When thinking of guitar effects, a sustain pedal probably isn’t one of the first that comes to mind. However, a sustain pedal can be an incredibly useful addition to your arsenal. Sustain pedals enable you to squeeze more tone from your instrument, and allow you to unlock some cool effects you’d never be able to achieve without one.

Since they aren’t quite as sexy as other effects pedals, they often get overlooked. Today, we’re going to give the humble sustain pedal the love it deserves.

Read on as we cover everything you need to know about sustain pedals and how you can use one to add new layers to your tone. We’ll also cover some of the best sustain pedals on the market to help you choose the best one for your sound.

What is the Best Sustain Pedal?

What exactly is a sustain pedal and what does it do?

In a sentence, sustain pedals allow you to prolong your guitar signal while reducing the rate of decay, therefore sustaining the note for a more extended period.

Of course, it’s not quite that simple. Sustain pedals affect four elements of your guitar’s signal: the attack, decay, sustain, and release (also known as ADSR.)

Attack and decay are terms you’re probably already familiar with, and they’re concepts that are in play every time you play a note. The attack is the time it takes for the note you’re playing to rise to its peak volume, whereas the decay is the time it takes for the note to fall from its peak volume back to nothing.

A sustain pedal also incorporates two new principles: sustain and release. The sustain is the amount of time that your guitar’s signal remains at peak volume. Similar to decay, release is the time it takes for the note to fall from it’s sustained volume back to nothing.

With percussive stringed instruments like the guitar or bass, as soon as the note you play reaches its peak volume, it immediately begins it’s fall back to silence. But, with a sustain pedal, you’re able to dramatically lengthen the amount of time it takes for your guitar to fall back to silence.

What makes a great sustain pedal?

Whether you opt for one of the fantastic sustain pedals that we’ll cover in just a moment, or you go off the grid and select a pedal that we haven’t covered, you’ll want to evaluate all pedals based on these criteria:

  1. Natural sounding sustain
  2. Virtually noiseless
  3. Road ready built quality
  4. True bypass wiring

Natural sounding sustain

Most importantly, you’ll need to ensure that the pedal you choose provides a rich and natural sounding sustain. Ideally, your pedal won’t add much additional color to your sound at all. That way, you can control your tone through your amp or your other pedals, and rely on the sustain pedal only to provide you with additional sustain.

Some of the lesser sustain pedals on the market add unwanted characteristics to your tone, and using that pedal becomes a trade-off. Sure, it provides you with added sustain. But, that additional sustain will cost you your tone.

The best sustain pedals on the market are virtually colorless and simply provide you with the level of additional sustain you’re after. This allows you to maintain total control over your tone without having to sacrifice the extra sustain you’re after.

Virtually Noiseless

Another vital characteristic to look out for is how much noise the pedal adds to your signal. Even some of the most popular sustainers on the market are notorious for adding lots of hiss and noise to your signal, which is obviously something you’d rather avoid.

Thankfully, the better sustain pedals on the market are able to provide you with the extra sustain you need while remaining virtually undetectable in your signal chain. This is especially important for funk, blues, and country players who rely on their amp’s clean channel for their tone.

Road ready built quality

Another important consideration to make is how well the pedal is built.

If you’re like most guitarists, you put your gear through the wringer, especially if you gig out often. If your pedal isn’t built to stand up to the abuse you dish out, you’re going to wind up with a pedal that doesn’t last, or one that fails you when you need it the most.

When you’re searching for a sustain pedal, look for one that features an all-metal case, heavy-duty input and output jacks, and knobs that are secure and move smoothly across their full range of motion.

Components that are built to last are more expensive than the budget options on the market, so it’s common for a pedal manufacturer to cut corners where they can to hit a certain price point with their pedal. While it may save you a couple of bucks in the short term, you’ll end up costing yourself in the long run when you have to replace a pedal that breaks or stops working.

True bypass wiring

Lastly, you should consider how the pedal is constructed. When it comes to guitar effects pedals, there are two different ways of putting everything together: true bypass, or buffered bypass.

True bypass pedals are wired without the use of a buffer, and this allows the internal circuitry of the pedal to be bypassed completely when the pedal isn’t used. This method of wiring ensures that your guitar’s signal is completely unaffected by the pedal when it isn’t in use, because it completely bypasses the pedal’s effect engine, and continues on its way to the amp without obstruction.

