Top 5 Phaser Pedals
By Paul Kinman. Published on May 13, 2016.
Phasers have consistently creeped in and out of popularity throughout its existence in musical history. From subtle parts in Luke Bryan’s 2015 song “Huntin’, Fishin’ And Lovin’ Every Day”, to the intro of Live’s “Lightning Crashes” and the iconic phase sound on the intro of “Ain’t Talkin Bout Love” by Van Halen, a phaser is a surprisingly versatile effect that is a great addition to any pedal board. We will talk about how to find the best phaser pedal for you, and review a handful of the best ones.
- Bottom Line:Save for hunting down an expensive vintage original, this version of the ubiquitous Phase 90 is the one you want for the best tone. It comes with the "vintage inconveniences" of no LED and battery-only power, but for that sought-after 70s/80s Van Halen phase sound, no pedal does it better.
- Bottom Line:The Wombtone MKII is a powerhouse of a phaser. Dozens of options are at your fingertips including tap tempo, MIDI, shaping the waveform, etc. It sounds amazing, and is more for power users and guitarists who like to tweak. It's pricey, but you would expect that from the Ferrari of phaser pedals.
- Bottom Line:Phase 90 tone for the price of a handful of coffees. The internal components are quality, and in a blind test you would have a hard time discerning this pedal's sound from a "script" Phase 90. Be aware that you might need to crack the pedal open to mess with an internal trim pot to find the tone sweet-spot. Best Bang for your Buck
- Bottom Line:Can't decide between the more modern "block" logo or the more vintage "script" Phase 90? No problem, the MXR EVH90 Phase 90 gives you the option for both with the push of a button. It looks cool with Eddie Van Halen's signature paint job. The price is very fair considering it's two Phase 90s in one.
- What Is a Phaser Pedal?
- Different Ways You Can Use a Phaser
- What Are Phaser Stages?
- How Was This List Made?
- 5 Best Phaser Pedals
What Is a Phaser Pedal?
There’s a really technical pro-audio answer to this, and a more layman’s answer. For the sake of simplicity, we will stick to the layman’s answer. Essentially, a phaser is an effect that splits your guitar signal. Once it splits the signal, the phaser sends one clean signal, and a second signal that has the phase shifted. After this happens, the pedal mixes the two signals back together, causing them to cancel each other out. In the end, what ends up happening is that you get an effect that sweeps the sound from low to high and back again.
Different Ways You Can Use a Phaser
In the same way that there are a lot of different ways that you can use Delay other than the typical U2 The Edge sound, a phaser pedal can be used on its own or with other effects to create some crazy sounds. If you’re using a phaser with heavy delay and a volume pedal, you can get some really cool synths sounding swells. Also, a slower phaser can sound a lot like an Auto Wah. So if you’re playing a gig and your wah breaks, using a phase set to a whole note or half note can really save the day (it won’t sound exactly the same as a wah, but similar enough to get you through the gig). Phaser guitar pedals are also extremely compatible with distortion. In fact, most gear demo videos around phaser pedals include both a clean guitar sound through the phaser, and an overdriven guitar sound. Pairing up your phaser with a distortion increases your tonal capabilities by quite a bit.
Phaser Stages Explained
The number of stages a phaser pedal has is important, since it determines the overall character of the phaser. First, the technical definition from Wikipedia:
The number of all-pass filters (usually called stages) varies with different models, some analog phasers offer 4, 6, 8 or 12 stages. Digital phasers may offer up to 32 or even more. This determines the number of notches/peaks in the sound, affecting the general sound character. A phaser with n stages generally has n/2 notches in the spectrum, so a 4-stage phaser will have two notches.
In simpler terms, the more stages, the more complex and “in your face” the phaser sound. An example of a 2 stage phaser is the DOD Phasor 201. This is an example of a more subtle phaser. 4 stage phaser pedals include the Phase 90 and EHX Small Stone, and this is considered more of the classic phaser sound. Greater than 4 stages is where the sound can get more complex, and in some cases a little stranger and more out there.
How Was This List Made?
