A stompbox shootout for the ages.
Not even the purest of pedal snobs can turn their nose up to a humble Boss pedal.
For over forty years, the company’s line of rugged, compact and simple stompboxes have stayed at the forefront of contemporary music, with some even inspiring entire new genres or styles of playing.
However, it’s clear that not all Boss pedals are built the same, and that out of the hundreds that have been produced, there can only be one definitive top ten.
As a precursor, I just want to state that this ranking is solely dedicated to the range of Boss effects that only feature a single footswitch – you’ll find no Space Echo pedals or fancy looping stations on this list.
In the pedal world, Boss have proved a hundred times over that the simpler the better, and for that reason, we’re nullifying anything too fancy – that can all be saved for another day. So, without any further ado: our top ten.
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10. Boss BD-2 Blues Driver
The concept of the BD-2 Blues Driver really isn’t too hard to grapple with: it’s an overdrive pedal with a tonal characteristic that makes it great for blues.
Yet it’s the simplicity and pricing of this pedal that makes it a hit with players, with the Blues Driver being one of Boss’s best sellers since it was introduced to the market 25 years ago.
Even boutique overdrive junkies like John Mayer have juiced their tone up with a Blues Driver in the past: if it’s good enough for him, then it’s got to be a winner.
9. Boss GE-7 Graphic Equalizer
Super rudimentary, super boring, but super underrated. The GE-7 was released in 2004 and was initially marketed guitarists looking for instant tone shaping without running back and forth to their amplifier, but it’s the GE-7’s versatility that makes it an important addition to this list.
The freedom provided by the seven-band graphic EQ allows players to use the GE-7 for anything from a treble or mid boost to even an overdrive or humbucker cleaner, making it a tonal fail-safe for players using two different guitars in their set.
8. Boss CS-3 Compression Sustainer
Compression pedals just weren’t cool until this one hit shelves in 1993.
While it doesn’t really possess any tricks or hidden features that make it a gamechanger, there’s no denying that the CS-3 sounds great: whether you’re using it as a simple limiter or going all-out on the sustain for a classic country clean tone, the CS-3 will almost certainly do the trick.
The addition of a tone control also makes this a secret weapon among many guitarists, and it’s even been used by the kings of compression themselves, Daft Punk. That alone has got to mean it’s good!
7. Boss TU-3 Tuner
Another boring, yet crucial addition to any list. Boss changed the game with the introduction of the TU-2 in 1998, giving guitarists access to instant, accurate and easy tuning onstage without the need for a rack tuner or hushing the crowd until you got that G string just right.
The TU-3 improved on the design of its predecessor by retaining its +/- 1 cent accuracy, and added a brighter LED display and multiple modes to suit those who were toying with drop tunings.
Plus, like just about every pedal on this list, it’s practically indestructible.
6. Boss DM-2 Analogue Delay
The Boss DM-2 is literally one of the best sounding analogue delays of all time – period. Despite having a delay time of 30-330ms, there’s something so warm and dark about the DM-2’s repeats, and the tonal characteristics of the delay make it perfect for lush chords and lead passages alike.
The DM-2 was only produced between 1981-84, and if you can get your hands on an original unit with a MN3005 BBD chip, you’ll want to keep it forever: these pedals fetch exorbitant pedals on the internet, and are prized by analogue delay junkies all around the world.
5. Boss DS-1 Distortion
If this wasn’t your first ‘serious’ pedal you bought when you started playing guitar, then you’re probably just a bassist.
The DS-1 is probably the most ubiquitous pedal of all time, and has been used by just about every player of all time: think Kurt Cobain, John Frusciante, Courtney Love, Robert Smith, Steve Vai… the list goes on and on.
Sure, it cops a fair share of shit, and yes, it’s quite a limiting pedal. But nothing beats the feeling you get the first time you stomp on this bad boy and mangle the riff to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. Bliss!
4. Boss RC-3 Loop Station
I definitely debated whether or not this pedal deserved its place in the list (I really, really wanted to talk about the DC-3 Dimension), but I think the prevalence of looping in modern guitar has made the RC-3 a bit of a sleeping giant in the Boss ensemble.
The RC-3 improved on the groundbreaking, yet frustratingly simple features of the RC-1, letting you record up to three hours of audio, save 99 loops in the internal memory, giving you preset rhythms to practise to and even adding a nifty count-in feature.
In today’s age of the bedroom playing, this one is a must-have.
3. Boss DD-3 Digital Delay
The DD-3 is my personal favourite Boss pedal of all time, and it’s probably the one that started a quite unhealthy stompbox addiction that continues to ruin my life.
Adored for the clarity of its repeats, the versatility between each delay mode and the quirky sample/hold feature, the DD-3 became a mainstay on the boards of pioneering groups like Slowdive, Radiohead and Bloc Party, and its tendency to play nice with other pedals makes it a no-brainer for any pedal fiend.
The company have also recently reissued the DD-3 and added a potentially life-saving tap tempo function, ensuring that the legacy of the DD-3 lingers on for another generation of players.
2. Boss MT-2 Metal Zone
Is the Metal Zone the most controversial pedal of all time? Possibly so. Either you love this pedal’s guts, or you loathe it and want to shoot it into the sun: there’s no middle ground.
And speaking of mids, this pedal’s got plenty: with a three-band EQ that includes High/Low shelving knobs plus a mid-band parametric EQ, the MT-2 actually offers a lot of versatility, yet the sheer amount of distortion present makes it a hard one to use efficiently.
However, it’s important to note that this pedal was released in 1992 at the apex of metal’s mainstream influence, and like the DD-3 for shoegazers, represents the dawn of a movement for many heavy players.
1. Boss CE-2 Chorus
Surely the CE-2 has to be a unanimous pick for the best Boss pedal ever. With a mere two knobs, the Boss CE-2 literally shaped the sound of an entire decade: where would the ’80s be without the chorus, and where would chorus be without the CE-2?
The lush tone of the CE-2’s chorus effect set the blueprint for what was expected from an analogue chorus as soon as it was released in 1979, with players immediately taking to its rich sound and subtle mid-boost.
Boss discontinued the pedal in 1982 favour of the new-fangled CE-3, which saw demand increase, prices skyrocket, numbers dwindle on the used market and above all, enshrined the CE-2 as one of the best pedals of all time.
Hungry for more words about even more pedals? Check out our effects review section.