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While guitar pedals may not be completely necessary, they do add many options to a guitar player’s repertoire.
Many combo amplifiers come with several presets that cover the basic effects such as distortion, reverb, and delay, among others, depending on the amp. For example, my Boss Katana MkII 50watt combo amp features several effects setups on the amp and dozens of options using the Boss Tone Studio software, similar to other virtual plugins like the STL Tones AmpHub.
Despite these great tone options between combo amps, virtual plugins, and pedals, something always draws me towards physical guitar pedals. It is partially due to my tendency to collect musical instruments and gear, but I also think some unique tones can be uncovered using physical guitar pedals.
Of course, one of the most significant factors to not go out and buy every guitar pedal I see is that guitar pedals can be expensive.
However, that does not mean that every guitar pedal is expensive. In fact, many pedals on the market are incredibly budget-friendly. This leads us to the central focus of this article: Cheap vs. expensive guitar pedals. What is the difference, and which should you spend your hard-earned money on?
Expensive guitar pedals are often made of higher-quality material with greater attention to detail than cheaper ones. It is also likely that expensive pedals will have greater reliability than cheaper pedals. Many expensive boutique pedals will also offer features not typically found in cheaper pedals.
Below we will explain the differences between cheap and expensive guitar pedals, what factors contribute to a pedal being expensive or cheap, and which you should buy.
What Makes A Guitar Pedal Expensive?
A few factors contribute to the overall cost of guitar pedals. These include things such as the brand of the pedal, how the pedals are made, the overall complexity/amount of features of the pedal, and the current market availability of the pedals.
Below we will take a closer look at these factors, which will help you understand what makes a guitar pedal expensive.
Factor #1: Guitar Pedal Brand
Like guitars and basses, the pedal brand can make a massive difference in determining the overall cost of a pedal.
Brands that have been around for decades and have built up a solid reputation, such as Boss, MXR, and Electro-Harmonix, will often be more expensive than lesser-known brands, but not always. In fact, the guitar pedal world is a bit unique in the music realm, at least in my experience, as non-mainstream and eclectic pedals are often highly sought after, which isn’t always the case with other instruments and music accessories.
This also doesn’t necessarily mean all these well-known brands’ pedals will be extremely pricey.
For example, you can pick up a brand new BOSS SD-1 Super Overdrive for about USD 63 or an Electro-Harmonix Satisfaction Fuzz Pedal for around $73.
However, most of these pedals (and other well-known brands) will usually be over $100. These are under $100 partly because of their relative simplicity (more about this under reason number 3).
Lesser known brands can also be quite expensive due to manufacturing processes (more on this below). This is a bit different from guitars as many lesser-known brands tend to be cheaper, and many brands have a more affordable line, like Gibson’s Epiphone line and Fender’s Squire line. However, top-of-the-line Epiphones and Squires can still cost hundreds of dollars.
It needs to be stated here that many small guitar shops and companies produce fabulous guitars despite not having a well-recognized name, and the same is true with guitar pedals. The moral here is that you don’t always need to go chasing famous brand names to find a high-quality product.
Factor #2: Manufacturing Process
Again much like guitars and basses, how the products are being manufactured dramatically contributes to the overall cost of each pedal.
In the article, I linked above and the guitar article linked under the first reason, cheap and expensive guitars, and basses are often made of similar materials. This is also true for guitar pedals. Most of the components that guitar pedals are made of are not in themselves expensive, nor are they hard to come by.
Instead, what can make guitar pedals expensive is how they are assembled. This is the primary reason why many lesser-known companies will still have expensive guitar pedals like the bigger brands.
While many larger companies might assemble their pedals in a factory setting, smaller boutique pedal companies often build their pedals entirely by hand. This labor cost, attention to detail, and quality work are what will often drive the prices up for these types of pedals. You can think of this sort of like the custom shops that many of the big guitar brands will have, where every guitar is handmade.
Take, for example, a company like JAM Pedals. If you head to their website, you won’t find a pedal for less than $199, with most pedals ranging from $200 and above.
This raises the question of whether or not spending that much money on a single pedal is worth it when you can purchase a combo amp, software, or several cheaper pedals instead. You need to answer that for yourself, but in these situations, the most crucial question, at least in my opinion, is whether or not the product sounds good.
In the case of JAM Pedals, they sound fantastic. Check out the video below of the EUREKA! Fuzz pedal and all of their other pedal demos on their YouTube channel.
While I have never personally played a JAM Pedal, the YouTube demos have me convinced of their quality, and several of their pedals are on my wish list.
Circling back to other pedals that may not have every component handcrafted one at a time, this doesn’t mean that production quality will be lower. Take, for example, the popular guitar pedal company Electro-Harmonix. While they have a much larger operation than some small boutique pedal companies, they are very concerned with quality control and test every single pedal they manufacture.
The video below provides a fascinating look into the Electro-Harmonix factory and just how much care and attention to detail take place there.