That’s an important question, and one too many publications don’t make any mention of. After all, if you’re using our guide to steer you towards a buying decision, it’s important that you know where all this info and our top 5 recommendations are coming from! At Equipboard, we’re gear heads (and have been for a long time). The pursuit of tone is important to us, as is the appreciation of gear and equipment from a collector’s (or simply “this is cool stuff”) standpoint. However, to make this list, we spent days exploring communities all over the web where guitarists and bassists hang out, and we looked for as many “what’s the best phaser pedal” discussions as we could. We then tally up the mentions and recommendations, and from that come up with the top 5 pedals, which we then go demo ourselves at our local music shops. We’re fully aware that “best” is very subjective. If taken to mean as the most coveted and feature-laden, we would only be recommending very expensive and vintage/hard-to-find pedals. Instead, seeing what guitarists from all walks of life are recommending gives us a nice blend of both the boutique expensive stuff, as well as budget picks.
5 Best Phaser Pedals
Here are the top 5 phaser pedals, as selected by guitarists and bassists around the web, and reviewed by us. We denote the best overall as Best of the Best, and the best budget pick as Best Bang for your Buck.
Electro-Harmonix Small Stone Nano
Coming in tied for the #1 spot in our best phaser pedal shootout is the Electro-Harmonix Small Stone Nano. With the Small Stone Nano you get the classic phaser sound of the coveted 1970 EHX Small Stone, in a compact pedalboard-friendly package. Not only is this a fantastic phaser pedal, it’s also amazingly affordable compared to its competition.
As far as phaser pedals go, the Small Stone Nano is on the simpler side. However, that’s not to say it’s not versatile. In fact, one of the reasons it is so well loved is because it can actually fulfill a wide range of phasing wants and needs. As the name implies, this pedal is built on the Nano chassis, which essentially just means it’s nice and compact. It’s a hair over 4 inches deep, and 2 inches wide, so if you don’t want your phaser to take up a bunch of pedalboard real estate you’ll be pleased. Like other Electro-Harmonix pedals, the die-cast chassis feels like it can take some serious abuse, and touring pros have definitely put this pedal through its paces. It has ¼” input and output jacks, a footswitch to turn the pedal on and off, and single status indicator light that lights up when the pedal is on. It’s true bypass, so it won’t rob you of any tone when the Small Stone Nano is turned off. In terms of layout and operation, as we mentioned this pedal is extremely simple. There are two main controls to shape your tone - a 2-position COLOR toggle switch, and a large RATE knob. The COLOR toggle pretty dramatically changes the character of the Small Stone Nano. We’ll keep the explanation simple and say that it controls the frequency spectrum; in the DOWN position the phase shift feels more full, and in the UP position it’s more pronounced and hollow. The RATE knob adjusts the speed of the phasing sweep, creating more exaggerated phaser sounds as you turn it clockwise. In terms of power, a 9V battery is included and the battery life is surprisingly good, but you can of course power it with a 9V power supply.
The Electro-Harmonix Small Stone Nano is an analog 4-stage phaser pedal, and as such the words “warm” and “lush” comes to mind when describing how it sounds. The COLOR switch in the down position lets you achieve the warmer, slower, more traditional phase sounds, especially with the RATE knob dialed back to about 9 o’clock. As you approach 12 o’clock with the RATE, the sound is reminiscent of a Leslie rotating speaker. Crank it up some more towards the max, and it becomes much more metallic sounding. Where the versatility of this pedal shines is the COLOR switch in the up position. The Small Stone Nano gets a wider spectrum, and cranking up the RATE knob will quickly get you to psychedelic territory. Even at extreme settings, when testing out the pedal we found all of this pedal’s range quite usable. It’s just very even and truly lush. We read about a volume drop issue with the old Small Stone and tried to replicate it with the Small Stone Nano, but it would seem EHX addressed the issue, as we were unable to hear any unwanted drops in volume when using the pedal. A user review we came across has some good tips regarding how it compares to the MXR Phase 90 (which we’ll cover next), and where to place this phaser pedal in your chain:
“It is pretty different than the MXR Phase 90. It has a mode that is much more over the top, which is good for slow rates, and a very subtle mode for fast rates. The MXR sounds really good in front of a distorted amp. The EH gets a little lost, so I would say it would work best after OD pedals into a fairly clean amp.”
