20 Underrated Effects Pedals You Should Know

Within the ever-growing world of effects pedals, there are plenty of verifiable classics and countless new contenders released every year. But there’s also a mountain of overlooked greats.

In our video above, Andy Martin takes a look at five of his favorite underrated pedals—and below, we’ve compiled a much longer list. Watch Andy’s full account above, and then continue reading to see what other greats you may have missed.

Andy’s Top 5 Underrated Pedals

Especially in the last decade, there’s been an explosion of powerful delay pedals from both leading brands and boutique builders, but that’s not to say earlier digital delays still don’t deserve a place on your pedalboard. Andy’s first choice is one such model, from the early 2000s, the Ibanez DE7 Delay/Echo, which gives a wide range of delay times and voicings.

Ibanez DE7 Delay, Barber Compact Tone Press Parallel Compressor Pedal, Danelectro Cool Cat Fuzz, DOD Stereo Chorus FX65, Boss PN-2 Tremolo/Pan

While Ibanez is, of course, a big player, there are also boutique builders that never quite got the recognition Andy thinks they deserve, like Barber Electronics and its Tone Press Parallel Compressor. This compressor is just one of many handbuilt effects Barber makes, and it offers a wet/dry blend whose tone rivals many better-known boutique compressors.

Many players will remember the inexpensive Cool Cat pedals Danelectro made in the ’90s and 2000s, but Andy still reserves a warm spot in his heart for the Cool Cat Fuzz CF-1. The beginner-priced pedal can still be found on Reverb for very little money, but as you can hear, the tone isn’t cheap.

Rounding out Andy’s choices are the DOD FX65 Stereo Chorus—an analog chorus with delay time control—and the Boss PN-2 Tremolo/Pan. The PN-2 was a short-lived model, but with its stereo outputs and four modes, it’s a powerful and versatile stompbox to widen and waiver your signal.

15 More Underrated Pedals

Andy’s taste may be impeccable, but it’s not exhaustive, especially when there are countless other pedals worthy of a second look. Below, we’ve assembled a list of also-rans, misfits, and other woefully neglected stompboxes from yesteryear.

Have your own favorite, underrated pedal you don’t see here? Let us know in the comments.

Fender Starcaster Chorus

There’s not a lot to be said about effects that were originally sold in action-figure style blister packaging. Most aren’t worth trifling with, simply because packaging like this signifies a perceived lack of effort—not to mention this pedal was sold in stores like Best Buy. However, I can tell you this: this pedal sounds awesome. It’s a great, full, tweakable chorus with a solid metal chassis, rugged knobs, and a nice stout footswitch. Thankfully, the unit isn’t as gigantic as it seems; they say the camera adds ten pounds, as it were. the pedal resembles a slightly elongated Boss-type shape.

Danelectro Cool Cat Transparent Overdrive V1

There were a lot of feathers ruffled when Danelectro released the first iteration of its Cool Cat line. Pedals such as Frantone’s Peach Fuzz and Xotic’s BB Preamp fell into the gears of the cloning machine. Perhaps no outcry was greater than the case of the Transparent Overdrive—the circuit contained therein was none other than the legendary Paul Cochrane Timmy. These days, Cochrane has dealers but when the Transparent Overdrive was released, the only way to obtain a Timmy was to call Paul up and chat with him about things. Of course, the idea of a faceless Danelectro suit calling up Paul and sweet-talking a Timmy out of him only to clone it rankled a lot of boutique gearheads.

The backlash was enough for Dano to completely change the circuit—making the first Transparent Overdrives sell for big bucks. However, demand has subsided and the TO has fallen into the realm of the underrated once more. The circuit is a timeless low-gain overdrive-preamp with individual bass and treble controls, good for a wide range of music.

Ibanez WD7 Weeping Demon

Right next to the Danelectro Dano Wah, the Ibanez Weeping Demon may be one of the funkiest looking wah pedals in the history of the effect. In keeping the Tone-Lok pedals aesthetically similar, some questionable design choices were made: a slotted treadle, remote footswitch, and miniature potentiometers under the treadle, to say the least.

