The best guitar pedals to buy in 2021: 16 best pedals for music production

Introducing the most interesting, practical and just downright fun guitar pedals to use on your synths, vocals and samples.

The spread of features that most DAWs provide these days are so advanced, there’s hardly an effect you can dream up that can’t somehow be programmed in-the-box. So, why bother passing signals – whether it’s an analogue synth or your own vocals – through a guitar pedal? Well, for one thing, because they’re just so much fun. But there’s more…

Why use guitar pedals in music production?

While some pedals offer just a single effect, their physical controls – knobs, buttons and sliders – make them especially intuitive to dial in. And, if it’s an analogue pedal such as a bucket-brigade delay or op-amp distortion, you’ll likely notice they have a pleasant warmth that adds harmonic depth and character to especially ‘digital-sounding’ instruments.

Meanwhile, some pedals offer functions and effects so sophisticated that replicating them in the digital domain could involve hours of intensive trial-and-error. In other words, buying the real deal could potentially save you a bunch of time you could have otherwise used in the actual music-making.

The best guitar pedals for music production to buy in 2021:

  • Warm Audio Jet Phaser
  • Chase Bliss Audio Blooper
  • Eventide H9 Max
  • Fairfield Circuitry Shallow Water
  • Boss Metal Zone
  • Behringer DR400
  • Zoom MS-50G
  • DOD Rubberneck Analog Delay
  • Death By Audio Echo Dream 2
  • EarthQuaker Devices Rainbow Machine
  • ProCo Rat
  • Alexander Pedals Superball Kinetic Modulator
  • Source Audio Ventris
  • Meris Mercury 7

Warm Audio Jet Phaser

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Warm Audio Jet Phaser
Image: Warm Audio

Warm Audio’s Jet Phaser is an authentic recreation of the Roland classic of the same name. It pairs especially well with keys and vocals, delivering a vintage phase effect that sits well with psychedelic or retro-minded projects. Onboard are six modes, including four “Jet” ones that engage a built-in fuzz for an even more dramatic effect.

The pedal also features a Fast/Slow footswitch that lets you jump to its maxed-out settings at the tap of a foot. Some avant-garde producers – such as Yamatsuka Eye of Boredoms – would use analogue phase effects such as this one on the master bus, which gets seriously wild.

  • Price: $199/£163
  • Type: Phaser
  • Controls: Jet Level, 6-Way Mode Switch, Resonance, Slow Rate; Footswitches: Bypass, Fast/Slow
  • Connectivity: 2 x 1/4” (input, output)

Chase Bliss Audio Blooper

Chase Bliss Audio Blooper
Image: Chase Bliss Audio

The Chase Bliss Blooper can be tricky to wrap your head around, but that’s exactly what makes it such a good pedal to explore. Short for “Bottomless Looper”, the pedal offers powerful functions that let you re-pitch audio, slice it up, reverse it, add effects and even bake in those changes to do it all over again. We know, it’s bananas.

This creative looper plays just as well with individual instruments as it does with multiple devices – so consider slotting it on an FX return to have it available on the fly. It also offers MIDI and CV/Expression connectors, as well as an assignable footswitch that lets you customise its behaviour to your preference.

  • Price: $499/£509
  • Type: Creative looper with effects
  • Controls: Volume, Layers, Repeats, Mod A (1,2,3), Mod B (4,5,6), Stability, Mode Switch (Normal, Additive, Sampler); Footswitches: Record/Play, Stop/Undo/Redo, 16 dip switches (expression/ ramp parameters)
  • Connectivity: 4 x 1/4″ (Input, Output, Exp/CV, MIDI/ext)

Eventide H9 Max

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Eventide H9 Max
Image: Eventide

The Eventide H9 Max offers all of the brand’s classic guitar effects in a single compact offering. That includes pitch, modulation, time-based effects and loads more, along with exclusive ones such as the CrushStation multi-band distortion and SpaceTime modulated delay/reverb.

Each effect features a host of flexible parameters that you can access through the companion H9 Control app. If you’re looking for an easy way to endow your set-up with a range of quality effects, this is the pedal you’re going to want.

  • Price: $699/£649
  • Type: Multi-effects pedal with 99 presets
  • Controls: X,Y and Z buttons (custom parameter), Hotknob, Presets, Control Knob
  • Footswitch: Engage, tap tempo
  • Connectivity: 5x 1/4″ (stereo input, stereo output, expression)
  • Other features: H9 Control App

Fairfield Circuitry Shallow Water

Fairfield Circuitry Shallow Water
Image: Fairfield Circuitry

Quite possibly the best pedal out there for lo-fi productions, the Fairfield Circuitry Shallow Water is a K-field modulator built around a bucket-brigade chorus and vibrato circuit. Essentially, it lets you imbue your signal with randomised pitch fluctuations, warbling tones and more.

