Video: 20 Pedals to Pair With Synths—Reverb, Delay and Beyond

When it comes to effects pedals, guitarists are rich with options. Many players these days access a wide world of tonal variations through packed pedalboards. Why not synth players too?

While pairing effects pedals with synthesizers is by no means a new concept, it can be challenging to learn which stompboxes work best for the various types of sounds you want to create. To make sense of it all would take someone well-versed in quests for tone, whether through synthesis or six-strings. Luckily, Reverb's Justin DeLay has plenty of experience in both.

In the video above, Justin puts his Korg Minilogue through all the major effects categories and demos a collection of pedals in each class. You can hear how different reverbs will bring a different character to your sound, how delay pedals can offer character and flexibility that on-board effects may not have, and you can hear what sounds are possible when engaging a whole range of different pedals.

But more than that, DeLay explains the particularities of each effect—why you might want a more lo-fi or tape-style echo over a digital echo, what's actually happening to your signal as it enters dirt pedals, and other sound design considerations.

To echo the disclaimer that opens the video: Turn your synth's volume or gain all the way down when using pedals, and then gradually raise the volume to an audible level. Not all effects boxes built for guitars will take well to the high-output signal of your synth. You risk damaging your pedals if your signal comes in too hot.

Want more in-depth explanations of what effects pedals do? Check out our guide to the basics of effects pedals.

If you want some dimension and space to your synth's sound, then the first thing you should grab is a reverb. As Justin says, "A synth is going to produce ... a really wide-ranging, very present sound ... which can be great, if you want a really present, full-range sound right in the middle of your mix." But reverb will push that centered sound out into space.

Justin demonstrates this with a Wampler Mini Faux Spring Reverb, a small pedal that gives a rich, spring reverb–like tone.

Something like Strymon's Big Sky or Eventide's Space will offer a much larger range of possible reverbs, both of which have line-level switches so that they pair better with synthesizer signals and have MIDI capabilities.

And it should be noted that synth players have been known to gravitate toward Strymon effects. Because the company noticed Eurorack musicians using their El Capistan tape delay pedal, Strymon entered the Eurorack world with the Magneto Tape Delay and Looper.

He then uses one setting of the versatile Line 6 HX Stomp multi-effect to create some reverb-drenched pads.

Delay pedals, like delay effects that can be found built-in to some synths, are going to replicate your signal to create depth, textures, and rhythms. In recent years, it seems that guitar pedal builders have all been trying to top themselves by releasing new and innovative delay units, so there are many unique and creative options to choose from.

The Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler is a go-to, modern-day classic—one of the first large format delays offering emulations of everything from classic tape echo and multihead to ping pong and rhythmic delays. While still a great and affordable pedal, its delay options (as well as its looper functionality) now have a lot of competition by way of a newer wave of delays and loopers. But these new devices do tend to come with a cost—not only in terms of dollars but in ease-of-use.

Chase Bliss Audio's Thermae is a perfect example of a newer, feature-rich delay, which has more options and tweakable parameters than you'll probably ever finish exploring.

Yet, there's also nothing wrong with going for a tried-and-true delay stompbox like the Boss DD-5. And the Line 6 HX Stomp pops up in this section of the video as well, for the multi-effects unit also has a number of delay modes.

Chorus has been a staple of synth effects since at least the Roland Juno series, and the Boss CE-2 Chorus has a circuit pretty similar to that original circuit found in the Juno line. By multiplying your synth's signal and adding modulation, it will create the classic, watery tones associated with any chorus unit. A similarly unfussy chorus option can be found in the Electro-Harmonix Neo Clone.

The Old Blood Noise Endeavors Excess is a boutique unit that offers not only chorus, but distortion, and delay too to give you greater tone-shaping possibilities. Such features can help the chorus stand out a bit more in the mix, and at high rates will even sound aggressive. The Keeley Mod Workstation is a behemoth modulation machine, with modes for chorus, vibrato, rotary speaker effects, and more, along with overdrive and boost circuits.

Distortion is, of course, a well-known effect. You add it for harmonic richness, to make leads scream or to thicken your bass tones. And as Justin explains, synth players can further understand it by what happens to a waveform as the signal passes through a distortion circuit.

"A lot of distortion pedals, what they actually do, is they clip the waveform as it's coming into the pedal," he says. "What a distortion pedal will do is it'll take that sine wave and it'll actually cut off the curve at the top to make it more like a square wave."

The ProCo Rat 2 is a classic distortion pick for guitar players that can bring its renowned dirt to synths just as well. Filtering out some high- and low-end will help your new tone be less hissy or muddy, so if you can find distortion pedals with tone-shaping capabilities, that will ultimately lead to a more controllable sound.

The EHX Little Big Muff is another pick from a classic dirt line, while the Gamechanger Audio Plasma Pedal is a new release that uses a xenon-filled tube instead of circuits and transistors to create distortion. It also has a blend control to mix dry and wet signals and, similar to the Strymon pedal mentioned earlier, has just been made into a Eurorack effects module too. This segment ends with another appearance by the Line 6 HX Stomp multi-effect pedal.

Phasers, also known as phase shifters, were first developed to simulate the whirring effect of a Leslie rotary speaker. The MXR Uni-Vibe, Phase 90, and EHX Small Stone are all classic models.

In the video above, Justin uses a TC Electronic Helix Phaser. Its stereo outputs allow for the effect to have a true stereo image.

Flangers can have a similar sound to phasers, but are actually different types of circuits. Built to simulate the effect of a signal being doubled, slowed down on tape machine, and mixed in with the original signal, flangers can also create a whirring, characterful effect. The EarthQuaker Devices Pyramid is a flanger with a bunch of added tone-shaping features.

Of course synth players are already well-versed in filter effects, but there are some outboard pedals that can offer unique tones and ways to control your filter sweeps.

Dunlop Cry Baby Wahs are a prime example (and are available in many different forms and price points). Justin uses the GCV95G 50th Anniversary Cry Baby in the video above.

For fans of the Moog filter sound who want to bring it to any synth in your collection, the Moog Moogerfooger MF-101 brings a low-pass filter and envelope to a pedal.

Part of the magic of effects pedals though is their ability to combine into new tones. To explore some open-ended possibilities, Justin brings together a bunch of pedals we had on hand at the Reverb offices to see what strange combinations he could come up with.

Those include the EHX 720 Stereo Looper, Meris Polymoon, Seymour Duncan Fooz, EQD Bit Commander, and the Bananana Abracadabra.

Have your own unique combinations of pedals to use with your synths? Let us know in the comments.

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