What Are Chorus Pedals?
Chorus pedals belong in the “modulation” pedal family. This makes them similar to phaser and flanger pedals in terms of sound, all of which colour your tone via signal processing. The distinct tonal qualities of a chorus pedal are difficult to articulate, but we’ll try our best!
If you've never heard a chorus effect before, famous examples of it can be heard in rock classics such as “Come As You Are” (Nirvana) and “Run to You” (Bryan Adams). And we’re sure you must have heard of at least one of those!
So if you’re new to chorus pedals, we’re going to explain exactly how they work and describe the best ways to use them in your setup. Not only that, but we’ll also cover the incredible amount of choices available out there. Lots of pedal brands make their own flavours of this beautiful effect, and you can get your hands on great affordable versions as well as feature-packed high-end chorus pedals.
What Does A Chorus Pedal Sound Like?
A chorus effect adds a gorgeous richness to your tone, that sounds like it is doubling what you’re playing. If you’ve ever heard a 12-string guitar before, a chorus effect sounds very similar to that. Chorus pedals deliver this somewhat synthetic, angelic character that works particularly well on clean tones, especially with arpeggiated chord progressions.
A chorus can sound like a vibrato/tremolo effect with extreme speed settings too. This is because a chorus pedal will essentially take your guitar's signal and split it into two. While one of those split signals will remain unaltered to retain some of your pure unaffected tone, the other signal will be slightly delayed and pitch-modulated/detuned. This is achieved using a "low-frequency oscillator" (LFO), which flanger pedals also rely on in order to produce their sounds.
Chorus pedals were incredibly popular in the '80s, heard frequently in radio-friendly rock as well as heavier styles. Metal artists such as Metallica and Testament would use chorus almost exclusively on their clean tones, as a huge contrast against their mid-scooped high-gain sounds.
Metallica's "Master of Puppets" is a great example of this, where the clean bridge section contrasts beautifully against the thrashy verses and choruses (skip to 3:20):
Metallica - "Master of Puppets"
Where Does A Chorus Pedal Go In My Signal Chain?
A chorus pedal is traditionally used in the effects loop of a guitar amplifier. There’s no right or wrong necessarily, as they can sound great in the front end of your amp too. However, using one this way can give you a boost in volume when you engage the pedal, which can be annoying if you want just a consistent and level signal. Running into the effects loop usually eliminates this issue, and allows you to get a slightly more transparent sound so that you can retain some of your unprocessed tone.
With regards to where you should place a chorus pedal in your signal chain, modulation-style pedals should usually be routed before your delay and reverb stompboxes. Why is that? Well, if you place a chorus or modulation pedal after a delay or reverb, then you’re colouring and somewhat masking the delay/reverb trail. That can sometimes sound cool and obscure, but you ultimately don’t want to hinder or compromise the sounds from your reverb/delay pedals. Therefore, placing a chorus before them will give you the purest, and in most cases, the best sound.
What Controls Are On A Chorus Pedal?
Many chorus pedals feature multiple controls, meaning that you can get a whole range of sounds out of them. However, there are also some early examples which have as little as 2 controls, or even just 1! But most of the time, you’ll see 3 key knobs on chorus pedals – 'level', 'rate' and 'depth'.
Level determines the volume or mix of the effect against your unaffected sound. This allows you to attain a really thick sound when turned up, or a more transparent and less-intrusive tone rolled down. The depth control is fairly similar, however it affects the intensity of the effect and how extreme the chorus warble is. Think of it almost as a “subtlety” control.
The rate knob lets you adjust the speed of the chorus effect and how fast the LFO rotates. Setting it high will give you a vibrato-like sound, that can sound fairly haunting and supernatural. The best example of this effect can be heard in Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”, where in the verses, a high-register arpeggio riff is played with a chorus set very fast. This evokes a creepy and unsettling feeling.
Soundgarden - "Black Hole Sun"
Digital vs. Analogue Chorus Pedals
Like most guitar pedals, some chorus stompboxes feature analogue circuitry while others use modern digital circuitry. The differences are evident in their sound, with most analogue chorus pedals delivering a warmer tone with a more robust signal. An analogue chorus generally affects the whole frequency range of your guitar tone, giving a deeper sound.
