The chorus pedal is one of the most common items in an electric guitar player’s arsenal of effects. As the name implies, chorus pedals create the effect of multiplying your guitar signal to create a chorus as if multiple guitars were playing the same note.
At its core, a chorus pedal is a type of subtle delay effect. By adding a tiny amount of delay to the signal, just mere milliseconds, the chorus pedal thickens up your sound and creates its “doubling” effect that is immediately recognizable from countless famous tunes.
Extremely popular among guitarists of the ’80s, the chorus pedal is sometimes maligned by players who only remember its more over the top applications. However, it remains a prominent staple on modern guitarists’ pedal boards.
With the right chorus pedal and a bit of know-how, you have access to classic 80’s tones, lush harmonies, 12-string guitar emulating effects, subtle modulations, and much more.
Table of Contents:
- I. Finding Your Sound With A Chorus Pedal
- II. How A Chorus Pedal Creates A Chorus From One Guitar
- III. Best Chorus Pedals
- a. Best Affordable Chorus Pedal: Donner Tutti Love Chorus
- b. Best Mini Chorus Pedal: Ibanez Chorus Mini
- c. Best General Chorus Pedal: Boss CE-2W Waza Craft Chorus Pedal
- d. Best Chorus Pedal For Heavy Distortion: Electro-Harmonix Neo Clone
- e. Most Versatile Chorus Pedal: Earth Quaker Devices Sea Machine
- IV. See What Chorus Can Do For Your Tone!
Finding Your Sound With A Chorus Pedal
In the late 70s and throughout the 80s, the sound of the chorus pedal became one of the cornerstones of popular guitar music. Bands like The Police, Rush, The Pretenders, and dozens of other examples all made their claims to fame by recording guitar tracks dripping with chorus effects.
Since exploding into popularity in the mid-80s, chorus pedals have worked their way into countless pop songs, power ballads, guitar epics, and catchy riffs. Some players use the chorus to create beautiful artificial harmonies with their clean tones, but notable examples of distortion combined with chorus can be found in the catalogs of prominent bands such as Nirvana and Metallica.
Being such a prominent and versatile effect, it’s not surprising to learn there are a lot of different chorus pedals to choose from. Some are bare bones and provide nothing more than a classic chorus sound, while others offer extensive control over modulation effects and can be used to do much more than just chorus, like creating shimmering vibrato effects or adding a sense of motion to your tone that mimics the Doppler effect ala the classic Uni-Vibe pedal.
How A Chorus Pedal Creates A Chorus From One Guitar
There are two basic principles that go into a chorus pedal: delay and modulation.
In a classic analog chorus pedal, delay is created by sending the signal through a series of capacitors. This creates a delay by physically rerouting the signal through a path that takes a certain number of milliseconds to complete. This is often controlled by a “Delay,” “Rate,” or “Time” knob.
When the (wet) signal from the pedal finally makes it through the capacitors and into your guitar’s amplifier, it meets your guitar’s normal (dry) signal, and the result is an artificial chorus. Because of the slight delay (just a matter of milliseconds,) your ear doesn’t hear two distinct signals, but instead a facsimile of what you might hear if two guitarists were playing the same note in sync.
Some chorus pedals have multiple “Voices” which are different delay paths on slightly different timers. This allows the pedal to add extra “Voices” (signals) to the final chorus.
But these circuits don’t just pass the signal through precisely as they got it. They also introduce modulation by slightly detuning the note. Changing the pitch of the note by just a few cents, this modulation creates harmonies and attempts to mimic the way you would hear natural variations in pitch if listening to multiple guitars playing in chorus.
These modulation effects can be intense or subtle, depending on which chorus pedal you opt for. Modulation effects are usually controlled by a “Depth” knob.
Digital chorus pedals rely on the same principles as analog chorus pedals, but use software instead of circuitry to get the job done. Digital chorus pedals have the potential to be far more versatile than their analog counterparts, but many guitarists (and analog purists) prefer the old school sounds inherent to analog chorus pedals.
Best Chorus Pedals
Without further ado, let’s dive in and have a look at our picks for some of the best chorus pedals.
Best Affordable Chorus Pedal:
If you’ve never had a chorus pedal before and just want something you can plug in and figure out what they do, this is the one. Or if you just need a simple chorus tone to add to your board, this is perhaps the most inexpensive way to do it reliably.
This mini chorus pedal is small enough to fit in your pocket and costs less than $40. Despite its diminutive size and impressively affordable price tag, this little Donner pedal packs and impressively vibrant chorus sound. The sounds are fairly basic and it is certainly not the most versatile pedal money can buy, but it does well for experimentation and can even crank out some very usable tones.
Controls couldn’t be simpler. You can adjust the Rate, or how long the delay timer is to create the chorus. You can also adjust the Depth of the modulation. Finally, a Level knob controls the output of the pedal.
- Extremely affordable
- Lightweight and simple
- Great beginner pedal
Best Mini Chorus Pedal:
Don’t let the size of this Ibanez fool you. Though it is a tiny mini pedal, the sound it packs is massive and world class. In this tiny little pedal Ibanez has packed all of its classic chorus tone. The Chorus Mini can do everything from a brilliantly transparent subtle chorusing to a mind bending modulation display that will leave you lost in the warbling.
