If you’re just starting to play guitar, you might have begun looking into the wide world of guitar pedals. And, if you have, you’re in luck! We’re in the golden age of pedals, and there has never been a wider selection of quality options available at every price point. The best guitar pedals for beginners is a wide-ranging topic, but one that applies to every future guitar hero, no matter what their budget.
The pedals on this list represent every sound the beginning guitar player might want to explore. Most of them offer simple controls and many have been around for decades – and for good reason. With the selections on this list of the best guitar pedals for beginners you’ll be able to recreate the sounds of your favorite players, those that inspired you to pick up a guitar in the first place.
Overdrive, Distortion, and Fuzz
Ibanez TS9 Tubescreamer
As far as overdrives go there are none more notorious than the Tubescreamer. Invented to recreate the sound of an overdriven tube amp in a pedal format, decades on the market has only increased its popularity so much so that a large amount of the boutique overdrives that have flooded the market are based upon it.
Pro Tip: The Tubescreamer can be used for much more than just overdrive. Keep the gain control at minimum and use it as a clean boost, or set the volume to unity gain with your amp and manipulate the tone control to taste to use as a treble booster.
BOSS DS-1 Distortion
BOSS’ infamous orange beast has been the topic of countless heated debates in the guitar community. Purists hate it, [most] players like it, and some fairly famous guitarists have used it extensively. Kurt Cobain, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Glenn Frey, Doug Aldrich, and Robert Smith are just a small number of the famous players who have had it in their rig at one point or another. Opinions aside, it is a safe choice for a first distortion and very inexpensive.
Pro Tip: If you find the sound too harsh or buzzy, keep the tone control at its minimum setting or below 10 o’clock. The biggest complaint for it is that it has too much high end, but taming this is what a tone control is for!
Electro-Harmonix Big Muff
Perhaps Electro-Harmonix‘s most infamous product, the Big Muff is one of the most iconic fuzz pedals in history. It was tough to choose between this one and the Fuzz Face, and the reason this one won out is because when you think of the “fuzz sound” it’s a Big Muff. They are thick and aggressive while still being able to clean up nicely when you tweak the settings or roll back the volume pot on the guitar.
Pro Tip: You can get a glitchy, gated sound if you max out the settings.
Dunlop Crybaby GCB-95 Wah
Iconic is one of the adjectives that best describes Dunlop’s classic filter sweeping legend. Guitar playing is all about expression, and there might not be a singular pedal design that is as emotive as a wah. It’s not just for solos either, as it can be used as a variable real-time tone control for rhythms and leads.
Pro Tip: If you want to change the sweep of the effect you can unscrew the bottom and set the starting point of the potentiometer to lower or higher based the sound you’re looking for.
MXR 10-Band EQ
EQ pedals have a number of uses, from offering an expanded way to alter your sound, to being able to. You can even change the sound of your pickups, making a humbucker sound more like a single-coil and vice versa. The MXR features 10 bands and a gain slider, and while some can be noisy this one doesn’t introduce any extra noise. Newer versions even have LEDs on each slider making it easy to see on a dark stage.
Pro Tip: EQ pedals make a great boost. You can use the gain control to increase the level and the bands to change the sonics of the signal altogether.
Delay and Reverb
TC Electronic The Prophet Digital Delay
The Prophet only has three controls, but they’re all you need to get started. Time controls the length of the delay, Repeats sets the number of taps (or how many times the signal is delayed), and Mix controls the wet/dry blend so you can mix the clean signal in to taste. There is a switch to choose between 1/16, 1/8, or 3/8 notes.
Pro Tip: Delays can be used in lieu of a reverb if you keep the settings really short.
MXR Carbon Copy Analog Delay
Analog delays differ from digital in that the repeats gradually decay. The Carbon Copy is a really affordable and great sounding analog delay with the same three controls as The Prophet. There is also a button for adding modulation to the sound. And if you feel that analog delays are a little too dark, MXR makes a Carbon Copy Bright that offers more high end.
Pro Tip: Analog delays generally offer shorter overall delay times than digital delays.
Electro-Harmonix Oceans 11
For a beginner looking to dip their feet into the ocean of reverb, nothing is better than having 11 options! Everything from standard spring, plate, and room is present. But there are a number of unique settings like Shimmer, Mod , and Trem (octave up, modulation, and tremolo respectively) that allow for experimentation.
Pro Tip: Use the reverb on your amp and a reverb pedal differently. The amp will give you the standard ambience, while a reverb pedal will let you go effect crazy.
MXR Phase 90
Modulation effects can open your world to so many awesome possibilities. It doesn’t get any simpler than MXR’s little orange legend, the Phase 90. With a single knob you can give your tone everything from a little movement to insane warble.
The Phase 90 has been on the boards of many guitar legends like Eddie Van Halen and Keith Richards. The “script logo” version was the original, and it was replaced by the “block logo” version in the 1970s. Some claim that there are drastic differences, but to most these differences don’t justify the increased cost of the script version.
Pro Tip: If you’re looking to cop Eddie Van Halen’s phaser sound, set it to 9-10 o’clock and forget it!
TC Electronic Corona Chorus
The Corona from TC Electronic’s Toneprint line is a great starter chorus with stereo I/O and true bypass switching. The standard chorus sound is great, and by utilizing the Toneprint library you have access to a number of chorus/flanger presets.
Pro Tip: Use the Toneprint technology to access different types of chorusing.
Keeley started out as a boutique company, but this versatile compressor is so affordable there’s not boutique about the price. There are four controls over Sustain, Tone, Output Level, and the coolest of all a Blend that lets you dial in some clean sound. It also has a toggle (Attack) switch to tailor the circuit better for single-coil or humbucker pickups.
Pro Tip: Compressor pedals sound great with acoustic guitars too.
Line 6 M5
Multi-effects can be hit or miss. They offer a ton of options packed into one unit, but often times there are only a few settings that sound great, with the rest of them being average at best. The M series from Line 6 will give you access to hundreds of effects, amps, and cabinets in one place and the sounds available are some of the best you’ll find in an affordable multi-effect pedal. As far as the best guitar pedals for beginners go this one gives you plenty of options for trying out new sounds.
Pro Tip: Multi-effects are a great way to see what kind of sounds you like and don’t like without having to invest in a multitude of individual pedals.
BOSS TU-3 Chromatic Tuner
They might not be glamorous, but tuner pedals come in very handy. The TU-3 offers multiple tuning methods like chromatic and strobe tuning and it has two output methods – one that mutes the signal and one that bypasses.
Pro Tip: You can power other pedals with it if you have a daisy chain.