How much are guitar pedals? How much do they cost?
The answer is pretty simple – somewhere between $25 and $500 (for the most part). That’s a pretty wide range, so let me narrow it down. Most budget and clone pedals are under $100. Most mainstream pedals by the big companies are between $100 and $250. The pedals that are $250+ are usually “boutique” pedals built one at a time by a single person or small company. This answer and these costs are for a single guitar pedal or “stompbox”, I won’t delve into the costs of multi-effects pedals here (which can range from $100 to $1,000+). And I won’t talk about the differences between digital and analog pedals (we’ll leave that for another day).
When I first started buying guitar gear I wish I had someone to ask about what things cost and what I should start buying. I would read some things online, I talked to other players, and I trolled Craigslist used gear like many people do – but honestly I didn’t learn much (at first). I started out with a guitar plugged into an amp and nothing more. Many will say there’s not anything wrong with that. But if variety is the spice of life, then learning how to color your sound with pedals and effects is the spice of guitar playing. Plugging straight into an amp is generally what they call a “dry” signal. Some amps have effects, but if you don’t use them your signal is “dry”.
A “wet” signal is when you add any effect to your guitar tone. Reverb, delay, chorus, distortion, overdrive, and tremelo are of course the basics, but there are hundreds (if not thousands) of other things out there as well. Adding an effect to the guitar signal makes it “wet”.
What pedals Should I buy?
That is the veritable question, isn’t it? Now that I know what things cost, what guitar pedals should I buy? If you don’t have anything at all, you might want to start with the basics. You might want to start with what your heroes use, because you know what their sound is like (and you can hear if it’s something you might like as well). Google the rig or pedal board of your favorite guitar players and find out what they have and what they record with. That might be a good starting point. Van Halen is famous for the MXR EQ pedal and a Phase 90. Stevie Ray Vaughan is famous for the Tube Screamer. Hendrix for using fuzz, and David Gilmour for the Uni-vibe and Dynacomp pedals. All of those players used a Wah pedal at one time or another as well. You might also want to start with budget friendly pedals under $100 to get started (or even used ones on eBay or Craigslist).
3 Basic Ideas for Starting a Pedal Board
If you’re thinking about buying your first guitar pedals then you might as well think about what pedals would be good to start a pedal board with. I’m going to give you 3 pedal ideas, and at least one of this is the building block for nearly every single pedal board out there. I would be shocked if you had a pedal board for 5 or 10 years and didn’t have or one or all these types of pedals at one time or another.
Get a Boost Pedal
DOD 250 Pedal
When I started gigging again in my 30’s I had a Marshall 2×12 combo with 2 channels and no effects. Basically one channel was clean, and one was dirty. I had no way to make myself louder for solos unless I turned my amp up and guitar volume down (and then back up for soloing). I didn’t like that because of the distortion loss when the volume was down. The first pedal I ever bought was a DOD YJM308 Yngwie overdrive pedal for $25 (new). I didn’t realize what a bargain this was years later. They discontinued it and Fender now makes a new one for $99 (which is not the same).
What you can buy though is the classic DOD Overdrive Preamp 250. It’s about $75 with free shipping on Amazon (and easy returns). This actually just came back to production, it was highly sought after (because it wasn’t made anymore). The DOD 250 pedal is classic overdrive and boost. It will put some hair on your signal while boosting the volume. How much extra overdrive you get depends on how far you turn the gain knob. This pedal is a classic, and has been around 40+ years – well worth the investment on anyone’s pedal board.
