The Top 50 Stompboxes of All Time—50 Years of Foot-Stompin' Tone

March 22, 2017
If you want proof that guitarists gleefully cling to the past, just look at their feet. Most likely, their boots are hovering near a bunch of metal boxes that were conceived back in the Sixties and Seventies. The truly addicted collect masses of these things and Velcro them on pedalboards—often employing arcane and complicated routing systems to switch between a series of old-school tonal colors. And even though digital technology has made it possible to inject these classic sounds into sleek, programmable designs, most guitarists still get a little weak in the knees upon discovering a new analog stomp box.

The simple, visceral design of most stomp boxes is actually the salvation of the species, as it’s easy and fun to create sonic carnage by mixing and matching pedals. Beginning with the introduction of the Maestro Fuzz-Tone in 1963, the pedal population has grown exponentially to the point where vintage models now commonly share board space with classic reissues, modern boutique units, and mass-produced newbies.

The GP staff decided to pay homage to these bottom-feeding beasts by detailing 50 revolutionary models. Each pedal has either defined a certain tone, pushed the sonic envelope of its time, been adopted by legendary players, and/or graced essential songs and albums.
This was far from a simple task. We’re also aware that extraordinary new boutique pedals are produced in garages all over the place—and that an exuberant community endorses each little-known wonderbox—but we focused this list on pedals that have been heard ’round the world.

So spin through this collection of classic blasters and bask in the simple pleasures of these powerful tone machines.

ADA Flanger
Debut: 1977
With its 35-to-1 sweep ratio—which was more than double that of the MXR Auto Flanger and Tycobrahe Pedalflanger—the ADA could sweep an audio signal over the horizon faster than you could say “voltage controlled clock oscillator.” When it comes to extreme flange effects, the ADA is still unbeatable.

Arbiter Fuzz Face
Debut: 1966
You’d have to have been frozen in a glacier for the past 3,000 years to not know about the Fuzz Face or the left-handed Strat player who made it famous. Introduced in 1966 by London’s Arbiter Music, the dynamic-sounding Fuzz Face represents mankind’s best use of two transistors, four resistors, and three capacitors.

Bixonic Expandora
Debut: 1995
Surfacing at the height of the mid-’90s stompbox boom, the Expandora made friends fast with its rich fuzz sounds and its ability to be optimized for distortion or overdrive via a pair of internal dip switches. Billy Gibbons’ onstage use of multiple Expandoras (most of which weren’t hooked up to anything) helped make the effect an overnight success.

Boss CE-1 Chorus Ensemble
Debut: 1976
Famous for its lush analog sound, the stereo CE-1 set the standard by which all chorus pedals are judged. With its dual footswitches (chorus/vibrato and effects bypass), input-level switch, chorus intensity and vibrato depth and speed controls, the CE-1 was also one of the most flexible of the breed.

Boss DM-2 Delay
Debut: 1981
Highly regarded for its tape-flavored tones, this classic analog delay pedal specializes in short echoes (33ms to 330ms), and features echo, intensity, and repeat rate controls. Cranking the intensity knob makes for a pretty rad effect in itself!

Boss DD-3 Digital Delay
Debut: 1986
This ultra-popular digital pedal gave guitarists far greater sonic flexibility than was possible with analog technology. Clear sounding, quiet, and delivering up to 800ms of delay, the DD-3 was an immediate hit. Features include dual outputs and a handy hold function that will loop a delayed part infinitely.

Boss DS-1 Distortion
Debut: 1979
This ultra-classic distortion box is known for its warm, tube-like growl and excellent dynamics and punch. If you could have only one distortion box, you couldn’t go wrong with a DS-1.

Boss MT-2 Metal Zone
Debut: 1991
Packing furious gain and powerful EQ, the MT-2 is well equipped for scorching lead tones and gut-shaking, modern-metal chunk.

Colorsound Overdriver
Debut: 1972
Boosted grind is the forte of this great-sounding, British-made overdrive. Equipped with drive, treble, and bass controls, the Overdriver is ideal for making even clean amps perform very dirty tricks—just ask Jeff Beck.

Demeter Tremulator
Debut: 1982
Designed to deliver soft, amp-style tremolo with no volume losses or unwanted coloration, the compact Tremulator needs only speed and depth controls to yield smooth, Fender-style pulse.

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