They came to conquer your pedalboard. Like the polar ice caps or Dairy Milk bars, pedals are shrinking, and with bona fide classics such as the Cry Baby and Tube Screamer receiving circuit board liposuction, mini pedals going aren't going anywhere but underneath our feet.
As a brief scour of various online retailers will tell you, there are absolutely tons of them, all of which are enablers for jamming more effects on your existing pedalboard or downsizing your rig, but best of all, they're cheaper than (integrated circuit) chips.
Over the following pages, we present our picks of the finest mini pedals available today – let's step on it…
Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini
The belle of 2015's NAMM ball, the adorable TS Mini is made in Japan and packs the TS808's coveted JRC4558D IC chip: good start.
You know what to expect from a TS, and the Mini will get your mids humping and your single coils beefing up with the best of 'em. It's not the smoothest Screamer we've heard, but it is faithful to the 80s incarnation in that it compresses up a treat and cuts the low-end a little.
Ramp up your amp, cut the TS Mini's gain and up the volume, and it gives distorted tones extra attack – and that's possibly its greatest strength.
Buy it for… Giving your tone a kick in the mids
With a name derived from Greek mythology – like a certain Centaur overdrive – this Mini-taur invites you into a labyrinth of quality Klon-inspired tone.
It's hard to believe at this price, but the Minotaur does a fine approximation of the Centaur sound, with an upper-midrange boost that's more open and dynamic than a TS-style overdrive.
It has a mighty gain range, too, from clean boost to fat, amp-like drive, but at higher 'fury' levels, its midrange can get a little part-man-part-bull in a china shop, so for our money, it's best used for a hint of break-up or tonal enhancement.
Buy it for… Adding break-up-style sparkle to your tone
BUY: Movall Minotaur currently available from:
Joyo JF-314 Husky Drive
Based on a famous overdrive by the name of OCD, the Husky Drive doesn't conceal its origins, but we'll be damned if it doesn't sound good for £49.
Not as mid-heavy as the other drives on test, it delivers a huge set of sounds, from the lightest of break-ups to borderline distortion, although it develops a little fuzz-like hair at this point.
If you fancy a little more cut, flicking over to the high-peak setting gives you extra upper-mids and treble, but wherever it's set, the Husky Drive is incredibly dynamic, and with humbuckers, it delivers meat 'n' potatoes rock and blues tones of the highest order.
Buy it for… Chunky amp-like overdriven rhythm tones
FULL REVIEW: Joyo JF-314 Husky Drive review
Xotic EP Booster
Based on the Echoplex EP-3 preamp, as used by Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen back in the day, the EP Booster is super-simple, and adds a rough-around-the-edges flavour to any amp while tightening up dirty tones and adding extra treble bite.
Boost a clean-ish British combo for instant Led Zep I & II tones, then wind your amp up to overdrive, set the EP Booster to max, and you'll nail that tight palm-muted Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love sound. A trio of internal switches adjust the pedal's brightness and give you an extra 3dB of boost, too!
Buy it for… Giving your amp a rough 'n' ready vintage flavour
FULL REVIEW: Xotic EP Booster review
Movall Plexi Troll
This lilliputian pedal does hot-rodded Plexi tones for less than £50 – and no, we ain't trolling.
There’s a ridiculous amount of gain on offer here: 10 o’clock on the aptly named fury control will be more than enough for most players, and beyond that, the pedal gets pretty messy – the same goes for the over-bright tone control.
However, keep each control to their 10 o’clock sweet spots, and the Troll delivers an incredible simulation of an EVH-style modded Plexi, with all the tight articulation, fat mids and high-end attack of those fabled heads.
Roll down your volume knob, and it does a decent AC/DC and Hendrix, too!
Buy it for… Instant access to top-drawer hard-rock tones
BUY: Movall Plexi Troll currently available from:
Red Witch Ivy Distortion
The Seven Sisters line was released back in 2011, but these beauties won’t need to break out the anti-aging cream just yet: like her siblings, Ivy packs a still-cutting-edge rechargeable lithium battery – making this one of the few mini pedals that don’t require a power supply plugged in at all times.
There’s not a whole lot of control here, but Ivy’s Rat-style fuzzstortion offers a surprisingly broad range of tones, from vintage fuzz-into-cranked-amp style overdrive to spluttery over-saturated grit at full whack.
