- Best Pedals For Humbucker Guitars
What pedals work best with humbuckers?
Humbucker pickups are naturally associated with rock, metal and blues musical genres. This is because of their fat, bassy tones and hum cancelling properties that cut out excessive noise from high gain. They’re certainly ideal for those styles, but they can do so much more with the aid of a few guitar pedals.
We’ve compiled a helpful list of pedal types to take your rig to the next level. Of course, guitar pedals work well with either humbucker of single coil guitars. There are however a few essential effects you’ll need in order to play or enhance particular genres of music. Some are tone-defining, others are subtle – but all make a difference. Let’s get stuck in.
Overdrive & Distortion Pedals
The perfect humbucker pickup partner. Overdrive pedals add gain to your guitar signal, a fundamental effect for rock and blues. There are lots of different takes on overdrive as it’s one of the most popular guitar effects on the market.
Classic Tube Screamer stompboxes bump up the middle frequencies, making your humbuckers sound punchy and aggressive. This can lend itself to both sharp staccato metal or classic rock (think Stevie Ray Vaughan's fat tones).
Transparent overdrives like the legendary Klon add texture and create dynamics. These are also great when stacking overdrive – using multiple overdrives at once to alter the sound. The Big Muff is a cross between fuzz and overdrive, cutting up your tone into sonic chaos. Lastly, preamp pedals offer more extensive tone shaping. A bit like an amp channel in a box.
Humbucker pickups are sometimes susceptible to sounding too dark or getting lost in a band’s mix. An EQ pedal hands you more options to shape your sound exactly how you want. This is an easy way to filter frequencies or even define your tone. Add a bit of snap or attack to brighten up the natural sound of humbuckers.
A number of big brands like Boss, MXR and Mesa Boogie make EQ pedals. But check out boutique options like Earthquaker Devices, Chase Bliss Audio or Union Tube & Transistor for a bit of a twist on the standard EQ approach.
Here’s where things get interesting. Chorus is a type of modulation that manipulates the signal processing and creates a doubling effect – hence the name. Chorus works well with either clean or crunch tones as it fractionally alters the pitch through oscillation. It basically tricks your ears into thinking there’s two guitars.
We think it works great with humbuckers because it adds a sense of dynamism to their flat base tone. You’ll find chorus pedals in all shapes and sizes, some subtle and other completely of the rails. Electro Harmonix are famous for the Clone series, or you could check out a boutique brand like Walrus Audio.
Reverb is a universally brilliant effect whatever pickups you have in your guitar or equipment you use. It creates a sense of depth and an ‘in-the-room’ feel to your playing. Better yet, it works great with cleans or gain so you’ll be using it no matter the genre. Pedal manufacturers love to work with reverb and have conjured up some truly innovative tones in the process.
Spring, plate and hall/room are the three original types of reverb you’ll come across. Premium pedal companies sometimes experiment with ping-pong and reverse effects, as well as additional built-in modulation. These are great for ambient guitar sounds and shoegazing.
Another effect that works well across the board. You’ll find a delay pedal in every rig, from country to metal. It registers your guitar signal and creates repeats of whatever you play. Most delay pedals give you the option of quarter, eighth and sixteenth note delays.
Like reverb, delay is a hugely popular sound you can customise extensively to create lingering notes or classic echo. This is a sound that heavily depends on whether the pedal is digital or analogue. The former is cleaner and can create lasting repeats, while the latter fades out quicker and adds artefacts and grit. MXR make quality analogue pedals and Strymon and Eventide specialise in digital.
Phaser isn’t the most popular of pedal effects, but used in the right way it can transform your sound into something truly unique. Humbuckers work great with phasers because of their natural compression. The effect sits deep in the tone and gives movement to the low frequencies. Simply put, it makes everything sound wavy.
Pedal companies love to have fun with phasers. You'll find everything from the effect parameters to the artwork are obnoxious, gaudy and utterly ridiculous. MXR, Mr Black and Old Blood Noise Endeavours are the picks here.
Noise Gate Pedals
A noise gate kills unwanted buzz and hum from an amplifier. There are a number of reasons why your rig might be making a hissing sound even when you’re not playing, but a noise gate will relinquish you from the majority of it. This is a great effect for rock and metal; a humbucker’s ideal tonal realm.
You can use a noise gate to ‘close’ a signal as soon as you stop playing. Modern metal requires fast attack and sharp cut-offs. How do they do this? With the help of a noise gate of course. Most noise gate pedals have decay and threshold controls to let you dial in cut-off, release and the volume at which the pedal kicks into action. The Boss Noise Suppressor is an affordable industry standard.
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