Whether you’ve been playing guitar for 10 days or 10 years, a pedalboard is the perfect tool to take your sound to the next level. Pedals offer you the flexibility to change your tone completely just by stomping on a footswitch — but with so many pedals on the market, it’s tough to separate the best designs from average offerings.
This guide to the best guitar pedals walks you through each unit in depth, with detailed information and tips to get the most out of your pedals. If you want to build a pedalboard but you’re not sure where to start, this list is the perfect resource to guide you along the way. If you’re looking for an acoustic-electric guitar to go with it, then check out our guitar guide.
- Our Top Guitar Pedal Picks
- 1. Boss DS-1 Guitar Pedal
- 2. Boss DD-8 Guitar Pedal
- 3. EHX Soul Food Guitar Pedal
- 4. EHX Big Muff Guitar Pedal
- 5. Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer Guitar Pedal
- 6. Boss RC-1 Guitar Pedal
- 7. Dunlop Cry Baby Guitar Pedal
- 8. MXR Carbon Copy Guitar Pedal
- Honorable Mentions
- Buying Guide for the Best Guitar Pedals
- Which Effect Do You Need?
- Complex or Simple?
- How Will You Use It?
- What’s Your Budget?
- Bottom Line
Our Top Guitar Pedal Picks
|1. Boss DS-1 Guitar Pedal||This was the first distortion pedal widely released, and it’s been the favorite distortion for players like Kurt Cobain and John Frusciante. It offers a crunchy bite, with a punchy attack that doesn’t sag at high gain levels. If you’re looking for a distortion pedal, you need to try the DS-1 first.|
|2. Boss DD-8 Guitar Pedal||The DD-8 is the latest in Boss’ line of famous digital delays. Picking up where its predecessors left off, it adds even more modes while retaining the classic digital delay sound Boss is famous for. If you want one delay pedal that can provide everything you need, the DD-8 is one stompbox you need to try.|
|3. EHX Soul Food Guitar Pedal||Electro-Harmonix’s Soul Food offers transparent overdrive with rich harmonics and smooth dynamics. It’s perfect for blues, classic rock, and country players who want to add a bit of grit to their sound.|
|4. EHX Big Muff Guitar Pedal||The Big Muff is the quintessential silicon fuzz pedal. With gritty distortion and creamy fuzz, it’s versatile enough for rock, blues, and even metal. It’s a great choice if you’re looking for a streamlined yet versatile pedal.|
|5. Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer Guitar Pedal||The TS9 Tube Screamer is one of the most popular overdrive pedals on the market. Its characteristic midrange boost pairs perfectly with American-voiced amps, and makes the TS9 great for blues, rock, and classic rock.|
|6. Boss RC-1 Guitar Pedal||The RC-1 is a great choice for players looking for a streamlined looper pedal. With just one dial, it’s simple to control -- but the LED ring and footswitch operation make it a great fit for advanced players as well.|
|7. Dunlop Cry Baby Guitar Pedal||The Cry Baby is the quintessential wah pedal, found on records from Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. With a durable potentiometer and clear inductor, it’s built to preserve your tone and deliver vintage wah sounds for years.|
|8. MXR Carbon Copy Guitar Pedal||This warm analog delay offers a perfect counterpoint to pristine digital delays. It’s smooth and luscious, with up to 600ms of delay time to build complex soundscapes. You can also add modulation for a shimmering, dynamic sound.|
The Boss DS-1 was the first distortion pedal ever released on the mass market. Thanks to its simple controls and biting crunch, it’s become one of the most popular pedals in the world — and even after 40 years, it’s still one of the top distortion pedals you can find.
The face of the pedal provides simple, streamlined controls: the two main knobs control tone and distortion, with the central knob adjusting your effect level. The simple setup makes it easy to instantly dial in your tone, without any hassle or confusing controls.
The DS-1 is renowned for its tight, controlled distortion. Many other distortion pedals tend to “sag,” where the pedal starts to sound mushy or soupy when you crank up the gain. Instead, the DS-1 retains all of its bite across its gain sweep, and it’s always snappy enough to cut through a mix.
