Effects pedals have always been a core part of finding and defining your guitar sound. Thanks to these little boxes of joy you can do everything your heart desires. From modulating your sound to complete transformations of your tone.
In more recent years boutique pedals have become incredibly popular with people looking for the best tone they can get. This has spawned pedal geeks the world over who base nearly their whole sound off of the pedals in front of them.
But where do you start? What do all these different pedals do? In this guide we will give you a brief overview of what each different type of effect does so you can make sure you are looking for the right gear. If you're new to the pedal world, you might wanna check out our selection of best guitar pedals for beginners while you're here. And if you already have some pedals but want advice on which pedalboard to get, click here!
A boost pedal is a low gain, high volume pedal that boosts the output of your guitar. Depending on how you have your rig set up and what amp you use this will either result in more volume or a bit more break up and crunch in your sound.
These are commonly used for a couple of different reasons.
- Boosting gain and volume before going in to a solo to make sure you can be heard in the band mix.
- Adding more gain and sometimes a mid boost on a high gain amp to give it more presence and punch.
When you are using very long cables and have a lot of different pedals your tone will start to lose definition. This is because the impedance of the signal drops at every cable meaning you don’t get the best sound possible.
A lot of pedals do already have buffers built-in, like the compact pedals from BOSS. This means that if you are running a whole bunch of pedals like this you have no need for a separate buffer box.
If you are using lots of true bypass effects it is 100% worth investing in a decent buffer. This keeps your signal as clean as can be. Do watch your signal chain if you have a fuzz as they don’t play nice with buffered gear.Buy Buffer Pedals Read our buffer pedal guide
Compression is an interesting effect as it was originally made for studio use. It helped control the dynamics of vocalists who would change style and attack during a take. Guitarists worked out that it’s also useful for fattening up your tone. As well as adding stronger definition to the notes and increasing sustain.
It’s this extra sustain that draws in a lot of blues and rock players inspired by the like of David Gilmour and the incredible tone he got out of his compressor. The extra definition is loved by a wide range of different styles including modern metal where you need to hear every note clearly.
Unless you are basing your sound off of a particular artist who uses compression you might not pick this up as your first pedal. Its ability to improve your tone however without much tweaking makes it a very handy to have when you have started finding your sound and just want to give it a slight upgrade.Buy Compression Pedals Read our compression pedal guide
A delay or echo effect takes what you are playing and repeats it after a period of time. This could be a few milliseconds or seconds after you have played the note.
By doing this you get a wide range of different effects that can help fatten up your sound and help you fill a mix. But with so many different types of delay and echo what do you go for?
These are some of the more interesting effects that can really help shape your tone. While in general there are a few set guidelines of what sounds good, there are not any hard and fast rules.
For years people said that large echo like effects can’t work for heavy rhythm guitar. Only to be proved by artists like Devin Townsend that that is just not the case. So don’t be afraid to experiment.
This type of chip delivers a beautifully coloured representation of your sound. It may not be the most accurate and you are limited in the number of repeats and delay time.These are not to be confused with Tape Echo which was used for a long time in the world’s largest studios. No, these pedals were made out of necessity to take a form of delay on the road easily.
After years of analogue delay companies decided that it was not clean or accurate enough. So they came up with a much sturdier design with digital delay chips.Not only can these get the timing down perfectly every time but they can also cover a wider range of delay options. Depending on the chip inside you can easily get multiple seconds of delay time in a single pedal.The main downside to these is that they can sound a bit clinical and too clean. Manufacturers have battled this by adding in different modulation options on delays like this to give it more character. If you want a delay for every possible scenario digital might just be the way to go.
Originally this effect used 1/4″ tape going round a machine like the Echoplex. It then recorded whatever you were playing and played it back to you a set time later.Since its launch in the 1950’s tape based delay started to appear in more and more recordings. Its saturated sound and imperfect repeats gave it some stunning character that is still loved today.Now tape is dwindling so most people have moved on to emulated digital pedals. These get close to the sound of an original tape unit without any of the added maintenance.
One thing that tape echo’s generally have over other delays is an echo mute switch. This turns off the echo but keeps the pedal on so you have access to the preamp. These preamps are half the reason tape echo sounds so good and is a great way to improve your tone.Buy Delay Pedals Read our Delay Pedal guide
Overdrive is an incredibly popular and powerful effect that can cover a wide range of sounds. Generally, overdrive sits between a boost and distortion gain wise and tries to emulate the sound of a cranked amp.
