A chorus pedal is used to produce a full, shimmery, layered guitar tone. The best chorus pedals work by taking the guitar’s signal and modulating it so that several, slightly different versions of the same sound are produced – like a chorus of instruments playing at once. They became popular in the ’80s and 90’s – back then, almost every guitarist would have one on their pedalboard. Songs like ‘Come As You Are’ by Nirvana, Daft Punk’s, ‘Get Lucky’ and the Cult’s ‘She Sells Sanctuary’ are great examples of how well the effect works in music.
It’s unlikely that any popular album released in the past 40 years hasn’t featured some form of the effect – It’s pretty much a necessity in modern music. If the band does not intentionally use it, it’s likely that the producer or mixer will add it in to fill out the sound at some point.
At a Glance: Our Choice of the Best Chorus Pedals on the Market
- Walrus Audio Julia
- Boss CH-1
- EarthQuaker Devices Sea Machine V3
- MXR M148 Micro
- TC Electronic Corona
- MXR M134
- Boss CE-2W Waza Craft
- Electro Harmonix Small Clone
- Fender Chorus
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
Here’s what we’ll cover in this article.
- Why Use Chorus?
- Buying Guide – Key Considerations
- Product Round-up & Reviews – Best Chorus Pedals
- So Which Should I Choose?
Why Use Chorus?
Chorus belongs to the family of time-based effects, and is used to add a bright, liquid resonance to the high end, or can be used with smaller time intervals between notes to layer up and thicken your sound. The effect can also sound great when used to create thicker, dreamy sounds to accentuate specific parts of songs.
So how does the effect work? It works by manipulating the input signal coming from the guitar’s pickups, so that it repeats at short intervals, creating a bright, but vibrant, layered tone. Generally, the guitar’s output signal is delayed by between 20 to 50 milliseconds, and subtle alterations in timing and pitch are added, just like in a real unison group melody.
If you want to get technical for a minute, it’s created using a Low-Frequency Oscillator, which works by slowly modulating the delay time in cycles. During these cycles, the delay time increases and decreases, while also shifting the note slightly up and down.
So what are the typical controls you’ll find on one of these pedals?
The effects level or ‘level’ control, changes the mix of the original ‘dry’ guitar signal, and the level of ‘wet’ chorus effect in the mix. The higher you set the level, the less of the guitar’s original signal will cut through, and the more prominent the effect will be. ‘Rate’ controls the speed of the LFO (see above), so the oscillation effect is slightly slower or faster depending on your preference. ‘Depth’ basically works as an intensity knob, which changes how noticeable the effect is in terms of the delay time and level of pitch shifting from the original note. If you have depth set to max, you’ll notice a more pronounced effect in your tone, than at lower levels. ‘Tone’ lets you control the amount of treble and bass coming through the mix, and works as a sort of simplified EQ system. If you set it to a high level, it will sound brighter and more cutting, whereas at a low level it will be warmer with more bass.
Buying Guide – Key Considerations
Analog vs. Digital?
Both analog and digital pedals produce different types of chorus. The former are made using circuitry which generates a warm, rich tone, full of character and imperfection – but in a good way. They sound more retro, like the sort of chorus you’d hear if you traveled back in time to an 80’s gig. Their digital counterpart uses modern circuitry to manipulate the guitar’s input signal – they tend to sound brighter and are more capable of extreme tones. Unfortunately, the tone is often noticeably thin and metallic in comparison.
If you’re relatively new to effect pedals, less tone control may be a better option for you. On the other hand, if you’re more experienced, more control is probably a good thing. Some of these products now offer TonePrint software, which lets you customize the sound to your exact taste via online databases of extra effects. Another thing to look out for is a bass filter switch, which is applied to higher frequencies so that your solos are fuller and more expressive while keeping the intensity of your low end.
Product Round-up & Reviews – Best Chorus Pedals
Let’s now look at our favorite products.
Walrus Audio Julia
Julia by Walrus Audio is more expensive than several chorus pedals we mention here, but for the price, you get some cool features to play around with, not to mention 100% rich analog tone. The best thing about it has to be its versatile set of tone controls. Julia features the standard options we mentioned earlier, as well as a Lag, Dry-Chorus-Vibrato Blend dial, and an analog LFO switch. These extra controls allow you to dial in both classic and unique chorus and vibrato sounds, so you can go experimental with your music, or keep it retro if you like!
Another cool feature is the effect rate flashlight. This helps you dial in the chorus rate by lighting up to match the tempo – handy if you’re trying to set a different pace on dark stage during a gig.
Because Julia offers quite a lot in terms of tone control, it’s best suited to players with some experience. You’ll also need a reasonably decent budget at hand if this is the one for you.
- Plenty of Control – With a total of nine different tone variations here, Julia offers a vast array of chorus and vibrato modifications, great for experimental players or those that need a specific sound
- Julia creates some decent, warm, full analog tones. So, will be perfect for those of you looking for a retro, classic sounding chorus pedal.
