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Best phaser pedals 2020: our guide to this versatile modulation guitar effect

Best phaser pedals 2020: our guide to this versatile modulation guitar effect
(Image credit: MXR/Fender/Walrus Audio/Boss)

A phaser pedal - part of the modulation family - is one of the more distinctive effects. It's used to add body to individual notes or to create that classic swirling, movement sound. You’ll have heard a phaser on everything from Isley Brothers’ Who’s That Lady to Van Halen’s Eruption. Whichever your preference, it’s important to know the best phaser pedal for your needs.

When making your decision on the right phaser to buy, you need to know whether you want analog or digital. Will you benefit from a variety of controls, or is speed control sufficient? And what is phasing, anyway? If you’re asking yourself these questions, read on for our round-up of the best phaser pedals around right now. 

The best phaser pedal you can buy today

Our recommended phaser right now is the classic, iconic MXR Phase 90. A simple setup featuring just phase rate, it delivers real impact of phase sound, yet still delivers a wide variety of sonics. Van Halen’s favorite, you can’t go wrong with this pedal for delivering the phasing you need. There's even an Eddie Van Halen model, complete with Frankenstein design, should you fancy it.

The best phaser pedals: buying advice

A phaser pedal, or phase shifter, is one of the earliest guitar effects and was originally developed to recreate the sound of rotating organ speakers. Phasers were adapted to create an array of sounds in ‘60s psychedelia for that swirling effect, and were notably used later by Van Halen. They remain a commonly used effect today. 

Essentially, a phaser takes an input signal sine wave, duplicates it and moves it out of phase. The phaser then recombines the sine waves, and the difference between their peaks and troughs creates that noted phased sound. 

Different amounts of phase shift stages create a varying phased sound. A digital phaser pedal often has four, eight, 10 or 12 stages, recreating a variety of phased sounds. Alternatively, an analog phaser usually has fewer phase stage settings and therefore less variety, because additional stages require more components. 

Despite the reduced variety, many guitarists prefer the warm, original sound of analog compared to digital alternatives. Whether you have an analog or digital phaser, the most basic control is phase speed, which controls the speed of the rise and fall of the wave. The depth control relates to the intensity of the phased waves, while resonance, also called resolution, is another common EQ control, emphasizing various tones across the sweep.

Classic, swirling phase has often been emphasised on slow, ringing chord work. As you might expect, the speed of the phased waves should coordinate with the beat, which is why a phaser used to play chords is more usually employed at a steadier speed to avoid a melodic clash. 

It’s preferable to match your phaser’s speed with the tempo of the song, which can be achieved through tap tempo or MIDI. This enables coordination of the exact speed. A phaser isn’t just for chords, though, and the staccato effect from Jimi Hendrix’s Machine Gun is a classic example. Phasing is also used to boost a signal for individual lead notes, without adding distortion.

The best phaser pedals you can buy today

Best phaser pedals: MXR Phase 90

(Image credit: MXR)

1. MXR Phase 90 phaser pedal

The classic analogue phaser and the best phaser pedal here

Price: $79.99 | Controls: Speed | Connections: Jack I/O | Powered by: 9V DC

Great analog sound
Wide sonic range
Simplicity
Lacks wider range of features 

The MXR Phase 90 is the classic analog phaser, operating over four stages, with a sound ranging from smooth to full-on bubbles. Simplicity is the name of the game, which could also be a drawback for some, as the Phase 90 features only a speed control. That said, the speed control creates a wide sonic variety dependent on the desired setting. 

Durable construction is matched by a bold orange finish. An Eddie Van Halen model in Frankenstein design, also featuring a new script switch, is also available for $129.99.

Best phaser pedals: Walrus Audio Lillian

(Image credit: Walrus Audio)

2. Walrus Audio Lillian analog phaser pedal

Blended control enables subtlety par excellence

Price: $199 | Controls: Speed | Connections: Jack I/O | Powered by: 9V DC

Sensitivity of control enables great subtlety 
None 

The standout feature of the Walrus Audio Lillian Analog Phaser Pedal is the D-P-V, or dry, phase, vibrato control. This blend function gives great sensitivity between no phase, 50/50, through to full application, which covers a wide array of phasing effects. D-P-V is joined by a selection of a four or six-stage phaser, the latter of which adds boost to the sound. You can even hold down the foot selector for momentary phasing. 

