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

MXR-KFK-EQ-1 KERRY KING

MXR-KFK-EQ-1 KERRY KING – An EQ pedal

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: