- Confused about what a boost pedal does?
- What to look for when buying a boost pedal.
- Discover 7 great boost pedals that cost under $100
Boost pedals are probably the best secret weapon you can have on your pedalboard. While most boosts don’t seem particularly interesting by themselves, they can have a huge impact on your overall guitar tone.
While many overdrives, distortions, and even fuzz pedals feature a built-in boost circuit, there are also plenty of affordable stand-alone options you can have on hand to spice up your sound when you need it.
What Is A Boost Pedal?
Boost pedals are basically a preamp for your guitar or instrument in pedal-form. They add gain to your signal, much like a microphone preamp, in a foot-switchable and controllable fashion. But why would you need to add extra gain to your signal?
By adding gain to your guitar signal before it hits the amp, your guitar signal is now closer (or even exceeds) the headroom threshold of the amplifier, causing that ever so pleasing natural overdrive in a tube amp.
While you can also achieve this goal with an overdrive or other distortion pedal, boosts are designed to be almost completely transparent, meaning that you get the pure overdrive sound of your own instrument and the amplifier together, while most other pedals tend to add their own character to your sound.
Whilst most boost pedals feature a similar overall design (you can only change adding gain so much), we all know that different preamps impart different sounds based on their design. Many boost pedals are also designed to shape your tone with the boost through onboard EQ parameters, sometimes emulating specific preamps.
There are plenty of different boost pedals on the market, so we’ve dug through the mud to find 7 great and affordable options for you for under $100.
What To Look For When Buying A Boost Pedal
When looking at boost pedals, there are two important factors that determine what exactly they’ll do to your tone: the amount of gain added (measured in +dB) and if the boost is clean, affecting a certain frequency band (like a treble booster), or a combination of both.
The other factor is how the boost achieves that gain boost, which is commonly through different types of Field Effect Transistors, or FETS. These are modern designed transistors that are designed to stay clean and add much more volume to your sound compared to the clipping transistors designed for other pedals.
Two of the most common types in boost pedals are JFET and MOSFETs; JFETS are known for being more musical, but also for having a slightly lower headroom than MOSFETs, which allow for a somewhat simpler design, as well as slightly more gain.
Either way, these effects are going to be pretty subtle, so it’s more akin to the difference between the preamps in an SSL or an API than it is on quality. While they definitely give unique flavours, both will get you to the boosted tone you want.
7 Of The Best Boost Pedals Under $100 (2020)
1. Donner Boost Killer
Donner is an effects company based in China that makes affordable clones of popular (and more expensive) boutique pedals. Since you can’t actually trademark the electrical circuit that goes into a pedal, companies like this are able to legally clone other pedals and sell them for cheaper, as long as they don’t directly reference the name of the product they’re copying as a clone.
Sorta skeezy, but definitely great for all of us broke guitarists out there. Anyway, the Boost Killer is their take on the RC Boost, which is known as being a popular and versatile booster with many guitarists.
What’s cool about the Boost Killer (aside from the insanely low price) is the fact that its super feature-packed. The gain knob on it actually allows you to both boost and attenuate your signal by up to 15dB, which is a nice feature to use in conjunction with its onboard bass and treble EQ.
You can also use it as a way to “clean up” an amp that you like the overdriven tone of without the use of a boost. The separate level and gain controls also allow this pedal to be used almost like a distortion or overdrive pedal, but this is largely dependent on the amp because it isn’t actually designed to clip the signal itself in the pedal.
While it doesn’t operate in the exact same manner as an RC boost, it definitely nails the character and versatility. Combined with the very low price, it is a fantastic choice for anyone looking for a booster that gives you lots of features and great operation.
2. Electro Harmonix LPB-1
Electro Harmonix has been making great effects for the better part of the last 50 years, could perfectly striking the line somewhere between “boutique” and “affordable.” The LPB-1 is the first pedal dreamed up by Mike Matthews all the way back in 1968, and its design has largely remained unchanged.
The current model is essentially unchanged from its inception in 1968, minus the additions of current pedal-standard LEDs and power adapter capability. The pedal couldn’t be any simpler in its operation, with a single boost knob to control how much gain you are adding.
The LPB-1 is incredibly touch-sensitive, meaning it responds great to different picking attacks and changing the volume on your guitar. It truly acts as a responsive preamp for your guitar tone and can help inject life into your sound. With its also super low price, it is definitely a no brainer solution for all your boost needs.
