Phaser pedals add something a bit different to your sound. They’ve been a mainstay of rock guitarists (e.g. Eddie Van Halen), progressive rock pioneers (e.g. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd) as well as widely used in ambient/experimental music, and even EDM.
More recently musicians such as Dave Grohl and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead have used them, although in contrast to Van Halen this is where we start to see the more typical ‘sci-fi’ style of use. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Einzinger of Incubus and Welch of Korn have often incorporated the effect into their music.
In this article, we’re going to focus on the best phaser pedal. We’ll talk through all the typical features you’ll find on them, and finally, in our product round-up section we’ll recommend our top picks.
At a Glance: Our Choice of the Best Phaser Pedals on the Market
- Empress Effects
- Boss PH-3
- Behringer Vintage VP1
- TC Electronic Helix
- Walrus Audio Vanguard
- MXR EVH Phase 90
- Joyo JF-06
- Digitech SP-7
- EarthQuaker Devices Grand Orbiter V3
- MXR Phase 100
- Digitech DOD 201
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
Here is what we cover in this article:
Table of Contents
- What are Phaser pedals?
- Types of Phaser
- Phaser Controls
- Product Round-up & Reviews – Best Phaser Pedal
- So, Which Should I Choose?
What are Phaser pedals?
‘Phasing’ is a modulation effect closely related to flanger, chorus, and univibe.
In simple terms, phaser pedals split the signal of your guitar in two, one of which is processed by one or more all-pass filters. Both signals keep the same frequency but are phase-shifted out of sync, canceling each other out when the phases are entirely opposed.
The phase-shifting process can (in theory) be infinite, but is typically divided into 4, 6, 8 or more stages. Each stage will increase the amount by which the signal is phase-shifted out of sync, resulting in an increasing number of intervals where the two signals cancel each other out almost entirely.
As the phases become closer to opposing each other, the frequency will become alternately weaker at the high and bass ends – creating the signature ‘swooshing’ effect which this effect is known for.
Types of Phaser
There are two main types: digital phasers and analog phasers. The original (and generally considered the best) are the analog ones as they sound more organic, but they’re often a lot more expensive.
Digital phasers, on the other hand, bring more bang for buck and are generally more versatile at a lower cost. You don’t have to drop a ton of money on an analog phaser though, as we’ll see below.
Phaser pedals are the soloist’s secret weapon, helping to beef up and thicken a solo, chunking things up. Modulation effects, as with the flanger and univibe, adds glorious swirls to any solo making the ‘phased solo’ sound way more interesting.
They’re awesome for making your chord progressions more interesting (compared to a steady tone). The phase-shifting adds emphasis to chords and gives them a sustained ringing swell. Varying the settings can separate identical progressions so that different sections of music can be broken up without having to do much additional work.
Layers of processed sounds can be used to create ambient music with little else in terms of effects and inputs – although this will have a very niche appeal, they can be fantastic for scoring visual media and even for sound effects.
Experimentation with different combinations of phaser and instrumentation can lead to some very outlandish creations which will fit in nicely with more psychedelic genres; e.g. Psytrance.
Here’s the one in action:
Most of the products we review here have speed settings that allow you to control how fast each phase-shift is completed, meaning that the peaks and troughs of the waveform will be closer together the higher the speed setting is. If you’re looking to add a little vibrancy to your clean channel, then this might be the only setting you need, but increasing the setting allows for much more chaotic outcomes.
Width, Depth or Sweep
Pedals with width, depth or sweep (varying in name depending on the manufacturer) typically include the ability to alter what range of frequencies the effect is applied to, allowing for varying amounts of your signal to be modulated. These features will be more useful for musicians looking to move beyond the way Eddie Van Halen used the effect to add emphasis to his playing and to create a more dramatic sound.
Resonance control knobs will allow you to emphasize certain tones in the phase-shifting sweeps more than others. Vintage phasers tend to be very restricted in filter depth. Having the ability to adjust this is one of the key points which make digital ones more practical for contemporary usage than analog phasers.
