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Best Overall: Strymon Volante at sweetwater.com
"The first thing you’ll notice is the series of "playback heads" buttons in the center of the pedal."
Best Budget: Joyo Taichi Overdrive at Amazon
"A low-gain overdrive that aims to emulate the classic bluesy Dumble amp made famous by players like John Mayer."
Best Looper: Boss RC-10R at guitarcenter.com
"An insanely powerful looping machine that does everything the smaller format RC pedals do, and more."
Best Distortion/Overdrive: Earthquaker Devices Plumes at Amazon
"An obvious homage to the classic Ibanez Tube Screamer (tipped off by the green color scheme), but it does a lot more than that."
Best Modulation: Electro-Harmonix Mod 11 at guitarcenter.com
"It might as well be the best guitar pedal all-around for those on a budget."
Best Delay/Reverb: Walrus Audio Slo at Amazon
"A mainstay pedalboard for players who want to put ambient noise at the forefront."
Best Volume Pedal: Dunlop DVP4 at sweetwater.com
"Great for players concerned about the huge weight increase that accompanies the classic Ernie Ball."
Best for Experimentation: Chase Bliss Audio Mood at Reverb
"Chase Bliss is considered one of the most premium pedal makers on the market."
The Strymon Volante is essentially the big box version of the El Capistan. They call it a magnetic tape echo machine, and it builds on the smaller tape echo format in a few really powerful ways. The first thing you’ll notice is the series of "playback heads" buttons in the center of the pedal. This gives you an obvious, visual display of what delays you have triggering at a given time.
In fact, is also emulates classic old tape delay modules. You can assign "delay heads" and create cool rhythmic patterns and feedback structures. But it's so much more than just a delay. You can hold the left footswitch to enter an infinite delay mode that works like a looper, but the pedal processes those loops so they sound like they're degrading over time. You can adjust the spacing of your delays with one of the knobs to help emulate rhythms and styles, and you can control the amount of "tape degradation" that's affecting everything.
There's also a tap tempo footswitch onboard for locking in the exact tempo of the song you’re performing. Strymon has even thrown in a favorite switch right in the middle for calling up stored presets — a capability you normally have to buy an external favorite switch for. What we like most about this pedal is, unlike the other big-box formats from Strymon, this is a really intuitive, face-value control set. You don’t have to dive deep into menus to see how it works. Everything is available and ready for you.
Joyo is a Chinese brand that takes classic effect circuits, puts them in rugged pedals, and sells them at a fraction of the price of boutique builders. You aren't going to get flashy artwork or hardwired effects here, but what will get a solid, reliable stompbox that'll leave extra bucks in your wallet. The Taichi Overdrive is Joyo's latest offering, part of the company's futuristic-looking R series which touts cyberpunk aesthetics in a small form factor.
The Taichi is a low-gain overdrive that aims to emulate the classic bluesy Dumble amp made famous by players like John Mayer. There are Drive and Level controls for adjusting the crunch and volume, plus a Tone control brighten things up. The company has also included a voice control reminiscent of a present knob. This is a unique addition and should be helpful if you're alternating between playing chords and jumping into lead guitar lines. What's extra cool is the ambient LED strip on the bottom edge of the pedal. In addition to adding a bit of visual flair to your setup, you can set the LED to be always on or configure it to power on only when the pedal is.
Boss has had a big year, largely thanks to the release of its latest medium-format pedal line – a range that's colloquially referred to in the guitar community as the "200 series." Most of the pedals in this series are different versions of digital delay or overdrive pedals.
The RC-10R is an insanely powerful looping machine that does everything the smaller format RC pedals do, and more. At its core, the device is a stereo looping box that gives you 6 hours of recording time and 32-bit audio conversation right on board. There’s also a drum machine on board, covering 280 different beat style presets and even sixteen different versatile styles of drum kits. What's more is Boss has built the looping in a really song-friendly format, giving you the option to record and trigger song parts, sometimes in parallel.
The whole thing is MIDI-friendly and very powerful in the syncing department. Plus there’s a 99-phrase internal storage bank so you can build your loops at home and save them for the show. Plus, because it's a dual pedal built into the new 200-series footprint, it won't hog a lot of real estate on your board.
While most of EQD’s pedals can be thought of in the usual guitar pedal categories, the brand manages to add an X factor to most of their pedals. That fact isn’t any truer than in the distortion and overdrive world with options like the EQD Dunes overdrive of the classic Hoof Reaper fuzz. The newest drive pedal, named Plumes, is an obvious homage to the classic Ibanez Tube Screamer (tipped off by the green color scheme), but it does a lot more than that for those who need grit in their sound.
