Chorus sometimes gets a bad reputation thanks to its overuse on 80s music. But it can be an incredibly useful guitar effect when used properly. A subtle chorus can turn a dry and lifeless clean tone into something full of energy. A chorus pedal can help your lead tones stand out from the rhythm tones and give your solos some character. Or you can crank the chorus up for some saturated atmospheric parts.
These songs will give you some good examples of how to use a chorus pedal in your music. If you’re on the fence about getting a chorus pedal, these songs will show various ways you can use them that won’t give you that cheesy 80s sound.
If you’re looking at getting a chorus pedal so you can recreate some of these guitar tones, check out this guide on the Best Chorus Pedals here.
Come As You Are – Nirvana
From the first few notes, you’ll hear how important Kurt Cobain’s chorus pedal is to this song. If you watch any covers of this song on YouTube played without a chorus pedal, you’ll notice how dry and plain it sounds. The chorus pedal adds a lot of character to the simple guitar riff. This is a great example of how a chorus pedal can be used to create a different vibe in your music.
Kurt Cobain is well known for using an Electro-Harmonix Small Clone (which I cover in my guide on chorus pedals). While you can achieve this tone with almost any chorus pedal, if you’re a big Nirvana fan, you might want to check the Small Clone out.
For more Nirvana songs using a chorus pedal, check out: Smells Like Teen Spirit (during verse and pre-chorus), In Bloom (verse), Aneurysm, Drain You. In live versions, you can clearly hear the chorus pedal in action. The solo in Smells Like Teen Spirit is a great example of chorus used to enhance a lead section. The chorus is cranked up in this song (the Small Clone doesn’t have a mix knob), but if your chorus pedal has a mix or level knob, turning it down to a more subtle level will do wonders for your lead playing.
Pull Me Under – Dream Theater
John Petrucci often mixes in chorus to give his clean tones a bigger and more atmospheric sound. The intro to Pull Me Under is a great example of the type of clean tone he prefers. In the studio, he usually records two guitars for his clean tone: one electric guitar and one acoustic guitar. By mixing those two guitars together and adding chorus, he ends up with a very wide and full sound. When playing live, he makes use of a piezo pickup in his guitar to simulate the split between electric and acoustic tones.
You’ll also hear some delay mixed in with the chorus, so if you have a chorus pedal and a delay pedal, try recreating what you hear in this song. Unless you have a guitar with a piezo pickup (such as John Petrucci’s signature series of guitars), you won’t be able to match the tone, but you can get close to it.
If you’re a big Dream Theater or John Petrucci fan, you might want to check out his signature modulation pedal Dreamscape by TC Electronic. It gives you a variety of different modulation sounds such as chorus, flanger, and vibrato.
Welcome Home (Sanitarium) – Metallica
Most of the time you hear a clean tone in a Metallica song, you’ll also hear some chorus. When Metallica perform live, the chorus they add to their clean tones creates a massive sound. The chorus is more obvious in this song compared to others. Try playing the clean arpeggiated parts without a chorus pedal to hear how much it enhances the tone.
Some subtle chorus on a clean tone can give it a lot of character. If you find that when you switch to a clean tone it sounds dry or lifeless, try adding in some chorus with a low mix level.
For more examples of chorus on Metallica’s clean parts, check out any of their live versions that use clean parts. Songs like One, Nothing Else Matters, Enter Sandman, Fade to Black, all heavily make use of chorus in the live versions. Many of the studio versions also use chorus, but a more subtle level.
Purple Rain – Prince
While there are plenty of cheesy examples of chorus used in 80s music, this is an iconic example. While Prince mainly used BOSS pedals, the chorusy clean sound you hear is from Wendy Melvoin’s Roland JC-120 amp. The JC-120 has an inbuilt chorus effect with speed and depth knobs. While an amp was used to produce the chorus sound, you can easily replicate it with a pedal.
If you want to experiment with saturated chorus tones, it’s worth thinking about how your playing should react to the tone. Some guitar parts sound great with a heavily saturated tone, while other parts don’t. Learning to write parts that match the effects you use is a good skill to work on. Start by jamming along with this song, then try to come up with your own parts that make good use of the chorus pedal.
Paradise City – Guns ‘n’ Roses
For some guitarists, the tone here is getting into cheesy 80s chorus tone. But it’s a good example of how a chorus pedal can add color to your clean tone. Depending on the pedal you use and the settings, you can dial in some nice tones that don’t give a cheesy 80s sound. Try playing the intro part without a chorus pedal and you’ll notice how dry and plain it sounds. The chorus is cranked up in this song, but you may find you enjoy it more with a lower mix. Add a subtle chorus along with some subtle delay and this part can sound fantastic.
This is another example of arpeggiated chords with a chorus pedal. While you can get some good sounds with chords while strumming, chorus tends to sound better on arpeggiated chords. Individually picking each note brings out the character of the chorus while strumming can tend to turn things into a mush.
If you already have a chorus pedal, try playing a simple chord progression (eg: Em, C, Am, G) and play it two ways. First, play a simple strumming pattern for each chord. Then play the progression using an arpeggiated pattern. Think about what you like about the tone and see if you can adjust your chorus pedal’s settings to match the style of play. For example, you might turn the speed and mix down while strumming, but turn them up while arpeggiating the chords.
Getting the Most out of a Chorus Pedal
Chorus pedals can produce some great tones when used properly. Use the above songs as starting points and try to match each song’s tone as closely as you can. Then you can experiment by writing your own parts using a chorus pedal. The goal here is to learn what type of parts work well with a chorus pedal and what parts don’t work well. Experiment by adding chorus into parts that don’t normally use chorus and see if you can make those parts sound better. The more you play around with this, the better use you’ll get out of your chorus pedal.
To learn more about chorus and to find out how to combine it with other pedals, check out my Guitar Effects Course. To find a chorus pedal right for you, check out this guide on the Best Chorus Pedals.