There are so many different guitar effects pedals out there but what do they do? Here I will explain the basic ideas of some of the most popular style pedals so you can hopefully choose the best pedal to get the sound you want.
One of the first commercial pedal designs was the Fuzz Box which produced a bass-cut thin buzzing tone that was very popular around the 60’s. This pedal was pushed forward and later designs aimed to produce a more natural overdrive tone that has more versatility and can be used amongst an array of different genres or even just to boost the amplifier. The distortion pedal has been tailored to specific genres as well such as blues, metal, grunge, heavy rock etc. A distortion pedal would be mainly used for Rock as it has a harder tone whereas the overdrive pedal will give you a more natural sound. Usual controls found on a distortion / overdrive pedal would be:
Gain – This controls the amount of overdrive you want in your sound (sometimes labeled Drive).
Level – This is the volume to balance the effect and can be used to boost signal for solos.
Tone – This is used to compensate for any additional highs that are caused by the distortion process.
Chorus gives you that sound and feeling of spaciousness. It is created by using a varying delayed signal alongside the original signal to produce a large number of harmonically related indentations in the frequency response. A great example of chorus is Nirvanas song ‘Come as You Are’. It can add a really nice effect to your guitar playing and make a song sound completely different when used in the right way. Usual controls found on a Chorus Pedal would be:
Rate and Depth – This will allow you to control how fast and far the frequency indentations move.
Effect – Control the level of the delayed signal, which in turn changes the depth of the frequency notches (may also be called Mix or Intensity).
Level – This will control the level of the sound you are producing (also called Volume).
Delay is an echo effect that repeats what you have played one or more times for a period time after it has been played. Modern delay pedals are digital pedals that store what you have played in a memory and then play this back at some point later in time. Delay is a great effect that is often used to create ambience and quality sound effects. The usual controls found on the pedal would be:
Delay Time – How long the delay lasts for after the notes have been struck.
Level – This is the volume of the delayed notes
Feedback – This sets how much delay is sent back for repeating delays.
Reverb is the prolongation/resonance of a sound which is heard when sounds hit different surfaces thus creating different reverb effects and a good example of this is the reverb you get from a bathroom. Reverb is a very popular effect that is used by lots of guitarists to create varying effects from very dry snappy sounds to large rooms that can create ambient affects. You will choices on your reverb unit that will allow you to choose these different environments and studio effects such as rooms, halls, chambers and plate. The effect in the pedals is actually made up of a large number of repeats with varying levels and tones over time. Some controls you can expect on a pedal are:
Decay – this sets how long the reverb lasts for
Level – to control the volume of the reverb
Tone – this allows control of the tone of reverb
Usually on an amplifier you have Bass, Middle and Treble controls but an equalisation pedal allow you to have a more accurate manipulation of the overall tone. On the Graphic Equaliser Pedal you will usually have sliders to control the level at fixed frequencies, which are called bands. These give you a graphic representation of the overall frequency response. The Diagram shows 10 bands that each can be boosted or cut between the extremes shown. The pedals usual controls are:
Frequency Bands – The can be boosted or cut to manipulate the sound to your liking
Level – used to control the volume
The best way I can describe tremolo is like rapidly turning the volume up and down. This can be used in many different ways and when combined with reverb, you will hear that classic surf sound. Fender also labels this sound Vibrato on their amps. Usual controls found on a tremolo pedal are:
Speed – to control how fast the volume varies
Depth – to control how much the volume varies
A loop pedal is used to repeat short passages played on an instrument. These loops can be mixed together to create quite complex rhythms and harmonies and they are commonly used to create a backing for yourself. They are very versatile and can be used for various different things such as practicing solos and rhythms, composing music and creating unique performances.
Multi effects units are usually comprised of all of the above I have describe along with more. These pedals don’t usually have the specifics that each individual pedal brings but are a great cost effective way to get all the sounds you need in one unit. They do come in various different sizes and have different levels of sounds. If you are new to pedals and want to try loads of different sounds out then these are great for learning and produce great sounds.
If you have any questions then please let me know.