Guitar playing doesn’t have to be limited to distortion pedals and amplifiers.
Ever considered using modulation to create other-worldly sounds?
Or maybe you know of a specific era or genre of music that relies on modulation (chorus during the eighties, anyone?) to pull it off in a live setting.
Or maybe you are already a modulation buff and you’re looking for the ideal, all-in-one, multi-modulation pedal.
If any of these scenarios resonate, then this is the article for you, as we are covering our choices for the best modulation pedals in 2020.
Snapshot: Best Modulation Pedals in 2020
- Boss MD200 – Best All-In-One
- SoniCake 5th Dimension – Best Budget Option
- Wampler Terraform – Best High-End Option
- Dunlop JD4S RotoVibe – Best for Blues
- JOYO R-09 Vision Dual Modulation – Best Multi-Modulation
- NuX MOD Core Deluxe – Best Overall
Researching a Great Modulation Pedal to Alter Your Sound
“Modulation” covers a wide array of specific effect types. It includes Chorus, Flangers, Univibes, Tremolo, and just about any other effect that drastically alters your guitar signal’s pitch or frequency. If you’re looking for a pedal that does one specific kind of modulation effect, we’ve written a bunch of articles to thoroughly go over individual modulation pedals.
However, because modulation is such a broad category of guitar effects, I decided to focus on pedals that showcase how far the technology has advanced in recent years. This means that I focused on pedals that have multiple effects in them.
The top modulation pedals in 2020 are designed to include multiple topnotch examples of the best modulation sounds that guitar history has brought us. They have modern features like tap tempo, stereo In/Out, expression pedals, or even presets so you can save your customized tones.
Whatever your use for modulation or your budget, I’m confident that all the pedals on this list will inspire and excite you, because modulation is one of the most fun and mind blowing effects we guitarists can utilize. All of these are readily available and can be found online today. Let’s see what’s out there!
The Best Modulation Pedals On The Market
1. Boss MD200 Modulation Pedal Review – Best All-In-One
- Class-leading sound quality with 32-bit AD/DA, 32-bit floating point processing, and 96 kHz sampling rate
I’ll be honest: this pedal could have easily been awarded “Best Overall”, but because it does so much and it is a bit expensive, I felt the “Best All-In-One” award was more appropriate. If you’re looking for the most power and flexibility possible over your modulation effects, without having to deal with confusing interfaces, then the Boss MD200 is the one for you.
The 200 Series from Boss are a series of digital pedals designed to deliver maximum tonal flexibility while still remaining conservative in the amount of space they take up on your board. The MD (Modulation) 200 does just with all of your favorite modulation effects, as it packs twelve effect types (including Rotary, Vibrato, Chorus, Slicer, Auto-wah, and more) in an incredible 5.4 x 4 x 2.4 inch frame.
It manages to make room for Tap Tempo and Subdivision switches, MIDI functionality, and Stereo In/Out.
Once you’ve selected your effect using the rotary knob, the MD200 gives you control over the Rate, Depth, and Effect Level of that effect. There are also three Parameter knobs, which vary in what they control by each specific effect, and any of the parameters can be controlled via an expression pedal. These pop up on the small screen for you once you start adjusting.
While there are on four memory blocks available on the pedal, you can store up to 128 presets that can be accessed from an external MIDI control.
One of the coolest aspects of the MD200 is the fact that it gives you the best of modern and classic Boss circuits all under one hood. Buying an original CE-1 chorus could cost hundreds, even thousands, but getting the MD200 for around $250 gets you an identical sound and many more effects.
Those who are worried that the pedal is digital need not worry, as the MD200 has 32 bit internal processing and a 96 kHz sampling rate. This is just a long winded way of saying that the pedal samples extremely accurately and does the original pedals justice.
