These are the top 10 pedals and effects of 2023 according to the Guitar.com team
From bucket-brigade analogue delays to innovative digital reverbs, we explore this year’s pedal highlights.
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Fans of effects pedals have certainly been well-catered to across 2023 – the pedal phenomenon has shown no signs of slowing down, with plenty of great releases from brands big and small. And makers are continuing to chart new territory – there’s both innovative takes on classic circuits and entirely new sonic algorithms to be had, so whether you like to hear the soft knee of a germanium clipping diode or need your effects to have more CPU power than all of Amazon’s datacentres put together, there’s a pedal for you.
We reviewed a lot of pedals this year, most of them great – and we definitely saw that innovation in both the digital and analogue universes, and, in some cases, both of those at the same time.
But out of all of those releases, what pedals stood out? In no particular order, here are our ten favourite effects units from 2023.
The 10 best pedals and effects of 2023, at a glance:
- Boss DM-101
- Fender Tone Master Pro
- 1981 Inventions LVL
- Strymon Cloudburst
- Walrus Audio Slöer
- Warm Audio Centavo
- Crazy Tube Circuits Unobtanium
- ThorpyFX ER-2
- EHX Hell Melter
- Universal Audio Del-Verb
It’s been a good while since we’ve had a properly new addition to Boss’ formidable delay lineup – but it was definitely worth the wait. The DM-101 is maybe the ultimate analogue delay, with powerful digitally-driven control over eight bucket-brigade chips and 12 total delay modes. It’s a pricey pedal, sure – but for lovers of the analogue delay sound, there’s not really anything that can compete with the DM-101’s comprehensive controls, and the breadth and quality of its sounds.
Today’s best deals on the Boss DM-101
Fender Tone Master Pro
Fender confidently entered into the premium floorboard multi-effects world this year with the Tone Master Pro, a digital modeller in the vein of the Neural DSP Quad Cortex and Line 6 Helix. And it stuck the landing: those Tone Master modelling algorithms were already proven to sound great in their dedicated combo amps, but here they get to stretch their legs beyond that scope thanks to some truly powerful and versatile hardware. The Tone Master also stands as a seriously giggable piece of kit thanks to its user-friendly interface, and it’s super flexible I/O.
Today’s best deals on the Fender Tone Master Pro
1981 Inventions LVL
1981 Inventions have made perhaps one of the coolest boost pedals ever with the LVL, and not just because of its sleek, minimalist look. While it has plenty of pure clean boost on tap, the LVL knob brings in some light clipping to add in just a touch of drive – the overall sound is characterful, bright and overall excellent fun to play, whether you’re using to to juice another overdrive pedal up or just get your amp to sing like it’s never sung before.
As with all Strymon pedals named after what you’d see lying on your back in a field, this is an expansive, beautiful reverb with a focus on abstract, ambient sounds. The added twist, aside from its comparatively compact design, comes in the form of the Ensemble mode, a new take on the shimmer sound that fully leans into the string-section-like accompaniment that pitch-shifted ‘verb can offer. In short, it’s the perfect entryway to Strymon if you’ve ever found its big box units intimidating, and for everyone else, it’s a huge amount of glittering ambient reverb poured into a very pedalboard-friendly case.
Today’s best deals on the Strymon Cloudburst
Walrus Audio Slöer
Walrus Audio’s Slö became a pretty instant classic upon its release four years ago – it was packed with gorgeous, spacey algorithms perfect for ambient, post rock or whatever other spaced-out guitar noodling you might need to undertake. The Slöer, as the name implies, is Slöer than the Slö, with more algorithms, stereo connectivity and the new stretch control, which lets you smear the reverb’s sample rate for a darker, artefact-laden sound.
Today’s best deals on the Walrus Audio Slöer
Warm Audio Centavo
Oh hey, it’s that circuit everyone’s always talking about! Yes, Warm Audio took its top-to-bottom recreation approach to the Klon this year, and the resulting Centavo will be an intriguing prospect for even the most mildly Klon-curious player. At just under £200, it’s about 1/20th the price of the “real deal” – and it, of course, absolutely looks the part.
The sounds are excellent, on par with the best of the Klone market, and there’s the nice little bonus alternative mode via a switch on the back of the pedal. If you want to explore the lush, transparent drive sounds that made the original a classic without selling most of your organs on the black market, you do have plenty of options – but perhaps none so visually true to the original as the Centavo.
Today’s best deals on the Warm Audio Centavo
Crazy Tube Circuits Unobtanium
If you’re going to have one incredibly hyped-up circuit in a box, why not have two? Or even three? Well, you’d have to be crazy to think like that. Crazy Tube Circuits, that is! CTC’s Unobtanium offers a Klon-style transparent overdrive and a Dumble amp-in-a-box, of either Overdrive Special or Steel String Singer flavour. The result is a seriously versatile drive unit that captures the ever-elusive ‘mojo’ of these guitar sounds – dynamic, sweet and expressive.
Today’s best deals on the Crazy Tube Circuits Unobtanium
The ER-2 is one of the coolest modern Uni-Vibe-inspired pedals we’ve ever tried. It’s an absolute blast to play in both regular and vibrato modes, with chewy, characterful modulation that immediately demonstrates why this is such a sought-after sound. There are four controls here rather than the usual two, meaning extra tweakability – and a footswitch toggles between vibrato and chorus modes, making it extra flexible in a live setting. And this being Thorpy, you could probably drop the ER-2 out of the high-altitude NASA research aircraft it gets its name from and it’d be fine.
Electro-Harmonix Hell Melter
The EHX Hell Melter is an excellent entry into the “utility HM-2” style of pedal – that is, a take on Boss’ grinding death-metal classic but with a few extra bells and whistles to make it a little safer to use in a band mix. EHX made the addition of an extra clipping mode, a parametric midrange control, a noise gate and a clean blend, all of which make the Hell Melter a blast to play – and one of the best ways to get a ready-made chainsaw sound out of basically any amp.
Today’s best deals on the EHX Hell Melter
Universal Audio Del-Verb
The Del Verb is great not for specifically what it offers – a selection of sounds from both UAFX’s Golden Reverberator and Starlight Echo Station, which we already knew were great – but for how it combined the best of those two pedals into a slightly more affordable single unit, offering everything from vintagey springs to big plate reverb, and chewy tape echo to perfect digital delay. A sort of UAFX greatest hits, if you will, that could save you buying $800 worth of pedals for your time-based needs.