Gadgets for humans

These BOSS pedals make you sound like a guitar god

You can't stomp on a VST plugin

Learning to play guitar is a lot of fun (and easier than ever), but somewhere around my 500th attempt at the main riff from “Black Sunshine” I got frustrated. I was playing the right notes, but it didn’t sound like White Zombie. In fact nothing I played sounded right – that is, until I added some BOSS effects pedals to my practice sessions.change

Effects pedals allow you to change your guitar‘s tone with a stomp of your foot. This makes it simple to from the crunchy sound of a heavy metal verse to the clean tones used in wailing guitar solos. They used to be a given in any guitar player’s setup, but so much can be done through software these days it’s become increasingly common for folks to eschew hardware accessories all together.

That makes me sad. Because there’s no digital substitute for the feeling of pure joy that hits you the moment you nail a transition for the first time, stomp on an effects box, and unleash music that sounds exactly the way you want it to. It’s exhilarating. There’s nothing wrong with going the software route, but I highly suggest picking up a few pedals for garage jams and practice sessions.

Since everyone’s idea of what sounds good is subjective, I tested out the pedals I felt would work best with multiple genres of music and provide the most utility for beginners. But if you’re only going to get one pedal, you don’t need read any further than this: get a BOSS DS-1 Distortion pedal.

BOSS describes this one as “the benchmark in guitar distortion.” You’ll get no disagreement from me. The iconic orange pedal’s been around since 1978 – it’s in heavy metal and punk rock’s DNA. I didn’t review the DS-1 because, for my taste, it’s a no-brainer. You can dial in the sound you want from a fairly diverse tone range and it always sounds good. It’s available on Amazon here for $49.98.

If the DS-1 doesn’t suit your taste, the following pedals are also great for getting a good dirty tone:

  • FZ-5 Fuzz– Instead of crunch, this delivers a vintage rock sound that apes classic amps of the 1960’s.
  • OD-3 OverDrive – The distortion on this one feels fairly light, but near-infinite sustain gives your licks a thick tube-amp sound.
  • DS-2 Turbo Distortion – Two for the price of one, you can use a remote to switch between its two distinct crunch sounds.
  • MD-2 Mega Distortion– This pedal provides a wonderful chalkboard-scrapingly sharp hard rock tone for people who lean more towards lead guitar and metal licks.

Now on to the really fun stuff: specialty pedals. I fell in love with the MT-2W Waza Craft Metal Zone stompbox the moment I heard it. And apparently it isn’t just me, the MT series is second only to the DS-1 in popularity among BOSS pedals. As the name suggests it’s a heavy metal legend, but I actually like it for hip hop.

Thanks to its custom mode, I can tweak this pedal to give me just the right amount of crunch in the low end to compete with bass-heavy drum tracks. Since it keeps its highs and mids without screeching, this makes it perfect for high-energy crunk tracks. If you want a post 2000’s metal sound, it’s the right choice – but you’ll probably whip it out for a lot more. It’s available on Amazon for $149.99.

The Waza Craft edition is a special version with refined parts and design. Unlike the normal edition, the Waza Craft edition features gorgeous Japanese print which makes these pedals stand out from others in the BOSS lineup:

Credit: Nicole Gray

Next up, for those who’d rather be emulating Joe Satriani or BB King there’s the magnificent BOSS BD-2W Waza Craft Edition Blues Driver stompbox.

This thing is so warm that playing it is like living inside of a tube amp. No other guitar pedal has brought a bigger smile to my face. Check out the following video at the 00:55 mark to see what I mean:

The BD-2W does require a bit of skill to get the most out of. I’m not quite there yet, but it does help the few blues riffs I manage to pull off sound a bit dirtier without becoming the wrong kind of muddy. You can buy it here for $149.98.

Finally, no matter what genre you prefer, I suggest picking up a Wah pedal. For those who want the classic bow-chicka-wow-wow sound, or any aspiring Van Halen-esque solo player, you can’t go wrong with the PW-3. It’s a wah with a small footprint that features a vintage setting that captures the vintage rock and funk sounds from yesteryear. It’s also a lot of fun to use and a cool way to exert control over your sound even if you’re a beginner. Get yours here for $129.99.

But the learning curve on the PW-3 is a bit steep. I found myself far more appreciative, as a beginner, of the dynamic AW-3 which does most of the work for you. It’s claim to fame is its amazing human voice sounds, but for a novice just trying to play that funky music, this let me skip the advanced Wah pedal lessons until I was ready. More skilled players will have a blast with its myriad settings. It’s available here for $119.98.

I can’t tell you what guitar pedal is best for you, but hopefully you’ll pick up one or two if you ever reach a wall and get frustrated with your lessons. Making my guitar sound more like the music I’m used to hearing gave me the confidence to push through with mine.


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Published May 2, 2019 — 23:00 UTC