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Do Guitar Players Need Effects Pedals?

Updated on November 3, 2015
Guitar Gopher profile image

Guitar Gopher is a guitarist and bassist with over 30 years of experience as a musician.

The Small Clone Chorus by Electro-Harmonix is one of the best analog effects pedals out there.
The Small Clone Chorus by Electro-Harmonix is one of the best analog effects pedals out there.

Guitar Effects Pedals

Effects pedals are a common way guitar players create their own signature sounds. In fact, many of the most recognizable guitar tones in rock history were shaped courtesy of a specific combination of pedals.

Once a guitarist finds their sound their pedal setup becomes almost sacred. Nothing short of an inbound Earth-killing asteroid would cause some guitarists to give up their favorite stomp boxes. Even then, you don’t want to be without your best distortion pedal on your last day on Earth.

Effects pedals can add a lot to your sound, but they also add an extra bit of hassle when it comes to setting up your guitar rig and making sure everything is running smoothly. For some guitar players less is more, where others use a complicated setup consisting of many kinds of effects units.

So, are stomp boxes really necessary? Do guitar players really need effects pedals? The easy answer is no. However, the right answer for you depends on your goals, the style of music you are into and your budget.

In this article you’ll learn more about the different ways to incorporate guitar effects into your sound, and about some of the alternatives to stomp boxes. When we're done, you’ll be better able to decide for yourself whether you need traditional effects pedal, a digital processor or nothing at all.

Amps with Onboard Digital Effects

If you like effects but you aren’t so crazy about the hassle of managing a bunch of pedals there are alternatives. There are several outstanding guitar amps that make it possible for you to use effects in your sound without having to employ separate pedals and processors. These are called modeling amps, and they are intended to recreate well-known amp sounds as well as provide a wide array of effects.

Some examples of the best modeling amps include:

Fender Mustang Series

  • The bigger amps in this series include the Mustang III (100 watts, 1x12), Mustang IV (150 watts 2x12) and the Mustang V (150 watt head and 4x12 cabinet). These amps bu Fender are powerful enough to gig with and include a huge number of amp and effects models.

Peavey Vypyr VIP Series

  • The VIP 3 is the biggest amp in the Peavey VIP series and packs 100 watts of power and a 1x12 cabinet. It’s innovative design features amp and effects models for electric guitar, acoustic guitar and bass.

Line 6 Spider IV Series

  • Line 6 is the brand that blazed the path for digital modeling technology. The Spider IV 150 (150 watts 2x12) and Spider IV HD150 (150 watt head and 4x12 cabinet) are two gig-worthy amps with all the effects you could ever need, plus a massive variety of amps models.

These are large, powerful amps intended for the stage, and they are the easiest way to use effects in your sound with the least possible hassle. All you need to control your sound is the footswitch for the amp. No additional pedals are required, you just plug them in and go. Of course you are going to have to take a little time to understand how to program them.

There are also smaller versions of the Peavey VIP, Line 6 Spider and Fender Mustang more suited to hobby players and guitarists looking for a practice amp.

Line 6 Spider IV 150 150-watt 2x12 Modeling Guitar Amplifier
Line 6 Spider IV 150 150-watt 2x12 Modeling Guitar Amplifier

The Spider IV 150 is a powerful amp for gigs and and rehearsals that gives you all the effects you need in one package.


The Line 6 Spider IV Series

Digital Effects Processors

The next easiest way to incorporate a wide array of effects into your sound involves the digital effects processor. These are available as rack units, controllable by floor pedals. However, managing a rack setup adds a whole new layer of madness to your rig that you don’t necessarily need to deal with in order to use digital effects.

Instead of toting a rack around, intermediate and working guitar players more commonly will use all-on-one effects processors that go on the floor and plug into your signal chain like a stomp box. Floor digital effects processors are programmable units with several foot pedals and/or switches, and they allow you to have all the effects you need in one unit.

A single processor will allow you to use many different kinds of distortions and effects. They are easy to set up, and once you get the hang of it they are generally pretty easy to program. The smaller ones run on batteries, but the larger, pro-quality processors will require an external power source.

Some examples of high-quality digital floor processors include:

The above units are performance-quality and among the best floor effects processors available. However, for beginner or intermediate guitar players there are more affordable units. These often include additional features to help you practice such as a headphone jack and even rhythm patterns and an on-board looper/sampler.

These effects processors can certainly be used in a band or recording situation until you feel the need to upgrade to pro-quality gear. The best units in the lower price ranges include:

  • Zoom G3
  • Boss ME25
  • DigiTech RP360XP

Zoom G3 Guitar Effects and Amp Simulator
Zoom G3 Guitar Effects and Amp Simulator

The Zoom G3 sounds great, and its a simple way to add a ton of effects to your rig with minimum hassle.


Guitar World Reviews the Zoom G3

Stomp Boxes and Analog Effects Pedals

When you think of guitar effects pedals you may be thinking of the classic analog stomp boxes. In separate units, these pedals include distortion, overdrive, chorus, flanger, phaser, wah, pitch shifter/whammy and more. They are small, portable, and interchangeable, and stringing a bunch of them together allows a guitar player to have a custom pedal setup.

For many players, analog effects are the only way to go. Some say they sound more natural than digital effects and just plain better. I thought the same way for a long time, but in recent years digital effects have come a long way. Still, I personally prefer analog distortion over digital any day.

Some legendary stomp boxes include:

  • Pro Co RAT (distortion pedal).
  • MXR Phase 90 (phaser)
  • Electro-Harmonix Small Clone Chorus
  • Ibanez Tube Screamer (overdrive)
  • Dunlop Cry Baby (wah)

These types of pedals are the biggest pain to hook up. Because you have a separate pedal for each effect, you need to connect them together with patch cords between your guitar and amp. If you use very many of them you will need a pedal board to keep them sorted out.

Don’t let that deter you, though. If you prefer analog pedals, you can make them work for you. With analog pedals, you can put together the sounds you want and replace pieces as you see fit. And, if one pedal goes south it doesn’t ruin your whole rig.

The Electro-Harmonix Small Clone Chorus

Going Without Effects

So, do you really need guitar effects pedals at all?

No, you surely do not. If you have an amp that produces sounds you like there is no need to add anything external if you don’t want to. Many amps have excellent overdrive and maybe even spring reverb, but no additional effects. For a lot of guitar players that’s more than enough to get a great sound.

Zoom G3 Guitar Effects and Amp Simulator
Zoom G3 Guitar Effects and Amp Simulator

Some players will use minimal effects, such as a distortion pedal, plus something for color such as a chorus pedal, and maybe a wah pedal. That’s a good, basic analog pedal setup for beginners.

Effects should be looked at as a never-ending experiment. Once you get a good sound, add something new and see how you like it. Change things up. Try different things.

The most important piece of advice I can pass on is this: Do not rely on your effects pedals to do the work for you. I can think of a couple of guitar players in recent years that have gotten a lot of acclaim, and all they are really doing is manipulating effects. They might impress the general public, but other guitar players know what they are about.

No effects processor, amp modeler, wah pedal, pitch shifter or anything else takes the place of practicing and getting good at guitar.


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