Ring Modulation is quite the ’Marmite’ type of outlier modulation. There’s not a whole load of people that love this effect, but those that do really do. I have 3 pedals which do ring modulation - the Dr Scientist BitQuest, the Strymon Mobius, and the Boss MD-500 - all of those are more generalist modulation pedals - while the ones featured below are more specialist.
I rarely ever used the Ring Mod mode (Quadrature) on my Strymon Mobius, and although I can dial in quite a cool tone on my BitQuest, it wasn’t really until I got the Boss MD-500 that I really properly used the Ring Mod, and this mostly on preset 15B ’Buzz Bass’ which sounds awesome.
Generally the ring modulation effect sounds like a classic telephone ring tone from the 70’s - where you can modulate the warble by controlling oscillation rate and interplay of two frequencies at different amplitudes. More specialist pedals allow you to change the waveform and the focus / Q factor of the modulation - alongside other frequency filters.
Most would describe this sounding as a somewhat atonal robotic vibrato - which gives you all manner of tones from warble, through percussive chimes and on to drone and buzz. It gives you a kind of old-school electronic vibe - which is why old-fashioned rocker purists tend to hate it. Bass players love it though for giving them more grit and texture to their basslines - and as always it depends how you tune it in - and most don’t really know how to.
I’m generally not in the market for a specialist ring modulator, but if I were I would probably lean towards the Alexander Syntax Error or Subdecay Vitruvian Mod. You can see that ring modulation is not currently at peak popularity as there are relatively few pedal makers with offerings in this area, and 3 quite well-known ones are either limited edition or recently discontinued. I did not want to feature too many discontinued lines - so I excluded the limited availability (200 units) Death By Audio Flaming Lips Space Ring (c£250).
You can still find copies of near enough all the limited editions or recently discontinued ones on Reverb.com - pricing will vary of course - but is around the estimates given.
Pedals listed alphabetically by brand:
Strictly speaking not a dedicated ring mod pedal, but one where the ring modulation forms a significant part - you have 4 modes here - time stretch | ring modulator | cubic distortion | frequency shifter. You can adjust rate / frequency, EQ, and speed of sample & hold. This is quite a smooth ring mod, with some really very pleasant vibey sounds at lower oscillation rates. If I was in the market for another ring mod pedal, then this would be my first choice.
This is a more gainey ring modulator which utilises 5 parameter dials - Gain | Distortion | Output | Frequency | Ring. The frequency allows you to 'tune' the ring effect to smooth out or key-match the tone. While 'Ring' is essentially the ring effect level. This pedal has been around largely unchanged for a good 20 years now. The only change over that time is that the previously internal Frequency trim-pot is now and external dial.
Just 3 dials on this fuzzy-ring-mod variation - Tune | Crash | Blend, where Tune = Frequency pitch / rate essentially and Crash is the amount of dirt / chaos; Blend is you usual dry/wet mix, while an additional Hi/Low footswitch allows you to change the frequency range on the fly. You get can some really cool sounds out of this pedal, so it's a little strange to see it has been discontinued. There do seem to be plenty of second-hand versions around, and even a couple of near mint ones.
This is the ultimate big box ring modulator where you can play upper and lower band modulation separately or together, change Blend, Waveform, Filter Rate , Fine/Depth and Coarse. You can then arrange your preferences into 9 available presets. While there is also a 'Tune' function which auto-tunes the ring modulation frequency to the input pitch - on a monophonic basis.
A really elegant. quite vibey ring modulator with 4 dials - Frequency (Rate) | Volume | Mix | Low Pass Filter, and then two dual-mode toggles - Square / Sine Wave and Hi / Lo Band. While some ring modulators tend towards noise ans harshness - this one is really mostly smooth and very musical.
This limited edition run can still be found if you search for it - mostly second-hand though. Very simple controls - Dry | Wet | Frequency - and at the noisier end of the ring mod spectrum - with some really cool quirky tones.
A really smart compact-sized ring modulator with clever pitch detection - as stated by Subdecay - "Setting the tracking switch to Null (0) gets you a traditional rind mod effect, but so much easier to dial in. With entropy set to “order” The carrier knob has seven steps tuned to E A D G B E A. Perfect for guitar. The fine tune knob allows for further adjustment by +/- three semitones. Flip the entropy switch to “chaos” and the carrier has an eight octave range." So you can make it elegant and harmonically smooth as well as mix it up with a little chaos and across hi and low bands. It's a slightly different way to tune in your ring mod frequencies and all the better for it. If you want straight up ring modulation with some variety then this is a really good bet, my frontrunner would still be the Syntax Error above which mixes things up with a few other different flavours for even more versatility.
A really smart medium-sized offering with 5 dials - Blend | Frequency | Width | Rate | Mode / Waveform. The clever part here is really the mode / waveform dials which sets it apart from most. This pedal seemed to be quite popular for a while, so it's a little sad to see it discontinued, seems fairly evident that ring modulators are slightly out of vogue right now. Or perhaps more people are relying on their bigger modulation workstations to render such effects - i.e. ModFactor, Mobius or MD-500.
This is a whole different kind of ring modulation pedal - in fact a 16 step sequencer of ring modulations where you can finely tune the settings on each of those steps - giving you the most amazing variety of tonal effects. You don't have to use all 16 steps, you can use the Steps/Preset dial to cut those down in groups of 4. You can then set the most amazing rhythmatic patterns using the combination of dials and toggles available. This is truly next level stuff, and a wholly different way to play with ring modulations / ring tones. You're best off watching super bassist - Juan Alderete of Pedals and Effects in the above video - to get a good understanding of how this works. This is literally fun for days - if of course ring modulation is your thing - understandably the priciest pedal featured.
I feel that currently ring modulation has fallen somewhat out of favour - you can see that by how many pedals have been discontinued, and how few new ones released in the last few years. Ring Mod remains a flavour on most multi-modulation / modulation workstation pedals though and I don't believe it's anywhere near endangered yet, it's just a somewhat specialist effect - which to be true most guitarists don't really know how to make best use of. Probably the most impressive Ring Mod pedal made to date was the Lovetone Ring Stinger which currently fetches prices of around £750 for near mint editions - which can quite regularly by found on Reverb.com.
As far as my own needs go - I already have 3 pedals which do variations of ring modulation, and I'm really not in the market for another. Of those featured here there are 3 or 4 that intrigue me - The Syntax Error, Vitruvian Mod, Ringworm and Super Ringtone. I have far more pressing priorities to get to before I consider these again. I feel the next phase of modulation pedals will be very much about dynamic control - and how you can mix up, blend and further modify those flavours with some really neat control interfaces - whether additional joysticks, footswtiches, rollers or pressure pads. How about a multi-way pressure-pad rocker to give you Korg Kaos Pad -alike control from a pedal footswitch! There's still plenty to come ...