What Are Boost Pedals?
Most boost pedals are very similar in terms of design, and their main function is simply to kick your signal up by a significant notch. Many guitarists use boost pedals to raise the volume of their amplifiers, to pronounce certain sections in songs and bring them forward in a mix.
Like with most guitar pedals, there are a lot to choose from, with many brands producing their own designs. Some boost pedals offer almost a pure clean push, while others will increase your volume and add some sizzle.
How Do I Use A Boost Pedal?
Unlike overdrive and distortion units, you can run boost pedals either in front of your amp or through its effects loop (if it has one). Running a boost through the front of your amp may be a good choice if it has its own unique character. This will let it interact better with distortion or overdrive units that run before it in the signal path, boosting the volume and also adding something extra - enriching harmonics and giving notes more sustain.
Running a boost before distortion or overdrives will have a similar effect to running an overdrive through a distorted amp. It will simply add more colour and saturation without necessarily increasing the output. That’s not always the case, as certain pedals can react differently with one another. But most of the time, that will be the result.
Can I Use A Boost Pedal Through An Effects Loop?
A popular way of using a boost pedal is to run it through your amp’s effects loop. If you don’t know what an effects loop is, don’t sweat! In essence, an effects loop is an input and output that lets you place effects between your amp's preamp and power amp sections.
Most people will use an effects loop for their modulation or time-based effects, however a boost pedal can work even more effectively through this. More sensitive through a loop, a tiny amount of boost will significantly raise the overall output (so be careful!). The benefit of running a boost pedal through an effects loop is that it will be a cleaner and “purer” boost, rather than one that adds any other tonal artefacts. Boost pedals are therefore a great addition to any pedalboard, and can be your secret weapon especially when playing live.
What Are The Best Boost Pedals?
Boost pedals are generally less expensive than their overdrive and distortion counterparts, as their circuitry is often less sophisticated. But we’re going to break down some of the more premium boosts available, and suggest some cheaper pedals out there that provide great bang-for-your-buck!
The Keeley Katana is a popular choice. Offering an immensely clean push that will take your signal up a gear, the Katana’s low noise floor will not exacerbate any annoying hum or hiss. The great thing with this unit, though, is that you can turn it into an overdrive if you wish!
Just pull out it’s single control knob and you will add some grit and really fatten up your tone. This versatile pedal is also available in a mini pedal configuration, so if you want to save space on your board and get almost the same amount of usability, it’s a fantastic option. And at around the £100 mark, it’s within the reach of most players.
The Xotix EP Booster has been seen on many pedalboards in recent years. Like the Keeley Katana, it features a single volume pot that lets you determine the amount of boost. However, it’s what’s under the hood that gives this pedal its own special voice.
The iconic Echoplex EP-3 unit, used by guitar heroes such as Eddie Van Halen and Jimmy Page, would be used primarily for its amazing preamp. Adding “something” to their guitar tone, Xotic tried to recreate that circuit and implement it in their EP Booster. Offering up to 20dB of boost, this mini stompbox adds a distinctive sparkle to your sound, and with internal dip switches adjusting the pedal’s EQ curve - it’s very tweakable.
Xotic's boost pedal range isn't limited just to the EP Booster, though. That's because at the 2019 NAMM Show they unveiled the Super Sweet Boost; a highly-dynamic and articulate-sounding mini pedal that serves more as a tone-enhancer rather than a volume-pusher.
There are many cheap boost pedals out there too, which can do exactly what they say on the tin. TC Electronic’s Mini Spark Booster is a great inexpensive choice, giving up to 20dB of boost. This pedal also features a momentary footswitch, which allows you to activate the boost only when your foot is pressed on it.
Tone City All Spark vs. Xotic EP Booster
Which Boost Pedal Should I Buy?
If you’ve stuck around, we hope that this guide will help to steer you in the right direction. The aim of this is to inform and make you feel confident when making your next pedal purchase, so we suggest that you get out there and start making some awesome decisions!
Despite picking out some renowned pedals, it’s still clear that the amount of choice is mind-blowing. But, it’s always a good thing to have such a huge amount of options available. We suggest that you have a look around and find something that you think will suit your needs the most.
Want To Learn More?
For more information about overdrive, distortion and fuzz pedals, check out our dedicated guides for each of them:
- Ultimate Guide to Overdrive Pedals
- Ultimate Guide to Distortion Pedals
- Ultimate Guide to Fuzz Pedals