Since the birth of the electric guitar in the 1930s, guitarists have been looking for ways to warp and enhance their signature sounds. The world of guitar effects is a mammoth one, and it can feel a bit overwhelming to know where to begin your journey to becoming a #guitargod. The most important thing to know is that a guitar effects pedal serves to take the initial “natural” signal of the instrument itself and change that signal into something different.
Whilst there is a lot of crossover and intersection, there are four general categories that pedals can be divided into:
- Pedals that modulate a signal
- Pedals that boost, compress or distort a signal
- Echo and delay effects
- Everything else: filter, modelling and multi-effects
This week we will focus on chorus pedals and explore how this classic effect can really elevate your guitar sound. A quintessential sound of the 80s and early 90s, chorus is what gave the jangly guitars of bands like The Police, The Smiths and The Pretenders their distinct shimmer. However the chorus effect has been used by many artists across multiple genres such as grunge (Nirvana!) and electronic music (Daft Punk!) It continues to be utilised prolifically by contemporary musicians, especially as 90s nostalgia reaches peak saturation!
Chorus is an effect that can sound similar to flanger, which we covered in a previous Pedals 101. However, as its name suggests, a chorus pedal’s intention is to thicken and expand your guitar signal in order to emulate the sound of multiple instruments playing at once. Chorus pedals achieve this by dividing the natural signal into multiple “voices”, modulating their pitch and tone, and delaying the voices slightly from the original. Whilst this is, in fact, very similar to what a flanger does, the difference is the time of the delay between the clean and modulating signals. A flanger typically uses a shorter delay time, creating the characteristic “whoosh” sound associated with it, while a chorus uses a longer delay time. This results in a shimmery and lush tone that can flesh out an arrangement and simulate an ensemble ~ or chorus ~ of voices. Listen to this prime example of chorus in the guitar sound of The La’s classic tune ‘There She Goes’:
A standard chorus pedal will include a depth and a rate knob. The depth setting will allow you to control the intensity of the effect (ie. how far the modulation of the sound deviates from the original pitch), and the rate setting will control the speed of the oscillations.
This is a very attractive little package, combining the chorus effect and the flanger into one stompbox. We included this on our list of notable flanger pedals, but we couldn’t resist including it here as well seeing as the chorus effect is so damn alluring. The Digitech Nautila allows players a lot of control over their effects with separate speed, depth, emphasis and mix knobs.
It is difficult to go past a classic. A compact incarnation of the first chorus pedal ever, Boss’s iconic 1976 CE-1 pedal, the CE-2W combines a number of classic Boss sounds through the introduction of a small slider switch. The standard left position will allow for a smooth chorus sound, the middle will create a throwback to the vintage swirl of the CE-1 and the right position engages the pedal into its vibrato mode. This is an all-analogue pedal, making for a distinctive authentic sound.
Earthquaker Devices are certainly taking the boutique pedal market by storm, and the Sea Machine Chorus pedal does not disappoint. Their website claims that the Sea Machine ‘is a chorus pedal with as many modulation possibilities as there are fish in the ocean’… Woah. This pedal makes for a highly customisable chorus experience, as players are able to control the sound as its most delicate points including the wave shape (‘modulating your chorus tone from a smooth triangle shape to a rough and choppy square wave’) and dimension (which can ‘add a slightly detuned slapback at low levels, reverb-like ambience at mid-levels and a trippy echo-resonance when cranked’).
This tiny pedal manages to squeeze so much quality into a teeny package. The smallest inclusion on our list, do not let the size of this Danish-made pedal fool you, it is a tiny nugget of genius engineering. And for it’s size, the sound is extremely impressive. With only three knobs – speed, depth and FX level – this pedal is simple whilst still managing to provide a wide range of shimmering chorus tones. As with all TC Electronic pedals, the Corona comes fitted with the groundbreaking TonePrint technology which allows you to download the settings of your guitar heroes from an app on your phone into your guitar.
Another ultra simple inclusion, the MXR Micro Chorus is an 80’s reissue. But when you’re onto a good thing, you stick with it and that’s exactly what MXR have done with this chorus pedal. Considering this pedal only has one knob – rate – it is truly incredible the amount of variance in output it can create.