Top 10 Must Have Effects Pedals for All Guitarists
Every guitarist uses some kind of effects units. Here's an overview of 10 of the most popular effects that today's musician can't afford to be without.
#10 - Fuzz Pedal
The world of fuzz pedals is large and diverse, but most fall into one of two categories: germanium transistor or silicon transistor fuzz pedals. Germanium transistors were the early transistors used in now-classic fuzz pedals such as the Sola Sound Tone Bender (a favorite of Jeff Beck and many other British guitarists), the Maestro Fuzz-Tone and the early red Fuzz Face pedals (made famous by Jimi Hendrix). Germanium transistors have a distinctively warm, smooth and vintage sound, and they are often compared to the natural overdrive produced by overdriven vintage tube amps (while still retaining their fuzzy-ness).
Germanium transistors were replaced by more reliable silicon transistors which had a much brighter and nastier fuzz sound (think David Gilmour on Dark Side of the Moon tone and Robert Fripp-type tones). The late blue Fuzz Face pedals used silicon transistors. All these vintage effects are highly sought after by collectors and players alike and sell for high prices on sites such as eBay and Reverb.com. Germanium transistors are harder to find these days, but because of their desirable tone many manufacturers product vintage-inspired and vintage clone effects with whatever limited supplies of germanium transistors they can find. Fuzz is a unique effect and it can instantly create a late 60s and early 70s sound, but fuzz pedals can be cantankerous and difficult to record and mix due to being midrange heavy. But in the right hands, it's hard to beat the power of a good fuzz pedal through a powerful amp.
#9 - Wah Pedal
With its unmistakably classic sound, a wah pedal is a must-have effect for all guitarists, especially for classic rock, funk and fusion players. Originally intended to imitate the unique sound achieved when trumpet players manipulate a mute to change their tone from bass to treble, wah pedals became very popular in the late 60s thanks to players like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. They gained a new life in the hands of shred players in the 80s and have remained a firm favorite of guitarists ever since. Wah pedals can be used to play ripping rock solos, clean funky rhythms, ambient sound effects, and you can also plug them in backwards to achieve a high-pitch screeching sound if you feel so inclined.
#8 - Chorus Pedal
Despite their ubiquity (and many would say overuse) during the 1980s, chorus pedals remain an effect of choice for players in virtually every style ever since their first introduction in the late 1970s. From the subtle special effect used by Jazz players such as Pat Metheny and Lee Ritneour to the heavy chorus used by players like The Edge and Andy Summers, chorus pedals can subtly or radically alter your sound. They can make subtle chords and arpeggios sound sublime and can add some wackiness to overdriven guitar sounds. They can even do some wild Leslie impersonations and make you feel seasick when set to fast rates.
The chorus effect is essentially the sound of multiple voices played slightly out of tune with each other, creating a large spacious sound similar to the effect of hearing a string orchestra or choir in an ambient space. A chorus pedal will duplicate your guitar sound and play the copied sound at an altered or variable pitch, mixing the effected "wet" sound in with the original unaltered "dry" sound. Because of this, chorus pedals usually sound better in stereo or with a wet/dry/wet configuration (where two stereo signals are 100% wet and are mixed hard left and right and a mono 100% dry signal is mixed in the center).
#7 - Delay Pedal
A delay pedal is a simple device - it records your guitar signal and plays it back with the number of repeats you set at the volume you choose. Long delay times can add space, ambiance and all-round epic-ness to guitar solos, chords and arpeggios, and short delay times can get classic 50s slapback delay sounds. With a tap tempo control you can time your delay to the BPM of the song you're playing. Many delay pedals also have a modulation control allowing you to change the pitch of the delayed sounds, creating a subtle chorus effect. Many players prefer to use modulation on their delay signal instead of using a chorus pedal.
Analog delay devices use a ¼" tape or a "bucket brigade" (an analog signal moves along a line of capacitors) to record and playback your guitar signal while digital delays digitally record your signal and replay the digital copies. Digital delay pedals often attempt to mimic the sound of classic analog delay effects units such as tape echo devices and now classic discontinued studio rack units. As is often the way with guitar gear, the technical limitations of old devices created their unique and pleasing sound, such as the unmistakable warm compression of a tape echo and how the pitch can shift unreliably when an old tape needs replacing. Many digital devices attempt (with varying degrees of success) to reproduce these unique sounds and give you a device that achieves the classic sound without the physical problems of the old technology.
