If you’re needing some extra depth for a rhythm guitar part, a way to take your guitar solo to the next level, or you want something different than the normal chorus or tremolo modulation effects? You may be looking for a phaser pedal!
Phaser pedals give your guitar (or other instrument) a swooshy sound that can’t be imitated by anything else, and were one of the first popular modulation effects pedals. These effects pedals have been used by Eddie Van Halen, Johnny Greenwood, Daft Punk, Brian May, and many others.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about phaser pedals and find the perfect one for you!
What is a Phaser Pedal?
A phaser is a type of modulation pedal, but unlike chorus pedals, a phaser isn’t an attempt to duplicate a real-world situation, it is designed to produce a new type of sound.
Phasers take an incoming guitar signal and split it in two. One of these splits is passed through the stages in a phaser’s circuitry, which shifts the sound out of phase with the original. This out-of-phase shift created a “notch” in the sound where the frequencies cancel out, and between those notches are strong peaks where the sound is 100% in phase. The number of stages in the circuitry of the phaser, the more notches and peaks in the final sound. To provide the sweeping portion of the phaser effect, a low-frequency oscillator (LFO) is generally employed which shifts the frequencies of the notches and peaks at a certain rate.
Phaser vs. Other Modulation Pedals
There are three main types of modulation effects pedals for guitar – phaser, chorus, and flangers. These effects are called modulation effects since the guitar’s natural sound is being changed (or modulated) by an outside source (the LFO, which gives all these effects a throbbing or sweeping quality). Here are the main differences between the three primary modulation effects:
Chorus pedals split the guitar’s signal, and then apply some slight pitch and delay effects to “widen” the sound of the instrument. This also has the effect of sounding like multiple guitars playing almost-but-not-quite together, giving the pedal its name.
Flanger pedals are like the combination of a phaser and a chorus and are generally a very heavy (some would say oppressive) effect. Designed to imitate the sound of two reel-to-reel tape machines sliding in and out of sync, they combine the “peaks” and “notches” of phasers (although with more peaks and notches) as well as a shorter delay than chorus pedals (1-5 ms).
Phaser pedals, as previously stated, only add the notches and peaks, without a delay at all. Phasers also have the peaks and notches more evenly spaced that flangers, which contributes to their more flexible sound.
What to look for in a Phaser Pedal
Whether you want to add either a subtle swoosh or a heavy swirl, a phaser pedal can help you find just the right sound. Here are some of the more common and more advanced features to look for when you’re searching for the perfect phaser!
Basic Phaser Pedal Features
- Analog vs. Digital – Probably the most common debate in all sorts of guitar equipment. While analog pedals are often sought out because of their sound, there are some advantages to digital phaser pedals. First, while analog phasers do sound “warmer” in general, there are lots of high-quality digital phaser pedals that sound every bit as good as analog pedals available. Also, if you’re looking for a phaser pedal that you can tweak and adjust, digital pedals usually offer lots more tweakability than analog pedals.
- Speed Knob – Some phaser pedals – even some of the most popular – only have a single knob, and that knob is invariably a Speed or Rate control. This knob controls the speed of the phaser’s sweep – turn to the right for faster and turn to the left for slower.
- Wet/Mix Controls – This control changes the mix of the phased and unphased sound. While this is a common knob on lots of modulation effects, some of the most popular phaser pedals don’t have this control, and the mix is preset in the pedal’s circuitry.
- Depth Knob – This adjusts how far the phaser varies from its center frequency. A narrower frequency makes for a more subtle, warmer, sound, while a wide range can be more metallic and “modern” sounding.
- Tone/EQ Controls – Used to adjust the tone of the phaser sound. Not too common.
- Volume/Gain Knob – Some pedals allow for an adjustable boost function when the pedal is engaged, to make up for the common drop in volume when the phaser is on. The amount (and transparency) of the boost depends upon the specific pedal.
Advanced Phaser Pedal Features
- Stage Controls – Each stage of a phaser is an all-pass filter which slightly alters the incoming sound. More stages mean a more intense and swooshy sound. Most phaser pedals have 4 stages, but there are pedals with 2-12 stages are not uncommon. Some more tweakable pedals allow to you adjust the number of stages on-the-fly with a knob or switch.
