Guitar pedals can make your sonic dreams come true, but they can also financially cripple you if you're not careful. It seems everywhere you turn these days, there's a new "boutique pedal builder" popping up with yet another hot take on a classic circuit. Now, while we love to see creative new versions of classic pedals lovingly crafted in someone's shed, we could do without the eye-watering price tags. While on the surface, it can look like effects pedals are getting increasingly expensive - and in some cases, they are - this guide to the best cheap guitar pedals proves that you can still get killer-sounding effects for a very reasonable price.
Of course, it would be easy for us to simply pull together a list of the off-brand, shoddily made pedals that plague Amazon and eBay, but really, there are a wealth of sturdy options from the biggest names in pedals that won't cost you the earth. Better yet, some of these pedals are actually considered stompbox royalty. We have stellar options from Electro-Harmonix and TC Electronic, legendary units from Ibanez and Pro Co, as well as a few pedals we'd class as our favourites of all time, regardless of price.
We've tried to include a spectrum of different effects, from overdrive and distortion to chorus, reverb and delay. So, no matter what style of music you play or what sound you're after, you'll be sure to find a pedal in this list that deserves a slot on your 'board.
Best cheap guitar pedals: MusicRadar's choice
If we were going to recommend an affordable - yet great sounding - drive pedal, then it would have to be the famed MXR Distortion Plus (opens in new tab). This canary stompbox has been used by everyone from Randy Rhoads to Slash, PJ Harvey to Jerry Garcia and is one of this writer's favourite pedals of all time! Even though it doesn't have a tone control, it still manages to produce a variety of different drive tones, from smooth singing overdrive to full-on distortion, and for us, it's a pedalboard staple that just happens to be cheap as chips.
For those of you who are perfectly happy with your saturation tones, the budget-friendly Skysurfer Mini (opens in new tab) reverb pedal by effects gurus, TC Electronic is perfect for getting your ambient fix without breaking the bank. We also have to give a quick shout-out to the legend that is the Vox V845 wah (opens in new tab), which despite its tiny price tag, manages to hold its own against wahs four times the price.
Best cheap guitar pedals: Product guide
This little yellow box had a massive impact on the world of guitar when it was released way back in 1979 and continues to be a staple on pedalboards around the globe. Okay, the modern version may not be made in Rochester, New York, like the original, but still, it has the same tone that many iconic guitarists fell in love with.
Famous for its simplistic controls - output and distortion - this pedal is entirely idiot-proof. That said, the dual controls are very sensitive and work in tandem with one another to create a wide array of tones. For a bluesy breakup, keep the gain low while cranking the output to drive your amp harder. For full-on face-melting hard rock tones, gun the distortion knob and let rip!
We have to mention that this pedal can get a little bright for some players, so it's worth bearing that in mind when you are setting up your amplifier.
The Boss DS-1 doesn't really need an introduction, it's arguably the most popular distortion pedal in the world. That said, we don't think we've ever seen anyone actually buy one, they just seem to materialise in the gig bags, cases and studios of unsuspecting guitar players.
For as basic as the humble DS-1 is, with its iconic three-knob layout, it's been used by some of the most famous players around. It helped Kurt Cobain speak to the disenfranchised youth of the 90s, it was there when Joe Satriani redefined instrumental guitar music and was even around when The Cure took goth to the masses - not too bad for a pedal that costs under $/£100.
The modern version of the classic circuit remains unchanged, meaning you are getting the exact same tone your heroes did back in the day. Like the MXR pedal above, the DS-1 has a wide range of tones locked away inside. This pedal can do everything from smooth crunch to searing lead lines and everything in between.
NUX are a relative newcomer to the pedal game, having made their debut in 2006, but since then, they have established themselves as a leading force in the budget pedal space. Now, NUX has a number of effects in their ever-growing lineup, but we've chosen to focus on the newly released Tape Core Deluxe Echo, as frankly, we can't believe you can get a realistic-sounding tape delay at this price!
