The country twang is all in your hand. Touch is crucial, but the right pedals help you get the most out of the amps and guitar you choose to play the genre with.
As a guitar style that heavily insists on the simplest rigs and is filled with amp purists, finding the sound effects for your board can be tricky; that’s why I prepared this guide to help you find the best country pedals.
Besides getting into the best options, I’ll share my experience on making the best out of the pedals to shape your tone and why you might need them under your foot in your practice room, bar gig, big stage, or studio.
Bottom Line Up-front
The best country pedals are the ones that highlight the natural tone of the guitar and tube amp – adding in the extra coloring without oversaturating and covering the dynamics that lie at the core of country guitar.
Your board doesn’t need to be huge or complex, yet it’s worth investing in enough pedals to have the option to kick in an extra layer of interest to classic and modern country tunes – A good pedal will make a difference, even if set at a low rate.
The Country Rig Essentials
As stripped down as country music is at its core, the simplest of tones sometimes hides more than you might first think. Even a ‘dry’ tone conceals multiple pedals that allow the player to have control over the sound while performing.
Considering what I learned in the studio and live from Nashville’s top players, I’ve categorized the pedals based on the effects and units you need to have under your feet for different scenarios.
Country music is mostly based on the performance aspect rather than the sonic aspect of the guitar, yet that doesn’t mean the greats of the genre don’t use pedals – effects won’t cover up your guitar playing as many amp purists fear, and as long you use them properly, they will only enhance it.
The good news is don’t need to have many pedals and can always opt for just the single coil Tele and tubes – yet adding an extra layer of interest, even if just for a specific setting, is handy.
Widening the sound with delay, blending with the band using reverb, and keeping all ears on the solo with a phaser or chorus pedal, even if done rarely, will leave a mark on your set and add to the direct nature of the genre.
And if you are a working musician like myself, being unable to deliver a tone when asked is not an option, so use the list to replace your pedals with better gigging and recording gear alongside the best country guitars.
Touring artists, band directors, and producers can get very specific in what they want, and that might be the complete opposite of what you were spending. I had to emulate a banjo on stage many times and did that by using a whammy pedal you would normally see in a shredder rig – being open to everything a gig can throw at you is essential.
What to Know Before You Buy
What is the Country Electric Guitar Tone to Aspire to?
Typically, the country guitar tone refers to the spanky, clean guitar tone with the single coil Telecaster twang with a tube amp and its different gain stages when cracking up the amp or adding a drive pedal.
Today the genre has evolved much, borrowing much from the world of rock and pop, where guitars cover a much wider range of frequencies and effects. My studio experience around the Nashville cats taught me there’s no rule on what’s best for a genre in most cases – and your gear should fit that.
How Many Pedals Do You Need to Start Playing Country?
For complete beginners, no pedals are needed. A good volume overdrive and reverb pedal might be the best choices when you get past the first months of playing. I would also advise not spending more than 100$ on a pedal if you are just starting or only want to test out if you like using effects or not.
Do Famous Country Players Use Pedals?
Many of the most prominent players in the world, from Vince Gill to Brat Masson and Jerry Reed, beyond playing their trusty guitars & amps, use or have used pedals. After the 70s, it became normal to add some effects under the foot, first starting with a volume pedal, reverb, classic modulation like tremolo, and later overdrive.
Considering how limited the choice of pedals in the genre can be, you will find some, if not most, of the pedals listed below on the board of famous guitar players.
Where Can I Find the Best Country Pedals?
Vintage pedals are the holy grail of country players as they are harder to find and best represent the core of country tone. New pedals are easily found on resellers’ sites like Sweetwater and Guitar Center, while true vintage pedals made decades ago are best found in used products sites like Reverb and local listings.
If you’re lucky to live in a music city like Nashville, you will find many vintage pedals in all of the local guitar shops or just be by being in musician communities in person and online.
Best Volume Pedals for Country
As your rig’s first or last pedal, your volume pedal is a make-or-break piece of equipment much depends on.
A volume pedal won’t shape the tone of your guitar but will shape your country performance more than any other pedal. When switching pickups, going from rhythm to lead, or vice-versa, rolling the pedal with your foot to stand out or lay back is crucial.
Swelling with the volume pedal is essential to emulate the country style of pedal steel, or even more if you play pedal steel. That’s why you should aim for a pedal with a good feel on the foot or an even better adjustable feel.
Modern touch displays and other digital solutions are not very helpful. It’s not common for a country guitarist to rely on screens rather than the ears.
