Effects pedals for fingerstyle guitar? Yes. Definitely.
Acoustic guitar is typically a minimalist business. The truth, however, is that even a simple acoustic set up can benefit from a reverb, a stompbox tuner, a light delay….the list goes on.
Everything in Moderation
Some of the classic fingerstyle players like Chet Atkins or Doc Watson avoided effects pedals or didn’t have access to them. They simply used the reverb (and sometimes tremolo) available in their amps, the live environment, or the recording system to dress up their sound.
Between these extremes, however, lie the great majority of fingerstyle guitar players. Folks like Andy McKee, Maneli Jamal, Calum Graham, and more – who use a moderate amount of effects pedals to enhance their sound.
This list of the ten best effects pedals for fingerstyle guitar will point you down the middle path of tasteful and economic use of effects gear.
NOTE: This list has been created by reviewing the gear lists of the top fingerstyle guitar players. The effects pedals that appear among multiple players is listed highest. And when there are similar types of gear (two tuner pedals), they are listed as one ranking with links to both pedals.
The 10 Best Effects Pedals for Fingerstyle Guitar
Reverb is the probably the most universal effect for acoustic guitar. It’s natural and unobtrusive, adding depth to the acoustic guitar. There are lots and lots of reverb pedals out there – Strymon Big Sky, Eventide Space Reverb, the Holy Grail Reverb Pedal. But the one Andy McKee uses is the TC Electronics T2 Reverb Pedal.
Using clip on tuners is extremely common for practice use. But, on stage, you want something that doesn’t clutter up the visual experience, that’s easy to see, and extremely reliable. The Boss TU-3 Floor Pedal and the TC Electronic Polytune both fit the bill.
Delay can be a dramatic effect – like the Edge’s classic walls of delay on the Joshua Tree album. But it is also widely used to create gentle textures in acoustic playing. A light trailing delay can add depth and harmonic complexity to the sound.
There are a great delay pedals from folks like Strymon (Strymon Timeline) and Digitech (DigiTech XDD DigiDelay), among others, but the Boss DD-3 Digital Delay is widely used by top players like Eric Johnson, Jon Gomm, Kaki King and more.
Volume pedals allow you to control your guitars volume with your foot. Simple and effective. They are particularly effective if you make use of swell effects in your playing. But even for general playing, they’re a convenient way of maintaining control of your sound, especially in environments where you’re running through a DI Box directly into the PA.
Looper pedals are a lot of fun. They’ve recently been re-popularized by Ed Sheerhan. But old school guys like Phil Keaggy have been using them to blow minds for decades. There are complex versions, like Pigtronix SPL Infinity Looper, but the BOSS series of RC loopers are popular, versatile, and affordable, used by beginners and professionals alike.
Octave pedals can fatten up the sound of guitar. They tend to sound big and obvious, so they’re not made for the subtle approach. When playing fingerstyle guitar, though, you can use them to add depth to percussive hits on the body of the guitar (especially if you’re creating a “kick drum” loop where the hits are isolated).
Chorus is a classic effect for both electric and acoustic guitar. It can sound a bit dated, though, so “less is more” is the rule here. (Of course, as soon as I type that, I can imagine a number of ways that lots of chorus could work great. But you get the idea…)
BOSS makes a nice chorus pedal, of course, and the MXR M234 Analog Chorus Pedal deserves a shout out. Back in the glory days of chorus effect, though, Michael Hedges used a TC Electronics Stereo Chorus pedal. The latest version of the TC Electronics chorus is the Corona series.
I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan of Tremolo for acoustic fingerstyle guitar. But if Kaki King and Phil Keaggy use them, it’s worth noting. Because Tremolo is a distinct sound – and not a very natural one for the acoustic guitar – it truly is an “effect”. Useful for augmenting looped parts, stylizing a certain song, or distinguishing a solo. Use with discretion.
Both Keaggy and King use the BOSS TR-2 Tremolo Pedal.
EQ (or Equalizer) pedals allow you to cut or boost frequencies in the guitar sound. This function is often built into any acoustic guitar amp you may be using. There are also sophisticated EQ abilities built in to PA systems. So you likely can overlook this category but, if you do need an EQ, check out the MXR M108S Ten Band EQ.