What is a Guitar Pedal?
Technically this picture does depict a guitar pedal, but that’s not the guitar pedal that this post is about.
An effects pedal or stomp box for a guitar is defined as “an electronic device that changes the sound of your guitar in a distinct way.”
Why Would a Beginner Guitarist Want an Effects Pedal?
Beginner guitarists usually become interested in effects pedals when they hear a sound that intrigues them. For me it was when I was watching The Beatles debut the song “Revolution” on a TV show. I had never heard the distortion sound that they were using. I actually asked my dad how The Beatles made that sound, and he told me that they were using a fuzz pedal. Recently I checked this out and learned that what they really did was to plug directly into the mixing board and cranked the gain. We’ll never really know for sure, but the sound was similar to what a fuzz pedal does. Before too long I bought a fuzz pedal, my first effects pedal.
What Else Can Effects Pedals Do?
Utilizing effects pedals properly is key for improving the sound of your guitar. For example, chorus, phase shifter and flanger pedals belong to a collection of stomp boxes called modulation effects. The electronic circuits in these pedals copy the guitar’s signal, and then combine the copy and original signals in ways that create a specific effect.
Chorus pedals split the input signal and then add delay and altered frequency to the copied signal which produces the sound of many guitars or a choir of guitars. By increasing the depth, the intensity increases and makes it sound like there are even more guitars. When you adjust the rate (or delay time) the repeats occur closer together or further apart.
Delay pedals also record the guitar signal and then play it back at intervals that can be adjusted. What is referred to as an echo effect makes the guitar sound more full. There are many great effects that can be produced by adjusting delay and repeat times. Most delay pedals feature analog, reverse and modulated delay, as well as echo and looping. All of these delay modes have their own unique characteristics. The choice between various delay modes is one of preference.
Many delay pedals have a looping or hold function that allows the guitar player to play a sequence of music and then record it. The sequence of music that is recorded will keep repeating for a limited time while the guitarist plays over it.
Now “The Dirty Pedals”
Now for some discussion of pedals with attitude. These pedals include overdrive, distortion and fuzz and are usually the first stomp boxes that a beginner guitarist will add to his sound. These effects create what is referred to as a “dirty” sound.
Overdrive, distortion, fuzz (Are They the Same?)
Most beginner guitarists would understand what a distorted sound is, but many would not perceive a difference between the sounds that these distortion pedals create.
Overdrive pedals recreate the sound of an overdriven amplifier. This applies to a tube amp that is driven past the range where it will supply a clean tone. The sound is a bit subdued, warm and rich. These polished sounds can be heard in blues, country and rock.
Distortion pedals can be described as a bit more aggressive. These pedals usually have several gain stages which layers one overdriven tone onto another producing more gain or distortion. This sound is typical of heavy metal rock etc.
Fuzz pedals were one of the first effects pedals introduced in the 1960’s. Many of the classic songs of that era such as “Satisfaction” and “Heart Full of Soul” featured the sound of a fuzz stomp box.
There is a key to consider when deciding which pedal you will use to add distortion to your sound, and that is to try out lots of pedals. There are many pedal types such as overdrive/distortion, super overdrive, tube overdrive and distortion etc. Also, there are many pedal brands to choose from such as Boss, Hardwire, Ibanez and MXR.
More Pedals (The List – More Keys)
The pedals discussed so far will improve or shape your sound. A beginner guitarist can create a very unique sound with just a delay or chorus pedal and some kind of overdrive or distortion. There is no right or wrong combination of stomp boxes. The beginner guitarist can be creative when choosing which pedals he or she will use.
That however is not it for effects pedals. The list of pedals out there is a long one. In addition to the modulation and distortion pedals, there are boost, compressor, looping, reverb, tremolo, tuning, volume, wah, and on and on. Effects pedal come in all shapes and sizes depending on the manufacturer. There are lots of videos out there to demonstrate what these effects pedals do.
Keys to Consider
The first key to consider is that effects boxes can be powered either by batteries or by using an adapter that converts 120 volts AC to 9 volts DC. If you have a bunch of stomp boxes, using batteries can be expensive and difficult to keep up.
There are power supplies that plug into a 120 receptacle and then supply power to several effects pedals at once using patch cables, but these are relatively expensive. A less expensive alternative is a single power supply that can supply power to several stomp boxes with one multi-plug cable.
A second key to keep in mind is to find a pedal that is built with sturdy construction and good design. I have a couple of pedals made by Hardwire and the first thing I liked about them is that they look solid. Also the control knobs are easy to see and are far away from the extra wide stomp switch. These pedals also have an LED that shows you when the effect is on.
