For today’s installment, we will be looking at the 4 best Lo-Fi guitar pedals available in 2023!
As a term, lo-fi means low fidelity. In other words, a low-quality copy or reproduction, and in terms of music, it has become a sonic characteristic during the creation process. It uses the filtering and noise present in mid-twentieth-century vinyl.
There are a variety of factors that went into cutting a record. The mastering engineering would have to filter the frequencies based on two different stages.
The first being when the vinyl was being physically cut. In order to provide as much space as possible on a single side of the record, bass frequencies would need to be filtered so that the grooves cut into the vinyl could be as narrow as possible (This is where the RIAA curve comes in).
The second stage was during playback. Bass frequencies would need to be filtered because an excess of bass frequencies could cause the turntable stylus to jump around while trying to track the groove, resulting in skipping.
Likewise, the high-end would need to be filtered because an excess of treble frequencies would distort playback. The distortion was caused by the stylus being unable to track the groove accurately.
Also, the turntable’s quality, whether the stylus is in good condition if the cartridge is aligned correctly, and how warped or clean the record is all make a difference in the playback quality. For example, a warped vinyl would change the pitch, and dust and dirt would play a part in creating that vinyl crackle.
Today, all of these qualities have become a part of an era of music—something to recreate and enjoy rather than something to avoid or remove.
The 4 Best Lo-Fi Guitar Pedals Available 2023 (On Any Budget)
1. MOOER Lofi Machine
MOOER Audio is a company known for its collection of effects and external audio hardware, especially its micro pedals. The Lofi Machine adds to that collection and offers a uniquely trippy and creatively friendly effect.
MOOER’s Lo-Fi Machine is a compact single-effect pedal that offers sample rate and bit depth reduction to create a fuzzy retro sound. There are three instrument filters to choose from, depending on the instrument connected or if you wish to filter a specific frequency range.
- 3-Way Mode Switch
A 3-way switch at the top center of the pedal filters frequencies based on the position selected. The three positions are bass, guitar, and synth. For bass, a lower frequency filter occurs, and as the switch is flicked up, the tonal region filtered shifts. The guitar setting is for a mid-range focused filter, and the synth setting is for a brighter high-end tonal filter.
- Sample Rate Reduction
One of the pedal’s features is reducing the signal’s sampling rate from roughly 31 kHz down to 60Hz. A reduction in the sampling rate decreases the overall fidelity of the sound when a signal is reconstructed by reducing the range of frequencies captured that make up the signal. When playing any tone, there is a fundamental frequency, e.g., an A note at the 4th octave has a fundamental frequency of 440 Hz. The tone is further embellished by its harmonics and overtones, i.e., frequencies that resonate alongside the fundamental frequency (The phenomenon is called the overtone series).
- Bit Rate Reduction
The Lofi Machine also allows control over the Bit Depth of the signal by lowering it from the audio standard 16 bit to 5 bit and anywhere in-between. Bit Depth refers to the allowed amplitude of the signal captured. Smaller bit depths lower the dynamic range and increase the signal’s noise floor. You can expect a more condensed and higher pitched sound when lowering the bit depth using the pedal.
You can find three connections on the chassis. On either side is an input (right side) and output (left side) ¼” Jack connection. On the top face of the chassis is an input connection for a 9v power adapter.
Character & Sound:
The tone created by the pedal can be described as a fuzzy synth-like sound. At lower mix levels, a tasty digital fuzz is added to the signal, and the tonal area of the fuzz shifts based on the position of the three-way switch.
At higher mix levels, the guitar tone disappears and is replaced by a retro synth tone. As the sampling rate and bit depth are reduced, the fuzz’s severity increases until the guitar has an almost digital sound.
MOOER’s Lofi Machine is excellent at capturing a digitized retro sound reminiscent of video games from an age gone by. The small, minimalistic, and compact design makes them easy to organize within a pedal board. Lastly, the three instrument modes widen the scope of applications since they can be tailored for bass, guitar, and synthesizers.
The single effect offered sits within a niche area that won’t apply to plenty of genres or situations. Also, the pedal does create noise when the bit dial is turned up since the available amplitude is squashed, so you will have to be mindful of this if you decide to use this in live scenarios (Let the sound engineer know so that they don’t think something is wrong).
You are looking for an effect to help create the 80s and 90s video game-inspired soundtracks! Otherwise, if you are looking for a pedal that offers something to spice up your weird and wonderful bag of effects pedals, the Lofi Machine can be paired well with wah-wah effect pedals.
2. Caroline Somersault Lo-Fi Modulator
Caroline Guitar Co. has created a special gem with the Somersault Lo-Fi Modulator that houses more potential than any musician could use in one sitting.
The Somersault is a lo-fi modulator that offers two-tone settings, two waves for modulation, a mix, offset, depth, and speed control to fine-tune your tone, and lastly, a havoc button for max speed.