- Price – Unfortunately it’s on the more expensive side of the effects spectrum, make sure you can’t get away with using cheaper version before you buy
- Power Input – The power input socket is very deep set, so some 9v power supplies may not fit it properly. It’s probably best to buy Walrus’s power supply, so you know it’ll work properly
The CH-1 is Boss’s classic analog unit, and although it’s pretty simple, for its affordable price you get some very decent tone. The best feature is it’s built-in EQ, which lets you adjust the bass and treble cutting through the mix. As well as this, there’s the standard control settings Rate, Depth, and Level, so you get a decent amount of tone control, in an easy to use format. Just like most products by Boss, the CH-1 is built like a tank and will survive being stomped on frequently. It also takes 9v batteries or a power supply.
Overall this is great for beginner guitarists with a love of rich, analog tone. For the price, you can’t go wrong here, and you won’t be fooled by it’s simple, yet versatile controls!
- Price – Pretty inexpensive compared to other models out there.
- Easy to use – Super simple to use.
- Maybe too simple – Sacrifices the tonal settings that some others have to offer.
- Quiet – Rather quiet compared to other products.
EarthQuaker Devices Sea Machine V3
EarthQuaker’s Sea Machine V3 uses digital-analog hybrid circuitry for plenty of tonal versatility. It includes the standard tone controls you’d expect to find on one of these, but also has some cool additions that EarthQuaker call ‘shape, dimension and animate.’ Shape affects the sound wave’s shape, which varies from triangular to square – triangular waves make the chorus swell more gradual, while square sound waves provide more impact. Dimension lets you produce either slapback delay or reverb-like echo tones. Animate controls the pitch shifting signal swings, as you turn the dial-up, you can produce some warbly, Neptunian sounding tones.
The best feature of the Sea Machine V3 has to be that it’s improved circuitry for a cleaner sound and lower noise interference even with loads of overdrive and distortion in your mix. Due to its ability to dive into some unique tones, it’s best suited to more experienced players looking for some really ‘out there’ effects.
- Alien vibes – Crazy sounds, thanks to its pitch-shifting ability, this can get pretty weird.
- Extra control – Can act as a reverb, delay and echo pedal too.
- Price – Slightly more expensive than some other similar products out there.
- Tempo LED – Although the tempo LED is handy when you’re setting it up, it can be distracting while you’re playing live.
MXR M148 (Micro)
The MXR M148 is a tiny, yet sturdy little beast made with full analog circuitry for a classic chorus effect. Its best feature apart from its authentic sounds is how idiot-proof this thing is. All of this great sound can be controlled via one dial that varies the rate of LFO modulation. So, if you’re not sure how to dial in your tone, this pedal will help, as its already set up to sound great. Its also true bypass, so it won’t zap your guitar sound, and its small size makes it easy to pack into your gig bag and to add to your pedalboard.
Overall the low price and ease of use, make it perfect for beginner guitarists, or those that love analog tones and simple controls.
- Easy to use – With one dial, it won’t leave you scratching your head trying to work out how to set it up.
- Features 100% analog circuitry.
- Too simple for some – If you like to be experimental or to dial in specific tones, this probably isn’t for you.
- Doesn’t take batteries – It can’t take the usual 9v batteries so don’t forget your power supply.
TC Electronic Corona
TC Electronic’s Corona is a standard looking chorus box, and for your money, you get some amazing technology. It features the standard controls you’d expect to find on one of these; however, it also has a three-way switch which lets you choose between using echo, chorus or a setting of your choice. So, its a 3-in-1 too.
The best thing about it is its TonePrint technology, which lets you download any effect via an internet connection. TC has an online database of thousands of effects to choose from, or you can have a go at creating your own. The Corona can also be powered by batteries or a 9v power supply, making it super portable.
Due to its software and three-way tone control switch, it’s great for experienced guitarists who like to experiment.
- Versatile – The Corona uses unique TonePrint technology, so you’ll never be short of a new sound to play around with.
- True Bypass – True bypass, so you won’t hear any signal drainage when you’re not using it.
- Complex – If you’re not very computer literate, this probably isn’t best for you, as the software will require some extra learning for you to use it properly.
- Loud footswitch – The bypass footswitch is incredibly noticeable when used – this could be an issue if you’re going to be frequently stomping it during a live show.
If you’ve been looking to recreate the guitar chorus you’ve heard in tracks by Rush or Gun’s n Roses, this is for you. Slash used the MXR M134 in Guns n Roses’ famous ‘Paradise City.’
The best thing about the M134 has to be its fantastic sound, which is made possible thanks to its analog circuitry and separate EQ settings. The EQ settings control the wet signal and let you vary the amount of bass and treble. There’s even a bass filter switch so that you can preserve your low-end tone, while also letting your solos sound fuller and more dramatic, this is great if you’re going to be using distortion with the effect!
