In the vast world of guitar pedals, boost pedals have always been favorite amongst guitarists for one simple reason – they let you go from a medium to a high volume at the click of a (foot) switch. No fiddling with knobs involved – hit the switch with your foot and you’re ready to play your solo. Although that sounds simple enough, some pedals offer more than just a volume boost.
Many offer EQ effects so that you can re-birth some of the tones that got lost within your pedal chain. Some of the best boost pedals go to town on this and offer extreme precision, as well as the option of toggled pre-settings. Some, however, are one-dial simple!
At a Glance: Our Pick of The Best Boost Pedals on the Market
- TC Electronic Spark Mini
- Xotic RC V2
- Wampler Decibel Plus V2
- MXR M133 Micro Amp
- J. Rockett Audio Archer
- ZVEX Effects Super Hard On
- EarthQuaker Devices Tone Job
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
- What is the Boost Effect?
- Buying Guide – Key Considerations
- Product Round-up & Reviews – Best Boost Pedals
- So, Which Should I Choose?
What is the Boost Effect?
Boost pedals are designed to amplify the signal that leaves your guitar and effects units before it reaches the amplifier, without altering it. Yes, it’s a straightforward concept, but at the same time very effective at giving your tone some extra gain, without distorting it. If you think about it, most pedals work by manipulating your guitar’s signal to produce effects like overdrive or delay, whereas boost pedals differ by leaving the signal itself unchanged, just amplified, similar to how a preamp works.
A boost pedal gives your tone extra gain and power while keeping its overall effect transparent and undetectable. These devices can make your riffs sound more organic or natural by pushing your amp to its optimum power band at lower volumes. What you’re left with is more width in your rhythm sections and extra amplification in your lead, with the same overall tone with extra girth.
Most of the time, you need to crank up the volume of your tube amp to get the right amount of gain in your mix, especially if you’re playing rock or metal. This is an issue if you don’t have a practice amp as I’m sure your neighbors won’t appreciate the noise. Decent boost pedals can help here by adding gain long before the signal reaches the amp so; you don’t have to raise the volume to ridiculous levels.
Reduces Hardware Limitations
If you use lots of non-buffered/non-bypassed pedals or have long cable runs, it’s likely you’re losing quite a bit of your guitar’s original signal and volume by the time it comes out of your amp. A boost pedal can help combat this by adding definition to your high-end frequencies and ensuring the full signal reaches your amp, preserving your tone.
Buying Guide – Key Considerations
Single use vs. Hybrid
The most common form of hybridized boost has to be those combined with overdrive or distortion. These are great if you’re looking to give your dirty tone a little more impact; however, they can be limited in performance due to a lack of transparency compared to non-hybrid models. Ultimately, it depends what sound you’re going after; if you want to boost your clean as well as distortion, a hybrid may not be the right choice for you.
Can’t I Just Use an EQ Pedal?
Hmmm, you may think so, but the answer is no, to put it bluntly. This is because EQ pedals work by channeling gain through specific frequencies, with the aim of providing extra punch to different aspects of your tone. Saying that, even if you maxed out all the settings on your EQ, it wouldn’t provide a transparent energy surge in the way a boost pedal does.
Product Round-up & Reviews – Best Boost Pedals
TC Electronic Spark Mini
TC’s Spark Mini is the most affordable device we mention today, and for the price, you get some cool features. The best aspect here has to be that this pedal provides both gain and EQ control – so you’re getting two effects units in one!
In regards to clean boost, the Spark provides 26 dB of transparent amplification to help your best tone cut through a mix. The gain dial, on the other hand, will provide you with extra meatiness for a snarling sonic experience. Having a two-band active EQ is also a neat addition, which enables you to mold the specific sound you need.
All this technology is contained within a stable, safe metal shell and there’s even true bypass circuitry to ensure your tone is never drained when the pedal is switched off. The unit itself is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, making it easy to pack away and carry to gigs. It can also take both 9v batteries or a 9v power supply – so you won’t need to worry if you forget one or the other before a performance.
Overall it’s an excellent option for those of you into rock or heavier genres of music thanks to its extra gain enhancer option, that being said, it won’t let you down in the realms of clean tone either – For the price, you really can’t complain!
- EQ-scaping – The treble and mid dials featured here basically function as an EQ that allows you to sculpt your tone.
- Mode Toggle – Lets you choose the type of boost you’d like to use. So you can either boost your solos, clean or rhythm sections as you desire.
- Sharp – Unfortunately when turned up above 12 o’clock the treble is slightly harsh sounding for my taste.
- Not so transparent – Because it has built-in gain, there is some noise interference, albeit not too much.