We recommend running synths – digital or analogue – through this pedal to get that classic washed-out texture. Also, consider pairing it with just a good old-fashioned radio for impromptu sound bytes.

  • Price: $299/£244
  • Type: K-field modulator
  • Controls: Rate, LFO, Damp, Mix, Depth, Volume; Footswitch: True Bypass
  • Connectivity: 2 x 1/4” (Input, Output)

Boss Metal Zone MT-2

Boss Metal Zone MT-2
Image: Boss

Believe it or not, this little black box from Boss actually pairs surprisingly well with drum machines, despite it being described by some guitarists as sounding “like a tin can filled with angry wasps”.

The reason for that lies in the Metal Zone’s semi-parametric EQ, which lets you match ultra-saturated distortion to the fundamental frequency of your input. Plus, they’re absolutely plentiful on the used market; you can expect to pick up a second-hand Metal Zone these days for around $60.

  • Price: $102/£105
  • Type: Distortion
  • Controls: Level, 2 x Stacked equaliser knob, distortion
  • Connectivity: 2 x 1/4” (Input, Output)

Behringer DR400

Behringer DR400
Image: Behringer

While portable setups are great fun to take around with you, many battery-operated devices simply don’t offer time-based effects onboard, so what you get is an absolutely bone-dry signal. The DR400 is a great option for fixing that.

This affordable stompbox from Behringer offers three delays, four reverbs and four combinations of both with adjustable parameters. Best of all, it runs on a 9V battery, so you get to keep your setup truly portable.

  • Price: $90 (used)
  • Type: Delay/Reverb
  • Controls: Balance, Tone, Delay Time, Mode
  • Connectivity: 3 x 1/4” (Input, Output A, Output B)

Zoom MS-50G

Zoom MS-50G
Image: Zoom

The Zoom MS-50G is something of a secret weapon among dream pop producers on a tight budget. It’s a patch-based multi-effects stompbox that lets you craft complex effects out of multiple chained effects.

It’s downright impressive just how many effects this compact device offers, from ring modulators and step-filters to amp-sims and pitch-delays. Oh, and if you do pick one of these up, be sure to get that firmware update from Zoom’s website, which adds even more effects.

  • Price: $120/£105
  • Type: Multi-effects stompbox
  • Controls: 3 x multi-function knobs, footswitch, 4x directional buttons
  • Connectivity: 3 x 1/4” (Input, Output L/Mono, Output R)

DOD Rubberneck Analog Delay

DOD Rubberneck Analog Delay
Image: DOD

The DOD Rubberneck is a comprehensive analogue delay pedal powered by a classic bucket-brigade circuit. Unfussy controls make it easy to dial in and it packs features – such as tap tempo – which you may be surprised to find on an analogue delay.

One of the most fun things to do on a delay is to crank up the feedback (regen) and let it ride itself into self-oscillation. Rubberneck makes this even easier to do through a momentary feedback setting assigned to the right footswitch. Meanwhile, the left footswitch held down lets you toggle between a primary and secondary rate.

  • Price: $269/£185
  • Type: Bucket-brigade analogue delay
  • Controls: Time, Repeats, level, Tap Ratio (quarter note, dotted-eighth note, eighth note)
    Rate/Depth, Gain/Tone, Tails (On-No Dry, On, Off), Rubberneck Rate, Regen Adjust
  • Footswitches: True Bypass, Tap Tempo/Regen

Death By Audio Echo Dream 2

Death By Audio Echo Dream 2
Image: Death By Audio

The Echo Dream 2 combines analogue delay with a modulation, offering independent controls for both sections. Particularly great with synths, the LFO can be set to either sine or square for wobbly modulations or getting arpeggiated-type sounds.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Death By Audio pedal without a fuzz of some kind, and the one built-in ramps up considerably, letting you add just a touch of drive or take things all the way to fuzz heaven.

  • Price: $280/£222
  • Type: Modulated delay
  • Controls: Delay Time, Feedback, Modulator Speed, Modulator Depth, Master, Fuzz, Delay, True Bypass Footswitch
  • Connectivity: 2 x 1/4” (Input, Output)

EarthQuaker Devices Rainbow Machine V2

Earthquaker Devices Rainbow Machine V2
Image: Earthquaker Devices

Some guitarists have described the Rainbow Machine as the coolest sounding effect you’ll never use – but that’s probably because they’ve only ever run it on full blast.

EarthQuaker Devices describes the effect as a “polyphonic pitch mesmeriser” – but what does that mean, exactly? Well, it’s a time-based effect first and foremost, and beyond that, it offers functions to pitch-shift, harmonise, modulate and enter self-oscillation easily.

At higher settings, this pedal is inclined to get downright chaotic. But if you slow down and explore how its parameters affect your signal, you’ll actually find unique sounds that sit on the more conventional side of the fence. We recommend pairing this one with vocals, as the blend you’ll get from familiar and unfamiliar sounds can be quite mind-bending.

