In this post, we will discuss the 4 best saturation pedals available.
The concept of saturation itself dates back to the 50s and 60s when tape recorders were used in studios to record music. Saturation was more of a naturally occurring phenomenon that took place when too much volume was inserted into the tape recorder – too much for the tape recorder’s capacity.
The recorder would then compress those higher signals to fit into its spectrum, and thus saturation happened. So in a way, saturation is a naturally occurring compression or overdrive.
Saturation pedals replicate that effect: they boost certain frequencies that make your sound warmer and thicker. Moreover, the overdriven effect does not happen instantaneously.
Depending on the pedal you’re using, you can have a wide range of control over the frequencies you wish to boost without any overdriven effect.
Hopefully, we’ll help you find the perfect pedal for you, let’s dive in:
4 Best Saturation Guitar Pedals 2024 Available (Tone Shapers & Tape Saturators)
1. Strymon Deco (Tape Saturation, Tape Echo, Tape Chorus, Tape Flanger)
The Strymon Deco is basically two pedals in one, which makes it the most favorable choice for most guitarists. After its release in 2014, it instantly became a one-of-a-kind pedal for its wide range of control over the sound output. In general, it contains a saturation effect and a double-deck tape recorder effect.
As per the aforementioned, the Strymon Deco is divided in half. On the left side of the pedal, we have the Saturation knob. Linked to it are the Volume knob, right below it, and the Bypass On/Off switch. On the right side of the pedal, we have the Lag Time knob.
Linked to it are the Wobble knob, a three-way toggle (sum, invert, and bounce – more on it later), and a Bypass On/Off switch. In the middle, we have the Blend knob.
The Strymon Deco is a rather large pedal. It comes in a sturdy metal chassis, its dimension 1.75 X 4 X 4.5 inches – a rather square shape. The I/O sockets are located on the top of the pedal, which is perfect for pedalboards, as well as an EXP input and a power input.
The Strymon Deco is a digital pedal. It has stereo output. The input is mono by default, but it has an internal stereo switch, which you can benefit from by using a duo-cable converter. The pedal runs on a 9V power plug (250 mA), and it has a true bypass for signal integrity.
The Saturation knob controls the amount of saturated effect needed: from zero to 11 O’clock, you boost the low-end frequencies and get a fatter, richer sound; from noon to max, as you increase the compression, you get an over-driven to a distorted sound.
The Volume knob controls the volume of the saturated effect. The Lag Time knob has different functions depending on where its positioned. To understand how it works, first, you must understand what the double-deck tape recorder effect does. It creates another sound that plays in parallel with your original sound.
Now, the Lag Time knob controls when that second sound is being played: the more you turn it up, the more delayed the parallel sound is. This gives you the chance to control your delayed sound to range from flanger to chorus to echo. Now comes the role of the Wobble knob.
The Wobble knob controls the oscillation between the original sound and the parallel sound, giving off a vibrato effect kind of sound. How the Wobble knob behaves is controlled by the three-way toggle. The sum mode plays both signals in parallel, as mentioned before.
The invert mode inverts the second signal, so the original sound and the double-deck tape sound will deviate from one another and meet up at different points, which will create a wider range of oscillation between the two sounds.
The bounce mode creates a second double-deck tape recorder sound that is summed up with the original signal. This mode is particularly useful in a stereo signal as it creates a stereo effect itself.
Character & Sound:
The Strymon Deco has an absurdly wide range of sounds. The fact that it’s a two-in-one pedal contributes to that wide range. It can be used to create sounds ranging from a mere boost in frequencies to a crazy flange or echo with a heavy distortion.
Not only, but also the Blend knob lets you control how much of each effect you want in your signal. Its compression rate is so high that it can actually replace your distortion pedal. Its maximum lag time is 500ms, which is higher than what you would get on an actual double-deck tape recorder.
And though it’s digital, its sounds are pure, and they perfectly imitate those of an analog pedal.
The first profit in the Strycon Deco is pretty obvious, and that is you can technically do everything with this pedal. It is great for both studio recording and live performance. And it can replace a good number of other pedals that produce only one of the Strymon Deco‘s effects.
Although it’s quite large, placing it on your pedalboard won’t be a problem. And that’s largely due to its I/O sockets being on the top and not on the sides. Its On/Off switches are located fairly apart, so you won’t press on both switches by mistake.