Digital chorus pedals are usually more tweakable than their analogue counterparts, able to provide a greater range of sounds which generally makes them more versatile. But some people dislike digital chorus pedals however, thinking that they sound too synthetic and processed. Thanks to modern technology, there are many digital pedals that can convincingly recreate the sound of analogue units, and as digital pedals are usually less expensive, they are still a viable and attractive option.
Chorus vs. Flanger vs. Phaser Pedals
As we mentioned at the start of the article, these three effects work in very similar ways and belong to the same family of effects - modulation. They all essentially mix your dry signal with a filtered/detuned signal, creating an abstract and processed sound.
As they all work so similarly, they can be easy to mix up! Each one creates a modulated effect using an LFO, but they are tweaked and manipulated slightly differently. So, what are the differences between chorus, flanger and phaser? Here's a quick breakdown:
Your dry signal is mixed with a slightly detuned and delayed signal. The LFO controls the pitch of the delayed signal, and the further you push the pitch, the more wobbly the effect.
The dry signal is mixed with a delayed signal swaying between 5-25ms. The delayed signal is then fed back into the chain creating harmonic feedback.
The phase of your signal's waveform is adjusted by an LFO, then mixed with the dry signal. The frequencies that are out of phase cancel each other out, causing a warped, wavy sound.
What Are The Best Chorus Pedals?
There’s a huge amount of chorus pedals available on the market today, but there are a few big name pedals that have set the standard for all others to follow. And the best part is that many of the trendsetters are still manufactured after decades in production!
The CE-1 is the original Boss chorus. In fact, the company’s first ever pedal was the CE-1, which helped to establish their name and begun their journey to become arguably the most recognisable pedal brand today. Released in 1976, the analogue CE-1 circuit derived from the one found in the renowned Jazz Chorus amplifier, produced by Boss’ parent company Roland.
Originally designed for keyboardists, guitar players quickly took notice of the CE-1 for the intense and rich tones it offered. Dean DeLeo of Stone Temple Pilots is arguably one of the most prevalent users of the CE-1, and used it all over the band’s debut album Core for clean parts as well as his heavily distorted rhythm guitar tracks. Featuring the 3 main controls you’d typically find on chorus pedals, the CE-1 also sported a mode switch that allowed users to choose between chorus and vibrato effects. Its large enclosure however made the pedal fairly cumbersome and difficult to utilise into live setups though.
To meet demand, Boss released the followup CE-2 chorus pedal. Tailored more for guitarists, the CE-2 delivered similar sounds to its predecessor, and was designed as a far more pedalboard-friendly compact pedal. Featuring only 2 controls (rate and depth), the CE-2 isn’t the most versatile chorus pedal by today’s standards, however its signature sound has made it one of the most sought-after and legendary pedals ever.
Replaced by the CH-1 Super Chorus and CE-5 Chorus Ensemble pedals, in 2016 and after years out of production, Boss reissued the CE-2 as part of their premium “Waza Craft” range – the CE-2W. Staying true to the original by retaining the two main controls, Boss added a versatile mode switch to give you the chorus and vibrato sounds from the the original CE-1. Not only that, but they also added a stereo output (which the mono CE-2 lacked) to let users integrate the pedal into stereo rigs for a super-full and wide chorus sound.
Boss CE-2W On Andertons T.V.
If you’re looking for more of an all-rounder that can give you multiple chorus sounds, check out the Boss MD-500. This multi-modulation pedal gives you a raft of high-quality modulation sounds that derive from many of Boss’ current and classic circuits. With a powerful digital engine, the MD-500 can very closely recreate the iconic CE-1 and CE-2 sounds, and offers far more tweakability with its deep patch editing capabilities. And if you’re running a MIDI-enabled pedal switcher, you can easily save multiple presets within the MD-500 and recall them. It’s pretty cool!
The Small Clone is another legendary chorus unit, and one of many amongst Electro Harmonix's prestigious catalogue. Like the Boss units, the Small Clone is another analogue chorus pedal that oozes characterful and lush sounds.
Similarly simple, the Small Clone features just a single rate control and a depth switch. However, simple doesn’t mean bad, as the Small Clone was the essential chorus throughout the '90s alternative rock scene, popularised by Kurt Cobain of Nirvana – who used it both live and in the studio. Do you love that watery chorus tone all over the Nevermind record, on songs like “Come As You Are” and “Lithium”? That’s got Small Clone all over it.