- Effect Type: Multi-Modulation
- Signal: Digital
- Power Source: Boss PSA Adaptor (250mA)
- Dimensions: 4 x 5.5 x 2.5”
- Features: Buffered Bypass, Memory/Presets, 12 effects, MIDI, Tap Tempo
Final Thoughts on the Boss MD200
Boss is certainly not new to the multi-modulation effect game, but the 200 series might just be their best effort yet, with the MD200 being a clear standout. This is one of the best modulation pedals to hit the market in terms of power and simplicity in design. This is a great option for professionals or Boss fans alike.
2. SoniCake 5th Dimension Modulation Pedal Review – Best Budget Option
- 11-Mode Digital Modulation adding multiple Sonic Dimensions to your Tone, providing more Possibilities for your Tonal Palate.
If you’re sticking to a tight budget, but still want a pedal with options when it comes to modulation, then the 5th Dimension from SoniCake is the choice for you. Not only does it have eleven modes stuffed into a miniature pedal, it does so while remaining well under $100.
The SoniCake 5th Dimension is the only pedal to make it onto this list in a miniature pedal format, which makes it a great option for those who are tight on space or on cash. It has eleven modes that include Bitcrush, Autowah, Phaser, and more. It also features LED lights under the controls, making it easier to see on dark stages, and runs on less current than most multi-modulation pedals at just 110mA.
The 5th Dimension gives you control over the Mix (amount of dry vs effected signal), Depth (Intensity), and the Rate (speed) of the whichever effect mode you select. While the LED controls are flashy and may come in handy on stage, the knobs sit quite close together and aren’t the easiest to adjust.
There’s no need to worry about using your fingers to adjust the speed at least, as the True Bypass switch also functions as a Tap Tempo to dial in your Rate.
While there are some standout effects in my opinion (such as the Tremolo and Autowah), the general consensus from reviewers is that the effects sound okay, but not great. I have to agree. The Flangers can get shrill, as can the chorus and phasers with pesky high frequencies. While it is cool that the pedal juggles multiple effects, each of the effects don’t seem to have enough attention to detail to woo over professionals.
- Effect Type: Multi-Modulation
- Signal: Digital
- Power Source: 9V DC (110mA)
- Dimensions: 3.94 x 2.44 x 2.36”
- Features: 11 modulations, True Bypass, Tap Tempo, Mini Design, LED Controls
Final Thoughts on the SoniCake 5th Dimension
While the 5th Dimension doesn’t sound good enough for professional use, its clever design, small footprint, and multiple effects make it a great option for beginners who want to explore modulation for the first time without spending hundreds of dollars. This would make a great stocking stuffer for a budding guitarist.
3. Wampler Terraform Modulation Effects Pedal Review – Best High-End Option
- Each of 11 effect blocks have been designed and realized in-house by the tone chasing freaks at Wampler: (Dimension, Chorus, Harmonic Tremolo, Tremolo, AutoSwell, Rotary, U-Vibe, Phaser, Flanger,...
On the other side of the financial spectrum lies the impressive Terraform by Wampler Pedals. This all-inclusive modulation machine could very well be the last modulation pedal you will ever have to buy.
In addition to the classic effects like Chorus, Univibe, and Phaser, the Terraform has unique effects such as Autoswell, Envelope Filter, and Dimension sprinkled into its eleven modulation modes. It beats out the Boss MD200 in terms of onboard presets with a whopping eight slots, as well as MIDI control, expression assign, Stereo In/Out, and Tap Tempo.
Wampler made all of this possible while only requiring 108mA of current, making it any easy addition to any pedal power supply unit.
One of the most attractive aspects of this pedal is its simple control layout. Because Wampler opted out on menu screens, the Terraform functions like a digital pedal, but feels like a traditional analog one. There are controls for the Volume, Rate, Depth, and Blend of the effect, as well as a Variable control that changes with each individual mode.
Presets are accessed via the Preset/Save button, which corresponds with one of 8 different lighting combinations over only 4 LED’s (a clever solution to having more presets than LED’s).
Each of the effects sound terrific, as only one would expect from Wampler. I would stack this up against any other high end modulation out there, especially the Dimension setting. One cool feature that gives you extra control over your tone is the included effects loop.
