Jimi Hendrix said, “You don’t need more pedals. You need to practice more”. The statement is 100% true, but it’s a bit contradictory coming from a guy who made the fuzz sound so popular. Have you tried playing “Voodoo Child” without a wah pedal? Yikes!
If you started your guitar journey on an acoustic, you probably have unrealistic expectations when you plug in an electric guitar in an amplifier for the first time. Where is the crunchy sound? How do I create a reverb effect? Can I add multiple pedals? Do I need a tremolo pedal?
While many guitar amplifiers come with effects, you must find a guitar pedal to get the real deal. Some people get addicted and build an entire pedal board that travels everywhere and stays on the floor on every show.
Professionals make it look easy, but if you’re a beginner, you’ll need guidance before altering the sound. Our article will explain what guitar pedals should have, what types are on the market, how to use one, and what you will need to build the perfect pedal board for your style of playing.
Types of Guitar Pedals
Initially, guitar pedals were called ‘stompboxes’. Also, the first ‘pedals”’ were different transistor circuits that could change the sound.
The guitar pedals are small units that mediate between the guitar and the amplifier. They are foot-operated and offer an on-demand effect that can drastically change the guitar sound.
In the 70s, pedals quickly became popular, offering a more diverse sound for a lower price. Some pedal manufacturers haven’t changed their features since then and are happy with their products being the same as 50 years ago.
There are musicians like Jack White who, in today’s modern world, still chase that vintage sound and preach the blues like never before.
There are many types of guitar pedals. Some can complement your playing style, while others can make you unrecognizable and cover up every mistake you make on the fretboard!
Overdrive and dynamic pedals
Overdrive pedals are more versatile than any other pedals on the market, and they come in different shapes and sizes. Distortion is also known as drive or gain. Despite being used by many professional musicians and music genres, it serves a different purpose for every guitar player.
There are many options when it comes to overdrive.
The overdrive pedals stimulate the natural distortion tone without damaging any of your guitar amps. Next to the volume knob on the guitar, there should be another knob for the drive that allows you to control the amount of distortion.
Dynamic pedals pair well with overdrive because of the compressor. The compressor pedal can raise the volume of softer notes and lower it on louder notes – evening out the dynamic.
Ambient and modulation pedals
Contrary to altering the sound with distortion, the clean tone of a guitar by itself can be a beautiful thing. Of course, the guitar and amp quality play the most crucial role in the sound, and even the warmest-sounding tube amps need a pedal that can add a touch of uniqueness.
You can use a modulation effect pedal to achieve a ‘wet’ or affected signal. Modulation and ambient pedals can add an extra layer to your clean signal. Defining modulation in a guitar context can be tricky without going into too many technical details.
Some of the dedicated modulation effects pedals are:
- Chorus effects & vibrato pedals
- Flanger effects pedals
- Tremolo pedals
- Phaser pedals
A pedal that comes with even one of these features falls into the category of a modulation processor. Aside from dedicated effects pedals, there are pedals that offer multiple features called multi effects, such as a flanger pedal that also combines a tremolo pedal.
Another category of effects pedal is the ambient variety. An ambient pedal offers:
The pedal falls into the ambient category when there is a ‘timed’ effect. You can get either a dedicated delay pedal and reverb pedal, or one that offers both.
Pitch and filter pedals
Multi-effects pedals are not for everyone. Most guitarists have a love-hate relationship with them because experimenting with sound is a trait of every beginner guitarist. So we decided to explain what these pedals offer and how they transform sound.
The filter and pitch pedals were popular in the 70s or the Grateful Dead era.
Filter pedals are also known as auto-wah pedals, and they like to enhance the tone by adding or taking away specific frequencies.
Remember, the EQ pedal is not the same as the filter pedal. Filter pedals can do additional processing on the guitar signal and give the tone a certain quality.
The pedals embellish the notes and offer a variety of vowel-like tones.
Despite being one of the most expensive pedals on the market and seeming to have a straightforward task, there is much more to utility pedals than people realize.
One of the most popular pedals in the utility pedals category is the volume pedal. A volume pedal can give you creative freedom on stage. Volume pedals are not the most exciting thing in the world, but it will give you the control of your output volume you need to make yourself louder for your guitar solo, and back off when you need to blend in.