With a buffered bypass pedal, the guitar’s signal is first run through a buffer, where it’s amplified and then sent through the effect engine. With buffered bypass pedals, your guitar’s signal will be invariably affected by the buffer, whether the pedal is off or on. For tone purists, this is a big no-no.

Buffered pedals do have some advantages. For one, they don’t introduce the “popping” noise that true bypass pedals are known for, and they also make it easier to run longer cables without interference.

But, unless you’re running a 50’ or longer guitar cable, you’ll probably never run into interference issues. If you ask us, the tiny pop that you hear when you engage a true bypass pedal is a small concession to make to ensure that your guitar’s tone remains pure and uncolored.

Sustain Pedal Reviews – Our Top 5 Recommendations

Gamechanger Audio PLUS

Best Overall

What Makes It Special?

The only pedal on the market that produces piano-like sustain, the PLUS pedal allows you to unlock new tonal territory that other sustain and compression effects can only dream of. This beautifully made pedal includes a handmade brass piano damper pedal, brass control knobs, an onboard effects loop for running your other effects through the sustainer.

  • 26kHz sample rate
  • Handmade brass damper pedal
  • Onboard effects loop
  • The most unique sustain effect on the market

Hands down, the PLUS is the most musical, expressive, and unique sustain effect on the market. The PLUS actually samples the notes or chords you’re playing in real time and loops them back in such a way that the loop is completely undetectable. This pedal is also packed with several other intuitive and useful features that help make this one of the coolest effects on the market.

The pedal provides knobs for blend, sustain, rise, and tail, which allow you to fully control the myriad different sounds that are possible with the PLUS. Since the pedal allows you to select exactly which notes or chords sustain, and which don’t, this effect provides piano-like control over your sound, making it ideal for soloists as well as bands with a single guitarist.

This pedal is one of the most fun on the market to play with, and it delivers the broadest and most varied range of different effects of any sustain pedal on the market.

Now that we’ve heaped a hefty helping of praise onto the PLUS let’s talk about the drawbacks. Most notably, this thing is REALLY expensive. We’re talking about twice the price of the next most expensive option, here. While it’s certainly a unique and useful pedal, it may be overkill if you’re just looking for a regular sustain pedal.

What Customers Like

  • Looks awesome
  • Broad range of different sounds
  • Unparalleled, piano-like control over the effect

What Customers Dislike

  • Extremely expensive
  • Takes up lots of pedalboard space

Pigtronix PTM Philosopher’s Tone Mini

Best For the Price

What Makes It Special?

True noiseless sustain from a micro-sized and pedalboard-friendly true-bypass pedal. While this little gem runs on standard 9v external power, it’s 18v of internal power provide loads of headroom, and intuitive controls allow you to dial in the perfect amount of sustain.

  • Simple, intuitive controls
  • 18v internal power for maximum headroom
  • Treble knob for boost/cut at 2kHz
  • True bypass wiring

One of the coolest and most popular sustain effects on the market, the Philosopher’s Tone succeeds where so many similar effects have failed; it provides noiseless, clean sustain at any volume.

Whether you’re looking to take your solos to the next level or add a new level of bite and snarl to your rhythm playing, you’ll be able to dial in a myriad of different tones with this pedal, and it’s simple controls for volume, sustain, blend, and treble, which provides an effective high frequency boost or cut.

What Customers Like

  • Provides tons of added sustain
  • Pedalboard-friendly size
  • Easy to use

What Customers Dislike

  • Blend knob could be more effective
  • Doesn’t have the grit control that the full sized pedal offers

Boss CS-3 Compression Sustainer

What Makes It Special?

A best seller that’s backed by Boss’ industry-leading warranty, the CS-3 is easy to operate, moderately priced, and provides a significant sustain boost. Many players feel the CS-3 is the ideal blend of features and value.

  • Level, tone, sustain and attack controls
  • Exceptionally low-noise
  • Provides smooth, uniform sustain
  • Five-year warranty

The CS-3 from Boss has been one of the most popular compression and sustain pedals for several decades, and it’s easy to see why. This pedal features simple and intuitive controls for level, tone, sustain, and attack, which allow you to exact precision control over the effect.