The Pre/Post inputs can be used to route modulation before or after your overdrive pedals. Since every modulation type reacts differently to overdrive, this gives you the ability to choose your preference in signal routing.
- Effect Type: Multi-Modulation
- Signal: Digital
- Power Source: 9-18V (108mA)
- Dimensions: 3.75” x 4.75” x 1.75″
- Features: Signal Routing, Presets, Expression, Tap Tempo
Final Thoughts on the Wampler Terraform
While the Terraform is undeniably a high-end pedal and the most expensive on this list, it still manages to beat out some of its competitors (see Strymon Mobius or Boss MD500) in price. With this in mind and the fact that it has the power to live up to its name, the Terraform is one of the best modulation pedals to grace this planet or any other.
4. Dunlop JD4S Rotovibe Review – Best for Blues
Univibe manages to elevate blues whether you’re going for Hendrix tones, soulful solos with depth, or even a rotary speaker laced rhythm tone. However you use it, the Rotovibe sounds killer and gives you all the control at your feet with its expression pedal format.
While most of the pedals on this list are multi-modulation pedals, the Rotovibe earned its place due to its unique expression pedal design that is perfect for Blues musicians. In addition to being able to be powered by a single 9V battery, the Rotovibe has buffered bypass to help fight long cable runs.
Just like all Dunlop expression pedals and wahs, the Rotovibe is built like a tank and can handle heavy use.
The expression rocker controls the speed of the univibe effect. Rocking towards the heel offers a slower modulation and moving towards the toe creates faster modulation sounds. Dunlop makes it easy to switch between Chorus and Vibrato modes, as there is a large selector button at the heel of the pedal than can be pushed with a well intentioned kick.
Even the Intensity knob is large and could be changed with your toe. In short, everything on this pedal can be altered at your feet, which is good news for anyone that wants to focus on their fingers.
Of all the Univibe pedals out there, I find that this one does a great job of modeling the Rotary Speaker sound. Univibe was originally created for this reason, but ultimately failed in the best possible way. The Rotovibe gives you the best of both worlds.
The fact that you can change the speed of the effect on the fly is super cool and can be used in a lot of creative ways from warped vinyl sounds to Hendrix type Leslie speaker sounds.
- Effect Type: Univibe
- Signal: Analog
- Power Source: 9V
- Dimensions: 9.9 x 3.0 x 3.9”
- Features: Buffered Bypass, Chorus/Vibrato Mode
Final Thoughts on the Dunlop JD4S Rotovibe
Sometimes simple is better, and I find this to be the case when playing blues guitar. Even though the pedal is simple, it is well thought out and offers unique sound possibilities through its expression pedal design.
5. JOYO R-09 Vision Dual Modulation Pedal Review – Best Multi-Modulation
- Dual Channel Modulation: 18 Total Effects
Though most of the pedals on this list are multi-modulation pedals, the Vision from JOYO is the only one that can voice two effects simultaneously. It is also a budget friendly effect whose great build and sound quality landed it a spot on our list of the best cheap guitar pedals.
The JOYO Vision packs some serious heat, with a whopping 18 total effects split between two sides of the pedal that can be used at the same time. It is a digital pedal, giving it has the power to run stereo in/out on both sides and to run your effects in series or parallel. Each side of the pedal also has its own independent tap tempo control.
Each side of the pedal has four knobs assigned to it. There are controls for Speed/Rate, Control (Variable for each effect), Effect Type, and Depth/Mix. The Control knob will be different for every effect. For example, on the Auto-Wah, the Control will adjust the sweep range.
There is also a toggle switch in the middle that lets you choose between series or parallel routing for added versatility in the sound. The Bypass switches can both be activated at the same time to activate two modulation effects in either series/parallel configurations, or the switch can be held down to activate tap tempo.
