Fender Lost Highway Phaser Effects Pedal
Empress Effects Phaser Guitar Effects Pedal
Electro-Harmonix Nano Small Stone Shifter
Table of Contents
If you’re like most guitar players, you may not know exactly what a phaser pedal does. It’s true that there can be a bit of mystery behind how they work, and that can make shopping for the best phaser pedal more difficult that it really needs to be.
On top of that, all of the various models – and the amount of controls on each one – only adds to the confusion. Really, who can say what the true difference is between a ‘classic phaser’ that may have only one knob and other phasers that have greater levels of control? Does one type sound better than the other? Does the amount of settings available really add enough features to make a more expensive model worth the price?
Got you covered.
I took a look at what I feel are 9 of the best phaser pedals around. And trust me – given how many are available these days, that’s no small task (you can thank me later). Better yet, we’ll dig into how a phaser pedal works and discuss the best ways to use them.
Upward and onward – let’s check ’em out!
The 9 Best Phaser pedals:
Empress Effects Phaser Guitar Effects Pedal
Lodged firmly in the top spot on my list is the Empress Effects Phaser. It offers a level of control that may be hard to find in many other phaser models, and while the price is a little on the high side I can’t debate that it isn’t worth it.
To clarify, it IS digital, and some may be turned off by that. You shouldn’t be. Having a digital design opens up options that let you tweak to your heart’s content. The Empress offers 8 auto modes along with 5 set rhythms, and it has a unique Universal Control Port that supports an expression pedal, an external tap switch, and even MIDI all from a typical 1/4″ instrument jack.
The phased signal can be boosted up to 6 dB, and there are 8 wave forms to select from to further enhance and make your phase effect all your own.
Physically, the Empress was made for the long haul, with a durable metal housing, top quality foot switches (one for tap tempo control and one for bypass), and bright LED indicators that are easy to see onstage.
All in all, the Empress is a professional level phaser that has an impressive feature set along with road-worthy construction.
Fender Lost Highway Phaser Effects Pedal
While Fender is (obviously) most well known for its guitars and amps, it’s sometimes easy to forget that they manufacture a fair amount of effects pedals as well. With the Lost Highway Phaser, they have produced a model that is deserving of the Fender nameplate.
The Lost Highway boasts a completely analog signal design with an innovative speed selection feature. Accessible via foot switch, you can toggle between ‘slow’ and ‘fast’ modes, with each having its own set of Rate and Depth controls. Additionally there is a Sensitivity knob that lets you produce different levels of the phaser effect based off playing dynamics.
Closing things out on the feature end of things are Blend and Feedback controls for extensive shaping, switchable 4 or 8 stage phase control, and two different waveforms to choose from.
The Lost Highway is packaged in a rugged and attractive anodized aluminum housing, with LED backlights on the knobs so you can tell where you are at on even the darkest stage. Complementing the overall aesthetics is a red jewel on/off indicator that’s similar to the ones used on countless classic Fender amps.
Walrus Audio Lillian Analog Phaser
Walrus Audio has done a great job with its Lillian phaser – this boutique model may not have as many features as the Empress, but it certainly has what you need to get that phaser sound that we all know and love.
The Lillian is an all analog design that has a relatively simple controls scheme. There are only four knobs to contend with – Rate, Width, Feedback, and a unique control called ‘d-p-v’. This knob can be used as a type of blending control, going from the dry signal, to the phase shifted one, and then to a more extreme vibrato effect.
An additional mini-toggle switch lets you choose from a 4 stage to a 6 stage effect, which essentially lets you go from a warm and tight phaser sound to something that’s a little more complex.
The Lillian is also true bypass, so your coveted base sound won’t be affected or colored in any way by having it as a part of your signal chain.
The Lillian is housed in a single-pedal sized metal housing with top mounted jacks, making it a great choice to fit in even the most crowded pedal board. It’s a small package that delivers a big sound, and you can’t really ask for much more than that.
Boss PH-3 Phase Shifter Pedal
It wouldn’t be a list of great pedals – no matter what type of effect – if I didn’t have at least one Boss effect. They may be considered one of the best pedal manufactures around, and with the Boss PH-3 they have a phaser that upholds that reputation.
The PH-3 is a digital phaser that certainly doesn’t disappoint. It only has four knobs, but you’d be amazed what you can get from them.
You’ll find the traditional Rate and Depth knobs, along with a Resonance control to adjust the overall intensity of the effect.
The last knob is where things get interesting, though. Here you’ll find seven different options – a choice between a 4, 8, 10, or 12 stage phase (going from a vintage tone to something much more aggressive and extreme), and also three different directional modes.
Typical phaser pedals have a cycle that rises and falls. With the PH-3 you can set it to sound like it’s either continually rising, always falling, or a random step pattern that can really make your sound unlike anything you (or your audience) has ever heard before.
The PH-3 also has tap tempo capability in addition to an expression pedal input if that’s your preferred method to control the phase sync.
