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5 Simple DIY Guitar Effects

Updated on April 20, 2015

DIY Guitar Effects

Follow these 5 simple DIY guitar effects to improve your sound cheaply.
Follow these 5 simple DIY guitar effects to improve your sound cheaply. | Source

DIY Effects Require Patience

While these guitar effects are simple, and don’t require much expensive gear, they do require patience as you tinker with your sound. These tips will hopefully teach you how to take something weird sounding and make it your own.

In case you’re wondering, though, this tutorial doesn’t explain how to make your own effect pedals. Instead, it teaches you how to turn what you already have into some crazy effects, or how to cheaply make strange sounds.

So without further ado, here are 5 simple DIY Guitar Effects

Guitar Amp Settings

Experiment with amp settings
Experiment with amp settings | Source

1. Use EXTREME settings on your guitar amp

This might be the cheapest DIY guitar effect. As the video below shows, extreme settings on your guitar amp might not sound musical in all situations, but they can REALLY create some weird far out tones that can sit great in a mix. Try cutting all the lows and highs and boosting the mids, for example. Or maybe try throwing the gain all the way up and boosting the bass while cutting the other frequencies. These sounds require some tweaking, undoubtedly, and you’ll have to tailor your style to best take advantage of them. But if you spend an afternoon messing with these dials, I guarantee you’ll have come up with some outrageous ideas.

How Amp Settings Can Affect Tone

2. Manipulate Your Guitar’s Knobs and Switches

Sure, you could spend money on a volume pedal or tremelo, but why do that when you have one built into your guitar. This comes closest to emulating a DIY guitar effect pedal without the hassle or expense. Experimenting with volume swells, rhythmic pulses, and sudden cuts allows you to get some other-worldly sounds.

If you have a delay pedal, and experiment cutting your signal quickly, then this can make for crazy synthetic bounces and delays. If you have reverb, try strumming your guitar while muted and slowly turning up the volume. This swell will almost sound like an orchestra if done right.

You can also play with your guitar's tone knobs or pickup selector. You can get some very interesting sounds by strumming a chord, then flipping through your pickups, listening to the sound jump around in tone. Radiohead's Johnny Greenwood is a master of this. Just listen to The Bends and you'll hear this sound all over the place. Pro tip: it sounds best when you've got a lot of distortion on.

Manipulate Your Guitar Knobs

You can get interesting sounds by manipulating your guitar knobs.
You can get interesting sounds by manipulating your guitar knobs. | Source

3. Experiment With Your Current Pedals

Similar to the first DIY effect, you can try using extreme settings on your effect pedals. While these might not be musical for everyday applications, they can make really unique, ear catching sounds. Try cranking your reverb all the way up and play a note really fast. Experiment with sweeping the delay time on your delay pedal to get crazy squeals. Hell, you can even use the built-in mute function of a tuning pedal like the TU-3 to get crazy stutter effects by rapidly turning it on and off!

Another way to get more DIY bang for the buck is to experiment with the ORDER of your pedals. For example, putting a delay before wah sounds very different compared to putting a wah before the delay pedal. Just think about: in the first example you are creating echoes of a wah sound. In the second example, however, you are wahing the sound of echoes. Experiment with your signal chain and I’m sure you’ll find new uses for old fx that you never imagined.

In fact, many boutique effect pedals get their amazing sound largely by applying effects in interesting order.

The Importance of the Order of Your Guitar Pedals

4. Mix up Your Strings

While most people don’t think of strings as a guitar effect, they can have an incredibly unique impact on your sound. For example, flatwounds sound much, much duller than the typical guitar strings. By experimenting with different types of strings, you can sculpt your sound for just a few dollars. If you’re feeling especially inventive, try mixing some nickle strings with some flatwounds. It sounds totally different than most guitars out there!

5. Use Different Picking Devices

Try playing your effects described about with a variety of different picks. Finger picking distortion sounds amazingly raw and dirty. Playing a delay with a brass pick creates these bell-like glistening echoes that last for days. Using an E-Bow with a wah or volume pedal can make your guitar sound like a string section.

But don’t just limit yourself to these items! Try slapping your guitar like a bass player would. Pop high strings to see what happens (just be careful not to brake your strings). Or get some maracas and smack your strings, getting a percussion sound and some interesting guitar tone. If you want something crazy, hold your dust buster vacuum cleaner up against your pickups! The powerful magnets will make your guitar freak out and scream, especially on higher distortion settings!

The most important rule with DIY guitar effects is to experiment and have fun. There is no right or wrong way to do it. It’s all about a journey to develop your own sound and style. If you find something isn’t working for you, then go ahead and mix it up. Plus it's a great way to lear more about how your equipment works.

Can you think of any other simply DIY guitar effects that I missed? Please let me know in the comments below!

Mix up your guitar strings

Try Experimenting With Different Guitar Strings
Try Experimenting With Different Guitar Strings | Source

Jimmy Page Using a Bow

You Can Also Try an Ebow

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