Nirvana - "Come As You Are"
The original design is still in production today, but it’s fairly large enclosure doesn’t make it the easiest pedal to mount to the fashionably smaller, portable pedalboards we see around today. That’s why EHX have made smaller and more affordable versions of the Small Clone, such as the Neo Clone, which has the same features of its larger counterpart but with a slightly tweaked sound. The Nano Clone is an even simpler unit, featuring just a single Rate control.
Although no longer in production, the SCF (Stereo Chorus Flanger) from TC Electronic is a legendary stompbox that saw much of its heyday in the '80s. This incredible sounding unit has been used by many players over the years, but most notably the inimitable Eric Johnson. He has exclusively used the SCF throughout his career in order to attain his super-sweet clean tones, heard in all its glory on songs such as “Manhattan”:
Eric Johnson - "Manhattan"
This versatile unit featured 3 controls and a mode switch, to allow users to really dial in the sound in their head. The mode switch let you choose between chorus and flanger sounds, essentially giving you two pedals within a single enclosure. With a standard speed control letting you adjust the chorus/flanger rate, the SCF’s intensity (depth) control served a different function in each of its modes. In chorus mode it determined the mix, whilst in flanger mode it could adjust the effect feedback, letting users create a crazy oscillating sound with a broader sweep of the effect.
Another trick this pedal had up its sleeve was its input gain control. This let you set the signal running into the pedal, so that it could match your guitar perfectly for a consistent output when the pedal was engaged. However, with the switch on you could boost the signal to really push a section with some pitch-modulated goodness! With mono and stereo outputs, this pedal was really in its element when utilised in a stereo rig, giving you an ultra-wide and engulfing sound.
Despite the SCF recently being discontinued due to a shortage of its essential circuit components, the sounds of the SCF can be attained using TC Electronic’s Corona chorus pedal and the company’s innovative 'TonePrint' technology. Thanks to this, you can store and create patches using this free editor software, and fine-tune and edit your own particular sounds with parameters that are not available using the pedal’s physical controls. And with the offical app, you can also download presets that have been created by a number of acclaimed guitar players, including patches that convincingly recreate the SCF sound.
With the Corona also available in a mini pedal format for the pedalboard real-estate savers, TC Electronic now have a range of affordable chorus stompboxes that offer similarly great sounds too! The Afterglow is a basic triple-control analogue chorus pedal, boasting vintage tones that really capture the essence of the '80s sound. The newer 3rd Dimension chorus is a slightly different beast, however, featuring no knobs for you to become obsessive about. With just 4 preset buttons, these allow you go from a subtle sound to a full-on and super-lush chorus tone. And with both at around the £30 mark, these are great affordable options! Which moves us nicely onto the next section…
Whilst looking at some of the main chorus pedals out there, it’s worth knowing that there are some amazing affordable choruses out there too. If you’re on a budget or are just looking for a simple chorus to use for one or two songs in your set, some brilliant pedals are out there for under £100!
Tone City, Mooer and Hotone all make great-sounding pedals at crazy low prices. Not only that, but they manufacture the majority of their pedals in mini enclosures, making them super-easy to mount to your pedalboard. All featuring true-bypass, these pedals won’t colour your tone when they’re not engaged, a feature you see mostly on their high-end counterparts. Trust us, they’re great bang for your buck!
The Angel Wing from Tone City is an Andertons Music Co. best-seller, used extensively in our 'Sound Like – Without Busting The Bank' series on Andertons T.V. With the essential rate, depth and level controls, this beautiful chorus delivers gorgeous tones that could satisfy even the most fastidious chorus connoisseurs. But the best thing about the Angel Wing is how great it sounds with overdrive, as our video below demonstrates:
Tone City Angel Wing on Andertons T.V.
The Baby Water Acoustic Chorus and Delay pedal from Mooer is a super-versatile and affordable option. With 5 modes, you can find a raft of mixed chorus/echo/delay sounds, making it appealing for those who like to experiment with soundscapes and use pedals that offer more unique sounds. For a slightly simpler affair, their Ensemble King is also great value for money.
Hotone’s Choir is the tiniest chorus pedal we've ever seen. However, its small size doesn’t mean bad by any means, as this micro pedal really packs a punch. Similar to the Angel Wing in terms of its control set, the Choir also features a Deep switch to let you access an even more exaggerated chorus, if you just love everything about that classic '80s guitar sound. This miniscule stompbox will give you big, warm and liquid-esque chorus sounds, and you’ll hardly notice it on your board!
