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Phaser pedals are a staple of pedalboards worldwide.
What are the best phaser pedals for psych-rock or just general experimental noodling?
We round up 9 of the absolute best phaser pedals for guitarists on the market!
Phaser pedals are a favorite of guitarists worldwide. Whether you’re searching for screeching 80’s tones or just looking to add a bit of dimension to your clean playing, a good phaser is a worthwhile addition to any guitarist’s collection.
There are tonnes of options on the market so it can be difficult to decide which to go for. If you can, it’s always worth taking a pedal on a test run at your nearest guitar store to see if it’s for you.
We know that’s not always possible, however, so to get you started, here’s our rundown of the 9 best phaser pedals.
What Are The Best Phaser Pedals On The Market?
For our money, the MXR Phase 90 takes the cake as the best phaser pedal. This is a classic and stylish pedal that is affordable and gives you that phaser sound you’ve heard on countless records. Our value pick for those on a budget is the Joyo JF06 – essentially a clone of the Phase 90 at a rock bottom price.
Finally, the BOSS PH-3 Phase Shifter is the most versatile pick here, with a load of tone-shaping options on board to suit all styles.
Aside from these, you’ll find plenty of other unique options on this list for all budgets. Here are our top picks for the best phaser pedals:
MXR Phase 90
JOYO JF 06 Vintage Phaser
BOSS PH 3 Phase Shifter
Empress Effects Phaser
TC Electronic Helix Phaser
Electro Harmonix Small Stone
Walrus Audio Lillian
Earthquaker Devices Grand Orbiter
Behringer Vintage Phaser VP1
1. MXR Phase 90
If we’re talking about the best phaser pedals then we have to start our list with MXR Phase 90. This is easily one of the most recognizable analog phaser pedals due to its bright orange housing and simple speed knob.
The MXR Phase 90 has been around since the 70s and has taken on multiple incarnations with the older models featuring script-style text on the front before moving to a block-style font in later models.
Phase 90 has a classic phaser sound and it’s no wonder it’s been one of the most popular phaser pedals for nearly 50 years. If you’re looking for an easy-to-use option that sounds great then you can’t go wrong with this model. It’s very popular so you’ll probably find the Phase 90 in stock in your local guitar store.
The unit also has true bypass meaning there is no coloration to your guitar tone when the effect is switched off.
3. BOSS PH 3 Phase Shifter
BOSS is an absolute heavyweight in the guitar pedal market. BOSS pedals can be found on most pedalboards because they are solid, reliable, and sound great!
The BOSS PH 3 Phase Shifter is a versatile unit whose phased sounds range from modern to vintage but also utilizes a unique Rise and Fall effect option to create an entirely upward or downward moving effect.
The tempo of the effect can be easily selected with the inbuilt tap tempo function, and for real-time control over the rate and filter you can use an expression pedal.
The control knobs are simple and easy to use meaning you can get loads of great tones with minimal effort.
The Empress Effects Phaser is one of the best modern phasing effects pedals on the market. The unit is a digital phaser pedal and comes in a little pricier than some of the other items on our list but is well worth the investment.
There are more controls than a typical phaser pedal which opens up so many doors for sculpting a unique phaser tone including eight auto modes: envelope follower, center & speed, speed (sine), speed (square), audio sweep trigger, random level trigger, rhythms, and direct control.
The pedal can be used as a two, three, or four-stage phaser with eight waveform options and tap tempo functions. The unit also comes in a small package meaning it has a minimal impact on your pedalboard space.
Whether you're after satisfying Gilmour-style swirls or driving sweeps inspired by Van Halen, the TC Electronic Helix Phaser guitar effects pedal delivers the customizable and versatile modulation effects you need.
Even cooler is the fact that the Helix is compatible with TC Electronics Toneprint App meaning you can load up the software and tweak your tone with a screen, something which most other pedals don’t offer.
Helix is another pedal on our list that features true bypass. It comes in at around $110 and is a great option for huge tonal possibilities without needing to spend a fortune.
The huge bonus with Behringer products tends to be their affordability, so if you’re looking to pick up your first phaser pedal and don’t want to spend a lot of money then this is a great option.
