Review: Budget Guitar Effects Gear

While I realize there’s been a lot of discussion regarding effects pedals on this blog lately, I wanted to step through an overview of my current rig which largely consists of budget gear. Nearly every individual component goes for under $50, yet many provide at least comparable performance to much more expensive brands.

I receive a ton of pedals in this price range in exchange for reviews. That said, my usual approach is to order different brands and models of the same variety (Overdrive, Distortion, Delay, etc.) and the best of the bunch earns a spot on on either my Line-In or Effects Loop board.

The rest, ahem, are generously donated to my two grateful sons. 😉

I won’t be getting into detailed specifics of every component nor the controversial subject of pedal order here, since it would make this post a mile long. There was another article recently published regarding the latter subject a while back that’s still available for viewing, if interested:

Guitar Effects – Which Pedal Order Is Best?


Since I currently run so many pedals (15 in all), I use two boards: One for Line-In and the other for my Effects Loop. This simplifies wiring, tidies things up, and just as importantly keeps me from going insane while hunting for the pedal I want to select.

For those unfamiliar with the benefits of Effects Loops, some explanation is in order, which I’ll get into later in this post. Of course, all of that assumes your amplifier is equipped to accept one. If so, their send/return jacks will be obvious at the rear of the amp.


Power Supplies

In particular, I always find AZOR to be a company that has never failed to please, and that goes for their pedals as well as power supplies.

Each of my boards is powered by a model APA-01, and their performance is rock-solid. There’s 10 isolated outputs (eight 9V at various currents, and two extra 12V/18V for more power-hungry devices), all which provide both short circuit and over-current protection. If that happens to occur, only the power to the offending pedal is automatically disabled.


Line-In Board

Line-In Board

The first thing in the chain at top right is not an “effect” at all. It’s an EX pedal board “junction box”, which eliminates the wear and tear of repeatedly plugging/unplugging TS cables directly into various gear… An inexpensive, noiseless little piece of hardware..

This junction box has two separate patch circuits, which are cabled as follows:

Input 1 (top right):From Guitar via TS cable
Output 1 (front right):To Tuner input via patch cable
Input 2 (front left):From final pedal in the chain, (here, a Noise Gate) via patch cable
Output 2 (top left):To Amplifier Line-In via TS cable

My Line-In chain, ordered from junction box Input 1 to Output 2:

  1. Guitar (duh 🤪)
  2. Monoprice chromatic tuner
  3. Cry Baby wah
  4. Pigtone Fuzz
  5. Pigtone Compressor
  6. Pigtone Overdrive
  7. Horse Vox AC30 Amp Simulator (scoff if you’d like, but it’s actually pretty close!)
  8. CUVAVE Noise Gate
  9. Amplifier

There are a couple of $50 or less rule breakers here…

  • Standard Cry Baby

An entry-level wah, but still a great piece of gear at only around $90.

  • Marshall PEDL-91016 six-way footswitch

Specifically designed for my DSL40CR combo valve amp, it allows remote control of all front panel push-buttons. Like the amp panel buttons themselves these are momentary contact, and individual LED indicators provide a view what’s active at a glance:

1-2: Clean/Crunch (“Classic” gain channel)
3-4: Overdrive 1/2 (“Ultra” gain channel)
5: Master output volume control select (1/2)
6: Effects Loop bypass

It’s obviously not a necessity if you don’t mind accessing those buttons directly on the amp’s control panel. However, it surely comes in handy for live performances and I tend to be a lazy individual at times, even in the studio.

That convenience will cost ya though, to the tune of about $150.


Effects Loop Board

No matter your pedal order, sending the entire output of your chain directly into the amplifier’s Line-In jack can muddy up the waters since you’re connecting everything directly to its pre-amp. Different categories of pedals then often “fight” each other, negatively affecting the quality of your tone by adding undesirable coloring, signal attenuation, and other ugly artifacts.

On the other hand, a basic Effects Loop totally bypasses the pre-amp altogether and inserts a pedal chain directly into the main amp section. This results in much greater clarity of its effects, normally those which add modulation and time-based sound (for example, Chorus, Flanger, and Delay).

