As you’re stepping into the world of guitar playing, the variety of different types of guitar pedals can seem overwhelming.
These essential sound-enhancing tools can fundamentally transform your music, adding texture, depth, and individuality to your tone.
In this article, we’re going to demystify the wide array of guitar pedals, examining a wide array of pedal types – from distortion and overdrive to tuner pedals and everything in between.
With this knowledge, you’ll be able to enhance your sound, emulate your favorite musicians, and ultimately craft your unique style.
So let’s tighten those straps, tune-up, and explore the fascinating world of guitar pedals.
Distortion is a type of gain pedal. It compresses the waveforms produced when you strum your guitar strings. You can simulate this effect at more manageable levels using amplification and clipping circuits.
Distortion pedals usually use hard clipping to achieve a more aggressive sound. They change your sound to create that harmonic, gritty sustain that you’ve probably heard in countless rock and metal songs. These pedals are designed to sound like an amp cranked to the max and supercharged.
If you’re into playing rock, metal, or heavy metal, they’re perfect for you. They add texture to your tone and give your sound a heavier feel.
Overdrive pedals use soft clipping to create an amp-like distortion that’s dynamic and responsive. The harder you strike the strings, the more it distorts, and the softer you pick, the cleaner it gets. Overdrive pedals aim to sound like an amp that’s naturally overdriving.
They produce less gain and sound less aggressive than distortion or fuzz pedals. They’re used for low to mid-gain sounds, like blues and rock. The Tube Screamer is a famous type of overdrive pedal known for its distinctive EQ curve.
If you’re a country or blues musician, you’ll likely find overdrive pedals more commonly in use.
Fuzz pedals take things to the extreme. They amplify and clip the signal so much that the waveform becomes a square wave. This can sound fuzzy and woolly or spitty and nasty.
Fuzz is the most extreme style of gain pedal and can sound wild. But when you properly tame it, it can be an inspirational tool to break you out of a creative rut. Fuzz Face-style pedals are unique in how they react with the volume pot on your guitar.
At full volume, it can produce a thick hair-raising rumble for mighty lead playing. But roll the volume back to 6 or 7 for a smooth, warm overdrive that’s perfect for chords. The Big Muff is a popular fuzz pedal, a bit like if you could keep turning up the gain on a distortion pedal.
Because of the huge amount of bass and mid-scooped characteristic, it’ll happily sit in a mix without jumping out. As a general rule, if you’re using multiple pedals, always put your fuzz first because a lot of fuzzes don’t play well with others.
Modulation pedals provide a captivating type of guitar effect. They’ll alter the sound of your guitar by adjusting its pitch or volume. These pedals can be seen as a secret ingredient, adding a unique touch to your music and enhancing its dynamism and expressiveness.
Chorus pedals are a modulation effect closely associated with the sound of the 1980s. They operate by subtly shifting the pitch of your note at a speed that you control. This effect aims to mimic the natural oscillation that occurs when a choir sings the same line.
The pedal divides the signal, duplicates it, applies the effect to the copy, and then merges them again. The outcome? A swirling, detuned effect that can infuse a rich, shimmering texture into your sound.
Flanger pedals produce a unique effect by blending the same signal together, with one of the signals slightly delayed, typically by about 20 milliseconds. The result is a sweeping, jet-like sound that can infuse a psychedelic feel into your music. It’s a distinct style of modulation compared to a chorus or a phaser, providing a unique method to enhance your sound.
Phaser pedals, which gained popularity in the 1970s, are another kind of modulation effect. They operate by passing the signal of your guitar through a series of all-pass filters. This process creates an in-phase signal and an out-of-phase signal.
These two stages are then combined to produce an output with a swirling, spacey effect. Phaser pedals can be used in various ways. They can add depth to your solos, create a type of sustain known as a ‘chord swell,’ or even give the illusion of playing more notes than you actually are.
With controls like the speed knob, depth knob, and sometimes even a tap tempo or waveform selection, you can customize the effect to match your musical style.
Tremolo and vibrato are two additional types of modulation effects that have been used in music for decades. Tremolo, the first modulation effect ever used in modern music, adjusts the volume of your guitar, creating a trembling or shuddering effect. Vibrato, on the other hand, modulates the pitch, creating a pulsating effect.
Both of these effects can be achieved manually or mechanically. They each offer a unique way to add movement and expression to your sound. Whether you’re aiming to recreate the sound of a vintage Hammond organ with a rotating Leslie speaker or you want to add a subtle wobble to your solos, tremolo and vibrato pedals can help you achieve your desired sound.
As you progress in your guitar journey, you’ll discover the importance of time-based guitar pedals in crafting your unique sound. These devices manipulate the timing of your guitar’s signal, generating a range of effects. We’ll explore three primary types: delay, reverb, and looper pedals.
A delay pedal is a stompbox effect unit that introduces a time-based delay to your guitar signal. It captures your unprocessed signal and replays it one or more times after a predetermined interval. This technique can enhance your sound by introducing depth and space, resulting in atmospheric cascading guitar tones.
Delay pedals come in various forms, including tape-based, analog, digital, and modeling units. Tape delay, the pioneer of delay effects, utilizes magnetic tape to produce a distinctive sound characterized by tape saturation, filtered repeats, and slight chorusing. Conversely, analog delay uses a bucket-brigade device (BBD) to generate a warm, nuanced tone.