If you want tones at the edge of breakup for playing blues and rock and roll, you might not be able to get them with the DS-1. However, if you’re just looking for a crunch machine for classic rock, grunge, and metal, this pedal is the perfect tool.
Boss DS-1 Guitar Pedal Overview
The DD-8 is the latest in a long line of outstanding Boss digital delays. From the DD-2 to the DD-5 and DD-7, Boss delays are known for their pristine clarity and sparkling top-end.
The pedal’s main controls are simple, but provide enough flexibility for any genre imaginable. The first three knobs control your level, number of repeats, and time between repeats. The fourth knob selects between modes. The eleven different modes include options like standard digital delay, echo, delay with reverb, and even an onboard looper with 40 seconds of loop time.
The digital mode is crystal-clear, while the analog emulation offers a darker alternative and the modulation provides a soft warble. However, the pedal’s alternative options are great to have as well. The “delay + reverb,” reverse delay and shimmer modes are perfect for ambient playing and accents.
The rhythmic delay mode is another welcome addition to the DD-8. Combined with the built-in tap tempo, it’s much easier to dial in syncopated delays and percussive accents. You also get true stereo outputs, so you can easily pan your sound across the room or stage.
Boss DD-8 Guitar Pedal Overview
The Electro-Harmonix Soul Food takes the sound and style of the legendary Klon Centaur, and transforms it into an affordable pedal that’s versatile enough for rock and roll, blues, and classic rock.
Unlike other overdrive pedals which colored your tone with EQ tweaks, the Klon mimicked the tone of your amplifier’s natural overdrive as you turned it up. The Soul Food offers that same harmonic grit and tube saturation at a price that’s less than 5% of a used Centaur today. Like the vintage Klon, it includes three knobs: volume, gain, and treble.
The Soul Food works best for rhythm playing and lead accents, where you want a sound that’s crunchy yet smooth and rich. It’s not raspy or fizzy like some other overdrive pedals, which means it can hold down a rhythm without sounding thin.
I also love to use the Soul Food to push a tube amp on the edge of breakup. With your amp adding just a bit of crunch, the pedal can provide that extra kick for solos and lead lines where you want more dirt. The pedal also cleans up great with your guitar’s volume knob, so it’s easy to adjust on the fly.
EHX Soul Food Guitar Pedal Overview
Since 1969, the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff has set the standard for silicon fuzz pedals everywhere.
The modern version of the Big Muff is based off of the classic “NYC” Big Muff, used by legends like David Gilmour.
The controls for volume, tone, and sustain (gain) are simple and easy to tweak. The newer versions of the Big Muff offer a parametric tone knob, which changes the overall voicing of the pedal as you sweep it from left to right.
This gives you a low-pass filter on the left for chugging, grinding bass, but it also can filter out low-end on the right side for a sharper, more compressed sound.
I love how the Big Muff offers lots of gain without losing its smoothness: unlike some other drive pedals, this offers a rich, creamy saturation that thickens up your solos and gives you limitless sustain for all applications.
But while the Big Muff offers more gain than germanium fuzzes, it’s not as responsive to your guitar’s volume knob as germanium fuzz pedals are. This is great if you want to preserve your fuzz tone at any volume, but it does limit your flexibility a bit.
EHX Big Muff Guitar Pedal Overview
With its pronounced midrange boost and smooth harmonic character, the Tube Screamer provides a dynamic drive that’s perfect for low- and medium-gain applications like blues, rock, and country. The pedal also provides a creamy saturation that sounds great in mid-gain rock and chugging punk rhythm.
The TS9 runs with three knobs, for drive, tone, and level. There’s plenty of gain on tap for playing rock, but lots of players like to use it as a slight boost pedal, with the gain turned down below noon.
This technique pushes your amp into a warm, organic overdrive without ruining your amp’s clean sound and harmonic character. The boost is also responsive to your guitar’s volume and tone knobs, so you can adjust on the fly.