TS808 Tube Screamer
Another alternative is to just get a classic Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer pedal – the real deal for about $150. There are many, many imitations and clones out there for under $50 (which I discuss in other posts), but for this one I’ll just link to the real thing. The TS808 is an interesting pedal because you can use it as a boost (with a little less gain but more volume level than your signal). You could also jack up the gain and use it as a distortion/overdrive pedal. You could use it on a clean channel or a clean amp, and when kicked on get all the classic rock tones you would ever need for everything from Steve Miller, to things like Georgia Satellites, Lynyrd Skynyrd, modern country, etc. You could even run it over a distorted channel sending it into overdrive bliss for solos or hot rhythm areas. If you read enough stories about Stevie Ray Vaughan, you’ll come across a few where he used at times as many as 2 or 3 TS808 pedals in a row on his board using how ever many he needed at any given time to make his big sound. Most people don’t know that the other thing that made the SRV big was the fact that he used a switchbox to plug one guitar signal into 6 or so amps at the same time – so what the crowd heard was all 6 amps live simultaneously.
TC Electronic Spark Boost
There is one affordable boost pedal option that is strictly a boost with no distortion or over drive. That is the TC Electronic Spark (mini). For about $50, I’m sorry – you can’t go wrong. This pedal is both affordable and simple – with one single volume control only to worry about. This a true bypass pedal (which preserves your tone). It has from zero to 20db of volume boost (which is amazing). If you’ve never used a TC Electronic peal before, they footswitch isn’t your standard “stomp and click”. It’s more of a button with a spring, and you’ll think “hey what is that, is it a digital footswitch?”. This style footswitch affords something that other pedal do not – the ability to switch between either latching or momentary modes. They call this a PrimeTime footswitch. You can stomp on it for classic “off” and “on” functionality. You can also hold it down with your foot, and just use it momentarily while you solo, and then just take your foot off to end it. Pretty cool eh?
Get a Reverb Pedal
One of the things I never understood early on was what a reverb or delay pedal did (or the difference between them). I wish someone had explained it to me – so here is my basic explanation to you. One kind of reverb is room reverb. The “reverberation” of your sound inside the space you are playing. If you played your guitar and amp in your living room it would sound differently than if you played it in your bathroom. The living room has more things to soak up the sound. The bathroom is smaller and has likely a lot of glass and tile for the sound to bounce off of. If you play in a stadium, theater, a high school gym, or a bar – your guitar sound with bounce off of and “reverberate” in all those settings quite differently. This is why many things with a reverb setting will have ones labeled “hall”, “cathedral”, etc. So the sound of reverb in a pedal can emulate the natural reverb you might get if you played in a bigger room. Reverb is commonly used in recording anything from vocals to drums. Think of the classic song “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin. John Bonham’s drums were recorded in a very long hallway with very high ceilings. On that track you can plainly hear the natural reverb that was added by recording them that way.
For a guitar sound there are two other kinds of reverb that are common which are called plate and spring reverb. Spring reverb goes back to old school amps that have a “reverb tank”. Which is normally a long thin rectangular box mounted inside the top of your amp with some springs in it. One one side your signal is fed in, and at the other a “pickup” gets the signal. You can always tell an amp with spring reverb because you bump it and you can hear the springs clanging around like an old front porch screen door. You can read more about how spring reverb works in this Seymour Duncan forums thread. Plate reverb works much the same way, but instead of springs its sound vibrations through metal. You can see what a plate reverb tank looks like and get a better explanation here.
Let’s talk about players that use a lot of reverb. Eric Johnson uses both a lot of reverb and a lot of fuzz to get his signature violin sound. The Edge of U2 is also widely known for using a lot of reverb (and some echo) in his clean passages. A cool 80’s player that used a lot of reverb was Chris Isaac and his classic song “Wicked Game”. You’ll find a lot of reverb on many Jack White or White Stripes recordings, as well as the Black Keys. Whether or not you choose to use reverb is up to you. Many people say if you want to sound like you’re playing in a bigger space than you are – use reverb. It’s worth some experimentation, and many times I use both a little delay and reverb together to give my sound more color.
It’s worth noting that there are many kinds of reverb, and some pedals have just about every reverb option you can think of, and others just a single control.
TC Electronic Hall of Fame HOF reverb
Under $100, the HOF reverb is very affordable, and for many pedal owners the de-facto standard for digital reverb. The mini version is simple and easy to use with just one control knob. HOF has a more expensive larger version as well (that of course has more controls and options).