With exceptionally low-noise operation, the CS-3 provides smooth sustain without introducing unwanted noise or hiss to your signal chain. Like every Boss pedal, the CS-3 is backed by Boss’ industry-leading warranty, so you’ll be covered for five years should anything go wrong.

What Customers Like

  • Easy to use
  • Well built and reliable
  • Low-noise operation

What Customers Dislike

  • Not true bypass
  • Attack knob isn’t particularly sensitive

Electro-Harmonix Soul Preacher

Best for Beginners & Students

What Makes It Special?

Easy to use, warm, and articulate, the Soul Preacher offers plenty of sustain, and the three-position attack switch lets you take greater control over your tone without adding any extra knobs.

  • Controls for sustain and level
  • Three-position attack switch
  • Nano housing
  • Battery or AC power

With its tiny size and easy to use interface, the Soul Preacher is a perfect choice for beginners and students as well as anyone looking for a compact and effective sustain pedal. The Soul Preacher provides controls for volume and sustain, as well as a three position attack switch that allows you to select between fast, medium, or slow attack.

The attack switch is especially versatile and allows you to dial in a broad range of tones for every style from country to funk to shred. Plus, it’s more affordable than most of the high-end options on the market, making it a fine choice for players on a budget.

What Customers Like

  • Effective attack voicings
  • Battery or AC power
  • Clean and smooth sustain

What Customers Dislike

  • A bit noisy
  • Feeds back at higher levels

Behringer CS400 Compressor/Sustain 

Best on a Budget

What Makes It Special?

A copy of the iconic Boss CS-3, the CS400 from Behringer offers familiar controls and plenty of sustain at an unbeatable price. Players looking to add a compressor/sustainer to their rig on the cheap are sure to love this bargain option.

  • Level, tone, attack, and sustain controls
  • Battery or AC power

This pedal looks, behaves, and sounds a lot like the most popular compressor/sustainer on the market, but at less than $25. For players who aren’t sure about whether they want to add a sustain effect to their rig, or only plan on using one occasionally, the CS400 provides ample amounts of sustain and intuitive controls that allow you to squeeze every bit of tone out of the pedal.

While it’s a bit noisy, it does add a good amount of buttery-smooth sustain to your tone, and it’s a great way to add some extra oomph to solos and leads, as well as funk, blues, or country playing.

What Customers Like

  • Affordable
  • Plenty of sustain

What Customers Dislike

  • Noisy
  • Not true bypass

6 More Really Good Sustain Pedals

Electro-Harmonix Freeze Sound Retainer

The Freeze Sound Retainer from Electro-Harmonix is a unique sample effect that bridges the gap between traditional sustain pedals and the innovative PLUS pedal from Gamechanger Audio.

Like the PLUS, this pedal takes real-time samples of your playing to provide you with endless amounts of sustain. The Momentary footswitch provides piano-like control over the sustain effect, and a switch for fast, slow, or latch mode combines with a level knob to provide surprisingly precise control with just a single switch and knob configuration.

The Freeze Sound Retainer is an ideal option for guitarists who love the idea of the PLUS pedal but don’t want to invest over $300 into a sustainer.

Deadbeat Sound THANK YOU Distortion/Sustain

Care to add some grit to your sustain? You can’t go wrong with the affordable and effective THANK YOU pedal from Deadbeat Sound.

This easy to use pedal provides controls for volume, tone, and sustain, allowing you to dial in a broad array of different tones, all with sustain to spare. The THANK YOU pedal features true bypass construction, unique looks, and bulletproof construction.

While it doesn’t offer clean sustain like some of the most popular sustain pedals, it’s an ideal option for rock and metal players who don’t mind the extra grit.

Keeley Compressor Plus

While not a sustainer but definition, the Keeley Compressor Plus is arguably the best compressor on the market, and it offers loads of smooth, balanced sustain.

This true bypass pedal is made in the USA and provides JFET quality compression in a nano-sized pedal housing. Controls for sustain, level, blend, and tone allow you to take precise control over your tone, and a selector switch provides distinct voicings for humbucker and single coil pickups.

Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Big Muff Pi

The Big Muff Pi has been one of the most iconic distortion pedals, and it’s graced some of the finest recordings and biggest stages in the world since the ‘70s. Tons of copies, including the Deadbeat Sound THANK YOU pedal draw inspiration from this classic pedal.

The Deluxe Big Muff Pi provides the same iconic tones as the original, with a slew of new controls that allow you to take much more control over your tone than was possible with the original Big Muff.

In addition to the familiar controls for volume, tone, and sustain, the Deluxe adds controls for attack, gain, and a fully-parametric mid-EQ. There’s also switches that allow you to select low or high Q and a bass boost option.

While the original wasn’t much help if you needed clean sustain, the Deluxe allows you to significantly dial back the gain while bumping up the sustain, which provides a nearly clean sustain boost. Of course, when it’s time to get dirty, you’ll be treated to all the classic bite and snarl of the original Big Muff Pi.

EarthQuaker Devices The Warden

A relatively new pedal that’s quickly become one of the most popular compressor and sustain pedals on the market, The Warden from EarthQuaker Devices offers boutique-quality tone and a wide selection of controls that allow you to exact total control over your tone.

This optical compressor offers a control panel you’d typically only find in studio quality compressors, in an ultra-compact mini pedal housing. With controls for tone, attack, release, level, ration, and sustain, you’ll have free reign to dial in the exact tones your heart desires.

With internal 18v power for added headroom and virtually noiseless operation, The Warden makes it easy to add quite and clean sustain to your tone. The sustain and ratio knobs, in particular, allow you to dial in seemingly endless sustain without any of the unpleasant hiss that’s associated with many of the other popular options on the market.

Donner Ultimate Comp Compressor

Another solid option for players who are looking to add smooth, natural-sounding sustain to their rig without having to sell a kidney to do it, the Donner Ultimate Comp is effective, easy to use, and surprisingly musical.

The Ultimate Comp provides simple controls for level, tone, and compression. With the compression dialed in hot, this pedal provides impressive amounts of sustain without adding too much additional noise to your signal.

A mini-switch provides a regular voicing as well as a treble boost, and true bypass construction ensures that your tone is uncolored when the pedal isn’t engaged. While it may not compete with the higher-end compressors on the market, it’s a great option for players looking to take a step up from bargain basement pedals without entering the higher priced territory.

5 FAQ’s About Sustain Pedals

How do you use a sustain pedal?

Using a sustain pedal couldn’t be easier. When you want a little extra sustain, kick the pedal on and marvel as the notes you’re playing sustain for far longer than what you’re able to accomplish without a sustain pedal.

One pedal, in particular, the PLUS from Gamechanger Audio is unique in the sense that it functions just like a sustain pedal for piano or keyboard would behave. With this pedal, you engage the footswitch when you play a note or chord that you want to sustain, and release it while you play other notes that will decay as usual.

Whether you opt for a more traditional sustain pedal or this innovative new sustain effect, the pedal will provide you with a range of controls. While each manufacturer is different, sustain pedals typically feature knobs for attack, sustain, and level.

Depending on the tone you’re hoping to achieve, how you’ll set these parameters will vary. We recommend blocking off an hour or two so you can explore how the different knobs affect the tone of the pedal, and then using that knowledge to achieve the tone you’re after.

Most manufacturers include a page or two for recommended settings in the owner’s manual. These settings are always a great starting point for you to adjust and refine the sound of the pedal to your liking.

Where do you place a sustain pedal (in the chain)?

Most guitar players underestimate the importance of how their signal chain is set up. If you’ve ever run into issues with your pedalboard and are unsure why your pedals aren’t performing the way they’re supposed to, a poorly configured signal chain is often the culprit.

While there’s no “right” way to set up your signal chain, there’s a rule of thumb that you may want to follow to ensure that your pedals are all able to achieve peak performance.

First, you’ll want to place any dynamic effects you have, such as a volume pedal, compressor, or sustain pedal. Next comes any filters you use, such as a wah or envelope filter, followed by your gain effects, like distortion or overdrive. Then, you can place your modulation effects, like chorus or flanger. Finally, place your time-based effects like reverb or delay at the end of the signal chain.

