10 Essential Guitar Pedals For Every Electric Guitarist

10 Essential Guitar Pedals for Electric Guitarists

Sometimes it can be daunting to look at a seasoned guitarist’s pedal board and think “Gee, I don’t even know where to start”. With hundreds of guitar pedals to choose from, it’s quite easy to waste your money on unnecessary pedals.

Before I go any further discussing guitar pedals, let me share with you a piece of wisdom that one of my guitar mentors told me. I had barely started playing when I bought a shiny new pedal. He looked at me and said “Just remember, pedals don’t replace practice”.

What I heard him saying to me was this – sure, pedals are fun and can produce a load of new and interesting sounds, but pedals don’t make a guitarist good. Practice makes a guitarist good.

So with that out of the way, I want to share with you 10 essential guitar pedals that have become an important part of almost every electric guitarist’s board. These are 10 categories of pedals, mind you…I’ll give suggestions for specific pedals under each category.

1. Guitar Tuner Pedals

Guitar TunersThere’s no doubt that a tuner pedal is probably one of the most important pedals you can own. Not only does it give you a single cutoff point for your signal chain, it allows you to tune your guitar without pulling out a separate guitar tuner.

Now I own plenty of stand-alone guitar tuners and I even have a great guitar tuner app on my phone, but none of these replace having an actual tuner pedal on my pedal board.

Most Popular Tuner Pedals:

  1. Standard: Boss TU-3 Pedal – my personal favorite and widely used.
  2. Recommended: TC Electronic Polytune 2 – tune all your strings at once, not just one at a time.
  3. Budget Option: Korg Pitchblack Chromatic – a quality option that’s cheaper than the above two.

2. Volume Guitar Pedals

Volume PedalMost guitarists prefer to have complete control of their signal, including volume coming in and out.

Volume pedals provide a simple way to control your volume not only to cut off your signal but also for certain sound effects that you can create. Some volume pedal manufacturers even include additional features.

For instance, one volume pedal might allow multiple inputs for different guitars, another might have an output specifically for a tuner and one of the more popular volume pedals actually works as a stereo pan (see below).

Most Popular Volume Pedals:

  1. Recommended: Ernie Ball 6165 Volume Pedal – acts as a volume pedal and stereo pan.
  2. Standard: Dunlop GCB-80 – a simple volume pedal, but pretty much the standard.
  3. Alternative: Morley Volume Plus – the advantage here is optical circuitry that won’t wear out like pots.

3. Wah Guitar Pedals

Wah PedalMade popular by guitarists like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Cantrell, use of the Wah pedal seems to go in and out of style for guitarists.

But prudent use of the Wah Pedal can add a lot to your sound. It can provide a wide range of tonal expressions from a sweeping “waaah” to a funky “quack” tone. There are quite a few digital pedals that offer a newer range of capabilities but I’m still a fan of the traditional wah pedal personally.

Most Popular Wah Pedals:

  1. Standard: Dunlop Crybaby – the original and arguably most popular wah pedal on the market
  2. High Quality: VOX V846HW – a high-quality, high-priced wah pedal option
  3. BudgetBehringer Hellbabe – Behringer makes good pedals at a cheaper price.

4. Overdrive Guitar Pedals

Overdrive PedalIt used to be that electric guitarists had to crank their amplifiers in order to get that grunge sound they wanted. Now, we can just use an overdrive pedal.

An overdrive pedal essentially mimics the sound of an amplifier cranked to 11. It’s helpful, especially since dramatically stepping up the volume of your amplifier while at home usually isn’t an option.

Overdrive is often used to play blues but it also has many applications in a lead guitar tone.

