Since the invention of electric guitars in the 1950s, Guitar Effect Pedals have become really popular. From Fuzz pedals and tube screamers to delay pedals, every iconic guitar player is associated with at least a few.
Today, with an ever-increasing need for innovation in music, gear manufacturing companies are coming up with a plethora of effect pedals that caters to every genre and sound.
Here we have come up with a detailed guide on Guitar Effect Pedals, their usage and also included 8 Must-Have Guitar Effect Pedals that every guitar player should have in his or her inventory!
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So, lets get started….
What are Guitar Effect Pedals?
Guitar effect pedals are used to change/modify/color the sound of a guitar, especially an electric guitar. Since electric guitars have pickups that produce an electrical signal, it is easy to alter its sound to introduce new effects.
Guitar effect pedals are also known as “Stomp-boxes”. This is because, while playing, guitarists literally “stomp” them with their feet in order to switch between effects.
There are hundreds of different types of pedals available with their own characteristic tones/effects that add to the original sound.
For example, a delay pedal is used for produce an echo-like effect where the original sound is replicated and played after regular, adjustable intervals.
Another common example is the overdrive pedal that imparts the characteristic saturated and crunchy tone that we hear in modern blues music.
Are Guitar Pedals Really Needed?
Guitar pedals are not mandatory. An electric guitar plays just fine when connected directly to an amplifier. A guitar sound without any effects is known as clean tone.
However, a clean tone can tend to get monotonous after a while. This is where effect pedals come into play. They modify the sound of the guitar to make it more interesting and unique.
Before using pedals, however, it is important to know what you are doing. An effect can only sound good if it fits the application. For instance, a heavily distorted sound with high gain might not be the best option while playing a Jazz song.
Needless to say, pedals don’t make you a better player. Good tone always begins at the fingers. It can only enhance what is already there!
Pedals vs. Multi-Effect Processors
With the advent of digital technology, Multi-Effect processors have become really popular among guitarists. Multi-effect processors can simulate the effects of many pedals into a single system. Check out this popular multi-effects processor on Amazon.
This makes them a more convenient and cost-effective option when compared to stomp-boxes.
However, are they really able to match up to the performance of guitar pedals?
Even though multi-effect processors can simulate many pedals at the same time, professionals still prefer using single effect analog pedals. There are a number of reasons behind this.
Even though digital simulation has come a long way, it is yet to reach perfection. It must also be kept in mind that multi-effect processors try to sound like single-effect analog pedals and not the other way round.
Multi-effects processors are also infamous for sounding a bit digital or artificial. They tend to get confused by too much harmonic information at the same time.
Setting up a pedalboard (Check out this great pedal board carrying case on Amazon) can give you a unique sound as you will be able to select each pedal according to your own preference. Therefore, you can keep only those effects that you will require. This is not possible for multi-effect processors.
- Easy to use
Single effect pedals or stomp-boxes are really easy to use. This is because the entire pedal chain is present in front of you and you can adjust each pedal separately to modify the tone precisely as you would want it to be.
On the other hand, multi-effect pedals have digital displays and controls to navigate between different settings. This might seem like a tedious and complicated job for many.
You can replace any single pedal on a pedal-board with another one. All you have to do is to disconnect the old one and replace it with the new pedal.The pedals can also be re-arranged between themselves to change the sound.
While multi-effect processors provide customizable features, they are ultimately limited to what is already available inside them.
For instance, if a processor does not have a particular effect like fuzz, it cannot be separately introduced later on. You will simply have to buy another processor that has the said effect to replace your current one. This makes customization quite inconvenient on a multi-effects processor.
While having a pedal board can be advantageous in a lot of ways, it can also have some shortcomings.
- Difficult to set-up
Pedals need external power to function (Check out this amazing power supply for your pedalboard on Amazon). This can either be provided by AC-power adapters or batteries.
Batteries are not exactly the ideal choice of power during live performances as they might run out of juice in-between. Hence, the use of a power supply is recommended.
Setting up power supplies for individual pedals can be difficult for beginners. Moreover, it is important that you should have good know-how to place the pedals in the right order as this can have a major impact on the tone.
Multi-effect processors, being a single-unit, need a single power source to function. Therefore, they are more or less plug and play and easy to get going for any beginner.
The cost of buying individual effect pedals can be several times that of a single multi-effect processor unit. Sometimes, even a single pedal can cost almost as much as a multi-effect processor.
In addition to the pedal, you also have to account for the costs of power supplies, patch cables, and the pedal-board itself. All of this can make it an expensive option.