There aren’t many cons to the Strymon Deco. However, one negative that comes to mind is that it doesn’t have a global On/Off switch. On the other hand, such a switch would have to be located quite near to the other On/Off switches, which would have made things jammed and messy.
Another thing that is not much of a con, but rather a notice, is that the pedal has too many features, so you might have a hard time setting it up.
My advice is that you should choose this pedal only if you’re experienced with pedals and have a background on how saturation and double-deck tape recorder effects work.
2. EHX Analogizer (Tone Shaper/EQ/Preamp)
If you’re looking to add a vintage analog sound over your digital signal, The EHX Analogizer is the one for you. First released in 2011, the EHX Analogizer transforms your digital sound into an analog sound. It does so by boosting your lower frequencies and dimming your high frequencies (where digital sounds often surf).
The EHX Analogizer is a pretty simple pedal. It has four knobs (Volume, Spread, Blend, and Gain). It has 1 input and 1 output, a power input, a status display LED, and an On/Off switch. It can also run on a battery.
The EHX Analogizer is a small pedal. Its dimensions are 2 X 2.2 X 4.3 inches. It’s rectangle-shaped, and it comes in a metal chassis. Its I/O sockets are on the sides (Input on the right and Output on the left), and its power plug is on the bottom. Its battery compartment is located under the bottom cover.
The EHX Analogizer has an analog circuit. It runs on a 9V DC power plug or a 9V battery. It has mono input and output. And it has a true bypass for an intact signal in the chain. The gain in this pedal ranges from zero to +26 dB, and the delay time ranges from 3.5 to 65 ms.
The Volume knob in the EHX Analogizer controls the overall output volume of the affected signal. The Spread knob controls the delay time (the more you turn it up, the more delayed time you get). The Blend knob controls the mix between the dry signal and the wet signal. And the Gain knob controls the saturation effect.
Character & Sound:
The EHX Analogizer has a quite subtle effect. Its gain is minimal, great for boosting your sound and making it stand out. It doesn’t only boost the gain though, it also boosts the low-end frequencies, which makes the sound thicker and warmer, as well as gives off a vintage tone.
The blend also contributes to the sound characteristics of the pedal: the more blend you add, the fatter your tone is. The spread functions more like an echo sound. It emulates the double-deck tape recorder effect.
The EHX Analogizer is perfect for two purposes: adding an analog tone to your digital signal and having a bigger guitar sound. Although its tweaks have minimal effect on your sound, they are just the right amount.
So no matter how high you turn the knobs, you will always get a good sound out of it.
The problem with this pedal, however, is that it is too simple and limited. Compared to other pedals, the gain in the EHX Analogizer is very weak. So it won’t, for instance, replace your overdrive or distortion pedal. The delay time also has a low range.
When turned to max, you can barely separate the two signals.
The EHX Analogizer is optimal if you’re looking to just add a vintage analog tone to your chain. It is also great for inexperienced users who are looking for something easy to control and set up.
3. JPTR FX Jive (Reel Saturation)
The JPTR FX Jive is based on an old Akai GX 210D reel tape machine from the 1970s. So you can instantly understand that it’s made to emulate vintage studio sounds. This pedal first came out around 2018, and it is made in Germany.
Although it’s a rather small pedal, it has a lot of tweaks and features. It’s great for boosting your clean or distorted channel, but it’s also great for getting those garage band and Grunge sounds.
The JPTR FX Jibe features two knobs (Volume and Gain), three On/Off toggle switches for clipping diodes (more on this later), and a bypass On/Off switch. It has one input, one output, and a power plug input. This pedal doesn’t run on a battery.
The JPTR FX Jibe is quite tiny. It’s dimensions are 6.5 X 13 X 6 cm. It comes in a sturdy metal chassis. It has rather large knobs for its size, which are placed on top of each other (Volume on top and Gain below).
The diode On/Off switches are placed next to the knobs, approximately in the center of the pedal. And the bypass On/Off switch is located at the center bottom of the pedal. The I/O sockets are on the top, and between them is the power input socket.
The JPTR FX Jibe features all-analog circuitry. It has mono input and output, and it runs on a 9-18 V DC PSU (center negative, 2.1 mm) which draws around 50 mA. And, like all high-end pedals, it contains a true bypass.
The Volume knob controls the overall output of the pedal. The Gain knob controls the level of saturation, which means it boosts frequencies and creates a distorted sound.