If your amp has an effects loop, you may want to consider running your time-based effects through the loop, as this may result in a clearer and more well-defined tone.

Feel free to experiment with how you place your pedals in the chain to see what works best for you.

While the method we described is considered the tried-and-true way to arrange your pedals, some players find they’re able to squeeze more tone out of their setup by getting creative with their signal chain.

Sustain pedals, in particular, are one effect you may want to experiment with the placement on. One thing is for sure though, you’ll want to make sure your sustain pedal is placed before any time-based effects, or you’ll end up with a tonal mess on your hands.

Also, if your sustain pedal has its own built-in effects loop, like the PLUS from Gamechanger Audio, you’ll have even more license to get creative with your signal chain.

What are the top sustain pedal brands?

Boss is perhaps the most well-known pedal manufacturer, and they’ve been producing some of the best pedals on the market for several decades. All Boss pedals are built to last, feature an industry leading 5-year warranty, and provide tons of tone. The Boss CP-3 Compressor/Sustainer is probably the most popular sustain pedal on the market, and it’s a great place to begin your search for the best sustain pedal for your sound.

Electro-Harmonix is another storied pedal manufacturer, and they offer the broadest selection of compressors and sustain pedals on the market. Their Soul Preacher and Freeze Sound Retainer are both fantastic options, as is the Deluxe Big Muff Pi if you’re also looking to add a classic fuzz sound to your arsenal in addition to a sustain pedal.

Gamechanger Audio is a boutique pedal manufacturer that produces a small but growing selection of top-quality guitar effects. Their PLUS sustain pedal is hands down the most versatile and unique sustain pedal on the market, and you absolutely need to try one before you decide on the best sustain pedal for your needs.

How much does a good sustain pedal typically cost?

Like all effects pedals, there’s a huge variance in price among different sustain pedals, which makes it difficult to pinpoint a magic number for what you should expect to pay.

Most of the top sustain pedals on the market fall into the $75-150 range, although you can find some quality specimens for even less if you’re on a tight budget.

However, the most impressive sustain pedal on the market, the PLUS from Gamechanger Audio breaks the mold when it comes to price. This pedal will run you over $300. However, it provides a level of functionality and versatility that no other sustain pedal can rival, so this outlier is truly a special case.

Where can I learn more about sustain pedals?

Sweetwater is one of the best resources for all things guitar related. While they function primarily as a retail store, Sweetwater goes above and beyond to provide info you won’t find anywhere else on their product pages, including detailed demo videos of virtually every product they sell. Sweetwater is a great resource for when you need to know how a pedal sounds but can’t get to the store to try it on your own.

Reverb is another great resource. Similar to Sweetwater, Reverb is a retail store. They also sell used gear as well, which is a great thing when you’re hoping to score a deal. Like Sweetwater, they provide plenty of unique information and demo videos you won’t find anywhere else.

Guitar Chalk is another site you’ll want to check out, as they do a great job of providing tips, tricks, lessons, and reviews of some of the most sought after gear on the market. The link above has some very useful information on how to get more sustain from your setup.

Conclusion

Sustain is considered by many guitarists to be the holy grail of tone. The pedals we’ve covered above are all great options to unlock endless sustain, providing unique tonal possibilities players didn’t have access to before.

Do you use a sustain pedal in your rig? What pedal is your favorite? Do you have any tips for our readers? Sound off in the comments below and let us know what you think!

When guitarists are shopping for a sustain pedal, they often consider these effects as well:

  • Compression
  • Delay
  • Graphic EQ
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Cool stuff for cool people. Get yours.

We're testing the stuff you want to buy. Sign up for gear and gadget updates and giveaways.

You May Also Like

11 Best Noise Gate Pedals: Our 2019 Beginner and Hobbyist’s Guide

Let’s take a look at one of the most underutilized, yet powerful,…

11 Best Pitch Shifter Pedals: Our 2019 Beginner & Hobbyist’s Guide

When it comes to guitar effects, few pedals are as unique or…

11 Best Looper Pedals: Our 2019 Beginner & Hobbyist’s Guide

Have you ever wished that you had an extra set of hands?…

11 Best Compressor Pedals: Our 2019 Beginner & Hobbyist’s Guide

Guitar effects typically have a profound effect on the overall tone of…