Lists updated on November 7th, 2022
Welcome to our guide to the Best LoFi Guitar Pedals currently on the market. You can find our coverage of similar devices in our Lo-Fi Pedals category.
Your Signal’s Best Frenemy: the Sonic Artifact
Since the dawn of recording technology in the early 20th century (1935, to be exact), humans have struggled to create a format that could perfectly capture and reproduce sound the way we hear it. That’s when the war against “sonic artifacts” began.
Artifacts in audio are unwanted effects or sounds that are added to a recording by the recording medium. In the early analog and then digital days, things like hiss, hum, static, frequency loss, wow and flutter, unwanted distortion and compression, lack of depth or definition were lamented on a daily basis by recording engineers and producers striving for perfection. Up until the day when… they realized they couldn’t live without them!
What is Lo-Fi Audio All About? Character!
When the race for the perfect recording format was finally won (thanks to the advent of high-quality digital audio) an unexpected “artifact nostalgia” started spreading among artists, producers, and engineers. Evidently, those little unwanted sonic elements added a certain something that the clinical perfection of digital recording was completely missing: character, cool-factor, texture, or maybe some kind of vintage aura…
The 1992 debut album by Pavement is considered the father of the LoFi scene, but some say Syd Barrett and the Velvet Underground started the trend in the late ’60s. “Full of character” is a description that perfectly ties these artists’ debut albums and their sub-par recording quality.
Types of Lo-Fi Pedals: Analog, Digital and… Distortion
When the “demand” for audio artifacts surged, audio plugins emulating tape machines started to emerge, and, soon after, pedal makers took the hint.
We organized this article into the following categories of Lo-Fi pedals. Distortion (the analog kind) also belongs to the family of artifacts linked to tape recordings, but since it grew to become an effect on its own, we are including here only a list of gain and fuzz pedals that sound particularly lo-fi.
Analog+Digital Artifact Simulators
Analog Tape Artifact Simulators
Vinyl Artifact Simulators
Digital Artifact Simulators
Lo-Fi Distortion and Fuzz Pedals
Interactive Gallery Instructions:
a. mouseover or first tap on the thumbnails will open a description of the pedal
b. a click or a second tap will open a video of the pedal.
Best Lo-Fi Pedals Simulating both Analog and Digital Artifacts
The stompboxes in this list offer a wide range of lo-fi effects from both the analog and digital realms.
Best LoFi Pedals Simulating Analog Tape Artifacts
Analog tape is not just what you (used to) find in recording studios. Cassettes and VHS use the same technology but sound a lot worse than a Studer because they record on a much smaller/flimsier tape. The pedals in this list recreate in various ways the artifacts belonging to the analog tape category, from hiss and hum to wow and flutter and, in some cases, also the frequency loss caused by degraded tape.
Best LoFi Guitar Pedals Simulating Vinyl Artifacts
Vinyl is also a type of analog recording medium. Everyone’s favorite record format shares some artifacts with tape (hiss, hum and wow and flutter), but comes with its own, like the pops and crackles due to dust or scratches, or a certain nasal quality of vintage devices. These pedals in this list will make your guitar sound as if it was played through a gramophone or a turntable.
Best LoFi Pedals Simulating Digital Artifacts
When digital recording appeared on the pro audio scene in the mid-’90s, it brought with it a whole new set of artifacts: aliasing, compression, stutter, not to mention the unpleasant sound produced by digital distortion. But the most popular way to apply lo-fi to digital is by reducing the resolution of the recorded files, by lowering bit depth and sample rates. That’s what the pedals in this list do.
If this kind of effect jibes with you, we have an article entirely dedicated to bitcrusher pedals.
Best Lo-Fi Distortion and Fuzz Pedals
Originally regarded as sonic artifacts, distortion and fuzz in the ’60s became valued parts of music production, so much so that an entirely new industry flourished around them. Nonetheless, some distortion pedals sound purposedly awful – in a cool way. You’ll find a selection in the gallery below.