Nowadays, guitarists have an innumerable amount of effects pedals they can add to their arsenal – many of which would have been only available to professional players on a huge budget. But having the effects is only one part of the equation – you have to know how to use them!
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 your favorite tough as nails metal band, distortion/overdrive is probably your answer. It should be said that there are a few key differences between overdrive and distortion, although they are closely related. Find out all about Distortion versus overdrive here! Anyways, that signature growl was first achieved by overloading a guitar amp with so much input -- such as maxing out certain settings such as gain, hence the name overdrive -- it couldn’t properly decipher it cleanly, resulting in a warm but gritty sound. Most amps now come with distortion or overdrive settings built-in, although a distortion/overdrive pedal lets you switch between a brazen sound and a clean one on the fly.
Simply put, the dynamics of an instrument is its volume. Most common among dynamic pedals is the booster which is usually used as a way to get a boost of sound during solos, but can also work as a way of pushing tube amps into clipping/overdrive without adding unwanted color to the tone. 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, or noise gates that cut off sound below a certain level.
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.
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, which works very much like the Flanger but lacks intensity and control, as well as Tremelo and Vibrato; the former signifying a shift in volume while the latter deals with a shift in pitch.
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.”
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.
Which Effects Pedal is Right for You?
Although there are several things to consider when deciding on what kind of pedal, or combination of pedals, is right for you, there are certainly a bevy of options to choose from. Some might be looking for a clean effect that they can switch on the fly. Others might just want something unavailable on most amps; it all depends on how you want to rock.