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Guitars & Accessories

Best Guitar Modulation Pedal

There are many guitar effects pedals which are instantly recognizable and identifiable to the average listener’s ears. However, truth of the matter is modulation effects have prominently contributed to the sounds of some of the most beloved guitar riffs of all-time. They may be used sparingly for a subtle effect or employed to fully engulf a signal to provide a completely wet, phase-soaked, flanging, or tremolo-heavy sound. These pedals can enhance a guitarist’s recordings or live performances and inspire the way they write and play music. There are many considerations you should take when purchasing a guitar modulation pedal, and we’ve outlined them in our buyer’s guide below.

Voodoo Lab Tremolo Pedal

Voodoo Labs created this pedal with an ear to the history of the tremolo effect, and it shows in this end result. Modeling their pedal after vintage guitar amplifier built-in tremolo sounds, their unit utilizes the same lamp and photocell assembly used in many of those amps from the past. You’ve got the traditional speed and intensity control knobs you would find in most tremolo pedals to give you hands-on access to shaping the attack of the tremolo effect. The slope control knob also allows you to get more specific with the sound, with the option of a more soothing, traditional tremolo tone or cranking it up to a more abrasive stutter.

Voodoo Labs also wisely included a volume knob into their compact configuration as sometimes the subtractive nature of the tremolo effect can lead to it getting buried in the mix; having the ability to boost the signal is a must for guitarists playing in band/live settings. Finally, it’s worth noting that this tremolo pedal is one of the smallest options out there, weighing less than one pound and taking up just a tiny sliver of space. These size and space considerations are a crucial element for those trying to manage the landscape of an already crowded pedalboard.

Boss TR2 Tremolo Pedal

If you’re looking for a straight-forward and simple approach to getting awesome tremolo sounds, the BOSS TR-2 tremolo pedal is calling you. Featuring just three knobs (rate, depth, and a variable wave controller) it’s easy to plug in and play. The aforementioned wave controller allows you to change the LFO waveform of the effect from triangle to square, giving you different shapes to play with in sculpting your tone. Depth will allow you to alter the strength of the tremolo effect, while rate affects the speed so you can keep things slow for a more subtle haunting sound or crank it all the way up to have a jarringly stark tone.

Because it’s a BOSS pedal, you can rest assured this piece of gear is durable enough so that you don’t have to baby it while in the studio or on the road, and a five year manufacturer’s warranty is just icing on the cake. It also takes up relatively little real estate on a pedalboard, providing yet another reason as to why so many guitarists rely on BOSS for all their tremolo needs.

T Rex Tremster Classic Tremolo Pedal

The T-Rex Tremster tremolo guitar pedal is all about paying homage to the classic tremolo tones that came from vintage guitar amplifiers of yesteryear. Employing a relatively simple set of controls in its design, the pedal is driven by electronics that emulate a vintage tube sound, a feat that this unit pulls off quite nicely. Depth, volume, and speed knobs allow players to control the character of the tremolo effect with ease, while a mode switch gives you the option to choose between a classic sine wave type of tremolo or a square wave effect.

Having the +3db boost of the aforementioned volume knob definitely helps in getting the signal of this pedal to shine in the mix. The durable design of the pedal is an added bonus, and the layout of the face of the pedal makes it simple to use. There’s also a flashing LED light which provides a helpful visual cue to determine the rate of the tremolo effect. While it may take up slightly more space than other tremolo pedals do in terms of pedalboard real estate, this is still a fine offering to those who want to capture that classic tremolo sound.

Seymour Duncan Shape Shifter Stereo Tremolo Pedal

True to its name, the Shape Shifter tremolo pedal by Seymour Duncan refuses to be contained by a singular definition. While it offers up sounds akin to the classic tremolo sounds found in vintage guitar amplifiers, the parameter controls on this unit allow players to really warp guitar tones and get weird. You’d be hard-pressed to find an old amp that can pull off the warbles, flutters, and shimmers that this unit produces. The tap tempo function helps you easily adjust the rate of the effect to fit the song you’re playing while an LED light visually pulses so you can verify you’re in sync with the tune.

