The Different Types of Guitar Pedals and Uses

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Written By Tanya

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Everybody has heard the expression, “Tone starts in the hands”: Different guitarists can use the same amp and guitar rig to produce different sounds.

This base sonic level is what I refer to as the player’s DNA. We now have the ability, thanks to mad scientists who work in their evil laboratories sound, to alter the tonal genetic code of a guitarist using effects pedals.

The effects pedal is the most important variable a musician has, after instruments and amps. A player can use an effects pedal to alter the sound’s tone or color to create new sounds, or to reproduce the familiar tones of the past.

U2’s The Edge is one example of a player who uses effects to make their identity stand out from the rest. Although effects pedal usage dates back to the early days of electric guitar history, two people are immediately obvious who pushed for its use: Jimi Hendrix and Roger Mayer.

Since those early days, we’ve come a long ways and it’s easy for us to get overwhelmed by all the options available. It can be difficult to find the right effects pedals for you, from classics to more modern boutique options.

Knowing the basics of effects pedals can help you decide what pedals will be on your board. This is precious real estate, unless you plan to create a huge spaceship-style pedal board. Enjoy carrying it around.

Let’s take a look at the different types of pedals in the standard signal pathway. You can make many different sounds by experimenting with the signal chain, but for this walkthrough we will stick with the accepted order of pedal types. The guitar is the first part of the signal chain. Next, your pedals will be connected to the amplifier.

These are the different types of guitar pedals, in the order that we have them. This also represents the order in which they should appear in your signal chains.

  • Filter Results – Equalizer, WahWah and Envelope Filter. & Talk Box
  • Compressors
  • Gain Effects Overdrive, Fuzz and Distortion
  • Pitch Effects– Octaver, Octave Fuzz and Pitch Shifter. Harmonizer. & Tuner.
  • Modulation effects – Univibe. Chorus. Flanger. Phaser. & Vibrato
  • Volume Effects – Volume, Envelope, & Tremolo
  • Time Effects – Delay, Reverb, & Looper

We have a lot to cover so we won’t waste any time. We’ll begin at the top.

Filter Effects

The Filter is the first in the chain, from guitar to amp. Although they can take many forms and names, filter effects all have one purpose: They are frequency changers. You can use them as either a static or dynamic equalizer to reduce, increase, or accent different frequencies in your signal.

EQUALIZER

You would be surprised at the results of EQ pedals. You can adjust the tone of your sound with equalization. They can adjust your tone’s bass, middle, and treble frequencies just like a radio.

Depending on which EQ stompbox your have, there may be different ways to tailor your tone. There are two types of EQ stompboxes: parametric and graphic. Graphic (left) & Parametric (right) Equalizer Pedals

Graphic equalizers employ sliders to alter certain frequency bands. These sliders have fixed frequencies and are easy to understand visually. One example of this is the “scooped middles” or smile EQ.

The center-frequency is the name for the slider’s notch. This is the “zero”, or unaffected sound. You can adjust certain frequencies to alter the tone of certain frequency ranges.

Parametric equalizers use rotary knobs that change the frequency bands, allowing you to move it up or down according to your preferences. They can control the volume in each band and also change the frequency change width (known as the quotient or Q).

Parametric EQ pedals have a more precise application and can be easier to use. These pedals are more expensive.

WAH-WAH

Although the wah-wah pedal may be the most well-known effect on guitars, it is also one of the easiest to use. It is simple to imagine a tone knob underneath your foot. It’s literally that simple.

Rocker foot pedals allow you to emphasize high frequencies while your toes are pointing down. You can enhance the bass frequencies by putting your heel down. Wah-wah pedals feature a foot rocker & switch to engage & alter the effect

Some players will keep their foot rocker stationary to emphasize a particular frequency more than others. Some players would rock the pedal rhythmically, while others would use their foot to highlight specific notes or sweep into them.

The wah-wah effect is interactive and fun. They are just plain fun.

ENVELOPE FILTER

Also known as an autowah, the envelope filter can also be called an auto-wah. The envelope filter functions in the same way as a wahwah pedal, but it uses the strength of the signal for frequency control.

Control knobs allow the player to adjust the amount of wah that interacts with picking. This allows the guitarist to dynamically control the effect without having to use a rocker to activate the filtering.

Example: Guthrie Govan’s intro on “Wonderful Slippery Thing”, which he performed live for EBS Space South Korea, is an excellent example of the envelope filter at its best.

TALK BOX

The talkbox is perhaps the most well-known effect on guitars. The signal from the guitar is sent through a speaker to a tube which the player holds in their mouth.

The tube is typically run up a microphone stand so that the player can control vowel sounds by using the embouchure in the mouth cavity. The tube delivers the sound of the guitar into the player’s ear.

