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If you were ever wondering how do the guitar greats make their instruments sound so full as if there were two or more people playing, chances are, you were listening to a guitar part shrouded in the lavish effect of chorusing. Present in many classic songs that defined the taste of generations of listeners as well as players, the chorus effect can be heard in songs like Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters or Nirvana’s Come as You Are.
Since there is no better way to increase the scope of the soundscapes you can create with your instrument, here’s our top 10 pick of the best chorus pedals available on the market! We have taken into account the affordability, range of controls and options so you can have a complete picture of what is currently available.
So, without further ado, here is the list ranging from the budget to the high-end options.
It is very hard to discern the most irresistible thing about this stompbox.
With its very affordable price tag, seductive name and stunning looks, it might just be one of the cutest babies out there on the market. Now, let’s move on to the technical aspects before you get the wrong impression (in case you haven’t got one already) about the topic as well as the author himself…
The pedal often gets overlooked because of its cheap price, but quite unrightfully so. Not only is it the most recommended beginner chorus pedal, but it can serve you far beyond your beginner level stage.
First of all, this stompbox is significantly smaller than most of the pedals out there, which can come quite handy in order to fit your overcrowded pedalboard perfectly. On the other hand, be wary of the potential danger of not seeing it, if you are playing a venue with poor lighting. However, the absolute superstar attributes of this pedal are that it’s a pedal using the analog circuitry and that it has a true bypass option, which is unheard of at the price point this pedal occupies. The implications are that you get the warmth of the sound associated with the higher end analog pedals and that you can turn off (bypass) the pedal without any buffering or loading interferences to your signal.
The main downfall of this piece of gear is that it is often criticized to be too muddy sounding, but at this price with all the rest of the benefits in mind, this one gets our seal of approval!
You can’t really tell if it’s more versatile or more affordable, with the surprising array of options, given its pocket size. A unique addition to this list, as its name suggests, this is a pedal that is mainly designed to go with the acoustic guitar.
Consisted of standard control options in rate, depth, and level it produces a fine lavish sound that is characteristic of pedals way above this price range. With its biggest and central control knob you can switch from chorus to tri-chorus which gives you a much thicker sound compared to the standard chorused effect. Another option is the echo which can give your acoustic guitar sound a very warm and soothing tone. Then you have a chorus-into-delay option which definitely is the rockstar here, giving you the majestically deep waves of acoustic guitar sound. Brilliant!
And now, for all of you acoustic-guitar-playing psychedelic freaks out there, there is an option to get the delayed sound into the chorus, which gives you a hypnotic swirling sound that is a joy to play with! Packed with a true bypass unit, this one is a true gem for acoustic guitar players with its price being more than affordable!
Most famous for being Kurt Cobain’s muse (which led him to write some of the early nineties stone cold classics), it also influenced a whole genre as well as the entire generation of guitar players, what we have here is a genuine piece of history which holds relevance even to this day.
The unique and somewhat limiting feature of this pedal is its on/off depth knob which basically enables you to have either a lot of chorus effect or barely any effect at all. While that can indeed be limiting, once you hear Nirvana’s ‘’Come as you are’’ or ’’Lithium’’ you won’t have many doubts about the unquestionable quality of the depth knob being turned on, if that is what you are after. Of course, there is an inevitable rate knob which determines the speed of pitch oscillations.
The main draw of this pedal is definitely its simplicity. Without much complexity of dialing into your tone, all of the options available are quite simple, clear in function and usable. Since a couple of decades have passed since its inception, the newer versions have one big advantage over the original one. Namely, the latter copies have the true bypass option, reducing the buffering and loading differences to a minimum, making it a great pedal to have in your signal chain!
Standing on the shoulders of giants, as Sir Isaac Newton once brilliantly noted, the Boss company took the best elements of their classic CE-1 and CE-2 chorus pedals, updated certain aspects and boom, they produced this bundle of joy known as CE-5 Chorus Ensemble, for all of you chorus pedal fetishists.