The shape control knob is what really allows this unit to deviate from the standard. Shift it away from its center and the rate at which the volume of the guitar increases/decreases from its original volume is expanded, creating a variety of characteristics you can play with. Deep swells and slow drops give the tremolo effect more of a percussive nature, while a slow swell and sudden drop offers up a backwards effect.

Rocktron Reaction Tremolo Guitar Effects Pedal

Although tremolo was first associated with older styles of music such as surf rock and rockabilly, the effect has seen something of a resurgence in more modern styles of music; think heavier metal music and how the tremolo effect can have an almost menacing character, especially when coupled with distortion. To that end, Rocktron has styled their Reaction Tremolo pedal to look like a more contemporary tool for guitarists, featuring a rugged look and stark orange adornments resembling some sort of spaceship component.

But let’s move beyond the looks for a second and examine the sounds this unit produces. Two controls (speed and intensity) provide easily alterable parameters, while the flashing LED light on the unit gives a useful visual cue as to how fast the speed is working. There’s also a waveform switch which gives players the option to move between a classic triangle shape or a staccato square option. Because Rocktron obviously has made this pedal with guitarists of all genres in mind, they’ve taken care to ensure this tremolo effect sits well on either side of the distortion pedals in your effects chain. And it’s True-Bypass status means you don’t have to worry about it sucking any of your tone out when it’s not being used in your rig.

TC Electronics TonePrint Corona Chorus Effect Pedal

TC Electronic shook up the world of guitar effects more than 25 years ago when it brought its legendary SCF Chorus pedal to the world; this effect quickly became a standard amongst guitarists, and still holds onto that title today. With their Corona Chorus pedal, the company has provided that same great tonal quality and smart build in a smaller and more affordable package. If you’re looking to plug in and immediately get to business, the Corona is ready to rock; the presets are lush and expressive, and will immediately bring a great aesthetic to your tone.

If you’re looking to play around and get a bit more creative, this pedal can also walk that side of the fence. Speed, depth, color, and level controls give you the ability to really dial in specific combinations of sound. As if that wasn’t enough, this pedal also has a foot in the world of modern technology; connect the Corona to your computer via its USB connection, and you’ll be able to download customized presets that TC calls TonePrints. It’s easy, fast, and features sounds/settings that have been created by some of your favorite guitarists.

MXR M134 Stereo Chorus Pedal

MXR’s M-134 Stereo Chorus pedal is the go-to effect for many notable guitarists, including Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (The Mars Volta), Kim Thayil (Soundgarden), and Zakk Wylde (Black Label Society). The unit’s bright yellow design immediately makes it stand out in a visual sense, but the amount of flexibility the pedal offers for guitarists seeking to fine-tune their chorus sound is truly what separates it from the rest of the pack. While it can easily handle a straight and simple chorus sound, it’s capable of mimicking specific tones you may have heard on some of your favorite records. Additionally, the parameters also allow you to sculpt your own signature sound.

A quick glance at the surface of the M-134 reaffirms just how much control is in the hands of the user. Intensity, width, and rate knobs give you the flexibility to go for a subtle chorus effect all the way to a thick and otherworldly tone. Two knobs for bass and treble allow you to really go in and craft the EQ of the effected sound even further. The pedal is equipped with stereo outputs, meaning you can run the pedal through two separate amplifiers if so desired; the mono output also does the pedal justice, too. Finally, this pedal is durable so you’ll never have to worry about doing any damage by stepping down on it in the middle of recording or playing live.

Electro-Harmonix Neo Clone Chorus Pedal

Far from a cheaper or smaller knockoff, Electro-Harmonix’s Neo-Clone chorus pedal is modeled after their classic Small Clone, and they did not fall short. The pedal may be smaller (which makes it ideal for guitarists who have very little real estate on their crowded pedalboards), but it retains everything that made players love the Small Clone in the first place. Utilizing the same circuit as the Small Clone, the Neo-Clone is all-analog.