- Tempo/Speed Settings – While all phaser pedals have a knob to control the speed, some take it even further, with tap-tempo controls (or precise BPM selection) to more precisely match the speed of the phaser pedal to a song or rhythmic pattern. Some pedals also feature Ramp controls, which causes the phaser pedal to speed up and slow down at different speeds, or control the LFO speed by playing the strings at different volumes. Unless you want your phaser sound to be very slow (or very fast) this is a very useful function to have.
- Feedback Controls -This knob (sometimes also label Resonance) lets you send some of the effected sounds back through the filter stage(s) (depending upon the specific pedal). Turning this control way up can give even an ordinary phaser a unique and unusual sound.
- Waveform Controls – Generally phasers use a smooth sine-like waveform, so the sweep is a continuous and steady up-and-down motion. Some phaser models, however, allow you to control the waveform more precisely for a different sound. A square wave phaser sounds very abrupt, while triangle, step, and sawtooth waveforms are also possible. While this setting is not found on most pedals, if you want a unique or different phaser sound, this is a very useful control to have.
- Additional Modulation Sounds – Since phaser pedals are closely related to other modulation effects, some pedals will incorporate multiple modulation effects into a single pedal. Common combinations include a tremolo, chorus, flangers, and other modulation effects. The quality of the additional effects can vary depending on the specific pedal, but for boutique pedals, generally the quality is quite good.
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.
Phaser Pedal Buyers Guide
While there are lots of great phaser pedals on the market, here are our top three choices for most people.
If you don’t see exactly what you’re looking for, or you have more specific modulation needs, you can see our more in-depth phaser reviews.
A Van Halen take on the classic MXR Phase 90 gives you simple controls and lots of versatility.
Introduced in 1974, the MXR Phase 90 has been one of the most widely-used phaser pedals of all time.
There are two current versions of the MXR Phase 90 – the 1974 Vintage Phase 90 script-logo reissue, and the standard MXR Phase 90 with a block logo. These two pedals are similar in appearance (except for the logo), but they feature different internal circuitry.
The current standard Phase 90 – the block logo model – features a modern, more in-your-face sound with a slight midrange hump to cut through a mix. On the other hand, the script logo version is more mellow and sounds slightly more organic and pairs better with overdrive and distortion (at least, to most people).
The EVH90 Phase 90 gives you the best of both pedals, combined with modern convenience features and the simple controls that make the Phase 90 so easy to use! In addition to the big black knob, the EVH90 features a small button in the top left-hand corner of the pedal, to switch between the modern and vintage phaser sounds.
With the rate knob turned down, this pedal makes an excellent addition to a slow, rhythmic guitar part. A 12 o’clock setting is a decent imitation of a Leslie rotating speaker, and 3 o’clock or higher gives a warbly swoosh suitable for melodies. Of course, the script/modern switch can further tweak the sound, without overwhelming you with switches and knobs.
Unlike the vintage reissue of the MXR Phase 90, the EVH90 also includes a LED to indicate on/off status and the option to power this pedal by A/C adapter as well as 9V battery. If you want the classic MXR Phase 90 sound, or if you’re looking for a versatile pedal that’s still quick and easy to dial in, the MXR EVH90 Phase 90 is a pedal that deserves consideration.
Features: Features circuitry for both vintage and modern MXR Phase 90 sounds, buffered bypass, A/C or 9V powered
Pros: Easy to dial in, and quite flexible. The LED indicator and A/C connection are very useful to have.
Cons: If you like to obsess over every single aspect of your phaser sound, then the single knob may feel confining.
Four knobs and some interesting settings make this a phaser pedal that can go from mild to wild!
Boss is a well-known maker of all kinds of pedals, and their pedals have been used by beginners and touring legends for decades, so it’s no wonder that we’ve got a highly-recommended Boss phaser pedal on this list! The Boss PH-3 is just as well-built and rugged as all of Boss’s pedals, and that construction helps keep these pedals in good working order no matter how much abuse they take!
