There is nothing musical about amp hum or ear-splitting feedback. Whether you are at a gig or practicing at home, rig noise makes playing insufferable – for everyone. Oddly enough, it’s normal for guitarists to GAS over EQ, compressors, delay, and amp heads.
But noise gate pedals? Hard Pass.
It’s understandable, they lack the glamor of delays, the gnarl of dirt, and the eccentricity of modulations. In fact, a good noise gate will clean up your tone without drawing any attention. That’s probably why most guitar players overlook it, to their detriment that is.
Moreover, noise gate pedals have garnered the reputation of a metal-essential, which is a relevant but narrow-minded way of looking at them. Yes, they are a staple in modern rock, prog-rock, nu-metal, djent, and other gain-hungry genres.
Regardless of genre, though, it’s common to have one or more pedals in your rig that are prone to noise. The noise may arise due to faulty shielding, cheap components, or bad grounding. Vintage or cost-effective dirt pedals or compression units are the common culprits.
Whatever your reasons maybe, I’ve presented a comprehensive roundup of the best noise gate pedals in the current market. All of them are adept at cleaning up and clearing out the noise, although some have more bells and whistles than others.
Let’s look at our top three picks and move on to the individual reviews of our roundup.
- Our Top Three Picks
- Noise Gate Reviews
- Noise Gate Pedal Buying Guide:
- Final Thoughts
Our Top Three Picks
The Boss NS-2, our Top Pick, continues to reign the noise gate selection. It’s built like a tank, it’s effective, and easy to use. Whether you play 80s rock or djent, it does an efficient job at eliminating unwanted noise. It isn’t True Bypass, but there is no tone degradation. The asking price is reasonable as well. It’s been a ‘go-to’ pedal for three decades. As they say – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Mooer Noise Killer MNR1, Our Budget Pick, is a True Bypass noise-gate pedal with the smallest possible (micro) dimensions. Besides saving space on the pedalboard, it also sports a modest price tag. It may not have some of the bells and whistles, but it’s a highly capable noise gate with a full metal shell, quality circuitry, and True Bypass.
ISP Technologies Decimator II is a testament to the flawless execution of a simple concept. It’s transparent, effective and as robust as the NS-2. It does an impressive job at eliminating noise without affecting the guitar tone. Plus, it’s available in a micro format and you can link two of these pedals to track your guitar signal directly. That’s the sort of brilliance that we look for when we decorate a product with the KGR Editor’s Choice.
Noise Gate Reviews
Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor – Our Top Pick
A classic with all of the rugged functionlity you expect from Boss
The Boss NS-2 has been around since the late 1980s. Over three decades, it has featured in the rigs of touring giants like U2, Slipknot, Metallica among others. The main draw of the NS-2 is the rugged build, hearty features, and ease-of-use.
The Boss NS-2 includes one input, one output, and a send/return to act as its own loop. The send return feature is flexible and useful if you don’t use an amp with an effects loop. Like most Boss pedals, the NS-2 can be powered with a 9v battery or adapter (not included in the price).
The NS-2’s top panel sports a threshold and decay knob to dial in the elimination and suppression. The decay controls the attenuated signal. A longer decay allows more time for the filtered signal to fade out.
The mode knob is another notable feature of the NS-2. It has a dual-mode operation – Reduction mode and mute mode. ‘Reduction’ is the normal mode, meaning the gate works when you activate the pedal with the footswitch and stops when you disengage it.
The mute mode is an ‘always-on’ mode, a way to constantly use the suppression and toggle it off by hitting the footswitch. Boss has added an extra LED indicator (labeled Reduction) to display the real-time status of the pedal in mute mode to avoid any confusion.
Verdict: The Boss NS-2 is reliable, rugged, and has just the right features for a workhorse. It’s a pedalboard staple that continues to retain its stronghold in the segment. If you don’t outgrow this pedal’s capabilities, it will be on your rig forever. The modest price tag, a storied history, and the 5-year warranty make it an absolute no-brainer.
Mooer Noise Killer – Best Budget Option
A micro true bypass pedal with a micro true value price tag
Mooer might be a younger player in the stompbox segment, but it has earned a solid reputation for creating small-sized pedals with expedient quality and performance. The MNR1 is no exception. This mini pedal is great for people who want a set n’ forget noise gate.
The MNR1 is a True Bypass noise gate pedal with a simple one-knob operation and compact dimensions. I can think of two use cases for this Noise Killer – a) you struggle with single-coil guitar hum, and b) you don’t want to part with a lot of money or pedalboard space.
It has two jacks for input and output, an LED On/Off indicator, and a durable metal footswitch. The lone knob/dial on the pedal allows you to set the threshold range between -70dB to +10dB. Above the knob, you’ll find a flick switch to access the two working modes – Hard and Soft.
In the Hard mode, you’ll notice a sharp and accurate cut for fast start/stop riffs. Soft mode delivers a more measured decay that will suit non-metal genres. Soft mode is also better for solos and sustained notes where you’d like some drag for aesthetic reasons.