3. TC Electronic Spark Mini
TC Electronic changed the game with a clean boost when it first released the full-sized Spark booster, and the spark mini gives you the exact same style of a clean boost as the spark in a smaller package.
While it forgoes the EQ controls found on its big brother, it still features a massive +20dB boost on its gain knob. This can allow you to even make the cleanest of amps hit overdrive, and will also allow your solos to always be able to reach over your crowded (and loud) band mix at your next practice.
One cool feature of the spark (and all TC pedals actually) is the fact that their footswitches can be used in both a latching and momentary manner.
This means that you can step on the spark and hold it for the duration of a boosted part, and when you release your foot it’ll automatically disengage the pedal, which is perfect for use in a solo setting, where you can’t forget to turn it off (come on, we know you’ve all “forgotten” to turn off a pedal when you really just wanted everyone to hear your sick tone…).
While the spark is a clean boost pedal that affects the whole frequency range of your guitar tone, it does tend to add a little bit of high end to your sound in a way that could become too much at higher settings. But again, for a sub $50 pedal, its a no brainer in that it does what it says it does in a great way.
4. Danelectro Billion Dollar Boost
Danelectro might be one of the first makers of “budget” guitar effects, with their line of fab pedals dominating the cheap pedal market before the advent of Chinese mini pedal clones.
The Billion Dollar Boost calls back to those fab pedals with its design but is a reissue of an 80s “hidden gem” pedal that I haven’t been able to find any information on. Regardless, it’s a great sounding boost with EQ built-in for extra tone shaping.
The Billion Dollar takes it a step further by adding a low cut switch, which is super helpful for tightening up some low end when boosting into some heavy overdrive. It’s great for helping to tighten up bassier amps, like a vintage Marshall, to get some really nice chunky overdrive tones.
This boost also features a lot of gain, with anything over 50% on the volume sending you into serious drive territory on a clean amp. Again, this is a feature-packed boost for a very low price.
5. BBE Mini Boosta Grande
BBE’s known for their devices that “sweeten” your tone, from the ubiquitous sonic maximizer to this simple boost pedal. The Boosta grande mini benefits from being a mini-sized pedal so it doesn’t take up real estate, and it also features a whopping +20dB of gain on tap.
What sets this guy apart from all the rest? Well BBE states that inherently pushing a tube amp hard will accentuate too many high frequencies, and the Boosta Grande seeks to remedy that by subtly rolling off some of the high-end frequencies in this pedal. What it results in is a slightly darker sounding, but still clean boost pedal that’s a great utility that doesn’t take up any pedal real estate.
6. MXR Micro Amp
The MXR Micro Amp is a classic boost pedal that’s been around for quite a long time. I think this pedal gets overlooked sometimes due to its name, because “micro amp” doesn’t exactly scream “this is a boost pedal” to me when I first read it.
Regardless, the microamp is a no-hassle classic transparent boost. Compared to some other pedals on this list it seems to have a little bit less gain than most, but that makes it more versatile as a utility for gain matching multiple guitars with different output levels, since it stays super transparent.
With MXR pedals you know that you are getting stage ready quality and toughness without spending a fortune. It just works!
7. EarthQuaker Devices Arrows
Rounding out our list is a great (and underrated) pedal from Earthquaker Devices. Most boutique pedal companies don’t really make many standalone booster pedals that don’t have some sort of “unique feature” to set themselves apart from the already wide pack of boosters that all kind of basically does the same thing. Not Earthquaker. The aptly named Arrows does exactly what it says it does, boosting your signal and increasing some high-end clarity.
The Arrows is described by EarthQuaker as being a “preamp” booster, which means it’s not necessarily a clean boost. While it doesn’t add a whole lot of character, it does help tighten up the low end and boost some mids and highs, in contrast to some other boosts that tend to cut out the high end. If you’re looking for a pedal that actually helps enhance your tone as well as boost it, the Arrow’s is your box.
One of my favourite things about all EarthQuaker pedals is that they don’t strictly say that they are “guitar effects,” and their sound samples on their website frequently feature other instruments that you can run through their pedals. For the Arrows specifically, they have a sample of the pedal being used on a Rhodes piano to give a gritty and unique sound, further demonstrating the versatility of their pedals.
Hopefully, this list gave you some options to help you cut through the noise (literally!) at your next gig, and helped give some insight to some of the differences between all the boost pedals on the market today.