Guitar Pedals

//Guitar Pedals

Guitar Pedals

Guitar pedals have a big impact on the style and sound you want to get. There are a lot of different effects out there. Let’s see what you can find. 

Guitar Pedals

From left to right: compressor, equalizer, overdrive, octaver and tuner pedal.

1. Effects

Effects have been used in records for a long time now. Back in the 1940s, audio engineers created delays, echos, and other effects with reel to reel tapes. Now we have multiple ways to add effects to our sound: amps, software, guitar pedals, rackmount preamps, or processors.

We, guitarists, generally use pedals for live situations, and rackmounts for recording sessions. But the other way around is also possible.

As there are a lot of combinations possible, in this article, we’ll concentrate on pedals only. Let’s get started with…

2. Distortion Pedals

Boss Distortion DS-1

Boss Distortion DS-1

Distortion pedals are often the first choice guitar players make when they plan on buying their first effect unit. “You gotta start somewhere”, one would say. And distortion sounds so good on guitar it’s almost impossible to get past it.

You probably already know that there’s a bunch of various distortion sounds you can create. And therefore several pedal types. We can separate them into five main categories:

  • Distortion
  • Overdrive
  • Fuzz
  • Metal / High-gain
  • Tube Overdrive / distortion / fuzz

Also, if you’ve got a tube amp and want to keep its power distortion while lowering the volume, you can acquire a power attenuator pedal. This is a great tool to rehearse at home at a reasonable level.

As it can be pretty hard to understand the difference between distortion, overdrive, and fuzz, here’s a video that shows you how each one sounds:

3. Volume / expression pedals

Boss FV-500h - A Volume Pedal

Boss FV-500h – A Volume Pedal

Volume can be affected in several ways: by compression (or with a limiter), auto-swelling, or simply by turning it down or up manually. Some expensive effect units can do everything we’ve just listed, but if you’re looking for just one type, you can simply pick between the following pedals:

  • Volume
  • Tremolo
  • Auto-Volume Envelope Volume
  • Compressors

Expression pedals are used to modulate several effects at the same time. Volume pedals can offer this feature, sometimes. Here’s an article giving you more details on expression pedals.

4. Pitch-changing effect pedals

The Boss PS6 - A Pitch Shifter

Boss PS6 Pitch Shifter

To add a 3rd, 4th or any degree you want to the notes you’re playing, you can do it manually, or use a harmonizer. The whammy for example is used with an expression pedal allowing you to change the volume of the harmony. Some more expensive pedals allow you to use several voices at the same time to create a more complex harmony.

The octaver pedal is less expensive and give you the opportunity to add octaves to the notes you’re playing (one or two, usually). It’s a lot easier to use than a harmonizer and a good choice if you’re a beginner.

5. Modulation pedals

To modulate the sound of the guitar – and time actually – you can choose between 5 types of pedal:

  • Chorus
  • Flanger
  • Rotary-Speaker Simulator
  • Vibrato
  • Phaser

The rotary-speaker simulator reproduces digitally the sound of the Leslie speakers or – later on – Fender Vibratone.

6. Time-based pedals

The previous section focused on modulation pedals. We could have placed them in that category as they actually modulate the time. But some other effect units add something to it, like the delay/echo and the reverb pedals.

However, they are completely different pedals, and you might need both of them.

The delay/echo pedal does just what it tells you. It could usually extend from a really short to a really long time span and be altered with presets – if present. Among the most known:

  • Slap
  • Reverse
  • Ping-pong

The reverb works the same way, you can change the length of the effect with a knob placed on the pedal. There are also multiple presets, depending on the effect unit you’re buying. Among the most known:

  • Room
  • Hall
  • Church
  • Plate

7. Filter pedals



If you’ve already used a music editor, you probably already know all the effects mentioned in this article. Filtering is no exception as the process consists of altering one or several band frequencies, like any equalizer does. And, yes, it’s possible to have an EQ pedal.

Something a bit less known is that the overly famous WahWah effect unit is actually a filter pedal. But instead of remaining steady like on an Equalizer, the bandpass filter moves from a frequency to another, helped by a rocker pedal.

