Clean boost pedals don’t usually get as much love as flashier effects like overdrives and delays, but they do find a place on the pedalboards of many professional musicians. They’re perfect for soloing situations where you’d like to retain your overdriven tone, but you’d also like a volume boost (without adding more grit to your overdrive) to cut through the band mix. You can also use it to boost the volume of an already clean signal. As its name implies, clean boost pedals simply add a transparent volume boost; however, there are many clean boost pedals out there that intentionally color your tone when turned on.
While there are many options for clean boost pedals, they are all very easy to use. The only consideration you may have to make is where to place your clean boost in your signal chain. Some people like to place the clean boost right at the beginning, while others prefer to place it after their overdrives and distortion pedals.
If you have your clean boost right at the beginning of your chain, turning it on when you have an overdrive or distortion activated will cause your tone to get grittier. The reason for that is because the extra volume boost goes right into your overdrive or distortion, which may not necessarily give much of a volume boost, but it will definitely make your drive pedal dirtier. This can be great for situations like when you’re playing a rock song with a slightly crunchy tone during the verse sections, and you’d like the chorus section to have a little more crunch to it without a massive volume boost. On the other hand, placing your clean boost after your overdrives and distortion will allow you to maintain the amount of crunch in your tone while boosting the overall volume. This can be great for solos where you’d like a volume boost, but you also want to maintain the same overdrive or distortion tone.
There’s really not much else to say about clean boost pedals as they really are very easy-to-use devices, so let’s jump right in to a list of highly recommended clean boosts.
1. Xotic EP Booster
Brand New: $116
Used: $65 - $80
Probably the most highly recommended clean boost pedal on the market is the Xotic EP Booster. Xotic is a California-based company that has built a reputation for creating high quality and great sounding boutique pedals, and the Xotic EP Booster carries on that tradition. The EP Booster is actually based off the preamp of a classic Maestro Echoplex EP-3 echo effects processor. While the Echoplex EP-3 is a great sounding tape delay effect, many guitarists including Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, and Eric Johnson have been known to use the EP-3 just for its analog preamp. The preamp adds a fullness and warmth to your tone that can’t be replicated with any other device.
That same warmth and fullness can be found in the Xotic EP Booster when it is activated, and additionally, the pedal can deliver up to a 20dB volume boost. Make no mistake though, this pedal is not a transparent boost pedal, but many guitarists swear by this pedal to fatten up and sweeten their overall tone. Many users of this pedal also use it as an “always-on” pedal, so their base tone is colored by the EP Booster.
Using this pedal is really simple. On the face of the device, there is only one knob that controls the output volume and a footswitch to activate and deactivate the effect. Internally, there are two dip switches that will allow you to adjust the boost frequencies and some slight EQ.
This pedal features true bypass, a small and compact chassis, and it can be powered with either a 9v battery or power adapter.
2. MXR MC401 Boost/Line Driver
Brand New: $99.99
Used: $50 - $65
If you’re looking for a simple, no frills boost pedal that looks like it can take a bullet, the MXR MC401 may be one to consider. This pedal was designed by MXR and Custom Audio Electronics, and together they’ve come up with one of the most popular boost pedals on the market.
Unlike the Xotic EP Booster, the MXR MC401 is a transparent clean boost pedal that will boost your signal with no added coloration or distortion. For many, this is the exact reason why they’d buy a clean boost pedal. If you’re already happy with how your base tone sounds, then a transparent clean boost is the way to go to avoid unexpected tone coloration. Up to 20dBs of volume boost is available on this pedal, and it also sports a simple one-knob and one-footswitch design.
The high quality internal components means that this pedal will operate quietly without any unwanted noise or signal interference. The die-cast chassis also guarantees that this pedal will stand the test of time.
This pedal features true bypass and it can be powered with a 9v battery or power adapter.
3. JHS Mini Bomb
Brand New: $110
Used: $55 - $70
Here’s another tiny clean boost pedal, this time being manufactured by Kansas City-based boutique pedal manufacturer, JHS. While the Xotic EP Booster may be my favorite clean boost pedal (thanks to its warm coloration), the JHS Mini Bomb comes in a close second. The fact remains that sometimes, you don’t want any coloration from your boost pedal, which leaves using the Xotic EP Booster a little problematic. In those situations, I’ve opted for the JHS Mini Bomb thanks to its transparent clean boost and tiny form factor. In fact, the JHS Mini Bomb and Xotic EP Booster are about the same size.
