Guitarists are always in search of the perfect tone. In the early days of the electric guitar, the choices were few. You simply plugged into the amp and dialed in the tone. Guitar pedals provide guitarists with more tonal options. Keith Richards created the iconic guitar riff on “Satisfaction” by plugging into a fuzz box. In today’s world, guitar players can be easily overwhelmed by the sheer amount of pedal options available—and this is especially the case when it comes to picking a clean boost pedal.
Every guitar player has an overdrive pedal on his or her board. It is just a bit more rare, however, to see a boost pedal on a pedalboard. This is unfortunate for a number of reasons. Overdrive pedals are able to provide you with a clean boost at a lower gain stage—a clean boost pedal, however, can provide clean boost across a much broader range (in some cases 20db and more). Beyond that, clean boost pedals aren’t just one trick ponies, they can work in conjunction with a combination of overdrive pedals, distortion pedals, and high gain amps to provide more distinct, crunchier, or just plain fuller tones.
Brian May is one of rock’s most celebrated guitarists, and he has always received high marks for his exquisite guitar tones. Simply put, the secret behind his tone is his guitar, a boost pedal, and his Vox AC30. He credits his tonal secrets to the great blues-rock guitarist Rory Gallagher. May tells the story of watching Gallagher perform every week at London’s famous Marquee Club. When the teenage May finally worked up the nerve to talk to his hero, he asked Rory how he got his great guitar tone. The answer was simple – guitar, amp, and a boost pedal. May has stuck with this formula throughout his career with Queen and beyond.
What does a clean boost pedal do?
Gives you more Volume
Clean boost pedals add more volume for solos and rhythm. This helps you to punch through the volume of the band when you need to. In other words, a boost pedal provides you with more headroom, clarity, and flexibility.
Preserves the High End
Clean boost pedals often help accentuate the high-end frequencies in your tone. This will help your guitar maintain its zing and definition—particularly over long cable runs—instead of sounding tired or flat. Clean boosts help preserve the tone of the pickups even when they’re at their lowest setting. This is particularly useful for vintage guitars whose pickups have lost some of their original power.
Adds extra punch to high gain amps
Many rock guitarists use overdrive and distortion pedals to boost the guitar’s signal and provide more power to the front end of the amp. Famously, many metal guitarists will use an overdrive pedal with the level turned all the way up and the gain turned all the way down. Clean boost pedals perform the same function, but a bit more elegantly. Even a small amount of added boost to the front end of a high gain amp will do wonders for improving definition and the elusive tonal “tightness.”
Improves the Performance of Vintage Pedals
Boost pedals will help you get the most out of your vintage effects pedals. Vintage pedals aren’t cheap, which can make it all the more frustrating when a rad vintage pedal is unable to match the volume of the unaffected signal when engaged. The result is a noticeable volume drop when you turn the pedal on, and if you’re using an effect alongside a solo this can be especially frustrating. A clean boost pedal, before or after the vintage pedal, solves this problem and prevents volume drop-off.
5 Clean Boost Pedals for the Working Guitarist
There are dozens and dozens of clean boost pedals on the market, and many of them to their job great. But we wanted to give you a few great budget-friendly options if you’re looking to try out a Clean Boost without laying out too much scratch.
TC Electronic Spark Mini Booster
This pedal features a discrete analog circuit with up to 20dB of clean boost. The Prime Time features allows for switching between latch and momentary modes. On top of that, one of the cool things about the pedal is that it doesn’t take up a lot of space on your pedal board.
Keeley Katana Preamp
Keeley guitar pedals are top-of-the-line pedals and well worth the expense. This pedal features a 9-volt jack or battery operation. The Internal Power Supply Boost turns your 9 volts into 18 FET clean tones that are tube-like when they overdrive or clip. The Push-Pull Speedo Knob is side mounted so that you can adjust it by foot. The pedal features metal film resistors and caps for ultra-low noise. It has the Keeley trademark blue LED and a 5-year warranty.
Outlaw Effects Boilermaker Boost Pedal
This is the most budget-friendly clean boost pedal of the bunch. Still, the inexpensive Boilermaker will get the job done. It features 20dB+ of pure, pristine, and clean boost. It features two +/- 15dB active EQ controls, true bypass switching, an ultra-durable aluminum alloy chassis, and high-quality components.
MXR133 Micro Amp Gain/Boost
MXR has a well-deserved reputation for producing high-quality guitar pedals at affordable prices. This pedal allows you to add a preset amount of gain with a single control, to boost your signal for guitar solos and lead work. The Strokes are notable fans of the Micro Amp.
Xotic EP Booster
This is a very versatile pedal with more options than it appears. It provides a great vibey classic tone (modeled after the preamp in the great EP-3 echo machine). It is a discrete FET preamp pedal with a low impedance output. Just the Echoplex it takes its name from, the EP Booster produces a shimmering boost tone that provides sparkle and definition.