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Guitar Effects Pedals

Thomma Lyn Grindstaff
guitar pedals

One of the best ways to add color and style to your electric guitar sound is to experiment with effects pedals. These pedals are a relatively inexpensive way to add a new dimension to your playing, and they can be lots of fun. Stomp boxes, as they're sometimes called, are enjoying quite a bit of resurgence with boutique companies creating vintage pedals of all types.

Distortion Pedals

The first effects pedal most people buy is a distortion pedal and because of the incredible popularity of this effect, there are countless distortion pedals on the market. Distortion pedals boost your guitar's signal and beef it up with overtones that make it sound warm, full, and dirty.

  • ProCoRat - The slogan for this classic pedal is Stomp on a Rat! If you want that wall of sound, a larger-than-life, heavy distortion that still has a great, warm tone, try out a Rat. The pedal retails for about $70.
  • Boss DS-1 - Joe Satriani and Steve Vai can attest to the quality and sturdiness of the DS-1. It's a classic distortion pedal that will take your guitar from a whisper to a scream. You can pick up the DS-1 for about $50.

Delay Pedals

There are nearly as many delay pedals as there are distortion pedals. Delay pedals bring an echo effect to your guitar's sound. You can choose between digital delay pedals, which use digital signal processing, and analog delay pedals, which use bucket-brigade chips and capacitors.

  • Boss DD-3 - The DD-3 is the classic, clean, no-nonsense digital delay pedal. With plenty of configuration options and Boss' famous reliability, this pedal is an excellent choice that will handle all your delay needs. You can pick one up for around $130.
  • MXR M169 Carbon Copy Analog Delay - If you love warm, resonant delay, you'll want to check out the M169, an analog delay pedal. It features a compact design. You can play with a range of effects from crisp echoes to dreamy echoes that bring to mind the vintage sound of David Gilmour. These pedals retail for about $140.

Phase Pedals

Phase pedals produce a subtle ripple effect for your guitar's sound. They do so by making an exact copy of the signal, shifting the phase of one of the duplicates, then putting the two back together. This process creates notches in the overall signal and gives the sound a distinctive swoosh.

  • Electro Harmonix Small Stone - The Russian-made Small Stone has a massive phaser sound that can range from wide and sweeping to a narrow vibrato. Stylistically, the pedal looks and feels like a Soviet tank. This one's a classic, and you can get it for about $100.
  • MXR Phase 90 - The Phase 90 is simplicity in orange. The pedal has one knob, and that's all it needs. It's a classic piece you should definitely listen to if you're in the market for another phase pedal. It's also a good deal at around $80.

Flanger Pedals

Flanger pedals work similarly to phase pedals, but instead of using a phase delay, they use a time delay. A flanger splits your guitar's signal in two, then delays the second copy for about twenty milliseconds, producing more notches in the frequency and a dramatic and dizzying whirl of harmonics.

  • MXR EVH Flanger - This classic pedal gives you the wild, sweeping, modulated flanger sound. Think early Van Halen, particularly the opening riff of Unchained, if you want to remember how cool a flanger can sound. You can buy an EVH for about $190.
  • Moogerfooger - Designed by Bob Moog, the inventor of the Moog keyboard, the Moogerfooger is an incredibly versatile and unique flanger that features both chorus and flanging effects. At around $480, it's a pricey stomp box, but its sound will blow your mind.

Boost Pedals

Boost pedals do exactly what you'd expect from the name: they boost your sound by pumping up the amplitude of your guitar's signal. The effect is clean and free from distortion, but some pedals might emphasize certain frequencies in the signal.

  • TC Electronic Spark Mini Boost - The Spark Mini will give your guitar's sound a good, clean boost without messing up its tone, whether nuanced boosts in volume or sending your amp into overdrive. You can get a Spark Mini for about $50.
  • Suhr Koko Boost Reloaded - The Koko Boost Reloaded offers two kinds of boosts: a clean boost and a middle range boost that will ratchet up the power of your distortion and overdrive pedals or your tube amplifier. The pedal makes it easy to switch between the two boost types. It's a pricier boost pedal at $200.

Volume Pedals

Volume pedals add subtle effects to your sound when you place them strategically along the signal chain between your guitar and your amplifier. For example, you can use a volume pedal before a delay to amp up the volume of the delay, or you could use a volume pedal after a distortion pedal to lower the distortion volume without affecting sound quality. Think of a volume pedal as a paintbrush for your sonic palette.