The only silver lining in terms of cost is that you can slowly build up your pedal collection over a period of time.
How to Set-Up a Pedalboard?
Setting up a pedalboard for the first time can seem like a daunting task, especially for a beginner. Having said that, it takes minimalistic technical knowledge to do so.
The only things that you should be worrying about are the voltage and current requirements of each individual pedals and also their polarity.
These specs are usually marked on a pedal itself. Otherwise, you can also refer to its user manual.
Powering your Pedalboard
As discussed before, pedals require external power to operate.
Power requirements of pedals have three categories – voltage, current, and polarity.
The voltage requirement might be either AC or DC. In the case of AC, the pedals should come with an adapter of their own.
For DC pedals, the first thing to look at would be their voltage. Most modern pedals require 9V DC. More demanding pedals might require 12V DC. If you plan on using more than one pedal of different voltage requirement, then you should ensure that the power supply has the required voltage outputs.
Next up is the current requirement. The maximum operating current rating marked on your pedal (For e.g. 100mA) should not exceed the current rating of the power supply channel to which it will be connected to.
Insufficient current supply can lead to malfunctioning or cause unwanted results.
Polarity is not usually a factor with modern pedals, as most have a center negative polarity. However, it is still wise to double-check if the polarity of the power supply output matches to that of the pedal.
Sometimes, daisy-chain power supplies can be used for powering pedals.
In this kind of supply, all the pedals connect to a common power supply output instead of separate channels for each of them. This can be a cheaper option.
However, the combined current rating of the pedals should not exceed the rating of the daisy chain power supply. A limitation of this method is that the voltage requirements of all connected pedals have to be the same.
Connecting your Pedals
Pedals usually connect in series, i.e., one after the other, with the output of your guitar going into the first pedal.
The output of the latter goes into the input of the next and so on. The output of the last pedal goes into the amplifier.
In case your amplifier has separate send and return channels, time-based and modulation effect pedals, like delay and reverb, connect in-between the send and return channels.
This allows you to bypass your guitar’s pre-amp for these pedals so that they don’t get an unwanted extra boost.
In order to connect two adjacent pedals, you can use patch cables. These are shorter versions of instrument cables (Check out these great patch cables on Amazon).
They are designed ergonomically so that pedals can be placed really close to each other without the cable heads coming in the way. The use of good quality cables ensures less noise and greater longevity.
Arranging your Pedals
Pedals need to be arranged on pedalboards.
The size of the pedalboard should be chosen keeping in mind the number of pedals that are going to be placed on it in addition to the cables and the power supply. Portability is also a factor to be considered in addition.
This is because tuner pedals do not work as intended unless the signal is clean. Therefore, it is best to plug your guitar straight into the tuner pedal before the signal passes through anything else.
8 Must-Have Guitar Effect Pedals You Shouldn’t Miss
1. Clean Boost
Clean Boost pedals give your tone that extra juice for emphasis. This is a very popular choice of pedal for most blues guitar players when they want to step up their sound for that soulful clean guitar solo.
The output of a clean boost pedal always remains under the gain headroom of the amp. Therefore, the sound remains clean without any sign of distortion. It only increases in terms of volume and presence.
Some guitar players prefer a treble boost pedal to a clean boost because they are able to take off some of the lower frequencies that sound muddy when boosted and push the higher frequencies (treble) instead.
Rory Gallagher is one of the very first guitarists to have used a clean boost. Some of the most famous names from Brian May and Eric Clapton to John Mayer have been known to use clean boost. Here is one of the best clean boost pedals on Amazon.
Another very popular choice for blues players is the overdrive pedal. The overdrive, just like the clean boost pedal, provides a boost to the signal.
However, it drives the signal above the headroom of the amplifier it is plugged into. This causes the signal to saturate and distort in a sense, giving it a crunchier sounding tone. Have a look at this popular overdrive pedal on Amazon.
Sometimes, the term ‘overdrive’ is confused with ‘distortion’. Although they are similar, there is a fundamental difference. The output of a distortion pedal always has a crunchy, distorted tone irrespective of the input signal level.
An overdrive pedal, on the other hand, does not add any color to the tone. Instead, it pushes the signal above the headroom of an amplifier to make it sound crunchier and overdriven (hence the name).
If you play softly with an overdrive pedal, it might sound cleaner. This is not the case with a distortion pedal.
Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan were two of the most popular overdrive users. Having said that, almost every electric guitar player uses an overdrive pedal.