The Mini Bomb uses a state-of-the-art JFET internal circuitry which is clean and noise-free, perfect for any situation where you need a volume boost. As with the previous pedals, the Mini Bomb only has a single knob that controls the output volume of the effect. The amount of boost available on this pedal goes up to 16dBs, and while that may be 4dBs fewer than the EP Booster or MXR MC401, 16dBs is still a huge volume boost.
This pedal is also great for bass guitars as it doesn’t carve away a lot of the lower frequencies (a common tendency for other clean boosts).
This pedal features true bypass, and it can be powered with a 9v power adapter. Do take note that this pedal cannot be powered with a 9v battery due to the size limitation. This may be a bit of an annoyance for those of you who like to power your pedals with batteries.
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4. TC Electronic Spark Booster
Brand New: $129
Used: $65 - $80
Here is a clean boost pedal that can actually double as a light overdrive pedal. This pedal also offers more versatility in tone shaping compared to the others on this list. As you can see, instead of the standard one-knob design found on most clean boost pedals, the TC Electronic Spark Booster has four knobs for controlling the gain, output volume, and bass and treble frequencies. Additionally, it also has a three-way switch that allows you to switch between different types of boosts.
The three boost modes provided on this pedal are Clean, Fat, and Mid. In Clean mode, the pedal acts as a simple clean boost with minimal coloration of your tone. In Fat mode, the low to low-mid frequencies are given a little bump so that your tone will sound fuller and fatter. In Mid mode, the mid frequencies are boosted, which can produce a classic Tube Screamer-like tone.
As I mentioned earlier, it is possible to push this pedal into overdrive thanks to the whopping 26dBs of gain on tap. If you want to push the pedal into overdrive, you can turn the gain knob all the way up so that your guitar starts to overdrive, and you can control the overall output volume using the level knob. This is pretty much how you would dial in overdrive pedals too.
A big part of the versatility of this pedal is thanks to the two EQ knobs for adjusting the treble and bass frequencies. Just with the addition of these two knobs, your boosted signal can be sculpted to your liking very easily. One problem with all volume boosts is that treble frequencies tend to sound quite a bit louder when the volume is turned up, and that’s just a natural acoustic phenomenon. This may be undesirable, and with the inclusion of a treble EQ knob, you can easily reduce those high frequencies so that the your tone doesn’t suddenly sound too harsh when your clean boost is activated.
Low frequencies can also start to sound flabby and overpowering when a volume boost is applied, so again, this natural acoustic phenomenon can be countered by using the bass EQ knob. This pedal has true bypass, and it can be powered using a 9v battery or power adapter.
5. Joyo Roll Boost
Brand New: $33.99
Used: $15 - $25
Here’s a pedal for those of you who are really on a tight budget. At a price point of $33, it’s really hard to beat the Joyo Roll Boost in terms of cost-effectiveness. It’s another very simple clean boost pedal that has a crazy 35dB volume boost on tap. That can be a little bit over the top, but I’d imagine that maxing out this little guy will produce some bombastic results.
For the price, it does provide some pretty decent results. You’ll just have to accept the way it looks though. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the design of the pedal, but for $33, it’s honestly not a big deal. This pedal does color your tone a little bit when activated, and not necessarily in a way that you’d like (like the Xotic EP Booster), but the coloration is minimal, and it doesn’t sound terrible.
This pedal comes with true bypass, and it can be powered by a 9v battery or power supply.
And that’s it for our list of some of the most popular clean boost pedals. Is there a clean boost pedal out there that you think belongs on this list? Let us know in the comments!
About the Author: Ze
Ze first began his journey playing original music and top 40s pop tunes around the country's popular venues. Eventually, through the music of John Mayer, he found a strong attraction to blues music. Ze has years of experience teaching beginners and intermediate guitarists. Currently with Liberty Park Music he is teaching Introduction to Guitar Playing for Complete Beginners, Rhythm Guitar to learn about strumming, chords and more, Guitar Essentials as a fast-track review course, and lots of Song Lessons on pop and rock hits.