In an attempt to reproduce the sonic signature of a real tape machine, this NUX delay features three reproduction heads, which gives you up to seven different combinations of delay - and better yet, the repeat dial can also be used to create the infinite feedback oscillation effect achievable on physical tape units.
So if you need a delay pedal with a little character, then the NUX Tape Core Deluxe Echo could be precisely what you are looking for.
Reverb has to be the most used effect of all time - most of us can't even play the guitar without at least a touch of this spacious effect on our tone. There is one problem with this lush effect, though, it's typically very expensive - or at least it used to be.
TC Electronic has made a name for themselves in the budget pedal space, offering guitar players high-quality and innovative pedals at seriously low prices, and the Skysurfer is their take on not one reverb sound but three. Delivering Spring, Plate and Hall modes, this natural-sounding 'verb pedal covers a lot of sonic ground, and for us, it's the perfect always-on pedal.
This rugged little stomp even comes in a robust metal enclosure, meaning you don't have to worry about stepping on this unit in anger at your next show - it will definitely be able to take it.
The Rat is a filthy, nasty, sludgy-sounding pedal that we believe should be on every pedalboard - yes, even jazz 'boards, come on, live a little. Okay, we are clearly joking, but we do strongly believe every player should experience the thrill of plugging into an obnoxiously loud amp that's being driven by a Pro Co Rat.
This pedal may come in at under $/£100, but it is beloved by some pretty notable players. The "nicest man in rock", Dave Grohl, famously used the Rat to dirty up the sound of the debut Foo's album, Cobain used one directly into a Neve console to achieve the visceral tone of Territorial Pissings and metal's greatest down-picker, James Hetfield used one in combination with a cranked Marshall to define the sound of early thrash.
That said, it's not just players who love this pedal. Stompbox manufacturers such as JHS, Earthquaker Devices, Big Ear and Jam all make loving recreations - albeit with a few modifications. Unfortunately, these pedals can sometimes run into the hundreds, making it even more of a no-brainer to just pick up an official Rat. So if you are looking for a gnarly distortion, then you need to check out this absolutely brilliant pedal.
It's worth noting that there is a Pro Co Lil Rat available for a little extra cash if you need a space-saving option.
Sometimes you just want a simple pedal that has very little in the way of controls, and you can't get more simple than the Electro Harmonix Nano Clone Chorus. With a solitary Rate control, this pedal may not have a ton of tone-shaping abilities, but with a chorus sound this iconic, that really isn't necessary.
This true bypass stomp comes in the classic destressed die-cast chassis you've come to expect from EHX and produces a rich and lush chorus sound that's super easy to dial in.
If the limited layout is an issue for you, it's worth mentioning that for an extra $30/£20, you can grab the Electro-Harmonix Neo Clone (opens in new tab), which offers you an additional depth toggle switch.
Vox would introduce the world to the first-ever commercially available wah pedal in 1967, and it's fair to say it turned the guitar world on its head. Marketed initially to woodwind players, through the use of famous jazz trumpeter Clyde McCoy's image, this pedal would go on to capture the hearts and imagination of the Voodoo Child himself, Jimi Hendrix, as well as other legendary players such as Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Tony Iommi.
Today the cheapest way to get your hands on this retro wah tone is to opt for the Vox V845. This sleek blacked-out wah does an amazing job at recreating the smooth, mid-focused sweep of the original wah and is perfect for anyone looking to add extra expression to their lead work.
The Vox wah-wah typically has a smoother, richer tone when compared to the Dunlop Crybaby and is far less harsh at the top end. So, if you've never gotten on with the fierce treble of the Crybaby style wah, then you may want to give the Vox a go.
Continuing our theme of mythical pedals, here's the tiny green box that's responsible for some of the most influential guitar tones ever recorded. The original Ibanez Tube Screamer (opens in new tab) is a behemoth of the stompbox world, and its emblematic circuit is often mimicked, modified and expanded on - with boutique variations not giving you much change from $/£200. Luckily then, you can pick up the official Ibanez offering for around $/£100.