- Tone & Wave Two-Way Switches
Two 2-way switches are built into the pedal. The left switch, tone, flips between a bright and a dark setting. The bright setting processes the signal as it is. In contrast, you can use the dark setting to filter the high-end for a more lo-fi tone. The right switch, wave, alternates between a traditional triangle wave modulation or a rhythm square wave modulation.
- Depth & Speed Dials
The depth and speed dials adjust two important modulation characteristics. First, the depth control adjusts the depth of the modulation’s oscillations. You can hear a slight wave at low settings, and as the depth increases, the modulation becomes more pronounced. Second, the speed control dictates the rate at which the wave oscillates.
- Offset Dial
The offset dial controls the time delay between the dry and modulated signals. The effects become more pronounced at higher settings, especially when the depth dial, detailed below, is turned to higher levels.
- Havoc Switch
The Havoc switch allows you to momentarily increase the speed of the effect to its max setting. The increase to max speed happens regardless of what has been dialed in.
Character & Sound:
The Somersault has a wide range of tones that pack tremendous character. At high mix, depth, and speed settings on the square wave option, you can achieve rhythmic sci-fi beeps, and as the depth and speed are rolled off, the effect becomes a low drone tone that plays on every beat.
You can achieve an 80s-style chorus or traditional vibrato on the triangle wave setting. You can even find dreamy shimmers to lose yourself in with some personal tweaking. The tone depends entirely on who uses it because of the amount of control offered.
As mentioned, a vast array of tones are offered. In addition, the controls work together seamlessly, so you can easily identify what is happening to your signal if you’re familiar with modulation.
The dials may be tricky to understand if you aren’t familiar with modulation. Lastly, the range of tones offered can be overwhelming, so experimenting with the pedal is vital.
Caroline’s Somersault will be great for guitarists or keyboardists looking for colorful and unique tones to accompany their music. Otherwise, if you are looking for a pedal that can recreate the classic chorus and vibrato sounds while still offering a wealth of tones to play with, the Somersault is for you.
3. Z.Vex Instant Lo-Fi Junky Vexter (Lo-Fi Chorus / Vibrato)
The Z.Vex Instant Lo-Fi Junky Vexter offers real-time effects processing with a tone reminiscent of their Lo-Fi Loop Junky pedal. The pedal was a hit because of the tone offered, but many musicians wanted that warbly vinyl sound without the need to loop, so the Lo-Fi Junky Vexter was born.
The Lo-Fi Junky is a horizontal modulation pedal that also offers compression. With the Junky, you will be able to achieve that vinyl shimmer and shake that has become synonymous with lo-fi, or you can capture a washy sea-sick wave for trippy arrangments.
- Built-In Low Pass Control
The tone dial offers an adjustable lowpass filter that controls the brightness of the lo-fi signal. However, the tone dial does not affect the compressed tone. Overall, using the low pass filter can be a great way to lower the instrument’s tone to achieve a warmer signal: the lower tone can help with instrument arrangement for songs, especially if you plan on looping. The backing passages can sit below the melodic/lead passages easier with a simple adjustment of the tone dial.
- Comp & Lo-Fi Mix Control
The Lo-Fi Junky offers a mix between a compressed signal, a chorus effect, and a vibrato effect. These effects are all achieved using the Comp to Lo-Fi dial (the middle control). When turned counter-clockwise, the signal becomes compressed, and, when turned clockwise, a vibrato effect is applied. Finally, a shimmering chorus effect is applied when balanced between the two points. These three options can be further manipulated using a range of features discussed below.
- The Three-Way Sound Wave Switch
You will be able to switch between three waveforms for modulating the signal: A sinewave, a triangle wave, and a square wave. Each waveform has a distinct tonal characteristic that can be changed further using the speed and depth dials. Add the chorus and vibrato options to this, and you will have at least four to six base tones to work off of to craft your distinct sound.
- Depth & Speed Controls
The depth and speed dials control the oscillation of the vibrato effect (lo-fi setting). The depth dial controls how much the vibrato veers from the initial pitch of the note. At low settings, the depth control gives a subtle variation in pitch and becomes progressively springy as the dial is turned up. The speed dial controls the rate at which the vibrato oscillates and can emulate the swaying motion of the sea at low settings, the warped sound of an old vinyl at medium settings, or hauntingly trippy drones at high settings.
Character & Sound:
The tone varies depending on which sound wave modifies the chorus and vibrato effects and the degree of compression versus lo-fi. From left to right, beginning with the sinewave, the oscillations are smoother, which creates a slight shimmer and shake as the switch is moved from triangle to square wave, the oscillations become more distinct and pronounced.
