I’ve played countless effects pedals over the years. I thought why not put the experience to good use for others, right? Here’s the best pedals ever (in my opinion) by category including approximate values and reference links.
I factor in sound quality, value, ease of use, practicability and pedalboard footprint. In other words, the pedal should sound great, give you what you need and be reliable for gigs. If it has a million knobs and parameters like the Night Sky, it will likely not be on this list (no disrespect to Strymon).
Daredevil ‘78 Op Amp IC Fuzz ($200): I’m a big late 70’s big muff fan. These recreations from Daredevil are legit. It’s the best Op-Amp style Muff I’ve ever played..and I’ve played them all. The closest thing to that Siamese Dream fuzz you’ll ever find. It’s superb. They are hard to come by nowadays as they are no longer in production.
Adventure Audio Fuzz Peaks II ($250): Sadly, a pedal company that is no more. However, quite a legacy they have left behind. This is my favorite muff style fuzz pedal of all time! Not only can you sculpt just about any muff style with its many parameters, it also has a clean blend that is ideal for bass and yes guitar too when coupled with effects. Mid, Bias and Spectrum controls are key. More fuzz pedals for guitar need clean blends!
Death By Audio Fuzz War ($180): DBA’s best selling pedal ever and it’s obvious why. In my opinion it's a blend of a muff style mixed with a 60’s fuzz but a lot more aggressive. Sounds huge but not muddy. Has definition and clarity. Can be harsh but you can tame it well with the sweepable tone. Dial it back and it’s a nice clear overdrive, which isn’t normal for a lot of fuzz pedals.
Gamechanger Audio Plasma Hi-Voltage Distortion ($299): What a unique pedal design that sounds superb. Huge, rich and gatey distortion. Clean blend too! In a class of it’s own. Well done, Gamechanger.
Basic Audio Shore Bird ($200): Rat clone that sounds better than any Rat ever made. The Fat knob helps thicken it up nicely.
Oneder Effects Drive ($179): OD and DS tones. Nice amp girt and dirt to full on thick yet defined fuzz that cuts through with a mids toggle (coined the 'Billy switch").
Basic Audio Tri Ram ($210): Successfully captures both a Triangle era Big Muff and Ram's Head Big Muff into one pedal that sounds massive. Mid control to really help cut through or scoop. I also really dig all the random colorways that Basic Audio does on their pedals.
Catalinbread SFT ($190): Drive pedal based on the old Ampeg tube combo amps. Very versatile. Can be a smooth warm overdrive to full on fuzz. Stones/Stoner modes are true to form. A hidden gem.
Death By Audio Apocalypse ($270): Looking for a mult-mode fuzz pedal? Some might say the JHS Muffuletta but the Apocalypse if where it's at. Higher quality and everyone will find a mode they like.
Boss PW-2 Power Driver ($150): A stompbox many have overlooked. They made so many and sold so little in the 90's. It was a total bust. However, looking back maybe it was the name that didn't encourage people to check it out. It's like a mix between a Rat and Big Muff with clarity. I'd probably consider this Boss' best distortion pedal no one ever heard of.
Basic Audio Futureman ($200): Based on the classic vintage Colordriver overdrive. Wonderful warm OD that cuts into fuzz territory when cranked.
Electro-Harmonix Hot-Tubes Nano reissue ($80): Really sounds like tube amp saturation type overdrive. You can find these used for really cheap. Such great value!
Keeley Noble Screamer ($200): Two legendary overdrive tones in one. Done very well. Love the ability to do a hybrid of the two with the switches.
Boss BD-2 Blues Driver ($100): A solid classic. Used for all sorts of genres on countless records and you can find them real cheap pre-owned.
Mr. Black Chorus Ensemble ($250): I can’t stress it enough. This is the best chorus pedal you’ll ever find. It is 100% true stereo. So lush and wide, yet it can be very subtle and still effective. I absolutely love it. I use it on guitar and vocals in the studio.
Boss DC-2W Waza Dimension ($220): Boss finally recreated this legendary effect into a stereo in/out MIJ format. While you can't tweak the settings much, it’s still nice to just set and go. Adding two styles including the original rack mode is very cool.
Caroline Guitar Company Somersault Lo-Fi Modulator ($220): Stellar lo-fi chorus and vibrato. Again wonderful as a subtle effect or full on vibrato. I just wish it was stereo.
TC Electronic SCF Gold Chorus/Flanger ($159): Classic reissue chorus, flanger and pitch mod in stereo. Highly recommended as it does more than just chorus/vibrato.
Keeley Tri-Mod ($179): I’m not much of a phaser player but the phaser mode is nice because of the definition and it’s not over the top sounding. A strong phaser effect can get real old, real fast. The chorus on this pedal is great for a mono chorus. Flanger too!
Electro-Harmonix Stereo Poly-Chorus ($400): These discontinued reissues warrant a hefty price tag now but they are definitely unique. Why EHX doesn't make a Poly-Chorus pedal of any kind anymore is baffling to me. Very cool chorus, flange, double and filter effects in stereo.
Boss DM-101 Delay Machine ($500): Boss hit a homerun with this recent model. Analog delay and digital stereo delay in one. Sounds so fantastic, it’s so easy to use and store presets. Does all sorts of delays which with some tweaking you can create echo, reverb and chorus effects. Did I mention it sounds fantastic?
Caroline Guitar Company Kilobyte Lo-Fi Delay ($220): Another great one from Caroline. They do lo-fi sounds so well. Simple delay with some granular options. The havoc button is fun too.
Death By Audio Micro Dream Delay ($200): A simple yet incredible sounding delay in DBA style for any use.
TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2 ($159): Nothing fancy here. Really, the only stereo verb pedal I’ve found that can do almost all the reverb types very well (except no reverse mode). The toneprint add-ons are easy too and offer lots of expansion. Small pedalboard footprint is nice also. There is also the larger HOF x4 that has a couple more bells and whistles. Like having 4 HOF to switch about. Large footprint but great for switching verbs on the fly. x4 also has a full wet switch on back side.
Boss RV-6 Reverb ($150): So simple and effective. Great sounding. Stereo. The delay/reverb and modulation modes are great. (again, no reverse though).
Caroline Guitar Company Meteore ($220): Another lo-fi effect by Caroline. This is my favorite pre-gain mono reverb. I love it on leads. A dirty spring verb. The havoc switch is incredible to really swell out notes to reverb bliss.
Keeley Realizer Reverberator ($179): Beautiful Soft Focus verb based on 80’s rack units. The unique reverse reverb with vibrato bends is excellent.
Hungry Robot Stargazer V2 ($150): Dual reverb thats just delightful. Hall and Sparkle modes that you can stack. One of the first reverb pedals I fell in love with and still own today.
Keeley Parallax Spatial Generator ($219): It's a cooler version of their Caverns model. Realizer reverb on one side and modulated delay on the right. Wonderful combination. I wish it was stereo so bad.
Source Audio Ventris ($429): High fidelity dual stereo reverb. Pretty simple to use and no menu diving like the Big Sky. Still very very tweak-able.
Digitech Supernatural Ambient Reverb ($170): This pedal has been out of production for quite some time now. Simple yet vastly big ambient reverb sounds. Stereo in/out. Definitely takes a page from 80's Yamaha and Lexicon reverb rack units. The reverbs sound delicious. The Flerb is a bigger sounding version of the EHX patch. The plate/mod is excellent. The supernatural and shine are cool low octave shimmer type verbs. All in all, its a cool pedal that does things most reverb pedals do not. It's not for everyone. Definitely a cult favorite among shoegazers. However, it's unique and simple. I'm into that.
Mr. Black Pana-Trem ($250): True stereo tremolo and pan effects with one preset memory. The preamp alone in this pedal will make your chain sound better.
Boss PN-2 Tremolo/Pan ($250): A heavily sought after MIJ Boss pedal that is screaming for a Waza reissue. This pedal is legendary for its stereo panning effect. It never sold well originally in the early 90’s but it’s developed a cult following. Time for a return I’d say.
Electro-Harmonix Attack Decay ($156): Really nothing like it out there. Creates violin and cello like sustain and swells with a post fuzz circuit. For many years it was underrated but it’s not being noticed as it should be. Add a reverb pedal to it and you’ll love it.
Electro-Harmonix 720 Looper ($181): Great and simple to use stereo looper with reverse and ½ speed effects.
Electro-Harmonix Deep Freeze ($193): Freeze and sustain effects are fun for ambient background sounds or even crazy single-note effects. Nice small nano size too that will fit on your board. Which is good for a pedal like this that isn’t an every song effect.
JHS Clover Preamp EQ ($199): Not the biggest JHS fan but this Boss FA-1 clone that is very useful. Simple 3-band EQ, great sounding preamp with a low cut option. Instantly improves your tone.
JHS Pulp N’ Peel V4 ($230): Much like the pedal above with improving tone. Instantly adds warmth and compression with tone adjustment. The pedal can also be an overdrive pedal with the adjustable dirt function.
Keeley Compressor Mini ($129): Simple, straight forward and effective comp. Can act as a nice preamp too.
Electro-Harmonix Mel9 ($260): My favorite of the 9 series. I'm a sucker for strings. Never heard a guitar pedal capture a cello so well. The violin, horns and voices are legit too and sound excellent with some reverb.
TC Electronic Infinite Sample Sustainer ($159): Incredible sample sustainer with delay and reverb effects.
Boss BP-1W Booster/Preamp ($170): Wonderful always-on preamp pedal modeled after two legendary Boss units with superb preamps. This may never leave my board.
Keeley Loomer ($299): The shoegazer’s starter kit! Muffy op-amp distortion and 80’s rack unit style reverb taken from the Keeley Realizer pedal (which was taken from Yamaha effects units). Is it the best fuzz? No, but it’s solid. The ability to flip the order of effects is key as pre-gain reverb is very important to the genre. If I could only take one pedal with me forever, I might choose this one.
Boss ME-90 ($350): The newly updated multi-effects processor from Boss now featuring AIRD processing that sounds very good. You can literally have every Boss stompbox at your feet in stereo with no menu diving. Sounds great through an amp and via headphones with some tweaking. The freeze effect with the volume pedal is really neat. Amazing bang for the buck. I wish something like this was around when I was first starting out.
Keeley Dark Side ($299): Nice little workstation pedal. Like the Loomer you have Op-Amp style fuzz but with less gain and more mids in David Gilmour flavor much like the Keeley Moon pedal. What's nice is all the modulation and tape echo effects. This little thing can do a lot and it sounds warm. Order of effect button here also.
Eventide H9 Max ($600): I'm a little reluctant to put this here. It sounds incredible but you have to use an app with it to really dive in. Also, the price tag. Legendary patches though. Yes, I know the new H90 is out there but its too much money and too big for modest boards. Must use with MIDI to really maximize it's potential. Eventide makes incredible stuff but there's a learning curve to almost every model.
Fender Tone Master Pro ($1599): I've never been a fan of modeling effects and amps...until now. The TMP has totally won me over. This thing sounds legit and I actually prefer over my tube amps. Sounds incredible, so easy and intuitive to use. The only modeler where you can still use the pedalboard mindset. No menu diving. I'm completely sold.
Have a pedal suggestion? Maybe something I don't know about? Email me!