Connecting Several Pedals Together
If you are connecting several effect pedals together a key to consider is the order in which they are connected. This can affect your sound. A basic practice is to place pedals with the most substantial impact on your guitar’s sound towards the end of the signal path.
Here is an example of a common lineup for effects pedals:
A tuner pedal should be the first pedal in the order, followed by dynamic pedals such as compressors, filter pedals such as wah, and pitch shifters. Effects that are gain based such as overdrive or distortion or fuzz are next. Modulation pedals like chorus, flanger and phase shifters are typically connected after distortion or overdrive pedals. Time based pedals such as delays and reverb work best towards the end of the line. Volume pedals connected at the end of the lineup will control the output volume of everything that is ahead of it, but they can also be used to boost the signal of specific effects along the signal path. Once again some experimentation will produce the results the beginner guitarist is looking for.
Pedal Boards (A sign of Commitment)
Once you are satisfied with the order of your pedal chain you want to make sure that you set it up the same way every time. Also if you end up with a significant number of pedals (for me that was 6) it can be quite tedious to connect and disconnect all of those stomp boxes every time you play.
The solution for this is a pedal board. There are many different designs and price levels for pedal boards, but if you have quite a few pedals they are essential. A pedal board will have long strips made of aluminum or even wood that have velcro strips attached to them. Velcro is also attached to the bottom of the effects pedals and this is what holds them in place on the pedal board.
A friend and I shared the cost of aluminum flat bar, some pop rivets and velcro strips to build our own less expensive boards. We also designed them to fit inside aluminum carrying cases and ended up with efficient and compact units. We lift the boards out of the cases and we’re ready to go. On my board I plug my electric guitar into the bottom 4 pedals. The 2 delay pedals at the top of the board are used for acoustic guitars.
Does a Beginner Guitarist Have to Use Pedals?
Beginner guitarists do not have to use effects pedals but to shape the sound of a guitar some type of effect is necessary. A simple lineup of stomp boxes can go a long way. Over time most guitar players will discover a new sound and the effects pedal that creates that sound.
A Biased Review of the Digitech CM-2 Tube Overdrive
Full disclosure, I am totally biased when it comes to Hardwire pedals. They are very well constructed and I believe them to be of the highest quality. The Hardwire CM-2 tube overdrive has two modes, Classic and Modified. The Classic setting projects a simple yet eloquent sound while the Modified will provide more gain coupled with a bit more low end.
Another feature I like is that if you are changing the battery in the Hardwire pedal simply press in push pins on the switch hinge to lift the switch pedal completely off. Most pedals don’t have this feature.
I have used one of these pedals for over 15 years and once I found my favourite settings I did not change them.
Hardwire pedals come with a few neat accessories such as:
- a Stomplock knob guard to prevent tampering or unintentional knob adjustments
- a pedal switch glow sticker to make it easy to locate the pedal on a dimly lit stage
- a custom sized hook and loop pad to attach the pedal to a pedal board
To end this post I am posting demo videos of pedals that I use. Online there are similar videos for every brand or type of effects pedals. Take your pedal keys and explore and have some fun. Please leave a comment in the box below so I can measure how I’m doing. Your input can help me make my site better. Thanks.
Boss DD-7 Digital Delay
Average Price: $209.99
Best Place to Buy: Amazon Canada
- expanded delay time up to 6.4 sec
- the modulated delay setting mimics a chorus type sound
- the analog delay accurately models definitive analog sounds
- up to a 40 second recordings in hold mode for sound over sound
Boss pedals are superior quality. That’s why they are one of the most popular choices by guitarists. Boss delay pedals are used in all genres of music.
TC Electronic Polytune 2
Average Price: $122.24
Best Place to Buy: Amazon Canada
- excellent bypass allows for tuning in the middle of a song
- has presets for alternative tunings such as “drop D”
- very compact profile
- strum all of the strings and the tuner indicates which strings need tuning (very cool)
Boss OS-2 Overdrive/Distortion
Average Price: $109.99
Best Place to Buy: Amazon Canada
- the guitarist can choose between overdrive or distortion or a combination of both
- excellent level of sustain with a dual stage overdrive circuit
- the distortion mimics the characteristics of single-coil pickups
- the controls include level, tone, colour and drive
This pedal is a great option for the beginner guitarist who is trying to choose between overdrive versus distortion. With 4 controls to choose from, the guitar player can explore the sounds of overdrive and distortion.