Why Are Guitar Pedals So Expensive? Causes And What To do

As you get comfortable playing your electric guitar, you’ll likely start generating some interest in guitar pedals, which can enhance your tone in a number of ways.

That was certainly the case for me as a 13-year-old after learning how Peter Frampton used a talk box to create sounds no one had ever heard before:

Or how singer-songwriter Howie Day created, what sounded like, a full band behind him with just his acoustic guitar by using a looper:

What you’re going to realize, however, is that guitar pedals are typically not cheap.

So, why are guitar pedals so expensive?

In a nutshell, here are a few reasons why guitar pedals can be expensive.

Why Are Guitar Pedals So Expensive? People looked shocked at receipt

First, they are usually made with high-quality materials and craftsmanship. This means that they last longer and sound better than cheaper pedals. 

Second, many guitar pedals are designed and manufactured by small companies. This means there is less competition, and those companies can charge more for their pedals. 

Finally, some guitar pedals are simply in high demand, and there is a limited supply. This can drive up the price of pedals overall.

Use this article not only to learn why guitar effects pedals are on the pricier side but also to better determine which ones are the best value.

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The 5 Main Reasons Why Guitar Pedals Are Expensive

Sure, you can find cheap pedals on the market, but there are five reasons why guitar pedals from those most popular pedal companies selling the must-have pedals are potentially breaking your bank.

High Demand

I hate to sound like your high school economics teacher, but supply and demand are real things.

When pedal manufacturers release new pedals into the market, there’s a chance you can purchase them for an obtainable price. But the pedals can quickly sell out when a big-name guitar player uses it on a hot song or brings it with him or her on tour. 

red head girl with red telephones

Two things then happen. One, the used market features pedals for double or triple the MSRP price. Or two, the manufacturer makes more — or releases a second-generation version — and increases the price of the pedal. Typically, they add a minor feature or two to “justify” the price increase.

This happens all the time.

Back in the day, John Mayer toured with an Ibanez TS10 Tube Screamer Classic pedal. You could purchase that pedal for about $100 and could find it even cheaper on the used market. Fast forward to today, and you’re lucky to find that pedal for under $300. Because of Mayer’s popularity, he has a way of moving the pedal market up in price (1).

If pedals gain popularity, they sell out quickly. When the manufacturer realizes the demand for that pedal, they’re going to tame it with higher prices. It’s basic supply and demand.

Guitarists realize the real impact of a tight supply of a popular pedal on the used market. If you cannot easily purchase new pedals from an online retailer like Sweetwater or Guitar Center, you’re stuck searching sites like eBay and Reverb for used pedals at a significantly higher price.

Add in a global inflation surge, and those prices end up being even higher.

Inflation & Manufacturing Cost

The average price of guitar pedals has increased 125% from 2005 to 2021, from $49 back then to more than $110 today (2). That average price dropped slightly during the housing economic crisis from 2007-2009, but has been on the rise ever since.

And if you think the recent inflation surge hasn’t impacted the guitar pedals market, you’re in denial.

man blowing up green balloon with dollar sign on it

With the current inflation rate hovering around 8.5%, you can easily expect to pay $120 for a new pedal — and even more for a popular model on the used market.

Like every other company in the manufacturing industry, prices of components across the supply chain have skyrocketed in 2021 and 2022. At the same time, a tight labor market has forced companies to pay more for employee wages and benefits.

Inflation has never ignored the guitar market. That’s why you were once able to purchase a Martin D-28 in the 1970s for about $400, but today it’ll run you more than $3,100. Prices may drop slightly here and there, but never enough to realize drastic savings. The same goes for guitar pedals.

One of the most significant factors with rising manufacturing costs is the cost of metals — specifically aluminum. Most makers of pedals build the casings of their pedals with aluminum, which is three times the strength of steel but only a third of the weight. Using a heavy-duty metal like aluminum is critical with guitar pedals — commonly referred to as a stomp box — since guitar players step on them, and sometimes quite aggressively!

The cost of aluminum has risen sharply over the past two years (3), which has a direct impact on pedal prices.

Collectors Drive Up Price

You can purchase a brand new Boss BD-2 Blues Driver for $120, but if you want the one manufactured in 2007 to celebrate the 10 million pedals manufactured by the longtime guitar effects company, expect to pay thousands of dollars (4).

Like baseball cards, stamps, and coins, collectors have been driving up the price of effects pedals they believe can gain value by hanging on to them for several years and then testing a sale on the used market.

Most collectors invest in vintage guitar pedals which are no longer manufactured. Die-hard collectors almost obsess over their craft, researching for hours on end and stalking eBay, Reverb, and Craigslist — in addition to local pawn shops — for those must-have pedals.

As you can imagine, collectors commonly identify certain pedals as must-have items in their collections. Those models then typically become expensive pedals.

Again, this all goes back to supply and demand.

Boutique Pedals Gain Popularity

Some big-name guitar companies, like Fender and Ibanez, also manufacture guitar effects pedals, but those brands aren’t (typically) the ones causing guitar pedal prices to increase sharply.

strymon, fulltone, and jhs pedals logos

It’s the boutique pedal makers — companies like Fulltone, Strymon, and JHS — that manufacture guitar pedals that are commonly limited in supply. Not all of these boutique pedals are winners, but the ones that do sell well always end up being labeled as expensive pedals.

Boutique pedals have increased in popularity over the past two decades, giving those manufacturers more reason to charge higher prices for their guitar pedals. But it’s not just supply and demand that dictate those prices.

