The 33 best modulation and filter pedals of all time
14th Apr 2011 | 14:14
Wampler Nirvana Chorus
Issue 336 of Guitarist magazine was a bumper celebration of all things stompbox, with the team compiling a comprehensive list of the 101 best guitar effects pedals ever produced. Whether for innovation, influence, sound, sheer popularity, or all of the above, each and every unit that made the cut is a tone-shaping tool worthy of a place on a pro pedalboard.
You've probably already seen the 42 best overdrive, distortion and fuzz pedals of all time, and the 17 best delay pedals and echo units of all time. Now we've gathered all of the 33 modulation and filter-type effects from the list, so whether you want a stuttering amp-style tremolo, funky wah or full-on divebombing pitch bends, there's something for you in this list. First up is a pedal that takes you a step closer to tonal heaven...
"This chorus is more tweakable than most. If thick, lush chorus reminiscent of Andy Summers and Mike Landau is your thing, the Nirvana is very hard to beat."
FAMOUS USERS: Gary Hooker
MoogerFooger MF102 Ring Modulator
"We had to have a ring modulator in here somewhere and the MF102 is the most comprehensive around. The MoogerFooger series gives guitarists some of the sonic sorcery found in Moog synths and this model offers metallic and bell-like ring modulation as well as a whole range of tremolo sounds. Neat."
FAMOUS USERS: John Frusciante
Electro-Harmonix V256 Vocoder
"Guitar-specific variant on Vocoder craziness including instrument- and voice-controlled effects, Reflex Tune for modern auto-tuning fun, Robo voicings and major/minor harmonies."
FAMOUS USERS: None that we know of
Red Witch Deluxe Moon Phaser
"Three phases, a tremolo and a tremo-phase mode – this is one of the richest of all modulation pedals. Vintage to modern phasing and everything in between."
FAMOUS USERS: None that we know of
Line 6 MM4
"Featuring 16 digital models, 20 factory presets and four user memories – this is like having every modulation sound you need in one unit. Hugely versatile and, like the DL4, it’s built to last"
FAMOUS USERS: Kirk Hammett, Mike Campbell
Electro-Harmonix Riddle: Q Balls
"About as much envelope filter as you’re ever likely to need. This does psyched-out auto-wah and way beyond to burbling lo-fi crazyness. It has built-in distortion too."
FAMOUS USERS: Jack Conte
Voodoo Lab Micro Vibe
"Another take on the Hendrixian Uni-Vibe-style sound. Dead simple with a well-thought-out lamp and photocell circuit, it’s built to exacting standards. We like this a lot."
FAMOUS USERS: Michael Landau
Jim Dunlop Uni-Vibe
"Not massively faithful to the original Univox version, this nevertheless does thick, phasey chorus up to churning rotary speaker levels. It’s soon to be reintroduced after a period away."
FAMOUS USERS: Munky
Vox V847 Wah
"Vox is regarded as the instigator of the wah, and the first recognisable unit was conceived at the behest of trumpet player Clyde McCoy in the mid-sixties. The contemporary V847 is intended to be as close as practical to the original, used since by countless players."
FAMOUS USERS: Jonny Lang, SRV (846)
TC Electronic Stereo Chorus + Pitch Modulator & Flanger
"This late-1970s box is still made today and offers a particularly full sound with super-low noise. Extremely high quality, and stereo too – a thinking man’s chorus."
FAMOUS USERS: Eric Johnson
Jim Dunlop Rotovibe
"This puppy was out of production due to ROHS regulations, but it’s coming back for 2011. It’s essentially a Uni-Vibe in a wah-wah chassis for real-time speed control. Thick, fat and Hendrixy."
FAMOUS USERS: Synyster Gates, Zakk Wylde, Steve Lukather
MXR M-134 Stereo Chorus
"MXR’s latest Stereo Chorus builds on the popular, larger and more simple '70s version, adding EQ and bass filter. Rich, classic and wide as you like."
FAMOUS USERS: Randy Rhoads (original version)
Carl Martin Two Faze
"Two independent, high quality and vintage-voiced phasers in a single stompbox. Each one has its own speed control and a toggle switch for maximum versatility."
FAMOUS USERS: None that we know of
"A load of Eventide’s super high-quality studio modulation effects stuffed into a single stompbox: plenty of sounds for not much pedalboard real estate."
FAMOUS USERS: Lu Edmonds from PIL
Boss PN-2 Tremolo Pan
"A triangle wave and square wave on/off tremolo, or an auto-panner if you use it in stereo. Why on earth did Boss discontinue this little beauty?"
FAMOUS USERS: Kevin Shields, Noel Gallagher
"This bonkers box produces up to five additional octave sounds: sub octave, one up, two up and slightly detuned versions of the up octaves. The result is a massive organ-type noise that works, wait for it… with chords! The latest ‘2’ version is a sonic and functional upgrade."
FAMOUS USERS: The Edge, Jack White
Fulltone Mini Deja'Vibe 2
"Another example of Mike Fuller’s top-notch effects. This is a treadle-based Uni-Vibe descendant with true-bypass switching. Of all the UV clones, we’d pick this."
FAMOUS USERS: Robin Trower, Eric Johnson, Doyle Bramhall
Demeter TRM-1 Tremulator
"One of the best stompbox recreations of a Fender amp tremolo – not surprising as it was designed for Ry Cooder, and based on his old Twin."
FAMOUS USERS: Jonny Greenwood, Ry Cooder
Morley Classic Wah
"A completely different take on the wah-wah, which uses an electro-optical design to negate the mechanical pot you find in Crybaby-type units. Very popular in the harder rock fraternity."