Better yet, the mini version is not only perfect for those who want to save precious pedalboard real estate, but it's even cheaper, at around $79/£55! Don't worry, you don't lose any functionality by going to the smaller format, and you keep the classic three-knob control layout.
This tiny emerald stomp is perfect for those looking for an aggressive mid-range bark and is our go-to for a solo boost that's sure to get you heard.
The Electro Harmonix Nano Big Muff is the same creamy fuzz pedal you know and love, just in a smaller format. Gone is the large - albeit rather cool looking - cumbersome enclosure, in favour of a modern mini pedal case, which will play nicer with the other pedals on your 'board.
The Nano keeps the famous controls of Volume, Tone and Sustain and is more than capable of delivering those Dinosaur Jnr tones you and your Jazzmaster have been searching for. As you'd expect, this pedal can run on a 9V battery - which is included - or with a standard pedalboard power supply.
If you'd rather have the original look - as well as the sound - then you can get the EHX Big Muff PI (opens in new tab), which costs a little extra. To be honest, for us, the smaller format of the Nano coupled with the more attractive price tag outweighs the look of the retro enclosure.
Now, when it comes to choosing a cheap delay pedal, we weren't exactly short of options. We considered the likes of the Mooer MDD1 Reecho (opens in new tab), the Donner Yellow Fall Delay and many more, but we ultimately settled on the superb JHS Pedals 3 Series Delay.
Unlike the two pedals we mentioned previously, the 3 Series units are made in Kansas City, Missouri, using the same high-quality parts JHS uses in their more premium offerings - and that's something the other cheap delay pedals simply can't compete with.
As for the pedal itself, it's a fairly standard affair with controls for Mix, Time and Repeats, as well as a toggle switch which allows you to choose between a clearer digital-voiced delay or a darker analogue-style repeat. We really can't speak highly enough of the quality of this pedal. You get the quality JHS is known for just at a fraction of the price.
Best cheap guitar pedals: Buying advice
Are cheap guitar pedals worth it?
It wasn’t all that long ago that cheap guitar pedals were looked down on, dismissed and even ridiculed, but today, it’s a very different story. With advancements in technology, pedals have become easier - and cheaper - to produce, meaning you no longer need to spend a small fortune to get a great-sounding stompbox.
Cheap pedals are not only great if you are looking to assemble an affordable yet functioning ‘board for playing live but also for those looking to experiment with lots of different effects and sounds. With many pedals coming in at sub $/£50, you can afford to buy a few and see what works for you.
They also make an excellent platform for those into DIY pedal kits as a place to start when learning how to mod pedals.
What makes a great cheap guitar pedal?
For us, if a big name brand releases a cheap pedal variation, it must embody what that company is known for in terms of tone, built quality and reliability. Just because a pedal costs less doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be great!
We like to see pedals that are designed to withstand the harsh conditions of the rehearsal room or stage, with quality components and, most importantly, a footswitch that will take a beating! Of course, we know these pedals won’t last as long as more premium options, but still, they need to be as reliable as possible. Luckily, every pedal on this list fits this bill.
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What brands make the best cheap guitar pedals?
Right now, we live in the golden age of cheap guitar pedals. Not only are there affordable options from new and up-and-coming brands, but legacy manufacturers are also offering a slew of legendary effects for next to no money!
We prefer to stick to well-known brands when it comes to cheap effects, as you know precisely what you are getting for your cash. Brands such as Boss, Electro-Harmonix, TC Electronics, Ibanez, Pro Co and JHS all offer superb pedals at stellar prices.
Yes, there are cheaper options out there, but with these brands, you’re guaranteed to not have to buy twice, as they won’t immediately break down on you after a couple of songs - saving you money in the long run.