From a build quality standpoint, it’s a Boss pedal. Not really much more I need to say – I’ve seen various Boss models on guitarists’ pedal boards that are upwards of 20 years old, and that’s after some heavy gigging in the meantime.
MXR EVH Eddie Van Halen Phase 90
Ladies and gentlemen – I give you – The Mighty Van Halen!
Yeah…sorry. I’m a little biased. I’m an Eddie Van Halen freak and have been for years. He may not be your favorite player, but you can’t deny the influence he has had on the guitar playing community since the release of Van Halen I in 1978. Part of that legacy includes a pretty extensive use of a classic MXR M101 Phase 90, particularly earlier in his career.
MXR has partnered with EVH to produce a replica of the classic MXR Phase 90, but with a few modern twists. Here you’ll find the same single knob speed control that’s on the original.
It’s a testament to minimalism, and while having a ton of controls options does give you the ability to craft custom tones, sometimes introducing a little simplicity into your life is all you need to get a great sound.
The EVH Phase 90 isn’t a complete copy, however. There is a small push button that lets you switch between the traditional ‘script logo’ Phase 90 sound and something that’s voiced to be a little more modern and assertive.
To be blunt, EVH doesn’t typically make junk. This pedal is rock solid, and I have little doubt that it will last for as many gigs as you can throw at it.
And – one last thing – that EVH stripe motif is just killer!
Behringer VP1 Vintage Phaser Effects
Some may wrinkle their nose when they hear ‘Behringer’, because of their reputation for low cost gear. There’s no doubt that’s true, but low cost doesn’t necessarily mean low quality, and the VP1 Vintage Phaser is proof positive of that.
The VP1 is somewhat similar to the EVH Phase 90 in that it has only a single speed knob along with a Tone switch to change the overall voicing. Just as with the Phase 90, though, it’s simple but extremely effective. The tone is all vintage phaser all day long, so if you’re looking for something more extreme then you may have to look towards a different model.
The overall build quality isn’t terrible, but you will have to keep in mind that this pedal is super cheap. That means that some compromises had to be made. The case isn’t cast aluminum as you’ll find in a lot of other models, but its folded sheet metal housing is durable enough to gig with. The foot switch itself may feel a little soft as well.
The bottom line – if you keep in mind what the VP1 was intended to be and intended to do, you really can’t go wrong for the price.
Electro-Harmonix Nano Small Stone Phase Shifter
The Nano Small Stone from Electro-Harmonix (also known as EHX) is another in the line of phaser pedals that has a minimal amount of control options.
As with several other models on my list, the Nano Small Stone has only one knob that adjusts the phase rate. In addition, it has the same switchable tone settings as well (by use of the Color micro toggle switch).
So what does that mean for you? You’ll find that you can evoke impressive classic phaser tones with very little effort. Simply dial in the speed, set the Color switch to your EQ preference, and you can phase and whoosh all night long.
The overall package size of the Nano Small Stone is as the name implies. It’s basically the same circuit as the legendary EHX Small Stone, but in a smaller case that makes is a great choice for getting a good sounding phaser mounted onto a crowded pedal board.
And – while it’s a minor point to make – the retro style graphics give the Nano a visual ‘pop’ that’s pretty groovy, man…
TC Electronic Helix Phaser
The Helix Phaser from TC Electronic is a great mixture of easy to use controls while also packing a lot (and I do mean a LOT) of power under the hood.
From first glance it looks like a typical phaser pedal, with the standard Speed (rate), Depth, and Feedback knobs that you’ll see on many other models. The Helix adds a Mix control to let you blend in the amount of phaser effect you want as well.
But the cool stuff doesn’t stop there. In between the Speed and Depth knobs you’ll see a micro toggle switch – and there is where the real magic comes in.
There are three different settings – Vintage and Smooth are fairly self explanatory, but the middle switch position enables TC Electronic’s TonePrint technology. You can use either the free TonePrint desktop editor or the free phone app to create your own phaser from the ground up, or use one of many artist presets.
So don’t be fooled by the small package size and relatively few knobs – the Helix Phaser may be one of the most flexible and versatile phaser pedals you’ll find in today’s market.
Mooer Ninety Orange Phaser Guitar
Closing out my list of choices for the best phaser pedal is the Mooer Ninety Orange. It’s the smallest phaser pedal on the list, but the huge sound that it produces is a contradiction to its physical size.
Logic dictates that if you don’t have a lot of real estate to work with, then you just don’t have room for a ton of knobs and switches.
That’s true with the Ninety Orange, as it has one knob to control the phase speed along with a micro toggle to go between a vintage phase and a modern voicing that’s a bit more edgy.
If you’re looking for a modern MXR Phase 90 equivalent that won’t take up a lot of space, then the Ninety Orange may be the right choice.
How does a phaser pedal work?