EHX Holy Grail
Another standard pedal for reverb that many players use is the Electro Harmonix Holy Grail (which has many models and versions). The Holy Grail Nano version below is a popular one, with Spring, Hall, and Flerb settings. Spring and Hall are obvious reverb options, but Flerb is a setting that mixes Flanging with spatial reverb for “out of this world” sounds. Many players swear by this pedal.
Strymon Blue Sky
Strymon is a newer player compared to the older companies, but the Blue Sky has quickly become a newer standard because of its versatility. It does plate, room, and spring reverb types, and it also has settings for normal, modern, and shimmer types of reverb. Famous for its ability to control both high and low dampening, as well as decay and pre-delay – there are a ton of options here. And you’re going to pay $300+ for all of those capabilities.
If you’re not sure what pedal to buy, all these options could either be very confusing – or a world of opportunity. This is more of a pro level pedal, but the choice is yours.
Get a Delay Pedal
The easiest way to understand delay is by reading the Wikipedia definition: Delay is an audio effect and an effects unit which records an input signal to an audio storage medium, and then plays it back after a period of time. The delayed signal may either be played back multiple times, or played back into the recording again, to create the sound of a repeating, decaying echo.
It’s hard to describe to someone that has never used delay what it sounds like. I usually say it thickens the sound, or makes it more liquid like – it gives it some depth. I went years with no delay at all, and now it’s the only effect I use 100% of the time no matter what else is on. I can’t stand a dry signal without it.
The best way to illustrate what delays sounds like is to show you this video, which reviews analog, tape, and digital delay pedals:
Now obviously the pedals in that video were more high end in the $200 – $400 range. Now that you know about the types of delay it might also be helpful to watch this video and see how delay is applied to particular styles of music. In this video you’ll see how it can be used for styles like rock lead soloing, slide guitar, blues, rockabilly sounds, and modern rock or U2 like sounds:
Here are my suggestions for a good delay pedal to get your pedal board started. Instead of showing you the cheaper chinese clone versions under $100, I’m going to show you the affordable tried and true standards that players all over the world have been using for years.k
Boss DD-3 Delay Pedal
Many people swear by the tried and true Boss DD-3 delay. This pedal was released in 1986 and has remained much the same since. It’s straightforward and durable, and known for lasting for years to come. The nice thing about this pedal is that is has an input, and output, and a direct out (for sending to another amp as a dry signal). The delay time ranges from 12.5 to 800ms which some pro players might find limiting – but starting out this pedal likely has exactly what you need. There is also no tap tempo, which some people might not like, but most beginning pedal users won’t use anyway. I’ve used delay for 30+ years and I have never used tap tempo. It’s a personal preference. There’s a great Sweetwater page about tap tempo here if you want to read more about it. At the end of the day this is a classic pedal used by pros worldwide and found in nearly any guitar shop you can walk into.
MXR Carbon Copy Delay
Another very popular delay pedal is the MXR Carbon Copy delay. It’s an analog delay pedal of high quality that’s been around awhile. This pedal provides up to 600ms delay and it is a true bypass pedal. The unique thing about this pedal is the top left “MOD” setting – which kind of acts like a chorus effect that you can turn off or on. The controls are very simple to use, you get a MIX knob to control how much delay is in your mix, and a REGEN knob that controls how many time the delay regenerates. The delay know determines the actual delay time. This pedal is very easy to use, but has pro level features as well and is also used worldwide by pro guitarists.
TC Electronic Flashback
Last but not least is the TC Electronic Flashback pedal, also widely used on pedal boards everywhere. It’s an affordable pro level pedal at only $129. The thing you might enjoy about this delay pedal vs. the other ones is the “tone print” knob that allows you to easily select one of 10 pre populated sounds like ping ping, loop, slap, tape, analog, and more. You can also connect the pedal to your computer via USB and download preset configurations from the web. This pedal also has inputs and outputs for normal mono, and extra ones for running in stereo. Not bad at this price point, not bad at all. In addition this pedal has tap tempo available as well (if you need or want to try it).