Digital delay pedals employ DSP and are the most versatile and clean. They can accurately reproduce the original audio signal and can mimic any other type of delay. Some digital delay pedals even provide unique effects like shimmer, which merges delay with a pitch-shifter, and reverse delay, which plays the delayed signal in reverse.
To maximize your delay pedal, avoid overusing it. This way, the effects will be more noticeable. Adjusting the delay time can also produce intriguing results, like a pitch-shifting effect. However, lengthy delay times can cause a mix to become unclear, particularly in a complex song with numerous notes or instruments.
Reverb pedals are another category of time-based effect that can augment your sound by introducing depth and space. They strive to emulate the acoustic experience of sound reflecting off surfaces in a physical environment. Like delay pedals, reverb pedals are frequently used by guitarists, bassists, keyboardists, and synth players.
Most reverb pedals are digital and employ DSP to simulate different types of reverb. These include room, chamber, hall, and cathedral reverb, which attempt to reproduce the sound of reverb in various types of rooms. Other types include spring and plate reverb, which are generated by vibrating a spring or a thin metal plate, respectively.
Consider your reverb pedal as a device to position your guitar into a physical environment. This technique can introduce a sense of ambiance and production quality to your music. Like delay pedals, reverb pedals function best near the end of a signal chain, following the utility, gain-based, and modulation pedals.
Lastly, looper pedals are a distinctive type of time-based effect. They record a segment of audio and repeat it indefinitely until stopped. This feature can be a useful tool for practicing, songwriting or creating layered soundscapes during live performances.
Operating a looper is straightforward. You press the record button to start recording and press it again to stop. Most loop pedals start replaying the loop immediately. Some loopers also offer additional features, like effect modes or the ability to function as a delay or multi-effect unit.
As a novice guitarist, remember there’s no ‘correct’ amount of money to invest in a pedal. An affordable option can be just as satisfying as a high-end model. The key is to experiment and find the pedals that best align with your style and needs.
Filter and EQ pedals are fantastic tools for shaping your guitar’s sound. They’ll introduce unique and otherworldly tones to your music, helping you bridge the gap between rock and electronic/pop genres.
An equalizer, or EQ pedal, is a powerful tool that’ll drastically change your guitar’s tone. It lets you tweak the relative levels of different frequency ranges in your audio signal. EQ pedals come in two main types: graphic and (semi)parametric.
A graphic EQ pedal has fixed frequency bands that you can adjust with sliders. This type of EQ pedal is quite common and usually has between five to ten bands. On the other hand, a (semi)parametric EQ pedal gives you more control over the frequency and width of the band.
An EQ pedal can transform your sound. It lets you boost or cut specific frequencies with precision, giving your tone the exact color you’re after. For example, you can use an EQ pedal before your favorite overdrive to create unique sounds.
You can also tweak your EQ filter pedal to make your vintage-sounding amplifier sound like a modern one or vice versa.
The Wah-Wah pedal is a type of variable EQ boost filter pedal that can sweep up and down the frequency spectrum. This feature lets you dynamically change the frequency levels, adding a moving peak to your signal’s EQ.
Wah pedals are typically operated through standard rocker pedals or footswitches. They’re a common feature in rock, funk, and metal genres, adding expression and more dimensions to clean or overdriven guitar tones.
The tones of Wah pedals can vary due to different components and settings. These variations can change the height of the peak, the shape of the peak, and the range of the sweep. This flexibility gives you plenty of room to experiment and find the sound that suits your style.
The Envelope Filter pedal is like the sophisticated younger sibling of the Wah pedal. It’s a sweepable peaking filter that uses the attack of the guitar signal to trigger the filter sweep. This automated wah sound is super funky and can fit many modern styles.
Envelope filters are popular with both guitar and bass players, especially in funk music. They can dramatically alter the tonal qualities of your guitar signal, producing a variety of vowel-like sounds.
An envelope filter pedal responds to your signal’s amplitude. This means the harder you hit the strings, the more the filter opens. This feature makes it a great tool for adding a wah effect that reacts to your playing style.
The placement of these pedals in your signal chain can significantly affect their influence on your sound. Generally, a filter pedal should be placed as early in your pedal chain as possible. But don’t hesitate to experiment and find the arrangement that works best for you.
A boost pedal is a valuable addition to your gear. It amplifies the gain of the signal your guitar produces without altering the guitar’s frequency range or tone. It’s akin to volume control for your instrument. Depending on its placement, it can either increase the volume and provide more distortion and sustain or boost the signal of your instrument without creating any distortion.
Pitch shifting or harmony pedals introduce an element of fun to your pedalboard. They alter the pitch of your guitar’s signal, generating harmonies or modifying the key of your playing. This can be an excellent tool for crafting unique sounds or for playing along with songs in different keys.
Lastly, a tuner pedal is an essential tool for any guitarist. It enables you to tune your guitar quickly and accurately, whether on stage or during practice. Some tuner pedals even offer additional features like metronomes or tone generators.
Navigating the world of guitar pedals can be intimidating for beginners, but understanding the essence and function of each type is a game-changer. From distortion and overdrive pedals that add crunch to your tone to modulation pedals that provide a unique touch, to time-based pedals that manipulate your sound, and finally, filter or EQ pedals that allow for precise tonal control.
Remember, guitar pedals are simply tools to help you craft your unique sound and style. So experiment, interchange, and play around with each type. Your personal touch, creativity, and the joy of discovering new sounds is what matters most in your musical journey. With time, patience, and practice, you’ll ideally select a combination of pedals that resonate with your musical soul. Happy strumming!