It's fair to say that chorus fell out of favour with guitarists for a while, but there's very good reasons we've decided to compile this guide to the best chorus pedals now. Much maligned for its overuse in the 1980s, chorus nevertheless remained important for some guitar players, with Kurt Cobain and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez among its '90s devotees. Outside of live use, the guitar effect remained a useful studio tool, defining the bass tones of producers like Andy Wallace.
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In the 2000s, inspired in part by the return to popularity of C86 and shoegaze sounds, the chorus pedal came back into fashion again, with Chase Bliss capturing the mood when they launched their brand on the back of the brilliant Warped Vinyl chorus pedal. Whether it's for adding movement to ambient parts, or thickening rhythm guitars, chorus has once again become a staple of many guitarists' pedalboards.
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Best chorus pedals: MusicRadar’s Choice
For a budget chorus, you can't go wrong with the Electro-Harmonix Nano Clone. It sounds good, records well, and nails that Kurt Cobain sound. Granted, there's scant by way of bells and whistles, but if any guitar player could show you that less is more, it's probably Kurt.
At the other end of the scale, and budget, there's the Boss MD-500, which will cover off all your modulation needs, for good. Should you not need all the modes, then you'd be better off with the Boss DC-2W reissue. Solving some of the volume and noise issues of the original, it's probably the best stereo chorus ever made, and the fact it includes an emulation of the rack SDD-320 just makes it sweeter.
Best chorus pedals: buying advice
Choosing the best chorus pedal for you is largely down to finding one where the timbre and options gel with what you're creatively trying to achieve. Chorused sounds often sound 'bigger' or 'fatter' and various spins on it are used in studio situations for altering the timbre of guitars, creating the impression of double-tracking, or sound-staging.
Chorus uses a delay line to split your guitar signal into a ‘dry’ and a duplicate ‘wet’ signal, then an LFO subtly detunes the wet part. This is then blended back with the dry signal. By increasing the mix of the effect toward fully wet, a chorus typically crosses the line into vibrato, with an even more pronounced detuned pitch effect.
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There's a complicating wrinkle, however – chorus is in many respects similar to flanging, except with no feedback control and a longer delay line. Flangers tend to top out at about 25ms, which is where chorus takes over. However, this does mean there's some overlap. The rich chorus tones on the Police's 1979 hit Walking On The Moon are in fact not a chorus, but an Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress Flanger.
As a chorus is, at heart, a delay effect, many of the early choruses were based around analogue bucket-brigade delay chips, which offered a richer, warmer chorus tone. However, just as tape machines allowed the invention of flanging – where an operator simply ran two machines in parallel and put a finger on one to slow it down – they also allowed for chorus effects, albeit unintentionally.
Due to slight oscillations in motor speed or tape transmission – usually due to maintenance, the age of the tape, or the age of the tape machine, the pitch of sounds played back would change slightly, creating chorus. It's largely for this reason – what's called 'wow and flutter', that tape echoes are so coveted.
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Nowadays, most choruses are digital, which carries with it the usual tradeoff of increased flexibility at the expense of often more clinical tones. However, this isn't a given; not only are some digital effects rich and warm, but others emulate vintage units for a specific tone, like the Strymon Deco's tape machine modeling.
Here, we've rounded up 10 of the best chorus pedals available on the market today – whatever sound you're after, one of them is sure to be on this list.
The best chorus pedals you can buy
Ask any wizened effects buff to name the best chorus pedal of all time, and they'll likely cite the first one ever, Boss's iconic 1976 CE-1 Chorus Ensemble unit, or perhaps its later compact-sized incarnation, the CE-2 Chorus. It's a savvy move, then, that Boss has combined these two classic effects for the latest addition to its high-end Waza Craft series, while adding a few new features along the way.
A tiny slider switch holds the key to the CE-2W's versatility. On the left is the standard position for smooth CE-2 sounds, but shift it over to the middle and you get the CE-1's definitive swirl, while the right engages its full-on vibrato mode for proper pitch-bending goodness. The sounds are as authentic as can be, too, thanks to an all-analogue circuit, complete with all-important bucket brigade delay chips.
Read the full Boss CE-2W Chorus review
Thanks to Kurt Cobain, the Small Clone chorus has long been one of EHX's most revered stompboxes. The Neo Clone employs the same basic circuitry as the Small Clone, and EHX states that the electronics have also been "massaged and tweaked to improve accuracy and offer superior sonic qualities".
Some EHX units have a well-earned reputation as being over-the-top sound generators, but it's possible to obtain more subtle tones. That's certainly the case here – if you set the rate to 10 o'clock with a light depth, any clean tone will reap the benefit. The heavier depth setting is more in Andy Summers and vintage Alex Lifeson territory, with plenty of warm vintage shimmer on tap.
