If you play electric guitar it’s perfectly acceptable to add effects pedals. In fact, it’s expected that you do. With vocals, it’s less common to add effects. Some think vocal effects pedals sound artificial – some even say that using one is cheating.
However, many of us – including me – think that used sparingly, vocal harmonizer pedals (which belong to the family of vocal effects processors) give your vocal performance an extra edge.
In this article we’re going to cover what you need to consider when buying vocal harmonization equipment. We’ll touch on ‘must have’ and ‘nice to have’ features as well as things to avoid. We’ll discuss how to set up the pedals and we’ll suggest some models to look at based on your needs.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick summary of the products we review further down the page (however, I recommend you read the article all the way through so you make the right decision).
At a Glance: Our Choice Of The 8 Best Vocal Harmonizer Pedals On The Market
TC-Helicon Harmony Singer 2
TC Helicon VoiceTone Harmony-G XT
TC Helicon VoiceLive 3
Roland AIRA Series VT-3
Boss VE-8 Acoustic Singer
EarthQuaker Devices Pitch Bay Polyphonic Harmonizer
Note: The links above take you to more information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon. If you do purchase something we get a small commission, which has absolutely no effect on the eventual price that you pay.
Ok, the goal of this article is to give you all the information you need to make the right buying decision. We’re all different, with varying needs, so read through and make sure you make the right choice.
Here’s what we’ll cover…
- What Is a Vocal Harmonizer Pedal?
- Why Are They Useful?
- Which Artists Use These Pedals?
- Buying Guide – What To Look For in a Vocal Harmonizer Pedal
- Product Round-up & Mini Reviews
- So Which Should I Go For?
What Is a Vocal Harmonizer Pedal?
Vocal harmonizer pedals work as pitch shifters on your voice. Normal pitch shifters make your voice higher or lower and alter the original signal. However, these vocal effects processing devices keep both the original and the altered sound. These two sounds occurring simultaneously is called harmony.
What this means as a singer, is that you can hear your part sung at its correct pitch, whilst also hearing a vocal line which complements it.
These devices usually come as foot pedals. They’re designed so that on stage you can activate them with your foot, and between performances you can alter the settings with small knobs using your hands.
Why Are They Useful?
These pedals are widely used in the popular music scene, and there are several reasons why.
Avoids Having to Find an Accompanist Singer for the Solo Performer
If you’re a solo performer, the right accompanist singers can be difficult to locate. Getting another singer on stage with you might not fit your act either – or you quite simply might not like their voice. These pedals lets the solo performer ‘fill out’ there vocal without needing to add addition singers.
Takes the Pressure Off Reluctant Band Members
If you’re the lead singer in a band, and your songs need that harmonic layer to really rock, you might find yourself asking your bassist or drummer to try them out. However, your band members might lack confidence and may, let’s face it, suck at singing and harmonising. That’s not going to do your band any good.
Makes Your Solo Performances More Interesting
Quite simply, these pedals can make your vocals sound more interesting. Adding an extra layer to your vocal line can give choruses the oomph they need to stand out, and the two-voices-coming-from-one-voice effect tends to intrigue and inspire audiences. Many pedals also include pitch correction to help you stay in tune.
When You Need a Weird Or Wacky Sounding Voice
Maybe you’re an electro-performer, and you crave low pitched or robotic voices in your performances, which come from your mouth instead of samples. Or maybe you just want to sound like Darth Vader to entertain your kids 🙂
Experiment with Harmonisation
Another great thing about vocal harmonizer pedals is how they allow you to learn about harmony as you experiment with it. There’s no need to know what key you’re in, how a fifth sounds, or exactly which interval you require your harmony to be. You can fiddle with knobs and pre-sets until you find out what you like. Then, remember it for next time!
Which Artists Use These Pedals?
Before we go on, let’s check out some musicians who use harmonisation. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver uses harmonization a lot (check out his track 715 – Creeks below), Frank Ocean’s Close To You, and Francis and the Lights, Using harmonisazion equipment on vocals isn’t new, though, and Imogen Heap used the effect very obviously in her hit ‘Hide And Seek’.
