Guitar Effects Buying Guide

Shopping for guitar effects is largely a matter of personal choice, as guitarists or bass players are often looking to achieve a certain tone. Sometimes players are looking to create their own signature tone, but equally as often guitarists are looking to duplicate a tone so that they can play a particular song and sound as close to the actual recording as possible. To achieve either "effect", requires processing the signal that is coming out of the electric or acoustic guitar or bass prior to amplification (in most cases.)

As you might expect, there are a plethora of ways to go about this. There are guitar pedals, multi-effects processors, preamps, and modeling processors primarily. Many guitarists like to pick up a multi-effects processor because nowadays they come with every conceivable effect, amp and cabinet model out there for only a few hundred dollars. Most of the single guitar pedals are more boutique sounding in nature, meaning they have a very unique or special tonal characteristic or signature sound (think Morley Wah, or the Ibanez Tube Screamer.) If you're shooting for a really unique sound, or you tend to write a lot of your own material you may be more passionate about developing your own special sounds, which might lead you to run a combination of single pedals. However if you're a general player that likes to try and replicate a lot of different guitarists, you'll probably want to stick with one of the multi-effects processor boards.

In most cases, you will take the cable directly from your guitar into one of these units, and then run another cable in to your amplifier, mixing board, computer or other system. Regardless, no discussion of guitar effects would be complete without talking about each of the different types of effects and how they modify the signal. With regard to that we have:

Distortion Pedals & Effects

As you can expect, distortion pedals will give your tone an overdriven sound. Distortion pedals are used by just about every hard rock, metal, and alternative band to some degree. While it may seem that a distorted sound does not have much variety, you would be amazed at all of the different types of tones that can be achieved from warm and mellow (think Eric Johnson), to screaming and edgy (think Zakk Wylde), to classic (think Angus Young) and everything in between. Just about every major guitar pedal manufacturer makes a distortion or drive pedal and all multi-effects units include some combination of distorted effects.

Wah Pedals & Effects

The wah-wah pedal is another classic tone that any avid guitarist can not be without. A lot of modern guitarists make heavy use of the wah like Kirk Hammett and Slash, but one of the most memorable tracks was the Star Spangled Banner that Jimi Hendrix recorded. Some specific songs include: Mr. Brownstone by Guns n Roses, Dazed And Confused and How Many More Times by Led Zeppelin, All Along The Watchtower by Hendrix, and White Room by Clapton w/Cream. Some of the most popular wah manufacturers are Dunlop (CryBaby), Morley (Bad Horsey), and Vox - who is also said to have really been responsible for bringing the Wah to market.

Delay Pedals & Effects

Although delay can be somewhat mis-leading, the basic effect that these types of pedals deliver is something that more closely resembles an echo. There are normally various parameters that can be modified, especially with modern digital delays. For some examples of songs that incorporate digital delay, think of the bridge to the chorus in Wait by White Lion.

Chorus Pedals & Effects

Chorus is a popular effect that can help a guitarist develop a bigger, fuller, fatter tone. A chorus pedal will essentially detune your signal slightly and introduce a bit of delay, which will have the effect of sounding like another slightly different guitar that is playing exactly what you are. The combination of the chorus signal and your signal are then combined to introduce the modified tone. Some people call it a doubling effect. Many guitarists will use a chorus pedal when picking over chord progressions, especially when there is only one guitar playing in the song. This will fatten up the sound. Most chorus pedals and effects allow you to adjust the range of the detuning and also the amount of time of the delay to really produce some interesting tones.

Flanger Pedals & Effects

Have you ever heard that whooshing sound in a guitar track that sort of sounds like a jet taking off? Chances are the guitarist was using a flanger. Flangers provide some really cool effects by introducing some delay and inverting the signal to provide that whoosh pattern that you commonly hear. One of our favorite passages with a flanger is the beginning of Van Halen's And The Cradle Will Rock, where Eddie is using the edge of his pick up and down against the low E string with a flanger engaged. Very cool sound.

Phaser Pedals & Effects

Phasers are another type of guitar effect that utilize some timing changes in the signal, such as delay, to develop a sort of swirling sound that was originally designed to sound like a Leslie cabinet (think of that old rock and roll organ sound). Phaser effects are normally included on most multi-effects processors and are common in the guitarists arsenal of tone enhancing pedals now.

Compressor Pedals & Effects

Think of stuffing dough through a pasta machine and you'll get a picture of what a compressor can do to your guitar signal. Used primarily by guitarists looking to create lots of sustain in their signal, compressors have become a popular effect in the hard rock / heavy metal crowd especially in guitar solos that utilize finger tapping. The extended sustain really helps guitarists to simply tap the strings to create the desired effect. Of course, there are many other reasons you might want some serious compression on your signal, and a compressor pedal is designed to give you just that.

If you're a reader and you have some tips on things to look for when buying guitar effects, please email us your tips and we'll post them here. Please use the contacts page to email us.

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