Beloved by everyone from shoe-gazers to professional Van Halen impersonators, flange pedals have been a feature in popular music for decades. If you’ve been looking to add this classic effect to your sonic palette you’ve come to the right place! This article will explain how a flanger functions, give you some valuable information that will help you find your perfect pedal, as well as give you five great recommendations for the best flanger pedal that won’t break the bank.
- Bottom Line:Despite being digital and not analog, this is a fantastic sounding flanger pedal. It's also a chorus efffect, and using both flanger and chorus together makes the Stereo Electric Mistress capable of some seriously inspirational sounds. Good price, versatility, great build quality, and great sound all in one package. Best of the Best
- Bottom Line:While it might not be the best at any ONE thing, the Vortex is very good at many things. It might take you some time to learn how to use it to the fullest, but it's very customizable and TonePrints allow you to use flanger sounds crafted by famous guitarists. If you're in the mood to tweak & customize, this is the flanger pedal to get.
- Bottom Line:While it may not look like much, the Mooer ElecLady very accurately clones the famous Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Electric Mistress. This thing can put flangers to shame that are 2-3x the price. Sure, it doesn't feel like an EHX pedal, but for a budget price you get a surprisingly great tone in a tiny package. Best Bang for your Buck
- Bottom Line:A reissue of the original MXR Flanger and improved in just about every way, this analog flanger is extremely versatile. From dramatic jet plane sweeps, to subtle delay, chorus, and vibrato, the MXR M-117R can do a little bit of everything. It's a bit pricey and takes up some room on the pedalboard, but well worth for its vintage grit.
- Bottom Line:It's hard to go wrong with Boss pedals and the BF-3 is no exception. It has superb build quality and is capable of delivering some wild, experimental sounds. The GATE/PAN and MOMENTARY modes are nice inclusions. Being digital it lacks some "analog warmth," but it's still a great pedal and used by many touring pros.
- What Is A Flanger Pedal?
- Why Would I Need A Flanger Pedal?
- What To Look For In A Flanger Pedal
- The 5 Best Flanger Pedals
What Is A Flanger Pedal?
So in simple terms, a flanger pedal is a modulation effect that doubles the input from your instrument and modifies one signal to create its signature sound. This is similar to both a chorus pedal and a phaser. However, while a phaser “phases” a signal and a chorus pedal is a pitch based effect, a flanger pedal is time based. After being doubled, one signal remains unchanged and the second is very slightly delayed. This gives your guitar’s tone a “whooshing” effect, which has been compared to something like a jet engine taking off. It’s a very distinct and recognizable effect, and it’s been featured on countless albums in the last few decades.
Some notable songs featuring flange include:
- Jimi Hendrix - “Bold As Love”
- Heart - “Barracuda”
- Queen - “Keep Yourself Alive”
- Van Halen - “Unchained”
- Lenny Kravitz - “Are You Gonna Go My Way”
Why Would I Need A Flanger Pedal?
Modulation effects (chorus, flanger, phase etc.) are so varied in their uses that it’d be almost impossible to list every situation where you could conceivably use one. At the end of the day it’s really just a matter of personal preference. Generally, flange fits in well with more psychedelic or effects heavy bands. However, that’s by no means a hard and fast rule.
What To Look For In A Flanger Pedal
In our experience it’s always better to just to go ahead and shell out the cash for a good modulation effect. It’s pretty easy to get away with a cheap distortion or booster pedal, but effects that utilize a more complicated circuit generally really benefit from higher quality components. Now as to what “higher quality components” means can be debated. However, we would look for something that’s true bypass at the very least. Also, we find the sweet spot for this type of pedal to be in the $70 to $100 range. That’s where you start to see good components at a reasonable cost, and you have a pretty good amount of choices as to what type of voicing you want. Just try to avoid the really cheap stuff and you should get fairly good results.
Here’s a list of some terms associated with flange pedals that you should know before you make a purchase:
- True Bypass: All true bypass means is that the pedal won’t affect your sound while it’s not on. Well, in theory anyway. Some pedals that market themselves as true bypass definitely are not, so buyer beware.
- Mode: Mode essentially means that the pedal can change its sound characteristics, generally through an onboard toggle switch.