Factor #3: Complexity Of The Pedal
Generally, the more complex a pedal, the more expensive you can expect it to be.
One of my most expensive pedals, the Electro-Harmonix Canyon Delay and Looper Pedal, currently retails for around $175 (although I bought it used and saved quite a bit of money). The Canyon is also my most complex pedal, which features ten different delay effects, over a minute of looping capability, and several other features that provide many possibilities.
Taking this a step further, in late 2018, Electro-Harmonix announced the creation of the Grand Canyon Delay and Looper Pedal, which, as you can probably discern from the name, is a step above the Canyon, both in size and complexity. With this also comes an increased price of almost $310.
However, just because a pedal is relatively simple doesn’t mean it will be cheap. Simple also doesn’t mean a pedal is any worse than a complex pedal; it just means it might not have as many features.
Take, for example, the MXR EVH Phase 90 Eddie Van Halen Phase Pedal. This pedal has an on/off switch, one button, and a speed knob to adjust for the desired sound. Yet, despite its simplicity, it is a highly sought-after and fantastic-sounding pedal that is currently listed for $130.
Taking complexity a step further, there is an entire line of multi-effect pedals that are very popular among many guitarists. These pedals, such as the Line 6 Helix Guitar Multi-Effects Floor Processor, which costs $1,699, feature dozens of sound options.
In the case of the Line 6 Helix Guitar Multi-Effects Floor Processor specifically, there are over 300 available settings, 12 footswitches where you can save your desired sounds, and many more features.
There are many cheaper options than the Line 6 Helix, with some like the Zoom G1X Four coming in at around $120, but the idea here is that the more money, the more features you will have, at least up to a point.
What is great about multi-effects pedals is that they do away with using numerous different pedals, as all of your effects are housed in one convenient pedal. This reduces the overall space and considerations like powering all of your pedals, and in the end, it would likely save you money.
Factor #4: Availability
Even with the rise of amazing software that can very precisely mimic traditional physical pedals, analog pedals are not going away anytime soon.
In fact, as with many other pieces of musical equipment, as pedals age, they tend to become even more sought after. Take the BOSS pedals that were made in Japan in the late 1970s and early 1980s. These early pedals have become highly desirable, not just by players but by collectors (or players/collectors), and as a result, the prices can be quite high.
As with any item, scarcity can drive up the prices. If you add in older and vintage models that have been well-maintained and are in good working order, the prices of select guitar pedals can become very high.
This might only apply to a select few guitar pedals and not the industry as a whole, but it is still a factor worth considering. Further, if supply chains are disrupted, or there is a shortage of certain parts and materials to make pedals, the low availability can always drive up prices.
Which Pedals Are Best For You? Cheap Or Expensive?
So, which is best for you? Cheap or expensive?
Like other musical instruments, gear, and accessories, the ultimate goal when considering buying a new pedal should be choosing something that helps spark your creativity.
While a new piece of gear won’t magically make you a better musician, it can certainly help to inspire you to create new music you might not have made otherwise. I cannot tell you how many times a new piece of gear or guitar pedal has inspired me to write new music.
Now that you have a better idea of what makes a guitar pedal expensive let’s consider whether an expensive one will be worth it for you.
Are Expensive Pedals Worth It?
You’ve read about the factors that can make guitar pedals expensive. Maybe you have been looking through an online music store like Sweetwater or a used-market site like Reverb. Perhaps you have been considering a unique boutique pedal or have been down to your local guitar center and had a good look at the display case as you decide what your next pedal should be.
The question thus becomes, are expensive pedals worth it? Should you be spending hundreds of dollars on a guitar pedal when there are many other things you could be buying with that money?
Again, this is only a question you can answer, but in case you don’t know where to begin, we have compiled a short list of pros and cons for expensive pedals that will hopefully help you make a better-informed decision on what you should be putting your money towards.
Expensive Pro #1: Quality Products With An Attention To Detail
As we discussed above, one of the major reasons that many guitar pedals are expensive is the quality of manufacturing practices. In other words, you get what you pay for.
Just as with guitars and basses, with some exceptions, you can expect a high-quality product, whether it was built by hand or as part of a larger assembly-style process. Quality control is an extremely important part of a company’s business strategy, so you can be assured that most companies are diligent about producing a quality product.
This holds true for both the bigger brands trying to compete for a small market and smaller boutique pedal companies trying to become recognized as a go-to source for guitar players.
Taking this a step further, if a particular product is expensive, the consumer expects it to have a certain level of reliability, attention to detail, and quality. If I pay $300 for a guitar pedal, I expect it to do everything it is purported to do immediately upon arrival.
On the other side, if I pay $30 for a pedal, I expect it to have some functionality issues and potential cosmetic issues.
Companies that are selling guitar pedals at high prices know this, and they know that if they want to retain their customers, they need to deliver on expectations.
With publicly available rating systems for companies and products, negative reviews can seriously hurt a company’s profit, especially smaller companies that often partially rely on word of mouth and reputation-based sales.