Bottom Line: After spending some quality time with the Electro-Harmonix Small Stone Nano, it’s not surprising the guitarist and bassist community doesn’t really have anything bad to say about it. It’s compact so it won’t waste pedalboard space, it’s built very well, the controls are simple and intuitive, and best of all it sounds great. All the nice swirls and wooshes you would want out of an analog phaser are at your fingertips, no matter if you play blues, country, metal, or any other genre. In particular flipping the COLOR switch up gives you some phaser sounds that help this pedal stand out from the pack. The Small Stone Nano is a very nice recreation of the classic 1970 Small Stone, and best of all you can pick this pedal up for an astoundingly low price. Best of the Best.
Notable users: Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Jim Root (who uses it to “…add a little bit of color to octave parts… or harmonies…”), Tame Impala’s Dominic Simper
MXR CSP-026 Handwired 1974 Vintage Phase 90
It’s not often we come up with a tie for our “Best of the Best” gear picks, but between the EHX Small Stone Nano and the MXR CSP-026 Handwired 1974 Vintage Phase 90, it’s simply too difficult to call an outright winner. Spending some time listening to these two pedals will make you realize they’re indeed different beasts. Several incarnations of the Phase 90 pedal are available, and selecting the right one can be a bit confusing. The most frequently recommended Phase 90 amongst those chasing the best tone is this MXR CSP-026 Phase 90, which is a faithful recreation of the 1974 Phase 90, from the “script logo” on the box down to the resistors and hand-matched FETs. The MXR CSP-026 Phase 90 is so much like the original, it omits two modern conveniences: an LED to indicate the pedal is switched on, and the ability to connect a 9V power adapter. These omissions are frequently lamented, but they’re worthy sacrifices to get one of the best phasers out there.
MXR’s build quality is second to none, and the bright orange paint job with the solitary black knob will make this pedal instantly recognizable on your pedalboard. In making this reissue as faithful as possible to the original, MXR left off an LED indicator light, as well as a jack for a 9V power supply. The only way to power this pedal is with a 9V battery (unless of course you mod it). A ¼” input and output, an on/off footswitch, and a single SPEED knob are all there really is to this very simple phaser.
Pretty much the entire reason to go with the MXR CSP-026 Phase 90 is to get that coveted phaser sound that only this pedal can deliver in its truest form. The MXR M101 Phase 90 with the block logo has a sought-after tone in its own right. The MXR CSP-101SL Script Phase 90 with LED ups the ante by getting closer to the vintage Phase 90 sound, with the modern convenience of an LED light and a jack for a power adapter. Still, the internals are not exactly the same as the original. The warmest and most organic sounding of them all is the MXR CSP026 Phase 90. For the quintessential 70s-80s classic sound (think Eddie Van Halen and Jimmy Page), look no further. The consensus seems to be that the “block logo” Phase 90 has an undesirable mid range boost, and the “script logo” Phase 90 - while a good workhorse - is not as smooth and warm as the CSP-026 Phase 90. To make sure we cover the basics, this is a 4-stage phaser, and the original vintage circuitry is favored since it handles the midrange frequencies more smoothly. On top of just sounding better on its own, it makes it play much nicer with overdrive and distortion, which is a very desirable quality in a phaser pedal. While all Phase 90s famously only have a single SPEED knob, they’re surprisingly versatile. The Phase 90 ranges from slow, “chewie,” and subtle to fast and watery at maximum Speed.
