Building a pedalboard can be expensive, and the more you get into fine-tuning your personal sound, the more you’ll probably be convincing yourself that you need to take out a loan to buy that brand new Strymon, or even worse that classic old Klon!
We all know that you can buy effects pedals for incredibly cheap, though they’re mostly knock-offs and clones with unreliable wiring and weak plastic chassis. But there are also plenty of pedals available with classic pedigrees and excellent, multi-decade reputations that for some reason still go for around $100 or less. Here are some of the best pedals that will give you some incredible bang for your buck.
MXR Phase 90 ($114)
Dating back to 1974, MXR’s first foray into pedals was a phase shifter. It recreated the lush, shifting tones of rotating speaker units—a sort of combination of a wah wah pedal and a flanger. The trippy dreamscapes of early prog rock and late psychedelic rock jumped on this pedal. Pink Floyd used it heavily, and by the early 1980s Eddie Van Halen was using it so much that he eventually got his own signature model.
Although the MSRP is $114, these pedals are very easy to find new or used in the $80 range. They’re simple to use with just a single button to turn on or off the true bypass, and a knob that controls the speed of the phase. This is a welcome addition to any pedal board.
BOSS DS-1 Distortion Pedal ($75)
Remember that moment in the opening of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” where the drums kick in the beat, and the guitar shifts from the raw thinness of the clean intro riff to a roar of distortion? You can thank the BOSS DS-1 for that.
BOSS/Roland has issued some lackluster units over the past five decades, but they’ve also turned out some undeniable icons. This no-frills distortion pedal definitely fits into the latter category. With more crunch than a Tube Screamer but more searingly raw than the wall-of-sound overtones that Big Muffs produce, the DS-1 could be either your end-all distortion unit, or an essential part of your fuzz/distortion quiver. There’s no reason to not own one, especially when discounted prices frequently drop to $50.
TC Electronic June 60 Vintage-Analog Chorus ($88)
Although the June 60 is a fairly recent release, it recalls a very classic, vintage sound: the chorus effect on Roland’s much-loved Juno synthesizers, recreated with all-analog bucket-brigade chips. The result is a warm, mids-heavy chorus that sounds dated in the best way possible.
The June 60 is incredibly simple and lacks any sort of adjustment knobs for the effect. You just choose two different button-selected chorus sounds: one with vibrato modulations, and the other without. Turn both modes on simultaneously, and you’ll have that cascading lushness that defined 1980s New Wave and Post-Punk. The pedal works equally well with synths and bass, and is easy to find as low as $60.
MXR Dyna Comp ($114)
Not only did MXR bust out the innovative Phase 90 in the early 1970s, but they also introduced one of the first compression units at the same time: the Dyna Comp compressor. Compressors are an odd little section of the effects pedal world. They can boost quiet signals, limit overly loud signals, and add a bit of sustain, but they are incredibly subtle, to the point that many players find them unnecessary.
The Dyna Comp does more than this, however. It has also always added a bit of tonal color along with its compression. It’s hard to describe, but suffice to say that countless musicians (especially country players) love the tone that the Dyna Comp produces. If you’re not sure that you even need a compression device, check out this one. You can find it used or discounted at prices as low as $80.
BBE Two Timer Analog Delay ($150)
For first timers building up a low-cost pedalboard, delay is an essential effect. Its fading echoed repeats fill up thinner sounds, especially clean tones. Also, the adjusting repeat time and frequency gives you a lot of versatility no matter what sound you’re looking for. While digital delays like BOSS’s DD series can be user-friendly and affordable, there’s nothing quite like analog warmth for a delay.
BBE’s Two Timer gives you two separate delay channels, selectable by footswitch. You can set a short, tape-echo type slapback for one channel, and longer cascading echos in the other. Simple, authentic, and versatile, Two Timers can be found for $80, even if the list price is nearly double that.
Pro Co Rat Distortion Pedal ($100)
The DS-1 isn’t the only immortal distortion unit to make this list, and the venerable Rat Pedal has been around for decades. Perhaps most famous for its use by early Metallica, the Rat (and its successor, the Rat 2) covers all your drive bases including light overdrive, crunchy distortion, and chaotic fuzz.
Housed in a durable chassis, this pedal will stand up to the raunchiest metal gigs. And with a list price of $100, it’s very common to see it discounted down to $60 or less. You can easily buy the Rat along with the DS-1 for a full distortion arsenal that comes in below $200.
- You don’t have to buy flimsy, unreliable pedals to save money. All the units here are affordable and time-tested. Plus, they’re frequently found on the boards of big-name artists who could easily afford units ten times their cost.
- Buying every one of these pedals will set you back less than $600 and give you a board that is ready for anything. Even better, you’ll still maintain respect for the analog, vintage sounds that rock is based on.