Of course, no matter how diligent a company is, there may be issues with an individual pedal from time to time. That is expected, and most companies will work to solve these issues, which might not be the case with cheaper pedals.
Expensive Pro #2: Unique Tones and Looks
This expensive pro is mostly with boutique pedals in mind. That is not to say that some of the larger and more common pedals don’t have awesome tones and cool designs; they certainly do. For example, my Electro-Harmonix Canyon pedal has allowed me to produce some of the most unique and coolest sounds I have ever heard from a guitar amp.
Boutique pedals often cater to a very specific and deliberate tone or sound. They are not necessarily concerned with producing a product that will appeal to the masses but instead developing something that they know will light a creative fire in a musician to help them create amazing music.
That is not to say that what many boutique pedal companies produce does not appeal to the masses; they do, as is often confirmed by many pedals quickly going out of stock once new batches are made.
The point I am trying to make here is that these unique pedals are often made because a particular tone is not yet produced on the market, and it needs producing. They are not made with the idea of making billions of dollars.
Another awesome feature of (often expensive) boutique pedals is the awesome designs and artwork. The design and artwork are often a very important part of the pedal, and this concept is often taken to a whole other level with boutique pedals.
In fact, I must admit that the artwork is often one of the main factors that draw me to new pedals. Of course, I will also listen to the pedals to make sure they produce a sound that I would actually be interested in incorporating into my music. Still, the aesthetic appeal is really important to me too.
Expensive Con #1: Limited Sound Options
As with expensive pro #2, this is mostly concerned with boutique pedals, but also with pedals like the MXR EVH Phase 90 pedal that is designed to only really do one specific thing. If we are considering multi-effects pedals, limited tonal options aren’t a concern.
I don’t really see this as being a huge con, but it is something worth considering. However, if a guitar player is looking for one specific tone or sound, they are likely well aware that a particular pedal they are buying may be limited in its functionality.
This lack of tonal options can also be mitigated by incorporating other pedals to develop different types of sounds and tones.
Expensive Con #2: Money Could Be Spent Elsewhere
I sometimes have difficulty spending a lot of money on one particular item, especially if it is something relatively small, like a guitar pedal, that I might only use in a few select situations. Whereas spending a lot of money on a drum set makes more sense to me as it is a more versatile investment.
That is not to say that I wouldn’t (and haven’t) spend a decent amount of money on a single guitar pedal, but it is something to keep in mind.
Taking $350 that a guitarist is considering spending on a single pedal could be used to buy several cheaper pedals that might allow for a much broader range of tone possibilities. While there might be a loss in the overall quality of a pedal, the multiple pedals would likely make up for this loss in the return of sound possibilities.
Are Cheap Pedals Worth It?
The word “cheap” often conjures up images of words such as “bad” or “terrible,” and while this can certainly be the case with guitar pedals, it doesn’t mean every cheap pedal is going to be bad. In fact, many cheap pedals are worth saving money.
Let’s find out what makes cheap pedals worth buying.
Cheap Pro #1: Many Cheap Brands Produce High Quality Products
As with guitars and basses, there are a lot of really awesome-sounding guitar pedals for incredibly cheap prices. Technology continues to improve, which means that quality-sounding guitar pedals can continue to be manufactured and sold at lower and lower costs.
The video below showcases an excellent pedal company, Big Top FX, with several small and compact guitar pedals that sound fantastic, all for under $100!
Cheap Pro #2: Tone Replication Of Expensive Pedals
Another great pro of cheap pedals is that you can often find very cheap versions of iconic-sounding pedals that usually do a good job of replicating sounds.
One such brand that has become very famous with this method is Behringer, and their replications of BOSS pedals (among others).
A side note, I have a set of Behringer drum mics, and they are fantastic. The sound quality is phenomenal, and they have held up very well since I purchased them.
Below is an excellent video comparison between Behringer pedals and their expensive counterparts they are designed to mimic.
Cheap Con #1: Reliability
The big con with cheap pedals is, of course, reliability and quality control issues. This doesn’t mean that every cheap pedal you purchase has a risk of being unreliable, but it will certainly be much more likely than if you were to spend the extra money and purchase an expensive pedal.
You will also run the risk of cheaper pedals not lasting as long as more expensive pedals, but this can often be mitigated by how well the pedals are taken care of over time.
There you have it! You should now have a better understanding of some of the differences between cheap and expensive pedals as well as what makes guitar pedals expensive.
I hope this article has helped you to make a more informed decision about whether or not you want to go with a cheap or expensive guitar pedal for your next purchase.
Until next time, stay creative and keep on playing!
Hi everyone! I have been involved with music most of my life, beginning in grade school with the trumpet. I am a largely self-taught multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass, and starting the piano and violin). I currently play drums in two bands and write and produce many genres of music in my home recording studio. I am also an avid guitar and drum collector.