My Noise Gate pedal experience taught me a great lesson about the idiocy of gear snobbery. The entire guitar world seems to be infested with too many people telling you that only certain choices of gear are proper, and that if you choose a different route that you’re an amateur basically - who doesn’t know what they’re doing and will suffer ’inferior tone’ etc. etc. So I had owned my Boss NS-2 for a while, and generally was very happy with it - there were odd occasions when I wasn’t sure it was performing at its absolute best, but by and large I was happy - until some guitar store assistant told me that my NS-2 was basically crap, and I should really be using an ISP Decimator II - "like all the pros do".
Acting on said advice I acquired an ISP Decimator II G-String which is near enough an exact replacement for the NS-2 at nearly 4 times the price - and I could not get the latter to work anywhere near as well. I tried all manner of things A/B-ing the two pedals together with all manner of different settings, and the ISP just did not work for me as well as the Boss. So I returned the ISP back to the store, and then bought an Alchemy Audio Modded NS-2 from Johnny Balmer on Reverb.com and have never looked back since. The modded NS-2 updates the key stock components of the NS-2 with superior noiseless versions - giving you a much more articulate and improved Noise Gate. The lesson being that ’better’ is not always bette -, you’re typically just better off with more of what you like. Equally importantly, people can have vastly different tastes, and what is good for one is not necessarily going to float for another.
So we in effect have 3 different sorts of Noise Gates featured here - the most basic is a single pass - like the Mooer for instance - with one input and one output - meaning the entire signal path gets filtered. We then have a parallel pass - like the NS-2 - which allows you to have your noisy pedals in a separate loop, while allowing the cleaner signal (from other pedals) to go straight through. This is my preferred type of pedal as I only have the Noise Gate on my Fuzz and Distortion pedals, while allowing the Overdrive pedals, compressor etc. to pass through unfiltered. Finally there is a 3rd and quite novel / unique Noise Gate in the shape of the ZVex Loop Gate - I have included a video for that one as it’s quite difficult to explain without practical examples - in effect it allows you to smoothly trigger your ’noisy loop’ and has various trigger options all with the most incredibly smooth transitions - needs to be seen to be believed - certainly not a regular Noise Gate, but a brilliant performance tool for those that know what to do with it. Upon re-reading this piece I realise there is actually a 4th type too - like the Carl Martin - where you can switch between two different Gate settings - thereby ending up with a similar solution to the dual-pass - just by another means.
There are a tonne of cheap noise gate pedals - which tend to overly colour and drain from your core tone, and don’t decay or transition smoothly enough. My included selection however covers just about all of the decent ones available. I am totally delighted with my NS-2- I was not aware of the EHX Silencer or TCE Sentry at the time of acquisition - which both do a similar thing. In fact the TCE Sentry goes one or two better with a 3-mode toggle switch - including a TonePrint mode which totally lets you customize the style of filtering, and you have an additional ’Damp’ dial for further refinements. I may check out the Sentry at some stage, same goes for the ZVex Loopgate, but I’m perfectly happy where I am right now.
Pedals are pictured and listed alphabetically by brand, I don’t feel it’s necessary to include a video for every one, but have included a couple where relevant.
This has been my gate from the start, currently of Alchemy Audio improved variety. There are just 3 dials here - Threshold (Sensitivity), Decay (How long Gate stays open) and Active/Mute. This is a dual / parallel pass noise gate - allowing your cleaner signal to be unaffected - while you put you fuzz + distortion pedals through the Send/Return loop. This is probably still the industry standard seen on the most boards, even though a lot of pros swear by the ISP Decimator.
This is the only larger enclosure size pedal featured - it seems to be just a brand thing for Carl Martin, not sure it entirely justifies its increased size. This is just a single pass type, it has an input for a remote switch, but its secret sauce is being able to toggle between two varieties of gate - as per the dials - Soft and Hard - meaning that you might have the Soft gate by default and then ramp up to Hard for when you are using noisier pedals - so in effect this is a slightly different solution to the dual-pass pedals with loop, but achieves similar outcomes, certainly worth consideration, despite its additional heft.
This is a very cost effective dual-pass pedal with 3-band control - Release | Threshold | Reduction. The lowest cost quality dual pass pedal - certainly worth your consideration.
This is the dual-pass potential NS-2 replacement pedal mentioned in the intro above. It has just a single Threshold dial, and is the most expensive one featured here. I could not really see what the hype was all about as I preferred how my Boss worked. Possibly I failed to dial it in correctly despite perseverance. Its polished steel is a fingerprint magnet too, but the pros still seem to love this pedal. I could quite conveivably have had a dud pedal - that sort of thing can happen. But in the light of competition from Boss, EHX and TCE Electronic, all those seem a little more controllable than this one.
The lowest cost option and obviously does not have room for dual in and out jacks. You do though get to dial in both Hard and Soft alternatives with the single Threshold dial. For small board where space is tight, this one will do very nicely indeed,
A relatively expensive pedal for just a single pass - it does though have a 3-way mode switch - Full | Mid | Hiss and a single Trigger Level dial. No doubt a decent workaday pedal - slighly pricey, but may entirely suit your purposes.
Another relatively pricey single pass Gate with just dual dial controls - Threshold and Release. This looks like it’s been discontinued as its in relatively short supply, but there still seems to be fairly sufficient stock out there in the marketplace.
This is the most feature-rich Noise Gate pedal currently available as far as I am aware. Featuring 3 controls - Threshold | Damp | Decay and 3 modes - Gate | TonePrint | Hiss. Via TonePrint you can customize your Gate to the most incredible degree - selecting exactly which frequencies to target and how to gate them / decay time etc. I like the look of this a lot, and may well take if for a spin at some stage in the future - this looks to be the very best Gate currently available, and the price is a pretty fair reflection of that. I'm not in any hurry to change, but this may become my eventual number one choice in this area. For now the Boss NS-2 Alchemy will do just fine.
I've had to include a video here as what this pedal does is quite different to the norm. You have 3 dials - Release | Gate/Mix | Sensitivity and two toggles - Normal/Chop and Buffer On/Off; finally you have twin footswitches for ByPass/On and Gate On/Off. You can do all manner of clever things with this Noise Gate - like having it substitute for a square wave tremolo / stutter! You really need to watch the above video to get a feel for what it does. It kind of works like am entirely different kind of dual-pass Noise Gate. I really like this look of this, but haven't figured out if and how I would use it.
In short - the NS-2 is perfect for now, but I may updated to TCE Sentry some day in the fairly distant future, and I really like the look of the Loop Gate, but haven't yet decided if it truly is something for me.