In addition to the expression control, another piece of utility equipment is a volume switcher. This utility pedal allows you to change the volume between two different pickups and is great if you have two guitars with different input levels.
How to Use a Guitar Pedal
Buying your first pedal is unforgettable, but it can quickly become a headache if you don’t connect the equipment properly, as many guitarists have found out!
On a typical day, you plug in the guitar jack in the amp and are ready to roll. When you add a pedal to the rig, you need another cable. One is for the input, and the other is for the pedal’s output.
If the pedal doesn’t have a label explaining which is the input and which is the output jack, the right side is the pedal input, and the left side is the pedal output.
Adding one guitar pedal to the rig means you need one more cable. For example, if you add three pedals, you will need three cables.
The guitar’s signal is sent to the pedal first. Then the pedal sends the guitar’s signal to the amp. If you use more than one pedal, you’ll create a signal chain.
How to Build a Pedal Board
Once you get one pedal to change your guitar tone, you will get addicted and continually search the market for another pedal. Building an entire pedal board like a professional musician is a lot of fun!
To build the right guitar pedal pedal board, you will need
- Power supply
- A board
The ‘ultimate pedal board’ is a different term for every guitar player. Someone who likes heavy metal music will have more distortion-oriented pedals. Reverb and delay effects are for individuals that like pop and R’n’B music.
The first step for building a pedal board is selecting the size of the board. Afterwards, you can choose your style, which can be angled, flat, or a simple case. Then, you can add a power supply and attach cables to the pedals.
It’s a pet project that you’ll not only enjoy building but you’ll tinker with for years to come.
The Most Essential Guitar Pedals
Just like guitars and amplifiers, some essential pedals are constantly used in the music world and offer an irreplaceable sound. Let’s dive deeper and explain the most crucial guitar pedals.
Overdrive and distortion pedals have a different yet unique impact on the tone. The term ‘overdrive’ means cranking up the tube amp and sending a lot of power. Feeding the amp with a lot of power makes it ‘clip’, which results in an overdriven tone. Musicians use an overdrive pedal to achieve a dynamic range in tone and insert a strong sense of gain in the tone.
We can confidently say that every musician’s pedalboard has room for an overdrive pedal. These pedals are very versatile and can be implemented in every genre.
The overdrive pedal we love is the Ibanez TS9:
Classic Overdrive Amp With Vintage and Timeless Op-Amp Design
Designed For: Most eligible for electric guitar blues and classic rock players looking for a vintage overdrive crunch
Features: 9V of power; level, tone, and drive controls; unique green design
- Available over 50 years on the music scene
- One of the best effect pedals ever made
- Used by many icons such as SRV, Gary Moore, etc
- Offers a vintage overdrive crunch
- Great price
- May overtake the amp’s tone
These pedals create an echo or ‘delay’ of the signal, which can create a sense of space and depth in the sound. Delay pedals add one or multiple ‘repeats’, which usually fade gradually. The delay pedals are designed to emulate a ‘reverberation’ inside a room or space.
Early reverb pedals used a metal spring coupled with a transducer to achieve this, while more modern units digitally replicated actual spaces, such as concert halls, churches, and studios.
Led Zeppelin had to use a giant abandoned church to record their album because they needed a more reverb-oriented sound. Delay pedals can also mix in the dry signal and create a perfect tone for the solo or intro section.
A reverb pedal usually has three controls: decay, effect level, and tone. The decay is for the period of reverberation, the effect level controls the overall volume, and the tone is for the, well, effect tone.
The reverb pedal we love is the TC Electonic Hall Of Fame 2 Mini Reverb:
A New and Smaller Version of the Legendary HOF Reverb Pedal With Three Easy Controls
Designed For: Anyone looking for a high-quality reverb pedal with no space on the pedal board
Features: Offers three controls; has 9V of power and one reverb knob; can be controlled through a TonePrint application
- Next-gen reverb
- Affordable price
- It can be controlled with an app
- Mini-sized package
- There is only one knob for controlling the effects level
Distortion is arguably the most popular sound effect on the planet. There are a ton of riffs and song sections where distortion comes in, and it changes the entire atmosphere. Distortion pedals kick-started the career of thousands of musicians who relied on gain before creating their hit songs.
Depending on the level of distortion, this effect is sometimes called gain or fuzz. A high-quality distortion pedal can add a lot of crunchiness to the sound. For that reason, this pedal is mainly used in the hard rock and metal genres.