The On/Off toggle switches function as follows: the first toggle creates an asymmetrical 1N4001 Silicon diode clipping; the second toggle creates a symmetrical 1N4001 Silicon diode clipping; the last toggle creates a symmetrical 1N5819 diode clipping.
Each toggle overrides the one above it.If you’re not familiar with diodes, what they do is create compression and, in turn, a distortion that is added to your overall gain and volume. A small notice, when you add compression, it lowers your overall volume, so you might want to back it up with extra volume input from the pedal.
Character & Sound:
The JPTR FX Jibe has a unique sound to it. It perfectly emulates the 70s studio recording sound. It can also be used subtly to boost your guitar tone or to even get a decent overdriven signal.
The diode clipping switches add another level of sound to your effect. They create intensely compressed distortion sounds that are great for genres like Grunge. They can also be used to get the vintage recording sound.
The JPTR FX Jibe has a lot of applications. It’s great for both studio recording and live performance – especially when you want to replicate an old studio recording sound on stage.
The placement of the I/O sockets on the top of the pedal makes it a great fit on pedalboards. Tiny as it is, it won’t require any additional space from entangled cables – the kind of jam you would face with I/O sockets on the sides.
The bad side to this pedal, which almost instantly hit me while researching it, is that it’s not for everybody. True, its sound is unique. However, it is so unique that it’s not applicable in all situations.
That’s why you could easily go wrong with this pedal if you’re only looking to add color to your guitar sound. It’s just not made for that.
This pedal is perfect if you’re looking to add a vintage, heavily compressed sound to some parts of your compositions or if you’re looking to make some recordings with a garage band kind of sound. It would also be optimal for Grunge music.
4. Big Joe B-303 Metal (Saturation/Distortion)
From its name, you can easily guess that the Big Joe B-303 Metal is a heavy distortion pedal. It was released around 2016, and it’s made in USA – finished and assembled in Connecticut – the same as all Big Joe pedals. What’s special about this pedal, however, is that it’s so simple yet so powerful.
The Big Joe B-303 Metal comes in a metal Chassis. It features three knobs (Gain, Shape, and Volume), a status LED display, and an On/Off switch. It has one input, one output, a power input, and a battery compartment.
The Big Joe B-303 is rectangle-shaped. Its dimensions are 4.80 x 2.91 x 2.12 inches. The knobs are placed next to one another, and the On/Off switch is located in the center bottom of the pedal.
The I/O sockets are on the sides (input on the right and output on the left), and the power input socket is on the top of the pedal. The battery compartment is located under the bottom cover.
The Big Joe B-303 has an analog circuit. It has mono input and output, and it runs on a 9VDC power supply (2.1 mm x 5.5 mm barrel connector, polarity (-) inside) or a 9V battery. It also features a true bypass for signal integrity.
The Gain knob controls the level of distorted effect. The Shape knob controls the Mid-level in the signal. And the Volume knob controls the overall amplitude of the affected signal. That’s it: that’s how simple this pedal is.
Character & Sound:
The Big Joe B-303 Metal has a pretty wide sound range. By default, it boosts the Low and Mid frequencies, giving off a punchy sound. On the other hand, its gain ranges from minimal overdrive to heavy, crunchy distortion, matching the distortion generated by tube amps.
Its Shape scoops and compresses the sound when turned counter-clockwise and amplifies the mid-range and overall tone when turned clockwise.
The Big Joe B-303 Metal is a great distortion pedal. It has several applications: it can be used to add a subtle overdrive; it can boost your distorted signal, but it’s best used as a stand-alone distortion pedal.
Moreover, you can’t go wrong with this pedal; it’s never a poor choice. It’s easy to control, and it will always produce a decent sound.
The only thing that could be a con to this pedal is that it doesn’t contain an equalizer. It has a mid boost/cut indeed, but a distortion pedal like this one could use, at least, a three-knob equalizer (Low, Mid, and High) that would allow you to better tweak and control your distorted sound, making it a true match for tube amps.
This pedal is optimal for all users – guitarists and bassists. It is best used for its own distorted tones. You can always rely on it in studio recording and live performance to give you a great-sounding distortion.
Shaurya Bhatia, is an Indian Music Producer, Composer, Rapper & Performer, who goes by the stage name MC SNUB, and is also 1/2 of the Indian pop music duo, called “babyface”. A certified Audio Engineer & Music Producer, and a practicing musician & rapper for more than 6 years, Shaurya has worked on projects of various genres and has also been a teaching faculty at Spin Gurus DJ Academy.