  • Boss FV-500H - The FV-500H is a large, sturdy workhorse of a volume pedal that will lend plenty of expression to your signal chain. The pedal is smooth to operate, so you can easily change the tension and the setting for minimum volume. You can purchase the FV-500H for around $110.
  • Ernie Ball VP Jr. - Whether you want a volume pedal for swells, a level boost, or an on-and-off switch, the Ernie Ball VP Jr. would be an excellent addition to your pedal board. It's a compact volume pedal which features a micro taper switch so you can enjoy two clear-cut swell rates. It will run you about $72.

Overdrive Pedals

Overdrive pedals either boost the gain in your guitar's signal to the point that it pushes a tube amplifier to distortion, or they simulate the sound of distortion in a tube amp. The resulting sound is warm, lush, and less aggressive than the effect of straight distortion pedals.

  • Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer Reissue - The TS808 is one of the standard bearers of overdrive pedals. This reissued model uses the same circuitry found in the original, highly sought after pedals. The TS808's most appealing trait is its warmth. Don't buy an overdrive pedal without giving this one a try. You can get a TS808 for about $180.
  • Boss SD-1 Super OverDrive - The SD-1 uses asymmetrical clipping to achieve a thick, smooth overdrive. It's a great choice for rock and blues guitarists, since it simulates the sound of an overdriven tube amp while retaining the individuality of your picking style. It's a bargain, too, at around $50.

Reverb Pedals

Historically produced with springs or plates, reverb is a unique sound. You can think of it as layered echoes or layered delays. Reverb pedals seek to approximate how the sound of a guitar would ring and reverberate in an empty room.

  • TC Electric Hall of Fame - If you want truly epic reverb, you need to pick up the Hall of Fame reverb pedal. For about $150, you'll get ten types of reverb plus a TonePrint function through which you can download custom tunings via a USB connection. You can set your reverb level anywhere along a wide spectrum from a subtle, small room effect to a grand cathedral effect.
  • Biyang RV-10 Tri-Reverb - The RV-10 is one tough customer with its steel enclosure and stomp switch. It's a bargain, too, at around $50. This sweet pedal offers a toggle switch that gives you three reverb modes and a time knob, which you can use to adjust the intensity of the effect. If you're into bright, lush reverbs, you'll love this stomp box.

Wah Pedals

With a wah pedal, often called a wah-wah pedal, your guitar can mimic what a human voice sounds like when it says "wah wah." The effect, often used in funky rhythms and guitar solos, is created by moving the resonant frequency of the signal up, from bass overtones to treble overtones, then back down again.

  • Dunlop JC95 Jerry Cantrell Signature Cry Baby - Used to great effect by Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains, the JC95 Cry Baby is a highly acclaimed pedal that will give you a good, throaty wah that won't sacrifice the deeper, darker tones. You can get a JC95 Cry Baby for about $160.
  • Morley Steve Vai Bad Horsie Wah - If you're wondering how the Bad Horsie Wah got its name, look no further than Steve Vai's Bad Horsie, a song that really goes heavy on the wah. The pedal features an electro-optic design. Since there are no switches, all you have to do is step on the pedal to get all the wah you want. A Bad Horsie Wah will run you around $110.

Fuzz Pedals

Fuzz, a vintage effect that hails from the 1960s, sounds exactly like its name would imply: fuzzy and filled with warm grit. Produced by germanium or silicon transistors, fuzz will blanket your guitar's signal with wild and woolly distortion and was originally created to simulate the raspy sound of a saxophone.

  • ZVex Vexter Fuzz Factory - The Fuzz Factory isn't just a great performer, but it's an eye-catcher as well with its shiny, silkscreened chassis. It features five knobs which you can use to create your own unique fuzz. If you can imagine a fuzz sound, you'll be able to play it with the help of this pedal. You can pick up the Fuzz Factory for about $200.
  • Dunlap Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face - The Fuzz Face is a classic, cornerstone effects pedal. Made popular by none other than Jimi Hendrix, this pedal produces that legendary fuzz sound that never gets old. Plus, it looks incredibly cool. You can buy a Fuzz Face for $130.

Plug In and Play

The best thing about effects pedals is that there are limitless combinations of sounds you can create by combining them. Turn on your phaser and your delay at the same time, or use the flanger and the distortion pedals together. The more you play around, the more magical sonic accidents you'll stumble across. Make sure you have plenty of 9-volt batteries on hand and have fun!

Guitar Effects Pedals