The Best 5 Guitar Effects Pedals for Synths (2021)

Who said pedals are exclusive to guitars? Get ready to find out everything you need to know about guitar pedals and how to use them with your synth to create incredible soundscapes and effects. Guitarists... you've been warned!

Anna Colombo

Anna Colombo

If you’ve been curiously looking at the colourful pedalboard of your guitarist friends and wondering how those cool boxes work and how they would sound plugged into your synth… look no further.

Guitar pedals are compact power machines, that are fundamental for enhancing your instrument’s unique sound. Pedals can add all kinds of effects, from distortion to reverb and can even be used to loop your sound. Guitar pedals aren’t just for guitars though, so let’s explore some of the different kinds of effects you can use and take a look at some of the best guitar pedals for synths available!

Best 5 Guitar Effects Pedals for Synths

Reverb

Hall, room, plate, spring… all the reverb types we love and beyond. But what is reverb?

Reverb occurs when a sound hits a surface that reflects it in different ways depending on the surface itself and the space where it’s located. Pedals emulate and exaggerate all these natural reverberations.

In a nutshell, reverb helps in creating depth and ambience around your sound. It can reproduce the reverb you’d get in a cathedral, or even in a cave! The first artificial reverb appeared in the 1940s in Hammond’s organs and soon became a compact reverb effect that was also licensed to other brands, such as Fender. The first reverb pedal dates back to 1976 and it’s the EMT 250 Electronic Reverberator Unit, by EMT and Dynatron. Nowadays, this is the most famous and used type of pedal.

BEST REVERB PEDAL FOR SYNTHS: STRYMON BIG SKY

The Strymon Big Sky is by far one of the most famous reverb pedals on the market, used by musicians encompassing every genre and instrument. It can be seen in Martin Garrix’s studio as well as in Justin Vernon’s (aka Bon Iver).

Strymon have set the standard for powerful, multi-effect pedals and the BigSky is the living proof: you can get classics such as Spring and Plate reverbs, as well as glistening ambient textures thanks to Strymon’s own reverb engines. If you choose the Cloud mode, you’ll get a magical particle-like effect inspired by ambient reverbs of the ‘70s. Another favourite is the Magneto mode, a multi-head echo with all heads on, that blurs the line between delay and reverb.

If you’re into drones and cavernous soundscapes, the Freeze switch will be your best friend. Press it and the note will go on playing, forever, with each further note you hit adding to the reverb tail.

Big Sky is easy and intuitive to use despite its complex engine, thanks to a clear interface with all the parameters you need at your fingertips. If you really want a stompbox with everything you look for in a reverb pedal and more, this is the one.

Best Reverb Pedals

Delay

The second most-known (arguably!) effect in musical history is delay.

Delay happens when a sound source is recorded and repeated to simulate an echo. Echo occurs in nature when the original sound and the reflecting surface are far enough to make the reflection sound like a distinct separated repeat or tap of the original sound.

If the delay occurs in a short (milliseconds) period, it’s called a “slapback”, as the two sounds are almost overlapping. Any longer than that starts becoming a distinct delay.

The first man-made delay was the tape echo, invented by Les Paul, who used tape to record a portion of guitar performance and to play it back. The first delay pedal to appear in history was the BOSS DD-2 in 1981, which featured the now famed bucket brigade chip (or BBD). It was the first chip that allowed the user to access delay without any moving parts. This was a major innovation, as tapes were often unreliable due to the complex moving mechanics involved.

BEST DELAY & LOOPER PEDAL FOR SYNTHS: TC ELECTRONIC FLASHBACK II

A great modern version of a tape delay can be found in TC Electronic’s Flashback. This stompbox features both tape and analogue delay styles, with an algorithm that faithfully reproduces the flutters and warbles of the past (check here for more lo-fi pedal fun).

This multi-delay pedal is featured in countless pedalboards across the world and is a versatile and creative device with an incredible price point.

One of our favourite features is TonePrint: a series of presets made by pro musicians around the world that you can download into your pedal using the USB port placed on top of it. Using the TonePrint app you’ll even be able to create your own presets!

The cool thing about Flashback is that it’s also a looper pedal. Setting the delay to LOOP mode, you’ll get access to the built-in recorder and will be able to record your performance and also overdub it!