With its incredible stereo output option, they have enabled us to run our effect through two different amps which makes the chorused signal exponentially more majestic (remember, the original sound gets cloned and treated differently? And then even played through two sound sources with their own difference in latency. Wow…You have to hear it to believe it). Of course, there are naysayers, but good, that means that the Boss company stood for something and did something bold and brave, as Sir Winston Churchill once observed (what’s with the epic quotations lately?!).
Anyway, back to the naysaying critique of the piece…For some (wonder who could that be?) this pedal sounds way to digital, but that is just a matter of taste, as well as something that is not irreversible. Namely, the interesting addition to the control panel of this pedal is the filter knob. It can be used to lower the digital sounding nature of the pedal in favor of making it sound warmer, approximately alike its analog counterparts.
The bypass unit of the pedal is buffered, which makes it great for using it in longer signal chains since it boosts the signal, but it can cause some interference and latency in shorter ones. As far as the other available controls go, those would be the obvious offenders like effect level (controls dry to wet signal ratio), rate (determines the speed at which the pitch oscillates) and depth (determines the amplitude of the pitch oscillations).
The best of both worlds, modern, with a potentially classic vibe for an affordable price.
Comes preloaded with TC Electronic’s TonePrint software. TonePrint technology allows you to change the parameters of the effect, or even use another user’s presets! The impeccable versatility of this stompbox is its main forte. From subtle flickering to a luscious chorus sound, this pedal is capable of covering the whole ground.
However, if you are not willing to bother with all the tweaking and if this amount of versatility is not that important to you, you are probably better off finding a cheaper option where you can just plug in and play (see the pedal above) and get the desired result with much less fuss. Having said that, the stock settings on this pedal are quite serviceable, which is indeed a must at this price range.
Since it uses a digital circuitry, the tone can be too synthetic to some (I’m looking at you, analog junkies), but it’s something that can be fixed, to a certain extent, with the abundance of TonePrint technology options. Lastly, the bypass unit can work in true bypass or the buffered bypass mode, enabling you to reap the benefits of the transparency of the true bypass or the signal level boost that comes with buffered bypass.
Coming with a medium range price tag, this versatile gem can be just what you’re looking for if you are a nitpicking soundscape perfectionist!
This machine, like any other made by MXR, is a durable, sturdy piece of gear. The versatility of the pedal can be heard in the luscious variety of tones it can produce, enabled by the six controls it has.
The bass switch (provides you with a bass filter which reduces the chorusing on the low end of the signal), the intensity control knob (the equivalent of the standard effect level control which determines the dry to wet signal ratio), you also have EQ control knobs in the form of bass and treble, so you can furtherly customize and shape your chorused tone. The width control is the equivalent of the standard depth control which determines the amplitude of the pitch oscillations of the chorused signal.
Although an analog pedal, it covers much more ground then the book cover suggests, it is as well capable of producing the more digital-sounding bright tones which is what makes this pedal a modern industry standard. It also comes equipped with a hardwire bypass.
Rock-solid, versatile and with mono and stereo outputs, it definitely justifies its higher price tag. Recommended for all the industry professionals!
A modern classic! Popularized by none other than Guthrie Govan, it is ideal for moody arpeggios, flowing chord progressions as well as some oceanic psychedelic depths you might want to venture to. Its main limitation is that the output Is only available in mono, but the depth, width, and warmth that only analog choruses can produce is making up for the lack of stereo option, big time! The controls present here are mix (responsible for defining the original to modulated signal ratio), depth (controls how much the pitch oscillates in each direction), speed (defines the speed at which the pitch oscillates).
The interesting addition is the three-way deep toggle switch that provides three unique voices. The lowest setting provides you with a subtle airy tone combined with a soft flanging touch, the middle position gives you the classic chorus tones you would expect from a chorus pedal, while the upper position gives you the lush, complex chorus tone. It is also armed with the S.C.T. circuit which means that your guitar signal only passes through one switch contact when the pedal’s disengaged, making it an even more reliable true bypass variance.