It's as close to the original Small Clone as makes no difference and, best of all, should fit snugly onto your existing pedalboard.
Read the full Electro-Harmonix Neo Clone review
The Deco isn't a chorus pedal, rather a tape emulation, but with some creative settings it can be set up to generate tape chorus sounds.
By keeping the blend around noon and then dialling in the lag and wobble controls, you can effectively push the delay line into chorus territory and then use the wobble control like an LFO. These sounds are a far cry from the 80s chorus tones you might immediately think of, and that will be either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your viewpoint.
As its delay line goes all the way up to 500ms, it offers slapback delay, and, below 25ms, some excellent tape flanging sounds as well.
Read the full Strymon Deco review
Where many mini pedals end up going down the pristine Boss CE-2 route, the Chorus Mini takes the denser path of Ibanez's CS9. It's a sweet, syrupy chorus that's very '80s (think Prince, Metallica), but the level control – a new addition for this mini version – affords extra versatility, with near-vibrato wobbles at higher levels and speeds, while you can nab a decent flanger approximation down the other end of the rate knob. All in all, that makes it one of the best mini chorus pedals on the market.
Read the full Ibanez Chorus Mini review
Somewhere between the minimalist Micro Chorus and the larger format Stereo Chorus, MXR's Analog Chorus combines a pedalboard-friendly compactness with the control provided by five knobs. With true analogue bucket brigade technology onboard, juxtaposition of the rate and depth controls gives a wide range of familiar classy chorus tones.
But it's the other three knobs that sweeten the deal, with the two EQ knobs putting the tone in the zone and the level knob adding in as little or as much effect as you want, from a subtle shift in your tone to a full-on ensemble sound.
Read the full MXR M234 Analog Chorus review
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The Corona delivers a standard chorus effect inspired by the vintage TC Stereo Chorus Flanger plus a Tri Chorus, a variation of the regular chorus that uses three stereo choruses with various offsets for both depth, speed, phase and chorus delay time to produce what TC describes as a unique, very broad and lush chorus.
The key differentiator from its rivals is the company's TonePrint feature: via a phone app or USB connection, you can import a new sound, a custom 'tuning' of the pedal, and store it in a special onboard memory slot called up by the TonePrint position of the pedal's three-way switch. That makes the Corona seriously versatile and almost endlessly updatable.
Read the full TC Electronic Corona Chorus review
Although the front panel of the Julia suggests a complicated pedal, it's relatively simple. The mix knob allows you to travel from chorus to vibrato territory, and the waveform shape control is intuitive as you like; the main complication is the lag control.
The lag controls the centre delay time for the LFO, meaning it can be used to get more unusual sounds. As it's all analogue, the Julia sounds amazing, but it is a tad noisy – that said, it's a small price to pay for great vintage tones.
Simple as can be, this downsized Blue Hippo nevertheless ticks all the required boxes. Extreme settings give all the rotary nonsense you could hope for, perfect for that b-side solo you were thinking of. More subtle settings, however, with the speed pulled right back and the depth backed off to around 1 o'clock reveal a lush chorus full of detail.
Switch it into vibrato mode and somehow the effect is more subtle – the opposite of what you'd normally expect. Nevertheless, maxing the controls will result in chaos, though you'd be best advised to seek out the gorgeous tones available with the depth maxed and the speed pulled back to about 8-9 o' clock.
The original Boss Dimension C was a stereo chorus that had the relatively unique distinction of using two parallel analogue BBD paths to create its sound. That lush, '80s chorus is delivered in spades by the DC-2W, while updates have found issues with the original – noise and low output volume – largely mitigated.
Mode 1 is great for subtle, Siamese Dream-style Smashing Pumpkins tones, while at the other extreme in Mode 4, think She Sells Sanctuary by The Cult. It’s an expensive beast, but this is a unique chorus sound, magnificently executed, and available again at long last.
Read the full Boss DC-2W Dimension C review
With 12 different modes, studio-quality audio and endless options for patch customisation, the MD-500 is an endgame modelling chorus.
Within the chorus mode there's a huge variety of options across four chorus modes, not all of which are even strictly chorus. There's a modern chorus, 'prime', a CE-1 emulation, with a secondary vibrato mode, and a tri-chorus, which has 3 detuning LFOs. Among the options are EQ for each mode, and perhaps most excitingly, pre-delay and waveform options for further tweaking.
Besides its chorus bank, it has a dedicated Dimension mode, which seeks to emulate the Roland SDD-320 Dimension D rack chorus. Obviously, being an emulation, it's never going to be perfect, but compared to the SDD-320 mode on the DC-2W reissue, it's not half bad.
Read the full Boss MD-500 review