Pedals are problematic. I really love them, but I can't afford them. One thing that I've learned about myself however, is that my inability to afford all of the effects pedals that I come across online or in guitar shops really doesn't do much to deter me from purchasing them. Another thing that I've learned over the years is that the price tag of a pedal, much like many other goods and services on the market does not guarantee its quality. Some of the best pedals I've ever bought were ones I had very low expectations of on account of their affordability, and some of the most expensive pedals I've ever bought sit in my closet waiting for me to defend their existence at the next spring cleaning.
Today I'd like to share with you four of my favourite low cost, high quality pedals that I've come across in my playing. Before we get into it though, I'd like to offer a disclaimer. While each of the pedals in this article sound great to my ears, better in fact than higher priced comparable devices, my experiences are subjective. I have used and will continue to use each of these pedals for years, but I'm not here to say that my thoughts on this subject are the gospel truth. Try them out for yourself and if you hate them, feel free to reach out and tell me I was wrong! But even if you do hate them, you won't be on the hook for any huge sums of money over these pedals that's for sure.
TC Electronic SparkDrive pedals are tricky and generally speaking I avoid low priced models. I love to use my volume control on my guitar to affect the level of gain the pedal is producing and I find that with some of the less expensive drive pedals like the Boss OD series reducing the volume on the guitar does little to affect the tone in this way. The TC Electronic Spark however is a bit of a different story. Not only does it react favourably to changes in guitar volume as well as the dynamics of your playing, but since it was designed to be more of a clean boost the Spark provides a great deal of volume with a very malleable level of gain. If you really dime the gain knob it breaks up sort of like a tube screamer, but if you'd rather push the amp a little harder and not have the pedal colour your sound too harshly then the Spark is for you. There are two different versions of this pedal and although they are the same sound, each version has some slightly different attributes that I think deserve to be discussed.
The original Spark model has a three way switch in the centre that I find to be really useful. The switch toggles between three different eq presets that are labelled as "fat" "clean", and "mid". The fat setting boosts the low end of your tone and reminds me a little bit of the sound of an EP Booster by Xotic Effects, but with less compression. This setting is great for thickening up thinner sounding guitars like Stratocasters or other single coil pickup guitars. The clean setting really doesn't colour your tone much at all, and the mid setting makes your guitar cut through the mix like a knife.
The Spark Mini doesn't include the three way eq toggle that the larger version does, but it has its own unique feature. The Spark Mini has a bypass switch that will act like a traditional on/off switch if used normally, but if you hold your foot down it will convert into a momentary switch. This is super cool for boosting lead lines and making short parts pop.
Skysurfer Reverb... Also by TC ElectronicI feel it might be important to point out that I don't work for TC Electronic at all and they don't pay me to promote any of their gear. That said, they do have a bunch of really great inexpensive pedals and the Skysurfer is one of them.
When it comes to reverb pedals I'm very picky. I find that especially on the low end of the price spectrum reverb pedals can sound more like cheap slap back delay than real reverb. That's why when I tried out the Skysurfer pedal I was pleasantly surprised to hear that it actually sounds really good! I use this pedal all the time in the effects loop of amplifiers to give me a natural sounding and consistent reverb. I definitely do not experiment with the extent of this pedal's capabilities as I generally tend to keep it pretty subtle, but it can soak your sound pretty easily by turning up the reverb and mix knobs.
Line 6 M5
If you're a true penny pincher you may be wondering why I included this pedal as its price tag, unlike the rest of the pedals in this blog post is over $100. However, ten minutes with this pedal and you will understand why I consider it to be so affordable. The Line 6 M5 kind of acts like a wild card on my pedal board. Before I bought the M5 I remember artists would ask me in rehearsals "hey could you throw some tremolo on that verse part" and I'd say "ok but it will have to wait until tomorrow because I didn't bring my tremolo pedal". Then the next day they'd say "hey I thought I wanted tremolo but really I'm thinking maybe a phaser would sound better". Well with the M5 at the end of your pedal board, you can dial in whatever effect is needed and you don't have to sacrifice too much real estate to do it. Not only does the M5 have a bunch of great chorus, tremolo, phaser, flanger, and reverb sounds but it also has a whole bunch of really great delays as well, all for less than the cost of most other delay pedals on the market.
This pedal is great for anybody who needs to get a bunch of different sounds out of their pedal board, or for anybody who is learning about different effect types and wants to be able to have lots of things at their fingertips.
TC Electronic PolytuneWhat can I say? They make great pedals in the right price range. The Polytune is my personal favourite as far as tuner pedals go. For less money than the ever popular Boss TU-3 the TC Electronic Polytune is very accurate and is even polyphonic. I find this feature extremely useful for tuning on stage in between songs. If a singer has a talking point during a set and you haven't got much of a window but you know you should tune up, the polyphonic nature of the Polytune comes in really handy. One quick strum and you can identify the problem and tune it up in no time.
With a slightly smaller display but an attractively tiny footprint, the mini version of the Polytune has all the same features as the larger version. I've used the Polytune mini for years and I count on it to keep me sounding good all the time.
Thanks so much for checking out my list of my favourite affordable guitar pedals! Feel free to comment or reach out with any questions or concerns, and as always thank you for making me a super small part of your journey with the guitar. It's something that I never take for granted!