Country music began as a blend of styles with elements of rhythm and blues, gospel, Americana and bluegrass. When early rock n’ rollers like Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly rose to popularity the genre expanded and became more similar to what we know it as today. Country music is known as a style that demands technicality, with many virtuosos over the years pushing the boundaries of the country guitar style even further. Here is a list of some of the best country guitar pedals, and some suggestions to get you started.
While country isn’t really known for very high gain sounds, a versatile overdrive pedal is a necessity. This is especially true if you play a more modern style. Considering the genre is built upon the single-coil sound of Fender-style guitars, an overdrive based on a Tubescreamer or a “transparent” circuit would be a perfect starting point. But don’t take this as gospel (pun intended…).
Since country music is based so heavily on cleaner sounds with minimal or no overdrive, a compressor pedal can be used to reign in the dynamics of the guitar signal. Nothing beats the not-so-subtle squish of the MXR Dynacomp, but modern acts have been known to use stompboxes that offer more robust control over the signal.
Due to the twangy tones that most country guitarists prefer a really in-your-face compressor is a great starting point, so subtle compression might not be enough to do the trick.
Reverb goes with country guitar like napkins and barbecue. You’ll pretty much always find a healthy dose of it dialed in, as it’s a great offset to the biting single-coil clean sounds the genre is built upon. While many of the amps favored by country guitar players will sport solid spring reverb tanks, you might want to consider adding a reverb pedal to your chain. It will give you expanded tonal options and when used in tandem with a volume pedal (and some tasty string bends), can get you a darn decent approximation of a pedal steel guitar.
Perhaps more so than any other genre, volume swells are an essential part of a country lead guitar player’s bag of tricks. Additionally, a volume pedal (along with a healthy amount of reverb) and some deliberate bends are a great way to imitate a pedal steel sound if your band lacks one.
Chorus pedals find themselves on the boards of countless country guitarists no matter the era. While they were a vital part of the sound to 80s and early 90s country, they continue to be found in the signal chain of modern artists. They are mostly used as a subtle way to add depth to clean sounds or add some texture in a dual amp setup. As with delays, a good analog chorus pedal is right at home on a country picker’s pedalboard.
The delay pedals you’ll find on most country guitarists’ boards are as varied as the subgenres of the style they play. It seems like you’ll find at least one analog delay in everyone’s chain. It could be the warm, degrading repeats they provide (as opposed to the clean taps of a digital delay) or the simplicity of just a few controls. But whether the pedal is set to a short slapback for chicken pickin’ or longer tails for lead parts, an analog delay has a variety of uses for country guitar.