Example Line-In and Send/Return Effects Loop chains

My Effects Loop chain, ordered from send to return:

Effects Loop Board
  1. AZOR EQ with pre-amp
  2. EX Flanger
  3. AZOR Chorus
  4. AZOR Tremolo
  5. EX Ambience
  6. EX Delay
  7. AZOR Reverb
  8. Mooer Tone Capture

The last pedal is quite a unique device… You simply sample a “source” guitar, then do the same with up to seven other “target” guitars into the memory slots of your choosing. It’s a nearly magical transformation of the signal from your source guitar into any of the seven targets you’ve sampled, selectable via its foot switch.

While certainly not perfect emulation, it comes pretty damned close. It also isn’t a member of the $50 or less club, but considering the function it provides is still a steal at $99.

For further details, check out this article:

Review: MOOER Guitar Tone Capture GTR Pedal


Pedal Boards

Checking out the outrageous prices of most boards, you’d think the fucking things were made of gold, with some going for hundreds of dollars. I use two GOKKO GKB-53 boards that are certainly heavy-duty, and amazingly go for less than $60 each. They even include a carrying case, along with enough quality adhesive Velcro hook/loop material to cover the entire affair.

GOKKO GKB-53 Pedal Board Package

Miscellaneous Other Stuff

  • “Toppers”

You may have noticed the “toppers”, which I use on all my pedals. Installation consists of merely pushing them onto the foot switches, and it’s a non-permanent modification since they can easily be removed later. Although plastic, they’re rugged and I’ve yet to have one break.

These are manufactured by Mooer, and go for less than a buck each. I suggest using the clear model since if the pedal active LED is close enough, they actually illuminate. Most importantly, they make accessing foot switches a piece of cake, along with providing additional protection for other controls from being accidentally stepped on. They’re also much easier on the tootsies, especially if you happen to be in socks or bare feet.

  • Board power control

Since many power supplies don’t have a power switch (or if they do, it’s usually tiny), I buy 5.5mm barrel pigtail rocker switches which go for about $5 a pair and place them between the power supplies and their wall-warts (see upper left corner of both boards above).

It’s then a simple matter of cutting a small piece of adhesive Velcro loop material to fit their bottoms and socking them right up against the supplies. This provides easy access to power-on or shut down the entire board, in one fell swoop.

  • Mounting

Here’s a nit that nonetheless drives me crazy:
Where will most guitarists want to place effects pedals? Hey, how about on pedal boards!

Yet, for some thoughtless reason most manufacturers deliver them with rubber pad(s) or feet pre-installed, which must then be peeled off in order to apply your own adhesive Velcro hook material. In my opinion, both rubber and Velcro pads should always be included separately in the box, and that choice left up to the user.

AZOR and MIMIDI are the only companies I’ve run across that actually get it. They include those two mounting options with every pedal, perfectly cut and ready for installation.

AZOR and MIMIDI pads
  • Pedal bypass

Every single one of the pedals on my boards are “true bypass”. This can be thought of as a straight wire connected from the input to the output of a pedal when it’s disabled.

Here’s a little trick to test for this with any effects pedal: Simply disengage the foot switch, then disconnect power. The guitar signal should still pass through, exactly as if it were directly connected to your amp using a standard TS cable.

Personally, I would never purchase a “buffered bypass” pedal. This type of bypass is supposedly accomplished via internal circuitry, yet almost without fail they “leak” small amounts of distorted output when inactive. This is especially true if other pedals down the chain are enabled, further amplifying this garbage.


Availability

All of the products I’ve discussed are available on Amazon and other web sites, or directly from the manufacturer.

If pondering a purchase for either of the Marshall products, I’d suggest ordering those from Sweetwater, a company which provides the most excellent customer support on the planet for all types of music gear.


In summary, are all these products equal to their popular name-brand counterparts? Of course not, but considering my humble purposes and tight budget it’s not necessary for me to spend thousands of dollars on effects pedals when these can be picked up for a fraction of the cost.

Have any other budget-minded favorites? By all means, let everyone know by posting them in the comments below!

Please, keep it civil. Derogatory comments will be deleted, so don't even waste your time.

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