Another love child of the legendary CE-2 and CE-1 models, this bad boy does a magnificent job of approximating the classic sounds of the aforementioned pedals. So if you are 80s style chorus maniac, look no further, this just may be your horn of plenty! As a part of their high-end Waza Craft series, they have introduced a tiny switch to this pedal which makes it shift from the typical CE-2 and CE-1 sounds. Switch left and you will get the classic CE-2 smoothness, or switch it right and experience the swirling sound of the defining 1976’ classic, CE-1.
As opposed to the other Boss representative on this list, this bad boy is all analog, giving you that sweet, warm vintage sound. The fact that it is equipped with only the rate and depth controls may be limiting for some, but on the other hand, the plug-in and play convenience of the pedal is sky high. Also, one of the main improvements is the fact that you can operate the effect in stereo as well, unlike the previously mentioned classics. Buffered bypass may represent a problem for some, but the fact that you can have two era-defining sounds in one pedal, even at a higher price range it’s the right bang for your buck!
As a company that made its name by inventing some of the most unique sounding synthesizers, you would definitely trust them if they were to venture into anything other effect-related. That is exactly what they did and they came out with a modern day, vintage sounding gem!
Namely, this black beauty is based on a Bucket Brigade Device technology which is synonymous with the classic analog sound. It is quite versatile in a way that it is capable of switching between mono and stereo output modes, which makes it quite a toy to behold (pun very much intended).
While possessing the traditional controls in rate and depth it also has a quite unique feature in a three-way mix switch. In the down position, you will get the chorus effect sounding more open and natural, in the middle position you will have your traditional warmth and thickness of the classic analog chorus, while in the up position you will get only the wet signal which means that this one can be used also as a vibrato pedal. Wow! But that is not the end of the boundless array of sonic shifting that this stomp box is capable of…It also has the feedback control which runs the chorused signal back into the pedal again, allowing you to produce near-infinite swirling trails. The time control (as the name suggests) controls the delay time of the processed signal.
Equipped with a true bypass option and a higher price tag, this one is a tasty piece of gear for the true chorus pedal connoisseurs.
The most expensive item on this list is somewhat of a miracle within the effects pedal pantheon!
Namely, here we have a pedal that is attuned to your picking dynamics, meaning that the amount of chorus present in the mix can be dependent, to a certain degree, on the force that you use to hit the strings! If you are excited by this prospect, great!
But if this bonanza makes you worried about the complexity of using this pedal, don’t worry! Just by disengaging the expression control, the dynamic thing goes away. The delay control does what it says on the tin, it is used to define the time gap between the original signal and the chorused one. When engaged heavily, it can dip into more of a vibrato-type sound which is another cool option. All the rest of the obvious offenders are here, them being depth, rate, and mix and doing what they are usually known for.
Now, back to the expression control… Once engaged, the dynamics of your playing start to trigger the amount of the chorusing effect. The dynamic toggle switch has two options: hard and soft. While in ‘’hard mode’’, the level of chorusing increases when you hit the strings harder and decreases when you play in a more gentle manner. Whereas in the ‘’soft mode’’ the level of chorusing increases when you play softly and decreases when you play loudly. Insanely cool option!
If you are still not convinced that this is the right pedal for you (given that the price tag is within your grasp), here’s yet another great prospect! The threshold potentiometer gives you the option to set the threshold at which the dynamic processing starts to react. The tone potentiometer also does what it says on the tin, it can make your sound more muddy or clear, according to your preferences and the creative situation you are in.
Equipped with both mono and stereo outputs and a true bypass unit, this surely is THE best pedal on the market. Effing marvelous!
As you probably already know, the difference in price does not necessarily imply a difference in tone quality, once you’re past a certain pricing point. Effects don’t have a linear improvement in quality as the price increases. Once you get past a pricing point of about 60 dollars, the higher price usually means a bigger array of features and options, while the tone quality generally stays the same. If you are planning to use a wider scope of controls then the investment might be worth it. On the other hand, if you want a reliable plug in and play type of pedal, there are quite a few of those at a much lower price rate, with great tone quality.
Chorus pedals using the analog circuitry are known to be somewhat warmer while also producing a vigorous signal. Analog chorus aficionados generally prefer it due to the fact that it produces a deeper sound by affecting the whole frequency range of your guitar signal. Other than the pros, the cons of the analog types are that they are generally less tweakable, making them great in their specific fields of expertise, but rather less versatile than their digital counterparts.
