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What is an effect pedal for guitar, how to use it and what are the effects ?

What is an effect pedal for guitar, how to use it and what are the effects ?

You might sure have heard already of effect pedals for guitar, either in a music shop, or from another guitarist with a little more experience. The words distortion pedal, overdrive, reverb and loop tell you anything? Don’t worry, we’ll detail together all sorts of guitar pedals that are essential to your play style, to enhance your sound or add effects.

What’s an effect pedal for guitar ?

A guitar effect pedal is a small electronic device that you can control with your foot and which, according to its characteristics, apply an effect to your sound. You can plug in your electric guitar, bass or even an electro-acoustic instrument to transform your sound. You can power it with a 9V battery or straight from the plug. I advise you to quickly buy a power supply ! Pedals are very greedy in batteries and you might spend your time buying new ones otherwise.

  • an agressive saturation with effects like Distorsion or Overdrive.
  • some kind of reverberation, that could give you the feeling of playing in a wide church.
  • a programmable echo, brought to you by a delay pedal.
  • or some particular effects linked to the signal of your guitar like the wah-wah.

By pressing with you foot, you will activate the effect of the pedal. Another push on the footswitch will turn it off. We call that the « bypass ». In general, the average price of a pedal is set between 40 and 180€ according to the quality of craft and the type of effect.

The difference between an analog and a digital effect pedal for guitar

You are hitting here a conflict of purists. At first, an effect pedal was made from an electronic circuit with transistors. It’s in 1962 that the first pedal was born. For the more curious of you, we’re speaking about the Fuzz Pedal, I will write about it in the following of the article. Thus an analog signal treated the electric signal from the guitar with its components, before injecting the newly altered signal in your guitar amp.

The digital pedal came around in the early 1980’s. It’s aim was to sample (cut) the audio signals in a digital flux. Then, the different components inside (such as a microchip) will process digitally the signal. In the end, the digital signal is reconverted into a audio signal.

The great conflict opposing guitarists holds there : purist prefers analog while new wave only swear by digital effects. In the end, it’s a simple matter of point of view.

Advantages and inconvenient of the analog pedal :

  • Its authenticity and vintage vibe.
  • Doesn’t undermine the quality of the signal digitally/

Advantages and inconvenient of the digital pedal :

  • Lower price for far advanced features.
  • Possibility to mix all kind of effects in a single pedal (multi-effects vs pedalboards).
  • Possibilité de mémoriser plusieurs réglages.

From a personal vantage point, I love the vintage vibe coming from the good old analog pedal. It’s even possible to find tube pedals to give even more colors to your sound. Some became almost historical, such as the whammy or wah-wah, the Zoom G2 or the Boss series “me” de boss (like “me-25” or “me-70”). But on a practical level and to access a richer variety of sound, the digital effect pedal, notably in its multi-effect form is the most incredible and funny solution.

Multi-effect Pedals, Ali Baba’s cave

Thanks to the digital era, it became possible to mix a lot of effects in a single pedal. Imagine, a larger pedal with a screen, that helps you get a hundred-different effect, with the possibility to mix the way you want a databank already gathering dozens of presets giving you the sound of your favorite artist in a click. Moreover, those pedal also host an inbuild guitar tuner, metronome and drum box simulating rhythms. With this kind of pedal, you will be able to have fun months and months.

I personally love the amount of possible settings the multi-effect pedals allow us to manage. I have a Boss GT8 that I use during the live courses to set in the reverb, distortion or many other type of effects pleasing my ears. Everything easily controllable from my feet . You can switch from a dirty to a clean sound in a switch of the foot. Quite nice during live performances or concerts !

How to plug your effect pedal in your existing sound chain?

From scratch, an effect pedal must be wired between the guitar and its amp. Nevertheless, it is possible to set an effect loop (FX Loop), thus plugging the effect pedals after the pre-amplification stage of your amp. You can constitute what we call a “rack” of effects. An assembling in series to obtain different sounds thanks to a connected pedal network. If you have a lot of them, we can also advise you to build yourself a pedalboard. A kind of suitcase where all your pedal fit, connect, and are ready to be used and transported. For those you like to vary, you can also try the Four Cable Method cables.

A pedalboard containing a distortion pedal, a compressor, and reverb.
A beautifully set pedalboard, the perfect gift to a guitarist. The assembly line is logical but nothing prevents you to do some experiments

The different kind of sounds and effect pedals

You wouldn’t doubt it, engineers and electronicians had fun building pedals to create crazy sounds! Know that it is possible for you to assemble your own pedal at home by buying a crafting kit. Many tutorial exists on internet.

