When we think of the blues, we often associate them with electric guitars, clean or cranked amplifiers, and of course, “tone is in the fingers” claims. But when we talk about the hues of the blues, you can never disregard the factor of pedals in carving your unique blues sound.
Let’s talk about some of the best blues pedals and how they can help elevate your tone.
I have to be honest, this has to be one of my favorite things to talk about. The blues has been around long enough to inspire musicians of different skill sets and experiences.
It has been passed on from generations of blues guitarists. B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, John Mayer, Gary Clark Jr., the list goes on and on.
Because of this, a lot of aspiring professional musicians have grown quite a liking for the said genre.
It has been a style of music that focuses more on the expression and articulation of emotions using the guitar strings. Although a lot of people confuse this genre to be a virtuoso type of music, still it remains one of the more popular approaches to musicians worldwide.
At first, guitarists had to resort to cranked-up amplifiers to get a decent “blues” tone out of their instrument. This of course worked out fine during the early years of the genre. Eventually, guitarists made it their life’s mission to replicate these tones and put them into pedal form.
Hence, we are given overdrive, distortion, fuzz, and even wah pedals! Some of these effects have taken the form of stompboxes that musicians know and love. These pedals also enable the players to produce memorable tones and sounds that blues players prefer.
But before I go on and geek out about this gift to mankind, let’s talk first about…
What is a blues pedal?
I promise not to go all nerdy when discussing this. Simply put, a blues pedal is a stompbox made to recreate the sound produced by a cranked guitar amplifier (or the volume knob being all the way up).
These pedals also help you get more sustain and crunch from your tone. They also provide more grit and bite to those wanting to push their sound a little further.
A lot of purists, however, will tell you that you can still produce that precious tone by simply going straight to an amplifier. But in today’s modern gigging scene and music world wherein a lot of instruments and being used, it’s crucial to stand out in a mix, especially if you’re a guitar player.
A blues pedal can help you do exactly just that.
Now that you have an idea of what a blues pedal is for, let’s get right into some of the things you should consider before buying a stompbox for the blues.
Guitar Pedals for Blues Guitarists
On one hand, if you have a great tube amp and it is dialled in just right, you may be able to get great classic blues tones without a pedal at all. But for most of us, it’s important to note that there are often multiple components that need to be combined to achieve the perfect electric guitar sound you may be aiming for. I usually like to combine my best guitar pedals such as a fuzz pedal or overdrive pedal together with a reverb pedal and wah pedal. The reverb pedal adds a thickness to the sound, while the wah pedal can help shape your tone for that extra expressiveness on a solo that sometimes just feels right and cuts through to sit on top of the mix.
Just like any piece of gear, you have to first identify your playing style.
Since of course, this is a blues pedal, this should only be used exclusively for blues. Kidding. You can still incorporate this stompbox for rock, alternative, and even jazz or metal!
Another thing to consider is your budget. There are more expensive options that often offer more controls and features for you to further tweak your sound. But there are much more affordable pedals out there that help you reach that same blues sound.
Another thing is size. If you’re the sort of guitarist that relies on a pedalboard to craft your tone, then adding a blues pedal can be a factor in your pedalboard’s real estate. Luckily, there are micro pedals that can fit your board just right.
With all that out of the way, let’s get right into our pedal list!
Of course, we’re starting with arguably the most popular overdrive (and blues pedal) ever.
The Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer has been a staple among guitarist’s boards for a reason. And the best part of it is that it boasts simple controls, and it’s friendly for both beginner and seasoned musicians.
This iconic green pedal provides the signature mid-range hump on your guitar tone, making it warm and clear – a perfect companion for the blues. Stevie Ray Vaughan has been known to play this specific Tube Screamer, before switching to the TS-9 and the TS-10 eventually.
It’s also well-built and has an eye-catching green color.
Ah, yes. We’re going into Klon Centaur territory.
But this is possibly one of the cheapest “Klones” you could lay your hands on. If you’re already accustomed to the world of guitar pedals, then you know that the Klon Centaur is one of the most sought-after (and most expensive) pedals out there.
Electro-Harmonix cooked up their own version in the Soul Food – an overdrive that can cover quite a ground. It’s been known to be a good boost pedal, but can also deliver gritty distorted tones when dialed accordingly.
A lot of users also love the easy controls and its sturdy enclosure.
Remember when we talked about micro pedals earlier?
This is what I was mentioning. The Xotic EP Booster is as simple as it can get, while not taking too much space on your pedalboard.
This pedal is known to produce +20db of clean boost in true bypass fashion, and it sports only one knob. But don’t let this fool you! Crank it all up and you can get some pretty mean tones, especially when paired with other drive pedals.
Some of you may be raising your eyebrows on this one. Yep, I’ve included the GCB95 Wah from Dunlop in a blues pedal roundup, simply because of how musicians used this as a tool to shape their blues sound.
The wah is used by blues musicians to emphasize certain nuances in their playing, which makes it a go-to unit for blues players. Jimi Hendrix is among the popular users of this pedal, and it incorporates expression into any guitarist’s playing.
A lot of users loved its simple design and well-built construction.
Completing our roundup is from one of the most popular pedal brands out there today. The Blues Driver from Boss is in itself can be a perfect companion for both purists and experimenting blues players.
The Blues Driver incorporates warm, crunchy, and creamy tones – making it ideal for the genre it’s portraying. Of course, since it’s from Boss, you can expect it to last a lifetime.
Pedals can definitely be fun! Personally, I use it to shape my tone and get creative with sounds I want to explore.
With blues pedals, easily dial in your preferred tone to get into those hooks and licks that you have practiced so hard for.