There Are A Billion Guitar Effects Pedals – Whatcha Need?

A Guide To Guitar Effects

Guitar Effects PedalsI sometimes feel bad for acoustic guitarists who don’t have the overflowing toy box of effects pedals that electric guitarists do. ¬†To be frank we pile on a lot of pedals sometimes just because it’s fun to see what they do!
If you’re new to this world, welcome to this guide to guitar effects pedals and a whole new way to blow money on your guitar jones. ūüôā
Effects started out as strictly studio tools because they were usually too bulky and hard to handle to deal with in a performance situation. Then amp manufacturers started to include some reverb and distortion effects in the amps.  And in 1962 the Maestro Fuzz Tone Pedal became the first stompbox.  A stompbox is slang for an effects unit that sits on the floor in front of the guitarist and is activated with a footswitch.
There are so many zillions of pedals out there that there’s no way to cover all of them in one place. ¬†The best thing to do after reading this article and getting a good idea of what box will get that sound out of your head and onto the guitar, is go to a store that has a good selection and try out as many as you can stand.
30 Day Guitar ChallengeEffects pedals fall into one or more of these 6 classifications:
– Distortion
– Dynamics
– Filter
– Modulation
– Pitch/Frequency
– Time Based
Let’s take a quick look at each one and which kinds of stompboxes you’ll find for them.
This is probably the most obvious and common effect you’ll find. ¬†This is how you get the gritty, fuzzy, chunky sound that is the predominant sound of rock music since the 1960’s. ¬†Your basic types are distortion, overdrive, and fuzz.
A distortion effect keeps basically the same level of distortion no matter what volume you play at.  Overdrive on the other hand changes the amount of distortion as the volume changes.  A quieter volume will give you a cleaner sound, a higher volume will be grittier.
A fuzzbox forces the signal to clip even harder and adds some complex harmonics on top of it to get its distinctive sound.
Some popular pedals:

These are effects that work with the volume of your signal.  The three basic ones are compressors, noise gates, and volume pedals.
Volume pedals do exactly what you’d assume. ¬†They make the volume go up and down. ¬†They pass a clean signal so that the only thing affected is the volume. ¬†These are useful for a boost going into a solo or even for massaging overdrive effects from clean to dirty. ¬†Check out the Jim Dunlop DVP1 Dun Grip Rubber Tread Vol Pedal or MXR Micro Amp Effects Pedal for these.
Compressors are probably the most misunderstood and abused effect in the chain. ¬†a compressor squishes the dynamic range of a signal, making quiet sounds louder and loud sounds quieter. ¬†It’s used for smoothing the note attack and amplifying the sustain of a note. ¬†Don’t overdo it with a compressor or your sound will just be a squished up and uninteresting. The MXR Dyna Comp Effects Pedal is a good one to check out.
Noise gates are used to get rid of hum and static during quiet parts. Basically it cuts off the signal if there’s any sound below a particular threshold. ¬†Try the Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor Pedal
These effects mess with the frequencies of your audio signal by either arising or lowering specific frequencies. ¬†In this category you’ll find equalizers, talk boxes, and wah-wah pedals.
An equalizer works the same as it does on your car stereo.  However professional models are much more detailed and able to target for exact frequencies.  Check out the MXR 10 Band Graphic EQ
Talk Boxes are comparatively rare as effects go, only because there’s more setup and less common uses for them. ¬† The sound signal is is routed literally into the guitarist’s mouth via a tube so you can shape the sound into vowels and consonants. ¬†Then that modified sound is picked up by a microphone. ¬†Think Peter Frampton’s “Show Me The Way” or “Livin’ On A Prayer” by Bon Jovi. ¬†Your go-to here is the Jim Dunlop HT1 Heil Talk Box
In contrast to the talk box, every guitarist should have a wah-wah pedal. ¬†This one alters the frequency spectrum of the signal in real time in a sweep through the frequencies, creating vowel-like sounds. ¬†Think “Voodoo Chile” by Jimi Hendrix. ¬†There’s really nothing like squeezing out some tasty licks through a wah pedal. ¬†There’s a zillion of these out there now, but you can’t go wrong with the Dunlop The Original Crybaby Pedal
These effects change your sound by combining multiple audio signals. There are a zillion ways to do that and just as many different kinds of pedals.  Chorus, flanger, phaser, ring modulator, tremolo, and vibrato.
A chorus pedal mimics the sound of a choir or string section playing together.  The slight variations in the sound of each signal creating a slight warbling effect.  These pedals will have controls that sweep from mild to full underwater sounds.  Try out the Boss CH-1 Stereo Super Chorus Pedal
Flangers give you a “jet plane” swooshy sound. ¬†Think of “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” by Van Halen. ¬†Depending on the control setting you can create lots of warble and underwatery kind of sounds too. ¬†Check out the Dunlop EVH117SE MXR Eddie Van Halen Flanger or (if you find one) the A/DA Flanger . ¬†Man, I’ve made a ton of awesome noise with that thing.
A Phaser isn’t that thing from Star Trek. ¬†But it will stun an audience if used right. ūüôā ¬†This created a rippling effect by splitting the audio signal in two and changing the phase of one of them. ¬†The MXR Phase 90 Effects Pedal is fantastic, as is the Electro Harmonix Small Stone Nano Analog Phase Shifter Guitar Effects Pedal
Ring Modulators give you a resonant, metallic kind of sound through a bunch of crazy gobbledy gook technology that happens inside the box.  And the sound it makes is equally crazy.  Try out the Moog MF Ring Minifooger Pedal and see if you like it.
A Tremolo effect produces little variations in the volume of the signal to mimic the sound of a rotating Leslie speaker. ¬†Yes, lots of these produce “wobbly” sounds. ¬†But they’re different wobbly sounds. ¬†No, really. ¬†Here you try out the Fulltone Supa-Trem ST-1 Tremolo Pedal
and the Boss TR-2 Tremolo Pedal
Vibrato effects create variations in the pitch of the sound. ¬†That’s right, more wobbly. ¬†But this time effecting the pitch rather than the volume. You can create the same sound by developing your picking hand vibrato, but these pedals are good for getting that sound on larger sections of music without your hand going into spasms. ¬†Get yourself a BBE Mind Bender Vibrato / Chorus Guitar Stomp Box for this.
30 Day Guitar ChallengePitch/Frequency
These effects modify the pitch of the sound by adding harmonies or altering the frequency. ¬†Your main tool here is a Pitch Shifter (or Harmonizer). ¬†These can be simple effects that change the pitch up or down an octave. ¬†More complex ones can move or harmonize the signal in an interval you set. ¬†And then you have whammy pedals that allow you to sweep between intervals, harmonized or not. ¬†Check out the , DigiTech HarmonyMan Intelligent Pitch Shifter Guitar Effects Pedal and the good ‘ol DigiTech Whammyv-01 Guitar Pitch Effect Pedal
These effects are used for adding echos, looping, and reverb.
A delay unit adds distinct echos of your original sound after you’ve played it, whether single or multiple. ¬†Check out the MXR M169 Carbon Copy Analog Delay or the really versatile Line 6 DL4 Stompbox Delay Modeler.
A looper pedal is a more extreme version of a delay. ¬†Whereas a delay with eventually decay to nothing, a looper records a specific phrase and plays it back over and over until you can’t stand it. ¬†Whole new styles of songwriting and music festivals and popped up around this one piece of technology. ¬†Try out the Boss RC-300 Loop Station.
Reverb is the most basic effect out there.  It creates the sound of playing in a particular space, whether a small room or a huge cathedral.  In the old days you had to actually find a room with the kind of sound you were looking for to record in.  Now you can do it with a pedal.  Try out the TC Electronic TonePrint Hall of Fame Reverb Signal Path Pedal.
Odds and Ends
There are a few that don’t fit neatly into one of those other categories.
An Ebow is a hand held device that you sit over the strings and it acts as a magnetic string driver.  You can achieve really smooth, violin-like tones with this.
An Envelope Filter triggers a “wah” effect only when a certain designated volume it hit. ¬†These are also called an “auto-wah”. ¬†Check out the Electro-Harmonix Q-Tron XO Envelope Follower Pedal.
Of course, you’re not just stuck with stompboxes anymore (though they are fun…). ¬†You can get pedals that include a whole bunch of effects as a bundle like the Line 6 POD HD 500. ¬†These can be nice to have because they take up less space than a ton of stompboxes and usually cost a bit less than buying all the effects separately. ¬†However, there’s usually a bit more of a learning curve to getting your sounds set up and they’re harder to tweak on the fly.
There are also amps and pedals out there that model other amps, guitars, pedals, microphones, and anything else.  If you really want the all-in-one solution, check out the Line 6 Spider series or any of the other modeling amps out there.
At first, the world of effects may seem overwhelming. ¬†Just sit in a store for a bit and try some out. ¬†Like most guitarists, you’ll probably get addicted to them. ¬†But try not to overdo. ¬†There’s something to be said for the sound of a guitar plugged straight into an amp too. ¬†Moderation, young Padwan.
Got questions on this stuff? ¬†Drop a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer.

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