However, the prominent mid boost of the TS9 makes it clash with amps which already have a pronounced midrange. Most players prefer to use the Tube Screamer on amps with a scooped midrange, like Fenders and other “American”-voiced amps. “British”-voiced amps, like Voxes and Marshalls, tend to have more midrange present in the base tone.
Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer Guitar Pedal Overview
Looper pedals are some of the most useful tools for guitarists looking to sharpen their skills. Whether you’re just playing in the house or want to amp up your live gigs, a looper pedal lets you multiply your guitar parts and create complex, interlocking pieces on your own.
The RC-1 operates with just one knob to adjust the loop level. You control the pedal itself by tapping the footswitch, which makes it simple to stop, start, and overdub tracks over your base loop. The face of the pedal also offers a ring of LED lights.
The display is a major advantage over other budget looper pedals — with a color-coded system of lights, it tells you exactly where you are in your loop and displays whether you’re recording, overdubbing, or erasing. I love how it makes looping easy for beginner guitar players and helps them build confidence playing over recorded tracks.
Considering the price, the RC-1 delivers everything you could ask for and more. It’s a great pick for any guitarist in search of an affordable, durable, and thoughtful looper pedal.
Boss RC-1 Guitar Pedal Overview
Wah is one of the most famous effects in guitar history. With an expressive, emotional sound, it’s a great way to add texture and character to solos and funky rhythm tracks.
Since its introduction in the 1960s, the Dunlop Cry Baby has been the pre-eminent wah pedal on the market. Players from Jimi Hendrix to Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan have loved it for its wide sweep of expression and simple, stripped-back layout.
The main upgrade to modern Cry Baby pedals is the new Fasel red inductor. Old inductors affected your tone with the pedal on, sucking out your high-end and making your guitar sound muffled. The modern inductor is voiced to keep your trebles sounding clear and crisp, even as you use the wah.
Another key feature of this pedal is the heavy-duty potentiometer. The potentiometer senses every push of the pedal as the degrees move, which is crucial for even and smooth response. The Cry Baby’s potentiometer is rated for one million cycles, so it can withstand years of heavy use without missing a beat.
Dunlop Cry Baby Guitar Pedal Overview
This analog delay offes darker and warmer repeats which create a dreamy sound for solo work or rhythm passages.
You’ll find three knobs on the face of the pedal, to control regen, mix, and delay. The regen knob adjusts the number of repeats, while the delay knob lengthens the time between repeats and the mix knob blends in your delay sound against your dry signal.
With up to 600ms of delay time, the Carbon Copy provides enough delay for indie and ambient music as well as country and rock. If you want even more dreamy sounds, you can use the onboard modulation switch to trigger lush chorus-style modulation on your delay tails.
The base character of the repeats is warm and lo-fi, with a smoother character than some “chiming” digital delays. Because it uses genuine bucket-brigade chips, each repeat offers a natural decay without sounding too dark or losing definition as the delay fades out.
You can also push the feedback into self-oscillation, which creates a whirring, choppy sound that’s great for accents and fadeouts.
MXR Carbon Copy Guitar Pedal Overview
While I love all of the pedals above, there are so many great options on the market that it’s hard to pick just eight. These additional pedals are also outstanding, and if you’re looking for something a bit different they might fit the bill.
The Fulltone OCD is a dirt pedal that straddles the line between overdrive and distortion. It excels at classic rock crunch and hard rock distortion, and it’s easy to dial in exactly how you like it. I love its harmonic richness — unlike some distortion pedals which sound flat and dry, the OCD makes your guitar sound dynamic and alive with every note.
The Digitech Whammy is a versatile pitch-shifting pedal that can take your guitar to new heights. It lets you shift your guitar by up to two octaves in either direction, or harmonize with yourself across different intervals. You can also hear the Whammy’s metallic, otherworldly tone on records by the White Stripes, Radiohead, and Rage Against the Machine.
Both the OCD and the Whammy can find a home on almost any guitarist’s pedalboard — and their unique features make them a perfect fit for a player who wants to try something new.
