An Introduction to Guitar Effects

By Timothy (aka sasuke_kun12)

Before you take the plunge and go on a pedal spree, you need some experience on your instrument, say two years - one year learning, and another establishing your foundation. This is because effects don't make you any better, they simply enhance your sound. Don't get into the trap of thinking you need the latest wiz bang gadget within your first year as effects pedals may serve to distract you from practicing. Furthermore, effects may even hide your mistakes - hence should practice clean as it makes it easier to identify mistakes so you can work on them. Plus, if you take the time to save up, you can get a really sweet multi-FX unit or a bunch of high quality pedals as you get a much better improvement in your tone as compared to cheaper alternatives.

1. What is an effects pedal?
An effect pedal is an enclosure containing electronics that alter your guitar's/bass's sound. There are many types of effects out there and many have their own distinct sound. Effects come in 3 different forms:

-Rack Mounts

2. What types of effects are there?
Let's start with the 3 different physical forms of effect pedals. The first, pedals are your single (or double e.g. Boss DD-20, Visual Sound Jekyll and Hyde) effects. These are used on their own or in conjunction with other pedals, multi FXs and rack mounted effects. The second is Multi-FXs. As you probably have figured out, multi-FX's cram as much effects into one pedal board. Popular multi-FX's include the Boss GT 10 and Pod XT (the one Kenny uses). The last is rack mounts. Rack mounts are your multi-FX but in rack form. You select and switch off effects using a footswitch. A famous example is the TC Electronic G-Force used by Nigel Hendroff of Hillsong.

Effects are split into 6 categories. They are:

i) Tone

Tone alters your guitar's sound. So these include
distortions (Boss DS-1), overdrives (Ibanez Tube Screamer), fuzzes (Zvex Fuzz Factory, Dunlop Fuzz Face) and high gain (Think Boss MT-2)

ii) Filters
Filters include EQs, and wahs. With an
equalizer (EQ for short), you can alter your guitar's frequencies. If your guitar is too strong in the highs, you can boost or increase your bass frequencies. Wah pedals come in 2 different varieties: rockers and stomp boxes. Rockers are the ones that you see guitarists go up to and, put their foot on and rock back and forth creating a "wah wah" sound. When your foot is all the way down, only the low frequencies of your tone will be heard, but if you have it all the way up you can hear the higher frequencies. Repeated rocking creates the vocal "wah wah" that you hear. The stomp box varieties (auto-wahs and envelope filters) instead work on picking intensity so the harder you play the more pronounced the wahs become.

iii) Time
Delays, loops and reverb come directly underneath this category.
Reverb makes your sound bigger then it actually is as it simulates the natural echoes of a room. Delay grabs your signal, and releases it at a given interval [see Kenny's lesson on this]. This effect is used heavily in newer Hillsong albums and United Live albums. Loops are interesting. Depending on what type of pedal you have, you can play with what your recording or "over-dub" or record over what you've just recorded [see Kenny's lesson on this]. It's really useful if you're the only guitarist and you want to record a second guitar part but that's only if your looper's memory can accommodate it. For example, the Digitech Jam Man takes SD cards up to 2GB so you have HOURS of guitar parts to record.

iv) Volume
Pretty self explanatory, except for compressors. What a
compressor does is it gets your signal and squashes it. This means that when you play, your volume is going to be the same no matter how hard or how soft you play. With the compressor off, your sound will have volume spikes as you start playing louder. But when you have the compressor on it'll keep it all on the same level. This is particularly good if you're a really aggressive player like myself. Another volume effect is the tremolo. Not to be confused with you're trem bar! Tremolos make your volume go up and down, as if turning your volume knob really fast. It sounds great for slow songs [see Kenny's lesson on this]. Also, boost pedals give your signal an extra OMPH when needed. When you need an extra volume boost during solo's or important parts to get you're sound louder then the rest of the band, you hit your boost pedal. Alternatively, you can set different volumes on your distortion pedals, or use a volume pedal.

v) Modulation
Phasers, Flangers, rotary speakers and chorus go underneath this one.
Phasers create a "whoosh" sound (like a laser sound) [see Kenny's lesson on this]. A flanger sounds like a jet taking off [see Kenny's lesson on this]. Rotary speakers give your guitar have an organ quality, for example in the solo of My Best Friend.

vi) Pitch
Octavers and pitch shifters come under this one.
Octave pedals take your signal and duplicate it an octave or two higher. They are really useful if you want a bigger sound, e.g. the solo for Hosanna. Pitch shifters alter the pitch of your instrument.