Best Delay Pedals

Distortion/Overdrive

Distortion occurs when an audio signal is too loud to handle for the output device. It sounds good because it adds harmonics and character to the sound that wasn’t originally there, making it more aggressive and perceptively louder.

When we talk about distortion pedals, we can also refer to two other types of distortion: overdrive and fuzz. Overdrive is a subtler but still very powerful way to distort your signal, the difference is that it preserves more of the original sound, making it more natural.

Fuzz is the most extreme type of distortion, you can think of it as boosting your amp to the max and seeing what happens. It provides a very heavy and noisy signal, so much that the original tone can’t be clearly distinguished. In the synth-sphere, it’s ideal to create sinister beats with your drum machine.

The first distortion pedal was the Gibson Maestro Fuzz-Tone released in 1962, created to reproduce a bass signal distorted by accident by an output transistor.

Best Overdrive/Distortion Pedal FOR SYNTHS: BOSS OD-3

The Boss OD-3 is the ultimate pedal for overdrive and distortion. It combines great tone possibilities with an affordable price. Give your synth a crispy, warm distortion rich in harmonics, perfect to recreate valve-like sounds straight out of the ‘60s. Combine it with your favourite mono synth to get some warm, brutal bass and glitchy leads, or create wicked pads. It’s a musicians’ favourite and can be seen in the setup of many electronic artists like Rival Consoles.

The OD-3 will create smooth, warm saturated textures, with no excess even when it’s maxed out. The overdrive quality is a similar sound to a classic overdriven bass amp.

Best Distortion Pedals

Chorus

Chorus is an effect that thickens your signal copying it numerous times, colouring the copied signals and playing them back slightly delayed. These split signals function as “voices”, whose timbre and pitch is modified to create a “chorus” impression, adding width to any sound.

Many synths, like the Korg Minilogue XD and the Juno, have a built-in chorus, as a classic synth effect. However, a chorus pedal can take this sound to the next level, and give you deeper and dedicated control. Chorus first emerged in Hammond Organs in the 1930s, when one signal was detuned on purpose. The first chorus pedal to appear on the market was the BOSS CE-1.

BEST CHORUS PEDAL FOR SYNTHS: WALRUS AUDIO JULIANNA CHORUS PEDAL

One of the best chorus pedals for synths is undoubtedly the Walrus Audio Julianna Stereo Analog Chorus & Vibrato Pedal. A lush analogue pedal with the standard controls and the possibility to choose from sine and triangle waves for a smoother or hastier intensity. The Julianna also features a random mode that jumps between the two for more varied results!

Walrus’s pedal is perfect for adding incredible layers to live performances, thanks to the lag control, which makes your sound swell like it were in the sea. The Julianna is a stereo pedal, which can be hard to find! This means it works wonders with a stereo synth, allowing you to have both channels affected independently and retaining any original stereo width of the sound.

Bonus: If you love the vintage, nostalgic sound of the Roland Juno chorus, TC Electronic have just launched the June-60 v2 stereo chorus pedal!

Best Chorus Pedals

Multi-Effect Pedal

If we’ve got you excited so far, but you’re still not sure what pedal to get, a multi-effects pedal could be just the ticket!

Multi-effects units process a digital algorithm on the fly, rather than allowing your signal to pass through resistors and other analogue components that change your tone within a single stompbox. These effects units use DSP chips, and as the world perfects digital chips for computer technology, our digital effects improve. With these powerful machines, you can have loads of effects at your fingertips, and what’s more, you can have multiple types of the same effect to experiment with.

You also have access to effects you wouldn’t normally buy on their own, such as ring modulators or maybe vibrato. The debate over analogue or digital is always present and many might say that these digital stompboxes don’t live up to their single analogue counterparts. However, there is no valid reason to prefer one over the other, if only your personal taste (see more below!).

BEST MULTI-EFFECT PEDAL FOR SYNTHS: EMPRESS EFFECTS ZOIA

The top of the pops in terms of multi-effects is Empress Effects’ ZOIA. More than a stereo pedal, it’s a real modular synth in a stompbox format. With more than 80 “modules” to choose from, you’ll be able to create your chain, however simple or complex you want it.