- Voicing: Voicing is the overall sound of the pedal. Vintage voiced pedals sound like older examples of the effect, and modern voiced pedals sound more modern.
- Tap Tempo: Tap tempo is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. You tap out a tempo (generally on a small button on the pedal) and the effect will set itself to work in time with that tempo.
- Stereo: Stereo pedals can drive two to speakers at once, making it sound like your guitar is playing in stereo.
The 5 Best Flanger Pedals
Without further ado, here are the top flanger pedals.
Electro-Harmonix Stereo Electric Mistress
Coming in at the #1 spot in this best flanger pedal shootout is the Electro-Harmonix Stereo Electric Mistress. This is a digital flanger AND chorus pedal, and is the middle child between the smaller and less expensive Neo Mistress Flanger, and the larger, pricier, and analog Deluxe Electric Mistress. While the other two are great pedals, the Stereo Electric Mistress hits a wonderful sweet spot between them in terms of price, features, and versatility.
Even of you know next to nothing about guitar pedals, you probably know Electro-Harmonix makes some good ones and is a legendary name in the guitar effects pedals game. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the EHX Stereo Electric Mistress is built extremely well; with a die-cast chassis it should be more or less indestructible. It has a ¼” input for your guitar, and stereo outputs so you can send the signal to a second amp, mixer or wherever else you please. At the top of the unit you’ll find a 9V power jack, and we’re happy to report Electro-Harmonix includes an AC Adapter, in case you’re not using a pedal power supply of some kind.
The layout and operation of the EHX Stereo Electric Mistress is straightforward. You’ve got a footswitch to turn the pedal on/off, and three knobs - RATE, FLANGER DEPTH, and CHORUS DEPTH. The RATE knob controls the speed or rate of modulation of both the flanger and chorus effects. Setting the RATE knob anywhere below about 10-12 o’clock position activates Filter Matrix mode, which we’ll talk about shortly. The FLANGER DEPTH knob controls how pronounced the flanger is in the mix, and the CHORUS DEPTH knob similarly controls the amount of chorus in the mix (remember, this is a combination flanger & chorus pedal).
The Electro-Harmonix Stereo Electric Mistress is one of the best sounding flanger pedals we’ve ever heard. While it may not completely replicate the classic analog flanger sounds produced by the Deluxe Electric Mistress, this pedal sounds fantastic in its own right. The flanger sounds shimmery, chimey, and tight. Throw in the fact that you’ve got chorus onboard, and the Stereo Electric Mistress becomes one very customizable pedal. Using the flanger and chorus effects together creates some dramatic sonic textures that we find extremely usable; so usable and cool that you could build your signature sound using this pedal as the backbone. By dialing everything back you can achieve some subtle coloring, and by turning everything up you’ll get synth-like chorus+flanger tones. The Filter Matrix feature is extremely interesting. Roll the rate knob below about 12 o’clock to engage it, and the sweep of the flanger will be disabled. Think of it like a flange “frozen” in time. You can manually sweep it with the Rate knob, which allows you to find a sweet spot and leave it there if you want. Once you have this very interesting feature it’ll be hard to use a flanger pedal that doesn’t have it!
Bottom Line: The few detractors of the EHX Stereo Electric Mistress complain that it doesn’t have the same analog tone and warmth of its big brother, the Deluxe Electric Mistress. We think this pedal’s digital nature is a feature, not a bug. The sonic versatility is pretty remarkable, especially with the Filter Matrix mode and chorus capabilities. We’re also fans of the price of this one compared to the Deluxe. We wouldn’t go as far as to say this is a perfect replacement for your dedicated chorus pedal, but to its credit the chorus does sound very pretty. The Electro-Harmonix Stereo Electric Mistress is incredibly versatile, and if we could only bring one modulation pedal to a gig, we’d be pretty excited if this was the one. If you opt for the Stereo Electric Mistress, you’ll be in good company - both John Frusciante and “Captain” Kirk Douglas of The Roots use it. Best of the Best.
TC Electronic Vortex Flanger
TC Electronic makes some of the most versatile guitar pedals out there, and the TC Electronic Vortex Flanger is no exception. By itself it’s already a very reliable, flexible flanger pedal with two distinct modes of operation. Throw in TC Electronic’s TonePrint feature, and you’ve got a pedal very worthy of the #2 spot in our top flanger pedal list.