Buying Guide – What To Look For in a Vocal Harmonizer Pedal
Before we look at our favourite pedals, let’s review some of the most important points to consider before you dish out any cash.
Choose Your Type
So we know what these pedals do and what the sound like. If you’re after buying one, there are broadly three types of pedal:
- Pedals With Pre-sets
- Stomp-Box Style Pedals
- Multi-Effects Pedals
Pedals With Pre-sets
Some Vocal Harmonizer Pedals have pre-sets, which will appeal to those who like to keep things simple.
Pedals of this kind often have settings like high, higher, low and lower, and they sometimes have things like electric, dirt and double.
For those who know what they want and would like to achieve it in the easiest way possible, pedals with pre-sets are the obvious choice.
Stomp-Box Style Pedals
Guitarists who like to mess around with their pedals and love the look and simplicity of stomp-box pedals can find delight in this kind of harmonizer.
These pedals work in a very similar way to guitar pedals, and they’re manually controlled in the same way as most delay, flange, phaser or overdrive pedals are.
Fiddle with the knobs until you find the sound you’re after. Then, take a picture of it lest you forget.
Sometimes, vocal harmonizer effects come as a part of a package with other effects.
There are vocal pedals which combine reverb, delay, pitch shifter and harmoniser effects. These are great for the singer-on-a-budget who doesn’t want to make multiple purchases.
They sometimes lack the quality of purpose-built pedals, but they’re generally reliable and a good introduction to effects.
Key Features of Vocal Harmonizer Pedals
A Large Range (‘gender shifting’)
You might want to make it sound like you’re singing a duet with a member of the opposite sex. To do this, you will need a pedal that is effective at ‘gender shifting’ (when the extra vocal layer created by the harmonizer is able to sound like a female or male singer is accompanying the original voice), and has a large harmonic range. Tied in with this is the ability to pitch shift your voice. Going too far with this can make you sound like a rubbish Darth Vader clone, but done right it can really kick some more extra range to your singing abilities.
Look for how many octaves in can shift your voice by, when you’re checking out the specs.
This is so worth it. You don’t want to have to tell your pedal, “I’d like a major third here please going from the note A.”
A lot of these pedals are smart, and can work things like that out for themselves. You just select high or higher and the pedal makes sure it’s in key.
Ease Of Use
Most people would like a pedal that’s reasonably user-friendly! If you’re going to be using it on stage, check out how easy the buttons are to stamp on. Also check out how easy the screen is to read, how clear the controls are and how quickly each feature will adjust.
Additional Functions (reverb, delay, looper?)
You might want some reverb, delay or even a looper on your pedal. If so, it’s worth looking out for one that contains those things.
Many harmonizer pedals aren’t just harmonizer pedals, so if you’re after something else as well, it might make sense to combine them into one purchase.
But beware: make sure your harmonizer pedal actually focuses on harmonizing! This might sound stupidly obvious, but getting a vocal processor with a harmonizing feature (rather than it being the main function) can end up being unable to fulfill the role you need it to play. What you’re listening for is a natural tone in every layer.
Of course, the point of a harmonizer pedal is to adjust the pitch of your voice. However, it’s important to ensure that the harmonies your pedal can create are adjustable. You don’t want to be stuck with something that has equal functionality to a child’s ‘Magic Mic’.
Most pedals do have some level of adjustability here, but it’s worth checking on.
User Friendly Programming
Even the cleverest, most technically minded folk don’t really like something that’s too demanding to use. When you’ve just got a new toy, you want to play with it, right?
Look out for nice, easy-to-use controllers and clear labels on your pedals.
Wet / Dry Controls
You might not want your harmonised vocal to be as loud as your lead vocal. You might want it to be louder.
Similarly, you might wish for there to be more reverb on the harmonised vocal than on the lead vocal, or vice versa.
Getting a pedal with wet/dry controls is essential to ensure a performance you’re happy with.
