Although ambient music has proved to fascinate musicians and listeners for decades now, it’s undeniable that in today’s age, it’s more prevalent than ever. The rise of YouTube phenomenons like ASMR, tape loop drones and lo-fi beats to study/chill to has seen ambient music thrust into the mainstream like never before, and provides musicians with a perfect solution for creatively improvising while staying indoors and self-isolating.
Today, we’re exploring the world of ambient music by checking out seven awesome stompboxes that are suited for creating atmospheric textures, loops and drones. While many of these units require a lot more attention and technicality than a typical delay or reverb, it’s their compleixities that make them the special effects that they are, and once you conquer these kinds of pedals, you’ll become a true master of ambient guitar. Let’s check them out!
Chase Bliss MOOD
Chase Bliss have been considered as trailblazers in the boutique pedal community for a long time now, with units like the Warped Vinyl, Thermae and Tonal Recall being celebrated for their creativity, versatility and design. However, nothing comes close to topping their mighty MOOD – a wildly unique dual channel granular delay and micro-looper. If that sounds like it’s complicated, it’s because it is: I’ve pored over so many demos for this pedal, and still have no idea what’s exactly going on.
At a basic level, the MOOD lets you create mini loops and then manipulate them with a range of parameters to create an wide range of textures, ranging from dissonant bit-crushed drones to whistling birdsong, washes of pink noise, hazy evaporating delays and so much more. There’s a smattering of dip-switches on the back to tweak the unit even further, while full MIDI implementation makes the MOOD friendly with all kinds of setups – pair it with a droning wavetable synth or a fully fleshed out pedalboard of your own, and you’ll have Brian Eno sliding into your DMs in no time.
Potentially one of the most groundbreaking effects units released in recent memory, the Empress ZOIA is nothing short of revolutionary. At its core, the ZOIA is a modular synth in the form of a stompbox, utilising a wonderful matrix to let you tweak and combine modules to create whatever sound you please from the ground up. The ZOIA isn’t just limited to guitar, either: this unit can be used to create synth patches, control virtual pedalboards, interact with MIDI devices and so much more.
To get you started, the ZOIA includes a gamut of pre-built patches for guitar such as phaser, chorus, delay and reverb. However, deep-diving into the programming of the pedal reveals its full potential, letting you create dizzying reversed reverbs, wobbly LFO-like waves, funky filters and roaring feedback. The limitless potential of the Empress ZOIA makes it a surefire pick for any punter looking to invest in a multi-effects that will truly handle it all, and also makes for a dangerously addictive ambient tool in the hands of the right player.
Montreal Assembly Count To Five
Many musicians believe that the Montreal Assembly Count To Five sampler/delay is one of the most confusing pedals ever made, and to be honest, they’re right – it’s a total head-scratcher for first-time users. However, confusion tends to coax out creativity in a manner which creates startling results, and it’s here where the Count To Five shines. This pedal is perfect for those who love glitchy, unpredictable tones, and the minimal design of the unit only makes it even more alluring for a number of players.
The Count To Five specialises in creating stuttering mini loops, fluttering tape flourishes and blurring reversed textures out of your clean tone, making for a unit that never fails to amaze. Once you master the interface, you can use the Count To Five to pitch-shift, slice and overdub your loops into oblivion to deliver one of the most fascinating ambient pedals ever. It’s almost as if Montreal Assembly kidnapped Jonny Greenwood and made him into a pedal – there’s some seriously fascinating stuff going on with this thing.
Earthquaker Devices Avalanche Run
Everything that Earthquaker Devices release tends be solid gold these days, but damn, the Avalanche Run is something else entirely. This stereosonic delay / reverb boasts up to two seconds of delay time and a reverse delay mode, as well as a tap-tempo knob with subdivision controls and five different tail lengths. A tone knob lets you shape the character of the delay to achieve a bunch of different delay tones like tape, bucket brigade and more, while the plate style reverb offers modulation, adjustable decay, dynamic swelling and a reverse reverb mode for all your shoegaze needs.
Each side of the Avalanche Run is incredibly useful on its own, but when you combine the delay and reverb, you’ll be gifted with a glorious cavernous tone that’s perfect for ambient endeavours. You can even use the Avalanche Run as a Tripp-style sound-on-sound lo-fi looper, while its potential to self-oscillate will make you want to shoot off into space to explore the cosmos. A truly wonderful unit from Earthquaker Devices, and maybe even their best pedal yet.
Hologram Electronics Infinite Jets
Hologram Electronics have pumped out a bunch of these large format pedals that are aimed towards knob-fiddling guitarists; the Dream Sequence is also worthy of a mention, and their brand new Microcosm looks like it might even be the winer of the bunch. However, it’s the Infinite Jets that’s snagged the most attention from the guitar community, and rightfully so. Referred to by Hologram as a ‘resynthesizer’, the Infinite Jets takes an array of LFOs, envelopes, filters and voices and squeezes them into a guitar-friendly package for those who aren’t too savvy with keyboards.
The Infinite Jets is responsive to the attack of your picking, and its two independent channels allow you to create infinitely sustaining tones with two different notes or chords at any time. This lets you build ambient swells, filtered fuzz, scary drones and glitchy sequences with ease, and you can even record your knob movements to customise things even further. It’s a bulky pedal and requires a bit of deep-diving into demos and manuals to really master, but it’s 100% worth the effort when you achieve those end results.
Whether it’s the Hedra, Mercury7 or Ottobit Jr., there’s a whole bunch of excellent pedals in the Meris catalogue that go above and beyond to define what’s expected from a stompbox today. The Polymoon is the company’s take on a stereo delay, and takes inspiration from some of the most pristine cascaded rack units in history to deliver its soothing, atmospheric tones.
Like any Meris pedal, the Polymoon has a minor learning curve, but once you acquaint yourself with its functions, you’ll truly understand what all the fuss over this company is really about. The delay sounds absolutely beautiful and easily conquers both traditional and experimental styles, while the stereo field is a shoegazer’s dream. However, it’s the gooey modulation that makes the Polymoon such a viable device for ambient styles, offering flanger, chorus and reverb-style effects that boast their own unique tonal flavour. When combined with the Polymoon’s powerful delay modes, you’ll never want to stop strumming.
Mastro Valvola LEM Lysergic Emotions Module
These guys mightn’t be as well known as some of the other names we’ve included on this list, but we’ve got a funny feeling they might be the next big thing in the boutique world. Handmade in Italy, Mastro Valvola’s pedals truly are the real deal, and they’ve got a bunch of awesome boxes under their belts, from the AREA Multi-Reverb to the very cool LFO Optical Tremolo. At the moment, however, we’re completely fascinated with the LEM Lysergic Emotions Module: an awe-inspiring multi-head delay that is guaranteed to blow your mind.
With eight effects modes that range from reverse delay to multi-head modulations, pitch-shifting and shimmer verb with an intuitive rotary sector knob to flick between them, the LEM is a soundscapers delight. This pedal lets you tap into weird tape stutter effects, cloud-like ambience and even gnarly bit-crushed tones to really flesh out your sonic palate, and even features a dedicated filter knob to shape your signal frequency to achieve the best tone possible. For ambient styles, this could become a modern essential – make sure you’re ahead of the curve and get onto the LEM before it’s unobtainable.
Never miss a story – sign up to our mailing list for all the latest news, reviews, giveaways and features.