It’s not one for amp-in-a-box-type sounds, but alt- and noise-rockers will love it.
Buy it for… A fuzzy drive that doesn’t play by the distortion rules
FULL REVIEW: Red Witch Ivy Distortion review
BUY: Red Witch Ivy Distortion currently available from:
Stagg Blaxx Metal
If your electric isn’t packing EMGs and a pointy headstock, look away now: Stagg’s Metal dirtbox is designed for the ultimate in devastating tones.
With no boosts engaged, we’re talking ultra-scooped tones – think Dimebag’s Randalls – but the Metal remains extremely taut across the gain range for uncompromising palm-muting and brutal detuned riffs.
Twisting the tone control allows you to sweep the pedal's mid frequencies, and while engaging the low boost gives you a flatter, less scooped EQ, it’s a little honky for use outside the occasional solo.However, stick to what it does best, and this is a none-more-Blaxx bargain.
Buy it for… Vulgar yet controlled metal brutality
Rainger FX Air Space Invader
A shrunk-in-the-wash version of Rainger’s zany Air Traffic Controller, the ASI is essentially a distortion with a mixable white noise element, which runs through a low-pass filter. It’s like having a noisy auto-wah accompany your every note – but in a very good way.
Attack and Q buttons adjust the speed and resonance of the filter, but the unit really comes to life when you plug in the included Igor pressure sensor, which controls the cut-off frequency for ray gun-like zaps.
It’s a shame you can’t dial the white noise out completely to better appreciate the gnarly fuzz-tinged distortion, but this is a refreshingly different take on drive.
Buy it for… An innovative distortion that flies as well as drives
Dunlop FFM3 Jimi Hendrix Fuzz Face Mini Distortion
The small Faces rocked our world back in 2013: not only did they miniaturise the Fuzz Face template, but they added true bypass, LEDs and power supply compatibility, too.
This Hendrix edition is our pick of the bunch, thanks to its clear, articulate fuzz and slight mid hump. At lower drives, it’s very open, with that characteristic frying-bacon decay, but ramp it up and you get a thick, cutting tone that can handle Billy Corgan at his heaviest.
For Hendrix-faithful tones, run it with low gain into a cooking valve amp, and use your volume knob – nothing cleans up quite so well as a Fuzz Face.
Buy it for… Dynamic 60s-style fuzz
In case you weren’t aware, the Bonetender is a reference to the Vox Tone Bender, as used by Yardbirds Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.This illustrious pedal is famed for its crunchy, harmonic overtone-charged tone, and the Bonetender is a fine interpretation.
Lower levels clean up beautifully with dynamic playing, but ramp up the gain, engage your guitar’s neck pickup and play around the 12th fret for synth-y sustain, à la RATM’s Down Rodeo.
Surprisingly high-gain tones are available, too, and while they're not up to much with chords, single notes bloom into sensational feedback.
Buy it for… Hugely versatile vintage-voiced fuzz
BUY: Lovepedal Bonetender currently available from:
Rainger Dr Freakenstein's Dwarf
By no means your granddaddy’s fuzz, this pared-down version of Rainger’s Dr Freakenstein Fuzz not only delivers high-gain sustain-laden thrills, but also packs a controllable harmonic overtone, noise gate and high-pass-filter-meets-bit crusher.
In essence, the ‘tone’ control adjusts the overtone filter, with the frequency range tweaked using the hi/lo button or the included Igor pressure controller for extreme flange-like filter sweeps.
Even better, cranking the tone control gives you the lowest of lo-fi bit-crushed octave-down pitch shifting – combined with the spluttery noise gate, it yields tones so ugly they’re beautiful.One of the most original fuzzes we’ve heard in ages.
Buy it for… Electrifying dirt that you won’t hear anywhere else
FULL REVIEW: Rainger Dr Freakenstein’s Dwarf review
The Fuzzolo is one of the most usable creations to come out of Zachary Vex’s mad laboratory.
It has a classic high-gain silicon fuzz sound – similar to a Big Muff, but with enough mids to cut through a mix – but the differentiator is the Pulse Width control, which adjusts the fuzz shape from square wave to narrow/wide.
Turning the PW is like tweaking an onboard noise gate – ramping it up chokes the note decay, a bit like a fuzz with a dying battery. It’s ridiculous fun for angular riffs, 8-bit blips and Jack White's modern-day solo sound, although we wouldn't mind an onboard gain control for more versatility.