The Vortex is a very attractive and solidly built pedal. Features include stereo inputs and outputs, a tiny toggle switch to change between three modes of operation, four large knobs to tweak the effect, and a footswitch to turn it on and off (the Vortex is True Bypass when off, for zero loss of tone). On the back of the pedal you’ll find a jack for a power adapter (9V DC, unfortunately NOT included), and a Mini-B USB port so you can connect the pedal to your computer and download custom-made TonePrints onto it, or update the firmware. Or if you prefer, you can power it using a 9V battery. If you unscrew and remove the back plate of the pedal, you’ll find two DIP switches. The first switch lets you change from true bypass (the default setting) to buffered bypass. If you use a ton of pedals in your chain or use very long cables buffered bypass might be the better choice, but that’s a topic for another day. The second DIP switch lets you activate Kill-dry, which just means the direct signal is removed from the pedal’s output (only when paired with buffered bypass). If this is confusing, don’t worry - these are admittedly power-user settings, and for most people the defaults are perfect.
The thing about the TC Electronic Vortex Flanger is that nobody ever says anything remarkable about the way it sounds. Then again, people don’t say it sounds inferior. That’s just the thing about this pedal - its strength lies in being so versatile, and with the two flanger modes, four tone-shaping knobs, and TonePrint feature you can achieve whatever flanger sound your heart desires. The small toggle switch lets you choose between the following modes:
- Flanger - The standard mode of operation, apparently inspired by the classic TC Stereo Chorus Flanger.
- TonePrint - When in this mode, you can use a TonePrint which is essentially a custom-designed flanger setting which you either created using the TonePrint editor, or one from TC Electronic’s library of pro artist designed flanger settings. You can either transfer these via USB, or beam them wirelessly using the TonePrint app on your smartphone.
- Tape - Simulation of the old fashioned flange sound achieved with multiple tape machines.
The Flanger and Tape settings sound fairly distinct, and you’ll enjoy exploring the way your tone changes between the two. While guitarists appreciate the four knobs available - SPEED, DEPTH, FEEDBACK, and DELAY TIME - it admittedly makes this pedal not as immediately intuitive to use as the EHX Stereo Electric Mistress. SPEED and DEPTH are perhaps more familiar, controlling the speed of the flanger effect and intensity of the modulation, respectively. The FEEDBACK knob is interesting, in that at 12 o’clock it’s neutral. It’s hard to describe in words so we suggest watching some YouTube demo videos, but you turn it clockwise for positive feedback and counterclockwise for negative feedback. To quote the user manual on the usage of the DELAY TIME knob:
Short delay times give very intense, “jet engine”- type sounds with plenty high-end frequencies. Longer delay times result in slightly darker, “tube”-type sounds.
After testing this pedal, we’re able to confirm what most guitarists say about it. It’s not the best at any ONE thing, but it sure can produce any type of flanger tone you want. The TC Electronic Vortex can reproduce tones from highly sought after, vintage flanger pedals that cost 3-5X what this one costs. We like this excerpt from a user review we found in regard to the TonePrint feature:
“tone prints can make 1 pedal have multiple personalities. It can take ages to explore the library; this is inspiring for someone reaching for new musical ideas as well as a cover band musician.”
Bottom Line: TC Electronic has found a formula that works really well with their line of TonePrint enabled pedals. It might take you a while to dial in your perfect flanger sound with the Vortex, but if you put in the time to learn the pedal and its various settings you’ll be rewarded. Compared to the Vortex, we slightly prefer the EHX Stereo Electric Mistress, as it seems to have a little more personality. Still, it’s hard to forego the TonePrint feature, and miss out on flanger tones created by Joe Perry, John Petrucci, Brad Whitford, and other amazing guitarists.
Several manufacturers create copies of legendary effects pedals and make them available at a fraction of the price, but none do it quite as well as Mooer. The Mooer ElecLady is a stunningly accurate reproduction of a famous Electro-Harmonix flanger pedal. It's a fantastic value for the money, and comes up and again and again in discussions of guitarists looking for the best flanger pedal under $100.
