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Everyone has heard vibrato even if they don't realize it. Almost every vocalist uses the effect naturally as they sing, and with the invention of the vibrato pedal guitarists can use it as well.
Vibrato is a subtle warbling of pitch by a specific number of semi-tones that hangs around the main note to create a richer and more interesting experience. The ear hears it a curious alteration of the main pitch rather than anything detracting.
With the guitar playing in the same frequency range as vocals, it's only natural that the vibrato effect would make its way into a stompbox.
Today's current line-up of vibrato pedals have all kinds of features that older ones didn't have, meaning you can define the way yours performs in very specific ways defined by your preference or by what the song demands. It's up to you.
Let's get into it. We'll explain more about the effect itself, which features you want to make sure are available when you start evaluating a purchase, and then we'll explain what each knob does.
Finally, once you're fully equipped with the information you need to make a decision, we'll show you our favorite picks of the modern market.
What is the Vibrato Effect?
The vibrato effect is a regular pulsation of the pitch of a sound. The sound varies by a specified amount above and below the original pitch, passing through it over and over again. The word vibrato itself comes from the Italian 'vibrare' meaning 'to vibrate.'
You may not recognize the effect from a description, but we've all heard it. Vocalists like to use vibrato at the end of phrases or during long phrases, as do violinists. There is a confusion in the guitar world, thanks to the misnamed "tremolo bar," which is actually a vibrato arm.
Tremolo pedals create an effect that is a pulsating variation of volume instead of pitch. The consistent modulation of pitch is what we call vibrato, but in an effects pedal the options are far wider than what you hear out of a vocalist or violinist.
Although you may want to stick to the expected ranges of pitch modulation, you can define some really crazy ranges with effects pedals, which also include other knobs such as speed, depth, rise time, tone, and more. You can keep it subtle and humanistic or get into some very outer space sounding options too.
What to Look for in the Best Vibrato Pedal?
There's not too much to worry about here besides one main consideration. Of course you'll want to concern yourself with the durability of the chassis and switches and the sound quality of the effect, but other than that there's just a few things to consider.
First and most important is to decide if you want a vintage sound. Because if you choose a vintage pedal, you will definitely get that sound.
The tech and electronics used in these pedals has come a long way, but they're not produced at such a level that the prices have been driven far down like you see with other pedal types. So don't go too cheap or you'll end up with cheap electronics that may fail on you over time.
All you really must have here is a rate knob to control the speed and a depth knob to control how deep the pitch waves are. You'll get an output or level knob to control the volume of the vibrato guitar effect, too.
Some pedals start tossing in features like an added chorus effect, a way to change the waveform of the effect itself, and a tone knob to EQ the output. Those aren't necessary but if you think you might want them, they can be had, just be on the look out.
How to Use a Vibrato Pedal
With the vibrato effect simply being a warbling of pitch, it becomes fairly obvious where to situate it in your signal path, but you need to understand how that works first.
Where to Place it in the Signal Chain
By using logic in order to replicate how nature produces sound effects we can define a sequential order for your guitar pedals. You'll want to follow this general setup without straying too far:
- Dynamics, Filters, & Pitch Shifters
- Boost & Distortion
We go into much further depth in our official article on the topic, but for now let me just state that vibrato is a type of modulation, meaning it will come in the 2nd to last batch of pedals. You'll want to already establish your waveform shape and volume before adding vibrato.
You could have a very strong argument for inserting this pedal in the "filters" section after dynamics, depending on if you actually use distortion or not.
If you don't, placing it early in the "modulation" section is preferred, since you're changing the pitch of the note. You want all of this happening before reverbs and delays though, otherwise you'll change their pitch as well instead of feeding them an oscillating signal.
Understanding the Knob Settings
Although you'll find some very fine pedals offering only two knobs, you'll generally find four knobs so we'll cover them all. You will always find a Speed knob that affects how fast the pitch warbling occurs in time.
While there's no tap tempo, you don't really need it for guitar vibrato like you might want on vocals (which you'd control yourself automatically anyways). You'll also always see a Depth knob, which controls how many semi-tones of warble you receive.
For example, you may only want to oscillate up and down one whole note for one song but for another you may choose up to two and a half whole notes.
The other common knobs are Rise Time and Tone. Rise Time lets you control an "attack" of sorts, where the effect isn't delayed so much as slowly engaged until it reaches its full expression. Tone is an equalization knob that lets you control how much brightness to include. It's essentially a high shelf EQ that you sweep down the frequency spectrum as you turn it up.
Occasionally you'll see other options or these labeled differently depending on the manufacturer, but these are your four basic knob options.
The Best Vibrato Pedals
Note: Each image and text link leads to Amazon.com where you can read additional user reviews, find specific technical detail listings, see additional product options and sizes, and make your purchase.
Now that we know which features to look out for and how to use vibrato pedals in general, let's take a look at our overview of the best options currently on the market. We don't display them in any special order other than where we point out what our favorite pick is, so take the time to consider them all.
If they make the list, they met our expectations and deserve their spot here. We do have two other "best in class" options you can look at in the comparison table at the top of the page, though.
Let's start with our "Best Bang for the Buck" pick, which is the Boss Vibrato Waza Craft VB-2W. The vintage 1982 VB-2 ended up coming back recently in a big way when people realized how incredible it was, but it wasn't easy to get ahold of. Boss is rolling out their Waza Craft series that includes their past pinnacle achievements that are refined and pushed even further.
This is an all-analog option with the classic pitch-shifted vibrato, but also has a new mode and adds real-time control over the effect's depth with an expression pedal. You get the classic Standard mode that everyone was ranting and raving about, and also Custom mode that brings an entirely new sound due to its unique filter waveform.
These are chosen using the S/C switch below the knobs. And of course you can control the rate (speed), depth (intensity), and rise time (attack) independently to taste.
There's also three other "modes" that include Unlatch mode which is a momentary activation only while you press the pedal down. There's Bypass mode moves the signal out of it's BBD bucket brigade path and into a true bypass for when you're not using it. And then there's Latch mode, which is your typical "press down to turn it on and then turn it off later again when you're done" mode.
It has some great features in addition to it's standard vibrato controls, but what's really great about this is getting access to the original VB-2 sound as well as the new Custom mode. As always too, it's Boss, which means it's nearly indestructible and you get a five year warranty just in case. That's a long warranty because you simply don't see Boss pedals breaking with normal use.
Find out why this one got pulled out of the vintage cabinet. It's your best bang for the buck, very affordable, but not so cheap as to suffer and lose features.
- LedgerNote Favorite
Chase Bliss Warped Vinyl HiFi
Thanks to the supreme quality and plethora of features, the Chase Bliss Warped Vinyl HiFi is our "Best of the Best" pick. It's developed through the MKI and MKII models and now comes at you as the HiFi.
It was originally created to reproduce the sound of a bent vinyl record waving up and down and grew into one perhaps the most full-featured vibrato on the market. So much so that it includes a full chorus effect too.
They've managed to make each knob digital which process your choices and applies it to your analog signal, so that you get a completely analog processing with the benefit of digital accuracy. It's truly a next step in stompbox evolution. It even has dip switches on the back for each knob.
The Tone knob acts as a tone EQ control when the dip switch is off. When it's on it becomes a Ramp knob that can control one or all of the other knobs based on your dip switch configuration. This opens up endless options that we can't even start to talk about here.
Another new feature is the Lag knob that allows you to set a delay between the wet and dry signals that you can control with the Mix knob. By adding this latency, you can really lush sound, or remove it entirely if you play in the fully wet mix level.
The RPM knob is simply a rate control, just as the Depth knob is your typical intensity control. The Warp knob lets you control the symmetry of the vibrato wave for fast or slow attack and release.
This discussion could go on forever, seriously. Let me summarize the rest. You get a tap tempo control, tap division timings, momentary or full bypass/activation switching, and even control over the first half of the waveform and the second half independently! You can use an expression pedal or even a CV pulse to set the tempo for you.
This is by far not only the clearest and most transparent option out there, but is a full audio manipulation suite. If that is up your alley, look no further!
TC Electronic Shaker
Just because the TC Electronic Shaker is our "Best Budget Pick" doesn't mean it lacks in any way. It's just offered to you at an obscenely low price. Many consider this the best vibrato pedal, period, due to it's top notch effect quality while still providing more features than many other pedals at double its price. Let's talk about it.
You get two main modes. The first is your main "always on" vibrato and the other is Latch mode that gives you momentary control so the effect only happens while you're holding down the switch. The four switches are your usual speed, depth, tone, and rise knobs.
You also get a true bypass when the beast is off. There's also a Kill-Dry feature that removes the dry signal when you're using parallel effects loops. It's built like a tank too.