The rate setting is among the slowest we’ve seen, with subtlety which really stands out for playing less complex pieces. That said, pushed forward, especially with the feedback and blend control setting high, the Walrus Audio gives as much phasing effect as you’d ever need.

Best phaser pedals: Whirlwind Rochester Orange Box

(Image credit: Whirlwind)

3. Whirlwind Rochester Orange Box phaser pedal

The original phaser effects pedal

Price: $136.95 | Controls: Speed | Connections: Jack I/O | Powered by: 9V DC

Original ‘70s sound
Robust build
Lacks phase sound variety 

Like the MXR, the Whirlwind Rochester Orange Box Phaser Pedal has simplicity at its core with just a single control – speed. It does, though, represent the original '70s swirling sound, and it’s for this reason that the pedal retains its kudos.

It may have less impact in phase sound than the MXR Phase 90, though it retains more of the guitar and amp’s natural sound. Handwired in the USA, this stompbox has a high build quality and is going to take all the abuse you can throw at it. 

Best phase pedals: Boss PH-3 guitar pedal

(Image credit: Boss)

4. Boss PH-3 Phase Shifter phaser pedal

Versatile digital phaser standard

Price: $129.99 | Controls: Speed | Connections: Jack I/O | Powered by: 9V DC

Versatile sound range
Highly durable
None

The Boss PH-3 Phase Shifter Pedal has been around for many years, and for good reason. The digital phaser features speed, depth and resonance controls, plus a mode which switches between four, eight, 10 and 12 phase stages.

Unidirectional phasing, which creates a continual rise or fall, is achieved via two extra modes, plus a step effect. The addition of tap tempo mode keeps you in time, which you can control with greater flexibility by linking in an additional expression pedal.

The result is a wide array of digital phasing sounds, including classic analog simulation, built with Boss’ ever durable construction.

Best phaser pedals: Source Audio Lunar

(Image credit: Source Audio )

5. Source Audio Lunar phaser pedal

Adds flanger and chorus effects to a classic phased sound

Price: $149 | Controls: Speed | Connections: Jack I/O | Powered by: 9V DC

Flanger and chorus modes
Versatile sound range
None

Featuring speed, depth, resonance and shape modes, the Source Audio Lunar phaser pedal has four and eight-stage phasing, plus the Uni-Vibe mode for chorus and vibrato simulations.

Source Audio’s Neuro Editor software is also provided, meaning access to a library of phaser, flanger and chorus effects, which can be downloaded to the pedal. Once you’ve created and selected your effects, save up to three at any one time. 

The phased sound range is versatile, with the resonance setting adding a more metallic and wide sound range on the sweep. Four-stage phasing gives the classic sound, eight-stage adds the bubble effect and Uni-Vibe creates a real warble. 

Best phaser pedals: Behringer VP1

(Image credit: Behringer)

6. Behringer VP1 Vintage Phaser

Bargain phaser with surprising vintage tone

Price: $28.99 | Controls: Speed | Connections: Jack I/O | Powered by: 9V DC

Bargain price
Genuine vintage-like sound
None for the price 

A pedal for those on a budget, or players wanting to find out if phasing is for them, the Behringer VP1 Vintage Phaser Pedal cannot be argued against for less than $30. For the price, it provides a surprisingly good, classic tone.

A speed or rate control is joined by a tone button, which transfers sound from a traditional phaser towards vibrato effect. The sound itself is more gentle than the Van Halen-like Phase 90 pedal, and as the name suggests it tends towards a more vintage style.

The low price does not mean low build quality, however. The VP1 features a durable, metal- case construction. 

Best phaser pedal: Fender Lost Highway phaser

(Image credit: Fender)

7. Fender Lost Highway phaser pedal

A range of sounds – but not quite authentic

Price: $149.99 | Controls: Speed | Connections: Jack I/O | Powered by: 9V DC

Phase control flexibility
Doesn’t exactly recreate the classic analog sound 

Between four and eight-stage analog phasing, the Fender Lost Highway phaser pedal also features a fast/slow footswitch, with each hosting their own independent rate and depth controls. For vintage effect, Fender also simulates the speed ramp between the fast/slow settings.

The resulting sound is classic enough, though it gives more of a pulse than a whirl. Fender has also added a boost button to avoid any mid-range dip. The variety of the toggle switches does enable a broad phasing range, even if it slightly misses the classic sound. 

The hardware is certainly durable as per the rest of Fender’s growing range of effects pedals.