Guitar Effect Pedals Explained

Guitar effects modify the sound of your guitar in a wide range of ways. (Don't worry – we'll get to those different effects later.) Maybe you've heard an electric guitar with a screechy tone or one with a deep fuzz to its sound. Those guitars probably don't sound natural: the musician uses an effect to achieve those kinds of tones.

While there are several ways to implement guitar effects, most guitarists will start with either an effect built into their amp or with a guitar effects pedal.

With the right gear combination, a skilled guitarist can stack and layer effects endlessly, creating sounds unlike anything recorded to date. That makes the world of guitar pedals an exciting one to explore!

How to Choose a Guitar Pedal

Knowing which pedal to start with can feel overwhelming if you're new to the world of guitar effects. We'll break this down by showing you the four main effects categories (and types of guitar pedals).

Gain Staging Effects

Gain staging effects pedals manipulate your sound before anything else, meaning they serve as the foundation of your tone. You'll find gain boosts, fuzz pedals, distortion, overdrive, and even the classic electric guitar distortion pedal in this category.

Most guitarists start with essential guitar pedals before branching out into later categories.

Frequency Effects

These pedals manipulate or filter your frequency output. A simple EQ pedal allows you to make on-the-fly EQ adjustments, either for tonal reasons or to compensate for feedback. Wah-wah and pitch-shift pedals also fit in this category.

Modulation Effects

Modulation means something different here than in other musical disciplines. Here we’re talking about modulating the sound of your instrument over time. Tremolo and vibrato pedals, chorus/flanger, and phase shifters are all in this category.

Time Effects

These pedals affect the timing of your instrument's tone, creating either delay or reverb. These tend to be highly adjustable, allowing experienced players to produce a range of results.

In addition to these, you should be aware of guitar multi-effects pedals, which combine two or more different effects into one device. Going with this style is a great way to get into the world of excellent guitar pedals without dropping a ton of cash on a board full of pedals.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What's the point of using an effects pedal? Using an effects pedal gives your instrument more tonal range. You may love the way your guitar sounds clean (plugged into an amp with no effects enabled). You should love that sound. If you don't, maybe it's time to upgrade.

But as you grow more experienced or start experimenting with different genres or play styles, you'll want the ability to do stuff to your tone. Distortion, fuzz, delay, tremolo, EQ, wah-wah, and more all happen through guitar effects pedals.

What type of sound effects can a guitar pedal make?

There's nearly no limit to the range of sounds guitarists achieve by mixing and matching effects, and many of these come through effects pedals. Distortion, EQ changes, phasing, tremolo, crunch or fuzz, wah-wah, and more are all possibilities – and many of these can be combined with others to produce new, unexpected sounds.

See the "How to Choose a Guitar Pedal" section up above for more on the sound effects you can get from various pedal types.

How do I choose the right effects pedal for my guitar?

Start by asking yourself what kind of music you want to play. Listen widely in that genre, and listen for the sorts of guitar sounds you can't currently produce. We're not talking about virtuosic playing – but the core guitar tone itself.

Once you've determined the sound you're trying to achieve, you may have enough information to start shopping. Distortion, fuzz, vibrato, and even wah-wah are all fairly self-explanatory.

If you're not sure how to describe the sound you want, stop into our shop and give us a sample. We'll help point you to the right pedals for your needs.

Within every category, you'll find a range of options and price points, with varying levels of customization and control. If you're a beginner or intermediate player, stick with brands you recognize and gear with controls that are easy to learn and understand

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