The phrase “Golden Age” is thrown around a great deal these days—about podcasting, about TV dramas, about studio gear, and about guitar pedals. Indeed, we live in an aureate epoch of stompboxes, and many of them are exceedingly wallet friendly. There’s a good chance you have a guitar player in your life, be they a spouse, sibling, parent, or child. As such, we thought we’d make a list of some great, yet budget-conscious, pedals for you to present your guitar-playing friend.
For the Self-Jammer
Lots of guitar players need simple looping devices for their menu-venue gigs. This way, they can solo politely over the blues while dinner-guests sup upon oysters and wings.
Not all guitar players require behemoths for this task. For your average restaurant gig, you’d be hard pressed to find a more convenient looper than the TC Electronic DITTO, with its five-minute run time, unlimited overdubs, and analog dry-through path. And, with only one switch and one knob, you can’t mess it up. For a little more functionality (effects, import/export options, and more) check out the DITTO X2.
For the Singer Songwriter
It’s a bit of a paradox: Solo singer-songwriters often wish they could have harmonies at the tap of the toe, but at the same time, it’s daunting to deal with the ego/money involved in hiring backup singers. Now, with a pedal like the TC Helicon Harmony Singer 2, there’s no need to hire extras. All a singer-songwriter has to do is route their guitar’s input through the pedal’s 1/4" section, and route their microphone through the XLR I/O.
The pedal analyzes the guitar’s harmonic input, automatically generating harmonies that are commensurate with the guitar’s chords. Thus, play a C chord, sing an E, and the pedal might supply a G and a C to complement. As a bonus, an adaptive tone circuit is on hand to sweeten the global character of the vocals automatically with compression, EQ, and de-essing.
For Those Who Like to Swim
No reverb pedal sticks in my mind like the Holy Grail, from Electro Harmonix. From its beautiful spring to its atmospheric, trademark “Flerb”, the Holy Grail was a mainstay in my pedalboard. These days, guitar players have access to four different Holy Grails—the Max, Nano, Neo, and Plus. They all have their own virtues and fit the needs of various styles of players. Moreover, they all have that classic Holy Grail sound.
If delay is more of your guitar-playing buddy’s bag, mayhap, the Walrus arp-87 is in order. It has four different delay types, including digital, slapback lo-fi. Control the tone of the delay with the damping knob; tap the tempo with your toe! The X knob offers different controls, depending on the delay engine. This is a pedal that can be as pristine or analog-sounding as you need it to be, so it might be a good fit for the guitar player in your life.
For Those Who Like to Sim(ulate)
If you live with your guitar-playing friend, you might have noticed they don’t usually enjoy schlepping amplifiers to gigs. Luckily for you, this is a Golden Age of amplifier and amp cab simulations—and not all of them will break the bank.
For a great sound in a pedal form factor, try the Quilter MicroBlock 45, which can drive speaker cabs at 4 and 16 Ohms, making it very versatile. It’s essentially an amp on a pedalboard, with controls for gain, tone, and master level. So, if the venue has a cabinet but not amplifier, or a 3.5mm line input on the house PA, your guitar-playing friend need only bring this pedal instead of the whole kit and caboodle.
If they do need both amp and cabinet in a stompbox—so that they can literally DI their guitar onto the stage—you’ve still got wallet-friendly options. A nice one is the Radial Engineering JDX Direct Drive, which sports a relatively stripped-down control set (though you could argue this makes it harder to mess up and easier to use). For cabinet-only emulations, the Hughes & Kettner Red Box 5 is a possibility, as is the DigiTech CabDryVR.
For Those Who Like to Shift
Pitch-shifting is an effect many guitarists like to employ, and really, one can get a lot of mileage out of the practice. The whammy-bomb soloing of Tom Morello comes to mind, as do the shimmering layering of certain Radiohead riffs (“My Iron Lung,” for example). Some of the classic pitch-shifting pedals (Hogs, Pogs, and Whammys) might be a bit out the gifting price range. However, there are great options at bargain prices, such as the DigiTech Whammy Ricochet. This pedal offers the classic whammy, harmony, and detuning effects of its older sibling, but replaces the expression pedal with a footswitch.
Another interesting option is the Sub ’N’ Up Octaver from TC Electronic. The pedal itself gives you octavized pitch-shifting for monophonic or polyphonic inputs (i.e., single line melodies and chords), but it’s also TonePrint enabled, meaning you can craft your own signature pitch-based octave effect in an app and beam the setting to the pedal.
For Those Who Like to Soar
Designed by famed pedal maker Björn Juhl, the OneControl BJF Series Jubilee Red pedal captures the sound of classic Silver Jubilee British amplifiers, the ones that so many guitarists used in the Eighties to get those lead sounds we all revere. If your guitarist is the lead player in a wedding band—or just a lover of good lead tone—this would be a great pedal to present as a gift.
If fuzz is more of your buddy’s bag, you’re in luck. A classic-sounding fuzz like a Big Muff Pi might do the trick, or you can get your guitar-player a fuzz pedal with more midrange controls, such as the Seymour Duncan LA Super Rica Fuzz pedal.
For Those Who Like the Classics
There are, in this world, pedals that have become classics—pedals that aren’t expensive, either. Whether fusion jazz players made them staples over the last couple-three decades, or whether they informed the sound of metal and rock pedalboards, these stompboxes provide tonal signatures that your guitar-player friend could very well covet in some way.
Notable entries in this category include the RAT, whose second iteration is especially wallet friendly, and whose tone can be evocative of John Scofield if you dial-in the settings just right. Over in BOSS land, WAZA-Craft editions of the Metal Zone, Super Overdrive, and Blues Driver provide sonics quite similar to the original, as well as modern flourishes intended to impart ruggedness. Some even blend two versions of classic pedals into one enclosure.
That about rounds out this year’s list of our gifting guide for guitar pedals. Do you think we’ve left anything out? C’mon, of course you do! Let us know in the Comments section, below. Take it out on us and spare your friends and family!