The effect is so popular that amplifiers come with a distortion level themselves. However, to get the ‘real deal’, you need a proper pedal that is loud, intense, and offers an imperfect grungy tone.
The distortion pedal (sometimes called a fuzz pedal) we love is the Boss DS-1:
A Great-Looking Amp That Stands the Test of Time and Enhances the Sound With Distortion and Lush Harmonics
Designed For: Players with a tight budget but still like a distortion-filled sound for punk and rock
Features: Three knobs for tone, level, and distortion; symmetrical clipping; sculpted EQ; passive Big Muff Pi style tone control; 9V pedal.
- Reputable and reliable pedal
- Same design for over 40 years
- Used by Kurt Cobain
- Fuzzy tones
- Some players need more aggressive sound
The great thing about music is that possibilities are endless, and you never know what instrument will charm the audience’s ears. Wah-wah on paper sounds like nothing but a waste of money.
But despite looking simple, the wah pedal has a lot of hidden secrets. It’s hard to control, and it drastically changes your sound.
The pedal became very popular when many great names like Jimi Hendrix, Kirk Hammet, and Joe Satriani first used it.
These pedals use an equalizer circuit to boost particular frequencies in the signal while diminishing others. You can control the effect by pressing it up and down.
The wah wah pedal we love is the Dunlop GCB95:
An Iconic Pedal – One of the Best-Selling Guitar Pedals of All Time
Designed For: All electric guitar players who like to add a wah effect to their guitar sound
Features: Heavy-duty diecast material; durable; 9V of power or an optional adapter; legendary Fasel inductor
- Used by Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix
- Original Dunlop edition
- Offers an aggressive tone with a high-end focus
- Perfect for any pedal board
- No other sound effects
Guitar Pedal Features
All pedals must have certain features to accompany guitarists on their music journey. Also, there are no rules about which pedal to buy first and which one you need to have a little more experience with. It all comes down to taste.
Regarding features, all pedals must have specific characteristics to make the sound more distinct, dynamic, interesting, and at certain times better.
Choosing a pedal from an unknown company and spending money can be frustrating. You need a pedal that will complement your playing and make you a better guitarist.
Choosing effects and pedals is fun, but you must remember a few things. The more pedals you have, the more you forget to practice. So don’t make that mistake.
Popular Brands of Guitar Pedals
Do your homework and check the brand before choosing a guitar pedal. It’ll pay off! Even though the market is overflowing with guitar pedals, certain manufacturers always deliver and offer the best value for your money.
The effects you’re trying to achieve from a pedal can vary from person to person. To some guitarists, the ideal pedal board can sound terrible, while to others, it might be the perfect setup. That’s why the ‘best’ guitar pedals are somewhat subjective.
In no particular order, some of the best guitar pedal manufacturers are:
- TC Electronic
Top Picks of Guitar Pedal
Here is a list of some guitar effects pedals that we love.
Great Pedal for Vintage Distortion Sound
Designed For: Guitarists trying to emulate the rock sound from the 80s and 90s
Features: This “bad boy” comes in an all-black design and has three knobs for volume, filter, and distortion; 9V of power
- Classic black design
- Three standard knobs
- From a clean tone to a raunchy distortion for hard rock
- The pedal doesn’t come with a battery
Pedal With a Lot of Tonal Possibilities and Two Types of Overdrive
Designed For: Guitar players who need an overdrive pedal and are not afraid to spend extra cash
Features: The pedal boosts the circuits in two channels; noise reduction feature that removes the humming; 6 classic circuits
- Offers a lot of versatility
- True bypass
- More controls than your typical overdrive pedal
- A little expensive
One of the Best Pedals From Brian Wampler That Offers a Wide Range of Distortion
Designed For: Guitarists looking for an all-in distortion pedal
Features: Relay and True-Bypass switching; modern soul to turn your clean amp into a high-gain powerhouse; great for metal tones and heavy metal music
- Handmade in the USA
- Easy positioning
- Boost switch
- The pedal is a bit delicate
The Best Fuzz Pedal on the Market
Designed For: Hendrix fans and guitarists looking to add any fuzz pedals to their board
Features: By using a True Bypass, the pedal maintains signal integrity; utilizes the original JHF1 circuitry; 9V of power
