If you’re looking for ways to supercharge your pedal board, here’s a guide to the effects pedal essentials
Though every guitarist’s pedal board is a little bit different, most tend to be made up some key ‘ingredients’. With these effects pedal types at your disposal, you can achieve a huge range of guitar tones.
If you’re new to guitar effects, you may wonder what these essential items are, you may even be wondering how to set up a pedal board, which we’ve actually covered in this blog here. But for now, here’s a mini guide to the pedals you’re most likely to need.
The first item on your pedal board is likely to be a tuner. Though not really an effect, if you perform live, you won’t get very far without one.
Most take the form of typical stompboxes, and operate via LED ‘needle’ displays, which indicate perfect tuning when the needle sits at its central position. Most pedal tuners are chromatic, meaning that they will tune to the nearest semi-tone. This makes alternate guitar tunings possible.
Recently, polyphonic tuners have appeared, with models like the Rowin LT-920 Tuner proving to be very popular. These allow the user to see the tuning of all strings simultaneously, rather than just one string at a time.
The wah is one of the most instantly recognisable guitar effects, creating a tone not unlike a crying baby (hence the name). Put simply, this effect is designed around a rocker type pedal. Moving the pedal back and forward controls a filter. When ‘open’, the tone is bright, and when closed, high frequencies are removed, making the sound duller.
Rocking back and forth creates the classic ‘wah’ sound.
The most famous of all wah pedals is the Jim Dunlop Crybaby.
The most popular of all guitar effects was born out guitar amps being driven too hard, meaning that the signal started to break up and distort as it went beyond the dynamic range of the equipment.
Engineers eventually came up with electrical circuits that allowed the effect to be added at will.
Without getting too bogged down in technicalities, distortion effects tend to be less subtle, and more, well, distorted, than overdrives. Conversely, though overdrives are subtler, they tend to be a bit more dynamic.
Both are essential effects for adding a bit of ‘crunch’ to your chords, or getting those leads to really scream.
The Boss DS-1 is one of the most popular distortions ever made, with sibling, the OD-3 overdrive also very popular.
Chorus/ Flange/ Phaser
Chorus, Flanger, and Phaser are all types of modulation effects. They work by splitting the signal into identical copies, modulating the pitch of the copied signals, and mixing these with the original.
The result can be anything from subtle shimmers, to rich, pad-like tones (chorus), to more extreme, dramatic phase shifts and doppler-like whooshing sounds (phaser and flanger).
This can range from huge, hall-like effects, to tight room reverbs, to synthetic plate and spring reverbs.
Reverb can make a guitar tone seem further back in a mix, and make it more likely to ‘gel’ with the sounds around it.
Popular models include the Boss RV-6, EHX Holy Grail and Strymon blueSky Reverberator.
Adding the above effects to your arsenal will give you the tools to create most guitar tones.
Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.