You can find the classic chorus sound using either a sine wave or a triangle wave. As mentioned above in key features, when altering the Comp to Lo-Fi dial, the tone ranges from a compressed signal to a shimmering chorus effect to a shaky vibrato effect.
The tones offered by the Lo-Fi Junky are very versatile and offer a range of unique sounds as long as you have the time and tenacity to find them.
Alongside the range of options, the effects offered can fit a wide range of styles and genres simply because of the degree of the mix between the dry and wet signals. For example, a touch of chorus or vibrato can add that needed emotion to a guitar solo, melody, or rhythm section.
The orientation and design of the casing may make organizing a pedal board difficult. The casing has a landscape orientation, and the input and output connections are on either side of the chassis.
To get around playing a game of Tetris with their pedal board, users have opted for rotating the pedal so that they can conserve space, but this does mean you will need to keep the orientation of the pedal in mind mid-performance. However, if you prefer the vertical design, Z.vex do offer an Instant Lo-Fi Junky vertical.
If you are looking for a great chorus or vibrato effect pedal to add that satisfying vinyl warp found in most lo-fi music, the Z.Vex Instant Lo-Fi Junky can offer that with some tweaking. Otherwise, if you are looking for a pedal to add to your bag of tricks, they are a fantastic addition!
4. Keeley Memphis Sun Lo-Fi Reverb/Echo
The Keeley Memphis Sun is a pedal designed to replicate the iconic guitar tones of Rock n Roll’s heydays. They have done a great job of giving musicians the ability to unleash their inner rockabilly.
Keeley’s Memphis Sun is a multi-effects pedal with three distinct effects, all based on the types of echos/reverbs used during the 1940s and 50s recordings. The pedal offers four adjustable controls and a 9v DC power input.
- Three-Way Effect Switch
You can toggle the three effects on offer using the switch between the mix and reverb dials. The top position, Echo 600, adds a lo-fi echo plus an adjustable small room reverb to the signal. The middle position, Sun Mode, creates a warm Double Tracking effect when the time dial is set between the first notch and zero. When above the first notch, a slapback echo with modulation and a small room reverb effect is added to the signal. The bottom position, Room, adds a small room reverb with an adjustable pre-delay and frequency filtering at roughly 1 kHz.
The time dial controls the delay time for each effect. Echo 600 varies from 30ms to up to 666ms of delay. Sun Mode’s delay time can be from 0ms to 180ms. The double tracking effect can be used when the dial is between 0ms and the first notch surrounding the dial. For the Room effect, the pre-delay time is adjusted.
- Regen/Mod Control
Each position has a personal tonal characteristic adjusted using this dial. For example, for Echo 600, you can adjust the number of delayed repeats. For Sun Mode, the modulation depth and speed are adjusted. And lastly, for Room, the frequency filtering at 1 kHz is adjusted with up to 10 dB of frequency boost or cut.
Character & Sound:
In a nutshell, the tone offered is that quintessential vintage 1950s guitar tone. The Echo 600 mode has a snappy spacious echo perfect for capturing the rockabilly tone. The Sun Mode offers a warm, almost chorus-y effect that is great for adding ambiance to chord or arpeggio passages. Finally, the Room mode has a filtered small room sound with depth.
The Memphis Sun offers a lot of character and an excellent tone for capturing that iconic vintage sound. And the dials offer complete control over sculpting the tone of each effect.
You will require an external 9v power supply to use the pedal as there is no slot for a 9v battery. The tones on offer create a particular soundscape that may not have many uses outside of a few areas.
Keeley’s Memphis Sun is recommended if you want to add a vintage Rock N Roll sound to your tone! Also, if you’re looking for a small room reverb unit that offers slight frequency filtering, this pedal would be a great addition to your pedal board.
Each pedal has a variety of applications, and some pedals fit particular musical areas, so throwing all pedals into one bag and picking the best one wouldn’t work. In saying that, the verdict will focus on pedals for achieving a few different low-fidelity tones.
Z.vex’s Instant Lofi Junky stood out the most when trying to capture that old-school warped vinyl tone, so if that is the kind of lo-fi tone you are searching for, then look no further.
Otherwise, if you are simply looking for a more vintage tone, Keeley’s Memphis Sun is recommended because of how it captures that iconic 40s and 50s guitar tone.
And lastly, MOOER’s Lofi Machine captures a retro 8 and 16-bit arcade game soundtrack tone very well, so if that is what you are after, you have found your pedal.
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A part-time sound engineering lecturer and musician based in Pretoria, South Africa. He has had a passion for all things music since he was big enough to sit on his cousin’s bed and strum away on an old guitar. All while his uncle, in a room below him, stood with a broom in hand and drummed along on the ceiling. When he isn’t teaching others the basics of sound theory, how to record, and how to mix, you can find him sitting with a guitar fiddling away, completely lost to the world.