We talk about ‘phase‘ a lot when it comes to recording and mixing. We usually don’t want to alter the phase of a sound as it can cause mix problems when certain frequencies get cancelled out. But a phaser pedal uses this technique to deliberately create movement in the sound for a watery, psychedelic effect.
Very briefly a phaser pedal works by creating phase shifts in a waveform, then mixing this signal with the dry input to create notches in the frequency spectrum.
As we’ve mentioned, phaser can be used to create some crazy effects such as in Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love where Eddie Van Halen uses a combined phaser and flange effect to create a unique and futuristic intro riff:
Check out Red Hot Chilli Peppers performing Throw Away Your Television to hear John Frusciante using an obvious phaser effect to enhance the clean guitar sound:
If you’ve just bought a phaser pedal the controls can be a little confusing. It’s easy to crank everything up to maximum SWOOSH but getting to know these controls can really help sculpt your tone:
Rate – This makes the effect faster or slower. A slow rate will create a subtle sweeping effect whereas a higher rate will result in a faster, tremolo style sound.
Depth – The depth control dictates how ‘intense’ the effect is and usually this controls the range of the sweep. Many phaser pedals exclude this control entirely and just assume you want the maximum depth the whole time.
Feedback – Some phaser pedals will include a feedback knob (or color switch). Usually this causes a certain amount of the phaser output to be fed back to the input signal. This changes the tonal characteristics for a “steeper” sound.
Mix – Some phasers such as the TC Electronic Helix will include a mix function. This allows you to blend in your clean guitar sound against the phaser effect. This reinforces your guitar’s natural tone and stops the phaser from completely taking over.
What Is The Difference Between 4, 8, and 12 Stage Phasers?
The different stages in a phaser relate to the number of notches and peaks in the frequency spectrum. A 4 stage phaser will have 2 notches, an 8 stage phaser will have 4, and so on.
More stages creates a more dramatically filtered tone. This can be tricky to fully understand but we’d recommend checking out the Lillian pedal to hear a 4 stage and 6 stage phaser in action.
Where Should My Phaser Go In My Pedal Board Chain?
Like most things in music, there are no rules! But there are still some important things to keep in mind when it comes to placing your phaser in your signal chain.
Generally speaking, a phaser should go somewhere towards the end of the chain after your reverbs and delays. This is because the ‘notched’ effect can become obscured by overdrive and modulation effects later on in the signal path.
Again, there is no right or wrong. An effects loop allows you to place your pedals after the distortion on your amp.
Much like your pedalboard chain, the sound will differ depending on where you place your phaser pedal but some guitarists feel that placing their modulation type effects (phaser, chorus, tremolo) before the amp distortion can create a muddy sound.
We’d definitely say experiment with sounds, although it is common to only put modulation effects within the effects loop. Adding an overdrive pedal here will ruin your amp’s natural distortion tone.
Are Analog Phasers Better Than Digital Phasers?
The Analog vs Digital argument rages on!
In truth, when it comes to pedals there will always be those who favor analog, however, digital pedals are so advanced that they still sound great and open up a wealth of options for tonal possibilities.
In 2021, emulating circuits with digital technology is a piece of cake. Digital pedals tend to offer a wider range of features and to most will sound indistinguishable from their analog counterparts, though some will argue they are not as ‘warm’.
Of course, if you’re a tone freak you’ll probably favor an analog phaser but we’d say, either way, go into it with an open mind and don’t form an opinion until you’ve tried a selection of pedals.
When Should I Use My Phaser Pedal?
Phaser is a fantastic effect for adding color and depth to your guitar playing. However, it can be easily overdone and so is often best used tastefully and sparingly!
Using a phaser on a distorted riff for example will really emphasize the phased sound!
Using a light amount with a slow rate can really add thickness and character to your solos, and whilst we love the extreme sounds Eddie Van Halen created in the 80s this can be a bit over the top in modern music.
Similarly using a small amount on a clean guitar riff can work wonders and really add more dimension to your playing. Particularly if your guitar parts are quite sparse then an increased rate can create some lush-sounding, watery effects that can make your playing warmer and more interesting.
Listen to Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond to hear how David Gilmour uses a simple, clean guitar intro with a little phaser added to create extra dimension.