Guitar effects pedals can enhance the sound of any electric string instrument in a number of different ways. Some of our own teachers experiment with loop and other effects pedals to find new textures and evolve their own personal sound. However, before you reach for that shiny, new loop pedal, you might be better off starting with more basic ways to alter and develop your instrument’s signal.
If you’re new to the pedal game, here are some of the most essential effects pedal types that you should try.
The first pedals that beginners need to master are the ones that allow you to directly modify the volumes and levels of your guitar’s clean signal. This category includes compressor pedals, which help bring out each string’s dynamics – useful for guitar picking techniques or to simply hear each string while strumming.
Meanwhile, boost pedals are useful for acoustic guitarists who don’t want to get drowned out by electric instruments.
Wah pedals which allow you to use your foot as a tone filter and switch also belong in this category. And if you want full control over your levels, start practicing how to use an equalizer pedal. These pedals are ideally arranged at the beginning of your signal, nearest the guitar.
Gain pedals are arguably the most fun pedals to master if you’re into rock or blues music. They directly modify your guitar signal’s gain in order to achieve different levels of sweet signal distortion.
Fuzz pedals which produce square waves are the tightest and funkiest of the bunch, while distortion pedals are what you need if you’re more into aggressive, metal-driven music.
Overdrive pedals are somewhere between the two. Historically speaking, distortion and fuzz pedals were some of the first pedals ever made, and they’re also ideally placed near the beginning of the signal after the dynamics.
Reverb and Time-based Effects Pedals
Although this particular category encompasses all time-based pedals, reverb gets a special mention because it shouldn’t be confused with echo or delay pedals. Reverb pedals can make you sound like you’re playing to the natural acoustics of a large 16th-century church or an intimate and quiet bar.
Delay pedals repeat your notes at different intervals and volumes, creating beautiful sustains or thickening signals. Tremolo and phaser pedals also belong in this category for how they can increase or decrease the volume of your guitar’s signal at a steady and consistent rate, which can result in either a thicker tone or otherworldly sounds.
Loop pedals which we discussed earlier allow you to program and repeat sounds on command, essentially allowing you to back up yourself. Time effects pedals are ideally located near the end of your signal chain, or farthest from the guitar.
Although the volume pedal belongs in the dynamics category, it’s considered a special pedal as it is essentially a volume master switch that’s controllable by foot. Not only are there many ways to use the volume pedal, it can also go either at the front or the back of the signal chain, which changes the way it modifies the signal.
Multi-effects pedals which combine gain with time-based effects or combine different effect types and utilities in one unit also belong in this special category. The placement of multi-effects pedals depends on their respective effects. While beginners who start with special pedals may run into a steeper learning curve, devoting even just minutes of daily practice can go a long way in familiarizing yourself with both beginner to moderate-level effects pedals.
While there are ideal ways to arrange the order of your pedals based on effects, you should feel free to experiment with different arrangements in your journey to innovate new sounds. Guitar pedals are about self-expression through signal modification. Always take note of any pedal settings that result in tones that you like, and more importantly, don’t forget to just have fun with the learning process.
Specially written for musicologielessons.com by: Ritza Jette