True bypass allows you to maintain the integrity of your signal tone without having anything get lost through the wires. Depth and rate knobs allow you to control the frequency and speed of the pedal’s modulation, which can result in either subtle wave-like sounds or a full-on Leslie-like effect. It’s a tight and efficient package that is designed to easily integrate into your effects setup, yet still provide a major effect on the sounds coming out of your rig.

Boss CE-5 Stereo Chorus Ensemble Pedal

BOSS tends to be deceptively simple with the way they design their instantly-recognizable pedals. Take the CE-5 Chorus Ensemble, for instance; it doesn’t really appear to offer too much by way of bells and whistles with its four knobs. But the depth and amount of control you can pull out of this chorus pedal speaks for itself. Each of the aforementioned knobs controls the effect level, rate, depth, and filter, respectively; the filter knob is unique in that it effects the EQ of treble and bass in the effect with just one knob.

Having a setup like that might sound counterintuitive, but its sweeping filter-like effect gets the job done without providing too much of a headache (and taking up precious additional space on the unit itself). You have the option to split your output into a stereo signal, but this thing is going to sound good either way you send it out to the world since there’s no need to fear mono. And because this is a BOSS pedal we’re talking about, you don’t have to worry about doing any damage to this thing as it’s built like a tank.

Electro-Harmonix Stereo Polychorus

Guitarists from Kurt Cobain to Adrian Belew used the Electro-Harmonix Stereo Polychorus pedal to conjure up some of their trademark classic sounds. But why stop with just one amazing sound when you can invite all the friends over to party? EH has also incorporated supreme flange and echo slapback effects into this unit, making it a bit more versatile than your average chorus pedal. But let’s just focus on the chorus effects, for now.

You’ve got four different chorus effects in the Stereo Polychorus including double track, analog chorus, flange, or filter Mmatrix. These each have a distinct character of their own, and can be used either subtly or in a way that completely transforms the signal of your instrument. Furthermore, there are separate knobs to affect the actual effect controls ; get lost in the parameters as you tweak the feedback, tune/delay, width, and sweep rate.

A Sweep Filter selector can also totally pull your tone into the deepest of underwater worlds. The sounds coming out of this unit are diverse and truly can wave the analog flag with pride. It’s not necessarily the ideal choice for a guitarist who wants to just plug and play, but if you’re looking to really dive into the nooks and crannies of your tone, this is definitely the chorus pedal for you.

MXR M-107 Phase 100 Effects Pedal

MXR’s Phase 100 phase shifter pedal is most often compared to the MXR Phase 90, the former offering more options than its little brother. Although this unit is most commonly associated with electric guitars, it can also be used to great effect with bass, vocals, and keys. The Phase 100 is actually like having four different phaser pedals, as the unit’s intensity switch offers sounds from four different options, each with its own distinct voice.

The range of sounds offered from the Phase 100 gives you all that you’ll ever need from a phase shifter pedal. Take on a slow, creamy sound or speed things up with a faster rotary-style phase; this pedal sounds great on clean tones, and you can run it with distortion or overdrive to truly unlock some cool harmonic layers that are enhanced by the phasing effect. This pedal is also quite durable, meaning you won’t have to worry about any sort of damage when you take it out on the road.

Boss PH-3

When it comes to the BOSS line of stompbox guitar pedals, it truly isn’t hard to coax great sounds out of the effects; simply press down on the pedal, tweak the knobs, and you’ve got a great tone. The PH-3 phase shifter pedal is a perfect example of this fool-proof process; the Rate, Depth, and Res knobs are simple to use, giving users the ability to dial in from the minimum to maximum amount when controlling the shape and scope of the phase shifting. The more recent additions to the BOSS phase shifting family are the PH-3’s “Rise” and “Fall” effects, which produce entirely upward or downward moving sounds via 4-, 8-, 10-, and 12-stage phasers.