If you’re wondering whether to go for active or passive volume pedals, there’s only a need to go for the first if you have a huge pedal board and work with very long cables – common settings if you gig at festivals.
- Ernie Ball VPJR Tuner / Volume Pedal
- Lehle Stereo Volume Pedal
- Lehle Mono Volume Pedal S
- Boss FV-500L Foot Volume Pedal – Low Impedance
- Ernie Ball 6180 VP JR 250K Volume Pedal for Passive Electronics
Best Country Guitar Compressors
Compressors are the most misunderstood pedals in the guitar world, as there are multiple ways to use them and not set good practice. In a country setting, I generally use a compressor to even out some of the high-end from the tone when there’s too much snap and rarely as a booster.
The main thing to look out for in a compressor is its ability to work properly at a low rate – you don’t want much compression going on, even at the studio, where all has to sound neat and – most of the ‘evening’ out of notes comes from the player’s touch.
That’s why a blend or mix knob is very important to set it to the bare minimum needed. Even if it colors the sound, it’s acceptable as long as it’s a vintage kind of warm coloring.
Some country players never opt for compressors as they might ‘mask’ your true dynamics; however, at a low rate, a compressor never hurts anyone, and you can bet the mixing engineer will, in most cases, compress your clean guitar sound.
Compression is hard to grasp unless you work on your mixing ear; a simple pedal interface with a few knobs eases things out.
- Wampler Mini Ego Compressor Pedal
- Empress Guitar Compressor MKII Pedal
- Origin Effects Cali76 Compact Deluxe Compressor Pedal
- Boss CS-3 Compression Sustainer
- Universal Audio Max Preamp and Dual Compressor Pedal
Best Country Guitar Equalizers
The Equaliser is the single most important tone shaper on your board. It can take any role and be used in endless ways in the Country and beyond.
You generally need an EQ that does the following roles
Lead Boster – The EQ curve is the best lead booster, especially using a clean tone. Raise the mid-range, tap it before a solo, and stand out above the band. Too much of it, though, and you’ll hurt people’s ears with the pick attack.
Tone Shape – The EQ at the end of your rig is your insurance, and you will sound similar to all PAs and rooms. Few bands have a FOH engineer, and some frequency shaping assures you adapt in all situations.
I suggest having at least 3-5 EQ bands and preferably a mix/blend knob for a good start. EQs are generally the last pedal anyone changes, so opt for a very solid-built in the style of BOSS pedals. For advanced players, more bands and faders make a difference.
- Boss GE-7 7-band EQ Pedal
- Empress ParaEq MKII Deluxe Equalizer and Boost Pedal
- MXR M108S Ten Band EQ Pedal
- Boss GE-7 7-band EQ Pedal
- Keeley Compressor Plus Compressor Pedal
Best Country Overdrive/Distortion GuitarPedals
You can’t always get an edge-of-breakup warm overdrive from your amp. Either you’re not loud enough to crank the amp, or the tubes need additional help to get some crunchy country tones.
Out of all pedals, overdrive is the most argued about – many players love them, but others never use on in front of the amp. I’m somewhere in the middle, opting to use pedals about 50% of the time, depending on the song, venue, and overall setup.
Choose an overdrive/distortion that emulates the amp’s natural sound when cranked and allows for a lot of touch dynamics, like a Tube Screamer or Blues Driver.
The best way to test it is to set a low gain rate, start playing softly and slowly add power to the touch – if the sound responds to that with more gain, it’s a good-to-go country pedal.
You don’t need many knobs for the drive pedal; the tone knob most pedals have is the only essential you need.
I don’t recommend using the drive pedal as a booster, only as coloring – combining the drive pedal with the EQ makes for a superb lead guitar recipe.
- Ibanez TS808 Original Tube Screamer Overdrive Pedal
- J. Rockett Audio Designs Archer Select Boost/Overdrive Pedal
- Radial Tonebone Trimode Tube Distortion/Overdrive Pedal
- Boss BD-2 Blues Driver Pedal
- JHS Morning Glory V4 Transparent Overdrive Pedal
Best Country Guitar Reverb Pedals
No country board is complete with a reverb pedal. Even though some country records are bone dry, reverb is still irreplaceable for most gigs and dictates a big part of how your sound.
Among the reverb types to use in Country, Spring Reverb has been a classic choice of players since the 60s when the first Fender Deluxe and Pro Reverb amps started adding it. The sound we are all familiar with in leads and rhythm guitar most likely comes from the springs; however, the reverb type depends much on the room you’re playing, and it’s good to have options.