Buy it for… Full-fat fuzz that does heavy and glitchy
Dunlop Cry Baby Mini Wah CBM95
Ooo baby Baby – the eagerly anticipated CB Mini packs a red Fasel inductor for sweet vocal tones, plus a three-way internal switch for low, vintage and GCB95 sounds. And while the pedal itself is around half the size of the classic Cry Baby, don't fear: its lengthy travel still allows precision treadling.
The middle 'vintage' inductor was our fave setting, with a sweet, refined sweep closer to Dunlop's pricier 535Q or CAE wahs, but the wiry treble of the GCB95 or resonant low setting will garner their fair share of fans, too.
We wouldn't say no to an LED indicator, but otherwise, this is one adorable Baby.
Buy it for… Your choice of refined Baby tones
FULL REVIEW: Dunlop Cry Baby Mini Wah CBM95 review
Hotone Soul Press
The Soul Press is a touch longer than its rival mini wahs, but it's also a triple threat, boasting wah, volume and expression in one.
The wah tone is based on the Cry Baby, but it sounds like a pimped-out version to us, with a throaty, full-voiced sweep that isn't too treble-y or bass-y at either end, but dominates your sound when it's on – it's great with distortion, throwing up some seriously honky mid frequencies.
The volume and expression functions work as they should, too, and although the pedal offers a fairly short travel, its pair of bright blue LEDs ensure you know when it's on.
Buy it for… Powerful tones and a three-in-one pedalboard solution
AMT WH-1 Japanese Girl Wah-Wah
The Japanese Girl was one of the first mini wahs to hit the market, and it's still the smallest. Despite that, it boasts a trio of bandpass filter ranges, plus a pair of blue LEDs for easy onstage visibility.
The highest filter range (0.4-2kHz) is our pick of the bunch, and it has a mahoosive frequency sweep, from super-bass to heavy treble, and gives the output a fair old boost, too.
It's an extremely juicy, chewy tone, and while the lower settings verge on bass wah territory, they're great for seriously pronounced 'wow's.
Buy it for… Resonant wah sweeps and tiny dimensions
Joyo JF-318 Quattro Digital Delay
This entry in Joyo’s IronMan series gives you quadruple the fun, thanks to four distinct delay types.
So, while Copy offers dead-on repeats of your dry signal, comparable to Boss’s DD- series, you also get a gradually darkening analogue mode, plus a chorus-laden modulation setting. Coolest of all is filter, which features a – you guessed it – envelope filter that opens and closes based on your picking dynamics.
What’s more, the Quattro’s trails also continue when you switch the pedal off, thanks to its buffered bypass – a relative rarity in the mini-pedal circuit, and good for your tone!
Buy it for… Easy access to four top-quality delay types
Mooer Spark Echo
At its cubiform core, the Spark Echo is a digital delay emulating analogue echo – but it’s a lot more than that: Mooer has thrown in a plate-like reverb sound, which you can add to the delay trails only, keeping your dry tone unaffected.
It’s a clever take on the digital-does-analogue delay game, and by cranking the feedback and reverb, and adding a touch of tremolo picking, post-rock fans will be in heaven.
Longer delay times give off a little hiss, but there’s a sweet analogue-esque tone to the repeats, and by dialling out the delay, you get a decent plate reverb on its own, too – nice!
Buy it for… A new take on soundscaping delays
BUY: Mooer Spark Echo currently available from:
UK: Andertons Music
Red Witch Violetta Delay
Like the Ivy Distortion, the Violetta Delay features a rechargeable battery, but that’s not all she’s got going for her.
The pedal's digital circuit emulates classic tape echoes, with a gradual decay in top-end, plus warmth yet clarity to the repeats.
You’ll need to take it easy on the modulation, however: halfway and above, it gets pretty seasick, but anywhere below gives repeats an ethereal wash of chorus, while cranking the feedback provides one of the most destructive oscillations we’ve heard.
If you want sci-fi explosions, you got 'em – you can even plug in an expression pedal to control the feedback level!
Buy it for… Tape-style delay that gets a little crazy
FULL REVIEW: Red Witch Violetta Delay review
BUY: Red Witch Violetta Delay currently available from:
TC Electronic Flashback Mini Delay
Stripping the acclaimed Flashback of its type knob, the Flashback Mini operates on the idea that you use TC’s TonePrint app and computer-based Editor to download new sounds or make your own.