Not every pedal will include this feature, but a dry/wet ratio control can be useful if you want to subtly fade the effect in and out. This setting lets you control what proportion of the output signal is the original unaltered (dry) input.
The ability to choose between different waveforms is hardly essential, but if you’re the type of musician who wants to have complete control, then you may be tempted by one with this feature. The number of built-in waveforms will vary, with the higher-end effects pedals offering as many as eight options. However, it is very much a secondary concern, and you might be better off using a digital audio workstation for this level of control.
The ability to control the tempo isn’t essential, but it can help if you need to sync the phase-shifting to a specific rhythm. As the name suggests, all you need to do is tap the pedal at the tempo you wish the phase-shifting to sync up with. The more premium ones also have an LED indicator which tracks the current tempo setting for ease of use.
Product Round-up & Reviews – Best Phaser Pedal
Featuring an all-analog signal path controlled by a microprocessor, the Empress Effects retains an analog flavor but is powered by digital circuitry giving you the best of both worlds. It gives you an unprecedented level of control over the finished sound and has far more settings than is typical for phaser pedals.
The main knobs control dry/wet ratio, rate, width and gain, which by themselves are sufficient for the needs of most. Another control knob is used to switch between 8 waveforms. However, several more three-way switches allow you to control the speed-range, the number of stages (2, 4 or 3) and the degree of resonance in the output signal.
Further controls allow for the rate to be set using taps, the rate knob, or the auto-mode, which changes several of the other settings into new ones to allow for the auto-mode to be configured to your liking.
- great signal-to-noise ratio
- lots of control over the finished sound
- die-cast aluminum enclosure
- analog phaser
- On the pricey side
- Overkill for guitarists who like to keep things simple
Reliability and durability are the top two concerns for professional guitarists with regular live performances. The Boss PH-3 is a digital phaser that accomplishes this in many different ways. Unlike most of the items we review here, it has a much larger on/off switch requiring less dexterity and a reasonable size for incorporating onto your pedalboard setup.
There’s also an input jack for an expression pedal, making this one of the few products on our list which has one. If you don’t have, or just prefer not to use one, you can also adjust the tempo of the effect with tap control.
You’re given a choice of 4, 8, 10 and 12 stage phase shifting, and unique ‘rise’, ‘fall’ and ‘step’ modes which create a very different phasing effect which can be compared to the Shepard Tone – a complex acoustic illusion which leaves the listener with the impression that a tone is infinitely increasing or decreasing in pitch.
The Boss PH-3 also includes the usual complement of Depth and Resonance controls but lacks some of the more in-depth controls such as waveform selection. The lack of stereo input/output jacks is notable, but in terms of practicality, it is otherwise difficult to find fault with this pedal.
- Includes expression control
- Digital phaser with 4, 8, 10 and 12 stage phase shifting
- Compact design
- Lacks some of the more in-depth controls such as waveform selection
- Far out green not to everyone’s taste
Behringer Vintage VP1
Ready for something cheap and cheerful? Although its the cheapest stompboxes on our list, the Behringer VP1 has all of the essential elements you would expect from those with a much higher price tag.
In addition to the rate setting, you can choose between two tones using a simple switch, allowing for both vintage rotary speaker cab replication and more experimental use.
An LED shows you whether the effect is on/off, although it doesn’t flash to indicate any further information such as tempo. True-bypass enables you to leave this as part of your standard effects chain without problems.
Don’t expect the best sound, but for something at the super-budget price point, it’s not bad.
- Choice of two tones
- True bypass
- Super affordable
- Lacks features, but for the price, you can’t complain
TC Electronic Helix
This is particularly useful for rock guitarists because it’s excellent at replicating the sound of vintage phaser pedals, à la Van Halen, but also has a wide range of controls ideal for more contemporary rock music.
The three-way toggle between Vintage, TonePrint, and Smooth allow the Helix to create very distinct effects without the need to adjust the other settings – of which you get a decent range.
The inclusion of stereo in/out jacks is a nice bonus, with the ability to create your customized settings via the TonePrint technology available with many TC Electronic products. Alongside the rate setting, it also includes depth, feedback, and wet/dry mix controls.