This is pedal is a great phaser pedal for a beginner that may want to start getting into some of the more “out-there” modulation effects, since its 4-knob control setup is both easy to tweak and provides a wide variety of tonal options.
This pedal features the standard “Rate” control to change the phaser’s speed, as well as “Depth” and “Resonance” knob to tweak the actual phaser sound, but the most interesting control on this pedal is probably the “Stage” knob. With this control, you can switch between a different number of phaser stages (4-8-10-12) which drastically alters the phaser’s sound and intensity. The fewer the stages, the more mild and subtle the effect can be, while more stages mean much more “swoosh” in the sound. Additionally, this knob also features a “RISE” and “FALL” setting, while cause the phaser sound to move in one direction instead of a cyclical rising and falling sound. The “STEP” setting provides a unique stepped effect, as opposed to the smoother, sine wave that phasers usually use.
Additionally, this pedal features a tap tempo functionality which is very useful, although since this pedal only has a single footswitch, it’s not quite as easy to use as pedals with a dedicated tap tempo button. There is also a connection for an expression pedal, which would allow you to more smoothly alter the pedals speed. You can’t use the expression pedal to change other parameters, however.
Feature: Rate, Depth, and Resonance controls, as well as several different phaser modes that cover a lot of tonal ground, tap tempo control, expression pedal input, buffered bypass, and A/C or 9V battery powered.
Pros: Easy to dial in a basic phaser sound, but enough controls to get a lot of different tones for a variety of genres. Tap tempo and expression control are very useful additions.
Cons: Using the tap tempo switch live is awkward, it would be nice if the expression pedal could control other parameters.
Six knobs, twenty switches, and two footswitches make this phaser a dream for any tone seeker or pedal tweaker!
Chase Bliss Audio makes boutique analog pedals with digital control. This hybrid approach gives these pedals the warm, responsive tone that analog pedal-heads love, while also giving vast amounts of control over almost every single parameter to the player. Truly the best of both worlds, if you desire ultimate control!
For the Wombtone Mk.II, that control comes in the form of lots of knobs and switches on the top and front of the pedal. The knobs consist of Rate, Mix, Volume (all self-explanatory), as well as a special Feed(Ramp) knob, and two knobs to control the waveform. The switches allow additional tweaking, with 4 switches on the top of the pedal (with the knobs) and 16 small dip switches along the front of the pedal. While the controls on the top of the pedal are extensive, the dip switches give this small stomp box lots of tonal possibilities. These switches control the specific functions controlled by the Feed(Ramp) knob, how the ramping effect works for each parameter, and almost anything else that you can think of (or need) on a phaser pedal!
Not to be outdone, the switches on the front of the pedal are also incredibly useful for tonal variations, allowing you to change the number of phaser stages (2-4-6), change the MIDI subdivision, adjust the waveform shape of the front and back of the wave separately, and access the two presets that are stored in the device’s memory. There are also two inputs (besides the normal IN and OUT jacks), you can connect an expression pedal to control lots of (selectable) functions in real-time and there’s also a jack for MIDI control or a tap tempo switch. There is also a dedicated tap tempo footswitch on the pedal itself, though.
It likely goes without saying that this pedal, while it can be simple to use if you only touch the Rate, Mix, and Volume knobs, has lots of depth to it. Not only can you get just about all the standard and weird phaser effects that you could possibly want, careful setting of the dip switches and using an expression pedal can allow you to get some good Univibe, tremolo, filter, Leslie tones separate from, or in addition to, phaser sounds. This is good, since the Chase Bliss Wombtone Mk.II is not a cheap phaser – but if you want the best in tone and flexibility, it’s hard to top it!
Features: 6 knobs and 20 switches for tweaking the Wombtone’s sound and controls, true bypass
Pros: Unparalleled tonal flexibility and control options. Can imitate or duplicate some other modulation pedals. Great sound.
Cons: Expensive. To take advantage of this pedal, you’ll have to spend a few hours just going over the (many) controls and switches.
If you’re looking for a pedal to add some swoosh to a rhythm or lead riff, a phaser pedal may be just what you’re looking for!
If none of the three we’ve already mentioned fit your needs, we have in-depth reviews of lots of different other phasers – check them out and find your perfect phaser!
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