The 8 Best Guitar Pedals to Buy in 2018

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The Rundown

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Fulltone OCD

Annoyingly, a lot of guitar pedal reviews amount to personal preference: intangibles of feel, sound and tone that will differ from player to player. That is especially true with distortion because the overdrive and clipping you get respond to your personal volume inflections inherent in your individual playing style. The Fulltone OCD, however, objectively resonates with many guitar players. 

For starters, the OCD is one of the best-selling pedals on the market, and the general consensus is that it offers players full, responsive and downright rich distortion at a relatively affordable price. The controls are simple, allowing for adjustments in overall volume, drive (to increase the dirt) and tone (to dial in some overtones). It also offers true bypass switching, so it won’t affect your guitar’s tone when not activated, and they’ve included a higher impedance input state on this version for a bit of extra responsiveness. In our opinion, if you get only one distortion pedal, this should be it.

Best Budget: Electro-Harmonix Soul Food

The Soul Food isn’t a particularly new pedal on the market, but it remains one of the top-selling pedals at Guitar Center year in and year out for one simple reason: it offers legendary transparent distortion/boost circuitry at a working man’s price.

The Soul Food is EHX’s attempt at recreating the legendary Klon Centaur pedal (which, secondhand, can go for thousands of dollars), and putting it in a no-frills box. Like most overdrive pedals, you can dial in the level of dirt, the amount of treble and the overall volume. But, because this pedal aims to offer “transparent” distortion (boosting the sound of your amp, not blowing it up), it’ll behave a lot differently than an all-out overdrive pedal. You’ll get much fuller individual notes and a more natural responsiveness. 

Best Looper: TC Electronic Ditto X2

There’s an outrageous number of top-notch loopers on the market, many of which are gigantic command centers that let you create a small army of loops to back you up on stage (just look at an Ed Sheeran performance). But what’s cool about the Ditto X2 is that it steps up the usual single-stomp micro-loopers by giving you a few more features, while also remaining small enough to actually fit on your pedal board.

With the Ditto X2, you can record up to five minutes of looping (which should be more than enough for most applications), and you can loop it as a straight, unaffected single or reverse it/cut the speed in half. Those two extra effect options open up a world of sonic experimentation. The undo function is pretty simple, and there’s even a dedicated “stop loop” button so you won’t miss any dramatic drop moments. Ditto X2 also allows you to upload loops from your computer via USB.

 

Best for Distortion/Overdrive: Wampler Tumnus Overdrive

OK, we’ll admit it — we were a little biased on this list with the transparent, clean-boost-y overdrive pedals. But, the Tumnus by Wampler is a truly great example of just what a pedal maker can do with today’s tech and an eye on the past. 

The Tumnus isn’t true bypass, so it won’t leave your tone untouched, but the buffered bypass could actually serve to give you some more low-end later in your effects chain (which will be extra important once you start stacking a ton of pedals). Wampler is pretty tight-lipped about the circuit — though they did promise that they didn’t go sourcing rare, old diodes — but that mystery is part of the charm of these Centaur-emulating pedals, and you’d do well to try it yourself. 

Best for Modulation Effects: JHS Ryan Adams VCR Pedal

For our purposes, a modulation pedal includes any pedal that focuses on time-based, warble-y effects. And the JHS Ryan Adams VCR Pedal does this beautifully. It's technically a multi-effects unit with a volume boost and a reverb alongside its chorus. But, because Adams' later records are known for their tasteful vintage choruses, the VCR pedal is ideal for those who want to emulate his sound. The chorus is meant to simulate a warm-yet-present 80s tape chorus, and the single knob actually functions in a more curated fashion (turning to the right will increase rate and decrease depth, while turning to the left will do the opposite). Paired with the plate-style reverb and the transparent volume boost, this chorus gives you a really nice effect.

Best for Delay/Reverb: MXR Carbon Copy Deluxe

MXR’s Carbon Copy is a classic for delay lovers, and their standard nano-sized unit is a modern standby in its own right. But when MXR released a Deluxe version, the added features were just too good to ignore. Sure, they've kept that warm, character-filled delay tail in this version, but they’ve added a ton of digitally-supported controls to give you more options.

In terms of updates, they’ve increased the tap tempo time capabilities to 1.2 seconds, giving you something closer to a digital repeat echo. They’ve included a small LCD display to ensure that you know exactly what settings are brought into the picture. There are also a couple additional knobs to further control the spread and regeneration of the delay, and they’ve even included an expression pedal input to adjust assignable parameters on the fly. The pedal is just a bit bigger than the standard, but for the extra features, it's worth your consideration.

Best Volume Pedal: Ernie Ball 40th Anniversary Volume Pedal

A volume pedal is pretty basic: like a tuner, it kind of has one job, and it sits generally at the front of your board. Ernie Ball gets the crown for making one of the most classic volume pedals out there, and it’s clear that they know it, because just last year they released a 40th-anniversary edition of the iconic model.

Paying homage to the 1977 original, this all black pedal gives you smooth, even action when muting or dampening your guitar — ultimately doing its one job very well. They’ve shrunk the footprint of the pedal, giving you more room on your board, and they’ve improved the kevlar cord under the pedal for more precise swells and fadeouts. What’s great about this is — because the unit only has to adjust the line-level input — it doesn’t require any dedicated power and thus won’t add any unnecessary noise to your signal chain.

Best for Experimenting: Electro-Harmonix Superego+

So what do you do if you’ve got a distortion you like, you’ve picked your go-tos for reverb, delay and modulation, but you still feel hampered in your creativity? If pulling your guitar’s tone further into the stratosphere of crazy sounds is your goal, then the Superego+ is a great option for you.

As the third iteration of EHX’s freeze pedal line, this model actually gives you three modules (compared to the original’s one module). The first is a simple freeze function that will take one tiny snippet of your input sound and loop it indefinitely, giving you a pad-like bed. The second module lets you control the envelope of that pad (increasing or decreasing the attack and decay to make it, perhaps, sound more like a keyboard synth). The final module is a super-powerful multi-effects unit in its own right, giving you modulation effects, harmonizers and even delay. What’s nice about the last module is you can assign those effects to the frozen pad or to your dry guitar signal. Pair it with a looper and there’s basically no atmospheric sound you can’t create.