The frequency filter is not controlled by the EQ or wah pedals. Instead, it is controlled by the player’s mouth. This is the most intuitive way to do it. The talk box is a very simple setup, but it creates one the most distinctive and dynamic effects. This effect has been a hit with artists like Roger Troutman and Peter Frampton.

Example Watch Peter Frampton’s solos from “Show Me the Way”, and then listen to how his guitar literally says “Do You Feel like We Do?”

Compressors

You’ll want to add a compressor after your filter effects. The name suggests that compressors do exactly what they say. Your signal will be stifled. It can be compared to a floor or ceiling.

You can make your lowest volume notes audible by adding an expander. This will increase the sustain of your notes. It sounds almost like a sound plant blooming. Others work like compressors, with a threshold or compression ratio.

Louder sounds have a lower volume which allows for a higher volume from your amp and guitar. After you send this consistent signal, the sound guy will consider your best friend. Some compressor pedals have level, tone, attack, & sustain settings. Others have a threshold, ratio, attack, & release

Different genres have explored the effect of a compressor on tone differently. Think about the Country chicken picker, who has a bright Telecaster tone but never enters “icepick” territory. The sound is familiar. This is the compressor.

A compressor can be used by players who have a higher level of gain. It can provide almost unlimited sustain and even manageable feedback at lower volumes. You can still get the full benefits of a Marshall stack but not have to be as loud or disruptive as a jet breaking through the sound barrier.

Example I love the intro to “Law and Order” because it uses a compressed signal guitar sound. It sounds almost like a judge using his saw to bring down the punishment justice.

You will see the benefits

The trusty gain pedal is next in the signal path. These effects pass your signal through a transistor, diode or transistor to create the sound of a loud tube amp. These were the most widely used types of guitar pedals.

You can have the subtle drive of a loud Fender or the extreme gain of a Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier. These effects are commonly called distortion pedals by most players, but they can also produce distinctive tones depending on the gain you push.

OVERDRIVE

This is the kind of clipping that you’d expect to hear in a tube amp if the volume was turned up. This sound is sometimes called Crunch by some players.

You can double up these Overdrive pedals (such as the Ibanez Tube Screamer) to get two gain stages: Slight Crunch or Creamy Velvet Lead. They can sound just as good as they taste if they were flavors like cereal or ice-cream.

Many players find their tone using two overdrive pedals in succession.

Example Think of Keith Richards’ slightly driven tone in “Start Me Up” and Stevie Ray Vaughan while playing “Pride and Joy”.

FUZZ

This classic tone is often associated with Jimi Hendrix who used the Dallas Abiter Fuzz Face and his Stratocasters to push his Marshall heads into space.

Tony Iommi, Black Sabbath’s singer, once fell down a flight stairs with his amp and broke the cone. Iommi needs to use the amp and hopes for the best. He plugs in the amp and is surprised by the fuzz caused by the speaker cone breaking. This fortuitous accident made history. Some distortion pedals allow you to adjust the gain while others let you only use a low pass filter (called ‘tone’).

We don’t have anymore to intentionally damage our speakers. Today’s fuzz pedals come in many styles, some with added effects such as the famous “octave up” sound. You can choose from the classic fuzz sound of the golden age or the bit-crushed, modern fuzz.

Example My personal favorite example of the Fuzz pedal, is the guitar tone in Norman Greenbaum’s song “Spirit in the Sky”.

DISTORTION

The distortion pedal is perhaps the most popular of all the gain effects. This effect has been used by guitarists to create high-gain distortion at any volume level. The pedal can also be used as a lead boost on an already gained-up amp.

If you think of Heavy Metal, then you will recognize the sound of a distortion pedal. They can be used to colorize your tone but most people associate distortion with the hard clipping of heavy modern guitar tones.

You can think of the amp sounds of John Petrucci’s Dream Theater, such as the Mesa Boogie Rectifier or the Marshall Stack at its maximum. The distortion pedal is a combination of that powerful tone and a small metal box.

Example Kurt Cobain’s intro song to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is a great example of distortion. He uses his Boss DS-1 pedal and goes from clean jangly to grungy power within the first eight measures.

Pitch Effects

Pitch altering effects can alter or add notes to the signal path depending upon which type of pedal is being used. Many musicians have created their own signature sounds and riffs around pitch altering effects. Once you are able to identify the effect, it is easy to recognize them.

OCTAVER & OCTAVE FUZZ

The octaver, a type of pitch effect, takes any note and doubles or halves the frequency to add an extra octave into the signal.

These effects simulate the sound of a guitarist and bass playing simultaneously, providing a rich low end for bands that don’t have a bassist. These pedals are known as octave-down pedals.

Octave-up pedals, on the other hand, add an additional octave or two to any note being played. Octave-up effects can also be called “octave fuzz”, because the pedal’s level of fuzz determines how high the effect is.