The metal housing is sturdy and the pedal weighs next to nothing. Despite those two factors, it’s built to withstand abuse. The only downside is that it needs 9V power via a DC adapter. There is no option to operate it via a 9V battery, which is to be expected from compact pedals.
Verdict: Mooer MNR1 is petite, rugged, and ready for action. It’s easy to operate and offers convenience at a compelling cost. It isn’t as versatile as the other full-sized options in our roundup. Nevertheless, it does exactly as advertised and can be a fantastic addition to a busy pedalboard.
ISP Technologies Decimator II – KGR Editor’s Choice
High-quality noise reduction with send/return and Link In/Out capabilities.
The ISP Decimator – first generation – was a big hit among those who swore by its best-in-class noise gating capabilities. While much hasn’t changed in the appearance, the 2nd gen version is privy to patented improvements. It features Linear Time Vector Processing in the expander tracking for a buttery smooth decay, a transparent release, and enhanced release response.
Construction-wise, the pedal is a solid hunk of metal, as sturdy and stout as they get. It features a Boss-style design with guitar in/out jacks to the sides and link in/out on the back panel. The pedal is easy to use and it sports a single knob to set the threshold between -70dB to +10dB.
The pedal can be powered by a 9V battery or standard DC adapter. Plus, you can network it to another pedal to track the guitar input signal. Yes, two Decimator II pedals can be operated in unison. For example, you can place one in front of the preamp and another for the effects loops.
From a ‘set n’ forget’ pedal to taming unruly single-coil p’ups or hi-gain amps, the pedal gets rid of the noise without truncating notes or coloring the tone. It’s one of the best-selling noise reduction pedals, and you’ll hear exactly why once you witness its performance.
Verdict: If you’re looking for a one-stop noise solution, the Decimator II does a great job at that without killing the natural tone. You may not encounter ISP Technologies in most pedal roundups, but they’ve completely outclassed the segment with the Decimator II. It offers the whole gamut of features and cleans everything up nicely. They even offer it the micro-format with the ISP Deci-Mate.
A responsive, small-sized, all-analog pedal with JFET circuitry.
The Pigatronix Gatekeeper is a relatively expensive alternative to Mooer MNR1. However, the price difference also reflects in the performance. It’s a True Bypass, all-analog pedal with studio-grade JFET circuitry, so it won’t adversely affect your tone.
The Gatekeeper excels at locking out the main hums, white noise, and other intrusive sounds. It’s designed for ultra-high-gain rigs that are constantly plagued by the noise the moment you stop playing. It’s fast, efficient, and has a smooth transient response for smooth decay.
Two knobs control the action. The wide-range threshold determines the dynamic to open/activate the noise gate. Once that is set, the release knob setting will determine the time it takes to close the gate. The simple 2-knob operation is a blessing for anyone who favors simplicity.
The pedal has a very small footprint (1.5″ L x 3.75″ W x 1.75″ H). It needs a 9V DC power supply or battery and weighs a meager 0.5 lbs. It also features a mute LED to visually indicate that the signal has fallen below the threshold.
It has a variable release time with 100% attenuation during gating. However, I must say that the knobs are sensitive and very responsive to tweaks. You might have to spend a little time to find the sweet spot, but once you hit it, there is won’t be any truncated notes or drag whatsoever.
Verdict: The Pigtronix Gatekeeper is a reasonably priced studio-quality pedal. It’s response time is lightning-fast, which makes it an excellent choice for hi-gain metal riffing. any guitarist who wants to push the am, gain and volume. The JFET circuitry deserved the props for tackling noise from any signal path like a boss.
A TonePrint enabled noise gate with multiband mode and True Bypass.
The Sentry is a versatile because of the hard gating and multi-band gating. It’s even more appealing if you are a fan of TC Electronics and their TonePrint app. The fine tuning capabilities make it a little more adept than the rest at zeroing in on the problem frequencies.
The pedal sports three knobs: threshold, decay, and damp. Threshold allows you to dial in the sensitivity, damp dictates how fast the gate will close, and decay regulates the fading out of notes once the gate closes.
To the upper left corner, you have a 3-way toggle switch for Gate/TonePrint/Hiss. Gate is the first mode that works as a traditional noise gate for hard gating. Hiss is a multi-band option to eliminate splits and hisses from single-coils or clean tones.
TonePrint is the USP of the pedal. It allows you to access it from the TC Electronics app for ultra-precise applications that the knobs cannot accomplish. The pedal also features an LED to indicate when the gate opens and send/return jacks to gate the direct guitar signal.
TC Electronic Sentry is easily the most versatile pedal in this segment. If you need those features, you’ll enjoy the noise attenuation and TonePrint’s custom settings library.
Verdict: The Sentry has everything you can desire from a noise gate in your signal chain. An impressive amount of riffing monsters use the Sentry pedal. It features regularly in the rigs of Scott Ian, Gary Holt, Devin Townsend, Misha Mansoor, and Brian “Head” Welch. That’s as good an endorsement for metal guitarists as any.
