Boost Pedals: A Bluesman’s Buying Guide
Boost pedals are an amazing tool for blues guitarists. They help to shape your tone and give you a lot of control of your sound – especially in a live setting. But knowing which pedal to buy is always a challenge. There are so many different brands and pedals out there to choose from, and it is difficult to know which will work for you.
The first step in buying a boost pedal, is to understand which type of boost pedal will best suit your rig. My last article – ‘Which Boost Pedal Is Right For You?‘ covers this subject in detail, so head there first before diving in here.
Once you have decided on the type of boost pedal you want to add to your rig, you can focus on specific boost pedals. And this is what this article is all about. Here are the best boost pedals for juicy blues tones, broken down by category and budget. This is the bluesman’s buying guide for boost pedals:
BEST FOR: CLEAN BOOST TONES
If you want a no-frills boost pedal that does exactly what it says on the tin, then a clean boost will make a great addition to your rig. Clean boost pedals are often wrongly dismissed in favour of more complex pedals. Yet whilst their circuitry might be simplistic, they can do a lot for your tone. A decent clean boost pedal will help you drive your amp harder, control your volume in a live setting and get more from any overdrive pedals you have on your board. There are a whole range of different pedals out there, but some of my top choices are:
Each of these pedals features a simple one knob design. All you have to do is set the pedal at the level you want and you’re good to go. This makes them a great choice if you have a particular sound in mind that you want to stick with, or if you don’t enjoy spending a lot of time tweaking your tone.
BEST FOR: HEAVY BLUES TONES
At the other end of the spectrum, we have ‘dirty boost’ pedals. These are technically still boost pedals, but they function in a way that is much closer to an overdrive pedal. And the line between these boost pedals and standard overdrive pedals is very thin. Typically these pedals are made using a greater number of transistors than a clean boost, so they can be pushed harder.
Set on a low gain, these pedals act and sound like a clean boost. In the middle gain stages, you end up with a great sounding ‘always on’ pedal. Then on the higher gain settings, you can achieve some quite heavy and overdriven tones. If that is what you are looking for, then my top choices here are as follows:
An added bonus of these 3 pedals is that they all have EQ shaping controls, which manufacturers include in this type of boost almost through necessity. Without these controls, all of the frequencies of your signal would boost equally, and your guitar could end up sounding ‘muddy’ and washed out. As a result, this makes any of these pedals a brilliant choice if you like to have control over your tone at any volume level, and you are also looking for a pedal that can handle more gain.
BEST FOR: USING AS AN ‘ALWAYS ON’ PEDAL
It can be difficult to get high quality blues tones at low volumes. Tube amps work best when you push the volume and the sound starts to break up. This is what produces the warm and softly overdriven tones that you hear on so many classic blues records.
Unfortunately, playing at a low volume is what most of us have to do, most of the time. There are usually family/friends/neighbours that we need to consider before we do our best Marty McFly impression…
The great news, is that this is where an ‘always on’ boost pedal can work wonders. An ‘always on’ boost can breath warmth and life into any of the thin, sharp or uninspiring tones you might be getting from your amp. My top choices here are as follows:
Unlike clean boost pedals, these pedals ‘colour’ your sound, as they introduce an altogether different circuit into your signal chain. This can result in anything from a light compression to a total change in your guitar’s voicing.
BEST FOR: BRITISH BLUES TONES
Treble boosters first came into prominence in England in the mid 1960s.
British bluesmen were struggling to get the tones they wanted, especially at high volumes. This was because, unlike their American counterparts, most of them were not using bright and sparkly Fender amps. They were using high gain Marshall and Vox amps that had a lot of bass. When they cranked these amps, the bass frequencies became overpowering. Their tone turned ‘muddy’ and they struggled to cut through the mix.
Treble boosters solved this problem. They allowed these British guitarists to push their amps hard, but to filter out unwanted bass tones and amplify their mid and top end frequencies.
Rory Gallagher was arguably the biggest proponent of the treble booster. He relied heavily on the Dallas Rangemaster – the original and most famous treble booster – and it was a key part of his fiery blues tone. Yet a number of other British guitarists – including Eric Clapton and Brian May – have also used treble booster pedals to great effect. So if you are looking for a more overdriven, British blues sound, a treble boost pedal could be a great addition to your rig. My top choices here are as follows:
Pair one of these boost pedals with a naturally ‘darker’ amp and you will get some sizzling blues tones. Just check first that it makes sense within the context of your rig. If you have a naturally bright sounding guitar like a Fender Strat, and you pair that with an equally bright sounding amp – like a Fender – you could end up creating a very sharp and piercing tone. Pair a treble booster with the right amp and guitar though, and you will get some killer vintage blues tones.
BEST FOR: TONE TWEAKING
If you like to constantly tweak your tone, and you want as much control over your sound as possible, you might not enjoy the simplicity of some of the clean or treble boost pedals out there. Luckily for you, there are a whole range of boost pedals on the market that give you the option to shape your tone. Some of my top choices here are:
Unlike many of the simple one knob designs out there, these pedals give you the option to adjust the bass, mids and treble in your signal. You can then decide whether you want to use this type of pedal as an ‘always on’ pedal that shapes the sound of your guitar and amp, or if you want to add colour to a certain part of a song.
BEST FOR: BOOST ON A BUDGET
Last but not least, we have the best value boost pedals on the market. Thankfully, of all of the different types of guitar pedal out there – boost pedals are some of the most affordable. Their circuitry is typically fairly simple, and their price reflects that. And in even better news, some of the biggest names in pedals have produced boost pedals that offer amazing value for money. So if you want beautiful blues tones on a budget, here are my top choices:
Compared with some of the alternatives listed here, these pedals might lack a bit in depth and character. But they all still offer up great tones, and make a brilliant choice if you are looking to keep the cost of your rig down.
Well there we have it, some of the best boost pedals out there, broken down by category and budget. The final piece of the puzzle then, is to make sure that your pedal is set up properly and you are doing everything to maximise your rig. I’ll cover that in more detail in my next article, so keep an eye out 🙂
And in the meantime, if you think there’s any amazing boost pedals I’ve missed off this list, or if you have any questions – pop them in the comments, or send me an email on [email protected]
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