Perhaps the coolest feature of this pedal, which is already considered one of the best as it is without this feature, is the TonePrint functionality. You can download (for free) custom built settings by tons of different professionals and upload them to the pedal through a computer cable or even "beam" them from your smart phone.
Check this out: you can beam presets through Bluetooth from your phone to the pedal through your guitar pickup so you can do it live on stage. That's pretty wild.
Crazy features, true bypass, buffered bypass, no noise or tone loss, a very consistent and high quality vibrato... and that's before the TonePrint bluetooth beaming... This is by far the best budget pick if not the best period.
BBE Mind Bender
The BBE Mind Bender is another inexpensive option. They dropped out a lot of non-essential extra features in order to pass the savings on to you, and still managed to cram the chorus effect in there too.
What you get here is well-crafted wave form where all you need to tweak is the speed and depth of the effect. With these kind of effects, a tap tempo is nice but not really needed, especially since they're usually played at such a high rate that the timing will never be noticed by the listener.
So what's to like about such a no-nonsense pedal? Besides having a very lush chorus option, the vibrato is full-frequency, warm, vintage goodness. You don't get a tone or EQ knob where you can make mistakes, straying from what makes this pedal so desirable. You keep you full bottom end, which is especially nice for bass guitar. There's also the little things like non-slip pads on the bottom and true bypass circuitry.
That's it. It's cheap and sounds great, but you'll be using the nice thick sound it provides without much variance. This is one of those choices for the guitarist that says "I don't need all that extra crap, just give me a great vibrato I can turn on and off with a couple controls."
Dunlop MXR M68 Uni-Vibe
Dunlop has done it again with their MXR lineup with their MXR M68 Uni-Vibe. Their simple interfaces are always appreciated and nothing changes here with just three knobs. These are Depth, Speed, and output Level. So why is this considered one of the best? It's modeled after the vintage 60's uni-vibe vibrato / chorus full analog pedal that had that real thick and chewy sound, and reproduces it faithfully.
The breadth of the controls is what's really exciting here. You can go from a real gentle vibrato, just adding some shimmering character, to a full blown extreme modulation. Either way, you keep the bass frequencies, getting that same warm Jimi Hendrix sound out of it, while of course you can make it sound however you need with an EQ pedal ahead of it in your pedal path.
I'm calling it warm but that's only because it's not boosting or cutting mids or anything else. It's actually quite transparent, just not what modern players are used to hearing.
It's a no noise, transparent, no tone changing or loss, standard form factor pedal that brings back a classic sound into the modern era. You get both a vibrato and a chorus effect, which is what 'uni-vibe' refers to. If you know the vintage uni-vibe and that's what you're looking for, then this is what you want. Dunlop never disappoints.
Pigtronix Quantum Time Modulator
In this case, the attractive design does match the superior quality being emanated from this vibrato pedal. The Pigtronix Quantum Time Modulator boasts some seriously advanced electronics within its enclosure. It's built with a pair bucket brigade delay lines in parallel that each have their own time clocks.
This means you get multiple envelopes and LFO's that are very reliable and consistent. What you're getting here is a full modulation suite that's not simply limited to vibrato or chorus, but performs both of them masterfully.
You can run it in mono, stereo, and a mixture of wet and dry with any effect you can dream up. They named the knobs differently here, which is always annoying. The Speed is your basic rate control for the low frequency oscillator. The Source knob is a mix level knob for your wet / dry control or between the vibrato and chorus. Sensitivity controls the speed of the envelope.
If you choose just one effect in isolation, the speed and sensitivity act as rate and depth knobs. Once you hear it though, you won't care what they call the knobs as long as you get to twist them. This standard analog pedal manages to reproduce tons of classic sounds from complex rack unit effects processors as well as letting you explore, experiment, and create your own signature sound.
Remember, don't let the three knobs alone fool you. You have a switch for vibrato and chorus, but you can also enable both at the same time to really push the richness. This is a very unique pedal that I insist you give some deep consideration. Think Frank Zappa and Alex Lifeson sounds here.
These are the Best Vibrato Pedals Out There
When hunting for a vibrato, there's tons of pure choices out there as well as many following the old uni-vibe system of including a chorus. What's great about this niche of pedals is that there's no lack of great choices in each budget range. Even if you start with the quality of the effect itself, you're still not limited.
There are many out there with tons of extra features that you may love to have access to. But to make this list, there can be no compromises. Every feature must be perfection, and that's what you'll find above in our top picks for the best vibrato pedals.