Overall the M134 will suit players with a higher budget after a classic, rich sound. The controls are pretty simple to follow, but allow a good amount of versatility, so you’ll be able to fine tune it’s settings to your specific taste!
- Great tone – Thanks to its analog circuitry, the M134 produces fantastic, vintage sound.
- Versatile yet straightforward – Separate EQ for its wet signal, as well as a bass filter and standard controls, so you should have plenty of sound options to play around with.
- Price – Its comes at a higher price, you’ll want to make sure its exactly what you want.
- Power supply – It takes an 18v power supply rather than the usual 9v, so you’ll need to use a separate supply when you’re playing live – or use two 9v batteries and hope it doesn’t drain them too quickly.
Boss CE-2W Waza Craft
The CE-2W is Boss’s recreation of the original, analog CE-1 and CE-2 pedals, which are very sought-after as they were the first of their type. Of course, the CE-2W offers some improved modern features for it’s higher price tag.
As well as a choice of classic CE-1 and CE-2 tones, you get stereo output and a depth control dial. Stereo output lets you connect to two amplifiers for a louder sound, or to add interesting dimensions while playing live. The depth control dial varies the intensity of the effect.
Overall, the CE-2W suits guitarists looking to recreate classic analog tones produced by the original CE-1 and 2 models, but bear in mind, you’ll need to have a fair bit of cash in the bank – this is up there with some of the higher budget models. You’ll also want to consider that this will not create bizarre, experimental chorus effects, so is probably not for you if you’re after complete tonal versatility.
- Vibrato and chorus in one box– The CE-2W is two classics in one.
- Analog tone – Produces a nice warm effect.
- Less versatile – The CE-2W isn’t designed to create wacky chorus effects, so might not be for you if you want a ‘far out’ sound.
- Noisy – Sometimes it generates hiss when the rate/depth dial is set to above 10 o’clock, this isn’t great if you’re going to be using that kind of setup live.
Electro Harmonix Small Clone
Kurt Cobain famously used one of these Small Clones for ‘Come as You Are.’ The beauty of this is it’s warm, analog, vintage sound and simple set of controls. There’s a rate dial to control the timing of LFO modulation and a depth switch to thicken out your sound. It’s also got a true bypass, so it won’t suck away your guitar tone when not in use and can take a 9v battery or 9v power supply for extra portability.
Overall, it’s great for both novice and experienced players, thanks to its simple dual tone control setup and high-quality analog circuitry. You won’t need an extremely high budget to afford it either, although it’s slightly more expensive than the Boss CH-1.
- Quality tone – Analog circuitry, so it produces some nice authentic, warm vibes.
- Price – Although its mid-range, it’s far more affordable than a lot of others out there.
- Perhaps too simple – There are only two control dials here, so this may not provide enough to provide wild chorus diversity that some of you need
- Noisy – The Small Clone can be noticeably hissy when turned up to a high rate – this isn’t so great if you’re going to be playing clean style!
This is a mid-price range unit that comes with some unique features. The best thing about it is that it offers new ways to sculpt your analog sound. All this versatility is achieved via a footswitch controlled, slow and fast speed setting, and two independent rate and depth channels. Additionally, there’s a wave toggle switch which lets you select either wobbly sine, or high impact triangle waveforms, along with a sensitivity dynamic that allows the chorus modulation rate to change based on your playing style.
The Bubbler’s case is also crafted from sturdy, lightweight aluminum so that it will withstand heavy use. Saying that, bear in mind it’s slightly larger than your average stompbox, so make sure you’ve got some extra space on your board. If a versatile analog tone is what you’re after, this is a great option.
- Plenty of tone control – With two lots of rate and depth channels, as well as a slow /fast footswitch and wave-shaping controls.
- Analog circuitry – The Bubbler can recreate some ear-pleasing rich sounds.
- Size – Bigger than say a micro or the standard Boss pedal, so make sure you have enough room for it
- Complex – There’s so much tone control going on here, it’s hard to know where to start if you’re a novice!
So Which Should I Choose?
All of the above have their benefits, but for the absolute best level of control, it’s hard to argue with either TC Electronic’s Corona, EarthQuaker’s Sea Machine or the Julia by Walrus Audio. The Corona’s TonePrint technology gives you an unprecedented level of customization, whereas the Sea Machine, provides diverse, wild, experimental tones. Walrus Audio’s Julia sounds more vintage, but still has a total of nine tone controls, therefore, plenty of scope for flexibility.
If you’re a beginner guitarist or one that prefers simplicity, then the Boss CH-1 or MXR M148 will not disappoint you.
If you’re an analog fanatic, then the MXR M134 or the Boss CE-2W, are probably your best choice. The M134’s tone is so good, it’s been used by several famous guitarists, and the CE-2W is three classic pedals in one. If you’re more into grunge than classic rock, the Small Clone by Electro Harmonix will suit your style.
If you want to be able to get creative while keeping a classic sound, then the Fender Bubbler is the one to go for. Its dual channels will give you plenty of tonalities to play about with.
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.