As we have mentioned above, the digital chorus stompboxes are highly versatile and great for achieving many unique facets of the angelic chorused soundscapes. Some of them are infamous for producing an undesirable synthetic sound, but thanks to the advances in modern technology, quite a few of them achieve the warmth and the charm of an analog type. Arguably, one of the main pros of the digital chorus pedals is their affordability, since you can grab a very good piece at a reasonable price.
As an integral part of the aural, soundscape-creating trinity of pedals, the chorus effect can be sometimes hard to differentiate from the phase shifter (commonly known as phaser, believe it or not) and flanger effect, especially to the untrained ear. Besides sounding similar, the brethren of the shimmering goodness has its similarities based on its technical essence. So before we get into the technicalities, it’s important to know which effect you are after when spending your hard earned money buying stompboxes.
The obvious reference of the flanger pedal in use would be the iconic opening riff to Heart’s ‘’Barracuda’’. As far as the phaser goes, although quite short, the nothing short of legendary guitar part in Queen’s ’’We will Rock You’’, played by Brian May is a great example of the effect. Namely, all three effects create clones of the original dry signal and then treat the clone differently between themselves, which is where the differences begin to emerge.
The chorus effect differs in a sense that it produces a longer latency between the original, ‘’dry signal’’ and the ‘’clone signal’’ as compared to the aforementioned two. It also makes the latter signal slightly different in pitch as opposed to the original one. Those two components create the oh-so-familiar chorus effect, whose purpose is to make the single instrument sound as if it was two or more instruments playing the same musical phrase together.
In nature, the effect of chorusing occurs, e.g. during the choir performances, where numerous singers perform the same musical phrase. That slight difference in timing and pitch creates the shimmering, grandiose chorused effect. Since the emergence of amplification in contemporary music, the chorus effect seized to exist naturally in a setting in which a single instrument playing a certain musical phrase was loud enough on its own. Hence, the shimmering majesty of a ‘’synthetic’’ chorus effect, jam-packed in a tiny stompbox, was born.
The three basic knobs all of the chorus pedals have are :
Slow rate – a more subtle, almost ethereal quality of the effect. Fast rate – a warbling, more of a ‘’synthetic’’ sound.
Other knobs you might find on certain pedals are :
Now, one of the arising questions might be where you should put your chorus pedal in the ever dreaded signal chain setup.
First of all, just to clear things up…There is no right or wrong way of setting up your audio signal chain. Each and every configuration can result in an endless variety of unique sonic textures, so do not get caught up in these ‘’rules’’ that we are about to tell you and get creative since that should be the exact purpose of all this technological superabundance of sonic goodies we have at our disposal.
So, the common wisdom we are about to share with you is just a way to get you started and make you focused on some basics, so you can get your creative juices flowing, once you pass the initial drill.
– Dynamics (compressors [insert link at bolded text]), filters (e.g. wah pedal [insert link at bolded text]) and volume pedals usually go at the beginning of the signal chain
– Next in line would be the gain based effects such as overdrive [insert link at bolded text] and distortion pedals [insert link at bolded text]
– So the general rule of thumb would be that the modulation pedals, such as chorus [insert link at bolded text], flanger, and phaser would be next in the signal chain.
– Traditionally, time-based pedals such as delay [insert link at bolded text] and reverb [insert link at bolded text] kick in after the modulation pedals
Again, the information above is just a guide mark to how things are generally done, nothing set in stone. We’ve written about this in more detail in another article [insert choosing guitar pedal order link at bolded text].
This is our overview of the options currently available on the market. Be sure to come back and check our list from time to time, since we will be updating it with new products. Now that the boring technical part is over, go, pick your desired pedal, stick it in and be creative.
Jason Swartz is CEO of Alliance Talent, he’s helped stars like 2 Chainz, Lil Jon, and Ludacris earn anywhere from $150 to $500K a year in passive income through this proven methodology.
Both guitars have been played by guitar legends such as Eric Clapton, David Gilmour, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Root, and Keith Richards.