Best Pedals for Organ Tones

I'm not sure who the first guitarist to consciously mimic an organ player was, but the first players I heard doing this were jazz geniuses John Scofield and Charlie Hunter. These two dudes can do some outrageous things on guitar, including the simulation of a variety of other instruments, particularly horns and organs. They accomplish this by studiously imitating the overall feel of the instrument's attack, while also carefully choosing notes and progressions typical of these instruments. They also cleverly employ a range of effects to simulate the instrument's timbral qualities. In the past, the main effects guitarists used when attempting a convincing organ impression would invariably be a chorus pedal or Leslie rotating speaker simulator of some kind, and while these pedals are great for getting the necessary warble-and-whoosh, recent advances in pitch-shifting technology have given the modern guitarist an even more powerful group of tools for the job. Digital pitch-shifting effects have become invaluable for conjuring up organ tones on guitar, mainly because they are polyphonic and tend to track quite accurately, allowing the guitarist to play full chords with octave-up and octave-down tones dialed in. This was impossible with the glitchy analog octave pedals of yesteryear. In addition, several manufacturers have begun marketing pedals designed for the sole purpose of organ mimicry. In this article, I'll round up a few of the better options for guitarists interested in adding some soulful organ sounds to their setup.

Electro-Harmonix B9

The recently released B9 from Electro-Harmonix is just the thing for that one-man Booker T & the M.G.'s tribute band you've always dreamed of starting! Seriously though, EHX nailed it with this pedal. It's the most complete and convincing organ pedal yet, with excellent tracking and shockingly realistic Hammond tones, even reproducing the signature clicking "Harmonic Percussion" attack of the Hammond B3. With nine vintage organ presets, a full range of blend controls, built-in modulation, and a totally reasonable price tag, the B9 is tops in the organ pedal game.

EarthQuaker Devices Organizer

Earthquaker's Organizer was, perhaps, the first pedal manufactured for the express purpose of organ simulation, and its overall sound is based on the Baldwin-esque tones of the legendarily weird Guitorgan, a guitar-organ hybrid instrument invented by Bob Murrell in the 1960s. The Organizer tracks very well anywhere on the neck, with any pickup configuration, and provides a full range of controls for whipping up a cornucopia of octave and organ tones. The Organizer's Choir and Lag controls add width and depth, and are the secret to its huge, haunting church organ sounds.

Roland GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer

Guitar synthesizers, particularly those made by Roland, have been around since the 1970's, and despite holding a lot of promise for fans of non-guitar guitar sounds, they have often been plagued by poor tracking and response. Roland's latest, the GR-55, changes all that, with excellent responsiveness and upwards of 35 dedicated organ presets (in addition to a gazillion other non-organ presets). While the GR-55's huge range of organ tones are superb, and the tracking much improved, some of the usual guitar synth drawbacks remain, namely that it requires installing a Roland synth pickup, and that the whole rig is a hefty investment.

Electro-Harmonix Epitome

The Epitome is a multi-effect pedal that conveniently packages the tones from EHX's POG octave pedal, Electric Mistress flanger, and Holy Grail reverb into one compact, easy-to-use box. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), this effect combo is ideal for creating faux-organ tones; crank the octave knobs to noon, dial up some Leslie-style warble with the Electric Mistress section, throw some Holy Grail ambience into the mix, and get to church!

Electro-Harmonix POG2

You might've noticed EHX seems to be dominating the organ tone market. Whether that is the intent or not I cannot say, but it’s released more than a few pedals in recent years that do the job nicely. The POG2 has the full spectrum of slider controls for precise blending of octave voices, a low-pass filter, and an attack control for those organ-style volume swells. Combine it with a swirly modulation pedal for some truly fat, lush fake organ tones.

Boss PS-6 Harmonist

The Boss PS-6 Harmonist is, among other things, a fine and relatively inexpensive way to add some organ-ness to a guitar rig, particularly if the rig in question already has a volume pedal and some Leslie-like modulation options to pair it with. Solid tracking, stereo output, expression pedal control, Boss indestructibility, and loads of other cool features make the Harmonist a winner.

The main thing for the aspiring guitorganist to keep in mind is that, to effectively mimic an actual organist on guitar, the playing technique and note choices are more important than the effects, but if the technique is tight, then the right effects can make the impression all that much more convincing. Basically, any polyphonic octave pedal that tracks relatively well, combined with some swirly modulation and a volume pedal for swells, can result in some fake organ tones that will fool even the most discerning listener.

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