And the same applies to the Auto-Wah pedal, but this time, the rocker pedal is replaced by a dynamic envelope filter, which goes up and down automatically.

8. Making the right choice

Depending on the sound you seek, it is nice to check every effect individually to see if they could apply to your style. Also know that there are multi-effect units or rackmounts in case you need to group a lot of effects into one device – or if you don’t have the courage to build a pedal board.

Talking about pedal boards, you’ve probably seen them around if you’re interested in effect units. They become really handy in case you’re using a great deal of guitar pedals on stage. Most guitarists prefer to build their own in order to match their pedal set, but you can also buy one in a music shop.

For more details on each pedal categories, you can do some research on YouTube. Many effect units have been tested. But to truly know if the pedal is worth the purchase, it’s better to try it yourself.

I will make more articles soon on the subject, and enter into more details. Meanwhile, I hope this article helped you. Also know that VSTs and amplifiers are quite helpful to add some effect to your sound. To learn more about them, go there:

By |2018-06-22T14:25:53+00:00November 11th, 2017|Guitar Gear|6 Comments

About the Author:

Ben is a French self-taught guitarist who has been exploring the world of guitar for more than ten years now. He has taught guitar players in France and Ireland before starting his own web site dedicated to guitar lessons. Whenever he's not teaching, he keeps on practicing the instrument and learning new techniques. Apart from that, he loves traveling, IT, and really enjoy discovering new cultures.


  1. Carl February 15, 2018 at 9:06 pm - Reply

    Hi there and great info on pedals. I am new to the guitar world and had no idea all the different pedals that are available. I actually do not know which one to get first besides the volume foot pedal. I like playing rock and roll songs so is there a beginner’s pedal that u might recommend for me to play with? Thanks for your response.


    • Ben February 16, 2018 at 6:19 pm - Reply

      Hi Carl, first off thanks for the comment. A volume foot pedal is good for a start, but if you really like rock and roll, you will love distortion pedals. Boss makes great ones, and they are not expensive. They are simple to use, usually one tap activates the disto, the next one dis-activates it. I hope that answers your question.

  2. Sarah February 16, 2018 at 12:48 am - Reply

    This is pretty neat! I only have limited experience with acoustic, but these look fun to experiment with. I’m also curious as to what type of pedal you’d recommend for a beginner.

    • Ben February 16, 2018 at 6:32 pm - Reply

      Hi Sarah, thanks for the comment. That depends on which sound you’re looking for. If you can plug your acoustic guitar, a chorus, delay or a reverb pedal would be a great add to your sound. Keep in mind that if you own an amplifier or a mixing console, you might already have those effects. If you also play on an electric guitar, you can pick a distortion pedal, they are fun to use.

  3. Philip February 16, 2018 at 1:56 am - Reply

    Hi Ben,

    I got an old electric guitar keeping the dust company under my stairs. I am fully intending on refitting new strings cos a few are looking like they slash my arms open if I play them.

    I came across an article about a week a go explaining various ways to distort the guitar sound in real time but he was way too complicated for me. I am glad I found your article as you were able to speak tome in such a fashion I actually know what you are saying – than you for catering to the beginner 🙂 .

    Which do you think would suit my needs as I am only intending to play for personal pleasure and perhaps around a camp fire for friends so I don’t need to have any Jimmy Hendrix style technology to still play badly? Thanks in advance and hope to hear from you soon.



    • Ben February 16, 2018 at 6:54 pm - Reply

      Hehe, thanks for your kind comment. You’d be surprised that Jimmy Hendrix didn’t have much gear, he was just a very talented musician. For you, if you’re into rock, you can easily choose a distortion guitar, you’ll find good ones not too expensive (like boss or electro harmonix). If you like funk, you can pick a Wahwah, it’s really fun to use. If you’re looking for airy sounds like The Edge from U2, a reverb or chorus pedal seems like a great choice too. Flangers and phasers are fun too, but they are more specific, and you would only use them for a few songs (like Are You Gonna Go My Way, from Lenny Kravitz).

      I hope that answers your question!

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