What Are Guitar Pedals?
Guitar pedals are an important piece of the puzzle for shaping your sound. There’s an infinite combination of effects, from the very subtle to the all-out crazy and tone-defining. Pedals are made using circuitry housed inside small, metal boxes you step on to activate. Hence the slang name ‘stompbox’.
Check out our complete pedal guide to learn about each effect type in more depth. Here we’ll keep it as basic as possible. Free from unecessarily technical terms and confusing phrases.
Finding The Pedals For You
It's easy to lose yourself in the sheer amount of information and effects. So here's a breakdown of what we'll cover:
Some effects are more common, widely used or fundamental than others. Reverb, overdrive and a select few modulations make up the majority of most pedalboards. There are so many variables in setting up a chain of pedals that fit in between your guitar and amp.
Every variable has an effect on the sound coming out your amp. You'll need to consider everything from powering your pedals and the quality of electricity you're providing, to the order of pedals in the chain - and we haven't even got to what the effects do yet!
For a beginner, it’s best to stick with tried and tested pedals at reasonable prices and with simple controls, just to get a feel for the sound they make.
- Reverb - The persistence of sound after you strum a guitar. If you played in a church or large room, you’d hear reverberations as the sound bounces off the walls and back at you. This adds life and fullness to a guitar. Almost all genres of music utilise reverb in some way, so whatever you play, reverb is a staple fallback option to enrich a clean guitar tone. The most common types are spring, plate, modulated and shimmer, which all have unique qualities.
- Delay - One of the more obvious effects. As it suggests, delay is the note you've played from the guitar replicated and repeated after you’ve stopped strumming. Notable examples include the intro to Guns N’ Roses’ Welcome To The Jungle and Walking On The Moon by The Police. Universal controls include changing the rate, repeats, mix and tone.
- Overdrive & Distortion - A guitar signal breaks up when gain is fed into an amp, or if the volume on a tube amp is cranked high. Those crunchy tones are the foundations to almost all rock and metal music. An overdrive or distortion simulates this effect and frees up your amp to produce a different tone. If you want to sound like anything from Guns N’ Roses or Arctic Monkeys, to Metallica and Slipknot, get an overdrive or distortion pedal.
- Fuzz - Slightly different to overdrive, a fuzz pedal offers more of a raspy vintage tone. You'll find this effect used extensively in 60's and 70's rock. The most notable fuzz users include Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards and Peter Frampton. More modern guitarists like Matt Bellamy and Billy Corgan pile on a thick, swampy fuzz for riffing. General controls are a bit simpler than most, utilising the likes of gain, tone and volume.
- Tuner - Not an effect, but a fundamental nonetheless. A tuner is the very first pedal that your guitar gets plugged into and probably has the most important job. If you’ve already begun your guitar journey, you probably have a clip-on tuner. But a pedal is loads more reliable, more accurate and isn't clipped onto your guitar.
Multi FX Units
Multi FX are larger pedals that contain several effects. There are lots of benefits of buying one of these over lots of individual stompboxes. A multi FX unit is more likely going to cost less than buying all the equivalent individual effects. And as a beginner, it’s great to hear what they all do and have a chance to play around with them, rather than potentially investing over time.
Power supplies are another major factor. You need to provide pedals with power from the mains. A good power supply with isolated outputs splits out electricity evenly, so the guitar signal isn’t weakened. Good ones can cost £120 upwards, with the alternative being daisy chaining. This means running all your pedals through one mains plug, which is highly unreliable. A multi FX unit only needs a regular power supply, so will save you a load of money in that department.
Downsides to multi FX units (depending on how you view them) are quality and diversity. Most guitarists will agree they don't sound as good as a pedal tailored specifically for an effect, unless you spend a large sum on a top-end unit. One of the exciting things about buying pedals is the huge scope of brands and all the different sounds. A multi FX unit won’t pack as much tonal diversity as a pedal made specifically for an effect.
Popular Beginner Brands
- BOSS - One of the very first pedal makers. The Japanese company designed the OD-1 distortion back in 1977 and have since released some of the most well-known effects in the guitar industry. They’ve never compromised great sound or truly accessible prices. They also make some great multi FX pedals.
- TC Electronic - Another one of the concept originators. They produce a ridiculous variation of effects in loads of styled cases, which is part of the beauty of buying pedals. Arguably most famous for their Polytune and Flashback delay.
- Tone City - A newcomer to the game, but nothing to turn your nose up at. They almost exclusively make mini pedals, which are on average 25% smaller than a regular stompbox. Great tones for pocket money prices and they come in loads of quirky designs.
- Electro Harmonix - Essentially invented the stompbox format in 1968. World-renowned and used by famous guitarists such as David Gilmour, Kurt Cobain, Jack White, The Edge and John Frusciante. The Muff and Clone series of pedals are some of the best ever created and come in well under £100.
- MXR - Famously championed by Eddie Van Halen. Now under Jim Dunlop ownership, these pedals are instantly recognisable thanks to their bold MXR logo. Although many of their pedals fall between £100-£200, their entry stompboxes like the Phase 90 are a staple on lots of pro pedalboards. Testament to how good they are.
We hope you enjoy getting hands-on with guitar effects. They can be one of the most creative and inspiring aspects of playing the electric guitar. If you'd like to learn about specific effects in more detail, check out the compact pedal guide.
If you're wondering how to keep all your pedals together neat and tidy, or transport them without having to set up over and over again, read our guide to Pedaltrain pedalboards.
We can help if you're after a new guitar as well! Have a look at our in-depth guitar buyer's guide.
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