Ultimate Guide to
Ring Modulator Pedals

Ring modulator pedals definitely aren't for everyone... they’re reserved only for the experimentalists!

Known for providing glitchy and otherworldly sounds, players use these as a means of taking a step into the realms of electronic music.

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Written by

Elliot Stent

What Are Ring Modulator Pedals?

These are the unsung heroes of the pedal world. Often overlooked for being too diverse for the bog-standard rock guitarist, ring mod pedals are used by many modern players that wish to expand their sonic horizons.

Ring modulator pedals churn out randomly detuned chaos. They are perfect for adding some unpredictability to riffs; really catching your listeners off guard. Although rarely used in mainstream music due to their tonal instability, ring modulators are used often in experimental electronic music.

What Does A Ring Mod Pedal Sound Like?

Ring mod pedals aren’t for the faint-hearted, lets make that clear. It’s an incredibly unique-sounding effect, which isn’t exactly used to make something sound more musical. Giving you a brash, metallic sound; this effect is rarely heard in mainstream pop or rock music, but it has more of a place in soundtrack work.

Giving you the sound of a malfunctioning robot, ring mods have a close association with sci-fi genres and in a musical context they can work well when used in heavy, industrial styles. The song “Glass” by US alternative rock band Incubus features a ring mod effect, used on the main guitar riff:

Incubus - "Glass" (Live)

As its name suggests, ring modulation is a type of modulation effect on a base level, affecting amplitude. Combining your original signal with an oscillator to create what is known as a ‘carrier wave’, these waves are either cancelled out or enhanced when the signals clash. Most ring mod pedals feature a control that lets you alter the pitch of the carrier wave, creating a more broken up, stuttering sound the lower it is set.

Where Does A Ring Mod Pedal Go In My Signal Chain?

As ring modulation is such a bizarre effect, the placement of a ring mod pedal in your signal chain is totally subjective. In my opinion, I’d place it in front of my amp and fairly early in the chain for the best possible tracking - but there’s no right or wrong essentially.

A cool way to use it could be in the effects loop of your amplifier, so that it can react directly with your reverb or delay pedals. For example, if you place it just before those aforementioned pedals then the reverb/delay trails will have this super-exaggerated bit-crushed sound, something that could be amazing if you like to create weird and wonderful soundscapes.

What Are The Best Ring Mod Pedals?

Electro Harmonix aspire to build more uncommon and wacky effects (as you would have gathered), and ring mods are no exception to that philosophy. With a couple of ring mod pedals available from EHX, Fairfield also produce their own iterations.

The Gonkulator from DOD can deliver the craziest off-kilter tones conceivable. With a gnarly built-in distortion circuit, the Gonkulator can achieve some seriously insane sounds to take your tone into another dimension.

With the Frequency and Ring knobs letting you control the peak frequency and carrier wave respectively, the Gonkulator can go from moderately twisted modulation to pure atonal chaos! Our friends Mick and Dan from That Pedal Show demonstrate the Gonkulator in all its glory in an episode from late 2015 (skip to 3:00):

DOD Gonkulator on 'That Pedal Show'

Electro Harmonix's Ring Thing is a highly tweakable ring modulator pedal with plenty of tone-shaping controls. More musical-sounding than some others on the market, the Ring Thing is capable of doing pitch-shifting, preset tuning and letting you select from various different waveforms for a raft of ring mod flavours. And with 9 savable presets, you can fully programme this unit to suit a range of musical applications.

Which Ring Modulator Pedal Should I Buy?

After all of that, we hope that this guide has helped to understand exactly what ring modulator pedals sound like and how to use them. These pedals certainly aren't for everybody, and they can be difficult to integrate into your setup. But, they can also be very inspiring and capable of giving you some outside-the-box tones.

Want To Learn More?

For more information about similar pedal types, check out our guides below:

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