Any synthesist worth their salt will know that running those oscillators through a well-curated effects chain will work wonders for their sound, lending new dimensions to even the most basic of patches.
All too often, though, we rely on our synths' onboard effects or reach for one of the 10,000 plugin effects clogging up our hard drive. Nothing wrong with these approaches, sure, but sometimes it pays to throw a few more pieces of hardware into the mix: chaining a synth up with an effects pedal or two (or seven) can open up uncharted sonic realms while helping you remain DAW-free.
1. TC Electronic June-60
For those who want the classic Juno chorus sound but without the associated cost and space requirements, the TC pedal is a fantastic option. While not exact, it gets pretty close and adds a lot of breadth and motion to a sound. The aesthetic shouldn’t really influence a buying decision too much but if we’re honest we know it does. The June-60, with its wooden end cheeks really fits the bill.
2. Universal Audio UAFX Galaxy '74
Universal Audio are effects pedal titans. They make delays that cover a wider variety than this but the Galaxy is magical. It replicates the Roland Space Echo and it does it incredibly well, with options to cover EQ and tape age, that introduces wow and flutter, as well as everything you’d expect from a tape delay. And it even has a built in reverb.
3. IK Multimedia Z-Tone
The modest DI box, or buffer, is worth investigating for synth use. A synthesiser outputs a much hotter signal than a guitar or bass. Not many pedals have input level options, which is where the Z-tone comes in, letting you adjust your synth’s levels before hitting your pedalboard, without tweaking your synth’s volume.
- Read more: Best guitar effects pedals 2023: our pick of effects in every pedal category
4. Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer
Adding some grit to a synth can give a wonderful flavour to a track. The problem with many drive and distortion pedals is that they can colour your sound beyond recognition, which may be undesirable. A tube screamer is quite transparent, so all the sound design you put your time into isn’t lost behind a wall of noise. Many flavours exist but the Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer is always a good bet.
5. Hologram Electronics Microcosm
The Microcosm has rapidly gained a rep as a must-have pedal for synth players. It’s capable of some extraordinary sounds, from more traditional delays to expansive granular spacescapes. A joy to use, it encourages experimentation. It’s not a subtle pedal but that’s kind of the point. It adds all manner of flavours to even the simplest of patches.
6. Strymon BigSky
Many synths have some form of reverb onboard – but for versatility, delay styles and midi programmability you can’t beat the Strymon BigSky. It covers all of the essential bases, from classic spring reverbs to huge shimmers and everything in between. It also has some extra performance options, for extra stage appeal.
7. Empress Effects Inc. ZOIA
The ZOIA could possibly be considered a complete synth itself but in this context we’re looking at it as a multi-effects unit. It has a vast array of effect types, that can be patched in a multitude of ways and is intuitive in use, especially considering the complexity of results on offer. Quite the achievement considering the size of the device itself.