like to post a few more ideas to help establish some phaser pedal settings conventions and best practices.
Let’s start by revisiting the MXR Phase 90.
On most of the analog phaser pedals we can simply cut speed back for a more classic vibe.
I would add that low speed settings are also good for a subtle layering over just about any melodic run.
Here’s another look at the settings we listed earlier for the Boss Phase Shifter:
Vintage settings here show a low stage count (4) and a high depth knob with a variable (to taste) rate settings.
I’d still advise keeping the rate low, since the faster speeds tend to sound chaotic on most phasers.
Let’s look at the quick-start settings for the Empress phaser as well:
Quick start settings for the Empress phaser. | Image via Empress Effects
You might call these the “garden-variety” settings for the Empress phaser.
It’s going to be a classic-style phase, with speed and width both moved past 12 o’clock.
Here’s a shot of the sample settings for the Phase 100 from MXR:
The Phase 100 gives us a variety of ways to utilize speed at low, medium, and high settings.
As always, phaser pedal settings are a matter of taste.
However, these can give you some places to start and help direct you towards helpful conventions.
Phaser Pedal Use: Considerations before you buy
In a lot of situations, your use for a phaser pedal will be limited unless you just really like the phaser sound.
As I’ve explained, a lot of modern guitar players use it as a subtle additive, particularly when the note-count of a lick is low.
Having an effect makes simpler melodies seem more full and interesting.
Otherwise, it’s not an effect that you’ll likely use for long stretches.
Before you decide how much money you want to spend, it would be wise to think about how and when you might actually use a phaser. If it’s the typical, here and there, you’re better off to avoid spending too much.
Go with one of the phaser pedals under (or near) $100.
If you plan to use it all the time, a heftier investment like the Empress or Red Witch offering might be in the cards. Just plan ahead so you don’t end up with a $300 investment that, for the most part, collects dust on your pedalboard.
Do you have thoughts about our best phaser pedal list?
How about inclusions or exclusions?
Could you use more gear help?
Producing “great tone” is a worthy pursuit, but not always an obvious one.
We all own a unique collection of gear that seems to sound different all the time. That’s normal, but still something we need to learn to deal with.
We need to learn our gear.
If you want to access some resources that will help dealing with a specific tonal pursuit, piece of gear or other questions related to your rig, I’d recommend giving the Guitar Tricks 14-day free trial a test run - there’s no obligations and you’ve got nothing to lose - except two free weeks of one of the most comprehensive and thorough guitar education websites in existence.
For a full rundown of the membership benefits and plenty of screenshots, checkout our Guitar Tricks review.
Other Guitar Pedal Buying Guides
Delay Pedal Roundup: A collection of our favorite delay and echo pedals.
Chorus Pedal Roundup: Our chorus pedal recommendation list, highlighting seven 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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Flickr Commons Image Courtesy of Aaron H. Warren