2017 is shaping up to be a great year for guitar pedals. The industry is showing major growth and is refreshingly innovative. But before we can consider the best, how do we know which is best for us? The sheer number of pedals available can certainly be overwhelming. So where does one start? What aspects should you consider? Unfortunately, the only pedal that works for all guitarists would be a chromatic tuner, and even that’s debatable in some circles. In essence, your pedal arsenal will reflect your style of music. ‘Similar to the way spices reflect a style of cuisine. Ginger and Orange zest may be essential in Korean barbecue, but could be detrimental to Fettuccine Alfredo. So before we make our selection, it’s important to decide on a general direction for our sound.
Table of Contents
Tips for Choosing the Right Guitar Pedal
If you’re not sure where to begin, the simplest way to cut through all the clutter is to group the effects into categories (choosing pedals is a lot harder than choosing, say pick punches, for example). And believe it or not, when it comes to tone, there are only five major types. Gain-staging, Frequency, Modulation, Time-based, and Emulation. Gain-staging refers to pedals that boost your signal. This includes clean boosts, overdrive, and distortion. Compressors and volume pedals are also classified as gain-stage. Frequency effects are more or less an extension of the tone knob on your guitar. An EQ pedal allows you to lift or cut the highs and lows for more precise tone shaping. While Wah allows you to sweep back and forth quickly. Modulation effects fluctuate the volume, pitch, and/or timing. This group includes Tremolo, Vibrato, Chorus, Phase, and Flange. The result can be subtle richness or extreme psychedelia. Time-based effects are arguably the most unbiased and can be used in many genres. Reverb and Delay fall under this category. And last but not least, Emulation effects are designed to emulate the tonal characteristics of certain amplifiers. They work best with neutral solid-state amps or in amp-less recording applications.
Now that you have a better understanding, you’ve probably noticed some trends in your native genre. Jazz is typically very clean and minimalistic, and reverb is often the only effect used. As where in Blues tone; moderate overdrive, reverb and delay are very common. You rarely find heavy distortion, and modulation like you do in Classic Rock and Metal. And Wah is most notably used in Funk. In short, choosing the pedals on your board is part of finding your style, and I urge all guitarists to analyze, and explore.
After much deliberation and review, we here at Audio Assemble, have compiled a list of truly remarkable stomp boxes. While many great pedals did not make our list, there is something here for everyone. From the affordable to the extravagant, here are the best guitar pedals of 2017.
TC Electronics surprised us all this year at NAMM with their new family of pedals. Our favorite of the series (and this was not an easy decision) was their new overdrive, Cinders. This stomp box has incredible tube like warmth perfect for blues or classic rock and the price is far too friendly to ignore.
- All Metal chassis
- True Bypass
- Under $50
- Lacks Versatility
Analog Delay Mini
Ibanez’s new delay pedal is really something special. On the surface you’ll find a repeat, blend, and time knob. ‘All pretty standard stuff as far as delay pedals go. But inside of this compact purple chassis is an all analog circuitry modeled after the classic AD-9. It’s tiny footprint, durable design, and vintage tones make this pedal an absolute steal.
- Built Tough
- Small Footprint
- Repeat and Blend knob are almost too small
Let me start off by saying that I almost always find Autowah pedals to be useless and cringe-worthy. Maybe that’s why I was completely floored by Mooer Audio’s latest gem, the @WAH. It has 5 different filter modes, and the tonality can be adjusted with the range knob. What really makes this pedal shine is its “touch” setting which responds to the dynamics of the instrument. It’s an extremely natural sounding filter modulation and each setting is very unique. Even though this is a new release, stock seems very limited. But let me reassure you that this little powerhouse is worth hunting down.
- Sounds more like Wah than Autowah
- Small Footprint
- Lots of Great Filters
- Limited stock at the moment
Brown Eye Overdrive / BE – OD
We all know Friedman for their “blue” sense of humor when it comes to naming products, but this next pedal is no joke. One of their latest installments, the brown eye overdrive, is quite remarkable. While it’s edgier than your average overdrive, it’s also smoother than your average distortion. With a 6 knob control scheme and tones that almost rival a British tube amp, the friedman BE-OD is simply too good to ignore.