I'm a Bassist!
Ever wondered why we get our own seperate line of effect pedals? Ever thought why popular pedals seem to have their own bass counter-part? Well the reason is this. In a band you have bass and drums providing the low frequencies and the rythem. Then you have the lead guitar and keyboard filling in the higher frequencies. This is why bassists have their own line of effects. Guitar effects are meant to deal with higher frequenices. But, you can always use a guitar effect for a bass guitar. I use my pedal board for both guitar and bass and when I buy a new pedal, I make sure that I can use it on both bass and guitar so that I can save some cash.

Heres a little hint with choosing bass effects:
1. Don't go over the top. Go for subtle effects. You don't want to make you're bass start sounding like a guitar. Remember the bass is the glue that sticks the drums and the guitar together so keep it that way.

2. If you want to use guitar effect for a bass, make sure you test it before you buy it! That'll save you the trouble before you realise that the effect won't come out because your bass is too low for the pedal to work properly.

3. Stay away from cheap guitar effects if you plan on using them on a bass. I have a zoom guitar player 3000. This has really thin sounding effects but the delay rocks. Before i got my digidelay tried using the chorus pedal to add a bit of texture to my bass. However, it didn't work due to the low bass frequencies. With my digidelay however, you could really hear it and when I put it higher it started to tremolo a little bit. It even started oscillating when i put it on max.

3. Okay now I know what effects are and how they work, but what is better: single effects or multi-FX's?
There isn't a rule where multi-FX units are better then pedals and vice versa. It depends on your own preference. If you just want all the effects you ever need in one place then a multi-FXs is for you. If you want to collect or like the sound of single pedals better, then that's the road you would take. There are some pros and cons of them:

+ All the effects you need in one place
+ No need to tap dance and turn individual pedals on and off
+ You can save patches. (save all the affects you want on at a specific time)
+ Has all of the effects categories in one place
+ cheaper than buying individual pedals
- With cheaper multi-FX units you can't change where the effect goes
- one effect may sound awesome but then the rest might be not as good
- you don't get the flexibility that you get with stomp boxes
- You might pay $800 and only use 3 effects
- Digital effects normally dont sound as good as stomp boxes

+ One pedal specializes in that effect
+ You can change their order
+ you can create an FX chain that suits you
- Unless you get a decent power supply, you're going to chew up heaps of batteries
- You're going to tap dance a lot
- Cables galore
- You can be drowning in pedals and find that you only need about half

4. Okay, so I've read in the pros and con's about re-arranging their order. Does it really matter where they go?
There isn't a golden rule of effects order, it's a matter of personal preference, although there is one order that most people go by. I go by this one as well.
(volume ->)* Wah -> Compressor -> Distortion -> EQ -> Modulation -> Delay (-> volume)
* Depends on your volume pedal. Read the manual to find out more. There are 2 types of volume pedals. Passive and Active so read you're manual to find out which type it is and where you should place it.

5. Sick, now I know what goes where, now I wanna buy some pedals!
Before you go out and buy, I suggest you research, research and then research some more. Researching will save you the hassle of buying your effects and then hating it due to the lack of knowledge about using it and its capabilities. Researching will also allow you to have a broader spectrum of the pedal market and it won't restrict you to the "Boss Syndrome". Some ways in which you can research is to go to the manufacturer's site and read up and listen to clips of the pedal. Digitech has awesome demos for most of their pedals. Another is to read reviews (Harmony Central is good for this) or watch them on YouTube.

- A little hint for Aussie guitarists-
Buying a pedal here will cost an arm and a leg and to be honest, most of us here (in Australia) can't afford to buy a Boss pedal out right without months of saving up. The solution? Buy from the good ol' US of A! I bought 2 used pedals, a Digitech and a boss for the same price of a Boss DS-1. If you don't mind getting used pedals, then troll around music forums until you get a deal that's right for you. Also when searching for pedals on eBay, make sure you tick worldwide to see how much it would cost to ship to you from America. At Allan's Music in Melbourne, a Boss Phase Shifter would cost $240 but I'm getting one for my mate at around $110 delivered brand new.

6. Okay, so I have a couple of pedals and the guy at the music store said I needed a power supply. Should I get one?
This question is a no-brainer. If you are a regular player, you need to have a sufficient power supply. With the amount of money you spent on buying batteries, you could've bought a decent power supply. Make sure you get a regulated power supply, or else you'll start getting our worst enemy, hum. Stay away from buying cheapo wall warts as those will only power 5 pedals and lack surge and overload protection. If you want a wall wart then grab a Visual Sound 1 Spot. If you want a dedicated power supply that's built like a brick and won't dig into your wallet then grab a Jim Dunlop DC brick. That baby will power around 8-10 pedals. Some pedals will sound better with batteries, others with a dedicated power supply so experiment and go for what suits you. Also, be aware that some pedals, when plugged into higher voltage power supplies (A normal pedal power is 9v unless it has it's own) will give you much more grunt. But before you do that, always check on forums and Google.