Buying Guide for the Best Guitar Pedals
All of the guitar pedals that I’ve featured here can take your tone to the next level — but depending on the styles you play, some might suit your needs better than others. Factors like build quality, effect type, and complexity can affect how a pedal performs on your board.
Let’s take a look at a few common questions to help you narrow down which pedals to buy.
Which Effect Do You Need?
While lots of pedals can help your sound, it’s important to consider which effects you need before purchasing a pedal.
Overdrive and distortion pedals add a gritty edge to your tone for playing blues, rock, and hard rock. They’re one of the first pedals most players buy, because they’re easy to control and provide lots of tones on tap.
Fuzz pedals operate like distortion and overdrive pedals, but they produce more gain for a creamy, “velcro” sound. Fuzz boxes can work for both rhythm and lead guitar, which makes them a great tool for players in all genres.
If you like playing indie or alternative music, you might also want to look into delay and looper pedals. These units let you expand your guitar sound with fading repeats, and layer multiple tracks on top of each other at once. They’re great for creating dreamy soundscapes and adding more texture to your guitar tone.
Complex or Simple?
Many players struggle to decide between simple and complex pedals. Having more knobs lets you adjust more parameters to fine-tune your sound. However, lots of players prefer simple pedals because they’re quicker to adjust on stage, and they’re easier to get the hang of.
In general, drive pedals are simpler to use because they only require one or two parameters. These are a great pick if you want pedals that you can tweak easily on stage. You might also like to try out simpler looper and delay pedals, like the Boss RC-1 and MXR Carbon Copy.
On the other hand, if you want more complex pedals you should check out delays and looper pedals which give you lots of room to tweak your sound. These pedals are perfect for when you just need to get that one perfect tone, and you need enough flexibility to dial in just the right sound.
How Will You Use It?
When you evaluate a pedal, it’s important to think about your playing goals. Do you play mostly on your own, or do you love to jam with other musicians and play live gigs? Are you working on original music, or do you want to play classic tracks?
Certain pedals are more adventurous, while others offer famous sounds at the press of a switch. If you want to get the same tones that you’ve heard on famous recordings, classic designs like the Boss DS-1 and EHX Big Muff will work better for you.
Looking for gear lists from your favorite players is a great way to find the best pedals for their sound. Many gear sites catalogue every piece of equipment that famous players use, so you can replicate their tones with ease.
If you’re looking to create original music, more open-ended pedals might suit you better. Looper pedals are the perfect tool to build your own compositions, because they can record and save your musical ideas as you create new tracks. They’re also great for performing original music live because they let you stack multiple guitar parts on top of each other.
What’s Your Budget?
Because guitar pedals are so popular, you can find great models in almost every price range. However, it’s a good idea to know your budget before you start searching, so you can narrow down the field and minimize the hassle.
Drive pedals are often cheaper than modulation and time-based effects, because they require fewer elements in their circuits. These pedals are the best ones to start with if you’re working on a tight budget. Because they’re so common, they can also sound great in almost any genre.
If you have a bit more to spend, it’s a good idea to explore higher-end models. These pedals provide more control over your sound, and offer new and interesting tones which you won’t find on bargain units.
One good rule of thumb is to ask yourself whether an expensive pedal provides any sounds you could not get with a more affordable one. This will help you distinguish which pedals you should upgrade and saves you from spending too much on a flashy design.
Ultimately, many players build their pedalboards using a combination of expensive and affordable pedals. While boutique pedals can be great for some uses, many tried and true units provide great sounds as well. Because tone is ultimately subjective, it’s up to you to pick which models you like best and incorporate them into your pedalboard.
I’ve picked the Boss DS-1 as the best guitar pedal on the market. No other model can match its combination of build quality, famous tone, and simplicity for such a low price.
However, there are plenty of other guitar pedals which can take your pedalboard to the next level. Between drives, delays, reverbs, and loopers, there are dozens of fantastic models you can find on the market.
No matter which pedals you select, all of the models on our list offer fantastic value for their prices, so you can be sure you’re getting a great deal. Hopefully, the designs I’ve highlighted here can help you find the perfect pedal for you.