Xotic RC V2
This is currently selling for a fair bit more than TC’s Spark unit, however, both are pretty similar in their set up, as both feature the option for extra gain, EQ adjustment, and true bypass. Aesthetically speaking, this model looks pretty flashy too, thanks to its chrome shell and multicolored LEDs.
The feature that sets it apart from the rest is its dual gain channeling, allowing you to set up two different distortion settings for extra impact during a live performance – just turn the second gain dial into place and stomp into the setting you need. Compared to the Spark Mini above, this model only offers 20dB of amplification, which is slightly less despite the extra cost.
On the bright side, it’s nice and compact, so you’ll be able to carry it around without too much hassle fitting it into your big bag. It can also run on either 9v batteries or a 9v power supply, the only slightly annoying thing is that you have to unscrew the back to fit the battery when it runs out.
Overall, it suits serious distortion fiends, that need not only one, but two extra gritty options in their mix. If you struggle with losing tone – due to other pedals in your chain – then putting it at the end will give you the control to bring out the sounds that you want. Just be aware it’s a lot pricier than the Spark Mini and comes with similar features.
- Great tone – You really can’t notice any coloration changes here; even the clean boost is crystal clear.
- Extra Gain – There are two gain dials here, so anyone into heavy metal will love it.
- Bright LEDs – The lights here are so bright and multicolored things get a bit confusing in the dark.
- Footswitches – The two footswitches are very close together, so if you’ve got big feet, you run the risk of accidentally pressing both.
Wampler Decibel Plus V2
The Decibel V2 by Wampler is handmade in the USA and currently marketed for a little cheaper than the RC Boost we mentioned above – It’s also much simpler to handle too.
So yes, I’d say that in this case, simplicity is the best part of this pedal’s design. The Decibel features just one singular ‘Boost’ dial which controls the device’s completely transparent tone alteration. Wampler has also included buffer technology here, to prevent any of your powerful high end being lost.
The other cool thing about the Decibel V2 is its miniature size – Which is 1.5″ x 3.5″ x 1.5″ to be precise. This device is so tiny you’ll barely notice it on your pedalboard or in your gear bag, meaning it’s incredibly portable. As well as this, Wampler has included true bypass circuitry, so you don’t need to worry about any tone drainage when the device isn’t switched on.
Overall, the Decibel V2 is best for guitarists that prefer simplicity rather than too much choice, for the price, this unit does its job very well. Just remember, it’s so small it won’t take batteries, so don’t forget your charger!
- Portable – The Decibel V2 is tiny and lightweight, so it’s easy to transport to gigs and won’t weigh down your pedal board.
- Simple – There’s just one control dial here.
- Not so versatile – If you like to add gain or treble or change your boost setting between songs, it may not be the pedal for you.
- Delicate – The pot shafts begin to come loose if you use the unit frequently enough, so you may want something a bit tougher if you’re always on the road.
MXR M133 Micro Amp
MXR’s M133 Micro Amp is very similar to the Decibel V2 we just talked about however it’s selling at a slightly lower price. So, what’s the difference? Well, the Decibel works as an independent buffer as well as a booster, so I guess you can see why it’s more expensive. Just remember, if you use true bypass pedals or a short cable set up, you probably don’t need an extra buffer in your set up – so the Micro Amp may save you some cash.
Once again, I’d say that this device’s simplicity is its main advantage. There’s only one boost dial here, so it’s impossible for even beginners to get wrong. The second-best thing about this unit is that it works similarly to a pre-amp, giving your guitar tone that perfect amount of kick and saturation to enhance your solos or rhythm sections. It’s also a great way to swap between instruments with different pickups while ensuring they produce the same tone.
Although the ‘Micro’ part may throw you off slightly, this pedal isn’t as small as the Decibel V2 and is more of a standard effects unit size. That said, being larger means it can take 9V batteries and a power supply, which gives it slightly more portability.
Overall, the M133 Micro Amp would be an excellent choice for anyone looking for simplicity in a booster. There’s nothing fancy going on here; it just does what it’s designed to well and gets the job done.
- Easy to use – With one control dial, you won’t be left scratching your head trying to work it out.
- Value for money – Quite a bit cheaper than the Decibel V2, for a similar type of pedal, so you might save some cash here.
- Battery Access – To reach the battery you need to unscrew four screws in the back of the device, which is annoying and time-consuming.
J. Rockett Audio Archer
This one is creeping up to the more expensive side of things, so let’s discuss exactly what you get for the price. Firstly, it features circuitry that accurately replicates the boost part of a Klon pedal, which is great news if you’re a fan of warm, cutting mids without the extra gain in your mix.
There are three control dials all together: ‘Output’ controls your volume, ‘Tone’ controls your bass and treble and ‘Color’ changes the amount of mids and can produce a little gain when used with a high output setting. So, I’d have to say, the best thing about it is its ability to churn out beautifully clean sounds as well as dirty rock n roll riffs.
