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What Is a Chorus Pedal and How Does It Work?

Are you trying to get a rich and lush guitar tone? Then you’ve probably heard about chorus pedals. If you’re still wondering what a chorus pedal is and how it works then this post will help get you up to speed.

When someone says the word chorus, your might think of the catchiest part of the song. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. A chorus effect is when sounds are played simultaneously with similar pitches to give a grandiose effect. When it comes to guitar, you may have heard of a chorus pedal. So what does it exactly do? Is it the missing piece of the puzzle in your quest to sound great?

what does a chorus pedal do - and how does it work?

Think of a twelve-string guitar and how you can play two strings at the same time. Very similarly, a chorus pedal is a reproduction of a natural sound. It enables us to emulate two guitars playing the same thing simultaneously, except they are not in perfect unison or octaves.

Chorus pedals can add a rich and lush tonality to the sound, giving it a certain kind of thickness. Very similar to a flanger, a chorus copies the audio and multiplies it, but there is an added delay and modulation to every pitch. The modified voices give the impression of multiple instruments playing, but not quite perfectly on time. In the context of a band, a chorus helps the guitar stand out without needing to adjust the volume or eq.

Brief History of Chorus Pedals

One of the earliest known examples of a chorus effect in use was in the 1930s with the purposely detuned signal of the Hammond organs. Used by the likes of James Brown, the Hammond permitted multiple pedals and thus gave the player many options for the kind of sound they wanted.

In the ’60s, some recording studios started using an ADT, Automatic Double Tracking effect, which played a slightly delayed copy of the recording over the original. This enhanced the sound of vocals and instruments in the overall mix. The Beatles used this technique during their recording sessions at the Abbey Road Studios in 1966.

The first chorus pedal was made by BOSS, the CE-1, in 1976, and these had circuits modeled after the Roland Jazz Chorus amplifier. They included both chorus and a vibrato feature. Thus this was the first commercially available guitar pedal and paved the way for the many iterations we find today. 

 How Do They Work?

A chorus pedal splits the source audio into multiple voices. It then adds pitch and timbre modulations to these duplicates before finally joining them back to the original sound. There is a slight delay between the original signal and these voices. The oscillations that occur within these voices cause it to appear as though multiple instruments are playing the same thing.

A chorus pedal can be analog or digital. Since analog pedals tweak the audio source directly, they add a phaser or flanger effect, and the sound is warm and pure. But with anything analog, the features of these pedals can be limited.

In technical terms, most analog choruses use a bucket-brigade circuitry which gives the sound a rich texture. Controls on them are typically limited to level, depth, and rate. Chances are those will be the only functions you need to sound like two or three of you are playing your music.

A digital chorus converts the source to a digital signal first and then processes it. There is no phased sound when the signal is converted back to an analog one again, resulting in a precise sound. However, it does lack the kind of depth that an analog pedal would offer.

When added to a stereo amp, a chorus adds an element of spaciousness to the sound. Chorus pedals can be used for both guitars as well as basses. Also, in certain instances, you can make them sound like a vibrato or a tremolo when you max out the speed setting in your pedal. 

Parts Of A Chorus Pedal

Depending on the brand and the model, most pedals will have some essential functions and additional bonuses. Some of these are:

  • Level- this determines the amount of effect that will be added to your tone. The higher you set it, the more intense it will be. If you set it at a relatively low level, your sound will be closer to a clean sound.
  • Rate- this lets you adjust the speed of the LFO. When you set it to a high setting, your tone will have more of a vibrato effect. 
  • Depth- this controls the pitch modulation of the pedal. The range will usually depend on the kind of chorus pedal that you have.

What Kind Of Music Is It For?

Choruses were most prominent in the 80s and have become synonymous with the signature sound of the decade. Its use can be seen extensively across genres such as pop, rock, and even electronic music.

In the 90s, grunge musicians like Kurt Cobain used a chorus extensively, and the most significant example is the opening riff of the Nirvana song ‘Come As You Are.’ 

But the chorus is more versatile than we give it credit for. In recent times, Chic’s guitarist Nile Rodgers uses one in Daft Punk’s hit song ‘Get Lucky.’

So no matter what the genre: pop, rock, grunge, funk, or even electronic, a chorus pedal can be used by musicians across the spectrum.

Famous Musicians and Famous Choruses

The Police-Regatta De Blanc: The sound that best describes the decade, the Eighties, after the release of this iconic album, a chorus became a staple on the pedalboards for many guitar players since it was used in creating such an innovative new sound.

Nirvana – Come As You Are: Kurt Cobain used a BOSS DS-1 and EXH Small Clone to create the opening riff, which has since become iconic.

John Scofield – Just My Luck: The jazz-fusion guitar virtuoso was not shy when it came to using one, proving that rockers were not the only ones to have fun with a chorus pedal.

Metallica – Welcome Home (Sanitarium) While it is debatable what genre one can categorize Metallica’s music into, everyone would agree that a chorus was a James Hetfield staple.

The Red Hot Chilli Peppers- Mellowship In Slinky B Major: John Frusciante’s opening riff was a fresh new take on the pedal and a deviation from the sound of the Eighties.

Bryan Adams – Run To You: One of his biggest hits, the opening riff features a prominent chorus. 

Soundgarden – Black Hole Sun: Nirvana was not the only one using a chorus during the grunge era. This is a good example of the rate knob on the pedal set to a very high level to give it that almost vibrato tone. 

Where Does It Go In My Signal Chain?

The consensus is that since these are modulation pedals, choruses are typically set up after dynamics pedals (compressors, pitch shifters) and gain pedals (overdrive, distortion). These can be followed by time-based effects such as reverb and delay. 

Even though this is the most traditional way to set up your pedal chain, do not be afraid to experiment with the order. Many guitar players like to place their chorus before their overdrive or fuzz pedals. This gives the sound a better definition. Some even like to add them after a delay for a heavily ambient tone. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to setting up your pedals. The best thing to do is play around with the order and figure out what works best for you.

Do You Need One?

If you are looking for a typical 70s or 80s guitar sound, then, of course, one of the first effects you need is a chorus. Additionally, if you want your guitar lines to almost double up during certain sections of the song and cut through the rest of the elements in your band, then you could look at getting a chorus pedal as well. However, many musicians often do not enjoy how wobbly and seemingly out of tune a chorus makes them sound.

Whether you want to add a certain richness to your arpeggios or thicken your tone for rhythms and strums, a chorus can be a good fit for you.

Like any other pedal, if you choose to get a chorus, spend a little bit of time trying to figure out which one best suits your needs. There are many different kinds available in the market these days. If you are still in doubt, why not take a trip to your local music store and play around with a few of them to see which one you like the most.

If you are unsure of whether you need a chorus, you can keep an eye out for budget-friendly, second-hand ones on sale. That way, you do not have to invest right away. The beauty of gear is that there is always an option to upgrade and sometimes even downgrade pedals that you do not use often. At the end of the day, what matters is your comfort and your intuition. 

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Categorized as Pedals