4 Essential Modulation Pedals for Metal Guitarists

Modulation effects like phase shifters and flangers don't get much love from the modern metal community. But a case can be made that many of these effects — chorus and pitch shifters like the Digitech Whammy, especially — remain both unsung heroes and well–kept secrets within the world of metal guitar.

Today, we're taking a look at some of the most common modulation effects found in metal. We'll explore how they've stood the test of time, and how they fit into the metal guitar playing landscape.

Chorus: Boss CE–2w

Chorus is a much–maligned effect among many tone purists. That fact could be attributed to growing tired of popular 1980s production techniques (think of the “watery” glaze over your favorite yacht rock tune) or for lack of practicality for many different subgenres of heavy music.

However, chorus is arguably the effect used most outside of distortion.

Early classics, such as Metallica's “One” or Dream Theater's “Pull Me Under,” feature usage of chorus prominently on recorded and live versions alike. A closer look at the Metallica’s “One” music video reveals numerous Roland JC–120 amplifiers — renowned for their chorus effect — stacked on top of their speaker cabinets.

Modern day heroes like Zakk Wylde and Children of Bodom have served as torch–bearers for what the effect can sound like on top of a high–gain stack. They swear by models like the Boss CH–1, CE–5, and MXR Stereo Chorus — the latter of which Laiho uses as an “always on” pedal to achieve his signature tone.

Boss CE-2W Chorus Waza Craft Special Edition | Reverb Demo Video

For those looking to emulate both lush clean sounds and smooth, soaring overdriven lead tones without shelling out hundreds of dollars for a Boss CE–1 or Roland Jazz Chorus, the Boss Waza Craft CE–2w comes close.

With the ability to switch on–the–fly between a faithful reproduction of the CE–1 (which was based upon the Jazz Chorus' modulation circuit) and its direct descendant, the industry standard Boss CE–2, the Waza Craft offers something for all chorus–seeking guitarists.

Runners Up: Boss CH–1, MXR Stereo Chorus, Mooer Ensemble King

Pitch Shifting: Digitech Whammy V

What practical use does a pitch shifter have for the modern metal guitarist? Many.

Perhaps the most famous pitch–shifting pedal, the Digitech Whammy, was introduced in 1989 and immediately found an audience among experimental guitarists within the hard rock and metal realm. These included Pantera's Dimebag Darrell, who took the Whammy's foot–controlled octave–shifting features to brutal extremes on tracks such as “Becoming” and while performing countless live solos.

Guitarists such as Buckethead, too, were quick to embrace the pedal. “Jordan,” an obvious and virtuosic display of pitch shifting mastery, gained popularity in the mid–2000s thanks, in large part, to its appearance in “Guitar Hero II.”

And no list of Whammy users would be complete without Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave's Tom Morello, who has employed the effect for uses ranging from octave pitch–shifting to adding body to single–note guitar riffs.

Shredding on the Digitech Whammy with Dan Palmer of Zebrahead | Reverb Tricks

Beyond the Whammy, “smart” pitch shifters like the Boss PS–6 or Eventide Pitchfactor up the ante by giving guitarists the ability to harmonize with themselves in any key and across multiple scales.

Runners Up: Boss PS-6, Eventide Pitchfactor

Phaser: MXR Phase 95

The phaser was no longer a novel effect within the guitar community during the 1970s, but from the opening moments of Van Halen's eponymous debut album in 1978, Eddie Van Halen undoubtedly changed the way guitarists perceived the effect's possibilities. Tracks such as “Eruption” and “Ain't Talkin' About Love” displayed the effect's swirling and oftentimes overpowering sound.

But being such an overpowering effect when coupled with overdrive, the phaser (along with the flanger) may not necessarily appear on pedalboards of guitarists chasing after Van Halen's signature “brown” sound. Notable exceptions, from Yob to Deafheaven, fall within the realm of post–metal, shoegaze, and doom.

Prog metal kingpin Mikael Akerfeldt of Opeth, too, is known to be a proponent of the phaser, citing the Electro–Harmonix Small Stone Nano as one of his favorite pedals in interviews.

MXR M290 Phase 95 Mini Phaser Pedal | Reverb Demo Video

While the gear community has remained divided over the tonal quality of reissues like the “block” logo Phase 90 and others, MXR met critical acclaim with the release of the Phase 95 — a thumb–sized, highly versatile phaser that allows guitarists to access both block– and script–style Phase 90 tones. Not to mention its Phase 45 mode, which internally dials back two phase stages, allowing guitarists to achieve tones similar to that of a uni–vibe.

Runners Up: DOD Phasor 201, EHX Small Stone Nano

Wah: Dunlop Crybaby

The sound of a cocked wah–wah pedal is unmistakable, with some of rock and metal's most influential guitarists — from Hendrix and the Scorpions' Uli John Roth to Slash and Satriani — putting the pedal to work extensively on stage and in the studio as a supplementary tool behind their most iconic solos.

Others, such as Pantera's Dimebag Darrell, expanded upon the possibilities of the wah pedal during the early– to mid–1990s, giving his characteristically aggressive rhythm playing added dissonance with wah sweeps on tracks like “Throes of Rejection” from 1994's Vulgar Display of Power.

The pedal remains popular with a cross section of technique–focused hard rock and metal guitarists like Joe Satriani whose Surfing with the Alien is covered in subtle to not–so–subtle wah usage, and Steve Vai whose “Bad Horsie” would ultimately lead to the creation and mass–production of his own signature stompbox.

Dunlop Cry Baby GCB-95 | Reverb Demo Video

For those looking to channel the tone of their favorite guitarist, many manufacturers have released signature pedals to the specs of the wah–wah pedal's most visible users, ranging from Dunlop's Dimebag Darrell–inspired Crybaby From Hell and Kirk Hammett Signature Wah to Morley's Bad Horsie wah pedals.

Runners Up: Morley VAI–2 Steve Vai Bad Horsie 2 Contour Wah

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