Compared to the rest of your rig, even very good pedals are already quite a bit cheaper than comparable amplifiers or guitars. By nature, they’re modular and easy to change in the context of your setup. They’re also excellent in the secondhand market and are easily traded units. And while it may take some time for you to break in a brand-new guitar, pedals are basically ready to go the moment you take them out of the box.
There are roughly three camps when it comes to effect pedals: boutique, mass market, or DIY. We’ll leave DIY to the circuit-benders and focus our attention on the former two categories. Boutique pedals are made by smaller companies, generally by hand and in lower overall quantities. It’s easy to compare pedals to beer in this case. Imagine boutique pedals as your favorite craft brew while mass market pedals are macrobrews. Roughly, Mr. Black is to Maine Beer Company what Boss is to AB InBev. And then there’s Electro-Harmonix, which is somewhere in the middle, like a Samuel Adams/Boston Beer Company.
Just as debate rages about what makes beer good, so, too, is there room for debate about what makes a pedal good. In both cases, you need to use your senses. Something being expensive and rare doesn’t automatically make it good, just as something being cheap and common does not make it bad. You have to try everything once and decide for yourself. There’s a lot of hype out there that comes from the human desire to be different, but remember, there’s a reason a certain thing became popular in the first place.
The most significant appeal of mass market pedals is certainly the price. Boutique pedals can get expensive in a hurry, and it’s not always clear what you’re paying for. Plenty of companies are doing great work, but just as many are passing off components identical to the bigger brands as being precious somehow. If it sounds good to you, go for the cheaper one. The second major advantage is that, like macrobrew beer, mass market pedals tend to be reliable and consistent, which can be a lifesaver in a pinch.
Especially popular right now are close (often Chinese) copies of well-loved, iconic pedals both mass market and boutique alike. If you can’t quite spring for the real deal, or just want to sample the sound before you go all-in, you can take advantage of dropping manufacturing prices in the past several years to try a wide variety of cheap, reliable, excellent-sounding pedals. Don’t be scared off because it isn’t some elusive brand with tons of street cred. We haven’t set a particular budget here, though many of these options come in below $50. Instead, we’ve opted to include what the pedal is meant to be a less expensive version of, along with the price of the premium offering so you can get an idea of the difference. Listen to the samples and decide for yourself. You might just save a bunch of money.
For those searching for good tone on a budget, here’s our list of the best cheap guitar pedals offering excellent value.
1. Electro-Harmonix Soul Food
In many ways, Electro-Harmonix led the charge in bridging the gap between expensive, handmade boutique pedals and the boxy, cookie-cutter units Boss cranks out. They brought high-end, experimental tone to the people in intriguing packaging that didn’t make anyone feel left out.
A few years ago, the company doubled down on this market and started putting out truly excellent (mostly drive) pedals using their Nano form factor. These include the East River Drive and Crayon. Both are excellent, but the one that has made it onto a huge number of pedalboards is the Soul Food.
The goal was to create an affordable version of the so-called “transparent overdrive” for those primarily relying on tube amp breakup, in the vein of the mythical Klon Centaur. The use of power rails boost the voltage from 9 to 18 volts internally, which increases overall headroom. Controls include Volume, Drive, and Treble. There’s also an internal switch for buffered or true bypass modes depending on your needs.
Cheaper alternative to: Klon Centaur — $1,500 and up
J Rockett Audio Designs Archer — $182.14
2. Behringer Hell-Babe Hb01 Ultimate Wah-Wah Pedal
Those who play them are usually pretty defensive of their favorite wah pedal. There’s the Dunlop v.s. Vox camps, those who have the change for something like the Xotic XW-1, even the Bad Horsie fans. But for your very first ever wah, when you’re just trying to get an idea of how you’ll use the effect, it’s no crime to save a little bit on it.
The Hell-Babe actually has a pretty dedicated following and might be one of the best-loved Behringer offerings. The wah control is optical, so you won’t run into wear and tear issues as you might with other more traditional options. You can adjust the resistance to dial it in for your style of play, while the frequency range is also adjustable. The Range control allows you to drop the heel-down frequency from 440Hz to 250Hz, which means it’ll work for your bass, too.
The Fine knob controls the toe-down frequency up to 2.2kHz. There’s a +15dB boost in it, and the Q control shapes the filter across the tonal range. LEDs indicate wah and boost status at all times. It can use either a 9V battery or DC power. Lots of functions in a very cheap unit make this a strong contender.