Bottom Line: Just about the biggest drawback of this pedal is the fact that you have to rely on battery power to use it. Not having an LED is a complaint from a handful of users, but honestly just by listening you should be able to discern if the pedal is on or off. You can absolutely modify this Phase 90 to be able to power it with an adapter, but you’ll need to do a little bit of work for that solution. If you can look past these inconveniences, there’s no question that perhaps aside from hunting down a true original and spending several $100s on it, the MXR CSP-026 Handwired 1974 Vintage Phase 90 will give you that late 70s/early 80s Van Halen phase sound at a reasonable cost. The EHX Small Stone Nano is a little more versatile, and phaser pedals like the Chase Bliss Audio Wombtone and Blackout Effectors Whetstone offer more in the way of tweak-ability. If you don’t care to have a Phase 90 built to the exact specs of the original, the MXR CSP-101SL Script Phase 90 is a good alternative that’s slightly less expensive, more convenient with LED and power jack, and an all-around good workhorse. If your inner tone snob won’t let you go for anything but the original and best, then this MXR CSP-026 Phase 90 is the one for you. Best of the Best (tied with the EHX Small Stone Nano).
Chase Bliss Audio Wombtone MKII
Coming in third is the Chase Bliss Audio Wombtone MKII phaser, a boutique pedal through and through, with analog tone and digital control. As Chase Bliss Audio puts it, “…every knob and switch is connected to a little digital brain while your guitar signal stays 100% analog the entire time and never gets digitally processed.” The Wombtone is not your average pedal. The folks at Chase Bliss already had a powerhouse phaser pedal on their hands with the Wombtone MKI, but they listened to user feedback and improved upon an already winning formula to create the Wombtone MKII. If you’re the type of player that loves options and versatility, and will play with and tweak gear for days and weeks on end, you would be hard pressed to find a more tweak-able phaser than the Wombtone MKII. Casual users and those looking for something more straightforward, be warned. The Chase Bliss Wombtone MKII carries a hefty price tag, so make sure you really want what it has to offer before putting down the cash for this boutique beauty.
For as many features, switches, and knobs it has, this pedal is still relatively compact. In terms of features, we’ve almost never seen this many features packed into a pedal, especially not one this size. Tone snobs rejoice, as the signal path of the Wombtone is 100% analog, preserving the warmth and lushness. The back of the pedal has 16 DIP switches which let you try out nearly endless combinations of modulation, and affect the way the knobs operate. We won’t cover everything they do for the sake of not making this review the length of a novel, but for instance you can select what parameters you want the RAMP knob to control, and there’s a DIP switch which will engage “momentary” mode and make the pedal only be activated when you press the BYPASS footswitch. By default, the FEED (RAMP) knob on the upper-left controls the amount of feedback on the phasing effect. The VOLUME knob simply controls the level of the effect, the MIX knob lets you navigate the spectrum from 100% dry to 100% wet, and the RATE knob controls the rate of the phaser. The ModuShape section offers a whole other level of control, letting you shape the waveform every which way using two knobs and two switches (for example, you can get as granular as shaping the front and back halves of the wave). Other features include Tap Tempo, an expression pedal input, MIDI control for storing presets, and the ability to select between 2, 4, and 6 stages of phasing. Despite everything it does, Wombtone MKII’s power requirements are pretty straightforward; you can power the pedal with a 9V battery, or 9V DC power supply.
So, how does it sound? Truthfully we’d spend an eternity describing in words how this pedal sounds given that you can dial in thousands of combinations using the knobs, toggles, and DIP switches. What we can tell you is that the Chase Bliss Audio Wombtone MKII sounds fantastic. The analog charm is there, and it just has no adverse effects on your tone whatsoever. Take a look at this video demo to get an idea of what the Wombtone sounds like:
Bottom Line: If you define the “best” as the pedal that can do the most things and still maintain an amazing tone, it would be hard to argue against the Chase Bliss Audio Wombtone MKII taking that crown. The thing is it’s not for everyone. If you’re more of a “set it and forget it” kind of player, you might not appreciate the nearly endless permutations of control this pedal provides. It’s also quite expensive; possibly one of the priciest phaser pedals out there. To use a car analogy, Joel Korte and the rest of the Chase Bliss Audio crew set out to make a Ferrari here, not a Ford Mustang. Mustangs are great, and people go after vintage ones, like you could go after a vintage Phase 90. A Ferrari is for the specific buyer who wants the best and has the budget for it. Not everybody needs the power and features of a $300+ pedal. The Chase Bliss Audio Wombtone MKII is made for guitarists and bassists that demand the best, and are able to pay a premium for it.