With options that give you great tones from soft classic amps to more modern gain machines, you have a lot to choose from. So if you want to sound like you have that Brian May Vox AC30 tone or a cranked wall of Marshalls you can achieve that in a single pedal.Buy Overdrive pedals
Distortion is similar to overdrive but rarely is it trying to emulate an amp. This is much more aggressive and is made for getting the most amount of gain possible out of your rig.
Used by rock and metal players the world over. Transforming their clean combos into death metal machines this is a handy tool to have at your side.
Again, like overdrive these come in plenty of different varieties. The only difference is that mild is not really an option here. It’s all or nothing with these high gain wonders.Buy Distortion pedals Read out overdrive pedal guide
All amplifiers have an EQ built in. It is what helps define your tone and give it its character. Split it to high, mid and low controls you don’t really get to access every frequency possible.
An EQ pedal looks to fix that issue giving you access to a wider range of frequencies with greater accuracy. Plus most have a footswitch so you can quickly go back to just your amp’s EQ if you need to.
This is not something that will be used by every guitarist but it will help you dial in the exact frequencies you want at any gig. No more hoping the sound guy can get your amp sound to suit the room you’re playing in. No more wishing you could get rid of that annoying feedback. A decent EQ pedal will smooth out many imperfections.Buy EQ pedals Read our EQ pedal guide
These three effects are all similar enough to the point where you may struggle to pick out what is what. Hopefully, this will help you next time you need to pick out the right modulation.
This effect doubles your signal path leaving one side as it was before and switches the phase of the other. By moving the phase point you get swells and cancelled out frequencies over the zero point. You’ll need to find the right settings to match your track but once you have dialled it in you get a stunning sound.
A flanger again doubles your signal but it doesn’t switch the phase. Instead, it has a variable delay of around 20ms that gives it a more drastic phased sound. The use of a variable like the moving phase point in the phaser gives you great swells and a certain emphasised and cut frequencies.
Like the others, you also have a doubled signal path and like the flanger, you have a short delay. This time you have a bit of a longer delay which causes a more subtle effect. As its name suggests it offers a choir-like effect that adds a certain level of depth to your tone. It also gives it a unique wavering quality that suits a lot of different styles of music.
This is the parent to the drive and distortion pedals you see today. Found by using faulty hardware in the studio fuzz was born as a gritty and heavy new sound.
While the original fuzz effects were made by using faulty hardware. Modern fuzz boxes are often set with mismatched parts to produce the same effect. This means better reliability and more control over the effect.
Ranging from the soft style that came in the 60’s and 70’s to more modern glitches. Fuzz has found its home in a bunch of different genres. Just watch out for buffers because they don’t play too well with a lot of fuzz pedals.Buy Fuzz pedals Read our fuzz pedal guide
Noise Gate Pedals
If you play a guitar that has single coil pickups or you like using a lot of gain you know the pain of background noise. It gets in the mix and just ruins your live sound whenever you aren’t playing.
Noise gates get rid of this noise by muting the signal when you stop playing. This stops all noise from getting through that point to your amplifier and speakers.
You can put a noise gate straight after your guitar if you want the fastest attack. If you put it after your pedals you can shut up that annoying glitchy fuzz that sounds great but gets in your way. Or even put it in the effects loop to help shut that high gain noise up.
A lot of modern metal artists have started using multiple noise gates in their rig. One straight after the guitar and the other in the effects loop. This gives you the best attack and release possible while keeping your rig completely silent.Buy Noise Gates Read our noise gate guide
Popularised by Jimi Hendrix the octave effect can now be heard all over the world. It works by taking your signal and then either halving or doubling the frequency. This then creates either an octave down or octave up effect.
- Octave up effects add a harsh high end to the sound which works great with fuzz. This is the original effect that was used in the years of psychedelic rock.
- Octave down effects add a low rumble that works just as well on bass as guitar. If you want to add a thick under layer to your sound then this is how you do it.
The idea behind reverb is that it’s capturing the sound of a room or space. Just playing a small hall but want the sound of playing in a massive stadium? Reverb is what you need to achieve just that.