As you might have gathered by the name ElecLady, the Chinese-made Mooer is a clone of the Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Electric Mistress. Neither the aesthetics or build quality are particularly impressive when compared to the EHX pedal it’s based on, however the ElecLady’s compact size is actually considered a positive by most guitarists, since it saves precious pedalboard real estate. It’s in part the sacrifice in build quality which allows Mooer to keep the price of its pedals down. The Mooer ElecLady features a ¼” input and output (no stereo operation), and requires a 9V power supply to power it, forgoing the option of battery power. The layout is fairly simple - a small toggle switch takes you from Normal to Filter mode, and three knobs let you shape your desired flanger effect - COLOR, RANGE, and RATE. Given its budget price, we’re pleasantly surprised Mooer made this pedal true bypass when it’s switched off to prevent unwanted coloration of your tone. Also, it’s unfair to call the ElecLady’s build quality outright bad; it’s no Boss or EHX pedal in terms of aesthetics and polish, but it has metal construction and feels solid enough.
Look and feel aside, the true test of a guitar pedal is how it sounds. By and large, this pedal is commended for being a pretty fantastic clone of the EHX Electric Mistress. In reading reviews of the Mooer ElecLady, we encountered frequent mentions of it nailing that “Pink Floyd tone.” The site Gilmourish has this to say:
“The Mooer ElecLady, although cheap and incredibly small, offer perhaps the most convincing replication of the Electric Mistress tone. It’s closer to the Deluxe, with a distinct jet flanging but it also has some of that airy character of the mid 70s Mistress.”
Here are a couple more sound bites from owners of the ElecLady:
“Great pedal. Sounds better than half the flangers near twice its price.”
“Excellent flanger, tiny package. Perfect for that Andy Summers/Ernie Isley chord shimmer.”
Bottom Line: Considering the price, it’s hard to call any faults of the Mooer ElecLady deal-breakers. The Rate knob for instance does not feel even throughout the range, and needs to be cranked quite high for good impact. And sure, it doesn’t feel as nice as the EHX Electric Mistress. The Deluxe Electric Mistress also tends to have a warmer, less harsh sound at certain settings. These minor gripes aside, if the Pink Floyd sound is what you’re after or you have a particular affinity for the Electro-Harmonix flangers but find them to be out of your price range, you should absolutely take a look at the Mooer ElecLady. In case it helps your decision, it's found on the pedalboard of Radiohead's Ed O'Brien. Best Bang for your Buck.
MXR M-117R Flanger
The MXR M-117R is a reissue of the original MXR Flanger. Reissues can be hit or miss, and luckily in this case it would seem MXR is right on the mark, with users praising the MXR M-117R, in some cases holding it in higher regard than the original.
Right away you notice how the M-117R is a box built with purpose. Its construction is first rate; definitely the most solidly built of all the flangers we’ve played. In typical MXR fashion, it does away with fancy graphics in favor of a very spartan, functional aesthetic. You get a mono ¼” input and output, so if you’re looking for a stereo flanger you’d be better served by the EHX Stereo Electric Mistress or TC Electronic Vortex. In terms of power, it requires 18V, which means a pair of 9V batteries, or you can use an AC adapter which Dunlop graciously includes (the Dunlop ECB-004 which is valued around $15). In terms of layout, you have 4 large knobs at your disposal, and like other MXR pedals you can cover them with large rubber washers to make them easier to turn with your foot when you’re playing live. Here are the 4 knobs, and what they do:
- MANUAL - Selects the frequency spectrum.
- WIDTH - Controls the intensity of the auto sweep delay.
- SPEED - Controls the speed of the time delay cycling (auto sweep).
- REGEN - Controls the overall effect by feeding the effect back onto itself.
Let’s get down to business and talk about how the MXR M-117R actually sounds. As far as flangers go, along with the Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress, this pedal is often referenced as the analog flanger sound to beat. The amazing thing about it is it has such tonal variety, it’s actually much more than just a flanger. You can achieve subtle delay, chorus, and vibrato, and of course its bread and butter, a fantastic flanger sound; the MXR M-117R will get you anything from extreme jet plane sweeps, to underwater sounds, and you can of course dial it back to warm and subtle analog flanger goodness. All 4 knobs are extremely responsive, and tweaking one can have a profound effect on the others. This pedal also really shines when paired with some distortion. Check out this demo to see some of what it can do:
Bottom Line: The MXR M-117R is more than just a flanger; it’s one of the most interesting analog effects pedals around. You can spend days on end tweaking it and exploring its tonal variety, and you would still only scratch the surface. This thing has something special - vintage grit would be a good way to describe it. It's a bit of a pedalboard hog in terms of footprint, and it’s the priciest of the flanger pedals on our guide, but the price point is definitely within reasonable range considering how good this pedal is.
