What does a Chorus Pedal Do? The Definitive Guide

Chorus pedals are one of the most essential and popular effect boxes for guitarists.

What does a chorus pedal do?

It splits your signal into two parts and detunes and delays one of them. It can be used to add subtle modulations to your sound or in more radical ways for more drastic effects.

It has been popular since first making the scene in the mid-1970s when the legendary Boss chorus units and Jazz Chorus amplifiers hit stages around the world.

Now, chorusing is one of the basic effects guitarists are expected to be able to provide and just about every line of pedals out there includes at least one.

Update: The detailed guide to choose your most well-fitted chorus pedal.

What Is A Chorus Pedal?

Like tremolo, vibrato, and phaser/phase shifter, chorusing is a Modulation Effect. It splits your signal into two parts and delays one by a number of milliseconds and is given movement, called Modulation, by a Low-Frequency Oscillator or LFO.

This can create sounds ranging from a subtle warble to an almost-12-string-guitar kind of shimmer to wild Uni-Vibe-style freakouts.

The 1980s were probably the pinnacle of chorus use by guitar players and their sound helped to define much of the music of that era in the hands of greats like Andy Summers of The Police. Even rock and metal players got into the chorus act back then and you can hear its distinctive sound on countless records of the period.

Ok, I Have A Chorus Pedal. How Do I Control It?

BOSS Stereo Super Chorus Guitar Pedal (CH-1)
BOSS Stereo Super Chorus Guitar Pedal (CH-1)

A simple chorus pedal like the classic Boss Chorus CE-2 pictured above can have only two knobs.

The Rate knob controls the number of milliseconds of delay at any given time and the Depth control governs the intensity of modulation.

A unit like this also operates in mono, one signal in and one signal out. More modern units, including the Boss CH-1 shown below, often have knobs for EQ to control treble and bass, an Effect Level control to determine how much chorusing gets mixed with your straight guitar sound, and stereo outputs that let you run into two amps at once and create amazingly wide stereo chorus effects.

Of course, it can still run in mono if you only use the first output jack. Mono or stereo, set the Rate and Depth knobs low for adding subtle fullness to your sound or crank them up to increase the warble and shine factors.

This video clip will give an idea of the sound of your normal Boss Chorus unit. You’ve heard this sound your whole life but might not have known what to call it. Dig the shimmer!

Where I Should Put This Thing In My Pedalboard?

Basic guitar wisdom tells us that Modulation Effects like chorus should be placed at or near the end of your signal chain, especially when running into the front end of your amps like the guitar gods of yesteryear did back before most amps had Effects Loops.

The idea was that it is better to chorus or delay your distortion, which was usually placed near the front of the signal path, that distort your chorus or delay by reversing their positions.

These days, most modern amps have Effects Loops that allow you to insert your Modulation Effects through a different set of jacks later into the circuit of the amp, itself. This makes these type of effects sound much better than front-ending them. It also makes them less likely to be altered by your amount of gain or pick attack.

Worth to read: 4 Pedalboard Orders That Don’t SUCK – The 3rd Order is Legend!

Are Effect Like This Really Necessary?

That totally depends on the kind of music you play. You don’t hear as much effect action in roots music styles like Chicago Blues or Classic Country, as the basic sounds of those styles were established before effects units were commonly used.

If you play popular music from the 70s through today, however, you’ll discover a need to own and understand a handful of basic pedals to reproduce the sounds you’ll be emulating. A chorus pedal is one of the most important, as just about every power ballad and slow pop song will have it in the mix somewhere.

If you play a variety of music, put a pedalboard together and learn how to use each component of it. You’ll be set for any gig that comes your way.

We hope you liked reading this guide on the basics of chorusing and learning what chorus pedals do. Set them low to be smooth and set them high to be more intense and colorful. Remember to run your chorus into your Effects Loop if you have one.

Come to grips with this effect and you’ll sound like one of the big kids in short order. Please comment to let us know how you liked this article and your favorite kind of chorus pedal. Keep learning and experimenting and you’ll become a guitar pedal master!

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