Joyo JF-06 Vintage Phase
What a remarkable time to be a guitar or bass player, where for under $40 (that includes shipping!) you can get a pedal that very closely matches the coveted tone of much more expensive pedals. Such is the case with the Joyo JF-06 Vintage Phase, a clone of the ubiquitous MXR Phase 90. This is such a good clone of a Phase 90, that it’s the most widely recommended pedal when people ask for the “best budget phaser pedal,” or “best phaser under $50.”
If you’ve looked at the MXR Phase 90, the Joyo JF-06 Vintage Phase should look very familiar, right down to the orange coloring. It’s set up exactly like a Phase 90: you’ve got ¼” in and out, a 9V DC jack for a power supply (and 9V battery slot), a footswitch to turn the pedal on/off (major points for being true bypass when it’s off), and a single SPEED knob. The speed knob increases the speed or intensity of the phase effect. For as inexpensive as it is, the enclosure is metal and it feels really well-built. From the various reviews we read, it has definitely stood the test of time on people’s pedalboards, so we wouldn’t hesitate to take it on tour with us. So, being a clone of a more expensive name-brand pedal, a few things really matter - 1) the way it looks/feels, 2) the way it sounds, and 3) the internals. That third piece is often overlooked by less experienced guitarists, but you definitely want to have an idea of what types of internal components the clone uses, and the internal build quality. We’re very pleased to discover that Joyo did not skimp on any of this. This user review sums it up nicely:
“What I found was a metal box construction, good quality PCB, read parts on the board, JRC4558s, good solder and tracings, blue boutique DPDT clicker switch, nice solid pot affixed firmly to PCB. The jacks were the similar quality I have seen on any of my other quality pedals. In short, I see what I would expect in a $100+ pedal with a brand name.”
The true test of the worthiness of the Joyo JF-06 Vintage Phase is how convincingly it sounds like the MXR Phase 90. Most reviewers (us included) conclude that it does a fantastic job. It particularly nails the slightly more subtle tone of the “script logo” version of the Phase 90, arguably the more sought-after one. The Joyo has the same analog warmth, and nails that wide ‘70s Pink Floyd sound. With a single SPEED knob, modifying your sound could not be easier. Lower speeds are great to add some spice to your rhythm and lead playing. Around 12 o’clock things get decidedly more psychedelic, and dialed up all the way you get that more intense, almost organ-like sound (at least on top of a clean tone). We were fortunate to be able to try this out against a script logo MXR Phase 90 side-by-side, and in a blind test using the same guitar, same amp, and same cables, none of us could really tell the difference between the two.
We did find an interesting issue brought up by a few guitarists and bassists that bought the Joyo JF-06. These users complain that right out of the box, the phaser effect of the Joyo was either too subtle, not quite “wooshy” enough, or too harsh and bright. As it turns out, there is an internal trim pot which you can adjust to find more of a sweet spot. The problem with this is you need to be comfortable opening the pedal up. Now, as a disclaimer, we’re not electricians, and are not recommending you get yourself into trouble if you don’t know what you’re doing. However, it’s very possible to open the pedal up, locate the printed circuit board (PCB), unscrew it, flip it over and find the trim pot. It appears that its factory default setting of 11 o’clock does not make for the sweetest tone. Drastic adjustment to the trim pot might make your pedal not function at all - it’s extremely sensitive! The sweet spot seems to be to to turn it ever so slightly to the noon position, which users have reported drastically improves the tone of the Joyo JF-06 Vintage Phase. We did not perform this operation ourselves, but want to let you know about it in case it’s something you’re interested in tinkering with. It doesn’t appear to be a complicated “surgery,” and after performing it users report, “…you will now have a phaser that easily matches the $100.00 boxes out there.”
