If you’ve ever wanted to sound like 2 or 3 (or more) guitarists playing together, then you need a chorus pedal! The chorus pedal is one of those “secret weapon” pedals used by lots of guitarists to give an ordinary clean or distorted sound some extra life and a little “something special”.
Read on to find out more about what a chorus pedal does, what options you need (or don’t need), and some of our best chorus pedals, no matter what your chorus needs are!
What is a Chorus Pedal?
A chorus pedal attempts to replicate the sound of a large ensemble playing together.
Anytime you have a large number of violinists or vocalists (or guitarists) trying to play the exact same music, there are going to be slight discrepancies in the pitch and timing of individual notes. These imperfections in pitch and rhythm (when small) don’t detract from the musical line, instead, they make the part sound “fuller” and generally make it stand out more from the other parts.
The chorus pedal accomplishes this in the same way that choirs and large string sections do. The chorus pedal takes your incoming signal and splits it into two (or sometimes more) signals. One signal is passed through unaltered, while the other signal is given a very slight delay (20-50 milliseconds) and a very slight pitch alteration. The length of the delay time and the modulation of the pitch effect how subtle or obvious the chorus effect is.
As an effect, chorus pedals can be used to achieve two very different results. Chorus pedals can be overbearing and very obvious, with a sound similar to a Leslie cabinet (Nirvana’s Come As You Are) or more subtle (Daft Punk’s Get Lucky). No matter how you intend to use chorus, read on to find out the best pedal for your specific needs!
Chorus vs. Other Modulation Pedals
Chorus is a modulation effect. That means that it changes (or modulates) the guitar’s pitch, decay, or attack, but without distorting the sound itself.
The two most common modulation effects (after chorus) are phasers and flangers.
Phasers take the signal, split it, and put it into-and-out of phase with itself. When the signal is 180-degrees out of phase with itself, a notch is created. By using a low-frequency oscillator to change the point at which the notches occur, the “sweeping” effect is achieved.
Flangers take a bit from both the phaser and chorus pedals. They split and alter the signal like a chorus pedal does, but also feedback some of the delayed sounds back into the circuit, creating a very prominent and sometimes overwhelming effect.
What to look for in a Chorus Pedal
Whether you’re looking for a basic chorus to thicken up your guitar sound or you’re looking for something to tweak for weird and wacky effects, we’ve got you covered! Here are some of the most common features to look for no matter what!
Basic Chorus Pedal Features
- Analog vs. Digital – The eternal debate in guitar equipment. While there are people that argue passionately on both sides of this debate, in the end, your choice is your own. There are digital and analog units that sound great, so consider your needs, your budget, and your options before rejecting a chorus pedal due to its circuitry. In general, analog units do sound a bit “warmer”, but to some, this translates into a “muddy” character. In contrast, digital units tend to sound “brighter”, which some consider “shrill”. Make up your own mind.
- Chorus Rate – This knob adjusts the rate of the low-frequency oscillator to make the “beats” of the chorus pedal faster or slower.
- Chorus Depth – This knob (or switch) adjusts the amount of “out-of-tune”-ness of the chorus effect. Turned down, the effect will be very subtle and shimmery. Turned up, and it will sound like 2 (or more) noticeably out-of-tune guitars.
- Effect Mix – Pretty self-explanatory, although it’s worth noting that some chorus pedals don’t have this knob, and so the amount of the chorus effect is controlled with the rate and depth knobs.
Advanced Chorus Features
- Tone Controls – Although common to many chorus pedals, not all of them have tone controls, making it even more important that you try out the pedal with your specific rig if at all possible. Of the chorus pedals that do have tone controls, some have a single tone knob, and some of them separate controls for high and low frequencies.
- Multiple Chorus Voices – Generally chorus pedal circuitry mixes the original signal with one delay and pitch altered voice. However, some pedals feature 2, 3, or 4 voices that can make a “deep” chorus effect without sounding too warbly or obtrusive. Sometimes these different voices can be controlled separately, but most chorus pedals offer one a single “Rate” and “Depth” knob for all voices.
- Chorus “shape” – The LFOs in chorus pedals generally function as a soft triangle or a sine wave – that is, with a relatively smooth pitch and delay modulations. Some pedals allow you to adjust the LFO shape, in order to get a “harder” chorus sound. Additionally, some pedals featuring a “ramping” function, allowing the chorus effect to be brought in progressively (instead of either on or off).