As a result, the Mini can still do everything, from digital to analogue to tape to modulated, all with utmost audio integrity, but there's not much on-the-fly versatility.
TC has still managed to load the Mini with audio tapping, though, where you set the delay time by holding the footswitch and strumming your guitar, although we’d have liked the option of buffered bypass so trails ring out when you turn the pedal off.
Buy it for… Access to a huge library of delays
FULL REVIEW: TC Electronic Flashback Mini Delay review
With no type knob, the Verb only has one core sound, but Hotone’s picked a good 'un, which translates from a spring-ish halo around notes to a mammoth church with huge decay and everything in between.
It has a secret up its sleeve, too: hitting the shim switch throws an octave-up reverb in the mix for airy ambient sounds.
Admittedly, the tracking is a little wonky, and a far cry from DigiTech or Strymon units, but you can use the tone control to adjust the shift’s prominence, and adding just a dab adds a certain magic to longer trails.
Buy it for… Subtle shimmers and a neutral all-purpose reverb
Xvive XD1 MaxVerb
With three core reverb types under the hood, the MaxVerb looks like a solid bet, and sure enough, it delivers a clear, crisp plate, with a hint of delay.
Don’t go buying this pedal for the spring type, though – it sounds more like a slapback echo than any tank we've ever heard – but if you consider yourself something of a space-rocker, flick over to hall and rejoice.
This setting's chorus-tinged trails are near-infinite, and combined with the ability to dial in 100 per cent wet tones, it will have ambient players quivering with excitement.
Buy it for… Impossibly enormous hall 'verbs
BUY: Xvive XD1 MaxVerb currently available from:
TC Electronic Hall Of Fame Mini Reverb
Okay, there's only one knob, but like the Flashback Mini, the HOF features TC’s TonePrint tech, so you can create your own reverb – adding any of TC's myriad modulations in the process – or download an artist-designed sound, if you so wish.
Whether you're leaning towards spring or space, what’s immediately obvious is how the HOF’s reverbs are entirely free of digital artefacts, and for our money, offer the cleanest, quietest, most realistic sounds currently available from a mini pedal.
Sure, we’d like a little more on-panel control, maybe a couple of onboard TonePrint slots, but in terms of sound, nothing can hassle the HOF.
Buy it for… Pro-quality sounds and limitless reverb options
FULL REVIEW: TC Electronic Hall Of Fame Mini Reverb
Joyo JF-317 Space Verb
With four onboard settings, the Space Verb offers the most onboard tweakability of any mini reverb, and although the omission of spring is unusual, there’s a good range here, from simple room reflections to a classic studio-style plate and grand hall.
As you’d expect, church takes over where hall leaves off, giving you the kind of massive trails Jeff Buckley would have fawned over. Our only minor criticism is that larger room sizes add a little hiss to your signal, although you won’t notice while playing.
As with the Quattro delay, the unit packs buffered bypass, too, so your trails continue when the pedal switches off: bonus!
Buy it for… Four distinct reverb types that excel in larger spaces
We've seen a spate of uni-vibe-inspired pedals lately, but none are as teensy as the Roto.
The sounds are impressively faithful, too, with slower rates giving you that trippy chorus-meets-phaser swirl, while ramping it up gets you into Leslie land and beyond – it's certainly up there with uni-vibes from MXR and BBE.
Pressing the vibe button throws actual pitch vibrato into the mix, too – it's not as one-size-fits-all, but a handy sound to have in your back pocket. Give it some gain and you'll Hendrix the night away – Machine Gun, here we come!
Buy it for… A dead-on uni-vibe impersonation
Tone City Angel Wing Chorus
Chorus hasn't exactly been a gigbag essential for guitarists post-1991, but considering you can bag one of this quality at this price, it would be a shame to miss out.
Similar to the spotless sheen of a Boss CE-2, the Angel Wing brings the Purple Rain with everything at 12 o'clock, but crank the depth and you've got a half-decent EHX Small Clone impression for distorted grunge-isms, while maxing out the depth gives you a proper pitch-bending vibrato, too.
It doesn't have quite the speed range for Leslie-style vibes, but the Angel Wing is chorus done very, very right.