The PH-3 also allows players to tap the tempo onto the pedal in order to sync up the phasing effects. Players also have the option to hook up an expression pedal to have real-time control of the Rate, Filter, and Tempo of the pedal while playing; this is a great feature if you’re playing a part that requires a sudden or gradual shift of sound. Since it’s a BOSS pedal, this model is as durable as you can ask for, and just in case that wasn’t enough, the PH-3 also comes with a five-year warranty.

MXR Phase 90 Shifter Pedal

If you’re looking for a strong advocate for the MXR Phase 90 pedal, look no further than one Eddie Van Halen. The veritable guitar god used this phase shifter pedal all over the first Van Halen record. It’s not hard to understand why this little orange device would find such favor in the great guitarist’s rig. Taking a cue from the more expansive MXR-M107 Phase 100 pedal, the Phase 90 consolidates big time, offering a pedal that features but one knob which is used to dial in the speed at which you want phasing to affect your signal.

If you’re looking to really customize your signal, this pedal may not be the best bet as it pretty much does most of the work for you. However, if you’re looking for a strong and instantly recognizable tone (particularly if you are trying to nail some of the classic Van Halen sounds with one phase shifter pedal), then this is what you need in your life. It’s very responsive, doesn’t muck with the tone of your guitar at all, and it’s an ideal choice you’re looking for a powerful addition that won’t take up much real estate on an otherwise crowded pedal rig.

Moog MF103 Moogerfooger 12 Stage Phaser Effects Pedal

In comparison to some of the other phase shifter pedals that are available on the market, Moog’s Moogerfooger MF-103 Stage Phaser pedal gives users complete control over the exact specifications of their sound, via the unit’s multiple knobs and intuitive design. Designed by Bob Moog himself, this pedal offers a 6- or 12-stage phaser circuit in addition to a wide-range LFO with an adjustable sweep function. Use it to slightly color your tone or drench your signal till the resulting sound is an animal of its own kind altogether.

The knobs on the MF-103 give users the ability to adjust sweep frequency, resonance, LFO rate, and LFO amount via the onboard knobs. These parameters can also be controlled by expression pedals or external control voltages. The pedal also features panel switches that allow you to choose your range of LFO rate and 6- or 12-stage phasing. Both of these two phase modes have distinct sounds. This thing is a direct descendant of the classic line of Moog synthesizers, so if you’re looking to harness a sound that is precise and as expandable as your imagination will take it, this is definitely a phase shifter pedal worth checking out.

Electro-Harmonix Nano Small Stone Phase Shifter Guitar Effects Pedal

If you’ve long admired the classic swirly sound of Electro Harmonix’s Small Stone phase shifter pedal but want to acquire it in a smaller and more durable package, the Nano Small Stone is just what you need. This tiny unit conjures up the three-dimensional sounds of the past, in a compact, die-cast package that takes up a very small footprint on any guitarist’s pedal board.

Because of its relatively small size, the Nano Small Stone is pretty straightforward as far as controls go. One singular knob controls the rate of the phasing sweep. The lone switch gives you the option to cut into the frequency spectrum of your sound, giving you a hi-pass, resonant effect. If you prefer a fuller sound, simply turn the color switch to the “down” or “off” position. This pedal provides an extreme amount of character to your sound, without taking up too much of your attention or pedalboard real estate. This makes it an ideal addition to the “crayons” that you use to color your musical tone.

Boss BF-3 Flanger Pedal

BOSS has captured the beloved sound of their BF-2 flange pedal and updated it with some cool enhancements in their compact BF-3. The first thing you’re likely to notice about this unit is its bright purple color which actually is a good indication of the type of flair and expression this pick is capable of producing. There are quite a few modes of flanging to choose from: start off with standard mode, crank things up a notch with ultra mode, chop up your signal for a Leslie-like effect using the gate/pan mode, and summon quick spurts of flange using the momentary mode which only activates when you hold your foot down on the pedal.

Because the rate at which the flange operates needs to fit with the tempo of the song, BOSS has included a useful tap tempo feature into the BF-3. Simply hold down on the pedal for two seconds and it will enter a tap tempo mode that allows you to use your foot to set the rhythm of the effect. And you’ll be able to tap with little to no caution thanks to the durable, tank-like nature of the BOSS stompbox products. If you’re looking to really get weird with your tone, this is a flange pedal that can absolutely provide you with the right tools to do so.