  • Price: $/£229
  • Type: Pitch-shifting modulator
  • Controls: Primary, Pitch, Secondary, Magic, Tone, Tracking; Footswitches: Magic, Activate
  • Connectivity: 2 x 1/4” (Input, Output)

ProCo Rat

ProCo Rat
Image: ProCo

It’s as classic as classic gets: the ProCo Rat is a simple-to-operate distortion pedal with a versatile ‘reverse’ filter control that sweeps from silky smooth to harsh and crunchy.

The pedal is especially popular with noise artists, who pair it with a variety of sound sources. It’s a sure win when hooked up to drum machines, but you could also get creative with contact microphones, turntables and other prepared instruments.

  • Price: $/£69
  • Type: Distortion
  • Controls: Distortion, Filter, Volume, True Bypass Footswitch
  • Connectivity: 2 x 1/4”

Alexander Pedals Superball Kinetic Modulator

Alexander Pedals Superball Kinetic Modulator
Image: Alexander Pedals

You can now tell your friends that you own a delay pedal with an LFO based on the physics of everyone’s favourite bouncy ball toy. Seriously. Alexander Pedals measured the energy loss of a Super Ball and applied the formula onto the Bounce function of its Superball Kinetic Modulator, letting you engage a series of mod fluctuations that’s just a trip to hear on all sorts of instruments.

That said, this stompbox is not a mere gimmick – it’s also a highly-advanced delay with an ultra-flexible LFO that can be assigned to any parameter. On top of that, there’s a resonant low-pass filter and a sequencer for stepping through pitch shifts and more.

  • Price: $/£199
  • Type: Experimental delay
  • Controls: Select Button, Default: Time, Repeat, Mix, Filter / LFO Mode: Rate, Depth, Sync, Wave / Sequencer Mode: Rate, Step, Sync, Pattern; Footswitches: Tap / Bounce, Bypass / Preset
  • Connectivity: 3 x 1/4″ (Input, Output, Exp/MIDI)

Source Audio Ventris

Source Audio Ventris
Image: Source Audio

The Source Audio Ventris offers two reverb circuits in a single pedal, letting you run two separate effects in parallel, series or split to two different outputs. Onboard, there are 12 different reverb engines ranging from spring and hall to more experimental ones such as lo-fi and shimmer.

The companion Neuro app opens up its programmability further, with detailed parameters and the ability to store and recall presets. Source Audio also offers additional reverb engines on its website for more sonic options.

  • Price: $529/£375
  • Type: Reverb with dual engines
  • Controls: Time, Mode, Mix, Pre-Delay, Treble, Control 1, Control 2; Footswitches: On/Off, Option, Preset button
  • Connectivity: 5 x 1/4″ (Stereo Input, Stereo Output, Expression), MIDI (In/Thru/USB), 1 x 1/8″ Control, 1 x USB Type-B

Meris Mercury7

Meris Mercury7
Image: Meris

You know it’s going to get dreamy when Meris says its Mercury7 is inspired by the 1982 cyberpunk classic, Blade Runner. This is an ultra-flexible reverb pedal that delivers an expansive sound with deep modulation talents.

The Mercury7 excels particularly with long, cavernous reverbs – which sound absolutely epic on their own, but then you also get to substantiate that with auto-swells and pitched fluctuations. The clever blend of digital algorithms with a JFET input section helps this reverb add a touch of analogue flavour to your instruments, particularly handy for synths and drum machine.

  • Price: $/£299
  • Type: Modulated reverb
  • Controls: Space Decay, Modulate, Mix, Lo Frequency, Hi Frequency, Pitch Vector, Mode Button (Ultraplate, Cathedra), Alt (Hold) Button; Footswitches: Swell, Bypass
  • Connectivity: 4 x 1/4″ (Input, Left Output, Right Output, Expression/MIDI)

Universal Audio UAFX Astra Modulation Machine

Universal Audio UAFX Astra Modulation Machine
Image: Universal Audio

Universal Audio’s entrance to the world of guitar effects kicked off with the UAFX pedal series, which offers ultra-detailed recreations of some of guitar history’s most beloved heritage effects.

The Astra Modulation Machine packs a 70s-style studio flanger, a bucket-brigade chorus and an optical tube tremolo. These all sound great on retro-flavoured productions, and on instruments such as electric pianos and the clavinet.

In our review of the UAFX series, we said: “From top to bottom, these are sonically stunning and thoughtfully designed professional tools that easily justify the initial investment.”

  • Price: $399/£355
  • Type: Modulation
  • Controls: Speed, Depth, Intensity, Shade, Shape, Mode, Effect switch (Chorus Brigade, Flanger Dblr, Trem 65), Store switch, A/B mode switch; Footswitches: On, Preset
  • Connectivity: 4 x 1/4″ (Stereo Inputs, Stereo Outputs), 1 x USB Type-C
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