There are three modes of drive you can select. First, asymmetrical clipping that aims to give you the classic crunch sound with plenty of compression on the signal. Then there’s a non-clipping OpAmp-based boost that works perfectly sending an on-edge amp into overdrive territory. Finally, there’s a loose, transparent-feeling silicon-based clipping that feels the most like a classic drive pedal.
While there's only the standard Drive, Level, and Tone controls to shape each mode to your liking, EQD says that they’ve taken time to make sure the low end is under control and that the high mids are focused and clear. All in all, this is a really unique pedal — not one you’re likely to see on many boards, and as such, will give your overdriven playing a unique sound.
There are few pedal manufacturers that command the history, notoriety, and trust that EHX does. Based in NYC, and building an insane quantity of affordable pedals every year, EHX brings pro-level capabilities to young players' boards. The Mod 11 falls into the same category as the EHX Canyon and Oceans 11 pedals in that it offers a ton of different presets in a small pedal format.
What’s impressive is just how many high quality sounds it's got in the microformat: There’s a standard volume tremolo setting, a harmonic tremolo option, a vibrato to add some wiggle into your sound, as well as settings for Uni-Vibe, and chorus. Additionally, this pedal features a rotary speaker emulator, a classic flanger with LFO control, a zero flanger for even more depth, a multi-stage phaser, a pitch shifter, and even an adaptive filter setting.
All of these features do well at emulating the sound of classic mod pedals, though none of them are particularly groundbreaking. What's impressive here is just how many sounds EHX has gotten into the small pedal format, and how many of them are inspiring and useable. It might as well be the best guitar pedal all-around for those on a budget.
Walrus Audio is one of those buzz brands in today's guitar pedal world. It doesn't quite have the scope of Electro-Harmonix or Boss, but it does have every bit the cachet. The Slo multi-texture reverb is one of its latest offerings, one that has quickly become a mainstay pedalboard for players who want to put ambient noise at the forefront.
There are three reverb modes: Dark, which gives you a lower octave on the reverb, making for a dark ethereal trail; Rise, a swelling reverb setting that will help to give your guitar playing drama without the need to create swells yourself; and Dream, which is the most powerful preset, giving the player a really long reverb tail and the ability to latch onto the trail for a freezable pad using the secondary switch.
All the standard controls are also present, with the addition of a "depth" feature to control the modulation present in each reverb preset, and "X," a wild-card feature that controls a different variable for each reverb type. This is a powerful pedal with a small footprint, and because it’s made by Walrus, you know it’ll deliver.
Dunlop's volume pedal occupies the same footprint as its more well-known mini wah. In fact, for our money, it looks like they manufacture it in the same exact enclosure. That makes it great for players concerned about the huge weight increase that accompanies the classic Ernie Ball volume pedal.
The Dunlop pedal is pretty simple here – it offers a standard Aux/Tuner out for sending a signal outside the volume path. This means you can also use it as an expression pedal for controlling parameters on other effects. An internal knob allows you to adjust the minimum value of the volume pedal, meaning you can customize the range of the swells and crescendos you’re performing.
It measures only about 2.5 inches tall and about 6 inches long, so it sits nice and flush alongside your board. Because it's passive, you don't have to worry about feeding it power. It's a good, all-around volume/expression combo to have on your board.
Chase Bliss is considered one of the most premium pedal makers on the market. Alongside Strymon, Meris, and a few others, the company occupies the upper echelons of pedal makers, and for good reason. Chase Bliss uses a similar enclosure for all its pedals, a small-board friendly chassis with an ultra-rugged build.
The Mood granular looper/delay pedal is almost too complicated to explain in brevity, so we’ll run through its standout capabilities. This option has two channels. The first side offers a host of clock-based looping that'll snag a portion of your note and play it back repeatedly in ways you can control — ranging from standard short-phrase looping to crazy, random-trigger snippets. You can then adjust the clock dictating the playback for even more unique personalization.
The other side of the unit provides functionality supported by Old Blood Noise Endeavors, another top-notch guitar builder. This side gives you reverb, time-stretching, and alteration that affect the looped sounds coming from the other side of the pedal. You can, of course, use these effects on your raw guitar signal, too. This all amounts to a really unique, experimental pedal that is anything but ordinary or simple.