Guitar pedals are among the essential accessories that you will find in any serious guitarist’s gig bag. The simple reason for this is that a guitarist’s performance can improve significantly with the right effect pedals. However, they can be pretty expensive, leaving many new guitarists wondering whether they’re worth the price.
Guitar pedals can be expensive depending on factors like brand, demand-to-supply ratio, available functions, and perceived value. All guitar pedals do not cost the same. For serious guitarists, most high-quality guitar pedals are worth the price.
The concept of cost (expensive or cheap) and worth is largely subjective. In this article, we shall try to look at the costs associated with guitar pedals while also trying to answer the question of whether or not they are worth it.
Understanding Guitar Effects Pedals and Their Prices
Before we dive into the technicalities of guitar pedal prices, it’s important to establish an understanding of the pedals and their functionality.
What Are Guitar Pedals?
At the risk of stating the obvious, we need to clarify what we mean by guitar pedals. Having this basic understanding will be especially helpful when we discuss the issue of whether or not this device is worth it.
A guitar pedal is a device that modifies the sound of a guitar. Also called a stomp box, it can be used to create tonal and dynamic variations. Some of the common effects pedals you can find include volume control, compression, delay, echo, reverb, flange, distortion, and overdrive.
Having explained what guitar pedals are, we can now look at why they may be expensive and whether or not they can be considered worth it. We’ll also throw in some tips to help you pick the guitar pedals that are right for you.
Factors That Affect the Price of Guitar Effects Pedals
Several factors can affect the cost of a guitar pedal, and we will discuss these factors below.
As with every product, a brand’s reputation and marketing standing will affect its product price. For example, the Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion Pedal costs around $120, while the Donner Distortion Guitar Pedal costs about $40.
Boss is a more recognized brand than Donner, so their products will usually not cost the same. However, this may not mean that the Boss pedal is better than the Donner pedal.
A pedal that offers more features will likely cost more than one that offers less. While this may not always be a factor, especially for single-effect pedals, it can come into play when considering multi-effect pedals. Be sure to take available features into consideration when shopping for a guitar effects pedal.
Supply & Demand
In any market, scarcity will always lead to an increase in price. This is one major factor that increases the cost of guitar pedals. Take, for example, this Klone Centaur distortion pedal. According to Wikipedia, only about 8000 Klone Centaurs were made before their production was discontinued in 2008.
As a result of this scarcity, the price of a Klone Centaur starts from about $4,500 to almost $10,000. It should be noted that these are used and not new pedals. Tyler Larsen of “Guitar Super System” and “Music Is Win” on YouTube made some comparisons using the Klone Centaur. He paid $5,043.52 for the Klone Centaur, $200 for a Wampler Klone clone, and $100 for a JHS distortion pedal. You can watch Tyler’s video here for more information:
While the Klone Centaur distortion’s sound quality was exceptional, it cannot be said to have out-shined the others by as much as $4,850. This further confirms that the limited quantity of pedals worldwide has significantly increased their value and cost.
In the world of musicians, a gear that was used (or is currently being used) by a celebrity will cost more.
Take for instance Jimi Hendrix’s setup. Considering the legendary status that Hendrix’s personality currently enjoys, many of his diehard fans will most certainly want to mimic his setup. So, the simple fact that certain pedals have been associated with the legendary Jimi Hendrix will automatically drive up their prices. It gets even worse when this is combined with the limited availability of said gear.
Having looked at some of the significant factors that affect the pricing of guitar pedals, we can now briefly discuss whether or not these prices are worth it.
Evaluating Worth as a Subjective Concept
The subject of worth or value is one that Psychologists will continue to discuss and analyze for years to come. However, one thing that has remained constant and generally accepted as a fact is that worth or value is subjective.
When Peter Freedman paid $6,010,000 for Kurt Cobain’s ‘MTV Unplugged’ guitar, he must have felt the purchase was worth it. However, a survey of many top guitarists may show that a good percentage will not consider that guitar worth that amount.
Interestingly, Peter Freedman is known as a philanthropist, an entrepreneur, and the Founder and Chairman of RØDE Microphones. He is not a performing guitarist and will likely have the guitar on display somewhere just for sentimental reasons.
The point here is that no one can determine “worth” for another. Therefore, it is safe to say that any amount a guitarist pays for an effect pedal will be because they consider it worth it.
Guide to Choosing the Right Guitar Pedals
Choosing the right guitar pedals for your rack can be confusing, considering that there’s a wide variety of effects and brands to choose from. Thankfully, a few workarounds can help make this process easy for you.
Understand Your Genre
The first thing you MUST do is understand the music genre you are interested in. Your preferred music genre will influence your choice of effects and how you set them up in your signal chain. While effects can be used across genres, some configurations are more commonly used in specific genres.
Below are a few examples of music genres and effects prevalent with them:
- Rock – Distortion, overdrive, delay, reverb, chorus, compression, phaser, and flanger.
- Metal – Delay, distortion/fuzz, overdrive, wah.
- Blues – Reverb, compression, reverb, and wah.
- Jazz – Chorus, compression, and reverb.
- Country – Reverb, overdrive, and compression.
The above is just a rough guide to help you get started. As you experiment, you can develop a different setup that works better for you.
Model Your Guitar Idols
This is one tip that can solve this problem faster. The simple trick is to find out what your guitar idol is using. The chances are that your guitar idol plays the same music genre that you love and want to play. By simply copying your idol’s setup, you can reproduce the same sound you love without going through the learning curve.
However, one crucial thing to note is that you do not have to get the same brands (because of the cost) as your mentor. It is possible that your mentor may have pretty expensive pedals, making them unaffordable to you. Your primary focus should be the effect and not the brand. It would therefore be best if you went for brands you can afford.
The important thing is to get the same effects and have the same signal chain setup. With this, you can have a solid foundation to begin experimenting. You must experiment by yourself to eventually create your own unique sound.
Focus on understanding your own personal sound!
What do you want to sound like? Though some guitar pedals are expensive, others are within the range of general affordability.
It’s clear that cost and worth are not mutually exclusive. These are two different factors that are independent of each other. One guitarist can consider a $1000 guitar pedal not worth it, while another will consider a $5000 guitar pedal worth every penny.
Work within your budget (there are many pedals within everyone’s budget) and then grow from there. You do not have to spend thousands to enjoy the benefits of guitar pedals.