Bottom Line: Joyo has another winner on their hands with the JF-06 Vintage Phase. If you read our best overdrive pedal guide, we also sing the praises of their JF-02 Ultimate Drive for being a great copy of the Fulltone OCD. Sure, inexpensive clone pedals are not for everyone. Some guitarists find it nice to look down and see legendary name brands like Boss, MXR, and Electro-Harmonix staring back at them. As a brand Joyo might not evoke that same feeling, but one cannot deny they make fantastic copies of legendary pedals for a fraction of the cost. To sum up, the Joyo JF-06 Vintage Phase is nearly the exact quality of an MXR Phase 90, and it’s half the price (or less). Whether you’re unsure if you need a phaser pedal and want to experiment, you need a touring backup of your expensive vintage phaser, or simply don’t want to spend top dollar for a phaser, you really can’t go wrong here. Best Bang for your Buck.
MXR EVH90 Phase 90
Remember when we said the MXR Phase 90 comes in many incarnations? Remember how we also said the Phase 90 will let you nail that Van Halen sound? Well, rounding out our list of the top phaser pedals is MXR’s collaboration with Eddie Van Halen, the MXR EVH90 Phase 90 pedal. If we can avoid it, we don’t like to necessarily put two pieces of gear that are very similar to each other in the same “top 5” list. In this case, we let the voice of the people choose, and this was simply the next-highest recommended phaser guitar pedal, after the four we covered above. The reason this pedal comes highly recommended is that for a price that’s slightly higher than a “block logo” MXR Phase 90 and “script logo” Phase 90, you basically get a pedal that can act as both! The script logo Phase 90 delivers those vintage EVH tones, and the block logo one has a more modern edge.
The only thing that really separates the MXR EVH Phase 90 from the regular Phase 90 is a little switch on the top-left corner labeled Script, which when pressed, switches the pedal into the sound of the script logo Phase 90. Aside from that, there’s a single footswitch, and the very recognizable large black SPEED knob to control the phase effect. A quick look is enough to reveal the paint job is drastically different from the original bright orange Phase 90. The EVH version has the red, white, and black stripes from Eddie Van Halen’s legendary Frankenstein guitar. There’s really not much more to say about the look, feel, and layout of this pedal; if you like the original Phase 90, you’ll dig this one, provided you’re not offended by its revised color scheme.
In terms of sound, that’s where this pedal really shines. Specifically, in its versatility to act like two pedals in one. Without the Script button pressed, the MXR EVH Phase 90 is in block logo mode, emulating the block logo Phase 90. The block logo has a subtly more “modern” sound, with a pronounced midrange. In this case you should take modern to mean that it has a little more presence and is more in-your-face. Pressing the Script logo down kicks the pedal into script logo MXR Phase 90 mode. This one is considered more vintage and mellow, and it doesn’t have that mid-tone spike. The way the midrange sounds is key when you pair up this phaser pedal with some distortion (which most guitarists tend to do). Distortion already increases the midrange of your sound, so stacking that with the block logo sound really helps you stand out in the mix. Perhaps this is desirable, perhaps not; it fully depends on your playing style. The mellower script logo tone paired up with distortion is more tame, and “meshes” together really well. Again, neither is objectively better, but it’s great to have the versatility to choose between the two. Purists will say the script logo Phase 90 has the more desirable tone, but you won’t know which is best for you until you have both options in front of you. Either way, the difference between the two modes becomes slightly more apparent at faster phase speeds, as you crank the knob clockwise.
Bottom Line: The bottom line is that the MXR EVH Phase 90 is a “two-in-one,” “best of both worlds” type pedal. If you look at it that way or intend to utilize it to its fullest, its price tag makes it a fantastic deal. Perhaps you simply cannot decide between the script and block logo, but you want a phaser that can nail the EVH tone; well, this is the one for you. We talk a good bit about the Van Halen sound, but this pedal is not just for the Van Halen fans. The Phase 90 is a legend and a classic for a reason, and because of its added versatility, the MXR EVH Phase 90 is used by the likes of Steve Vai, John Petrucci, Mark Tremonti, Scott Ian, Zakk Wylde, Chris Shiflett, and many more.