Most Popular Overdrive Pedals:

  1. Recommended: Boss BD-2 Blues Driver – great tone combined with great pricing
  2. Standard: Ibanez TS-808 – one of the best-selling overdrive pedals of all time
  3. BudgetBoss SD-1 – a more budget-friendly version of Boss’ overdrive pedal

5. Distortion Guitar Pedals

Distortion Pedal for GuitarsSome might argue that there’s not much difference between a distortion pedal and an overdrive pedal, but I see plenty of difference. While an overdrive is designed to simply boost the signal without boosting volume, a distortion pedal is designed to purposefully clip the waveform of a guitar signal.

Sometimes the two will be pushed into a single pedal, but not always.

Whereas overdrive has more of a blues application, distortion can be heard in more rock and heavy metal applications. There are literally hundreds of distortion pedals so it’s hard to pick out the best, but here’s my attempt.

Most Popular Distortion Pedals

  1. Standard: Boss DS1 Distortion – after 30 years, still one of the top distortion pedals
  2. High-Quality: Wampler Triple Wreck – one of the best distortion pedals on the market…but quite pricey.
  3. BudgetBehringer Distortion Pedal – another cheaper Behringer option

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6. Chorus Guitar Pedals

Chorus Pedal for guitarsChorus pedals are similar to wah pedals – if used improperly people will hate you for it. They are a great addition to any pedal board but must be used appropriately.

Chorus pedals can add a depth and fullness to your sound that you can’t quite achieve with a reverb sound. If done right, it can be light there are 3 guitarists playing the same part, instead of just you. That “wall of guitar” can have a powerful affect unless it is overdone.

I’ve heard it said that a chorus pedal makes a guitar sound more three-dimensional. I think that makes sense. Here are my favorites.

Most Popular Chorus Pedals:

  1. High Quality: TC Electronic Corona – an excellent chorus pedal that delivers great tone.
  2. Recommended: Boss CH-1 – Boss just makes great pedals that have become a standard.
  3. Budget: Electro Harmonix Neo Clone – great sound without a huge price tag.

7. Delay or Reverb Guitar Pedals

Delay Pedal for guitarsDelay and reverb pedals can become a guitarists best friend. Whereas a delay pedal will repeat the notes or sounds being played at a preset interval, a reverb pedal mimics the guitar being played in different acoustical settings (big room, small room, concert hall, etc.).

These pedals can be used to either support your sound (so you don’t sound so “flat”) or as a creative tool in itself. The Edge is a perfect example of how to creatively use a delay pedal.

As far as pedals go, a delay/reverb pedal is pretty much a must-have.

Most Popular Delay and Reverb Pedals:

  1. Standard: Boss DD-7 – providing digital delay at a reasonable price.
  2. High Quality: TC Electronics Flashback X4 – part delay, part looper pedal.
  3. Budget: Behringer Reverb Machine – one of the few delay/reverb pedals under $50.

8. Looper Guitar Pedals

Looper Pedal for guitarsI’ve already spent some time discussing looper pedals in the Guitar Adventures Looper Pedal Guide but suffice to say, I’m a huge fan.

Looper pedals share the same characteristics of a delay pedal, which is often while you’ll see the two paired together. In my opinion, however, I like these to be two separate pedals. I want one for delay and one for looping since I use them in two different circumstances.

Looper pedals basically allow you to create layers of repeating sounds that you have recorded. They’re great for practice but have plenty of practical, on-stage applications as well.

Most Popular Looper Pedals

  1. Standard: DigiTech JML2 JamMan – Digitech was one of the first to create looper pedals and continue to make the best
  2. High Quality: BOSS RC-30 – a tad more expensive, this red Boss pedal is a very popular option.
  3. BudgetTC Electronic Guitar Ditto – one of the cheapest looper pedals is still a good one!

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9. Compressor/EQ Guitar Pedals

Compressor PedalIf you’re an dynamic guitar player – meaning you move freely between loud and soft playing – a compressor is a must.

Although it works different, a compressor is like an automatic volume control: it equalizes your loud and soft playing so that they have the same volume. Your volume doesn’t actually change, the effect just narrows your dynamic range. You can control how much it narrows (or “compresses”) this range with most every pedal, though.

