Guide to Pedals: Boost Pedals

An explanation of the boost pedals.

Ultimate Guitar

The Boost Pedal

Welcome to the very first article in the "Guide to Pedals," the only column that will try to enhance your knowledge about pedals and help you to make an informed decision if you are trying to buy a new pedal!

Today we will cover the most obvious and simple pedal of them all: the boost pedal.

What kind of sound does it make?

A boost pedal is something very simple, is a more pedal. It will take the sound of your guitar and make it bigger and louder, much like the volume knob on your guitar. Imagine that your volume knob can only go up to 8 (out of 10) and you had to push a button to get to 10. Well that is exactly what a boost pedal is (actually a lot of guitar players use it to take their volume from 10 to 12).

What does the pedal does to your signal?

Transistor booster is "linear," "clean," or "distortion-free" signal amplifier that increases the amplitude of your signal. The idea is to boost the guitar signal before it reaches the amplifier, without adding any artifacts like fuzz or distortion. The idea behind most of them is that the guitar signal should be unchanged (no coloring) as it passes through them, only the signal level should be increased. Although some units are deliberately designed to accentuate certain frequencies.

Other components as high-quality buffers (we will talk about them some day) a mix between the clean signal and a tone knob can be found in some units.

How you use it?

Well, the boost pedal is a simple unit and there are only two ways of using one (that I know of). One is like a boost to make your sound bigger. This happens when you put the pedal in front of the amp (I am assuming you have a valve amp). If you are in a clean channel the pedal will do two things:
  • Increase the volume;
  • Add some bite (sparking sound that a valve amp makes when is driven hard enough).
If you are in a distorted channel more distortion will come out of the amp and your sound will have more sustain (the time that a note rings out will be increased), but you will get no volume boost.

Here is a video of Guthrie Govan where he explains his pedalboard and uses a boost pedal:

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And here one explaining it again:

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The second option to use the boost is to put in the effects loop (yes this can be done!). If you want the boost pedal is only to increase your volume put it in the loop of the amp (before any other pedal), this will boost the signal without making more distortion.

Three good choices

1. Cheap

Electro-Harmonix LPB-1: this is the only entry-level boost pedal that I like. If you think you need one and you are on a budget try one; it is simple and reliable and it will do the 10 to 12 volume thing ok, but do not expect it to redefine the tone of your guitar.

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2. Mid

TC Electronic Spark Mini and the MXR M133 Micro Amp: Here I present you with 2 nice options both great and clean, no fancy knobs just some good old boost pedal that will do the trick without weird noises. Both have bigger brothers with more knobs but they are a bit more expensive (TC Electronic Spark and the MXR Micro Amp Plus).

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3. Expensive

Koko Boost Reloaded: if you want a truly professional and amazing boost pedal, don't go any further. This pedal has a lot of great options and sound that cannot be beaten.

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My weapon of choice

My weapon of choice is not a true boost pedal, is an overdrive pedal (how convenient as this is the pedal I will cover in the next issue). I have a J. Rockett Archer, a modern day copy the classic Klon Centaur overdrive. This pedal has a particular setting that can be use as a boost if the gain control is all the way down; it also has a great buffer and a tone knob, do you need more?

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Well, I hope that this help you to understand boost pedals better, and because more is more (no matter what you think) in the next issue we will take it a bit further and cover the overdrive pedal!


9 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Saulo P
    I really like the "what does the pedal does to your signal?" section. As an engineer it helps me a lot to understand what's going on..
    Huh. I just yell at my amp, saying it's a disgrace and a waste of potential, and its resulting guilt activates the crystal lattices. Catholicism is truly mystical.
    I literally just bought the spark mini because of this article, and it's fantastic. I've been playing nonstop every spare moment I can get. Great article!