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Guitar Effects Pedals

Updated on August 30, 2010

If you play electric guitar, whether you're a beginner or novice, you want to rock out right? Of course you do, that's why you bought an electric guitar. You can use the distortion on your amp, but for some of the other effects like delay, chorus, reverb, compression, etc, you'll need some sort of outboard effects box. You can go with a guitar multi effects unit that has everything built in, or you can go with electric guitar effects pedals. Even though there's a ton of programmable multi effects units out there, lots of guitarists still seem to like the pedals and most every guitarist has a guitar effects pedal or two. Probably the main benefit of using guitar effect pedals is ruggedness. Stomp boxes as pedals are sometime known tend to be built like tanks. All of mine have thick metal cases, and heavy duty switches. Multi effects units tend to stay in a rack to protect them. I wouldn't say they're any more likely to get damaged unless you're really hard on gear. Another advantage pedals have is ease of use. There's usually a few knobs, and once you dial it in you just leave it. Multi effects need to be programmed, which is no big deal for most people but you need to know if you don't mind doing it. The multi effects do give you more combinations of sounds because you can tweak your settings before you play then just call that setting up when you need it. With pedals you can turn them on and off in different combinations, but they're not something you want to tweak in the middle of a performance. Each type of guitar effect has its benefits and drawbacks and they're both still used by professionals. Let's start with the big three, the three guitar effects pedals that are most used in rock music.

Distortion Pedals

Probably the "must have" of guitar effects, distortion is the whole reason you play electric guitar. You can use a distortion pedal as a clean boost, or use it for metal crunch. You don't need to be a rock guitar player to use a distortion pedal though. A lot of country players use distortion to give their clean tone a little bit of "bite" It can add a little brightness to the sound making it cut through. Probably one of the all time classic distortion Boss guitar effects pedals is the Boss DS-1. It's been used by everybody from Kurt Cobain of Nirvana to Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie. Another popular one is the Big Muff USA pedal (there's also a Russian version). This pedal was "the" distortion of the 70's from Santana to Thin Lizzie. It's still popular today with bands like The Smashing Pumpkins and Dinosaur Jr, and the retro sound of The Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Delay Pedals

Another link in the chain of guitar sound is the delay pedal. It's used in all types of music, your guitar hero metal sound of the eighties was a combination of distortion, slapback delay, and chorus. If you want to know what pedal creates a repeating effect, then this is it. You heard it in most every solo. It's not just for hair bands either. Country players use a quick delay with a clean Telecaster setting to get that "chicken picken'" sound. It's probably not crazy to say that you couldn't really have a chicken picken' sound without delay. You also have guitarists like The Edge of U2 using delay in all sorts of creative ways. The Boss DD-3 is probably one of the most popular delays ever, used by bands as diverse as the Allman Brothers, Danzig, and Tom Petty, along with the DS-1 you'll find this in the ben gibbard pedal board - the list goes on.

Chorus Pedals

Rounding out the "big three" of guitar effects is the chorus pedal.  This pedal is used to thicken up the thin sound of a clean guitar, and add more "beefiness" to a distorted sound.  It was really big and noticeable in the eighties, it's still used a lot, just with more restraint.  The whole idea is to make your guitar sound like 2 or more guitars, like taking a single voice and expanding it to a whole chorus - hence the name.  Again, one of the most popular is a Boss guitar effects pedal, the CH-1 Super Chorus, followed close behind by the Digitech XMC.  These two companies make some of the best guitar effects pedals, certainly the most popular.

KT Tunstall Using Loop Pedal

Everything Else

Compression Pedal

After the big three a compressor pedal is probably in most guitarists pedal board. It's not a "glamour" pedal, it doesn't add an immediately obvious effect but it's very useful. Basically a compressor pedal, smoothes out your high and low volumes. So when you strum louder it doesn't get too loud and when you're soft it doesn't get too soft. It can also help even out volume when using distortion. These are also used a lot as bass guitar effects pedals, especially by players that slap and pop.

Reverb Pedal

So delay pedals are called reverb/delay pedals but they're two different things, although related. Reverb gives the sound of being in room of a certain size, the more reverb the bigger the virtual room you are in. Basically a delay pedal creates echo, either fast (like a small stairwell) or slow (like a cavern). So if you were in a big enough room you'd hear an echo, you can't control that with a reverb pedal, but that's how they're related. You can use both effects at the same time that's why there's two different pedals.

Loop Pedal

A loop pedal is like a delay pedal with a really long echo. Up to 16 or more minutes in some units. You basically use it to create a repeating riff. You can play a pattern, hit the pedal and it keeps repeating, then you can add another pattern and play over the top of it. KT Tunstall uses a loop pedal a lot as sort of a one woman band, she plays acoustic guitar mostly so this is one of the basics of the kt tunstall pedal board.

Switcher/Splitter Pedals

These pedals allow you to switch between amps or split your sound and route it different ways. Some guitarists like to split their guitar sound and mix the clean and distorted sound together, or add different types of distortion. Some like to switch between different amps during performances and these pedals help you do that.

Wah Wah Pedals

The wah wah, is a classic 60's sound in a lot of genres, Jimi Hendrix was know for using a wah pedal. In the 70's and 80's the wah was also used in rhythm funk guitar. Think of the "Love Boat" theme for a classic disco wah sound. It's still used a lot though J. Mascis uses one in his dinosaur jr effects pedals. In fact he's uncommon for not using any boss pedals on a regular basis. He's got a lot of Electro Harmonix pedals like the Big Muff, he's also got a lot of MXR pedals too.

The Kitchen Sink

I could spend all day writing about effects pedals there's still a ton more out there like flangers, fuzztones, tremelo, octave pedals and more. These are sort of like special effects, not used in your main guitar sound. Some of them sound a little dated because they became overused when they came out (kind of like rap music and auto-tune). Octave pedals are not too uncommon but you don't hear a ton of flange any more.


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      Slmcat 6 years ago from NYC

      Great Blog! Experimentation is key to finding your sound. Try everything and then return or sell what you don't like. Not all pedals are created equal. Even the same two pedals might have very different sounds. I heard a story that Jimi Hendrix had a dozen or more fuzz faces before he chose the one that sounded the best. ROCK ON>>>>>>>>>

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      Distortion Pedals 7 years ago

      Nice hub! Maybe you could include some examples of the different types of pedals.