Compressors are probably one of the most under-appreciated pedals but can have a huge affect on your overall sound. Remember that part of the song where you play soft and are always frustrated that you think nobody can hear you? A compressor pedal fixes that.

Most Popular Compressor Pedals

  1. High Quality: Wampler Ego Compressor – one of the best-sounding compressors on the market
  2. StandardBoss CS-3 – another great example of why Boss owns the pedal market.
  3. BudgetJoyo JF-10 Compressor – what it lacks in sound it makes up for in such a low price.

10. Other Specialty Guitar Pedals

Of course there are so many different other pedals that I could go into detail here: fuzz pedals, modulation pedals, flanger pedals, phaser pedals, etc., etc.

Then there are the digital “Do It All” pedals like the Boss GT-10, but for the purpose of this article I just wanted to highlight analog options that most electric guitarists prefer.

Test out what kind of sound you want to have and then build your pedal board around that signature sound.

And remember…pedals don’t replace practice!

Any other pedals you think I missed here? Please leave a comment below!

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56 thoughts on “10 Essential Guitar Pedals For Every Electric Guitarist

  1. This is a valuable artical. So helpful to me and my project. It all makes sense from all I already know of guitars and pedal effects. Much appreciated Josh !

    1. For older guys tired of fooling with all this,(well, everyone really) take it from a guy who owned an original Superfuzz, try the new line six AMPLIFi amp. Yeah, a full board is fun and looks really cool gigging,and multis are easy (not so much anymore…try pod hd 500x) this amp does it all with guitar, app and amp. I was VERY skeptical but once I got it, six multis went on eBay immediately. You will still need a looper until line six upgrades the app.

  2. i really do believe that you should consider the metal muff for the distortion pedal. much better sound than either of the boss ones, and a lot cheaper and easier to find than the triple wreck. the ds-1 could pretty much pass as the budget option as you can find one on kijiji for as cheap as 20 bucks in some cases, 40 at the most. same goes for the metal zone.

  3. Excellent article Josh. I will like to add some good options like MXR Carbon Copy for analog delay, MXR analog chorus, Xotic SP for compressor, Boss OD1X excellent overdrive, Boss FV-30 volume and save some real estate un the pedalboard. Also Visual Sounds H2O is a decent option.

  4. Thanks for posting this, man. As a somewhat novice in regards to guitars, it helps to be able to categorize them.

  5. I would love to be able to have an effect pedal for my guitar. It would definitely help add to the sound of my music. This would definitely be a great way to help me make my sound more unique. I would really like to start saving money now so that I can afford something like this soon. I think that it would definitely be worth the money. This is definitely something that every guitarist should have.

  6. one of the essentials is a good boost pedal, especially for playing live, and its probably more important than a wah wah pedal in my opinion.

    1. Hello, you actually could use a wah pedal as a boost, toe down position, or actually look for an in between of not a treble boost is need it, always cut through the mix, all the best, regards

  7. The Mod Tone makes a very cool metal stomper that sounds really nice with full equalizer, “low/mid/high”, as well as a “Morphing” dial for a galaxy of tonal quality sounds.. I got one for about 50 bucks and its so hard core and crisp. Can’t say I’ve ever been as content with alot of the other higher priced ones. Quite frankly, the “Modtone Metal” is my favorite distortion no doubt. I use a PRS MCcarty ’04 primarily. Together they make insane combo.

  8. I have Blues Driver, and love it. Play an LP Traditional and Sheraton II through Egnator Tweaker 40. Any other pedal recommendations? I play mostly Blues and Rock. Thanks!

  9. Very useful information, nice work!

    I am just starting in electric guitar and have found that COST/QUALITY option for my budget was the Boss ME80.

    Keep up the good work

  10. I don’t know why so many despise the DS-1 so much. I get some of my best sounds from it. Nice and tight 8Ø’s metal type distortion. Great for me since it keeps the classic tones separate instead of doubling or tripling up on the modern pre-amp section. Thanks for the list!