In recent years we have seen more and more modified and artificial reverbs pop up on the market. These don’t try to emulate a space but instead, use the same idea to make unbelievably large and modulated sounds.
If you are a guitar player you will almost certainly need reverb in one form or another. Luckily a lot of amplifiers now come with digital or spring reverb built in. So if it is classic surf or room tones you are after you might not need another pedal.
If you want something a bit different such as a large hall or shimmer effect you will need a pedal. Luckily for you there are all kinds of different reverb pedals at every price point.Buy Reverb pedals Read our reverb pedal guide
Vibrato and Univibe pedals produce effects in different ways but ultimately deliver a very similar effect. Vibrato is made by the pedal altering the pitch of your guitar up and down via an oscillator. Univibe gets a similar pitch shifting effect but it achieves it by altering the phase of the track.
These effects were popularised in the 60’ especially with artists like Jimi Hendrix. Now it is used commonly in a range of different pop and rock styles. You will hear it mostly on long drawn out chords and rhythm parts.Buy Vibrato pedals Read our Vibrato pedal guide
This is actually one of the oldest effects that has been used on the electric guitar. It was made famous by the Fender amps that had the effect built in. It moves the volume of the guitar up and down reminiscent of the old Leslie speaker effect.
While the vintage-styled effect is still incredibly popular in blues and jazz circles more modern, digital versions have found their places as well.
Originally you only had control over the speed of the effect. Now you can set the speed, depth and even shape of the effect to your liking. Sine, square, triangle and sawtooth waves are all possible with modern tremolo effects.Buy Tremolo pedals Read our tremolo pedal guide
Wah Wah Pedals
Wah is an incredibly dynamic effect that has been used across as many styles as you can think of. While some use it to accent parts in a rhythm or for swells. Others will take advantage of the extra high end and midrange bite for squealing solos.
It works as a moveable peak filter in your EQ that can drastically alter your tone. To go from a rounded throaty sound to a much more trebly boosted high-end tone that cuts deep into the mix.
You are sure to have heard a wah wah no matter what style you play. From the cleanest of pop artists to the heaviest of heavy metal these pedals are absolutely everywhere. If you are building up a collection of essential pedals this is a must buy.Buy Wah Wah pedals Read our wah wah pedal guide
What is a Compact Guitar Pedal?
A compact guitar pedal is a small electronic unit that changes the sound of your guitar. Normally a compact pedal will have one or two key effects built in with some variations on those effects sometimes available as well.
They come in many different varieties from small micro pedals to the more standard single and double formats, others even larger than that. Generally, the larger the pedal the more features you can pack into it but this isn’t always the case.
From drives to octaves, delay to reverb, chorus to phaser there are loads of different types of effects and even within a type like chorus you can find hundreds of varieties of sounds.
Why Buy Compact Pedals?
Thanks to compact pedals having so much competition it is one of the best way to build a pedalboard. This competition has meant that not only can you get great effects for very little money but the best of the best pedals just keep on improving year after year. That is not the only reason to buy in though.
- - They are modular: Because each pedal is its own effect you can invest in a high-quality pedalboard over time and replace only when you need to. So, there is no need to worry about spending a lot of money on multiple effects thinking you will have to replace them in a few months when you want to add something new in.
- - There are options: You really can design a pedalboard that perfectly matches your needs. There is something for every kind of effect in every size and price point these days. It is just a matter of finding what you want and adding it to your board.
- - High quality: While this may not apply to the high end any more digital effects can have a lossy effect on your signal especially in cheaper multi effects units. They are great for getting a wide range of sounds at a low price but they won’t match up to the quality to a selection of even some similarly affordable compact pedals.
Compact Pedals vs Multi Effects
The argument for compact pedals versus multi effects changes drastically depending on what you need and how much you want to spend.
For example, if you only need overdrive, reverb and delay you are almost guaranteed to be better off picking up a couple of specific pedals to match your sound perfectly over a multi effects unit.
If you don’t know your sound yet, or you just want to have every option so whenever inspiration strikes you can dive in and get the sound you want, then maybe a multi effects unit makes sense.
There is an interesting point though where you might want 7-10 pedals on your pedalboard at roughly £100 each. Good quality mid-range pedals that will give you a great sound. But for the same money you could get a powerful top of the range digital multi effects system with pretty much unlimited sounds.