Another cool aspect here is how it runs using a 9v power supply, but also features an internal charge pump which doubles the voltage to 18v for extra oomph. Just remember – you don’t need an 18V charger, just a 9v version, if you plug an 18v supply in it will break the pedal!
Overall, yes it’s a little pricey, but if you’re looking for something to support your classic rock riffs you really can’t beat it. In this case, you do get what you pay for in regards to circuitry and quality design.
- Great tone – When it comes to rock n roll you can’t get much better, the midrange here is fantastic.
- Powerful – It’s a beast thanks to its internal charge pump, which doubles the voltage from 9v to 18v.
- Price – For all this technology you have to pay a little extra.
- Aesthetic – I’m not a fan of the style or logo printed on the Archer; it looks slightly bland.
ZVEX Effects Super Hard On
The Super Hard On by ZVEX is a similar price to the Archer above, but functions in a different manner to provide a more retro sort of effect.
The coolest thing about the Super Hard On, despite its name, is that it’s based on classic 60’s recording consoles, which produce a crackle when amped up. Better yet, you can adjust the amount of gain coming through the mix simply by a twist of the ‘Crackle Okay’ dial, meaning it’s pretty easy to use too. The effect knob itself is essentially a negative feedback control which produces vintage tones by creating a natural overload in your amp.
Another great feature of the technology here is that it retains your guitar’s high frequencies which are often lost in long cable setups. The pedal can also output at 8 volts and transforms the sound wave into something shaped like triode overload, which helps to maintain sonic transparency. All this circuitry is true bypass too, which ensures that your guitar tone isn’t sucked away when the pedal isn’t in use.
Overall, I’d say the Super Hard On is best suited for fans of retro, 60’s rock n roll as well as simplicity. With one control dial here, you won’t be getting confused any time soon. For the price, however, you may want to check out MXR’s Micro Amp we mentioned earlier, this is similar and may save you a little cash.
- Cool crackle – Anyone into 60’s rock will love it.
- Simple to use – There’s just one control dial here, so how can you go wrong?
- Not so versatile – If you like to dial in your exact boost response via an EQ, this probably isn’t the right device for you.
- Specific – The Super Hard On is pretty much explicitly designed for mastering that classic rock crunch, so if you play another style you may be a little disappointed here.
EarthQuaker Devices Tone Job
This one from EarthQuaker is currently selling for a fairly mid-range price and offers some handy features for the money. The best aspect is its built-in EQ (Treble, Middle and Bass knobs), which allows the guitarist to sculpt the exact sonic parameters they need.
It’s worth mentioning that the tone-shaping options are based on vintage stereo preamps, so the overall effect is designed to be more analog and retro. On that note, all this technology is carefully handmade in every pedal, so you can trust that the quality is up to scratch here.
The overall boost effect can amplify you’re your signal fivefold if you need that much extra power and can even be used with bass and synthesizer equipment. Just remember to bring your 9v power supply, as this thing doesn’t take batteries.
Overall it’s an excellent choice for those of you that like access to an EQ function as well as the ability to amplify the signal. You’re getting two pedals in one here, which gives you the option of putting the pedal at the start of your signal chain to change your tone during a set, or at the end to boost it.
- Tone Sculpting – The built-in EQ here allows the guitarist to manipulate it precisely how they like it.
- Handmade technology – You can be sure plenty of care and attention has been involved in the creation of these devices.
- Not much sustain – Compared to boosts with extra gain Avalanche’s model doesn’t offer as much sustain, this designed for additional presence and smoothness.
- Doesn’t take batteries – Not a huge issue, just make sure you don’t forget your charger.
So, Which Should I Choose?
So, as you can see, there are plenty of options out there when it comes to boost pedals, and they all seem to offer different tone sculpting. Overall there’s no right or wrong choice; it simply depends on what you need or prefer as a musician.
Saying that, if you’re shopping on a budget, perhaps TC Electronic’s Mini would be a good option, this little beast kicks out 26db of extra oomph, which is impressive considering its price. If versatility is what you’re after, you can’t go wrong with EarthQuaker’s ToneSub which includes a handy EQ booster.
If you play heavier styles of music, Xotic’s RC Booster includes dual gain channeling, or Rockett Audio’s Archer can provide you with gritty mids, for that perfect classic rock sound. If you travel a lot and need something small and light to fit on your pedalboard, then Wampler’s Decibel V2 is your best option.
Perhaps you’re not even fussed about having loads of gadgets and would prefer something simple? If so, MXR’s M133 Micro Amp or ZVEX’s Super Hard On is probably your best bet, these both use a singular control dial to alternate the overall boost influence.