Key Recognition From Your Instrument
Several harmonizer pedals have an automatic key-recognition feature, meaning you don’t have to do much at all. Providing your instrument is in tune, your vocals will harmonize beautifully to match the key that the instrument’s playing in.
Pretty clever, huh? If you play keys or guitar, this is a very nice feature.
Harmonizer pedals which also have reverb built in are also super-nice. You want your vocals to sound great, right? That’s why you got a harmonizer. Imagine if your choir-in-a-box sounded like it was a choir-in-a-church.
Reverb enhances any vocal performance.
Things to Avoid?
Pedals are designed for live use. It’s not worth getting one which can’t handle being thrown around a bit and, well, stamped on.
Go for metal housing. It’s not worth messing around (and being extra careful) with plastic.
Pedals Which Require Extensive Knowledge (That You’ve Not Yet Gained)
Some harmoniser pedals have loads of options on them regarding key signatures, modes and the like. That’s great, if you’re a music theory geek and can comprehend it in a flash!
However, if you still have quite a lot of theory to learn, then this can be an unnecessary headache when you’re just trying to achieve some cool harmonizing sounds.
How Do I Use a Vocal Harmonizer Pedal?
So, now you know all about what vocal harmonizer pedals are, how do you actually add one to your kit?
Setting Up The Pedal
If you’re using multiple pedals, it makes most sense to have this at the end of your chain, going straight into the microphone. This means that you’ll harmonise straight away, before anything might get distorted and affect the signal.
If this is the only pedal you’re using, setting up is simple. Plug your microphone into the input, and the output can go to your vocal amplifier, PA system or mixing desk.
Any Other Specific Gear I Need?
As for other equipment you’re going to need, you’ll require XLR leads and, of course, microphones, in order to get your harmonizer pedal working. You might also want to get a noise gate pedal, to eliminate the risk of feedback.
However, turn up at a gig with this pedal and they’ll most likely have all the mics and stuff. You might just need an extra lead for the output. Also, an extension cable is a handy thing to take to gigs, in case there’s no power supply close to where you’ll be standing.
Considerations For Live Use
Thinking about where you’ll plug it in, ensuring that you can control the pedal with your feet without necessarily seeing it clearly, and having your pre-sets instantly accessible are all considerations to make before you go live.
If you’re using a looper function, you might also want to bear in mind that how levels sound on your practice amp may be dramatically different on a venue’s gear. Get a sound check in!
Now you know what you’re looking for, check out our picks of the best vocal harmonizer pedals, with details on which features each of them includes.
Well, thanks to modern technology, you can recreate these sounds, without having to rehearse with other people!
Ok, now it’s time to look at our favourite pedals on the market.
Product Round-up & Mini Reviews
1. TC-Helicon Harmony Singer 2
One of the easiest to use and most versatile of the list, the TC-Helicon is a very good starting point if you’ve never used a harmonizer before and especially good if you sing and play guitar at the same time. If you plug it in after the guitar, it picks up on the key from the guitar and ensures that the harmonies it creates fit in with it. Neat, eh?
When used sparingly it can sound super sweet, so it’s perfect for the singer who just wants to sound like they’re singing with another, in the odd chorus here and there. It’s the classic stompbox design so built to fit in right alongside your other guitar pedals
- Your guitar controls the intervals of harmony, so your voice matches your guitar really well
- Three reverb settings and additional tone adjustment can help you to nail exactly the right power you want the vocals to have, whether it’s filling a hall or a cozy club.
- Very intuitive interface makes using it without instructions very simple.
- Can add a ‘robotic’ sound that shatters the illusion of having back-up singers by making it obviously digital, but this can be mitigated by choosing the right settings for your organic vocals.
- Not cheap, but if you view it as an investment then you might not be as concerned with this factor.
- Will struggle to keep up with ‘interesting’ chords, so you might have to take a hard look at the guitar chords used in any original songs if you plan on relying on this harmonizer for your performances.
2. Digitech VLFX
A little more complex than a harmonizer stompbox, this one has a few extra features to play with so you can really start to play with the vocals in your live performances.