However, the WD7 has an answer to all wah players’ needs. Would you like the treadle to be spring-loaded, or would you prefer a traditional design where the treadle stays put where you leave it? Why not both? The WD7 features a lever on the side that alternates between the two configurations. The pedal is so well-conceived that it includes a miniature pot to control how long the effect stays on after releasing the treadle in spring-loaded mode.

Rocktron Austin Gold

Rocktron is responsible for a large amount of cheap pedals, and the problem with most Rocktron pedals isn’t that they’re underrated, it’s that almost all of them are very precisely rated. The savior of the line is the Austin Gold. Now, hold your horsies, this is a gold low-gain overdrive pedal, and most of us know all about metallic gold low-gain overdrives. In case you don’t, Klon is the word. And yes, the Austin Gold sort of sonically resembles it, but the point is to love it for what it is—and what it is is a really good low-gain OD with a Pre-Bass knob instead of a Treble knob. Yes, the knob just controls bass. The reason for calling it Pre-Bass is just as big as the mystery of why this pedal isn’t on more boards.

Boss CE-2B Bass Chorus

As a rule, effects labeled strictly for bass guitar usually work just as well for regular guitar. That said, the Boss CE-2B Bass Chorus really cuts to the quick of the issue. Surely anyone that’s considered a chorus pedal has come across the same manner of forum crosstalk; the Boss CE-2 is the king, accept no substitutes, and so on. The fact of the matter is, substitutes should be accepted, mainly this one.

Whereas the CE-2 features two knobs for Rate and Depth, the CE-2B has three: Rate, Depth and Mix. The circuit, aside from the addition of a Mix knob and one capacitor value, is the same. For those that don’t know what a CE-2 sound like, it’s a rich, thick chorus that several manufacturers have attempted to emulate over the years. The Cure used it to great effect on many albums. And to think, this effect can be had with more features for far less money.

DigiTech Expression Factory

Since the XP300 Space Station was discontinued, the effects scene has been in a progressive uproar. Devotees of the unit were sad to see it go, and thanks to a bounty of user demos on YouTube, word has steadily spread about its eccentric capabilities. While DigiTech has been mum about a reissue of the unit, the company quietly snuck some of the most beloved Space Station patches (and a whole bunch of others) onto the EX-7 Expression Factory. However, let’s be honest—nobody is buying the Expression Factory for anything other than the Space Station stuff. As an added bonus, the bypass on the Expression Factory is good, unlike the dreadfully tone-sucking bypass of the original unit.

Danelectro Fish and Chips EQ

The only member of the Danelectro Food series making an appearance across the list, the Danelectro Fish and Chips EQ has been a very well-kept secret among more budget-oriented players. Of course, the humble equalizer isn’t a very flashy pedalboard component, but much like a power supply, it’s a utilitarian necessity in one’s sonic arsenal. There are some concerns with the enclosure and switch, as both appear to be somewhat flimsy, but this is an EQ pedal we’re talking about here—the likely application is to be an always-on device that needn’t be stepped on for any reason. And because the Fish and Chips is dead-quiet, it excels in that role.

Of course, like many graphic equalizers, it can be used as an ultra-transparent clean boost if need be. For all the concerns with the construction, the switch holds up quite well, and the pedal is so small, its enclosure is sturdier than one might think.

Ibanez BPL Bi-Stage Phaser

Feedback knobs are always a great feature on a modulation pedal, but with switchable stages thrown into the mix, the BPL Bi-Stage Phaser becomes a bonafide winner. Switchable from 6-stage (Phase 100) to a then-unheard-of 10 stages, the BPL delivers a versatile range of phasing, from warm and subtle to ridiculously non-musical. Even the universally lauded Mu-Tron II Phasor couldn’t compete with its six stages, and only the gargantuan Mu-Tron Bi Phase, in an enclosure the size of a Buick, could muster up 12 stages at eight times the price. Truly, the BPL gave aspiring psych-rockers of the time something to crow about in a pedal that could fit in their pockets, and they still hold up years later.

