5 Best Octave Pedals in 2019
and Buyer's guide
My favorite of the bunch, the TC Electronic Sub ‘N’ Up packs an amazing amount of features into one pedal. With switchable buffered or true bypass, three modes (classic, poly, and toneprint) and 4 knobs (Dry, Sub1, Sub2, and Up), the possibilities are endless.
I really enjoy listening to great bass players and I used to love to play the bass as well. That was until I had a severe episode of tendonitis, triggered by playing the bass. Even today if I pick up a bass and play for any length of time I will get a flare up. Needless to say, this was a major disappointment. I am no longer able to play an instrument that I really enjoy.
Octave down pedal to the rescue!
When I discovered the octave pedal I was ecstatic. With this pedal, I could use my guitar (an instrument I can play pain-free) to play all the bass lines and riffs I had spent so much time learning. As a bonus, many octave pedals do a whole lot more than that.
While there are several types of octave pedals, this article will primarily focus on pedals that produce an octave down.
So without further delay, let me give you the lowdown.
Octave Pedal Buyer's guide
What is an Octave pedal?
An octave pedal is a pitch shifting effect that takes a given pitch and reproduces it an octave (see above) above or below, and sometimes two octaves below the played note.
Octave pedals can range from super simple monophonic analog pedals to crazy complex digital monsters.
Below are a few things to consider when purchasing:
A pedals ability to lock onto and faithfully reproduce an octave of a given pitch is called tracking. Some pedals track better than others, the cheaper pedals tend to struggle a little bit in the lower range of the guitar. When a pedals tracking is bad you will hear the octave note rapidly changing pitches and jumping around. This is the pedal trying to guess what note is being played, but failing to do so.
Latency describes the time between the initial strike of a note on your guitar and the affected sound coming out of the amp. The longer the latency the more unusable or at least annoying the pedal becomes. Cheaper pedals tend to have longer latency.
Polyphonic vs monophonic
Octave pedals can be monophonic, able to create an octave of only one pitch at a time, or polyphonic, able to produce octaves for multiple pitches at the same time. You should consider whether you want to play single note bass lines and riffs, or if you are looking to play chords an octave lower or higher.
Analog vs digital
Generally, monophonic pedals tend to be analog. Analog circuits essentially run your guitar signal through a voltage divider resulting in a wave that is half the hertz it started at. Because of the nature of this division, these pedals need a clear single note to track well. When feed chords you will hear the octave sound frantically jump around trying to lock onto the fundamental, which it can’t. Analog is dumb, and I mean that lovingly.
Digital pedals, on the other hand, analyze the entire spectrum of complex waveforms created by the sounding of chords and produce on their own an entirely new signal. Digital pedals are smart. This gives digital pedals the ability to pitch shift just about anything you throw at them. The downside is that the tone they produce can sometimes sound well…digital.
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These are the typical controls you will find on an octave pedal:
The dry control will generally adjust the amount of dry (non-effected) signal that will pass through the pedal. Think of this control like a volume knob for your clean tone.
Octave/Octave Down/Sub 1
This control will adjust the volume of the pitch created one octave below. You can mix this with some of your dry signals to beef up your guitar sound, or turn the dry all the way down and use your guitar like a bass.
Sub-octave / Sub2
This control will adjust the volume of the pitch created two octaves below. Be careful with this setting as it can blow up the speakers on a guitar amp if you get it going to loud.
Octave Up / Up
This control will adjust the volume of the pitch created one octave above. Depending on the pedal this control may not exist, may create a clean octave up, or may create a fuzzy, distorted higher octave.
Some pedals, like the pitchfork, can do more than just octaves. They have the ability to produce a variety of intervals allowing you to play harmonized leads, or transpose your entire guitar with the push of a button.
Octave Fuzz pedals are in a whole category of their own (usually doing the octave up thing), but many octave down pedals include some sort of drive. This control will adjust the amount of overdrive/fuzz/distortion applied generally to the affected (not the clean) sound.
How can I use an octave pedal?
You may think that an octave pedal is more of a toy, something that is fun to have on your pedalboard, but not something that you will ever really get much use out of. I too at one time felt this way, but after owning several octave pedals I am pleased to say that I have used this effect a lot more then I would have imagined.
If you always wonder what the rest of the guitar neck is for. You can use the pedal to sound like you are playing higher up on the fretboard, all while staying close to the nut.
Playing ultra high/low non-guitar possible notes
I originally bought an octave pedal to use with a looper to play bass lines, and it really works well for this. With many of these pedals, you can add an organ part to your loops as well.
I have had to fill in for a bass player with only my guitar and was able to use my Octave pedal to make my guitar sound like a bass.
