The physical use of a phaser pedal is pretty straightforward.
Once you've setup your guitar pedals just step on the phaser pedal to turn it on and do your thing. Additional basic steps include a cable going from your guitar to the pedal's input and then a cable connecting the output to your guitar's amplifier.
Then, you'll need to power the phaser pedal, either by a 9V batter or a dedicated guitar pedal power supply.
Here's a simple diagram of how you would start using your phaser pedal:
But in this article, I also want to talk about some of the nuanced aspects of using a phaser pedal.
- Where do you use it in a song?
- How do you handle your phaser pedal settings?
In other words, we're looking to optimize our phaser pedal use, making sure to implement it in a way that's going to be most effective for whatever music we might be playing.
Keep in mind, I'm assuming you're using a phaser pedal in an electric guitar rig, with a fairy typical setup, perhaps with a few other pedals.
Read more: Best overall guitar pedals
Settings and Controls
Using a phaser pedal involves understanding the control options associated with your particular phaser.
Any of the following controls may or may not be available, depending on which phaser pedal you own:
- Stage selection
- Mode selection
Every phaser pedal will at least have a speed knob that allows you to control how fast the pulsing and swirling effect moves.
For some common examples of how you might set these, let's look at a demo video of the old Boss PH-2 phaser pedal, which has a fairly standard set of knobs and controls:
If we extract some of these settings, we can get some general best practices for our phaser dials.
Thick and Slow Rhythm Layer
- Rate: 60%
- Depth: 60%
- Res or Feedback: 80%
Pulse-Like Phaser Cut
- Rate: 80%
- Depth: 20%
- Res: 40%
Subtle Modulation Layer:
- Rate: 10-20%
- Depth: 20%
- Res: 30%
Ultimately it's going to depend on the phaser pedal you have and what controls it makes available to you.
The MXR Phase 90 - an extremely popular phaser pedal - has only a single speed knob. This of course limits the amount of control you have over the sound.
Read more: Best phaser pedals
Regardless of the phaser pedal you're using, it's going to be up to you to experiment with different settings and get used to the nuances of how it interacts with your particular electric guitar rig.
Using a Phaser Within a Song
Once you're comfortable with the technical aspects of setting up and using your phaser pedal, you need to decide when you're actually going to use it.
Like any effect, you don't want to overuse your phaser.
Thus, you need to make some decisions about when the most optimal times are to engage it. Generally speaking, phasers are most effectively used in the following three ways:
- Layering clean melody
- Layering clean chord progressions
- Thickening up guitar solos
These all have to do with song writing and structure, and involve some intentional planning.
Let's look at each instance individually.
Layering Clean Melody
When electric guitars aren't distorted, they have a tendency to sound a little bit weak and thin.
Using a phaser is a great way to enhance a clean signal by giving it some definition and thickness.
You'll hear this a lot in modern rock, particularly during song verses, where the intensity drops back and a guitar's distortion isn't in the front of the mix. You can apply this any time you are playing a short melody with a series of single notes.
Kick on your phaser pedal with the rate set low to cover it with a slow, swirling layer of peaks and troughs.
A good (but old) example of this is Puddle of Mudd's guitar player on the verses for "Control." It's easy to hear about 1:10 in.
Layering Clean Chord Progressions
In the same way, you can use your phaser pedal to layer chord progressions as a rhythm guitar players.
When doing this, it's going to sound a lot better if you keep the speed of your phaser pedal down and avoid the pulsing settings. You should be looking for a smooth layer of modulation, where the swirl is slowed down enough to just barely be noticeable.
Keep the rate and depth knob low will do the job.
Thickening Up Guitar Solos
While phaser pedals don't pair well with really heavy distortion or power chords, lighter overdrive and breakup can be complimented with a phaser pedal, especially to embellish a solo or lead melody of some kind.
Both the pulse and slow phaser settings can work for this particular task, though it of course depends on a lot of other factors we can't predict here.
Conclusion and Questions
Learning to use a phaser pedal is simple, making it a great beginner effect for those looking to get started on their own pedalboard. Beyond the best practices we've mentioned here, it's important to experiment with your effects and learn the nuances of how they work.
Using a phaser pedal is no different.
If you have questions or comments about the process, or if you just want to share your own story and experience using a phaser pedal, feel free to leave those in the comments section below.