- Additional Modulation effects – Since chorus is closely related to other modulation effects, some chorus pedals are 2 or 3 different effects in one. Common combinations are flanger, phaser, vibrato, and even pitch modulation. Depending on the specific pedal, the additional effects can be either very good (and a great way to save space on a crowded pedal board) or just passable.
- Mono vs. Stereo – Some chorus pedals allow a stereo output. This can be implemented differently on different pedals, but generally, the left and right channels share the same LFO rate and depth, with the delay modulated 180 degrees. This means that the left channel will be cycling down while the right channel cycles up (and vice-versa). This provides a very wide and rich stereo image, even with a subtle chorus effect. Some chorus pedals allow the different channels to be set at different rates, producing even more interesting effects.
True Bypass vs. Buffered Bypass
Many boutique pedals feature true bypass construction, but what does that mean? It’s worth taking a minute to explain the differences between a “standard” buffered bypass and true bypass.
True bypass means that the pedal’s on/off switch physically connects the input jack to the output jack. This should make the input signal and output signal essentially the same, but it does have one drawback. If you have long cable runs (or a lot of pedals) remember that each pedal and cable introduces a bit of resistance into the original signal. In this case, you may want a buffered bypass pedal to keep the signal clean and strong. Some true bypass pedals also have significant noise when turned on or off, due to the physical on/off switch. If you have a true-bypass reverb or delay, you also won’t get a natural decay of sound, since the effect will stop as soon as the circuit is disconnected.
Most standard pedals (like Boss) use a buffered bypass. While cheap pedals with poorly-designed buffers can degrade your tone, most buffered pedals have a negligible effect. Additionally, buffered pedals can help maintain signal level over long cable runs (or through true bypass pedals), and can have completely silent switching. For reverb and delay pedals, buffers also allow the reverb or delay “tails” to hold over after the pedal is switched off.
In the end, like most guitar effects, there is no one right answer. In fact, most guitarists use a mix of true bypass and buffered bypass pedals, depending on their specific needs.
Top 3 Chorus Pedals – Reviewed
While there are lots of options for good chorus pedals, here are our top three picks that will work for just about anyone!
A full-featured digital chorus pedal for just about any style of music.
Boss pedals are found on pedalboards of hundreds of gigging guitarists – for good reason! Boss pedals are well-built, sturdy, and reliable. They have a good sound and deliver very predictable results without breaking your wallet, and the CE-5 Stereo Chorus is no exception.
This digital stereo chorus features the standard controls – Rate, Depth, and Effect Level – and also adds a stacked high/low-frequency filter, in order to reduce shrill high or muddy low frequencies that get in the way. This pedal is also a stereo chorus, which means it has two outputs, in order to give your chorus a stereo spread (although you do need two amps!), but it also has a mono out. Like all Boss pedals, the CE-5 is not true bypass, but the buffered bypass is fairly quiet and doesn’t really color your sound. The CE-5 does drop the output signal a bit when engaged, but it’s not drastic or a deal breaker. The casing is – as with just about all Boss stompboxes – practically indestructible.
There aren’t really any downsides to the CE-5, but it also isn’t really a standout performer. It has a good chorus sound, but the TC Electronics Corona chorus (mentioned below) is more flexible (with the TonePrints feature) and is true bypass. There are also cheaper chorus pedals (although we don’t recommend them due to sound or build quality concerns), but the Boss CE-5 is a good starter chorus, and you can often find them used for a steal!
Features: Standard chorus controls (Rate, Depth, Effects Level) plus tone controls, stereo output, buffered bypass, powered by 9V or AC adapter.
Pros: Easy to use, very rugged construction, tone controls give a bit more flexibility.
Cons: No stand-out features, the output signal is a bit lower than the input signal.
An analog pedal with the versatility of a digital unit!
While old chorus pedals were generally analog inside, the prevalence (and cheap price) of silicon meant that most chorus pedals these days – whether from a major manufacturer or a boutique pedal maker – are digital units. It’s not always easy to find older analog pedals, and when you do, many of them are relatively expensive. That’s what makes the MXR M234 Analog Chorus such a great under-the-radar pedal.