The Vision works as if you have two different modulation pedals on your board working at the same time, giving you some extremely unique combinations that few other pedals can offer. The effects are also pretty extreme in their nature, and are rarely subtle, though you can change this with the Mix knob. In my opinion, there are higher quality sounding pedals on this list, but for the price and versatility, this pedal is more than worth its asking price.
- Effect Type: Multi-Effect Modulation
- Signal: Digital
- Power Source: DC 9V
- Dimensions: 5.1 x 4.3 x 2.0”
- Features: Series/Parallel, two effects at once, stereo out, 18 effects
Final Thoughts on the JOYO R-09 Vision Dual Modulation
There is nothing normal about this pedal. It is unique and would be a great tool for guitarists that like to experiment with different sounds to get their inspiration. The ability to blend two different modulations at the same time makes this a truly wild pedal.
6. NuX MOD Core Deluxe Modulation Pedal Review – Best Overall
- 8 modulation effects (Chorus,Flanger,Phaser,Tremolo,Pan,Rotary,U-vibe,Vibrato),True stereo signal processing.
It was difficult to decide on a “Best Overall” selection for this list, as all the pedals on this list have their merits. However, the Nux MOD Core Deluxe takes the cake for its balance of unbeatable price point, small footprint, and great sound quality/versatility.
While not a miniature pedal, the MOD Core Deluxe is substantially smaller than most other multi-modulations on this list. It comes with eight different effect types to choose from for both Normal and Deluxe modes, totally an amazing sixteen different effects.
The list for each of the effects are below. The MOD Core Deluxe has Stereo In/Out, Latching effect, and can be updated via USB.
The controls are quite simple on this pedal, with knobs for Rate, Depth, and the Effect Selector. The Tweak knob is essentially the Variable control that controls a parameter pertinent to each effect type. The mode selector switches between two algorithms for each effect, giving two unique voices for you to choose from on each effect type.
The Tone Lock setting ensures that all your settings are stationary even if you accidentally bump them on stage or in transit. Finally, a fun trick this pedal can do is momentary latching. Just hold down the bypass switch and the effect engages, then turns off as soon as your foot releases.
The sounds that come out of this little pedal are quite impressive, with zero pesky frequency ranges that plague other cheap digital pedals. The chorus pedals are especially lush and will fill a stage well under stereo settings.
The Vibrato is also extremely musical, which I find to be pretty rare. There really isn’t a bad effect on this pedal. I personally prefer the Deluxe mode effects, as they seem to emulate famous models and have a more satisfying character to them.
- Effect Type: Multi-Modulation
- Signal: Digital
- Power Source: 9V
- Dimensions: 2.76 x 5.51 x 5.51”
- Features: Latching, 2 Modes, True Bypass, USB firmware updates, Stereo In/Out
Final Thoughts on the NuX MOD Core Deluxe
Though not as amazing sounding as some of the boutique pedals on this list, I think that the NuX MOD Core Deluxe brings a higher level modulation sound to an attainable price point. It has a wide array of effect types to choose from, allows for stereo routing, and can even be updated as the years go by. This is a player’s pedal, and that makes it worthy of being called the best modulation pedal.
One Pedal Can Have All Your Modulation Needs Covered
Through this article I realized just how far modulation pedals have come along in recent years. What used to be a “one pedal, one effect” world is now almost a thing of the past. Just about every pedal on this list did multiple, classic sounds justice in a way that has never been done before. Or they took a classic effect and took it in a completely new direction.
Whether you’re new to modulation, or you’re a fanatic looking to pare down, there is a lot of good news here. The best modulation pedal does every type of modulation effect extremely well, and there are multiple pedals that fit that definition.
Better yet, they don’t have to cost an arm and a leg. They can – and are often worth it for the added features – but they don’t have to.
If you’re looking to get inspired and realize the guitar’s true potential, look no further than a great multi-modulation pedal. You might just stumble across some sounds you didn’t even know were possible.
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Davis Wilton Bader is a professional guitarist/writer based out of St. Louis, MO. He plays in the bands Lumet and The Outskirts.