Cheaper alternative to: Dunlop 535Q Cry Baby Multi-Wah — $129.95
3. Joyo JF-02 Ultimate Drive
By and large, boutique pedals tend to be made by hand in the domestic territory of their headquarters. This isn’t universally true, of course, but it goes some way to explaining the price difference. Most mass market effects are made in China, as with virtually everything else in the world. They have the factories and the inexpensive labor, so big companies go there to have their goods made. Recently, though, Chinese companies have been developing their own product to build in their local factories and the results are starting to be really impressive.
Joyo is just such a company. They’ve focused on developing ultra-cheap clones of well-known pedals and a few of these are very successful attempts, including this Ultimate Drive. Meant to copy the Fulltone OCD we included in our best overdrive pedals list, this is about $100 cheaper and nearly gets the job done.
For controls, you get Gain, Level, and Tone, as well as a High/Low switch that is basically a Bright switch like you’d see on an amp. It’s a good thing that switch is there, too, because one drawback to this very inexpensive unit is that it’s a little on the dark side compared to its more expensive counterpart. If you take the time to dial it in, however, you can save yourself a huge chunk of change. Pair it with an EQ pedal coming later in our list and you should be set to go.
Cheaper alternative to: Fulltone OCD — $118.15
4. Joyo JF-08 Digital Delay
As we demonstrated in our best delay pedals post, delay is not exactly a cheap effect. Most of them are around $200 and you can spend far, far more than that if you want. When it comes to digital delay, all you’re really looking for is something crystal clear and reliable. For that, we’ll stick with Joyo for a moment.
This digital delay offers controls for Time, Repeat, and Level, which is just enough to set your desired repeats. Surprisingly, the tone on this isn’t a harsh, metallic repeat, but rather a warm-sounding delay with a natural decay. Given how much delay adds to the presence and atmosphere of guitar tone, it’s certainly more than worth the price.
Like it’s stablemate the Ultimate Drive, it’s not much to look at — graphic design seems to have been an area of cost savings with some of the Chinese-born products. Then again, you don’t buy a pedal for how it looks. Half the time, you’re playing on a dark stage, anyway, so if this sounds good to you, it’s certainly hard to ignore the price point. You can get virtually any two Joyo pedals for the price of any one from a big-name maker, so they might be worth a try.
Cheaper alternative to: Boss DD-3 — $129
5. Mooer MSE1 Lofi Machine
By and large, bitcrusher pedals tend to be on the expensive side. They’re generally made in lower numbers by boutique outfits, so if you need that downsampled goodness, you often have to pay for it.
Mooer has come up with a solution well under our price limit in this Lofi Machine. I hesitate to call it a proper bitcrusher, since it’s somewhat limited in comparison to the real deal, but it does give you some delightful scrambly tones at an excellent price. It’s true bypass and offers three modes for guitar, bass, and synth. Controls include the Sample button to select the mode, Mix to dial in the level, and Bit to control the amount of downsampling. It’s also enclosed in a tiny form factor to save you pedalboard room. Great for experimentation or for adding just a touch of extra flavor.
Cheaper alternative to: Red Panda Bitmap — $239
6. Biyang OD-10 Mad Driver Guitar Pedal
For an in-depth discussion of the legendary Tube Screamer, check out our best overdrives post here. In it, you’ll see mention of the TS808, which was the original configuration of the machine called Tube Screamer. What you won’t find on that list is this super-cheap take off by the Chinese company Biyang.
Like the better-known version, the knobs on this are Volume, Tone, and Drive, which are all pretty straightforward. You could think of this as a modded TS808 thanks to the inclusion of a toggle to switch between Normal, Bright, and Warm EQ modes. That easily extends the usefulness of the Ibanez design but at a fraction of the cost. If you find you like the sound, you can save a huge pile of cash.
Cheaper alternative to: Ibanez TS808 — $179.99
Price: 34.49 (14 percent off MSRP)
7. TC Electronic Spark Mini Booster
The beauty of having a booster on your board is that it can compensate somewhat for cheaper amps and guitars. If you have a generally low-output setup, you can still step out in front of the band now and again with the help of a booster. It isn’t a perfect solution and it won’t solve every problem, but it’s cheap and effective nevertheless.
This TC Electronics booster gives you 20dB of clean boost with one key advantage over many more expensive units. The switch can act both as a latch, or a normal on switch, or as a momentary switch. That means you can choose to accentuate an entire passage, or just a couple of notes. If you want to hit a really satisfying unison bend, you can boost only that by holding the button down. When you release, it turns off again, ready to be switched on for your solo that comes later.
