Expression pedals aren’t usually the first choice on a guitarist's dream pedal list, but we’re here to change your expectations and show you just how powerful these pedals can be. The best expression pedals are utilitarian tools that allow you to manipulate the parameters of your effects in real-time.
Imagine you’ve got a reverb pedal and you want it to swell at the end of a particular passage. Reaching down and turning the knob is not really an option as your hands are busy, but with an expression pedal plugged in, it takes just a simple sweep of your foot and your guitar sound will become swathed in a warm wash of luscious reverb.
Want to know more about why you might need an expression pedal? Check out our buying advice at the end of this article, or keep scrolling to read our top choices.
Best expression pedals: Guitar World’s choice
The Boss EV-30 (opens in new tab) is a phenomenal pedal for the money, with two outputs that allow you to control multiple pedals, saving you precious pedalboard space. That rock-solid reliability that Boss pedals are well known for is present and accounted for here, with a rugged build that feels more than capable enough of holding up to on-stage abuse.
Coming in a close second, the Moog EP-3 (opens in new tab) is a robust and reliable expression pedal that comes in at an absolutely incredible price considering the functionality. It also features a scalable output knob that gives you more control over the parameter range that the pedal controls.
Best expression pedals: Product guide
Boss needs little introduction when it comes to pedals and the EV-30 has all the qualities you’d expect of their stompboxes. With the space-saving size and the ability to control multiple pedals, the Boss EV-30 is perfect for busy pedalboards.
The cast metal casing of the EV-30 makes this expression pedal feel bulletproof, and reliability is key with these pedals as you’ll be frequently putting your weight on them during your performances.
The ability to connect two different pedals is a godsend for guitarists, and you can control parameters at the same time and separately. Connect to a shimmer reverb pedal and you can control the rate function, whilst simultaneously dialling up the feedback on your delay pedal for some serious soundscape sculpting.
The Moog EP-3 Expression pedal is primarily designed for use with the highly-rated range of Moogerfooger stompboxes but has quickly found popularity amongst guitarists thanks to its great price, and near-universal compatibility.
The plastic design of the casing makes this pedal extremely lightweight, great for guitarists who already have a tonne of pedals on their board. We found the treadle action to be super smooth, and you always feel in full control of your effect sweeps.
With a very simple control set, this expression pedal only really does one thing, but it does it very well. An output level knob and a polarity switch ensure great compatibility and adaptability with pretty much any pedal you choose.
The M-Audio EX-P will set you back less than the cost of a Saturday night takeaway, whilst still delivering the same compatibility as the majority of expression pedals on this list. It’s a staggering achievement that this pedal works as well as it does, considering the price.
The plastic casing feels more than rugged enough for bedroom usage, providing an effortless taper that feels really intuitive when controlling your effect parameters. We would question whether it would withstand the rigors of regular gigging, but as a pedal aimed at beginners, there really isn’t a better option at this price point.
It features a polarity switch for compatibility with the majority of effects pedals, and on the side, there is also a knob that allows you to control how much of the effect you hear when the pedal is in the heel down position, giving great flexibility.
Dunlop’s DVP3 Volume (X) Expression Pedal plays two roles, giving you complete control over your pedalboard. With inputs for expression and volume, this versatile little unit is great for guitarists looking to solve two problems in one fell swoop.
We found the build quality of this pedal to be absolutely fantastic and it feels like it's more than capable of putting up with regular gigging. Its non-slip rubber tread and smooth, adjustable rocker action ensure that your effects manipulation is always on point.
You can also reverse the order of the heel down and toe-up positions, as well as change the minimum value of the pedal by adjusting the internal potentiometer. This makes the Dunlop DVP3 one of the most versatile expression pedals on this list.
Mission Engineering are a relative newcomer to the guitar pedal game, but they’ve quickly established a great reputation for their pragmatic guitar pedals. The SP-1 is one of their most popular creations, taking that Cry Baby-esque feel and build quality and applying it to expression pedals.
This thing is a weighty bit of kit in the hands and feels absolutely rock solid. It will certainly put up with plenty of abuse on stage and doesn’t feel likely to break at any point. Due to its weight, it will stay in place even if you don’t have it Velcro'd to your pedalboard.
The SP-1 has two outputs, allowing you to use it as an expression pedal as well as an on/off switch. The switch will feel familiar to wah pedal users, being available by pressing your toe in the heel up position.