The OC-3 lets you play bass and guitar at the same time with its filter function, great if you are a solo musician or have a flaky bass player.
Where does an octave pedal go in the signal chain?
It depends on what you are wanting to do, but I run my octave pedals after a compressor (it can help the tracking) if you have one, and before everything else. The reason I put it first is that I use it often to play bass on my guitar and less often as an organ effect. It gives me the ability to distort or overdrive the bass sound for some really versatile sounds.
Octave Pedal Round-up
TC Electronic Sub 'N' Up
My favorite of the bunch, the TC Electronic Sub ‘N’ Up packs an amazing amount of features into one pedal. With switchable buffered or true bypass, three modes (classic, poly, and tone print) and 4 knobs (Dry, Sub1, Sub2, and Up), the octave possibilities are endless. The classic mode mimics an analog, monophonic, slightly glitchy octavator, great for aggressive bass lines a beefy single-note solos. The poly mode allows for full chords to be played with almost no latency for that organy ethereal sound.
What sets this pedal apart from the rest is the toneprint editor. With tone print technology TC Electronics gives you the ability to make this effect sound exactly the way you want it to sound. You can go on TC’s website and download preprogrammed tone prints, or connect your pedal to your Mac, PC, Android, or ios Device and tweak every parameter yourself, down to what each knob does. TC Electronic has really been generous in what they have allowed you to apply. Tremolo, overdrive, distortion, chorus, EQ, and the list goes on.
EarthQuaker Devices Bit Commander V2
Earthquaker’s Bit commander is a monophonic analog octave pedal with an attitude. It features 1 and 2 octaves down, as well as 1 octave up. There is a master volume, a filter to help dial in the right sound, and even a knob that creates a nintendo-ish bit crushed sound.
This pedal is great for aggressive, fuzzy bass tones, screaming fuzzy octave up sounds, and incredible glitch synth sounds. The Bit commander is the most aggressive pedal in the bunch. This pedal can even be used as a nice sounding stand alone overdrive/fuzz pedal without any of the octave effects engaged. If you play rock, metal, or are into experimental music, this is the octave pedal for you.
If you dig this pedal and you want to check out an even crazier pedal look at the Data Corrupter also by Earthquaker.
The Boss OC 3, like all their pedals, is a workhorse tank of a pedal. It has a buffered bypass and comes with three modes. Drive, OC2, and Poly. This pedal is compatible with bass and guitar, and has a direct out for running a two amp setup.
Drive mode produces a distorted tone on the dry signal and 1 octave down, great for aggressive bass lines and fat solos.
OC2 mode offers the classic analog, synthy, single note tracking with 1 and 2 octaves down.
Poly mode is a clean digital octave down capable of reproducing chords. One great feature of the Boss OC 3 is the crossover in poly mode. With the range knob in poly mode, you can adjust how much of your fretboard triggers the octave down effect. This is great for those who want to play rhythm guitar and have only the lowest note of the chord reproduced an octave down, great for a solo gig, or for those times when the bass player doesn’t show up.
Electro-Harmonix Pitch Fork
The EHX pitch fork is an incredibly diverse pedal. I did really like it in my testing, but chose the Sub N up ove this pedal because I thought it sounded a bit too digital to my ear. I do play clean and acoustic a lot and that was part of the decision.
EHX packed quite a lot into this small box. You get minor second, major second, major third, perfect fourth, perfect fifth, major sixth, minor seventh, one, two and three octaves – all up, down, or both. All this and a detune mode that sounds like a chorus pedal. There is an option to make the switch momentary so it only triggers when your standing on it. The tracking is great and it can handle chords well.
All of this plus you can plug in an expression pedal and use it like a whammy pedal to get all you favorite tom morello licks. You can also use this pedal as a digital capo by turning the blend knob all the way to the right. This is a great choice for an octave pedal if you find you need either of these features.
Donnor Harmonic Square
If you are looking to get into the octave down world and don’t want to break the bank, check out the Donner harmonic square digital harmonizer pedal. This mini pedal is more than just an octave pedal, similar to the pitch fork, it features 7 harmonic modes, each up and down by a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 1 octave and 2 octaves. Tracking is very good and this thing does quite a bit considering the price.
If you turn the dry all the way down you could use this pedal as a sort of digital capo. You can also play harmonized solos, power chords with just one note or make some crazy weired sounds.
As this is an inexpensive pedal the sound it produces can sound artificial at times, but if it is not pushed to the extremes will work just fine for most weekend warriors, and still bring lots of smiles.
I have tried several Octave pedals on my board and they all were a lot of fun, but for me, the Sub n’ Up is the one that I keep coming back to. No matter what you ultimately choose, I hope that you have as much fun with your octave pedal as I have had with mine.
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