In case you didn’t know, Toneprint is TC Electronic’s proprietary software that lets you hook up the pedal to a PC or Mac and access a ton of presets (you download them to your pedal). If you’re into your tech, you’ll love this feature. Any technophobes should stay well clear!
- A great number of presets through Toneprint
- Stereo in/out jacks
- Decent range of tones
- Not the range of controls you find on higher-end products
- Toneprint great for tech geeks
Walrus Audio Vanguard
The Vanguard from Walrus Audio is highly sophisticated, and very much a sound engineers gadget thanks to the level of control it gives you.
Standard controls include rate and depth, plus the choice of 4, 6 or 10 stages, each of which is combined with an additional effect. Other features include stereo output, expression pedal integration, a range of presets all controllable via a footswitch, and true bypass also controllable by a second footswitch.
It also uniquely operates a ‘series phaser system’ which combines two phaser pedals, letting you make a superb texture. Interestingly, the dry/wet mix is also controlled by two separate control knobs, which gives a much higher degree of precision than those which are combined into a single dial.
With its level of control, it’s not a ‘set it and forget it’ sort of thing – best results will come when you spend time playing with it. It’s perfect for gigging too thanks to its twin footswitch, and you have to love the horse inspired design!
- Stereo output, and the ability to combine two phaser pedals with different settings at once
- A high degree of precision (sound engineers will love it)
- Cavalry design is pretty striking
- On the large side
- Perhaps slightly overkill
MXR EVH Phase 90
Probably the most commonly used phaser in existence, the MXR Phase 90 is a classic analog phase shifter you’ll see everyone using from tribute bands to A-listers.
This is the Van Halen special. It’s a simple set up, having only a single ‘sound’ dial and an on-off stomp switch. The simplicity means that finding the right settings for a particular track won’t take very long due to the limited controls.
The effect can be mild enough that leaving it on a low setting will provide a gentle enhancement to your clean tone, but there is enough range to create over the top synthetic sounds.
This product is particularly suitable for those looking for a familiar sound which can be traced back to the 70s through dozens of hugely influential and successful guitarists (Dave Gilmour, Bryan May, etc.).
It’s relatively simple controls is a big plus for those who prefer to kick back and play, not be knob-twiddling.
- For those going for the Van Halen sound, a classic phaser!
- Very basic set up, with a single ‘rate’ button
- Super reliable
- Analog phaser
- Minimal control (literally one button)
- No phaser effects
- On the pricey side
Joyo JF-06 Vintage Phase
If you’re looking for something simple and cheap that replicates that MXR Phase 90 sound (see above) at a fraction of the price, the Joyo JF-06 may be just the ticket.
The ‘speed’ control knob tweaks the rate at which the phaser cycles its pulses. At low speed, the phase depth is shallow and swirling. At faster speeds, the sound swooshes around and is more intense.
It would be nice to control the intensity of the effect, but that’s what you expect the pricier models to give you. Besides, some of use prefer the one dial set-up.
In terms of sound, it creates some surprisingly pleasant Leslie-like, Gilmourish tones with a wide range from subtle warble to heavy wobble. It is a little thin sounding though, so you might want to make a few adjustments to the trimpot if you know what you’re doing.
The fact it runs off a 9-volt battery is handy, and the true bypass wiring is a nice touch at this price point.
At this price, you could even purchase a couple and set them at different pre-established rates so you don’t have to mess about during performance.
A common issue with cheaper effects pedals, in general, is unwanted noise during operation. To counter this you can run it through an isolated power supply
Overall, if you’re looking for a cheap MXR Phase 90 Clone, you can’t go wrong. It’s limited in functionality and sounds a bit tinny, but for the dollar, it’s hard to find a phase shifter at a better price.
- Simple to use
- True bypass wiring
- One control knob, with no option to control intensity
- No phaser effects
- Slightly noisy when running through the mains
This one won’t win any design awards, but it makes up for the looks with its superb range of features that gives you a ton of flexibility (but aren’t gimmicky).