The Chorus Mini offers true analog tones and is extremely versatile between its Depth and Speed knob. With minimal modulation (Depth turned down) and a short delay time (Speed turned down,) you can get a very clean chorus effect which is excellent for those looking for a subtle pedal that does little to color the tone but still provides a reliable chorus effect.
The cherry on top is the Ibanez Chorus Mini does all of this – and has an attractively small footprint on your pedal board – for about half the price of many of its competitors.
- Excellent sound
- Versatile options from transparent doubling to intense modulations
- Miniature pedal weighs next to nothing and has minimal footprint on your pedal board
Best General Chorus Pedal:
In the mid 70s, Boss’ CE-1 and CE-2 pedals could be heard in the mix of some of the world’s most venerated guitarists. Without a doubt, the Boss CE series was one of the classic chorus effects that started it all. Today, Boss chorus pedals are still massively popular and in use around the globe.
The CE-2W offers the classic chorus tones of both the CE-1 and the CE-2 in a single, modern package. The CE-2W is all analog circuitry, just like the original units.
There is a lot of sound to be found in this pedal! And thanks to its incredibly simple design, a truly impressive host of tones are within the turn of just two knobs. The whole pedal is controlled by just a Rate and Depth knob.
There is also a switch that changes between the CE-1 and CE-2 circuitry, with a third mode for an intense vibrato effect. The CE-1 has a more subtle sound well-suited for rounding off those poppy tones, while the CE-2 has a distinctively smooth and transparent chorusing. The vibrato mode adds something extra and gives the pedal a whole new dimension of utility.
- Classic Boss chorus tones
- Versatile pedal includes both CE-1 and CE-2 analog circuitry
- Vibrato mode for pitch-shifting effects
Best Chorus Pedal For Heavy Distortion:
When you think of a chorus pedal, your mind might go to a gentle passage in a rock ballad or a jangly pop riff. But many guitarists have seen things differently. With a roaring amp and a grungy distortion chain, the chorus pedal can instead be used to add a natural multitracking – a staple of many heavy recordings – or it can be used to create huge, chaotic swirling textures of sound.
Guitarists like Kurt Cobain experimented at length with the interesting sonic possibilities that distortion and chorus pedals can unlock. And many shred metal guitar players have created ethereal high gain lead lines with the help of a chorus pedal.
If you’re looking for something that will play well with your heavy sound, try the Electro-Harmonix Neo Clone. Lauded as Kurt Cobain’s favorite chorus pedal and famously featured on “Come As You Are,” it’s a dead-simple design that packs a lot of punch.
The Neo Clone does everything it does with nothing more than its analog circuitry controlled by a single Rate knob and a Depth switch. Turning on the Depth switch adds some modulation to the effect. At the low end of the Rate knob, you get a nice, gentle chorusing. But some intense sounds live towards the far right side of that Rate knob, and in-between is endless room for experimentation.
- Incredibly simple to operate with a depth of tones available
- Works very well with distortion and other effects
- Classic sound familiar to grunge and heavy metal fans
Most Versatile Chorus Pedal:
If you want a chorus pedal that can do it all, something that will tackle any chorus effect from the most subtle and sweet doubling to the most cacophonous modulating insanity, the EarthQuaker Devices Sea Machine is the pedal for you. As the sheer number of knobs on the face of the thing might imply, there is a lot going on in this pedal, and it can produce a ton of different sounds.
The Sea Machine combines analog and digital technologies to create something that certainly qualified as a chorus pedal but could easily be something more. With six knobs controlling the pedal two Low Frequency Oscillators (LFOs) – one analog and one digital – there are many sounds that certainly depart from classic chorus tones.
But then there are the classic chorus tones! And within the neigh-limitless combinations you can cook up between the Sea Machine’s six different control parameters, you have access to just about every chorus tone you’ve heard on record as well as a huge vista of new possibilities waiting for you to explore them.
If you’re looking for simple transparent doublings, funky watery chorus tones, intense warbling spaceship noises, or you’re looking to create something entirely your own, this is a good place to start looking for it. The Sea Machine would be equally at home on the pedalboard of a heavy metal player, an elegant jazz guitarist, a catchy pop singer-songwriter, a dedicated ambient shoegazer, or just about anything in between.
- Exceptionally versatile pedal
- Six knobs for a huge depth of control
- Integrates digital and analog circuitry for the best of both worlds
See What Chorus Can Do For Your Tone!
If you’ve never experimented with a chorus pedal, it can be a great way to unlock a new facet of your playing. Whether you just want to add a little extra to your rhythm work or you’re looking to break new ground by adding interesting effects to your solos and lead work, a chorus pedal can offer some exciting color to your tone.
With so many chorus pedals on the market, it can be important to do some experimentation to find the pedal that suits you best!
Never be afraid to twist the knobs to their minimum and maximum when testing out a pedal to see what kind of sounds might be hiding at its extremes. You might be surprised to find that many other effects often labeled things like “tremolo,” “vibrato,” and different sorts of modulations can be easily accomplished with a chorus pedal.
Good luck finding the perfect chorus pedal! Once you’ve found the pedal with the right feel, response, and tone, you’ll be well on your way to creating something uniquely your own.