Beginners Guide To Guitar Effects Pedals
The power at your feet
If you’re just starting out on the guitar, you’ve possibly heard of effects pedals. These little boxes sit on the floor, connected between your guitar and amplifier, and provide you with all manner of capabilities to change your sound.
We do however understand it can be a bit daunting. There are countless different types of pedals, all with their own variations and abilities.
To help, we’ve put together a beginners’ guide to guitar pedals. Along the way, we’ll shine a light on the different sub-sections of pedals, what they enable you to do, and how you might consider using them.
What is a Guitar Effects Pedal?
Typically, a guitar effects pedal will be housed in a metal box, with connection points for your guitar to go in, and to go out towards your guitar amp. There will also be an input for a 9v power adapter, although many pedals can be battery operated too. On the top of a pedal will usually lie the foot-switch, which you manually turn the pedal on and off by touching. Or stomping, hence why sometimes they’re known as stomp-boxes. There will also be a selection of dials which allow you to control various parameters.
That is pretty much that. Guitar pedals are not complicated affairs, but they do allow you to do some wondrous things.
What Effects do what?
While there are thousands of different pedals out there, the vast majority tend to do one or two individual effects. Let’s take a look at what those effects are.
Overdrive / Distortion Pedals
If you’re looking to add a bit of grit to your sound, you’ll need an overdrive pedals. These act by mimicking the way valve amplifiers ‘overdrive’ their valves to create a pleasant harmonic overtone. It’s used mostly in blues and rock styles to add a bit of extra hair to a sound. Think AC/DC or any other classic rock band. Example: Boss OD-3
Distortion, on the other hand, is overdrive’s evil twin. This effect has one job, and that is to make your guitar tone louder, fatter, dirtier and heavier. Think metal bands and the tones they use. Example: MXR Super Badass
Reverb is a popular effect that makes your tone sound as if it’s naturally reverberating. Imagine you’re playing at the centre of a church, or a cave, and you get the idea. Extreme versions of the effects mimic this feeling of space, while more subtle use can nicely thicken up a tone. Example: Electro Harmonix Cathedral
Delay is an interesting effect which takes your guitar’s sound, and the repeats it. You can then control how long the gap between playing the sound and it being repeated, as well as how long the repeats go on for, and the volume of the repeated signal. It sounds odd to describe but when used in context it’s an amazing effect which gives a guitar’s sound space and ambience. Example: TC Electronic Flashback 2
Modulation Effects Pedals
There are a few different effects which fall into this bracket, and all have some relation to time or pitch. Chorus, for example, doubles your guitar sound with a second parallel signal which is ever-so-slightly detuned, creating a warm sound with a touch of warble. Tremolo uses time to ‘chop up’ your sound, raising and lowering the volume quickly at intervals you decide. Phaser and flanger are similar in nature and make the signal woosh and wobble. The main difference is that flanger has a slightly distorted element which can make your guitar sound like a jet engine. Examples: Electro Harmonix Nano Clone (Chorus), MXR Phase 90 (Phaser), Strymon Orbit (Flanger), Moog Minifooger Tremolo (Tremelo).
Effects are wide and varied. The ones we’ve listed above form the main, traditional categories but the fact is there are hundreds of variations on this. There are also countless sub-genres, specialities, oddities and experimental wonders just waiting to be found. We’re big advocates of loop pedals here at Dawsons, on account of the amazing possibilities they provide for practice and solo performance. The Boss RC-3 is an amazing place to start here.
Oh, and also foot pedal guitar tuners, which are anything but odd, but could be the most important pedal on your board. This famous Boss TU-3 is an industry standard for good reason. Buy this and you may never need another tuner again.
Chaining Pedals Together
In their own right guitar pedals are at the same time fun, creative and liberating. There is a real joy to be had when it comes to combining them though. Certain pedals, and effects, go together amazingly well. Adding a touch of reverb to a delayed signal is a time honoured classic while sprinkling a touch of overdrive on a tremolo can help elevate it no end.
On the flipside, certain effects tend not to work together. Adding a chunky distortion sound to a reverb will result in an unholy mess of noise. This, of course, may be what you’re going for, but it’s best to experiment first.
The other consideration is in which order do you place the pedals. A reverberating delay sounds completely different to a delayed reverb, for example.
Effects, and the pedals that create them, offer the chance to really begin experimenting with your sound. Finding the right combination, and the right settings within that puts you on the road to finding your own unique sound. There are no right or wrong answers either. The best approach is to throw yourself in at the deep and start making some noise. Have a look at these Effects Pedals and begin planning how you could make something truly your own.