When it comes to guitar effects pedals, there are certain staples that every player seems to have in their bag of tricks; you most definitely need your distortion/fuzz/overdrive variety, some chorus, delays, wahs for a screaming solo … and for the more adventurous prog rockers out there, maybe a little bit of phase, flangers – an octave generator even. Essentially, these are what most think of when they see a guitar effects pedal and for good reason – these are the effects that you can actually hear! Prominently, at least. But with that said, there are still numerous pedals out there being put to good use behind the scenes that are used not necessarily to create a specific effect, but more along the lines of shaping and fine tuning the overall sound, or even fixing a few common issues. These are the compressors, noise gates and EQ pedals – equipment built to further enhance a player’s overall sound. And although some of these pedals might not seem to make much of a difference from a listener’s perspective, it can make all the difference with the player; because as we all should know, it’s not always just what the crowd hears that can make or break a performance – it’s also what they don’t. So, for those of you interested in some of the more popular compressors, noise gates and EQ pedals around, as well as what benefits they can give you, read on and check out some of the more popular unsung effects pedals out there!
Essentially, compression pedals work by doing one simple but important task – reduce the height of the instrument’s signal to a preset level. Some compression pedals even allow you to change this level over time or at will. This is known as “Attack” on most of these pedals where a greater attack level will give you a more aggressive sound. Also, compressors have the ability to allow a player to expand the length of a held note, creating a consistent sustain; the compressor tries to keep the output signal at a consistent level even as the input signal is decreasing, creating a sustain that will hold its original sound level longer. This type of effects pedal has become increasingly popular with country music players who tend to use clean sounds, making faster passages sound uneven unless artificially compressed. Bass players also tend to use compressors for the same reasons.
Known as “a Nashville standard,” the MXR Dyna Comp is definitely a guitar effects standard as this pedal has been copied by various companies under various guises. Whether you’re looking for that percussive, clicky sound on a clean guitar that can be heard on several pop hits or an even volume level or sustained tones for mellow lead work, the MXR Dyna Comp has you covered. The Output knob lets you control the compressed output level while the Sensitivity knob sets the compression ratio. Used by such notable players as Eddie Van Halen, Lowell George and David Gilmour!
Heralded as one of the finest compression pedals around, the Soul Preacher offers three different selectable attacks with silky, long sustains via a quick switch that allows you to effortlessly change between them. The Sustain control allows you to control the amount of sustain while the Volume knob sets the output level. The three Attack settings – Fast, Medium and Slow – allow you to select a rise time of 20 ms, 50 ms or 100 ms, respectively.
As far as compressors go, this one is pretty straight forward; two control knobs, two jacks and one stomp switch. Known for its classic ‘60s and ‘70s vintage compression, the Demeter Compulator was pretty much created to recreate the sounds capable on early tube units and optical compressors but in the small confines of a guitar effects pedal. The Compression knob affects the amount of gain reduction of the input signal while the Volume knob controls the output volume of the pedal. Also features a trim pot on the back of the pedal for increased gain control.
These pedals are very similar to compressors in that they are specifically used to alter an instruments signal level but whereas compressors are used to make sure a signal is above a certain threshold, noise gates attenuate signals which register below the threshold. Another difference between them is that noise gates are similar to humbuckers in that they were made specifically with noise cancellation in mind. As most players now tend to use several effects pedals, the signal passing through has been altered by a fair amount by the time it hits the actual amplifier. Some of these effects, notably the same compressors mentioned above, have the unintended side-effect of raising the background noise of a signal, making noise gate pedals all the more important when placed properly before compressors on an effects chain. While the noise gate doesn’t actually cancel out the noise like a humbucker would, it uses a fixed range to make sure your signal passes through while the noise doesn’t: the level of a signal is above the level of the noise so when set accordingly, the pedal acts as its name states – a noise gate – although leaving the range open too much will allow noise to come through. Gates typically feature 'attack', 'release', and 'hold' settings and may feature a 'look-ahead' function as well.
No matter what style of playing you do, from country to punk rock, the Guitar Silencer is pretty much your swiss army knife for wiping out hiss and silencing those changes in your music. The Guitar Silencer allows you to go from heavy all out distortion to SILENCE by muting your guitar strings – something that can’t be said when playing through a raw signal. Also, you get all this without changing a guitar’s tone which can be a common problem with similar noise reduction pedals. There’s plenty of variety in the pedal; whether you simply need a bit of single ended noise reduction but want to keep that low level sustain alive or want to chop the ends of your notes while achieving instant noise kill, the Rocktron Silencer has you covered.
One of the problems when playing through an amp with too much high gain is that annoying persistent hiss. Luckily for us, we have the MXR Smart Gate. Equipped with three selectable types of noise reduction meant to handle pretty much any type of signal you can throw at it. The Smart Gate will take care of any unwanted hum or hissing while allowing even the smallest of detail in your tone play through. Known for its uncanny ability to sense precisely when – and how fast – to engage, this little pedal is capable of is able to filter out every last bit of sustain from your chord without being cut off. The M135 also features a hardwire bypass, precise threshold trigger, and amazingly clean circuitry.
These pedals are similar to the settings found on most amplifiers but tend to focus on more specific tone shaping features and filters. Also, these pedals can be placed before certain effects on a chain in order to properly equalize the signal before it hits a certain effect, accentuating certain features that would not be possible by simply manipulating settings on the amp after the signal has received its effect. One of the most practical applications for EQ pedals are using them to cut the bass from your signal before hitting a distortion pedal which creates a tighter, more defined tone with plenty of clarity and cut. Also, equalizer pedals will give you more than just the three knobs featured on most entry level amplifiers, making specific changes in frequency that much easier if you don’t have a top of the line amp.
The Electro Harmonix Knockout EQ pedal uses a powerful two-filter combination that can make your Les Paul sound like a Stratocaster and your Stratocaster sound like a Telecaster. Its secret...the Knockout has a 7 pole filter for sculpting the low end of your mids and a 6 pole filter to shape the top end of the mids. This provides incredible tone shaping. Use after distortion to bring out the heavy weight punch of the metal masters. The Knockout is also truly amazing on Bass. Also features true bypass and a diecast chassis.
If you’re the type of player that like total control over your sound, then the MXR M108 might be the perfect EQ pedal for you. The M108 provides all around control for the ten most important frequencies for guitars as well as separate input gain and output volume sliders. Not only will you be able to dictate the exact sound of your guitar but also where it pops out during a mix; make a fill or a solo sit at the forefront, give a this-sounding single-coil the sound of a high-output humbucker – even turn a vintage one-channel amplifier into a two-channel monster! Create cooped-mid death tones, midrange-heavy singing lead sounds, thunderous lows, crystalline highs – you name it and the M-108 will do it.