If I Could Have Only 3 Guitar Pedals


If you could have only 3 guitar pedals on your pedalboard, what would it be? Well although it may sound like a kill-joy, this is a very real situation where one can only have afford this number of ‘toys’ or someone intentionally wants to go back to basics.

I know of someone who have 30 guitar pedals hooked up in his pedalboard. Maybe more at the time of writing. Yes, he is not normal as I know him to have done it more to humour himself than for practical reasons. Well for the normal mortal beings and those with practical reasons, having only have 3 guitar pedals and never to have one more is a feasible proposal.

For me, the Top 3 will be

1) A Looper

If you have been following me, you’ll know the deep feelings I have for a looper pedal. It is to me the essential beat box and rhythm machine. Before a looper came into production, recording yourself and playing back is cumbersome. The way of learning through listening and evaluating yourself is a needed process in learning but it was so challenging to setup the equipment for it that not many people   actually does it. Nowadays, recording yourself is made easy with a looper.

The most typical use of a looper has been to lay a chord progression say a II V I (Yes I am a jazzer) and then later play a solo over it. Not only can you play but you can also record the solo to listen to how your solo actually sound as a listener. This itself makes the looper an invaluable piece of gear worth the price of admission.

2) A Delay Pedal

The second pedal is special. Everyone who could fork money to pay for a pedal deserves to sound BIG. By big I mean to have a sound that is not thin or hollow but one that is 3 dimensional, somewhat layered and sonically thick. I know people will at this point will think of a reverb or an octave. But while both are pedals I love, the delay is a better option.

Why is it preferred over a reverb? Well the reason is simple, a delay can be made to work like a reverb. Just set a low duration and small repetition and a delay becomes a reverb. However the opposite cannot be true. A reverb cannot be made to work like a delay.

As a reverb is like a single repeat delay, with the delay you will get 2 pedals in one. For that the delay wins for a good time-based pedal.

An octave on the other hand is a one trick pony creating one kind of layered sound even though it can simulate separation of differing pitch. Hence it is suitable for only limited application in genre such as contemporary jazz and rock. It is not as versatile as a reverb or delay.

Your taste may vary but a delay pedal stands as still the King of time based effects.

3) A Tuner

Playing in tune is the BEST effects ever. Period!

Knowing there are those who were like me who could not tell if a guitar is in tune or not around, this is quintissential.

Ever since I invested in a tuner pedal (and a clip on one too), I believe I sound twice as good as I have before. While I could not tell by my underdeveloped ear, the people around me could. So for friendship and family harmony, get a tuner as one of the 3 pedals you can get.

Now seriously that is only me. What about you? Share your TOP 3.

How about if you can have 5 or up to 7?If I could have up to 7,  it’ll be 4) Distortion or Overdrive, 5) Reverb, 6) Fuzz or Wah 7) Compressor.

Elaboration of these will have to be another post, another time.

I hope with the 3 essential pedals if you could only have that number of pedals on your board will help you simplify your tools to play good guitar.

Thanks for checking this out.



4 thoughts on “If I Could Have Only 3 Guitar Pedals

  1. Ki

    So you would take a loop pedal, a tuner and a delay?

    What about distortion?

    Also… do you have any recommendations on specific pedals? Is the boss loopstation a good choice?

    As for a tuner, do you prefer to use a portable tuner that fits onto the headstock or a tuner pedal?

  2. HT Post author

    Distortion and overdrives will be next up. I’ll place it as number 4 because the nature of the electric guitar sound is somewhat in their overdriven state. I did a short article on Looper pedals with some recommendations here https://playgoodguitar.com/guitar-pedals-to-like-bbking

    Boss loop-stations are good functionally but for sound quality, I still think the TC electronic Dittos and the EHX one i recommended have an edge. I find the RC-2 and RC-3s that I have tried have some tone suck. I’m not sure if it applies to all units but mine were compared to the EHX and TC electronic ones.

    For tuners, I prefer one on the headstock for acoustic playing and practice and a tuner pedal for performance

  3. Dustin

    Thanks for the information.

    Loopers are pretty cool. I went to a Lindsey Stirling concert a couple years ago, and she actually incorporated the use of one into her live show. I don’t remember the song she played with it, but it was a rendition of one of her more popular songs. It was really cool to watch her start off with a really simple beat, and add depth to it as she cycled through adding more and more harmonies on top of each other.

    I’m sure I could have a lot of fun just messing around with one.


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