The harmonizer feature uses the highly advanced musIQ, which allows for superior pitch detection. There’s also a pitch shifter, a delay effect and a reverb option!
As well as these features, the pedal features a looper, and a guitar tuner. Perfect for those who would otherwise be buying separate loopers and tuners!
- It has a huge range of different effects besides harmony and reverb, which makes it a good option for experimenting.
- Has a 70-second looper for adding backing vocals when you’ve only got one singer.
- Loaded with presets for instant use.
- Not great for the budget conscious.
- Although it’s not the most complex piece of gear you’ll buy in your music career, the manual is frustratingly opaque for non techies or for those just beginning their journey.
- Multiple buttons spaced closely together makes it easy to accidentally press the wrong one with your foot.
3. TC Helicon VoiceTone Harmony-G XT
A vocal processor that’s got an emphasis on getting harmony done properly thanks to TC Helicon putting in the technological know-how. It’s a little more sophisticated than the Harmony Singer, but that doesn’t mean one is inherently better than the other.
There are inputs for both guitar and vocals, and this clever box ensures that the vocal harmonies it creates fit well with the chords you play on the guitar.
There are also a variety of effects including echo and reverb, so you really can have fun multiplying your voice in a style of your choice!
- Takes input from both the vocals and the guitar chords to generate a strong harmony.
- Allows selection of up to 2 harmony layers.
- Has a bunch of presets (that need a little tweaking to get away from the gimmicky effect) that can add flair to your performance.
- In crowded venues with no room to keep the audience, amps and other noisy things at a distance from the mic, the VoiceTone will start to apply some very weird sounding distortions as all of the input is mixed in with your singing, and not in a good ‘experimental’ way either.
- Really complex chords will throw this thing off, meaning it might not be the best vocal harmonizer pedal for you if you prefer to play jazz.
- For the same price as the Digitech, it lacks a lot of the extra features.
4. Boss VE-2
For a singer looking to improve on natural talent, this is a great little kit. If you’re looking to recreate the sound of multiple singers, or give your tone a different ‘feel’ or even just to give it some extra depth through a little reverb, this is a superb choice. On the other hand, if you like playing with effects and want to push past what a natural voice sounds like, this isn’t the way to go.
Like some of the other pedals, this Boss box has a key-keeping function, so you can sing with the confidence that it will harmonise in tune (as long as your guitar is in tune!).
It’s easy to use and not too wild.
- One of the most natural sounding harmony voices on a pedal.
- Easily adjustable reverb and delay with simple knobs for dialing to the perfect point.
- Keeps harmony without needing to constantly play a chord, as it ‘remembers’ the last chord used.
- More expensive harmonizers have a lot of extra capability, which limits the use of a Boss VE-2 to those who are really just starting out and want the best of a limited budget. Having said that, it is great for the price!
- It’s easy to overshoot with the reverb setting, as the range is much higher than the size of the knob would suggest. You’ll have to be careful when using it to make small adjustments or make sure you’ve already set it up properly in advance
- Not ideal for use with keyboards, although if you’re only wanting something that can work alongside a guitar this won’t be a problem.
5. TC Helicon VoiceLive 3
A high end harmonizer built for professional usage, this is going to be out of reach for hobbyist musicians. If you aren’t already playing music for a living, you’ll probably want to wait until that point before considering this one.
It’s impressive amount of features mean you’ll need to spend some time with the manual before you can get what you want from this pedal, but boy will it be worth it!
- Multi-track looping.
- 11 vocal effects and has the ability to add effects to a guitar too, making it a good multi effects pedal.
- Dedicated outputs for vocal and guitar tracks, letting you separate what happens to each channel, and even enabling a whole band’s worth of music in a track to be created by one musician in a live setting.
- You’ll need to be serious before getting this, as it’s nowhere near as cheap as the basic models.
- Can suffer from feedback issues, so you’ll need to take the time setting up and testing in venues to smooth these out. Unfortunately, they’re not always the easiest thing to fix and require multiple solutions.