It comes with seven different phasing presets including dynamic and envelope settings that soften up any distortion. The envelope filter setting is so good you could even use it for that effect alone, saving you on buying a separate envelope filter.
You also get knobs for speed, depth, and modify to tweak the sounds further.
The tap tempo feature is another great addition, giving you can some really cool ‘phase-lead’ sounds.
You can run it either mono or stereo, with two inputs and two outputs, so you can do funky stuff like, for example, having a clean signal going through one side and distortion through the other.
If you want to experiment, and like tweaking and fiddling with your settings, then this gives you all the qualities of a ‘boutique’ pedal. The tap tempo is a unique feature you won’t find on many other phaser pedals either. It is on the expensive side though.
- 7 presets
- Tap tempo
- Multiple inputs / outputs
EarthQuaker Devices Grand Orbiter V3
For a high-quality analog phaser, look no further. A four-stage OTA-based phase shifter, the Grand Orbiter V3 is at the high end of the price range and oozes quality.
The three-way toggle switch lets you toggle between three types of modulation effects: a slow sweep mode (rate 1), a fixed resonant filter (rate 2) and a fast sweep mode (rate 3).
It also doubles up a vibrato pedal too (via the Phase/Vibrato switch) so you get two pedals for one. It’s a quality product built in Ohio, 100% analog with true bypass as you’d expect.
Design-wise Earthquaker products always kick butt, and this one is no exception.
- Quality product
- Vibrato mode
- Decent range of modulation effects
- 100% analog phaser
MXR Phase 100
If you’re tempted by the MXR Phase 90 but you want a bit more control than the single control knob the Phase 90 gives you, check this phase shifter out.
The MXR Phase 100 gives you 10 stages of programmable phase shifting and adjustable intensity for sweep width and notch depth. As well as the speed control there is a four-position switch that gives you four intensities (called ‘preset waveform patterns’).
A steeper learning curve to use this, but worth it. With the intensity and speed settings, you’ll be blown away by the warm phase tones you can generate with this stompbox. It gives you a nice analog clean ‘whoosh’ while adding depth and movement to your tone.
The layout and design are well thought through and easy to understand too, and besides, you gotta love that orange!
- MXR Phase 90’s big brother
- 10 stages of programmable phase shifting
- 4 preset waveform patterns
- Great design
- Steeper learning curve
Digitech DOD 201 Phasor
The DOD Phasor 201 was the first of its kind but often gets overlooked. It’s still worth a look at though.
Like the MXR Phase 90, it’s simple as anything to use, with one dial (speed knob) that controls the depth and speed of the phasing effect. In theory, all you need is one dial as the rest is done for you (th40+ years of tone creating experience and if truth be told, a bit of nostalgia.
The main difference between this and the originals is that this one has, as you’d expect, true bypass so it won’t color your tone when it’s not on.
The design looks the bomb too: crisp blue LED indicator, light aluminum chassis, and a blue metallic finish.
- old vintage phasor sound with some mod cons
- Metallic blue finish and cool LED
- 9-volt power
- Limited control
So, Which Should I Choose?
If you’re looking for a classic 70s rock sound (ala Eddie Van Halen) then go his signature MXR EVH Phase 90 – its a classic phaser. If you’re not into the single dial, go with the Phase 100 for superior control.
If you want the MXR Phase 90 sound at a fraction of the cost, check out the Joyo JF-06 Vintage Phase. It doesn’t sound as good, but for the price, you won’t find a better phase shifter.
If you’re a lover of technology and want to access a load of presets, try the Helix from TC Electronic, which lets you download readymade presets.
If you’re into experimentation, the Empress Effects and Walrus Audio Vanguard gives you plenty of options.
For reliability and ruggedness, you can’t go wrong with the Boss PH-3 which has a decent number of phase-shifting (4, 8, 10 and 12 stage phase shifting) also has an input jack for an expression pedal.
For a vintage classic (the original) try the Digitech DOD 201 re-release.
On a budget? Then the Behringer Vintage VP1 is the to go for – at that price it’s a steal.