The boutique pedal manufacturers often build their effects pedals with higher-quality components and do it by hand, increasing the overall quality of the pedal. Most guitar players agree that a more expensive pedal is justified by its overall quality.

That being said, some boutique models are the same quality and produce the same sound as mass-produced stompboxes but can still come at a higher price.

Unfortunately for guitar players on a budget, as boutique pedals go up in price, so does the rest of the market. There’s definitely a correlation between the rise in boutique pedal companies and the average cost of pedals over the past two decades.

Are Boutique Pedals Worth the Price?

Just because the price is higher doesn’t necessarily mean boutique pedals are better than pedals from companies like Boss and DigiTech. 

I tell beginner guitar players to only invest in pedals from boutique brands if they are searching for a specific sound they can’t find anywhere else. That’s because there are also unnecessary elements that boutique makers put into their guitar pedals, like original art and unique shapes, that drive up prices.

Guitar Legend Association

I mentioned how John Mayer can drive up the price of a guitar pedal, but he’s not the only guitar legend to do so. Beginner players are enamored with famous guitarists’ equipment rigs, including all the pedals on their board.

john mayer playing live

Two things typically happen with these types of pedals:

One, a famous guitarist puts some cheap guitar pedals into their rig, and when the overall guitar community gets wind of it, everyone wants it. The pedal quickly sells out (supply and demand again!), and the model’s price on the new and used market skyrockets.

Or two, an older guitar legend, like Jimi Hendrix (5), makes a specific effect super memorable — like a Vox Wah Wah — and the price of that model and future-generation pedals steadily increase. A hand-wired version of the Vox Wah Wah runs about $160 today.

These player-influenced price changes can go both ways. As players die off or change their style of play, a guitar pedal that was once expensive may become cheaper.

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Is It Worth Investing in Cheap Pedals?

Price doesn’t dictate quality, and affordable pedals sound great! Yes, a guitar pedal can be expensive, but there are options on the market that sound great and won’t empty your wallet.

vintage tube overdrive

So, yes — cheap guitar pedals are definitely worth investing in, as long as you understand exactly what you’re purchasing.

Here’s my advice:

After determining which type of guitar pedal you want for your rig — maybe a distortion or reverb model — shop the more prominent online shops, like Sweetwater. You can easily find any type of pedal for between $25 and $50, including this Behringer T0 Vintage Tube Overdrive Pedal. For the price, there are nearly 100 5-star reviews of this guitar pedal, making it an excellent value for such a low price.

Most of these businesses offer significant return policies, allowing you to play them for 30 to even 90 days and then return no questions asked. The idea is to try out the model and see if it sounds up to your liking. It’s a cheap way to test out different types of pedals.

Note: You shouldn’t purchase cheap or expensive pedals for a one-off gig and simply return them to the company. That’s not ethical. If it’s good enough for your gig, it’s good enough to purchase.

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Are Analog Guitar Pedals Worth More Money?

Analog guitar pedals are typically more expensive but aren’t necessarily worth more money.

Analog effects pedals rely on transistors, diodes, and other mechanical components instead of the digital processing units of modern-day pedals. Because of those intricate circuit boards and components, many guitarists argue analog models offer a more “natural” tone. The build quality is also pretty darn good.

digital vs analog

There may be some truth to that sentiment. Still, technology in this segment has gotten so good that even professional musicians can’t tell the difference between a top-of-the-line analog model and a newer digital model.

Collectors certainly scoop up as many analog pedals as they possibly can, which can generate interest and increase the overall value of a particular pedal. But that doesn’t mean all analog guitar pedals are worth more money.

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The Best Guitar Effects Pedals for the Money

Some pedals are more affordable than others. Here are some categories to look into that can save you money.

Single Effect Pedals

As pedals have become more tech-savvy, you can now purchase stompboxes with several different effects built in. Multi-effect pedals are great because you can invest in one model that can achieve all sorts of sounds, but they are more expensive.

That’s why I always recommend initially investing in single-effect pedals, which tend to be more affordable.

Overdrive And Distortion Pedals

overdrive pedal being stomped

The easiest pedals to manufacture are overdrive and distortion models. Because of their simplicity, the market demand and supply are pretty balanced, which allows for better prices.

An overdrive pedal is less aggressive than a distortion.

Boss Pedal Models

When someone asks me which company makes the best pedals for the money, I typically point to Boss, which makes a great range of models priced between $50 and $150. I’m a big fan of their compressor pedal and boost pedal, but really anything they make is excellent with fantastic quality control and build quality.

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Shop Around for Guitar Pedals and Find the Best Deal

We want all the pedals, but unfortunately, we don’t have all the money. That being said, good deals still exist, and by searching diligently for discounts, you can save some money on many pedals as you invest in these upgrades to your tone.

shopping cart on keyboard

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References:

  1. “Guitarists Are Raving About This $58 Pedal John Mayer Used On Tour” as published at https://guitar.com/news/gear-news/58-dollar-pedal-john-mayer-born-and-raised-paradise-valley-world-tour/
  2. “Average Guitar Pedal prices 2005-2021” as published at https://www.statista.com/statistics/453234/average-price-guitar-effects-pedals-us/
  3. “Aluminum price forecasts” as published at https://knoema.com/infographics/ffzioof/aluminum-price-forecast-2021-2022-and-long-term-to-2035
  4. “Reverb listing” at https://reverb.com/p/boss-bd-2-blues-driver
  5. “The Guitar Pedals Jimi Hendrix Used To Create His Iconic Sound” as published at https://www.electrikjam.com/jimi-hendrix-guitar-pedals-guide/

Image Credits

John Mayer image: slgckgc, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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