A transparent pedal with three selectable modes and a Hi-trigger range button.
The MXR M135 Smart Gate is a versatile and complex noise gate that delivers dynamic performance. The housing of this pedal has the typical MXR pedigree – a rugged metal enclosure and a top notch footswitch. It’s built to withstand abuse.
The top panel features a single threshold knob that regulates gate exposure and an LED indicator for the reduction levels. In terms of operation, the pedal sports a 3-way selector to toggle between the 3 modes of noise reduction: Full, Mid, and Hiss.
Full Mode refers to 100% attenuation of the signal. It may truncate the sustain but it’s fantastic for fast riffage. Mid Mode is a partial gating effect that would be the best option to kill Stratocaster hum without killing any sustain.
The Hiss Mode deals will eliminate most of the extraneous hiss on the clean channel. This can be a blessing for guitarists or bassists who only want to silence high freq. hiss from cabinet tweeters. It also has a Hi-Trigger Range button to tone down the gating within the volume band. It will cut the sequel but it does affect the sustain a little.
The pedal is available in gray and black. It features input and output jacks and can be powered with a single 9V battery or a standard adapter. That said, it’s Hardwire Bypass, which isn’t the same as True Bypass, but we didn’t notice any loss of tone or tone coloration.
Verdict: Whether you have a hot-rodded Strat or a chug-ready ESP, the MXR Smart Gate is a first-rate choice for your pedalboard. It offers good value for money and has an intelligent gating system (smart gate) that adjusts to your playing speed. The gate opens rapidly during fast phrases and riffing and is relatively slow with laidback playing, especially sustained notes.
Affordable but fully featured noise gate from Electro Harmonix
EHX’s Silencee is a popular pedal with an analog circuit. It’s as sturdy as the best, with a rugged chassis and good quality dials. The front panel sports a three-knob layout, a LED indicator, and a sturdy footswitch. The knobs allow you to fine-tune levels for threshold, reduction, and release.
Threshold determines the level at which the gate opens, reduction decides how much the level will be reduced, and release adjust the decay after the signal drop. You can dial -70db to +4 dB reduction and 4ms to 4 seconds variable release.
It is a full-featured pedal with input/output jacks and send/return jacks and an AC jack to power the pedal with an adapter. You can also power it with a 9V battery. The pedal is ‘buffered bypass’, not true bypass. The buffered bypass will keep the effects loop in the signal path even when the pedal is disengaged. However, there is no noticeable tone coloration or signal loss.
The send/return jacks make it ideal to combat a single noisy pedal in a busy fx loop. The decay sounds smooth and there is no degradation of tone or shortening of sustained notes. You can learn more about the pedal in this review/demonstration:
Verdict: The EHX Silencer is the cheapest of the full-featured noise gate pedals. It could have been a contender for our top pick, but we found the Boss and ISP Decimator II to be most staunch in build quality and unswerving in performance. Nevertheless, it delivers excellent performance in terms of noise reduction, especially for the price.
Noise Gate Pedal Buying Guide:
What is a Noise Gate Pedal? What does it do?
A noise gate pedal is designed to remove unwanted noise, such as mains hum (60hz hum cycle) from single-coil pickups. They are also used in an effects loop to act upon a single noisy pedal (usually dirt or compressors) or the preamp in your signal chain. A good noise gate pedal is transparent and acts subtlety i.e. it shouldn’t color the tone. Plus, there should be no adverse effects such as shortening of sustained notes.
Is a noise gate pedal essential for metal guitarists?
Metal genres, especially modern metal, involves the use of cranked-up dirt and extended-range guitars (7 or 8-string). Guitarists typically play lightning-fast riffs with start/stop and palm-muted components. Even the slightest noise will make it hard to sound clean as it corrupts the silent parts of the riffs.
In this scenario, a noise gate after the dirt section in the signal chain or the effects loop can be a sonic savior. You can set a high threshold with a rapid closing of the gate.
Do you need a noise gate pedal?
Every guitarist and their rig are unique, so it is hard to make a sweeping generalization. That said, noise gate pedals are crucial in any rig bedeviled with unwanted feedback, noise, electrical sounds such as buzzing and hissing, mains hum (or simply humming), and ‘white noise’ that is common when you couple high volume with high gain.
Where do you place a noise gate pedal in the signal chain?
Generally, noise gate pedals are either placed in an effects loop or after the dirt (distortion/overdrive) section. They should be placed before the modulation (ambient) and time-based pedals such as reverb and delay.
Placing them after the time-based pedals will negatively alter the sound. For instance, a noise gate may abruptly cut short a reverb trail or diminish the repeat on the delay. As ever, you are free to use them anywhere if you want to experiment and create atypical sounds.
If you are struggling with pedal-generated hum, the first step is to check your power supply. A fully isolated power supply is crucial before you look for further solutions. I recommend the 1 Spot PRO CS12 or MXR iso-brick. Once you have that sorted, you can reliably pick any pedal from our roundup that suits your needs and budget.