Effects 101: Types Explained

Pedal Effects Broken Down By Category

The list of commercially available foot pedals can be staggering, and there are just as many endorsed by several different recording artists across all genres. Feeling like jamming to good ol’ classic rock? Jeff Beck has you covered. Maybe you want to thrash like Zakk Wylde? He even has his name on one! Although there are several hundred effect choices available, most of the effects are simply variations on what’s been around since the advent of the recording studio, which makes selecting the perfect pedal a lot easier once its narrowed down to six or so main types.


Distortion Pedals

Probably the most popular and widely used of all effects.  Metal, punk, classic rock … you name a rock genre, they’ve probably used it.  If you’ve ever wondered how come dad’s old Strat could never quite sound like little Timmy’s favorite cross-dressing metal band, distortion is probably your answer. Distortion was first achieved by overloading a guitar amp with so much input, such as maxing out certain settings such as gain; it couldn’t properly decipher it cleanly, resulting in a warm but gritty sound. Most amps now come with distortion settings, although a distortion pedal lets you switch between the brazen sound and a clean one on the fly. The most commonly used type of distortion pedal is the Overdrive.


Dynamics Pedals

Simply put, the dynamics of an instrument is its volume. Most commonly used as a way to get a boost of sound during solos. Although pretty straight forward, most dynamics pedals are equipped with a few other settings to play around with, such as compressors that balance out the sound, making loud sounds quieter and quiet sounds louder.


Filter Pedals

These pedals work by altering the frequency of the guitar signal, affecting certain areas as needed and even allow for extended manipulation of treble and bass beyond that of most amps. One of the more widely used if not the most famous filter pedal is the “Wah-wah” effect, used in styles such as funk, psychedelic rock and disco to name a few. Ever wondered what gave the intro to Shaft more funk than James Brown’s scarf? Check out the Wah-wah.


Modulation Pedals

Another widely used effect, this category includes some of the more known Chorus and Flanger pedals. Modulation works by combining a series of altered signals stemming from the root note in order to create unusual and otherworldly tones. On a Chorus pedal, hitting a single note can sound as if multiple were struck, and boosted even more when hitting all six. The Flanger effect recreates a sort of double tracking effect used in studios, used in several of rocks most famous riffs, such as the into to Heart’s “Barracuda.” Other notable effects in this category include the Phaser, Tremelo and Vibrato pedals


Time Based Pedals

These essentially work by delaying the signal of the guitar, creating echo like effect. Delay/Echo pedals achieve their effect by duplicating the incoming signal and giving a slight delay. Reverb pedals meanwhile create multiple echo effects from a single note along that gradually fade off. This is also known as “decay.”


The Rest

If you can recreate it on an amp or in a studio, there’s probably a pedal for it, and then some. From more experimental and complicated setups such as Amplifier Modeling which recreates digital sound to the more recently popular Pitch Correction, or “auto-tune” effect, there are several other specifically unique tone and signal manipulation pedals available.

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