This is an all-analog unit, which gives it a generally “warmer” and “smoother” sound than the average digital unit. Expanding its capabilities are the numerous knobs on the top of the pedal. You get the standard “Depth” and “Rate” controls to dial in your chorus sound, as well as an overall effects level knob to mix it in. In addition, you get two knobs to control the overall tone of the pedal. The two knobs control the low and high-frequency cut and can be used to get just the right amount of chorus. From a deep, low, throbbing to a high-speed shimmer, this pedal can do it all. These knobs also make it easier to use this pedal with a variety of guitars and amplifiers without having to worry about a muddy or shrill sound. The Analog Chorus also features MXR’s standard all-metal construction and feels like it will last through lots of gigs.
Like the Boss pedal, the MXR Analog Chorus does have a buffered bypass, but it exceptionally clean and doesn’t noticeably affect the tone when it’s off. Unlike the Boss, the MXR features no noticeable volume drop when it’s engaged, which makes getting levels even is a no-brainer. Unlike the Boss unit, the MXR is also a mono chorus – you can only send the output of this pedal to one amp (or other effects, of course). However, if you don’t need stereo output, this is probably a better overall pedal for a “basic” (in a good way) chorus pedal.
Features: Standard chorus controls (Rate, Depth, Effects level) plus tone controls to shape the sound, buffered bypass, powered by 9V battery or AC adapter.
Pros: A great price on an analog chorus. Lots of chorus sounds available, tone controls make it very flexible no matter your guitar, amp, or other equipment.
Cons: Mono output (if you need stereo)
A high-quality digital chorus with TC Electronics’ unique “TonePrint” functionality.
This pedal looks like a fairly standard digital chorus unit, but TC Electronics has added a few unique features to make it one of the most versatile chorus pedals in a very small package!
First, the basics. The Corona Chorus is a digital chorus pedal – albeit a very good sounding digital pedal. It’s not quite as warm or organic sounding as a great analog pedal, but non-guitarists (and even most guitarists) will struggle to hear a difference in a band mix. This chorus has the four most important controls for a chorus (Speed, Depth, FX Level, and a Tone control), along with a switch to select the pedal’s mode. The tone control is very useful, allowing you to fine tune the final chorus sound, but the real surprise in the controls was the huge range of chorus sounds that you can get out of this pedal. The FX level, knob, for example, seems to have a huge range – from barely noticeable to in-your-face. This can lead to some very unique sounds – like turning the Rate and Depth up to 3 or 4 o’clock (or even higher), but having the FX level barely present.
The Tri-chorus setting on the mode switch gives a very lush and wide stereo chorus sound whether plugged into one amp or (for maximum effect) two amps.
The real uniqueness of this pedal comes from the middle mode – the TonePrints functionality. TonePrints allow you to use sounds designed by some of your favorite guitarists (Brian May, John Petrucci, Scott Ian, among many others) to more precisely imitate their sounds. The TonePrints aren’t just knob settings – the TonePrint functionality lets these artists change some of the other “behind the scene” settings that aren’t readily available in knob form. At last count, there were over 80 TonePrint sounds for the Corona Chorus. If you’re looking to cop an artist’s sound, the TonePrint functionality makes this pedal almost indispensable, as well as increasing the versatility for every guitarist. TC Electronics also provides some TonePrint sounds, in order to show off the versatility of the pedal, so you can get some very original and unique chorus sounds without knob-twirling or hours of experimentation.
With all the functionality, though, this pedal can be a bit battery-hungry. If you use this pedal live, we can’t recommend enough that you use a power adapter (although it will work with a 9V battery).
Features: Standard chorus controls (Rate, Depth Effects level), plus tone controls. 3 modes (Chorus, TonePrint, Tri-chorus), true bypass, runs on AC adapter or battery.
Pros: Maximum versatility in a stomp-box-sized package. The two standard chorus modes are very flexible, and the TonePrint feature adds, even more, flexibility.
Cons: Can run through batteries very quickly – invest in an AC adapter, unless you want to carry a pocketful of batteries and change them out during a gig!
If you’re looking for something to give your sound a bit more depth, you should give a chorus pedal a try!
As always, we’ve got more in-depth reviews of all different kinds of chorus pedals for all different types of music – check them out!
Lawrence is our mysterious chief in house writer. Is he a famous novelist? Is he a famous journalist? We don’t know. All we know is that he is Lawrence.