Dunlop MXR EVH117 Eddie Van Halen Flanger Pedal

When the world at large first heard Van Halen songs like “Unchained,” you could hear a pin drop…well, you would be able to, if your eardrums weren’t rattling from an unprecedented guitar sound courtesy of Eddie Van Halen. MXR’s EVH117 captures the flange sounds that Van Halen conjured up with the original MXR Flanger, giving players the ability to instantly dial in that “Unchained” sound. Simply hit the EVH Switch, and you’re ready to go.

If you’re more interested in creating your own tone, this pedal still gives you what you need to make it happen. Manual, width, speed, and regeneration knobs give you free range to choose your sound, whether you’re looking for a sort-of warped tremolo, strange and twisted tones, or the typical jet stream effect synonymous with flange. This thing is built to sound just like the original vintage pedal it’s modeled after, and it has a cool stylized look too; the striped graphics on the face of this pedal instantly bring to mind the era from which all things Van Halen came. You’ll be sweeping and whooshing like the legend himself in no time.

Moog Music Moog Moogerfooger MF-108M Cluster Flux

Yes, the Moog Moogerfooger 108M Cluster Flux is technically a flange pedal, but it’s really so much more than just that. It also doubles as a chorus pedal, and with the sheer depth of control knobs and editable features in this unit, you can create truly unique sounds; it wouldn’t be out-of-line to say that the Cluster Flux is actually an instrument on its own. Utilizing a pair of Panasonic Bucket Brigade Delay chips, the Cluster Flux is an all-analog device whose sound can be tweaked either by the onboard knobs, or via optional expression pedals that can link up through the back of the pedal.

You can adjust the various controls of the unit to create a sound that is subtle and thin, or transform your tone into a mutant beast that is barely recognizable as a guitar. A useful LFO tap tempo function also allows you to set the LFO rate of the device, useful for improvising on the fly yet you want to ensure effects are aligned with the feel of the song. While there are quite a few starter presets included in this pedal, this is definitely a piece of gear designed with the creative explorer in mind. it won’t be long before you have crafted dozens of tones (flange-related and otherwise) that really showcase what the Cluster Flux can do.

Ibanez AF2 Paul Gilbert Signature Airplane Flanger

Mr. Big was an undeniable pillar of ‘80s metal, and one of the calling cards to that genre of music was being unabashedly and unapologetically loud. When Ibanez teamed with Mr. Big guitarist Paul Gilbert to create his signature AF2 Airplane Flanger pedal, they took this aesthetic to heart, as you can clearly see by the bright yellow and purple colors on the durable, die-cut case. But that isn’t where they stopped with their ‘80s metal ethos.

The AF2 combines two different flange modes into one pedal. The first is the taxi mode, which produces a more traditional chorus flange while the takeoff mode captures Gilbert’s signature flange tone. You can adjust the speed, delay time, range, depth, and feedback of either sound, and also incorporate some pitch shifting if you want to get really out-there with your sound. Above all, this pedal maintains an organic and lush sound when you need it, but can get extra weird/watery/cartoonish when appropriate.

TC Electronic Vortex Flanger

If guitarists like Steve Vai and Jeff Beck are going to cosign a guitar effects pedal, rest assured that the quality of build and sound is going to be good. With that in mind, opting for the TC Electronic Vortex Flanger pedal is a no-brainer, as this unit is capable of producing a dynamic range of flange flavors. If you’re looking for a classic flange swoosh sound ala Van Halen, the classic mode is right up your alley. If you’re interested in capturing more of the psychedelic original flange tones of artists like Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, look no further than the tape flange mode.

Stereo in’s and out’s give players the option to widen up their sound by running out of dual amplifiers. But that’s not the only thing that makes this pedal special; TC Electronic’s TonePrint system allows users to connect the pedal to their computers and download customized and signature sounds from iconic guitarists of the past, present, and tomorrow such as Joe Perry (Aerosmith), John Petrucci, and more. With a compact footprint that still packs quite a proverbial punch, this is definitely a secret weapon for guitarists looking to possess a dynamic and powerful flange-making sound.

