Most boost pedals are very similar in terms of design, and there function is simply to kick your signal up a notch. A good boost pedal will raise the volume of your amplifier, so that you can pronounce certain sections in songs and bring them forward in a mix.
Like with most pedal types, there are a lot to choose from, with many brands producing their own designs. With some boost pedals giving almost a pure clean push, others will increase your volume whilst adding some spice too.
How do I use a Boost pedal?
Unlike overdrive or 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.
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 amps preamp (EQ section) and the power section. 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. A boost pedal will be more sensitive through a loop, where a tiny amount 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 more “pure” 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 Boost pedals are out there?
Boost pedals are generally less expensive than their counterparts, as their circuitry is often less sophisticated. But we’re going to break down some of the more expensive boosts available and then 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 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 configuration, so if you want to save space on your board and get just the same amount of usability, it’s a great option. And at around £100, it’s within the reach of most players.
The Xotix EP Booster has been seen on many pedalboards in recent years. Like the Katana, it features a single volume pot to let 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 often for it’s 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 sparkle to your sound, and with internal dip switches adjusting the pedal’s EQ curve, it’s very tweakable.
There are many cheaper boosts 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 and Mooer also have their own boost offerings amongst their impressive pedal catalogues. Incredibly cheap but more than functional, these are great if you want a reliable, no-nonsense boost pedal.
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 you get out there and start making some awesome decisions!
We hope that we have dispelled the differences between overdrive/distortion/boost pedals effectively too, because it can be easy to confuse them and not realise exactly what you want or need.
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.