Truthfully, it’s kind of scientific and nerdy, and as long as it sounds cool then all is good with the world, right? That being said, it never hurts to have at least a little bit of knowledge about how things work in Guitar Land…but I promise that I’ll try to keep it simple.
The term ‘phaser’ is really shorthand for a ‘phase shifting’ effect, It is produced by an analog phase circuit design (or a digital one) that produces a modulation effect called a ‘ filter’. When a signal is fed into a phaser pedal, it is split into two.
The first signal passes through without being modified at all. The second is processed through a set of what is referred to as ‘all-pass filters’ where it is set ‘out of phase’ to the original. What this does is allow for some frequencies to periodically be cancelled out, giving you that shifting, moving, and whooshing sensation.
Most phaser pedals have a set of controls that let you adjust specific parameters which alter the overall result that comes out of your guitar amp. For example, ‘Rate’ and ‘Depth’ controls are fairly common, with ‘Rate’ controlling the overall speed and ‘Depth’ modifying the intensity of the phasing effect. Another knob that you may see is ‘Feedback’; this lets you take some of the output signal and feed it back into the phaser circuit again.
Where does a phaser pedal go in the signal chain?
If there’s one thing about music, it’s amazingly subjective. What may sound incredible to one player may sound like a herd of cattle to another. So I advise you to take the advice on this subject with an open mind.
There may be a ‘technically correct’ place in your signal chain for a phaser pedal, but if you like the way it sounds somewhere else, then by all means do what sounds best to your ears.
Where an effect like a phaser may be best placed is close to the end of the signal chain, after any overdrive or distortion pedals. This is where you typically will find other modulation effects such as a chorus or flanger.
Why, you ask?
Because this way you can modulate the distorted signal in a controlled fashion, and your sonic result may be more smooth and even sounding. Placing it before a gain pedal can lead to distortion of the phaser effect, making it more harsh.
This is just the commonly-held ‘theory’ of what will create the best signal quality. Just because that’s the case doesn’t mean that you won’t like how a phaser sounds at the start of your chain. Experiment and see what sounds like sweet music to your ears!
What is the difference between a phaser and a vibe pedal?
Now that you know what a phaser pedal is, the question does often come up – why would you use a phaser over a vibe pedal?
Vibe pedals actually are a type of phaser, but ‘in layman’s terms’ they tend to be more aggressive overall. They typically have a ‘throbbing’ sound that’s inherent all through the control range of the pedal. With a phaser you’ll usually get a smoother sound with less distinction between the signal peaks.
A phaser pedal can get set at extremes to mimic a vibe pedal, but there are some characteristics of the vibe that you can’t get from a phaser. At times a vibe can seem to have a touch of chorus and/or vibrato layered on top for a more ‘in your face’ kind of effect.
Different strokes for different folks, though – both effects can be used tastefully and it’s not unheard of for guitar players to have one of each on their pedal board.
How to sync the tempo on a phaser pedal
Context can be everything when it comes to shaping your sound. There are times when letting a phaser run at its own pace is all you need. The flip side is that there may be certain passages where you want the phaser effect to sweep exactly to the beat or cycle of the music.
Tap tempo to the rescue
Some models of phaser pedals allow for tap tempo input, just as many delay pedals do. This may be the most convenient way to get control over the speed in a real time situation, such as when you’re playing live. But there are other ways to get what you need…
Based on the features that are designed into a particular phaser pedal, some also allow for an expression pedal input. That way you can assign the speed parameter to be altered, and all it takes is a simple press (or release) of your foot to get the tempo where you need it (similar to using a wah pedal).
While this approach may work, my opinion is that it may be a little hard to get it ‘just right’. Using the tap tempo approach would most likely be more accurate.
Which is the best phaser pedal for beginners?
When you’re a beginner, it’s logical to say that the less complicated things are, the better they may be. Out of the 9 phaser pedals that are on my list, I’d have to go with the MXR EVH Eddie Van Halen Phase 90 as the one I’d recommend for someone just starting out.
Why? Only one knob to worry about. 🙂
It has just one control that adjusts the speed of the phaser effect. It’s about as simple of a guitar pedal as you’ll find, and the classic phaser sound is just killer.
Phaser pedals are one type of effect that, in my opinion, needs to be a part of any discerning guitarist’s collection. If you’re a classic rock kind of player, there are certainly many examples of songs that just wouldn’t sound right without one. Also, as I stated at the start, even some more contemporary artists (such as Tame Impala) use them to great ‘effect’ (yes, the pun is completely intended).
The feature sets on various phasers can run from the ultimate in simplicity (again, the MXR EVH Eddie Van Halen Phase 90 stands out in that regard) to something that gives you a greater level of control. For the professional player, that higher level of tweakability is exactly the reason why I’ve selected the Empress Effects Phaser Guitar Effects Pedal as worthy of the top spot on my list.
One thing I’ve found about the music community is that people can tend to be extremely helpful. Keep that tradition alive by leaving some of your comments and opinions below. You just never know who might be helping out…