#6 - Looper Pedal
Fire your rhythm guitarist! And your keyboard player! Now you can do shows playing all the rhythm and lead parts yourself. Looper pedals are invaluable practice tools and make it possible to do solo shows and play lead parts over your own chords. Looper pedals work by simply digitally recording your guitar signal and playing it back in a repeating loop when you press the pedal to start and stop. Some delay pedals also have a looper function.
#5 - Reverb Pedal
Reverb is the most basic sound effect - it's simply an artificial reproduction of the sound reflection in a room or large space. These days, the choice of reverb pedals is huge. Our experience with reverb pedals is that you simply get what you pay for. High quality reverb pedals can make your sound sublime and are extremely addictive, while cheap reverb pedals can leave you wanting to go dry forever. Some high-end models provide multiple sound modeling choices, reproducing the sounds of classic spring, plate and hall reverbs. Different reverb types provide different unique sounds. The classic bright twang of a vintage Fender silverface Twin Reverb and the long decay of a large hall reverb are both sounds with very different character. Because every room and venue has a different size and ambiance, you may find yourself wanting more reverb when you play at home than when you play live. Until recently the best digital reverb sounds came only from studio rack units such as a Lexicon or Eventide processor, but these days there are guitar pedals that offer the same sound quality and flexible programming options in a convenient guitar pedal format.
#4 - Boost Pedal
Everyone needs a bit of a boost every now and then. Booster pedals can serve several useful purposes: they can increase your volume during solos or whenever you need a volume boost, they can be placed in front of tube amps to get more gain out of them, they can be used as an EQ pedal to change your sound, and they can be used to increase the volume of guitars with lower powered pickups (e.g. you can turn on a boost pedal when you switch from a Les Paul to a Strat to increase to give its single coil pickups a boost). Boost pedals come in different sizes but most are simple devices that have at most volume and tone/eq controls. Some will color your sound drastically while others will sound very transparent. Many distortion pedals have a booster built in which is activated with a separate footswitch and can be used independently of the distortion element of the pedal.
#3 - Overdrive/Distortion Pedal
Everyone needs an overdrive pedal, even Jazz players! Well, what guitarist doesn't have at least one overdrive pedal? Originally, overdrive was an effect produced by tube amps being turned up loud that players sought to avoid and manufacturers like Fender developed ways to reduce in their amps. But, some ambitious and visionary players sought to deliberately use the distortion effect (which is essentially additional harmonics added to the guitar signal) and now of course it's just part of the diverse palate of sounds available to all guitarists. Overdriven guitars are used in every genre imaginable.
Overdrive and distortion pedals come in a frankly astonishing variety of styles and types and we could never hope to list them all in this article. However, most distortion pedals try to emulate the sound of turning up a tube amp to the point where both the preamp and poweramp are distorting. Many pedals emulate the sound of classic amps such as 70s Marshall Plexi heads, Fender Bassmans, Mesa Boogies or the ever-illustrious Dumble Overdrive Special. Overdrive pedals range from dirt cheap to several thousands of dollars each. Some are simple one footswitch devices with only two or three knobs while others have several footswitches, switchable modes, boosts and multiple eqs, and some even have built-in vacuum tubes in high-voltage preamps for true tube overdrive. Some players have hundreds of overdrive pedals, some swear by just one pedal they never play without while other players never use overdrive pedals at all, favoring the "natural" gain produced by a tube amp.
#2 - Volume Pedal
Players skilled at controlling dynamics can accomplish a great deal by manipulating the guitar's volume and nothing else (e.g. Jeff Beck, Jan Akkerman, Robben Ford). But a volume pedal has many uses: it allows you to silently connect a tuner creating one less pedal in your signal chain reducing tone loss, it allows you to silently switch guitars, you can create some incredible pedal steel sounds, and a stereo volume pedal allows you to play through multiple stereo effects into two amplifiers or swell between to mono amps. Where you place your volume pedal in your guitar signal chain makes a huge difference to what you can do with it. You can control the level of distortion and volume if you place it before a distortion pedal or you can just control the volume if placed after your pedals. A basic mono passive volume pedal is favored by most players, but some have active volume boosts or are combined wah/volume pedals.