Buy it for… Layering your tone in sweet, shimmery goodness
BUY: Tone City Angel Wing Chorus currently available from:
UK: Andertons Music
Mooer Mod Factory
Cramming 11 effects into an enclosure of such diminutive proportions is borderline lunacy, but on the whole, Mooer makes it work.
Not every setting is going to set your world alight – the steer-clear list includes a weak uni-vibe, square-wave-only tremolo and over-syrupy phaser – but the Coxon-worthy vibrato, thick chorus and funky touch wah are worth the admission price alone, while zany extras such as the kill switch-esque stutter trem and robot-falling-down-the-stairs envelope ring filter seal the deal.
It's not always easy to see which effect you're activating, but once you've picked your favourites, the Mod Factory is an invaluable asset to any pedalboard.
Buy it for… One modulation pedal to rule them all
FULL REVIEW: Mooer Mod Factory review
TC Electronic Vortex Mini Flanger
You know the deal with TC's TonePrint pedals by now: with no onboard type knob, you equip the pedal with new sounds from the TonePrint app on your phone or TonePrint Editor on your computer.
But, really, who changes a flanger preset mid-gig? With all the key controls present and correct, the Vortex makes perfect sense, and using the TonePrint Editor, you can program huge jet flanges, zero-through flanging, swirly Andy Summers and Alex Lifeson chords, and even chorus and vibrato, too.
And with analogue dry-through, it works great pre- and post-distortion, as well – what more could you possibly want?
Buy it for… Fulfilling your wildest flange-based dreams
FULL REVIEW: TC Electronic Vortex Mini Flanger review
Xvive V16 Stereo Undulator
For such a simple effect, tremolo can be tricky to get right, but the Stereo Undulator gets pretty close.
The shape control gives you gentle triangle shimmer to choppy on/off square wave slices, while parking the knob in the middle gives you a trapezoid sound, where your signal is on for longer, then briefly off.
The tones themselves are hard to fault, although a volume control could help with the perceived volume drop when using deep, deep trem.
If you're not downsizing your backline, you can run this baby in stereo for double the wobble, too!
Buy it for… A simple, no-messing tremolo that also does the double
BUY: Xvive V16 Stereo Undulator currently available from:
Tone City Summer Orange Phaser
To our mind, there's only one orange phaser, but Tone City's Fanta-hued stomper gives the classic Phase 90 sound a fair old go.
Like the carbonated soft drink, the Summer Orange is bubbly and refreshing, with a deep, rich swirl that nails those slow EVH-style sweeps.
Go too far with the depth and the sweep hangs in the treble region too long for our liking, but keep the rate at 10 o'clock and above, and you'll be rewarded with vintage four-stage tones aplenty.
Upping the feedback, meanwhile, puts the SO in a flangier state of mind, with super-resonant sweeps not dissimilar to six- and eight-stage phasers.
Buy it for… All-purpose vintage phasing with versatility
BUY: Tone City Summer Orange Phaser currently available from:
UK: Andertons Music
The Octa gives you pitch shifts one-octave up and one-octave down, and its default mode is polyphonic, which gets a little wobbly on lower notes, but on the whole does a good job – albeit with more a tad more latency than some other mini shifters.
However, kick in the dirty switch, and the pedal’s tracking takes on an analogue character, giving you darker, grainier shifts, which are latency-free but loaded with glitchy goodness. Here, you get one-octave down and two-octave down options for meaty single-note riffs.
If the polyphonic mode’s slightly shrill tonality and latency put you off, the dirty mode’s old-school cool might just win you over.
Buy it for… Modern polyphony and retro warble in one
Mooer Pitch Box
Not content with boasting the biggest range of features – 50/50 harmony shift blend, 100 per cent wet pitch shifts and a chorus-esque detune mode – the Pitch Box also delivers the best mini-pedal shifting we’ve heard. Sure, there is latency and the upper shift tonality is a little fluttery, but it does a great job of tracking chords.
Most impressive, however, are the pedal’s down-tuning capabilities: stick it on pitch-shift mode, drop it down and add some gain for a drop-tuner that’s not far off dedicated units.
The flexible detune mode is good enough to boot your chorus off the 'board, too!
Buy it for… Versatile pitch-shifting and mighty drop-tuning capabilities
FULL REVIEW: Mooer Pitch Box review