Buyer's Guide

 

Guitar Modulation Pedal Buyer's Guide

Generally speaking, a modulation effect essentially doubles the signal flow (in this case, the sound of an instrument like the guitar) and alters it. It then combines the effected (or wet) signal with the original (dry) signal in order to produce the effected tone. Because guitar effects are such an intricately designed and manipulatable facet of sound design, you should try it out either with your own rig or gear resembling your rig as closely as possible. However, there are still some guidelines and concepts that you can learn about that can help you make a more informed decision about your purchase.

Phaser Effects

Phasing, also referred to as phase shifting, is where a signal is duplicated, and then the new copied signal is shifted to be out of phase with the original signal. The resulting sound creates a spacey, “whoosh” effect evokes the sound of a watery atmosphere.

While signal phasing can sometimes be an unwanted by-product of audio recording, the effect began to be used intentionally on psychedelic records in the late 1960s, notably on “Itchycoo Park” by the Small Faces. The effect was later popularized in decades to follow from guitarists such as Eddie Van Halen, Queen’s Brian May, and Incubus axeman Mike Einziger.

Flange Effects

Similar to phasing, flanging duplicates the original signal of a guitar’s output but delays one signal by a small and gradually changing period. The resulting sound is similar to a comb filter effect, one that has been characterized as “sucking air” or “the Darth Vader effect”.  Whether used subtly to suggest a spacey feel or cranked all the way up to create an unnatural, synthetic-like sound, flanging is a guitar effect that doesn’t seem to be losing popularity anytime soon.

Although wildly popular as a guitar effect, flange was first popularly utilized by producer George Martin during recording sessions for the Beatles. John Lennon would often use the effect on his vocals; in fact, historian Mark Lewisohn claims that it was Lennon who first gave the technique its name. The first Beatles song to feature this effect was “Tomorrow Never Knows” on their album Revolver; almost every single song on that record had some sort of flanging effect on it.

Tremolo Effects

Tremolo produces a sound similar to flanging in that it creates a vibrating sound similar to what it would sound like if you hit a note on your guitar and then turned the volume knob up and down rapidly. Speed can be adjusted to create alternating volume fluctuation rates, while the depth controls on a tremolo pedal affects the range at which that signal is altered.

Of all the effects that fall under the modulation umbrella, tremolo is perhaps the most popular simply because it’s an effect often incorporated as a default setting in guitar amps. Most popularized in niche genres like rockabilly and surf rock, tremolo has also been used prominently in songs by artists such as Radiohead, the Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and more.

Chorus Effects

Perhaps the most subtle of all the modulation effects, chorus duplicates the original output signal and alters it slightly so that the signal sounds like it’s being voiced by multiple sources or as the name implies, by a “chorus” of instruments. Chorus is a great way to thicken up the sound of a guitar part, and can be used with other effects such as distortion to expand multiple layers of tones within a signal.

Perhaps one of the most instantly recognizable uses of chorus in popular music is the beginning intro guitar riff to “Come as You Are” by Nirvana. Like tremolo, chorus effects are often built into guitar amplifiers; however, working with processors like pedals (which are solely designed to produce this effect) will almost always result in a better and more nuanced sound.

Sean Kramer
I'm a guitarist/music producer with 18 years of experience playing on-stage, in the studio, and everywhere in between. I have toured and recorded on projects both independent and major, in styles such as rock, pop, funk, hip hop, electronic, and more. My axe of choice is probably always going to be the Fender Stratocaster, but I've been known to pick up other guitars when the music calls for it. I'm a big fan of using a multitude of effects (both hardware and software-driven) to manipulate the sound and atmosphere of an instrument. In addition to playing on records, I have also contributed to the score/soundtrack for shows and spots on MTV and ESPN, as well as for a variety of independent films, web series, and television shows.
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