Boost pedals have been around since the 1960s. While not quite an overdrive, a quality clean boost is meant to get more decibels out of your guitar and amplifier. The most common use would be to selectively click on a boost pedal for solos, where the guitarist wants to stand above the mix a bit. A boost pedal is at the crux of many famous guitar tones over the years, and it’s one of the best ways to get more volume from your rig.
What Is a Boost Pedal?
A boost is a type of effects pedal used to increase the volume of a signal. This gives the player a louder and occasionally more saturated sound without altering the tone of the original signal significantly.
Boosts can push an amp or another overdrive/distortion pedal harder, resulting in increased sustain, more harmonic content, and a perceived increase in overall loudness. They are also used to give solos or certain parts of a song a temporary volume and tonal increase to stand out in the mix.
It’s important to note that boost pedals are different from overdrive and distortion pedals, which intentionally introduce clipping and saturation to the signal, resulting in a different kind of tonal alteration. Boost pedals, on the other hand, aim to keep the original tone of the instrument while providing an increase in volume and sometimes minor tonal adjustments, such as EQ.
How Does a Boost Pedal Work?
Inside the pedal, there’s a gain stage. This stage amplifies the incoming signal without adding significant distortion or coloration to the tone. The amount of gain applied is controlled by the pedal’s gain or level knob. As you turn up the knob, the signal’s amplitude increases.
A boost takes your instrument’s signal, amplifies it, and then sends the boosted signal to the rest of your signal chain. This increase in volume allows you to achieve a louder sound without significantly altering the original tone.
Common Misconceptions About Boost Pedals
The biggest misconception about boost pedals is that they’re similar to overdrive and distortion. The reality is that they serve different purposes. Boosts primarily increase the signal’s volume without significant tonal alteration, while overdrive/distortion pedals introduce clipping and saturation for a more distorted sound.
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There’s also a tendency to believe that an additional gain stage like a boost is only meant for solos. They help a guitarist jump out when they want, but they can also become an “always on” pedal. For example, the additional volume can help you push other gain pedals (like OD or distortion) harder, or even just hit the front of your amp harder. This allows you to push the dedicated saturation stages of your signal path into break-up faster.
The 7 Best Boost Pedal Options for Your Pedalboard
The MXR M133 is a brilliantly uncomplicated boost. It literally offers you a gain knob, and that’s about it. The fun and experimentation with a pedal like this is where you decide to place it in your signal path. Drive other gain pedals harder, hit the amp where it hurts, or use it at the end as a balancer. You can even use a boost to moderate the difference in output between your single-coil and hum bucker guitars for live performances. It’s up to you!
Walrus Audio describes the Emissary as a two-in-one parallel boost. It features two independent circuits: a clean JFET circuit focused on highs, and Mid circuit focused on punch and presence. There’s also an 800 Hz and 1 kHz toggle switch for the Mid circuit to hone its precision. Players can run both circuits together or separately for the desired tone.
The good folks over at Benson developed a germanium transistor boost without the downsides often accepted as a compromise. Things like temperature sensitivity and component drift can both lead to some unwanted artifacts with germanium transistors, though that’s not the case here. Upon power-up, the pedal takes about 10 seconds before its internal self-biasing, error-correction circuitry kicks in. The overall musical result of this boost is akin to a compressor, with smoother and more detailed tonal characteristics, but it’s still a boost at the end of the day. Try one!
EHX built the current day LPB-1 exactly after the original from 1968. The “OG” LPB-1 circuit helped usher in the era of overdrive based on placement in the signal path. Using a singular Boost knob, you can control how much more signal you want to feed to other pedals or to your amplifier. Again, the sonic impact of such a basic pedal can be astounding. Gain staging is important, people! Also, this is an extremely affordable boost, so there’s no excuse not to give it a go.
5. JHS Prestige
The JHS Prestige is a deceptively clever pedal. It essentially contains three separate “modes,” though it’s all controlled by the single knob on the mini-pedal face. Between 0 and 25%, it works like a buffer to reintroduce lost high-frequency content from long cable runs. At 25 to 50%, it’s ideal for running into other gain pedals. At 50% and above, it’ll help you push low-wattage tube amps into saturation.
Fender’s Engager is a clean boost with three-band EQ and selectable midrange center frequency. The addition of EQ helps you further refine and tailor your sound in ways that not every boost does. We’ve seen many on the simpler side today, consisting of only a level knob. However, the Engager works to not only engage your signal, but also your tone-tweaking sensibilities at the same time with its offerings.
The dB+ mini pedal by Wampler is a two-in-one buffer/boost. The buffer side mitigates “tone suck” and revives high-end loss from extensive signal paths or poorly built cables. Running the clean boost, well, lets you do what a boost pedal does. You’re also able to run the buffer/boost simultaneously or separately, depending on your needs.