  11. Couldn’t stumble upon this article at a better time since I’ve just acquired a new Stratocaster. Very helpful indeed.

    1. I just got that Joyo pedal and already sent it back. It created a background humming that increased as the sustain turned up to where at around 50% it drowned out my guitar signal. I also picked up a number of other cheap pedals from Joyo and Donner over the holiday’s and they’re all going back. None worked properly or were just flat out broken/unusable.

      Not going to try and save a buck on this type of gear again. Cables from Monoprice though, are excellent. Highly recommend their 16Gauge cables.8″ patch cables $3, 25ft cable $10

  12. as a teenager ( i;m now 69 ) my inspiration was hank marvin but to this day cannot capture that distinct sound. i have afender tele thru a behringer multi-effects pedal but doesn;t cut it. any ideas?

    1. Not sure what multi you’re using or amp. What you’re looking for is a really bright, clean bridge pickup sound into a darker amp with tape delay

  13. I’m thinking about bying all this petals. I am a metal player. what petals should I get for that modern rock sound? I have an Epiphone but Im thinking about buying a couple of Gibsons. Will that help? What amp settings should I use?

    1. Are you playing metal or modern rock? Those are completely different sounds. Metal you want something with dual humbucker pickups. Modern rock you can pretty much use anything.

      I don’t know what amp you have so can’t give amp settings, but there are a few ways to set up your gear. Do you want to use the amp’s natural gain breakup, or run it clean and rely only on the pedal? Do you use a boost pedal or the volume pot? You’ll need a distortion pedal and they all sound different on various gear as well as the other effects you run with it. I assume you are a beginner and you need to also understand that the order you put you pedals in make a huge difference in the sound you get. Like, do you want the distortion before or after the Wah? Will a chorus pedal even work in my signal path?

      Lots of stuff to play around with. Good luck

  14. Hello Y’all!

    I agree the first should be a tuner and the second be a volume pedal.
    You want to leave the guitar’s volume wide open at “10”.

    After that, who knows, but there is a good sense of smartness here.
    If you are not in tune, you are lost. (This includes intonation).

    I have been at the sound game for 35+ years…
    My advice is to ask your favorite guitar player or your favorite local band what his or her rig is made of.

    I do know this…
    I finally got a MesaBoogie amp.
    Based on the advice above.
    Why get an amp with a signature sound???
    The amp is supposed to only make your effects and guitar louder.
    If the amp couldn’t play your CD’s respectfully, the amp can’t do justice to your rig.

    The crazy thing here is that you might have a killer sound one night.
    The next night you have a completely different sound, even though nothing has been moved or changed!
    Good luck with that!

    1. Different sound, yes! Because of the audience (less crowded, more reverb) and even the weather (or the pression in the atmosphere and the moist in the air). And, also, because of the hangover – the day after a good gig’s night it’s more difficult, hmmm…