If you’re someone looking for a very particular flavour of chorus and are willing to spend the cash to find the perfect one, we have some great pedals in mind which we think you’ll like. Whether that be a single stompbox that just gives you the ultimate tone in your head, or a multi-modulation unit that offers a whole range of chorus sounds and more - we’ll cover it in this next section.
The ADC-4 Anadime Chorus from Providence is a modern classic, acclaimed for its intensely luxurious sound. With a completely analogue, old-school design, this pedal sticks to the original formula but has some extra magic. With a non-intimidating set of controls, this pedal is super easy to set up and with almost any combination of settings it will sound amazing. A deep switch will plunge you even further underwater, immersing you in the thickest and most psychedelic chorus sound we’re sure you’ll ever hear. Guthrie Govan has one of these on his pedalboard – so enough said!
Free the Tone are well-known for their incredibly high-quality pedals, made with great attention to detail and regarded for providing excellent tones. Their TA-1H Tri Avatar Chorus pedal is no exception, packed full of features for the most selective of chorus pedal aficionados. With full stereo operation, this pedal goes one step further and allows you adjust how much of the chorus mix you want to go left, right or in the centre. This is a feature that really separates it from others, letting you precisely dial in the most three-dimensional chorus sound possible. With internal voltage boosting that takes it from the 9V input up to 15V, this pedal provides greater headroom for an uncompressed and open-sounding chorus with plenty of breadth. It also has 4 savable preset slots, letting you switch between your favourite saved chorus sounds via its dedicated footswitch, or with a MIDI controller.
However, if you’re looking for an even more powerful unit that can give you multiple chorus emulations as well as other modulation effects, those are out there too! We’ve already spoken about the Boss MD-500, which boasts the sounds of the CE-1, CE-2 as well as other original sounds. With super-deep patch-editing parameters, the MD-500 is only comparable with the Strymon Mobius, another feature-packed multi-modulation powerhouse that boasts similar features and design elements. Although more expensive, the Mobius has been a staple on the pedalboards of many professional musicians, with Strymon’s hugely powerful DSP chip providing incredible fidelity. Both featuring stereo ins/outs and MIDI-enabled, you’ll struggle to find anything more all-encompassing than these.
Boss MD-500 on Andertons T.V.
However, if you’re looking for something similar but at a slightly more affordable price, the Line 6 MM4 is a trusted option that has been in production for over 15 years! Although lacking MIDI, the MM4 has an expression pedal input like its pricier equivalents, letting you control parameters of the effects on-the-fly. But if you’re wanting something even cheaper than that, Mooer’s Mod Factory is another solid contender. With essentially two modulation engines merged into one enclosure, you can simultaneously use 2 effects together for some truly idiosyncratic sounds.
Which Chorus Pedal Should I Buy?
From all of the above, it’s clear that there is a huge amount of chorus pedals currently on the market. Don’t feel overwhelmed however, because we encourage you to check out as many of the other iterations out there, so that you can find the quintessential one for your needs. We’ve only scratched the surface in terms of exists out there, so take a look around our site to see even more chorus contenders.
We’d then advise you to identify your favourites and narrow them down to around 5 “finalists”, shall we say. Whether they all fall within the same price bracket to meet your budget, or they sport similar controls or features, from there it’s a good idea to check out some videos of them (if you haven’t already!) to get a sense of which sound appeals to you the most. We’ve embedded a few videos from Andertons T.V. in this article to help you further understand particular pedals, but we have a lot more chorus-orientated videos on our YouTube channel, which we think could assist in your choice-making! If you have a chance to go and try some of these out, that’ll give you an even greater sense of which is the best to you.
We highlighted some great affordable pedals around these days, which can compete very well with more expensive units. But if you’re someone who runs a bigger and more professional setup, including something like a pedal switcher/looper, then a more expensive pedal with MIDI functionality will be more suitable.
There’s no right or wrong. After all, tone is completely subjective, so whichever one sounds the best to your ears – just go with it! Like we said at the beginning, chorus is quite a divisive effect, but we hope that now you’ve had a taste of what they do and how they sound, you’ll find a purpose for one in your rig.