Boss CS-1 Compressor

It might be a little noisy—it is a compressor from 1978—but this thing sure can squish. It’s unbelievable for chicken pickin’ and all that, but there is nary a compressor on the market today that can step into the squish ring with this one and come out victorious. In fact, many users complain that it’s too squishy even on minimal settings—the squish is inherent to the design. Like some other pedals on this list, a large number of people on typical gear resale sites equate age with value, but hold your ground. This was a compressor released in the late ’70s, at a time with few available options, and Boss sold a ton. They are out there. And they can be had for cheap.

Ibanez CD5 Cyberdrive

Within Ibanez’s Soundtank series, the Echomachine and Crunchyrhythm already grab high sums, but the Cyberdrive remains relatively under the radar. The Cyberdrive resembles an MXR Distortion+ circuit, with a wah circuit and LED clipping. The combination may not be for everyone—look on forums and you can see plenty of hate—but it’s a unique auto wah, and all that hatred makes these available for cheap. With Range, Depth, and Sensitivity settings, you should be able to find plenty of tones to your liking.

Danelectro Fab Tone

Shaped like some manner of weird, 1950s knick knack that sort of resembles a car part, the Fab Tone sounds nothing like one would expect—neither in aesthetics nor in name. In actuality, the Fab Tone is a gnarly distortion that has more low-end than almost any other pedal out there. Honestly, the Fab Tone gets unbelievable heavy and snotty at the same time—it goes from crunchy to borderline unusable with a few minor knob adjustments. But don’t take my word for it: notorious eardrum-splitting bands like Mono, Mogwai, and Oceansize all use the Fab Tone to great effect.

DOD FX96 Echo FX Delay

The FX96 was DOD’s last analog line of defense against the digital delay intruders that followed. The unit featured the same MN3005 chip as all the classic analog delays of yore, and because it was the last revision of the DOD analog delay, it contained a feature that wasn’t found on any previous iteration—the low-pass filter. DOD called this control Tape Quality, and it shaves more high-end from the repeats the more it is cranked. This gives the feeling of a real tape delay whose color is in various states of chroma. As expected, turning the knob fully clockwise creates quite a shadowy wash of delay that is barely usable but very cool.

Another upgrade from the FX90 is the delay time—the original unit maxed out at 300 milliseconds, whereas the FX96 boasts a much higher 800. This pedal is also a bit historic: DOD dared to tow the analog line while others went digital; the FX96 was the only contemporary analog delay of its time, and it proved that analog wasn’t dead.

Zoom Choir 5050 Chorus

A lot of the earliest Zoom pedals are winners—despite the fact that the company’s mostly known for their beginner multi-effects—and of the earliest pedals, the Choir 5050 is uncontested at the top. It features five lush modes of chorus, including chorus delay and chorus reverb. At the end of the dial is a crystal clear digital delay. They routinely go for around $100.

DOD Vibro Thang

Vague by definition, never before has the word “thang” been used so accurately. DOD’s loose attempt at a vibrato yields some pretty inspiring results rarely seen in any typical vibrato pedal. Usually when a manufacturer decides to declare a pedal a “vibrato,” it means one of two things, never both: either a pitch vibrato or a classic “Univibe” sound (which is a two-stage phaser). The Vibro Thang does both very well, in addition to a neat modulated wah effect and a very serviceable brownface tremolo.

Ibanez PM7 Phase Modulator

Part of the defunct Tone-Lok series (like the DE7 Delay/Echo above), the PM7 exhibited a versatility usually found in pedals costing far more money. At its core, the PM7 is a phaser, but it gives you some expansive control over the LFO waveforms and period of the modulation. Using the pedal on its sine wave LFO can deliver some lush Small Stone–esque phasing, while the square wave mode sounds more like a juicy resonant filter than a phaser. The “mode” slider is very interactive with the knobs and LFO settings, to the point that a player will spend hours exhausting the pedal’s capabilities.

Contributors to this article include Nicholas Kula and Joel Handley.

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