  15. Hello, Josh!

    I discovered your site while browsing the net for an answer to my question “What looper?” (finally, I chose the JamMan Stereo because of the 4 footswitches and the SD Card input); I am glad I discovered Guitar Adventures: guitar sites are never too many! Like pedals…
    Pedals are, for guitarists, like purses / shoes for ladies. But we must remember that “Less is more”. Sometimes, a chorus / phaser / delay can destroy a good sound. Before adding a box on the pedalboard we must ask ourselves “Do I really need this?”. Don’t ruin your sound, don’t make it muddy only because “I bought a new great, shiny red pedal, so I must, I must, I must use it”!
    My main amps are 1) a 100W solid state head, with a wonderful clean channel (for jazz I add just a bit of Small Clone chorus and maybe some reverb, but for the modern rock it allows plenty of nice sounds from a tube overdrive and maybe a little analog delay), and 2) a low-wattage (5W) all tube Class A head, great for playing blues without effects, only an overdrive with gain at 1, to crank it. Stevie Ray Vaughan dit with his Tubescreamer, but I found that a Boss or a DigiTech Bad Monkey offers great sounds too.
    That’s why I got spider webs on many other boxes on my pedalboard: I’ve played the wah only twice, for a Hendrix stuff, my T-Rex Auto-Wah is used once a year on my Jazz Bass, my Small Stone is dusty since 2012, when I played some EVH and that’s all – like my fuzz and high gain distortion pedals. My two compressors are used only for bass / recordings; I prefer tube compression and I usually record a mike through an ART Tube MP (mic preamp) into the mixer.
    Nowadays there are billions of pedals, in millions of colors, like Skittles (even custom hand-painted), but good sounds are very few. If you’re watching, for example, the videos “Rig Rundown” on YouTube you’ll notice that there are very few crowded pedalboards. And a guitarist with 20 pedals will use many of them only on a intro or on a lead part. Less is more, less is best!

    1. ‘guitar sites are never too many’ I beg to differ. If there weren’t so many places to read about gear I wouldn’t spend so much money!! 🙂

  16. Because it’s easy enough to control volume with your guitar, doesn’t adding a volume pedal just introduce yet another variable to your signal you then need to work around? The shortest path is the best no?

  17. Thanks for the article!! It was very helpful and inspired me to go buy some more pedals:)

    For the delay pedal, you should check out the Joyo D-Seed; it’s a 2 channel delay pedal that can be found for under $60 and sounds absolutely fabulous!

  18. This article is extremely helpful, thanks for the time and effort you put into this!
    I do have a question though: I have a ds 1 distortion pedal and thinking of getting an overdrive pedal, is it possible to branch these in series and obtain a combination of clean/overdrive/distortion?

  19. Yesterday i wrote wishlist about my pedalboard, and this article realy help me to keep on the right track. thanks josh!

  20. Great article! Really great always wondered how t use a chorus and you give some great tips! Thanks

  21. For overdive pedal the OCD should be on that list for sure. A very popular and a very excellent pedal. I highly recommend it!

  22. This is a great article and well done. I`m 65 years old I stopped playing for 35 years and then got together with old friends and started playing again. I rebuilt a pedal board and a low life stole it at a free gig we did and the only pedal they left was my Dunlop Wah. So I opted to replace it with Digitech iPB-10 pedal board instead and this is the best move I ever did. The combinations are unlimited and I have it set up for every set and every song and the click of a button. It is a little pricey but well worth it.

  23. Great article. Yes, the Jim Dunlop GCB-95 Cry Baby Wah Wah Pedal is the one to get. It’s the original, least expensive, and A/B’d with my Vox Clyde McCoy Wah Wah Pedal the tone is virtually the same. No need to spend more money. The Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive is a really good overdrive however Boss also makes the Boss OD-3 Overdrive for $99.99 brand new. More expensive? Yes, however the tone and gain are much better than the SD-1. The ISP Decimator Noise Suppressor didn’t make the list but if you need a noise gate/suppressor trust me the ISP Decimator is the one to get. The Boss DD-7 Digital Delay is a 5 Star pedal. It sounds wonderful and may be the only delay pedal you will ever need. For Chorus you just can’t beat the Boss CH-1 Super Chorus. I have tried ’em all and the CH-1 just plain ole works great. Although not a fan of Phase the MXR Phase 90 with the r28 mod is the best sounding Phase pedal I have ever heard. Flange is a tough one. There are so many great Flanger’s on the market I suggest you go out and try them all before you purchase. Good luck!

  24. I think 10 should be an EQ pedal. Can totally get a tone dialled in, and adjust to live vs bedroom, with a band, etc. Probably the most important pedal I use.

    standard: MXR M-108 Ten Band Graphic EQ

  25. Great article. Just starting to get into pedals so very helpful. Best piece of advice was your “pedals don’t replace practice”. Thanks.

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