What is a Phaser effect?


Phaser pedals, renowned for their sweeping, swirling soundscapes, are a staple in the world of guitar effects. Offering a unique modulation effect, phasers have been used to add movement, depth, and dimension to guitar tones across various genres. This guide explores the history, functionality, and creative use of phaser pedals.

The History of Phaser Pedals

Phaser effects, which emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s, initially found prominence in studio recording before transitioning to pedal form. One of the earliest phaser pedals, the Uni-Vibe, was popularized by guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and Robin Trower. As technology advanced, more compact and versatile phaser pedals were developed, each offering a unique take on the classic phaser sound.

Understanding Phaser Pedals

A phaser pedal works by splitting the guitar signal into two paths, shifting the phase of one path, and then recombining it with the original signal. The key elements of a phaser pedal typically include:

  • Rate: Controls the speed of the phase-shifting effect.
  • Depth: Determines the intensity of the effect.
  • Feedback/Resonance: Adjusts the height of the phase peaks for a more pronounced effect.

These controls allow guitarists to dial in everything from subtle, undulating modulation to intense, swirling effects.

Types of Phaser Pedals

Phaser pedals come in various types, each offering distinct characteristics:

  • Analog Phaser Pedals: Known for their warm, organic modulation, analog phasers like the MXR Phase 90 have a classic sound.
  • Digital Phaser Pedals: Provide more precise control and consistency, with some offering multiple phasing stages for complex sounds.
  • Multi-Stage Phasers: Offer more stages of phasing for a deeper, more pronounced effect.

Integrating a Phaser into Your Setup

The placement of a phaser pedal in your signal chain can significantly influence its effect. Typically positioned after overdrive/distortion pedals but before delay and reverb effects, experimenting with pedal order can lead to unique tonal discoveries.

The Interplay with Different Amplifiers and Guitars

Phaser pedals can sound distinctively different depending on the amplifier and guitar used. Tube amplifiers, known for their natural warmth, can complement the modulation of a phaser, while solid-state amps might emphasize its clarity. The type of guitar and pickups (single-coil vs. humbucker) also affects the pedal's overall response and tone.

Iconic Phaser Pedals and Their Famous Users

  • Eddie Van Halen: Famously used the MXR Phase 90 to create his signature "brown sound," particularly evident in tracks like "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love."
  • David Gilmour (Pink Floyd): Utilized phasers like the Electro-Harmonix Small Stone to add texture and movement to Pink Floyd's expansive soundscapes.
  • Billy Corgan (The Smashing Pumpkins): Often employed a phaser to enhance the lush, swirling tones in the band's alternative rock sound.

Advanced Techniques: Exploiting the Full Potential of Phaser

Beyond basic modulation, creative use of phaser pedals can significantly expand your tonal palette. Techniques like combining a phaser with other modulation effects, adjusting the rate and depth for rhythmic textures, or using it subtly for a sense of movement are explored.

Choosing the Right Phaser Pedal

Selecting a phaser pedal depends on your desired sound, playing style, and the rest of your gear. Consider the type of phaser (analog vs. digital), the range of control it offers, and how it interacts with other effects on your pedalboard.


Phaser pedals offer a distinctive way to add movement and character to your guitar sound. Mastering the use of a phaser can open up new sonic dimensions, enabling you to create everything from rhythmic patterns to lush, ambient textures.


Q: How do I use a phaser pedal without overwhelming my guitar tone? A: To maintain clarity, start with lower depth and rate settings, allowing the phaser to add texture without dominating your sound. Adjust the feedback for a more subtle or pronounced effect based on your preference.

Q: Can phaser pedals be used in genres other than rock? A: Yes, phaser pedals are versatile and can be adapted to a variety of genres, including funk, jazz, and pop, to add a unique modulation effect to the guitar tone.

Q: What's the difference between a phaser and a flanger pedal? A: While both pedals create a sweeping effect, a phaser shifts the phase of the signal and blends it with the original, creating peaks and troughs in the frequency spectrum. A flanger, on the other hand, mixes the original signal with a delayed, modulated version of itself, creating a more pronounced swooshing or jet-like effect.

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