There are tons of guitar pedals. Most of them can be grouped in categories. I’ve tried to describe most of them in the “guitar pedals explained” post series. However, there are 6 essential guitar pedals that any player should have. That is what this post is all about.

You may have seen similar posts here and there, but most of them include nearly all kind of guitar pedals. But we are talking about just the essential guitar pedals. Only a few, just like an starting point. Something to start building your collection of stompboxes.

I like the approach of Aaron Matthies of Guitar Gear Finder in this post, where he asks some of the top guitar bloggers about their essential guitar pedals.

This post (like most of them in this site) is about my personal opinion in this regard.

Why to start your collection of stompboxes from these essential guitar pedals? 

If you are a guitarist, you’re worried about your tone. It is vital to have what is called a great base tone, that is the basic sound generated by both your guitar and amp (and the cable you’re using). If you are a beginner, my advice is you better invest in a good guitar and a good amp. Then, you’ll be ready to add some more color to your sound by adding effects.

We all agree that  stompboxes are great. That is why you came to this website and are reading this post. If you are like me, you’d like to have ALL existing guitar pedals, or at least a few hundred…

But you have to pay for them, right? You have to be patient: your collection of guitar pedals is building up as you grow as a guitar player. Just like the toolset you may have, you’re always adding more tools to your collection.

In any case, there are a few essential guitar pedals that every guitarist should have on the pedalboard. If you are new to this, you should consider buying these pedals first, and then keep on with your collection.

In my opinion, the 6 essential guitar pedals are these:

  1. A good Tuner
  2. An Overdrive (or distortion if you prefer dirtier sounds)
  3. A Delay
  4. A Reverb
  5. Some type of Modulation
  6. A Compressor


TC Electronic Polytune family
TC Electronic Polytune family


You must always play in tune. Especially if you play gigs with your band, you need a tuner pedal at the beginning of the signal path to tune your guitar whenever possible. It comes handy there because you mute the sound when switching it on.

Also for practicing, I find a tuner pedal very useful when learning how to bend. It is mandatory that any bending you do stays tuned. It you go from A to B, it is going to be a pure B. If not, you’re not going to sound good.

Also when learning vibrato (the one in which you bend the base note), a tune pedal is great so every bend stays in tune.

My favorite the TC Electronic PolyTune 2, a true bypass tuner that has a very cool feature: it allows you to check all the strings at once. For sure you can check each of them at a time, just like any tuner will do. But, with PolyTune, you simply strum all strings on your guitar or bass at once and it will immediately tell you which strings need tuning! It really is as simple as strum – tune – rock! 


Ibanez Tubescreamer TS808 (left) and Earthquaker Devices Palisades (right)
Ibanez Tubescreamer TS808 (left) and Earthquaker Devices Palisades (right)


Any guitarist uses some distortion. From just a little overdrive up to the dirtiest fuzzes, there is plenty of options to find the tone you like.

I think that you should have, at least, an overdrive pedal (with the time, you’ll have a few of them). It adds a little distortion, just like overdriven tube amps do when cranked up. You can also use it to boost your sound for playing a solo, even with no distortion at all (depending on the pedal).

There are thousands of overdrive pedals, with different looks, different controls and different sounds. However, most of them are based on the same unit: the legendary Ibanez Tubescreamer (either the TS808 and TS9).

Tray as many overdrive pedals as you can. If you don’t know which one to chose first, buy a Tubescreamer TS9. It is just great!

If you want some versatility, the Earthquaker Palisades will give you hundreds of different tones. It’s also based in a Tubescreamer, but it allows you changing a couple of things. First, you can select among different input bandwidths, which will change the characteristics of the input filter and hence the tone. And second, the sound of the distortion can also be changed by selecting among different clipping diodes.


Eventide TimeFactor (left) and MXR Carbon Copy (right)
Eventide TimeFactor (left) and MXR Carbon Copy (right)


A delay pedal will add magic to your sound. You can use delay to do crazy things (think off The Edge from U2) or just use it slightly to add some texture to the decay of the sound.

This way, you can select between a powerful, versatile, delay workstation such as the great Eventide TimeFactor, one of the best delay pedals. On the other hand, a simple analog delay pedal such as the MXR Carbon Copy is a great starting point (and a pedal you’ll keep forever).


Eventide Space Reverb (left) and TC Electronic Hall of Fame (right)
Eventide Space Reverb (left) and TC Electronic Hall of Fame (right)


You may think that you don’t need a reverb pedal because you already have a built-in reverb in your amp. This reverb is, in most cases, a spring reverb. This kind of reverb is epic. It is where it all started. But it may be not optimum if using distortion.

In that case, a more natural type of reverb (like Room or Hall) will fit better with any sound you want and most music styles.

Just like delay pedals, you have, on the one hand, fully featured and powerful reverb workstations like the Eventide Space Reverb. On the other hand, my recommendation for your first reverb pedal is the TC Electronic Hall of Fame, probably the best reverb pedal for the value.


MXR vintage Dyna Comp
MXR vintage Dyna Comp


Some people may argue that a compressor pedal is not really essential (i.e. for beginners).

However, it can help you making you sound better. How? When playing rhythmic guitar or arpeggios, a compressor can give presence to notes that you would’t miss otherwise.

A compressor pedal won’t just increase the volume of the weak notes and reduce the volume of the louder ones, giving a more uniform sound a presence. It can also act as a booster if required.

A must-have compressor pedal is the MXR Dynacomp.


Boss CH-1 Super chorus (up-left), Strymon Mobius (up-mid), MXR Phase 90 (up-right), Eventide ModFactor (down-left) and Electro Harmonix Electric Mistress (down-right)
Boss CH-1 Super chorus (up-left), Strymon Mobius (up-mid), MXR Phase 90 (up-right), Eventide ModFactor (down-left) and Electro Harmonix Electric Mistress (down-right)


Modulation effects are probably the least essential guitar pedals of this list, but, due to their particular dynamics, they give movement to the tone of the guitar.

Most popular modulation pedals are chorus, flanger and phaser. You can check out each of them to see which of them you like the most, or invest in all-in-one modulation unit, such as the Strymon Mobius or the Eventide ModFactor.

For single-effect pedals, have a look to the Boss CH-1 Super Chorus, the Electro Harmonix Electric Mistress flanger (in any of its variations), and the MXR phase 90 phaser.

What is your opinion?

Of course, once you complete this essential guitar pedals collection, your GAS will have just started. From then on, you’ll be adding more pedals to your rig for ever (even a few more of the same kind of those presented here).

What is your opinion? Which are your essential guitar pedals? Drop a comment below and share the post if you liked it.