Example: This sound was created famously by Jimi Hendrix using Roger Mayer’s Octavia pedal for famous solos such as “Purple Haze.”

PITCH SHIFTER

The pitch shifter is one the most versatile effects available in the pitch category. The pitch shifter is often used in conjunction with a rocker pedal such as a wahwah-wah or volume pedal. It can be adjusted to sweep up or down the pitch by a predetermined amount, creating a smooth glissando-like bend.

It is common to hear a player use one or two octaves of pitch for the sweep. The shifted pitch returns to its original note but in a higher or lesser octave. Many pedals will provide all of the pitch effects all-in-one

You can use the pitch shifter effect to tune or “capo”, a guitar, without actually having to retune it. These pedals are very popular in this age of seven-string guitars and dropped tunings.

The Digitech Whammy Pedal, the most well-known pitch shifting device for guitarists, has been used by Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead) and Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine).

Example Jonny Greenwood’s whammy pedal work in Subterranean Homesick Alien is a great example of . It’s from Radiohead’s Ok Computer album.

HARMONIZER

Sometimes, a pitch shifter will preserve the original signal and add the new pitch. You can set the new shifted note at any interval that is equal to the original, and it will automatically harmonize any series of notes or melodies.

It will harmonize your guitar by rearranging the melody at a third, fifth, or other interval that you choose.

Example Prince’s “When Doves Cry”, intro lick is a perfect example of the harmonizer at work.

TUNER

We all know what a tuner does. They don’t have any effect on your tone. They are a visual guide that allows you to retune quickly and easily.

This is great, as not many people have a pitch that’s perfect. A tuner pedal is the best option if you want to have a great sounding guitar. The TC Electronic PolyTune3 Guitar TunerPedal

TC Electronic’s new polyphonic tuneer technology allows you to tune all your strings simultaneously, regardless of what tuning you are using.

This is the best choice for pedals. However, if you are interested in other formats, such as headstock tuners or rackmount options, we have reviews of the top guitar tuners.

Modulation Effects

Many modulation effects pedals mimic the original rotating speaker. You heard it right.

The Leslie Cabinet was created as a companion for the Hammond B3 Organ. It literally featured a rotary speaker capable of producing all the common modulation effects, depending on the speed setting.

Many companies offer digital versions of Leslie’s pedals. This means that you don’t need to carry around large speaker cabinets unless your a purist, or have a team of roadies.

These effects can be created by multiplying the signal or modulating a portion of it before adding it back.

UNIVIBE

The Univibe effect mimics the sound of the Leslie rotary speakers, but it is a little different from the digital pedals.

These pedals often combine a small amount of all types of modulation effects simultaneously to create a rotary sound. However, they have become a distinctive sound. Some pedals allow for individual tweaking of each modator, while others allow for the user to adjust speed of the Univibe effect.

CHORUS

The chorus effect is a rich underwater soundscape created by double the signal from your guitar and shifting the pitch and time of the second one.

This effect can sound very subtle and make it seem like you are playing out of two amps. Or, it can sound extremely modulated to make it sound like two players are playing the exact same part. You can find many modulation pedals that contain all of the various effects, although this one is strictly chorus

FLANGER

The basic flanging effect is something you have probably heard. It can be described as a flanging sound that changes in pitch and phase.

The chorus effect works in a similar way. The signal is doubled, and the second signal is slowed and sped up again, so that it lags behind the original signal and catch up.

Example Watch “And the Cradle will Rock” to hear Eddie Van Halen make good use of this effect.

PHASER

Phase shifting occurs when the signal is doubled, similar to the chorus and flanger, but the new signal cycles from being in phase with the original.

This sound is very distinctive and sounds almost like a jet airplane taking off and flying overhead in its extremest settings.

Example To see a subtler application of the effect, check out the Heart “Barracuda”, guitar intro.

VIBRATO

The vibrato setting modulates the pitch of the doubled signal by pitch. This creates the illusion that the player is vibrating each note with their hands or using the whammy bars. You can adjust the speed and depth of pitch modulation by turning a knob.

We can summarize Modulation effects by looking at how the doubled signal was tweaked.

  • Chorus – pitch and deferred time
  • Flanger – Time slowed down and sped it up cyclically
  • Phaser – Phase reversal cyclically
  • Vibrato – pitch changing cyclically
  • Univibe – Combination of modulation

The volume- and time-based effects are the last types of effects for guitar.

Volume Effects

This type of effects pedal does exactly what its name suggests. This pedal adjusts the volume of your guitar’s signal in some way.

They are usually found in this position in the pedal chain (after all but the time-based effects). This means that any volume change is already receiving the effects from all previous pedals. Your entire signal will be altered, minus any delays or reverbs.