- Fits perfectly in any pedal board
- Delivers a vintage and legendary tone
- BC108 silicon transistor
- The sound is not versatile
Compact-Built Delay Pedal That Fits Perfectly in Any Pedal Board
Designed For: All guitar players who enjoy an analog delay
Features: Performs over 600ms of delay and contains two internal trim pots; comes with a top-mounted modulation switch, blue LEDs, and 3 simple knob
- 100% analog delay pedal
- 9V power
- The main adapter is not included
Recommended Guitar Pedals For Beginners
If you’re an acoustic guitar player and just starting your journey on electric, or even if you’re a beginner electric guitarist, here are some guitar effects pedals that we just love:
A Multi-Effect Pedal – Perfect for Beginners Who Don’t Need a Pedal Board Yet
Designed For: Beginner guitarists looking for a diverse amount of reverb and a pedal with many sounds and controls
Features: Offers plenty of natural tones and pushes the limits of your creativity with 12 unique reverbs; comes with three footswitches
- MIDI support
- More than 300 customizable presets
- Little pricey
A Perfect Go-To Pedal Suitable for All Guitar Players
Designed For: Beginner guitarists who are not looking for analog reverb effects
Features: Classic stompbox design with stereo and mono inputs; offers digital reverb and comes with a 9V power supply
- Reputable and reliable manufacturer
- Offers seven different reverb modes
- Easy to use
- Some reverb types sound familiar
Value for Money Guitar Pedals
There are some guitar effects pedals that offer outstanding value for money. It doesn’t mean they’re cheap – it just means for what they provide, they do seriously well against the competition in both performance and cost.
One of the best value for money chorus pedals
Designed For: Serious guitarists looking for a chorus pedal that can fit inside a small pedalboard
Features: Utilizes TonePrint technology; four controls for level, speed, color, and depth; input and output stereo
- Ultra-small footprint
- Versatile and premium-quality sound
- Eligible for lead and rhythm guitars
- The 9V power supply is sold separately
Top-of-the-Line Multi-Effect Pedal That Comes With 12 Studio-Quality Delay Presets
Designed For: Guitarists who can afford to spend more money on a top-notch quality delay pedal
Features: The pedal can switch between 8 control knobs; has a 30-second looper; MIDI inputs
- Clean and dirty delay tones
- Created with durable aluminum chassis
- Onboard SHARC DSP
- The built-in looper can repeat the sound of your guitar
- Lack of HP’s option or high pass filter
Buying Pedals on a Small Budget
There are multiple guitar pedals to consider if you’re on a small budget, but if you have the choice of just one pedal, we would recommend the MXR M234:
Compared to the Corona Chorus, this Pedal Is Cheaper, Analog, and Offers a Warm Chorus Tone
Designed For: Guitarists with a small budget looking for a no-fuss chorus pedal
Features: Offers an analog bucket brigade circuitry; has five control knobs for depth, high, low, level, and rate; can create a lush chorus effect
- Mono input and output
- The battery compartment is a bit clunky
Summary – Guitar Pedals Must Have
The guitar’s volume knob is not the only way to change the sound. But when it comes to guitar pedals, our best bit of advice is to not stress about it too much.
Nobody can learn and discover all pedals and other effects overnight, and there is so much fun in the trial and error that comes with finding your sound. Some of the best guitar riffs are a result of experimenting.
So go and practise being experimental!
What guitar pedals are necessary?
The rabbit hole of guitar pedals is quite big as there are so many pedal types. However, some pedals stand out from the crowd and are necessary for every guitar player. The most necessary guitar effects pedals are a tuner pedal, overdrive pedal, modulation pedal, reverb and delay, and compression pedal.
What is the most popular guitar effects pedal?
The most popular guitar effects pedal is the distortion pedal. This pedal is perfect for professional and aspiring guitarists.
What pedals should I get for electric guitar?
The best options for electric guitars are distortion, overdrive, delay, reverb, fuzz, wah wah and chorus pedals. If your budget stretches, grab a phaser pedal too.
Do beginner guitarists need pedals?
Other than a tuner pedal, beginners that just transitioned from an acoustic to an electric guitar don’t necessarily need pedals. The best approach to playing guitar is to master the clean tones and then add distortion, not the other way around. In other words, just start playing, then add the essential effect on afterwards.