My favorite guitar player, Nashville session ace and multiple-times country player of the year Tom Bukovac, taught much about what I know about reverb.
As his YouTube Hoomeskoolin’ followers know him, Uncle Larry is the guitar guru of Nashville, finding the right gear for some of the best players in the world – his recommendation for reverb is the highly expensive Ebo E-verb which I won’t add to the list below as it’s technically not a pedal.
- Strymon Volante Magnetic Echo Machine Pedal
- Danelectro Spring King Reverb Pedal
- Boss RV-6 Digital Reverb Pedal
- MXR M300 Digital Reverb Pedal
- Strymon BigSky Multidimensional Reverb Pedal
Best Country Guitar Delay Pedals
Delay can widen your guitar tone when playing country rhythm and lead, yet it’s not always necessary in many country situations where there are few instruments in the band.
The classic Flatpicking country style doesn’t rely on delay at all. Even much of the soloing on electric is inspired by the old days of playing the banjo with no amplification and just the room reverb – delay eventually became more popular as Country blended in with pop and rock, and arrangements became denser.
You don’t need a delay with too many functions and knobs, just one that can give you the space you need, preferably the warmth of analog circuits. That doesn’t mean leaving digital delays behind.
Much has been made of digital delay as ‘harsh,’ yet with the right blending in the tone control for the feedback; you can hardly tell the difference – don’t let the digital world scare you no matter how classic your tone choice is!
- Line 6 DL4 MkII Delay Modeler Pedal
- T-Rex Replicator D’Luxe Analog Tape Delay Pedal
- Way Huge Supa-Puss Analog Delay Pedal with Tap Tempo
- MXR M299 Carbon Copy Mini Analog Delay Pedal
- Electro-Harmonix Memory Toy Analog Delay Pedal with Modulation
Best Country Guitar Modulation Pedals
You wouldn’t necessarily associate a country with too many modulation effects – the ones that stuck from the early 50s and 60s are still the most popular.
Tremolo can be heard in multiple records over the decades. As one of the first pedals invented, it found its place under the foot of the greats alongside Vibrato. I almost always keep this tremolo on my board at a very low rate to give my guitar more space and kick it in only when the effect is part of the song.
Phaser pedals are also popular in Country. Depending on how much of it you dial in, you either make a statement with the tone or make some space with the guitar by adding width and separation. The most important knob, all modulation effects you pick, should have is the blend or mix knob and preferably a tone knob to cut the muddiness out and preserve the guitar’s attack.
You can also pick a pedal with multiple modulations, as you won’t likely be using more than 1 effect at the same time in most country scenarios.
- MXR M290 Mini Phase 95 Pedal
- Boss TR-2 Tremolo Effects Pedal
- J. Rockett Audio Designs Uni-Verb Chorus/Vibrato Pedal
- Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man Analog Delay / Chorus / Vibrato Pedal
- Strymon Lex Rotary Speaker Simulator Pedal V2
Question: Do I Need Buffered Guitar Pedals to Play Country?
Answer: Buffered pedals ensure no signal loss with long cables, and too many pedals/gear are involved. For most country rigs, there’s only a need for an active volume pedal if you are playing big stages and have a massive board. Otherwise, you can get the purest non-altered tone with a passive pedal.
Question: Should I Get New or Used Pedals for Country?
Answer: I got all my best analog pedals used for the simple reason that It was hard to find them new. As long as they are not faulty, old pedals will do the same job as new ones.
Don’t get frightened to purchase a used unit if it’s not in its best-looking shape or has loose bolts. Everything mechanical can be fixed – faulty circuits are the ones that are hard to repair. Ensure to maintain the foot switch & pedal for smooth use with the right care and mechanical oil after.
Question: What are the Best Country Guitar Amps?
Answer: Due to their clarity and dynamic sound, the 50s, 60s, and 70s tube amps are still country guitarists’ top choices. Fender, Princeton, and Orange Amps, among other brands, are very popular.
Final Word: Making the Best Out of Your Pedal
Pedalboards are always a work in progress, a never-ending struggle at times to find the next one that fits in. There’s joy in adding more effects under your feet, yet true mastery comes from having those pedals work for you as part of your unique voice.
I’ve given you the list of what the great country players use, many use similar gear, but all sound different. Take your time to live with the new pedal and test how it fits in your settings, home, studio, or multiple shows before deciding on getting new ones.
It’s not about the number – professional players have a lot of gear, yet they’re the best at making the pedals their own.
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