Otherwise, you simply get a Level knob to set the amount of boost. It uses the mini pedal form factor, which again saves you pedalboard space. Put it before pedals that can be driven with additional signal to get even more from them.
Cheaper alternative to: Xotic EP Booster — $116
8. TC Electronic HOF Mini Reverb
Reverb is an essential effect. Most of the time, you find it built into your amplifier, and that’s usually good enough. All you need is a touch of it to liven up your amp sound. Totally dry guitar signal is almost never used, whether you’re mic’d up on stage or in a studio setting. Almost every recording ever made relies on reverb of some kind, and if you saved a little bit of money buying an amp either without it or saddled with a particularly poor unit, you’ll need to help it along with a pedal.
TC Electronic is once again the answer. They’ve released this HOF Mini that includes the iconic tone from the full-size Hall of Fame pedal but saves a few dollars by stripping away everything but the single loaded reverb. It looks suspiciously simple with it’s one Reverb control that dictates the amount of reverb. Between that and the mini housing, it’s all you need to add top quality tone to your board.
It’s not empirically inexpensive compared to the other options on this list, but because it’s TC, you also get the TonePrint editor totally free. Plug it into your computer and browse the library of legendary reverb tones or create your own. When you buy this pedal, you get access to hundreds more making this perhaps the best value on our list. It’s hard to go wrong with this unit, but it may require some hours of fiddling at the computer to get the perfect setting.
Cheaper alternative to: Buying several pedals on our reverb post since it can be an emulation of all of them — usually around $200
9. Donner Ultimate Comp Compressor Pedal
Like the boosts above, compression can be a subtle effect. To the untrained ear, it may even seem like it isn’t doing anything at all. I assure you, however, it’s doing plenty to smooth out the peakiness of your signal and provide a consistent attack. Much like reverb, compression is applied to absolutely everything in the studio, and professional guitarists seek to recreate that same perfect sound when on stage. If you can name a living guitar god that doesn’t use compression, cite your source. They almost certainly do. Single coil players will get massive benefit from a compressor’s effects, while all players will enjoy improved tone and longer sustain.
This mini compressor comes from Donner, a company seemingly formulated to go after Joyo more than to emulate the bigger American companies. Their prices are very low and they put most of their pedals into this form factor. The small size is great for things like compression, which for some folks is an always-on effect.
For controls, you get Level, Tone, and Comp, which combines the attack and speed knobs traditionally found on compressor pedals. Comp dictates how quickly the note is compressed and to what degree. There’s also a switch for Normal or Treble mode, which you can read as a Bright switch. Use it to complement your rig’s overall EQ. Tough to beat at this price.
If you want to see how expensive compressors can get, check out our best compressors list here.
Cheaper alternative to: Boss CS-3 Compressor/Sustainer — $95
10. Hotone Skyline Series WALLY Compact Looper
Hotone is yet another Chinese manufacturer that has just entered the market. I recently bought their Purple Wind amp head and I have to say, I’m impressed. Again, the graphics are a bit lacking, but the controls are smooth and the tone is well beyond the price point.
They have a full line of effects pedals, including this looper. Looping pedals are somewhat expensive, and even this one just barely saves over the more famous version. There are other alternatives that are cheaper, though the feature set on this one makes it stand out. The incredible part about it is the 15 minutes of playback time. That is, in technical terms, forever, especially for a pedal of this size.
Controls include Output (overall level), Rec Level (recording volume), and Tempo. Using the Tempo knob, you can time shift your recorded loops for really crazy, tweaked out effects. The main switch taps once to record and then again to play. There is one drawback in that when you’ve time shifted your recording, you can’t overdub. It’s a pretty minor knock against an otherwise impressive feat at this price.
Cheaper alternative to: TC Electronic Ditto — $98.14
11. Zoom G1on
For true flexibility on a budget, you need to dip into multi-effects units. While you can spend any amount of money on them, as with anything in life, there is at least one prime example that fits in the budget. And even at that, you can choose between a pair of options.
The G1on pedal comes with almost everything you’d ever need. It includes 75 different effects, up to five of which can be used at once. There are 14 different amp models, which in a budget-strapped environment can give you access to tones you’d normally never come by. There are 100 memory locations for presets, so rather than tap dancing through pedal changes like you do with single effects, you can simply click up to your next preset.
In addition to all this, you also get a chromatic tuner, looper, and a rhythm machine built into the unit. Even more impressive, the other option includes an expression pedal for wah and volume, among other things, and still fits within our budget. If you want to sample a lot of effects and you only have the money to spend once, try this.