- Because it’s so sophisticated and can handle so much, you’ll need to take the time to properly learn how to use it. If you lack proper understanding of the nuances, you won’t be able to get the best out of it.
6. Roland AIRA Series VT-3 Voice Transformer
The Roland AIRA VT-3 is great for those who are after weird and wonderful sounds.
It can easily make your voice sound alien-like or robotic, but it might not be the pedal to go for for those looking for a more subtle harmony.
You can turn your voice into a synth or a bass easily, too, which is fun as well as liberating for the person who has sounds in their head but isn’t an instrumentalist.
Definitely one for the more ‘out there’ musician.
- Easy to use live
- Great for electronic musicians who want Robot voices, synth sounds and anything out-of-this-world
- You can save your 3 favourite settings for instant recall
- Wet and dry signals get mixed, so your original voice will always be there as well as the affected voice
- Can make sound quality muddy, so it’s not ideal for use when recording
- The ‘Lead’ and ‘Bass’ controls don’t seem to make much difference however you alter them, which can prove to be misleading and disappointing
7. Boss VE-8 Acoustic Singer
This pedal is perfect for the singer who wants ultimate control over their vocal, as well as the option to add harmonising voices.
There are lots of presets to choose from – all the way from double track vocals to robotic or radio voices, and this pedal also benefits from an enhance effect which improves the clarity of your voice.
Once again, there is the function to harmonise along with the key of your guitar, or you can set the pedal to a specific key.
There’s also a looper function on this one!
- Multi-track looping
- Includes a pitch corrector for a worry-free live performance
- Dedicated outputs for vocal and guitar tracks, letting you separate what happens to each channel, and even enabling a whole band’s worth of music in a track to be created by one musician in a live setting
- It’s not as simple to use as some of the other pedals, so it may take a bit of time to get the hang of using it
- There’s no option to delete the last loop, so if one loop doesn’t go to plan, you have to start over
- To stop the looper, you have to double tap, which can take some getting used to!
8. EarthQuaker Devices Pitch Bay Polyphonic Harmonizer
As it’s advertised as appropriate for “anything you can plug in,” it’s hard to say who this pedal was designed for: guitarists, keyboardists, singers… However, if we had to guess, we’d say guitarists. Largely due to the stomp-box style appearance!
That said, you can really have a blast through this pedal if you’re a vocalist. Sure, it’s nowhere near as hi-tech as some of the other ones, but if you are looking for a small, simple, pedal-board friendly harmoniser, look no further!
- Designed to suit a multitude of instruments
- Easy to use and to make adjustments
- Capable of some really unique, original sounds
- The retro look and sounds of this pedal might not be to everyone’s taste
- May be better suited to instruments like guitar and keyboard than vocals
- There aren’t presets: you have to control the sounds yourself!
So Which Should I Go For?
As you’ve seen, vocal harmonizers are great bits of kit, and they can suit all kinds of musicians. From solo artists who want to make their crowds go ‘wow’, to bands who are wanting to make their sound even fuller, this is a tool that can really take your act to the next level.
If you’re after something with many functions, you can go for a pedal which has reverb, delay and even a looper included. If you prefer to keep it simple, there are stomp-box style pedals, and pedals which contain pre-sets so you don’t have to think too hard.
For its exceedingly natural tone, the Boss VE-2 takes the cake. It’s one of the easiest to use in the market, and does exactly what you want it to be able to. It does lack some of the crazier effects of other pedals, but if that’s what you’re looking for then perhaps the Digitech or the Roland models will suit your needs better.
As we’ve seen, the Digitech VLFX, The Boss VE-8 and the TC Helicon Voicelive 3 all have a looping function. If you think you might require this, then the choice has to be between those three. You’ll only kick yourself afterwards if you end up buying two separate pedals which could have been combined into one!
Finally, if you’re a singer who plays guitar then the TC Helicon Harmony Singer takes some beating.
Now it’s over to you. Happy harmonizing 🙂
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.