Guitar Effects 101: Drive Pedals + Modulation Effects Part 1

By Gerald

Drive Effects
Drive pedals are an important part of an electric guitar's sound in many genres, particularly for rock, hard rock, and metal. A drive pedal takes a guitar signal and distorts the signal waveform by “clipping” the signal.

Most drive pedals use solid-state circuitry in creating the drive effect. However, there are some “tube distortion” pedals that are designed with preamplifier vacuum tubes to create drive sounds similar to that of a tube amplifier breaking up.

Each type of drive effect has its own distinct sonic characteristics. Let me elaborate.

In the world of guitar music and guitar amplification, distortion is actively sought, evaluated, and appreciatively discussed in its endless flavors. In many types of music, distortion is applied to guitar and other instruments, particularly within rock, punk and heavy metal. Guitar distortion can provide a sustaining tone for playing solos or leads, or a rough, fuzzy tone suitable for rhythm guitar.

Examples of distortion pedals are:

1) Boss DS1 -

2) Marshall Guv’nor -

3) Line 6 Dr Distorto -

4) Proco RAT 2

Some drive effects provide an "overdrive" effect. Either by using a vacuum tube, or by using simulated tube modeling techniques, the top of the wave form is compressed, thus giving a smoother distorted signal than distortion effects. When an overdrive effect is used at a high setting, the sound's waveform can become clipped, which imparts a gritty or "dirty" tone, which sounds like a tube amplifier "driven" to its limit.

Examples of overdrive pedals are:

1) Ibanez Tubescreamer -

2) Boss SD-1 -

3) Fulltone Fulldrive -

Fuzz is intended to recreate the classic 1960's tone of an overdriven tube amp combined with torn speaker cones (such as You Really Got Me by The Kinks). Some famous fuzz users include Jimi Hendrix, Smashing Pumpkins & Colin Greenwood of Radiohead.

Examples of fuzz pedals are:

1) Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face -

2) Zvex Fuzz Factory -

3) Electro-Harmonix Big Muff -

Modulation Effects (Part 1)
Modulation effects create different atmospheres with the various sounds that are able to be created. Some examples of modulation effects are chorus, flanger and tremolo. I will be expanding on those 3 modulation effects in this post.

Chorus uses a cycling, variable delay time that is short so that individual repetitions are not heard. The result is a thick, "swirling" sound that suggests multiple instruments playing in unison (chorus) that are slightly out of tune. The chorus effect was popular in the 1980s. It can be used with reverb to create an “airy fairy” effect. Kurt Cobain of Nirvana was a well-known user of the chorus effect.

Examples of chorus pedals are:

1) Boss CH-1 -

2) Electro-Harmonix Small Clone -

3) Line 6 Space Chorus -

4) MXR Stereo Chorus -

A Flanger simulates the sound effect originally created by momentarily slowing the tape during recording by holding something against the flange, or edge of the tape reel, and then allowing it to speed up again. This effect was used to simulate passing into "warp speed," in sci-fi films, and also in psychedelic rock music of the 1960s. Flangers are closely related to chorus.

Examples of flanger pedals are:

1) Boss BF-3 -

2) Line 6 Liqua-Flange -

Tremolo is a regular and repetitive variation in gain for the duration of a single note, which works like an auto-volume knob. This is a volume-related effects pedal. This effect is based on one of the earliest effects that were built into guitar amplifiers. Common users of the tremolo effect are U2’s The Edge, United Live’s Mikey Guy Chislett and Stu G of Delirious?

Examples of tremolo pedals are:

1) Boss TR-2 -

2) Line 6 Tap Tremolo -

3) Voodoo Labs Tremolo -

That’s all for this post. In the next post- Modulation Effects Part 2, and the prelude to delay effects. Till next time!


byanG said...

dis has been bugging me for the past few monthes. How do you get a good clean distortion sound? When i ever use distortion in a song, and im playing a riff on the first 3 strings, i get unwanted distortion after i play it. Is dere a pedal that'll help me. That's the best i can explain it. Please respond

ImpactElcGuitar said...

Some really good pedals to get a warm sound just before break up are the Xotic RC booster, Fulltone Fulldrive 2 and OCD, Cusack Tube Screamer, and Ibanez TS-808. Also, what you are having trouble with might be your picking/strumming not just your pedal, because a good tube amp overdrive or tube/analogue overdrive pedal NOT distortion pedal- there IS a difference- will do the trick (I personally am planning to get the RC Booster but already have the Cusack Screamer Fuzz and Visual Sound Route 66 which is a double pedal, the overdrive side is like the TS-808). Other than that, your strumming attack and volume matter immensely because when you get these high end pedals, you can get both really crunchy distortion and sweet mellow bluesy tones with the same settings because of your picking. The harder you play, the more crunch/distortion you get. But if these pedals aren't in your price range, pedals like: Boss DS-1, SD-1, BD-2, or MXR Zakk Wylde Overdrive, or Ibanez TS-9 (the best for under $100 imo) are good too. You just have to be a LOT more subtle with your picking or turn our drive setting WAY down, like 9 o'clock or under. I hope this helped you out. =D

TheKill said...

Although I'm sure that The Edge and Michael Guy Chislett do occasionally use tremolo, the effect that your hearing 90% of the time is delay. It's usually tapped in as dotted eighth notes. The Boss DD-5 is a great delay pedal, as is Line 6's DL4, both of these are used extensively by Hillsong as well as many other professional guitarists.

Joshua Lee said...

Is a build in tremolo arm in an electric guitar necessary to play hillsongs, planetshakers and other christian songs? *i'm still new to electric guitar and planning to get one electric guitar..i was inspired by Steve the way, i play the Yamaha RBX5A2 bass. Can you recommend any electric guitar to me? Not to pricey, tq..i appreciate. God bless.

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joseph said...

How do you get the hillsong united guitar setting on a line 6 spider amp? Please help me. Thank you

Dave Thompson said...

Effect pedals can make some pretty awesome sounds. Most of my favorite bands use effect pedals in their songs. I'm learning how to play guitar, maybe I should also get an effect pedal and see if I can do some cool things with it. Thanks for the awesome article.