Cheaper alternative to: Everything on our multi-effects pedals list — $89.99 to $249.99
12. Mooer MBD2 Blues Mood Overdrive Effects Pedal
This blue overdrive is a send up of one of the all-time great pedals, which was improved upon by one of the all-time great pedal makers: the Keeley-modded Boss Blues Driver. Indeed, compared to the un-modded version, the Blues Mood more than holds its own, and in some configurations may even outperform it. I’ve heard it a number of times and I just actually love it. It has a slightly wider frequency response, even before activating the switch.
The simple controls include Level, Tone, and Gain, just like the venerable BD-2. These are meant as full-spectrum overdrives, in contrast to the Tube Screamer type above, so these controls are very responsive to your playing and pickups. The last control is a toggle between Bright and Fat, which is the Keeley mod part. A fine drive that will work for many setups.
13. Behringer EQ700
In the land of cheap effects, two common complaints are that a given unit sounds either thin or “dark.” Higher quality parts means better control of filtering out the noise or compensating for signal loss that can occur in less expensive pedals. In an ideal world, you’d be able to afford the best of the best, but sometimes you have to make do with what you can afford.
You can ease some of this tension by adding an EQ pedal to your board. If you know your drive is thin, but it creates enough grit, you can thicken it up by boosting the lows. If you have volume issues with that cheap phaser, you can offset them to some degree by shaping the tone and boosting the signal. An EQ pedal gives you a ton of flexibility, while also acting as an effect unto itself. You can set it to cut all frequencies but one to get a new sound altogether. This unit offers seven bands of EQ, 15dB of cut/boost, and a separate level slider for overall gain.
Cheaper alternative to: Boss GE-7 — $109
14. Behringer Digital Multi-FX FX600
To step back to multi-effects for a moment, sometimes you don’t want all the overhead of a unit that tries to do it all. For one thing, they can be somewhat complicated to use and setup. For another, they don’t really play nicely with other single-effect units, so you might end up stuck playing only that one box. Pedals like this Behringer option conveniently bridge the gap between the two.
In a conventional Boss-sized pedal, you get a total of six pedals: flanger, chorus, phaser, tremolo, and pitch shifter. The knob on the far right selects which of these you’re using. True, they can’t be combined, but if you’re crafty about when you deploy each of them, you can switch between songs at the gig. It also works nicely for recording in that you can dub in separate tracks, each using a different effect.
The other controls include Level and two Par knobs. These control two parameters of each effect, which will change depending on the effect in use. For delay, that will be time and repeats, while for flanger, that will be speed and depth. This is a great way to sample several effects for very little money, and can later be used as a coloring device after you’ve replaced them with better dedicated units.
Cheaper alternative to: Strymon Mobius — $545
(Okay, so this is somewhat unfair to the Behringer here, given the power of the Mobius.)
15. Joyo JF-06 Vintage Phase
To be fair, the pedal this emulates won’t exactly break the bank. Even at that, this Vintage Phrase is just a bit over one third the price, which makes it an excellent buy for those who don’t know if they even like phaser. It’s certainly much cheaper than the Earthquaker Devices Grand Orbiter that lives on my board.
True to its legacy, this pedal has but one knob: Speed. Perhaps if you’re of a certain mindset, you might even see this version as being a touch better than the MXR. The chickenhead knob is more like something you might’ve seen years ago, and it’s also easier to adjust with your shoe on the fly. That might be a stretch, but nevertheless, this pedal worthy of your consideration.
Cheaper alternative to: MXR CSP-101SL Script Phase 90 — $99.97
16. Andoer/Caline CP-18 Orange Burst Overdrive Preamp Pedal
Admittedly one of the ugliest pedals ever conceived, the mysterious Andoer/Caline (/ammoon/Donner…?, but I digress) company don’t spend their money on making them look pretty. Besides, even Brian Wampler has said on his YouTube channel that he doesn’t really get why people care what it looks like. All that aside, this pedal punches way above its price point as a boosting, overdriving preamp. If you have a tube amp, or are looking for more flexibility than an MXR Micro Amp on a budget, this is the pedal for you.
For controls, you get Gain, Treble, Volume, and Bass. The Volume is capable of up to +30dB of clean boost, while the Gain knob adds a very musical overdrive. Each of the EQ knobs boost or cut 15dB. For being as cheap as it is, there’s no tone suck or coloration. It has that sweetly compressed voice that feels great under the fingers.
