Just like there is no universally perfect guitar, there doesn’t exist a universally ideal guitar pedal. Choosing the right pedal depends on your subjective needs. If you are well-informed about various pedals and their unique functions, it will be easier for you to make the ideal choice.
Take a look at this comprehensive guitar pedals buyer’s guide to find the right pedal for each section of your arrangement from guitar to the amp:
Gain-Staging Effects Pedals
There are multiple gain-staging effects pedals that range from mild clean gain boosts to incredible fuzz effects. These pedals will define the foundation of your tone.
Here are some common gain-staging pedals:
Gain boost or clean boost pedals are in-line preamps that you can use to hit amplifiers and overdrive effects with an extra-hot signal. You can also use them to compensate for signal loss over extended cable runs or extensive effects pedal chains by putting them at the end of the pedalboard. They feature single volume control and a footswitch.
A bit similar to boost pedals, overdrives simulate the breakup you generate by pushing an amplifier to the point of distortion. It emulates distortion and progressive compression based on incoming volume. They have two gain stages – the input and output volume – and simple tone control.
Distortion pedals use diodes and transistors to push incoming signals to the clipping point to generate distortion. When pushed to the extreme, the distortion can change into a fuzz effect. A distortion pedal has a drive, an incoming volume adjustment, and a tone knob to roll off harsh high frequencies.
Compression pedals are signal processors that turn down the signal volume that’s louder than a defined threshold, diminishing the dynamic range. You can use them to get a sustainable ideal for solos by kicking in quality and boosting the output. They come in various styles – simple one-knob units with fixed settings to complex studio-style compressors with various controls.
These are large rocker pedals designed to offer volume control. They are often used toward the end of the gain-stage section. They are ideal for generating smooth swells and subtle fade-outs.
Filtering effects cover the frequency stage. Here are some filtering effects pedals you can choose from:
An EQ pedal sculpts your harmonics, makes precise frequency adjustments, and corrects tonal problems. You can use it to correct frequency imbalances caused by delay, modulation, reverb, and other effects. Graphic EQs with five to ten frequency bands are easier to dial on the go and well-suited for quick adjustments.
Pitch shifters and harmony pedals have different styles and functions, from polyphonic harmony pedals that let you dial in full chords to the classic octave down bass-emulation or momentary octave up pedal. These pedals create distinctive sounds and allow creative tonal expression. Even though the effects they create are creative, they don’t sound realistic. Pitch shifters are also not great at tracking lower pitches.
Wah-Wah and Envelope Filter
The wah-wah lets you sweep the resonant peaking filter manually by rocking your foot. It’s popularly used in multiple music genres, including funk, disco, classic rock, and blues-rock. The enveloper filter triggers a resonant peaking filter from the pick hitting the string to produce a choppy rhythm, among other sounds.
Modulation pedals have a place between frequency and time-based effects. The part of the signal they change is regulated by a low-frequency oscillator (LFO). Here are some modulation pedals you can choose from:
Tremolo and Vibrato
These pedals have a simple LFO that modulates a singular tonal element. Vibrato pedals modulate pitch, while tremolo pedals modulate the volume. They have basic depth and rate controls. Tremolo pedals offer a range of LFO from smooth pulses to a hard square wave. Vibrato pedals typically include controls for adding ramp-up time and changing the effect rate.
Chorus and Flanger
These effects are often covered by the same pedal. Flanger produces a distinct rise-and-fall sound, while chorus produces a more roomy shimmer with conspicuous delay. Flangers double the incoming signal to produce a series of frequency dips and peaks. Chorus also modulates the delayed signal, but the delay is considerably longer than the flanger. Chorus effects have broader depth and rate controls.
Phaser pedals use phase cancellation to produce a number of frequency notches and peaks at evenly spread-out intervals across the spectrum. The cutoff frequencies of the phase-shifted signal are modulated by an LFO, causing a gradual sweep which is subtler than flanging.
Time effects can be realistic or artificial. You can use them to cause the ideal delay or reverb. Here are two time effects pedals you can choose from:
Reverb pedals create a sense of space around the sound. Some reverb effects imitate classic analog-reverb types, such as plates and springs, while others are purely synthetic. Some reverbs also emulate the sound of real spaces and large rooms. Reverbs come with single-level control or various digital settings, allowing you to create your ideal reverb tone.
Delay takes the incoming signal and repeats it once or multiple times after some time. Delays are commonly used pedals in modern music, from the short slap-back delay used in rockabilly and surf to the long delays used in blues-rock music. Analog delay pedals produce distinct harmonics and decay characteristics, while digital delays develop their distinctive sounds and unique characteristics.
Use this comprehensive guitar pedals buyer’s guide to make an informed decision and invest in the right pedals to enhance your electric guitar solos and experiment with complex, creative sounds.