As a blues guitarist, you know the power of a well-constructed pedalboard. Whether you’re an aficionado or just starting your journey, this article will immerse you in the rich history and diverse world of famous blues guitar pedals.
We’re exploring the most iconic overdrive, fuzz, delay, wah, and modulation pedals that have shaped the blues genre. You’ll learn about legendary devices like the Ibanez Tubescreamer and the original Klon Centaur, and discover how artists have used them to craft unique, unforgettable tones.
Ready to find your next pedal, or simply intrigued by the influence of these small devices on blues music? Your exploration begins here. Get inspired, and perhaps, find the perfect pedal to elevate your blues guitar sound!
Overdrive pedals are a must-have for any guitarist. They’ll add gain to your signal and shape the tone of your music. The perfect overdrive pedal for you depends on your specific needs, like how much gain you’re after and if you’re looking to drive your tube amp into a more natural overdrive while keeping the tonal characteristics of your guitar intact. You’ll find overdrive pedals in a wide range, from replicas of vintage classics to innovative designs that make use of modern technology.
The Ibanez Tubescreamer is a well-known overdrive pedal. It’s been used by countless famous musicians over the years and has made its mark on many popular records. Its widespread popularity says a lot about its quality and the unique tone it can bring to your music.
The Boss BD-2 Blues Driver is a versatile pedal. It can mimic the light break-up sounds usually linked with high-quality valve amps. It’s a favorite among many, often being the first overdrive pedal they’ve ever used. Created with blues players in mind, it offers a “tube amp-like” crunch and natural-sounding compression. The BD-2 is easy to get, affordable, and widely available. Its controls are simple, consisting of Level, Tone, and Gain, with a more usable Tone control than most other Boss pedals of its time. The Blues Driver can also handle higher gain rhythm sounds well. It’ll add punch to your sound without drowning out the rest of your band.
The Origin Effects RevivalDrive Compact is a simplified and downsized version of the original channel-switching RevivalDRIVE. It produces a sound almost identical to a true tube preamp and power amp section. You can easily adjust the gain from a crunch similar to Keith Richards to a shred reminiscent of Eric Johnson. The sound it produces feels like it’s part of the sound you’re getting, not just layered on top of it. The Compact retains the tube-amp-style signal path: a dedicated Class A preamp, a long-tail pair phase-inverter, and a “reactive overdrive” design that Origin claims simulates the interaction of amp and speaker.
The original Klon Centaur, developed by Boston native Bill Finnegan and first sold in 1994, is a legendary pedal. It’s in the ‘rare’ and ‘expensive’ category. However, there are high-quality clones available on the market. The pedal was Finnegan’s solution to adding a little juice between his Telecaster and the Fender Twin Reverb he regularly gigged with. Despite its rarity and cost, the Klon Centaur is known for delivering a unique tone that many guitarists are after.
The fuzz pedal, a cornerstone of blues and rock music, has a captivating backstory. Its roots are in the 1960s and 1970s, an era of sonic exploration and gear experimentation. The raw tone of low-power vacuum tube amplifiers was the initial inspiration, but artists like Dick Dale and Keith Richards craved more. Their quest for a larger, more innovative sound led to the birth of the fuzz pedal. The journey of this pedal began when a circuit design was sold to Gibson in 1962, leading to the creation of the Maestro FZ-1 Fuzz Tone, the first commercially available effects pedal. Musicians like Keith Richards quickly adopted this pedal, starting to experiment with it during a U.S. tour in 1965. That same year, the Sola Sound Tone Bender MKI was released, another influential fuzz pedal that artists like Jeff Beck and Steve Winwood quickly adopted.
The Dunlop Fuzz Face, another iconic fuzz pedal introduced in 1966, was swiftly adopted by Jimi Hendrix, becoming an integral part of his unique sound. Dunlop has reimagined the Fuzz Face in several versions, including the JH-F1, which was based on a collection of vintage Arbiter stomps that produced the distinctive fuzz effect. The Fuzz Face was initially made with germanium transistors. However, due to their unreliability and sensitivity to temperature changes, they were later replaced with silicon transistors. This change resulted in a smoother, less raspy tone with a broader frequency response.
The Electro-Harmonix Big Muff, another fuzz pedal that’s had a significant impact on music history, was born in the early 1970s. The Big Muff was a result of advancements in solid-state technology and ongoing experimentation. This pedal, created with four discrete transistor stages, has become a staple on some of the most significant pedalboards in guitar history. Artists like David Gilmour, Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr., and Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins have all used the Big Muff to craft their signature sounds.
Delay pedals can be a contentious subject among blues guitarists. Some believe that a hint of delay can enhance their lead tones, providing a fuller, more resonant sound. This is especially true when employing a brief, 1950s-style slapback echo. This effect can be achieved with an analog delay set for brief delay times and regeneration amounts. It’s crucial to note that the delay should be added to your overdrive, not vice versa. While some blues players might avoid chorus pedals and heavy delay effects, if you’re eager to use them, they should be positioned near the end of your signal chain.
The MXR Carbon Copy is a popular choice among blues guitarists. Unlike its forerunners, the Carbon Copy doesn’t have the same problems. It can generate lengthy delay times while preserving excellent tone. The brief slapback delays, akin to those used in country music, are distinct and don’t become confused with the Carbon Copy. This pedal is renowned for being one of the most musical analog delays, making it a top choice for blues players.
The Boss RE-2 Space Echo is another delay pedal that’s excellent for blues. It offers a digital rendition of the classic tape unit, providing lush delay textures that sound fantastic in small doses or super-wet settings. The RE-2 Space Echo doesn’t have separate bass and treble settings. However, its charm lies in the inventive way you can engage with it. With the pedal’s three virtual heads, you can effortlessly create complex rhythmic textures that don’t devolve into a chaotic, odd-metered, miasmatic mess. The tap-tempo function provides you an additional level of control. The RE-2 is a fun, flexible, and very practical delay with a lot of personality.
The Aqua-Puss stands out for its warm qualities and how it influences the overall tone. When you incorporate it into the mix, it imparts the tone the same enticing qualities that make vintage recordings so appealing. This is because analog delays add a slight amount of even-order distortion to each repeat. This results in a cozy, lived-in tone that many players find more appealing than the crystal-clear duplication of digital delays. With a shorter delay time and fewer repeats, the Aqua-Puss becomes a killer rhythm tool that’s great for beefing up overdriven riffs. Despite its limited delay time, the Aqua-Puss can still create pleasant soundscapes with its rich tonality and warm repeats.
Understanding your gear is crucial. Dedicate time to learning what each control on your pedals, guitar, and amplifier does. Experiment with each knob, switch, and dial in your rig one at a time and listen to what they each do. This hands-on approach will do more for your overall sound than any piece of gear you could purchase. There are more sounds in even a simple guitar rig than most people realize. If you stick with a decent batch of gear long enough, you’ll discover every one of them.
The wah pedal, a significant tool in blues guitar, was born from a redesign of the Vox Super Beatle amplifier by Dick Denney. Bradley J. Plunkett at Warwick Electronics Inc./Thomas Organ Company invented the first wah pedal in November 1966. The following year, Vox began manufacturing it. The initial models were named the Clyde McCoy Wah Wah, after the renowned jazz trumpeter. Initially designed for the electric organ, it was soon modified to better suit the harmonic qualities of the electric guitar. The unaltered version of the Vox wah pedal was launched in February 1967, featuring a picture of Clyde McCoy on the bottom of the pedal.
The Vox V845 and V847 are successors of the original Vox wah pedal. Initially overlooked by guitarists, the Vox Wah Wah quickly gained popularity after being adopted by renowned electric guitarists of the time, such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and David Gilmour. These artists and many others have used Vox wahs to create their iconic sounds. The Vox wah pedal operates by rocking the pedal up and down, causing the pedal to sweep through the peak response of a frequency filter up and down in frequency to create a spectral glide. This can be used to enhance mid-tones, especially when soloing, by rocking the plate between the open and closed positions, a technique known as “cocked wah”.
In 1967, Vox collaborated with Thomas Organ to release the first-ever wah-wah pedal. This pedal became an essential stompbox for guitarists and bassists. Thomas Organ then rebranded it for the American market and sold it alongside the Italian Vox V846 as the Cry Baby. The Cry Baby, like the Vox models, operates in the same basic way. You control the sound with a rocking plate that can be moved to amplify certain frequencies.
The Fulltone USA Clyde Standard is another popular wah pedal that traces its roots to the original Clyde McCoy Wah Wah. This pedal, like the Vox and Cry Baby models, allows guitarists to create a wide range of expressive sounds. These sounds range from the “wah-wah” and “wacka-wacka” effects often associated with 1970s TV bands, to a full sweep while playing out one note or chord. This makes the guitar sound extremely vocal. The wah-wah pedal has created some of the most expressive sounds you can imagine on guitar. Its influence goes beyond the world of guitar. Other instruments like bass, trumpet, and sax have also used the wah-wah effect, further cementing its place in music history.
Modulation pedals have been instrumental in defining the blues genre. The specific modulation effect used often varies depending on the era of the songs you’re playing. For instance, tremolo was a favorite in the early 60s, vibe was the choice in the late 60s, phase was the trend in the early 70s, and chorus or flange gained popularity in the late 70s and early 80s.
Reverb is an essential tool for enhancing any blues tone. It adds texture, feel, depth, and expression, especially when you’re playing a slow, soulful ballad. Reverb is the result of a sound source bouncing off a surface, leading to multiple sound reflections that build up until they’re absorbed and decay. This build-up of sound is great for sustaining notes and adding thickness. It gives the illusion that the sound is further away, creating an ‘ambiance’ effect. There are several reverb pedals that are recommended for blues tones. The Strymon Flint, for example, replicates the classic reverb and tremolo sounds that were popular in California during the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The Boss RV-6 is a newer generation reverb pedal, known for its high-end sound and versatility. It offers 8 reverb types, ranging from subtle vintage spring reverb to large stadium rock sounds, adding dynamics and effect to your tone.
Univibe and delay pedals are often used in blues rock. They provide just enough delay to enhance the sound. Many blues rock songs from the late ’60s to the late ’70s incorporated univibe, phaser, flanger, or similar effects during studio recording.
Chorus pedals aren’t commonly used by blues guitarists, with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton being notable exceptions. Chorus can subtly but significantly alter your tone. It can be used sparingly to add depth and thickness to the tone.
Rotary guitar pedals, though not as widely used as other modulation pedals, can still add a unique touch to your blues guitar sound. These pedals can mimic the sound of a rotating speaker, adding a sense of movement and depth to the guitar tone. The use of a rotary pedal can depend on the specific era or style of blues that you’re trying to emulate.
In the realm of blues music, each pedal is a unique tool in the guitarist’s sonic toolbox, capturing the raw emotion and energy of the genre. From the saturated warmth of overdrive to the iconic wail of the wah-wah, each has shaped the landscape of blues music history. As you delve into this world, remember that it’s not about the gear itself, but the sound it helps you create. Experiment, tweak, and most importantly, listen. Whether you’re chasing the dueling delays of the Delta or seeking the guttural growl of Chicago-style blues, your perfect tone awaits among these trusty pedals. So, plug in and let your guitar sing the blues. You’re not just making music. You’re making history.