Boss BF-3 Flanger
The Boss BF-3 Flanger takes spot number 5 of our top flanger pedals. Of the pedals in this list, the BF-3 is perhaps most comparable to the MXR M-117R in terms of capabilities. It’s quite a bit less expensive than the MXR, and includes a couple of modes and features that make it stand out. It’s also used by a lot of pro guitarists, which we’ll mention towards the end of the review.
Boss is very consistent with the way they build pedals, which means that you know you’re getting the legendary Boss reliability and build quality. They’re the kind of pedal that if you drop it you’re more likely to hurt your floor than the pedal itself, which is definitely a plus for gigging musicians. Not only that, but the majority of Boss pedals follow the same form factor and design, so there’s definitely something comforting about that familiarity. To be honest we’re not too crazy about the BF-3’s purple color, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. At first glance it may look like this pedal has stereo ¼” inputs, but it’s actually two separate mono inputs, one optimized for guitar and one optimized for bass. We’re not 100% sure of the technical difference, but good on Boss for distinguishing between the two and making this pedal appropriate for guitarists and bassists alike. The BF-3 does however have a stereo output. The pedal operates exactly like any other Boss stompbox, requiring either a 9V battery or power supply, and you turn the pedal on and off by stepping on the large surface on the front of it.
Four knobs are used to control this flanger pedal. The knob farthest to the right is responsible for switching between four different modes. ULTRA is a deeper, more “hyped up” flanger sound, though truthfully the difference is much more subtle than the word ultra would indicate. STANDARD is, exactly as it says, the standard flanger you get out of this box. GATE/PAN works differently depending on how you’re using the pedal. If you’re using the BF-3 in stereo, the flanger pans left and right. If you’re using it in mono, it’s a gated effect, kind of like a square wave tremolo. The fourth mode is MOMENTARY which is something we wish more flanger pedals had, and basically lets you use flanger on your tone only when you press down on the pedal. When you take your foot off of it, the effect stops. This is fantastic for when you just want to highlight some phrase or lick with flanger, and not have the effect on all the time. Aside from ULTRA which is a tad underwhelming, we’re very impressed with how useful the modes are on the BF-3.
The DEPTH and RATE knobs are just as you would find on other flanger pedals, and the knob furthest to the left is actually a dual pot (i.e. two controls stacked on top of each other). The RESONANCE control basically increases or decreases the frequencies that make flanger sound like a jet engine. The MANUAL knob lets you manually select the frequencies that your flanger is operating in. Using Manual and Resonance in conjunction with Depth and Rate puts a ton of tonal variety at your fingertips. You can make the Boss BF-3 a subtle, classic flanger, or something really wild that sounds more like a synthesizer than a guitar. The GATE mode is very fun to play with, and makes simple chord progressions sound very interesting. One final feature of note is Tap Tempo mode, which you can enable by pressing and holding down the pedal for 2 seconds. You can then tap the tempo you desire, which will set the Rate of the flange accordingly.
The variety of modulation options you can achieve with the Boss BF-3 rivals the MXR M-117R. The MXR is an analog flanger, while the Boss is digital. The MXR has a tendency to sound warmer and more “vintage,” whereas we’d describe the BF-3 as a little more wild and experimental. Also keep in mind the Boss is buffered bypass, not true bypass.
Bottom Line: Features that would sway us to buy the Boss BF-3 above all other flanger pedals are the GATE/PAN mode, and MOMENTARY mode to only accentuate certain parts of your playing. Tap Tempo is fairly handy as well. If you’re a flanger purist you might prefer to go with the MXR or the Electro-Harmonix Stereo Electric Mistress, though you’ll be paying significantly more for those pedals. With Boss you get the quality, reliability, and a very capable and versatile flanger pedal. Famous users include Steve Vai, Chad Kroeger, Brad Delson of Linkin Park, and Bruce Springsteen.