Saturation : distorsion, fuzz and overdrive

You love saturated sounds and desire to create a nice crunchy feel to your sound ? Those pedals are made for you !

  • The overdrive enable your sound to reach a clean and powerfull saturation or to give a crunchy vibe to it.
  • The distorsion is made for metal fans, it let you push your sound to the threshold.
  • The Fuzz pedal is rather particular. Imagine a drooling distorsion pushed to extremness. The Big Muff, for instance, is a reference and absolute must try !

Echo: reverb and delay

You wanna do some beautiful guitar solo ? Don’t look any further, those effects are the ones you seek :

  • Reverb grants you the feeling of playing in a church. You can set the intensity with the mix, the lenght or the depth for example.
  • Delay will give you a sensation of echo. By playing, the sound will repeat many time in a row, less and less loud.

Those two effects perfectly mix, I advise you to always set a little of it to embelish your sound. Less is more, in the end, no ?

To refine your sound : Compressor and EQualizer

You think your sound is way too loaded with bass or trebles ? With an EQ pedal, or “ equalizer “, you will be able to act on the different frequencies composing the specter of your signal. By boosting the bass, carving the mediums and cuting the trebles for . It exists under two shapes :

  • A Multi-band Equalizer allows you to set precisely each frequency band.
  • The Parametrical EQ enables you to carve the sound with an amplitude (Q) setting, on asserted frequency bands.

The compressor pedal, in opposition, will allow you to compress the sound to give it more room and impact.

To improvise : the loop pedal

You play 4 chord, push on your pedal and let it play for you in loop. You now simply have to you’re your guitar over what you’ve just recorded. Easy as a loop ! If you love to improvise in solo or live, this pedal will be a whole lot of fun. .Let’s take a look at its principle :

  1. Activate the pedal and play your chord sequence
  2. Press again once the sequence is over.
  3. The pedal has recorded the sound and will simultaneously play it in loop.
  4. Have fun and improvise over it !

The essentials effects : flanger, chorus, vibrato and phaser

Specials effects without saturation or echo made their way in to open the guitar world to new experiences. Especially in the production, I introduce you to :

  • The flanger, nicely nicknamed the “hoover”. A pedal that listen to your sound and add time and frequency perturbation. It feels like the sound is being bend in every possible way and your guitar doubles. (not like with an octaver, that takes the sound of your guitar and double it one octave higher or lower).
  • Le chorus vous donne une sensation similaire au flanger. C’est un des effets les plus connus, mais plus harmonieux que le flanger.
  • The phaser will shift your signal and mix it with another one, a little late. It then feels divided into phases, one past, one from the future, according to what you play.
  • The vibrato : is a rather original effect that will make your signal undulate the way it would with a vibrato bar you activate with hand

Expression pedals : wah-wah and pitch shifter

A few pedals can make the sound vary according to the way you bend a footswitch. That’s what we call an expression, or expressive pedal. It’s the case of the two we’ll present you now :

  • The pitch schifter will affect the “pitch” or height of your sound by sending it to the stratosphere of trebles. You can higher it or lower it for many octaves with a very simple foot move. The Digitech Whammy is a good representative of this technology.
  • The wah-wah is surely the most popular guitar effect. Used by legends like Jimi Hendrix or Dimebag Darrel, the famous Crybabyy from Dunlop is the ultimate reference to have. It’s a by-pass filter you can control with your feet. If the pedal is in low position, trebles are highered up. If it’s in high position, lows are amplified. The quick shifting creates the famous “wah-wah” sound

Tools pedals : guitar tuner or noise gate

Some other pedals will not vastly affect your sound but improve your playing comfort :

  • A tuning pedal or guitar tuner can be inserted in your effect chain to control the tuning of your guitar at all time.
  • A noise gate is a very interesting pedal. It will remove all the parasitic noises below a defined volume. You can play without ever worrying about dirty interferences.
  • A volume pedal : to contrôle de volume of your instrument. Better than turning on and off the amp no ?
  • A rhythm box : to play along adaptative rhythms and pre-recored drum track

Conclusion : is it mandadory to purchase a guitar pedal ?

Not at all, you can simply play sounds with your guitar amp without having to buy a pedal. At my humbile beginings, I bought a distorsion pedal… then I regreted it. Then, I bought a multi-effect…. And I also regreted it. But only because I lacked the experience to understand its whole utility. Today, I re-use those pedals to work on my sound. It never stopped me in my learning or in the way I practiced my instrument all those years. Everything depend on your interest in the technology, if you want to have fun creating crazy sound or simply to take pleasure in experiencing.

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