Distortion pedal channels a hard clipped signal into the amplifier. As opposed to overdrive pedals, the output of a distortion signal always sounds crunchy and saturated.
It does not depend on how hard or soft you play. The heavier and dirtier sound of a distortion pedal ultimately leads to feedback from the amp which is also used as a musical tool by many guitarists. Distortion pedals are widely used in Metal and Hard Rock. Check out this superb distortion pedal on Amazon.
Distortion pedals have been used by some of the most famous bands in Rock and Roll and Metal history like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, ACDC, Metallica and countless more.
Fuzz pedals sound exactly like their name – Fuzzy. They not only distort the sound but also compress it using a method known as square wave clipping.
This results in a very characteristic and unique tone that sounds awesome when used correctly.
Again, Jimi Hendrix is a very famous user of the Fuzz pedal. Other than him, guitarists like Jeff Beck, Robbie Kreiger, and Keith Richards have been notable users of Fuzz.
Octave pedals are similar to pitch shifters. However, they shift the pitch by an octave. It can either be a lower or a higher octave or even both at the same time.
These pedals have the capability of processing the note you are playing and produce the same note shifted by an octave up or down on the go. The two sounds can be blended together to sound richer.
Some pedals allow you to suppress the actual note and just produce the octave. This can also be used in order to extend the instrument’s range.
The performance of an octave pedal depends on how well it tracks the original signal. Vintage, analog pedals are not that good at tracking. They end up sound a bit wobbly because the difference in phase is a little apparent. Moreover, they get confused by multiple notes playing at the same time.
Digital octave pedals are more accurate in terms of tracking. They are also polyphonic in nature and can process multiple notes at the same time. Check out this awesome digital octave pedal from Boss on Amazon.
Octave pedals are very popular among Jazz players. Tim Pearce is a well-known name who uses an octave pedal. Legendary guitarist Al Di Meola is also known for using it. Of course, Hendrix has famously used one in combination with a fuzz pedal.
Wah pedals are tone altering expression pedals. They are designed to imitate the human voice. Try singing a note with your lips pursed and then slowly opening the mouth.
You get a “wah” sound, right?
This is exactly what the wah pedal does. It consists of a rocker pedal that can be moved up or down using your foot. A frequency filter sweeps up or down based on the movement of the rocker to create the effect.
Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix were two of the first users of the wah pedal. Legendary country guitarist Chet Atkins has been known to use one. Today, the wah pedal is extensively used in genres like Funk and Neo-Soul. Check out our favourite wah-pedal on Amazon.
A delay pedal is used for introducing an echo effect into the guitar sound. The number and duration of the repetitions, as well as their levels, can be controlled.
This is great for widening the sound and producing an ambient effect.
Basically, there are three different types of delays: Digital, Tape, and Analog. Each type of delay has its own tonal characteristics suitable for various applications.
The digital delay is the cleanest of all delays. The repetitions are very accurate and true to the original sound and there is a lot of clarity.
In fact, the repetitions are so accurate that the original sound might end up getting lost in the mix if the time interval between them is too low. We recommend you to check out this great digital delay pedal on Amazon.
The tape delay, on the other hand, degrades its sound with each repetition. This produces a characteristic vintage feel that many guitar players prefer. Tape delay was invented by Les Paul, who is one of the greatest innovators in the field of music and guitar, in particular.
And lastly, we come to Analog delays. They tend to roll off some of the high frequencies and, thus, sound warmer with each repetition. This makes it easier for the original sound to stand out among the repetitions.
Just like a choir of vocalists singing together, a chorus pedal multiplies the guitar sound and blends everything together to form a bigger sound. However, it does not just play everything in unison.
What it actually does is that it takes the input signal and produces a similar signal which is slightly out of tune and phase. This creates a modulating effect that finds tons of applications in music.
Chorus pedals usually have a rate and a depth knob that controls the phase and pitch of the output. The higher the parameters, the more drastic is the effect.
Andy Summers has been known to use the chorus pedal to produce incredible and unique sounds. Chorus pedals are also very popular in genres like Hard Rock and Metal. Here is a great option on Amazon.
The invention of pedals have taken the electric guitar to a whole new dimension as an instrument.
It has become so mainstream that guitarists have started to experiment with pedals even on an acoustic guitar. However, that is a completely different story!
Pedals open the door to a whole new world of sounds. How you use a pedal in making your own music can shape your characteristic tone as a musician.
But it is ultimately your skill as an instrumentalist and the creative energy that you possess that ultimately matters.