Of course, if you’re like most players, you’d rather spend your money on the gear itself than the peripherals you use to control it. Still, there are plenty of pedal options that give you smooth operation and easy control without breaking the $100 barrier.
Below are our list of the 4 best cheap expression pedals on the market:
Moog ACCEP003 EP3 Expression Pedal
The Moog name is well-known and much-trusted in the synthesizer world, and their peripheral devices are made to the same quality standard as their electronic instruments. The EP3 is one of the most reliable and durable expression pedals on the market. While it was designed with Moog products in mind, it will work just as well for any synthesizer, keyboard, or other equipment with a CV or expression input.
The new cam system on the EP3 makes the operation even smoother and more responsive than it was on past Moog expression pedals. Once you get used to the footswitch operation, you’ll be able to make precise and musical adjustments to your sound easily. In terms of durability, the casing is made of plastic, which turns some people off. In truth, though, the casing is designed with the gigging musician in mind, with a solid build that you can be sure will stand up to daily wear and abuse.
M-Audio EX-P Expression Pedal
If you’re looking for the least expensive option you can find for a versatile and high-quality expression pedal, the M-Audio EX-P is the one you should look into. It gives you a lot of the same features as other options on this list. It includes a polarity switch for wide brand compatibility and can be assigned to control a wide array of sound characteristics, from toggling an effect on and off to subtle pitch modulations.
It’s also an incredibly light-weight pedal, which is helpful if you travel often with your equipment. The trade-off of this lighter weight is that the plastic used in its construction is thinner. While this is something to consider if you’re historically pretty rough with your pedals, it doesn’t feel cheap. Most players will still find it plenty sturdy for moderate use, and its textured surface is slip-resistant, making it easier to play than some costlier pedals. For the money, though, it will certainly qualify as the best cheap expression pedal around.
Zoom FP02M Expression Pedal
An expression pedal with an all-metal construction usually costs a bit more, but with this new model from Zoom you get a fully metal casing that you can count on to stand up to even heavy use, at a comparable price to the other options on this list. The sleek design and solid build of this pedal are its key selling points.
The base has rubber feet so it doesn’t slide around on hard floors, and the pedal itself has a rubber coating, as well, so your foot doesn’t slide off while you’re pressing it. The combination of durability and stability means you can really rock out without a worry and know the pedal can take it. It’s designed for use with other Zoom equipment but it will work just as well with any equipment that has a ¼” MIDI out. The motion of the assembly is smooth for seamless manipulation of your tone, no matter what effect you’ve linked it up to.
Roland EV-5 Expression Pedal
If you need something that’s both durable and portable, check out the EV-5 from Roland. It’s the little brother of their EV-7 organ pedal, sized to fit easily under a synthesizer or on a pedal rack. The construction is incredible light-weight, another benefit of the unit’s compact size, which is great for people who have a lot of gear already.
It tends to be an excellent option for effects (see full specs), though it is less highly regarded as a volume controller. This is because of the pedal’s range and action. It’s a smooth pedal, allowing for subtle changes and very musical use of effects, but doesn’t have a huge total range like you usually want in a volume control. But there is also a small knob on the side of the unit that lets you customize the overall range of your effect, giving you more fine-tuning options than most pedals in the price range.
The Best Cheap Expression Pedal Construction
The big divide between categories of expression pedal tends to be whether they utilize plastic or metal construction in the body. Metal is more durable, both in terms of standing up to more force and in the long-term sense of avoiding long-term wear and tear. Plastic, on the other hand, is lighter in weight and less expensive to produce, which brings down your price as a consumer. The Zoom FP02M (see full specs) is a rarity among quality expression pedals in that it gives you an all-metal construction for the same price as many plastic models.
While it is true that metal is more durable than plastic, this doesn’t mean that plastic pedals won’t work for professionals. It really depends on what you context you’ll be using the pedal in. As a very general statement, synthesizer players tend to be less demanding on their expression pedals than guitar players, for example.
You might think this is a difference of playing attitude, but in truth it has more to do with their playing position. Players who sit while they’re using their pedal will generally put less weight on it than players who stand. If you’re a guitarist who wants to use an expression pedal to add a stompbox aspect to an effect, a metal pedal may be necessary. Players like DJs and keyboardists are more likely to be able to use a plastic pedal without noticing a difference.
When you’re choosing the best cheap expression pedal, the sound is important, but the feel matters just as much. Listening to examples on the internet will give you a better idea of what to expect than simply reading the features, but you may find it helpful to visit a nearby music shop and see if they carry any of the models or brands above. Giving the pedal a few introductory presses will help you to figure out if it feels like the right choice for you. Good luck!