VOLUME PEDAL

The volume pedal, which is similar to the wah-wah pedal, is a foot rocker attached with a tone pot. You’ll see a change in the number of “0” to “10” as you move from heel to tip.

Other than adjusting the volume, guitarists can create otherworldly sounds by swelling into chords or rocking the pedal rhythmically. The sky is the limit when these sounds are combined with delay and reverb.

ENVELOPE VOLUME

These pedals are sometimes called the auto-volume. They work in the same way as the wahwah pedal. You get a change of volume based on your picking dynamics.

It will not be audible when you pick but it will increase in volume as you pick. It simulates the sound and volume of a bowed instrument by masking your pick attack. With envelope pedals, you choose how quickly the alteration occurs, the intensity, and how much to mix it in

Example: Yngwie Malmsteen uses the delay and effect together. Yngwie is turning his volume knob manually with his right pinky. This works the same way as an envelope pedal.

TREMOLO

This volume effect rhythmically decreases and increases the signal’s volume in a cyclic fashion. Tremolo is a common effect found in Country and Western guitar tracks. It was often built into older amplifiers, and it was one of the first recorded effects.

One or two potentiometers allow you to control the speed and depth of the effect on the pedal. The player can add an additional layer of rhythm to what is being played by setting the song’s tempo.

Time effects

The pedal board is no longer necessary. Here are some fun effects that can be added to your pedalboard. The most impact time-based effects have on your guitar’s overall sound is by adding extra notes or making it sound like you are in a cavern.

DON’T LAYOFF

The classic delay pedal, also called echo, is first. The delay pedal replicates your signal in a similar way to modulation effects. However, you can delay the process so that the pedal adds the new version back to your original. You can also choose how many repeats to get.

You can set the delay to be short and only one repetition is needed to achieve the classic slapback delay that Country guitarists love.

A rhythmic subdivision of a song’s tempo allows the player to produce additional notes, as Yngwie Malmsteen demonstrated in the video above about volume swells.

https://091bd06b5242940cc02b2d98147055ff.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html Delay pedals let you choose the time, number, & decay of the repeated delays, & always let you tap in the tempo

U2’s The Edge is the undisputed king of delay tricks. His influence has forever changed Contemporary Christian music…for real.

Example What about David Gilmour instead To see how discrete delayed repetitions can be used in creating extra rhythms out of simpler parts, check out “Run Like Hell”, by The Wall.

You can also set delays to allow for repeats that take too long to repeat. This creates a sound that is very well spaced and can be used to invoke large environments.

You should be careful about how loud you play and how many repetitions you make. Older analog delays can experience a feedback loop that can cause damage to your speakers. This can be controlled by some players and they have a whole new effect.

Delays are an extremely powerful tool that never seems to run dry of sounds. You can adjust knobs for hours and never feel bored.

REVERB

“Reverberation” is defined in psychoacoustics or acoustics as the persistence of sound after it is produced. This is how we hear the sound from reverb pedals. Digital means are used to reproduce the sounds of different environments.

Sometimes, reverbs can be labeled “Room”, Hall, Cathedral, etc. These titles indicate the type of reverb that you would hear in these locations. You can achieve a completely different sound depending on how big your environment is.

Also, you might see the reverb names “Spring, Plate, Tape, and so on.” These are used to simulate the sound of amp reverb tanks, which pass your signal down springs or studio applications that play the signal into a plate. The signal is then captured with a pickup to create reverb. Reverb pedals contain all the delay ones do, but let you choose from many types of reverbs

Reverb in nature is a fast-changing series of echoes which gradually decrease in volume. The environment can influence the frequency and timing of repeats.

Digital reverb pedals can reproduce the different types of reverb. You can bring the Grand Canyon and small tiles with you to gigs.

LOOPER

Looper effects can be a powerful tool. They allow the player to use very long delay times to record passages and then begin to repeat them in an infinite loop.

Loopers are a great tool for practicing, but many players are taking loopers to the stage. Looper pedals allow you to become a one-man band

Solo artists can record a part, then add a solo. You can even harmonize your parts by playing each repeat. There are many options, especially if there is more than one looper.

Example: Bernhoft’s “Street Lights”, performance for Bonnaroo365, is a prime example how one performer can use loopers.

Conclusion: The 23 Types Of Guitar Pedals

These different guitar pedals can be a great addition to any guitarists’ performance. They can give hours of entertainment, provide new ideas, create classic guitar tones or help you to define your identity in this modern age.

This is a recommendation for the order of your pedal chain. You can experiment with different order options and stick random pedals at random places in your signal path.

You never know what you’ll come up with! One time, I accidentally plugged my Vox Wah backwards and learned how to imitate a seagull.

You will discover your own personal tips that could help you stand out in the industry. Have fun experimenting!

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