When you pull the Behringer FC600 out of the box you might be a little surprised at the size. It’s a hefty bit of kit, feeling very solid with its aluminium alloy construction. The box claims that it’s near-indestructible, and upon handling it we’re inclined to believe it!
This pedal can handle both volume and expression duties without costing much more than some of the expression-only pedals on this list. The movement of the pedal feels very fluid thanks to its large size giving you more feel in the sweep of your foot and thus more control over your effects manipulation.
The ability to change the feel of the pedal from heavy to light is a fantastic feature, thanks to the adjustable torque screw on the bottom. Independent tuner outs and a minimum volume setting offer you plenty of flexibility in marrying with the other effects on your pedalboard.
The Roland EV5 is marketed as a controller for keyboards and synths, but it works just as well with a variety of guitar effects pedals, and many guitarists use it in conjunction with their Boss multi-effects units.
Although it doesn’t have loads of extra controls like some of the expression pedals on this list, there is a minimum setting, so you can set at what point the pedal travel starts to manipulate the effect. This is great if you want to hear some or none of the FX at your start point.
The size of the unit makes it perfect for packed pedalboards, as it’s small enough to fit in the tightest of spaces. It’s a simple unit with no extra bells and whistles, but for some guitarists, it’s all you’ll need.
The ability to control two pedals at once is something you seldom find on an expression pedal – which allows the Electro Harmonix Dual Expression to stand out from the crowd. Its design feels very similar to Cry Baby-style wah pedals, so if you’ve used one of these you’ll feel right at home.
The enclosure is a polymer that is very lightweight but still pretty durable. Its construction means that it will be great for bedroom or studio use, but you may find it a little too lightweight for repeated abuse whilst onstage.
It features a polarity switch for complete compatibility and you can adjust the minimum setting to designate how much of the effect you want to control, great for controlling your shimmer reverbs and controlling octave effects.
The Fender Tread Light Volume/Expression pedal is another one that does two jobs in one, providing guitarists with plenty of flexibility for their pedalboards. The unique styling of this pedal might divide opinion, but you always know you’re getting a quality product with Fender.
Although this pedal has a 9V power input, it does not require power to operate, being a passive pedal. The power socket is so you can utilize the onboard LED, which gives you great visibility onstage.
In action we found it had a very smooth action and feels very high quality when you step on it, giving your effects swells a tactile feel. The adjustable treadle torque means you can customize the feel of the pedal for a heavier or lighter touch.
If you’re the owner of a Line 6 multi-effects pedal, then the EX1 Expression Pedal is simply a must-have addition. It allows you to control any parameter of effect that you like, whether that’s reverb time or delay feedback.
As well as working as a traditional expression pedal, when combined with Line 6 multi-effects you can also use it as a preset switcher, with one preset on the heel down and another on the heel up position.
If you’re worried about compatibility, fear not, for this pedal is simple enough that it should work with a variety of other guitar pedals. That said, it’s always worth doing your research if you’re purchasing this for a non-Line 6 effect pedal.
Best expression pedals: Buying advice
Why would you need an expression pedal?
When a guitarist looks to expand their pedalboard many would eschew an expression pedal for something with more bells and whistles. But any guitarist who hasn’t tried an expression pedal is arguably sleeping on a low-cost and efficient way to unlock the maximum potential of their sound. The ability to control your parameters whilst you play adds another way for you to properly express yourself through your music, and unlock a whole new world of guitar tone.
How to choose the best expression pedal for you
There are a few technicalities you’ll need to know when selecting an expression pedal. You will see a lot of expression pedals with a ‘polarity’ switch, which refers to the wiring configuration of the guitar pedal you’re plugging into. For correct operation, you will need to ensure that the polarity of the expression pedal matches that of the effects unit. When it comes to modern pedals, you shouldn’t face any compatibility issues – however, with certain vintage pedals, you may require adapters or extra cables to get the requisite functionality from them.
The majority of expression pedals are passive, which means they require no additional power to operate. This is another plus point when adding to your pedalboard as you’re essentially getting another hands-free effect without taking up one of your valuable power outlets. Many multi-effects units have expression pedal inputs too, so never fear if you want expression pedal functionality but don’t have a traditional pedalboard.
Some expression pedals will also work with modeling amplifiers, allowing you to control those parameters without having to scroll through endless menus or twiddle knobs in between songs. This extra layer of functionality helps ensure that whether you’re a tube amp traditionalist or a firm adopter of modern modeling technology, you’re sure to find something to love about a new expression pedal.