At that point both sides need to be considered but it all comes down to the tone in your head. What gets you closer to that sound?
There are hundreds if not thousands of pedal builders in the world right now. With more and more guitarists looking to build their sound from their pedals it makes sense that more people will be making them.
Of course, there are some that stand out more than others, some that do an incredible job producing amp like drives, spring reverbs and beautiful delays. Others go at it from a different angle and instead of making the best of something we already know, they instead set out to create sounds that nobody has heard of before.
At Andertons we normally have around 125 different pedal brands in stock at any given time. Here are a few of our favourite pedal builders and what they are known for making. Obviously we can’t talk about every one, so to see our full range of pedals and manufacturers click the button below.
- BOSS – Worlds most iconic pedal brands. Builds every kind of effect you can think of and there was a good chance that they were the first to do it. If it has a BOSS logo, you can trust it will be great.
- TC Electronic – One of the kings of digital pedals. After making a huge splash with their Hall of Fame and Flashback pedals they only got stronger over time with their Ditto loopers and Polytune tuners. In recent years they have also started to make more budget friendly analogue pedals.
- Tone City – Exclusive to Andertons Music Co. in the UK these affordable micro pedals cover all the essential effects you need at pocket money prices. Don’t let that fool you though, they still sound great and will find a great place on your pedalboard.
- Ibanez – While they have always made more than the Tube Screamer that is what they will be remembered for. Brilliant blues drive and tube pushing boosts that has made it one of the most iconic drive pedals in the world.
- Electro Harmonix – Like BOSS these are one of the original pedal manufacturers. They aim to push the envelope making some weird and wonderful analogue effects as well as their versions of iconic classic sounds.
- MXR – Owned by Dunlop MXR are most well known for pedals like their Phase 90, Carbon Copy, Dyna Comp and a plethora of different drives for every style. These are all very useable pedals nothing too crazy here. Just great reliable tone.
- Strymon – These are the big guys when it comes to digital reverb, delay and modulation. They have built an incredible range of pedals that offer the best of the best of ambience for any style, any rig , any time. Recently they have also started to create drive pedals as well.
- Digitech – Digitech are an interesting company who are best known for their Whammy series of pitch shifting pedals as well as their Trio backing band pedal. They also make a few great budget friendly multi FX systems.
- Keeley – One of the top boutique pedal builders in the world Robert Keeley is one of the people that started the current pedal craze over the last 10 years or so. Keeley makes a bit of everything but is probably best known for his compressors and drive pedals as well as a few of his delay and reverb circuits.
- Mooer – Budget friendly with a wide range of sounds Mooer are one of the go to companies for if you need something a little bit weird but don’t want to shell out the big bucks to go boutique.
- Xotic – There are few companies that are as iconic a brand as Xotic with so few pedals on the market. Look around at pedalboards and a lot will either have a BB Preamp, EP Boost, or SL drive on them. These three drive pedals are the core of what Xotic do very well.
- Earth Quaker Devices – Have you ever heard a song and wondered “how did they get that sound?”. If it was a recent recording there is a good chance these guys were behind it. They make an incredibly wide range of pedals that all go from great quality, usable pedals for almost any style to the weirdest, most wonderful tones that you have never heard before.
- Origin Effects – These guys are the compressor kings. They make compressors, that is about it but they are amazing ones. Designed specifically for different instruments making them perfectly matched for that frequency range.
- Wamper – Wampler fall into a similar category as a company like Keeley or JHS. High quality effects made in a way that anybody can just pick up and play. Nothing too crazy just the best of the best tones.
- JHS – The one thing that really seperates JHS from all the other boutique pedal brands is how ingenious their engineering is. No one ever thought you could fit 9 perfect Tube Screamer replications in a single box, but they did it. That is what you can expect from JHS the basics reinvented in ways you never thought possible.
Even though it might seem that you need a bit of everything on your pedalboard. In reality, a handful of carefully picked effects to fit your style are all you need. Everything else on top is what allows you to craft your own unique sound.
After you have decided the type of effect it can still be a lot of trial and error to find the specific pedals or settings that get you the sound you are looking for. Luckily there are a tonne of different manufacturers making pedals for all different price points and needs. So no matter your budget you can build the pedalboard you’re after.