FAMOUS USERS: Steve Vai, Mark Tremonti, George Lynch
Roger Mayer Voodoo Vibe +
"This evolution of the Uni-Vibe is considered the ultimate by many post-Hendrix blues-rock players. Vibe, tremolo and chorus modes, plus a wealth of controls, give you ultimate flexibility over your sounds."
FAMOUS USERS: Robin Trower, Michael Landau, Joe Satriani
Musitronics Mu-Tron III
"Jerry Garcia used one, but this envelope filter/auto wah was the squelchy sound of funk bass. Bootsy Collins said it all: 'Without that Mu-Tron, there ain’t no Bootsy.'"
FAMOUS USERS: Bootsy is everything you need here
Hughes & Kettner Tube Rotosphere
"This is the closest we’ve heard yet to the sound of a real Leslie rotating speaker cabinet. It has two speeds, which alternate realistically."
FAMOUS USERS: Noel Gallagher, Warren Haynes, Guthrie Govan
Dunlop HT1 Heil Talk Box
"There were many false starts, but when Bob Heil developed the first reliable high-powered talkbox for Joe Walsh, the effect finally came of age. Along came Rocky Mountain Way, and ever since the Talk Box has refused to be written off, making multi-platinum magic for Frampton’s Show Me The Way, Bon Jovi’s Livin’ On A Prayer and Steely Dan’s Haitian Divorce, plus many others. Dunlop continues to build it to Heil’s original design."
FAMOUS USERS: Richie Sambora, Peter Frampton and many more
Sweet Sound MojoVibe
"Another Uni-Vibe update, this one’s simple top panel belies its versatility, which includes – crucially – Hendrix-inspired, churning phase sounds courtesy of a proper lamp and light-dependent resistor design."
FAMOUS USERS: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Kirk Fletcher, Philip Sayce
Boss CE-5 Chorus Ensemble
"A stereo chorus that provides the gamut of wobbles, from a subtle movement to a frantic shimmer. The two-band filter greatly increases its versatility."
FAMOUS USERS: It’s all over modern metal cleans
"Designed as a simulation of a Leslie rotating speaker cabinet, this four-stage analogue phaser was what Hendrix used to help his Star Spangled Banner rendition sound so spectacularly mangled. Original Shin-Ei-made units are incredibly rare (and varied), but the good news is that modern recreations from Roger Mayer, Sweet Sound, Fulltone, et al sound extremely good."
FAMOUS USERS: Jimi Hendrix says it all
MXR M-117 Flanger
"A squat, mains-powered grey box with four knobs and a classy palette of smooth flanging, as used by Ed on Unchained from Van Halen’s Fair Warning album. EVH has his own signature version these days, too (£249)."
FAMOUS USERS: Edward Van Halen
Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress Flanger and Filter Matrix
"Running on a pair of nine-volters, the original is a beast of a flanger with real versatility in its range of sounds. A Filter Matrix switch offers a metallic ring modulation type of vibe."
FAMOUS USERS: Robert Fripp, Andy Summers
Electro-Harmonix Small Stone Phase Shifter
"The affordable choice if you wanted a phaser in the 1970s. A single knob for Rate and a ‘Color’ switch for a stronger effect. Widely used over the years, it was EH-X’s biggest seller in the '70s."
FAMOUS USERS: Ace, Jonny Greenwood
"The Whammy’s ability to pitch-shift notes in real time set many rock guitarists free. Hear it on Vai’s Passion And Warfare and RATM’s Killing InThe Name, but surely its most emotive use is by David Gilmour on Floyd’s Marooned?"
FAMOUS USERS: Steve Vai, Tom Morello, David Gilmour
Boss CE-1 Chorus Ensemble
"1976 brought Boss’s first floor pedal, based on the circuitry of the Roland JC120 amps, with added vibrato mode. It offers a wonderful thick and soupy sound, albeit with a less wonderful mains-only power requirement and huge, bulky casing."
FAMOUS USERS: Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, Andy Summers
MXR Phase 90
"The reason why the phaser in software effects programs is invariably orange. Early script logo units have all the mojo, going from a slow sweep to full-on, churning warble. Van Halen’s Eruption simply wouldn’t be the same without it."
FAMOUS USERS: Edward Van Halen
Dunlop Crybaby Classic
"The wah-wah pedal’s history is confused, to say the least. It was invented around 1965 by an employee of the Thomas Organ Company, then Vox’s US distributor. The original design evolved variously into the Clyde McCoy Wah-Wah Pedal, the Thomas Organ Crybaby and the Vox Wah-Wah – Vox Crybaby wahs also exist!
"Jim Dunlop moved fast when Thomas Organ/Vox failed to register the Crybaby name as a trademark in 1966. While the first few years saw the market flooded with Crybaby pedals from all over the world, Dunlop subsequently became the pre-eminent manufacturer and is today the sole owner of the famous Crybaby brand, currently offering many different versions.
"Today’s ‘Classic’ variant uses the rare Italian Fasel inductors found in the most revered early wahs, not least the one used by Hendrix to such devastating effect in Voodoo Child (Slight Return), and made by Jen Elettronica for the Thomas Organ Company in Italy.
"Legendary DC sideman Charles ‘Skip’ Pitts’ percussive guitar intro to Isaac Hayes’ Theme From Shaft was another defining moment in the wah’s history. The list of great players who have used one is almost endless: Clapton, Beck,Page, Santana, Stevie Ray… countless hits have been recorded with wahs based on that early design. Will your next song join them? The only way to find out is to plug into the most popular, best-selling pedal of all time."
FAMOUS USERS: Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Michael Schenker, Kirk Hammett… everybody!
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