Start from the basic reverb and delay and start modulating your sound with LFOs, pitch shifters, bit crushers and more. Any effect you can think of, it’s there! If you want to push it even further, you can create your own synth starting from a simple oscillator and building your way up to a polyphonic beast.

ZOIA is also a looper pedal, ideal to enhance your synth’s built-in sequencer or to loop a synth that has none. So you can have your loop station and your pedalboard all in one handy place!

Best Multi-effects Pedals

Synth Pedals – Essential tips & terminology

So now you’re excited to buy your fresh new pedal, great news! Here are some extra tips and terminology explanations you need to know about effect pedals and how to use them with your synth!

Types of effect pedals

Mono vs Stereo

The first distinction comes in when talking about inputs and outputs. You can have 3 types of pedals according to these criteria: mono in/mono out, mono in/stereo out, stereo in/stereo out. Stereo pedals are the most versatile ones, as they can be converted into mono using only one output, which is not possible the other way round. Moreover, they will allow your pedal chain to be stereo and your synth signal (if it’s a stereo synth) to remain stereo when all effects are bypassed.

Digital vs Analogue

Just like synths, even pedals can be either digital or analogue. The main difference between the two is that analogue signals are continuous, which creates that wholesome and pure feeling. Analogue pedals use transistors and capacitors to create the effect. On the other hand, a digital signal is binary and is represented with ones and zeroes. Digital pedals use digital signal processing (DSP) chips to turn your analogue signal into a digital one, process it and convert it back into analogue.

There is no reason why you should prefer one over the other. It all depends on how you like your sound: go for analogue if you prefer a warmer and more natural sound, go for digital if you prefer a crispier and cleaner tone, that said, you can get very warm and natural sounds out of digital pedals!

How to connect a pedal to your synth

First of all, you have to keep in mind that your synth will send out at least 20dB more than an electric guitar, so you’ll need to keep your synth volume down to avoid distortion and noise, especially with fuzz pedals that don’t react well to low impendency.

Second of all, you can choose between plugging your synth directly into the pedal or use it as a “send” (aka an effect channel or bus) in your DAW.

In the first case, you’ll need two jacks if your pedal is mono or four if it’s stereo. Link the output(s) of your synth into the input(s) of the pedal, and link the output(s) of your pedal into a line input(s) in your audio interface. When you open your DAW and start playing your synth, you’ll hear the synth voice is completely effected. However, many pedals have a wet/dry knob so you can easily control the effect intensity.

If your pedal doesn’t have a dry/wet knob or you simply want to have more control over your effect, you can set it up as a “send” (in the same way as using an effect plugin, but your pedal is doing the job) in your DAW. In this case, you will need the same amount of cables for mono/stereo, but a different routing.

Your pedal input will have to be plugged into your audio interface output, so it receives an audio signal from there. The pedal output will go into the interface input, sending back processed audio. When this is done, you’ll need to create an auxiliary channel in your DAW, setting inputs and outputs as you’ve assigned them. Now you’ll be able to control how intense the effect is on other tracks directly from your DAW, and you’ll also be able to modify it further.

Dealing with impedance – DI Boxes and Reampers 

Guitar pedals normally expect a signal like the one coming from an electric guitar, which is around -20dBu. Synths and keyboards can easily overload the pedal, as their output level is between 3x to 10x times the one of an electric guitar. You could deal with it simply by turning down the volume of your synth, but a better solution is definitely using a reamper. This is an attenuator that adjusts signal level while maintaining a decent signal-to-noise ratio. A great example is Radial Engineering’s EXTC-Stereo, which serves as an interface and reamper between your stereo pedals and your pro audio equipment. Some pedals are able to handle this with “input pad” volume adjustments or line-in, so be sure to check the pedal you’re buying. 

DI Boxes are also extremely useful when you’re linking a typical line input into a mixer, dedicated synth amp or recorder. They will help to adjust the signal in-line between the last pedal in the chain and the line input.

DI Boxes and Reampers

Conclusion:

If you’ve come this far without stealing a pedal from your guitarist friend, well done! Now that you’re ready to expand your synth sound to new horizons, browse Andertons’ selection of effects pedals for synths!

You’ll find everything you need, from analogue to digital, from reverb to the craziest multi-effects.

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Anna Colombo
Anna Colombo

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