Adding Some Dynamism
If you haven’t experienced playing with effects you’re really missing out. Not only is it great fun but you find new sounds that you’d never have known existed. I’ve put together a guide to the best guitar effects to help you know what to expect when you plug into effects pedals for the first time. Let’s begin.
The Delay Pedal:
The best way to describe a delay pedal is the word “echo”. This pedal is best used with a clean electric guitar tone. You can usually set the pace of the delay, so you could have a subtle ambient tone or a completely crazy mess of noise. When used in a balanced fashion I challenge anyone not to feel rather tranquil. The band U2 use a lot of delay in their songs such as “where the streets have no name”. This is one of my favorite effects because it gives a whole new dynamic to picking with a clean tone on the electric guitar.
The Distortion Pedal:
This is one of the most commonly used effects. Most amps have an “overdrive” function, which is essentially distortion. Using the tone and gain on the pedal or amp you can switch between the subtle tones of blues to the screaming distortion of heavy rock and metal.
Most guitarists will have this pedal close by due to the need to change from clean to distorted so often. You can get so many different tones from these tiny pedals. Most guitarists have their “signature” distorted sound. For example, it’s easy to recognize when Santana is playing from the distortion he uses. With some experimentation you’ll find the type of tone that suits you. I like a nice crunch when I palm mute, so usually have a higher gain. I balance this by switching from bridge to neck pick-ups when I need to let loose.
The Reverb Pedal:
Ever wanted to get the sound of the wild-west? That twangy slightly echoed sound? The reverb pedal is for you. You can crank up the settings to create a really abstract sound, or keep it subtle to add a little depth. This pedal works best when playing with a clean tone. Despite it’s western sound it’s commonly used in rock. Think “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak and Halleluja in Jeff Buckley’s version.
This is another pedal that offers hours of fun due to the variety of sounds it can produce. Again it’s quite tranquil to use this pedal, there’s something soothing about it, but perhaps that’s just me!
The Wah-Wah Pedal:
If you’ve ever listened to Jimi Hendrix, you’ll know the wah-wah pedal. The crying effect of the wah-wah pedal was usually present whenever Jimi played. I do like the wah-wah pedal, but I find it’s easy to over-use. What’s more there’s a rhythm to it. It can sound quite terrible if you rock your foot forwards at the wrong time, giving an awful “pinch” to the note. But with some practice you can get some good results with this pedal. Rock your foot forward to sharpen the tone and backwards to muffle the tone. The wah-wah pedal is used in a variety of styles by bands like Metallica, Wings and The Temptations.
This is another one of my favorites. The phaser pedal creates a sweeping effect, almost as if the sound is swirling around you. It can be very subtle, which can be used for a longer duration, or more aggressive, which is used in short bursts. I find that using a phaser is great when you want to add emphasis to a strummed chord progression. Brian May uses a subtle phaser effect in the guitar solo in “We Will Rock You”. Dakota by the Stereophonics also uses a subtle phaser effect.
At first hearing the flanger pedal in action you might mistake it for the phaser pedal. They both have a similar sweeping sounds, however the flanger has a slightly different tone. Of course you can change the attack and tone of the effect however the flanger is associated with a warm, psychedelic tone. I remember experimenting with the flanger pedal once. I unplugged it from my guitar and ran my microphone through it. The result was some seriously strange backing vocals.
Songs that use the flanger pedal include “Life in the fast lane” by The Eagles, “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin. Kashmir uses a very fast attack, which provides the sound for the intro riff. Life in the fast lane is the more traditional tone, sweeping and swirling around the listener. In fact I think they may have used the flanger on the backing vocals too!
This one is for the lead guitarists. A signal boost, also known simply as a boost pedal, increases the signal without affecting the tone. In simple terms, it makes your guitar louder by boosting the gain. Decent pedals won’t affect the tone whilst boosting. The last thing you want it to introduce some fuzz, hiss or other undesirable noise when you’re lining up a prominent riff or solo.
They’re usually pretty simple pedals, most just have one dial to adjust the amount of boost. Others include low, mid and high boost controls so that you can fine tune your boosted sound. Sometimes you just want to increase the volume so that your solo isn’t lost in the noise of the bass and rhythm guitars. Most guitarists will use these pedals. Watch closely and you’ll see them tap their boost pedal with their foot when getting ready for a riff or solo.
Another pedal capable of providing a multitude of sounds is the chorus pedal. It ‘thickens’ the sounds of your guitar without boosting the signal. So if you want to add a little more depth to chords or even a picked part, you can do so with a chorus pedal. Different pedals come with a differing amount of features. Some have just have level and tone, and some have more features such as rate and depth. That enables you to find the right tone for you. As with some of the other pedals, if you crank everything up to the max you’re going to get a strange sounds from this effect. However if you temper it to the right level it can add depth to your play. “Walking on the Moon” by The Police uses the chorus effect. That thick ringing sound is the chorus in action. “There She Goes” by The La’s also makes use of the chorus pedal. You can hear it in the main riff.
The use of the looper pedal is an art in it’s own right. The looper pedal enables you to record what you’re playing, then play it back in a loop. Different pedals have different features. Generally they’ll record between 10 and 12 minutes of audio for you to jam over. They can also record multiple loops, so you can record many parts all in one loop. It’s all about the timing with a looper pedal, but if you master it you can achieve so much. For example, a looper pedal is one of Ed Sheeran’s mainstays.
I’ve seen people perform gigs with a looper pedal, building the layers of the song as they perform. Done correctly it can have an amazing affect. The key strength of the looper lies in it’s ability to help you to practice. You can layer up your practice to help you nail those tricky parts. It’s also useful as a creative tool. If you’re searching for a riff to sit over some chords, why not put the chords on loop and play around in real time? Looper pedals vary in cost, but I think they’re an essential bit of kit for any guitarist.
A compressor pedal seeks to reduce the range between the loudest and quietest parts of your playing. For example if you play a pentatonic scale with some hammer-ons, you might see a slight variation in volume during the hammer-on. The compressor seeks to aid that by boosting quieter notes and smoothing louder ones. This can be really helpful when soloing, especially for tapping. Compressors can also ‘sustain’ notes, depending on the settings you use. Ever heard “The Man Who Sold The World” by Nirvana. Kurt uses a compressor pedal when playing the riff and solo.
The pedals come with different settings, such as level, sustain level and attack. If you crank up the sustain level you can hold a note for ages, especially when distorted. Crank up the attack and it’ll blunt the sound a little. Experimentation with the settings can lead to new discoveries and help you to identify your preferred sound. If you’re in to your blues and jazz this is a pedal that you’ll want to consider. I do like the compressor, especially for the sustain functionality.
It can be a little confusing when entering the world of effects pedals. You should treat it like a playground because there are so many tones and sounds you can create with these marvelous little boxes of joy. Whether you want to rock the house with a distortion pedal, relax with the delay pedal or be a one person music machine with a looper they offer hours and hours of fun. Be warned, once you’ve got one you’ll probably want all of them!
I hope you enjoyed this post on the best guitar effects. Feel free to leave a comment below or get in touch via my contact page. Don’t forget to share with anyone who might find this useful. Happy strumming!