Cheaper alternative to: Xotic Effects BB Preamp — $168
17. Mooer e-lady
This time Electro-Haromix makes the sought-after, more expensive unit, as this Mooer device was created to take aim at the flanger side of the vaunted Electric Mistress. To be sure, the EHX version is a more complete offering with stereo outs. Still, Mooer make a fine effort here, which is far more pedalboard-friendly than than the Mistress.
Controls include Rate for the speed, Range to adjust the sweep, and Color to control the feedback. Like the Electric Mistress, there’s a Filter mode which locks the flanger in place and allows you to manually control the effect with the Range knob. If you turn the Color knob up sufficiently, you can get some intense and almost uncontrollable self-oscillation, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Cheaper alternative to: Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress — $118
18. Biyang RV-10 Tri Reverb Stereo Reverb Guitar Effects Pedal
The second Biyang on our list takes a novel approach to competing with the big names on the market. For under $50, the sheer amount of options in this unit make it worth the price, especially with stereo ins and outs. You could run a mono signal into the A input of the pedal and use the A and B stereo outs to split to two amps.
Controls include a Blend and Time knob, which are basically volume and decay. The toggle switch at the top selects between Hall, Spring, and Room. The Time range on Hall and Room are very similar, with the Spring range much shorter. There’s an A/B toggle as well that boosts the input level. The B setting is normal, while the A setting is brighter and higher gain. With stronger pickups, this will cause a bit of reverb grit that you might find useful, or you can use it to boost weak single coil pickups in your favorite vintage Strat. True bypass utilizing 9V batteries or standard Boss-style adapter.
Cheaper alternative to: Boss RV-5 or RV-6 (minus Shimmer and Delay) — $149
19. Moen Technology Shaky Jimi Vibe
Vibe is a vintage effect meant to simulate rotating speaker cabinets of a certain era. You might have guessed from the name that it was integral to Jimi Hendrix’s sound, so if that’s the feel you’re going for, this would be a good place to start.
Controls on the Shaky Jimi include a switch for Chorus and Vibe effects, which enhances the value of the pedal further. There’s a Rate knob for the rotation effect or LFO speed and Depth for the intensity of the modulation. Hue controls the voice of the effect so you have options for how the effect sounds. With Hue all the way clockwise, you almost get into organ territory. Accepts the standard Boss-style power supply.
Cheaper alternative to: Dunlop M68 Uni-Vibe — $129.99
20. Electro-Harmonix The Silencer Guitar Noise Gate Pedal
Noise gates are not exactly sexy, but they perform a very important job — especially when you have a bunch of cheap effects daisy chained in front of your amp. There’s bound to be hiss. When you’ve picked out all your pedals, use The Silencer to keep them all quiet.
Usable as either a standard inline noise gate or as an effects loop, you can achieve up to -70dB of noise reduction (and up to +4dB of boost) using the Reduction knob. The Release knob allows you to dial in the release time from eight milliseconds to four seconds. Finally, the Threshold controls how much signal is needed to lift the gate.
Cheaper alternative to: Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor — $99
21. Danelectro Billionaire BK-1 Big Spender Spinning Speaker Effect Pedal
When I was your age (sorry — I have no idea how old you are, but go along with the gag), Danelectro pedals took the form of colored plastic devices with weird, squishy switches and knobs that would break at the slightest provocation. They sounded okay, especially for limited applications, and were named after food. You know the ones. And, boy, were they ever cheap. They’re still out there, and maybe they should have a place on this list by rights, but it’s 2018, so let’s move on.
Recently, Danelectro rolled out this entire new line of relatively affordable pedals, all clad in cast metal with real metal switches. The Billionaires are not quite in the $20-$30 range that the old plastic standbys were, but they’re still inexpensive in a boutique pedal world. The line includes the Filthy Rich tremolo, Billion Dollar Boost, Pride of Texas overdrive and Cash Cow distortion. All of these are perfectly serviceable pedals worth a look if you have less than $100 to spend on a pedal today.
The one that takes the cake, though, is the Big Spender. This is a spinning speaker emulator and it’s actually very, very good. Does it sound like a Leslie? Nah, probably not. But it has the functionality and the tones are definitely right for the price.
Controls include Volume, which has enough gain for breakup at the top of the range, Treble, and Speed. The Ramp switch performs the brake function and goes from the slowest to fastest in ten seconds. The helpful Ramp LED blinks green at the minimum speed and red at the maximum speed to let you know where you are. It’s a great effect that is well worth considering.
Cheaper alternative to: A real Leslie cabinet
Electro-Harmonix Lester K — $178
The cheapest per-effect prices are found in multi-effects units. Especially when the effects units themselves are reasonably priced, as in our top ten best cheap multi-effects pedals post.