7. HELP! My pedals are everywhere! What should I do?!
Well, if you have a whole lot of pedals, the next thing that comes is a pedal board. A pedal board is a case, or board with velcro or fuzzy carpet lined on the bottom. What you do is you put velcro on the back of your pedal, whack it on the pedal board and voila! Your pedal will stick to it no matter what you do. The advantage of having a pedal board is having all your pedals set up and ready to go. All you need to do is plug in and power up.

* Retail vs. Homebrew
Okay, this really should be in its own thread but this question is bound to come up. There are some advantages with building your own pedal
1. If it breaks you know how to fix it
2. You can tailor make a pedal to suit your taste
3. You can make you're own pedals relatively cheap
Before you go "Aw cool! I wanna make pedals!" there are some questions you need to ask
1. Do I know how to solder?
2. Do I understand Ohms law?
3. Do I have a basic understanding of electronics?
Homebrewing your pedals is something left for the more seasoned FX veterans who know a thing or two about electronics. If you know a lot about electronics, then there's nothing stopping you from diving in. I know I have and let me tell you its fun and educational.

* Retail Vs. Boutique Vs. Modded
The difference is noticeable by the sound quality and the price tag. Unless you have the money I suggest you stay away for now as you don't know what kind of tone you are aiming for same goes for modded pedals. Don't get a Keeley Modded DS-1 just because everyone else has one. They obviously have one because it's the kind of tone they are looking for (well lets hope that's the case). Remember there are 3 kinds of pedal buyers

1. "The crowd pleaser" AKA I wanna get that pedal coz I wanna show it off
2. "I wanna fit in" AKA I just got it coz -insert name here- uses it. I actually have no idea what it does
3. The tone finder <- This is who you should aim for
* Further Reading

* A Little word from me
I see every now and then a question saying "How does Michael Guy get that sound" or "What effect does Nigel Hendroff use" However, you can never get that "Hillsong Tone" on their live CDs unless you're church of that size. I've been to Acer Arena (where they record their live albums) a total of 11 times. The reverb in that place is massive. Also you shouldn't emulate another players tone because you'll be stuck trying to copy them, without experimenting to see what suits you.

Remember this when it comes to playing at church. This has helped me pull away from focusing too much on playing a perfect cover rather then realising that it's not about playing that guitar part right but its worshipping God. Hillsong/United/Chris Tomlin/Mercy Me isn't playing the song you chose to play at church this week. You are. So you don't have to play like them and do a perfect cover. Just do what does the song justice and don't go over the top.


Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge. I have been playing electric guitar for nearly 2 years now and have only used a delay pedal. Looking to get more soon! :)

A said...

wow nice i've learnt heaps from this. good ending btw :))

Anon. said...

ok so im not sure how to contact the writer of this so im hoping they look at this comment haha. my boyfriend was talking about wanting a mxr phase 90 pedal and im getting it as a surprise for his birthday ( i know nothing about them haha). its so much cheaper from america as you said - i just wanna check that it is definetley an ok option to buy from there? i wont need to buy any power converters or god knows what etc? are you usually cvered if something goes wrong? thanks :)

sasuke_kun12 said...

hi there! sorry it took a while for me to reply. basically, its all okay. I've bought 4 pedals overseas. 3 from USA and one from Japan and 3/4 are okay and i power them using 240v power adapters (the 1/4 is still arriving)

you can just stick a battery in it or use a power adapter. Boss, MXR, Digitech, Rocktron, EHX, Boutique pedals etc., are all okay to ship over here but the big pedals and rackmounts are the ones you would want to buy here since they use their own power supply and they have been made to use american 110v (am I right?) and aren't meant to take 240vs here

hope that helps

Artking said...

actually, as far as i remember, Hillsong only recorded 'This is Our God' at Acer Arena, the rest of the more recent ones were recorded at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, a place that has not as much reverb as the Acer Arena (the Acer Arena was notorious for having acoustics problems as the designers of the stadium did not give much attention to it, the SEC however had Entertainment (obviously) in mind so... )

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Freimut said...

An effect pedal is an enclosure containing electronics that alter your guitar's/bass's sound. There are many types of effects out there and many ...

Kumendra Thakre said...

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Hi! I 've and I am a beginner, I estimate a question that is pretty stupid. So that you can get pedal effects, have you got to keep your foot the entire time? The musicians often move around the stage so much so I am perplexed on their guitars sound distorted with no pedal allegedly, although I am only interested since I've been to a couple concerts and I Have never even seen pedals on stage?

Judy D. Carney said...

I have a dunlop wah, boss tuner, Electro Harmonix Metal Muff distortion pedal, JOYO eq pedal, Behringer noise reducer and a Behringer DR400 Digital Reverb/Delay. what order should I have these pedals for best sound? Gutar Pedal