- Great Friedman tone packed into a pedal
- True Bypass
- 2 Color Options
- Very high gain, even at its lowest level
This next contender is a mesmerizing blast from the past created by Walrus Audio. The new 385 overdrive is pure vintage bliss. Modeled after the Bell and Howell filmosound projector, the 385 overdrive delivers on all its promises. This pedal internally runs at 18 volts, which is how Walrus was able to achieve such sensitivity and accuracy. And its price and tone really make this pedal a dream come true for any vintage enthusiast.
- Unbelievable Vintage Tones
- Great Value
- A third band on the EQ would’ve been nice
While Boss was once THE name in pedals, many guitarists feel they have since fallen from grace. That’s debatable. What’s less debatable is their latest release, the VB-2W. This vibrato pedal has all analog Bucket Brigade circuitry just like the original. What’s new is the FX OUT which allows you to use an expression pedal. It also adds an all-new vibrato mode as well. The tones range from subtle pitch shifting to pure science fiction. This re-release is definitely worth checking out.
- Expression Pedal Support
- Unlatch Mode
- Classic Circuitry
- Expression Doesn’t Control the Rate
Palladium Gain Stage
The Palladium Gain Stage by Seymour Duncan does a phenomenal job at capturing the experience of a high-gain tube amp. The control panel has a whopping 9 knobs with 3 gain stages. There’s one for saturation, resonance, and overdrive. The EQ has a “sweepable” mid, which makes for some really precise tone shaping. But whats special is the way it responds to the dynamics of your playing making it one of the most articulate distortion pedals on the market.
- Extensive Control Panel
- “Sweepable” Mids
- Great Versatility
- No Presets
Super Radical Delay
The Super Radical Delay by Alexander is a digital delay with the spirit of the 80s. It has four different delay modes, a stunning retro design and a MIDI input. The “Glitch” mode features a bit crusher, “Bend” mode has a pitch shifter, and “Flow” has a silky filter which sweeps through irs decay. Its atmosphere is nothing short of dreamy and it’s absolutely oozing with nostalgia.
- Beautiful Design
- Retro Tones
- Mono Output
LeClean, created by Two Notes, is an outstanding 2-channel preamp which is clearly inspired by Fender’s legacy. Channel A has a rich, clean texture and a pre gain EQ as where Channel B adds a tube-like overdrive and has a powerful post EQ. Both channels can be combined in its two “Fusion” modes and the results are absolutely stellar. The LeClean doubles as a direct box and has midi in/out for which can be used for DAW control or for Alexander’s Torpedo Cab speaker simulator.
- Sounds Amazing
- Two Unique, Independent Preamps
- MIDI In/Out
- Fusion Mode
- Aesthetically Boring
The Replicator by T-Rex is a truly marvelous tape delay. It has a real analog tape cassette and two playback heads. There are three delay modes, a chorus mode, tap tempo, and a saturation knob. It supports two expression pedals for controlling both feedback and delay time, giving the player a whole new level of control. Using tape in a live setting has never been more practical. And while tape emulations have come a long way, the Replicator is in a league of its very own.
- Great Design
- Uses Real Tape
- Indescribably Rich Delay
- Replacement tape cartridges are $25 and more than likely, not on the shelf at your local retailer.
The H9 harmonizer by Eventide is an all-in-one digital pedal which comes packed with reverb, chorus, delay, pitch shifting, and more. It’s one knob interface allows for effortless editing and preset selection. But what really makes the H9 so sleek is its control app, which can be downloaded onto your Mac, PC, or IOS device. Eventide unveiled its newest downloadable algorithm just last year at NAMM, proving that the H9 is the pedal that keeps on giving.
- Single Knob Interface
- Control App
- Expandable with New Algorithms
- Wireless Control via Bluetooth
- Like most digital gear, it will inevitably become obsolete
The Helix by Line 6 is the Holy Grail of guitar pedals. It has a laundry list of effects as well as amp, cab, and mic modelling. But one of the more impressive aspects is its i/o and routing capabilities which allows you to connect other pedals, and manage everything on the Helix. It’s one of the most expensive pedals out there but it’s also one of the most capable. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.
- 56 Amp Models
- 30 Cab Models
- 16 Mic Models
- Large Color Display
- 95 Effects
- Deep MIDI Control
- Recording Interface w/ 8 inputs