Guitar Pedals – Introduction & Buying Guide

Guitar Pedals – Introduction & Buying Guide

If you're just stepping into the world of guitar effects pedals, you might be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of options you have. Not to worry--most players felt the way you do now at some point, and a quick primer on the different types of available guitar pedals is often all you need to get started.

Of course, finding the pedals that are right for you often takes some trial and error. If you're new to pedals and looking to start out, choosing the pedals that you want to shape your sound is half the battle. After that, organizing your pedals on your board is an entirely different animal.

Guitar Pedals 2-2

In this article, we'll just focus on the types of effects pedals you may want to consider. We'll also make some specific suggestions for pedals to look at within each type. Ultimately, let your ear guide you--cheaper pedals aren't necessarily "worse" than more expensive ones. It all comes down to what direction you want your new gear to take you in.

#1. Delay

Delay pedals essentially do what the name suggests--they record the signal from your electric guitar and play it back. Sometimes, the playback is delayed by only a few milliseconds, and at other times, it's extended further. Exactly how long a delay can be depends on the specific pedal you have, but some players have found that chaining multiple delays together lets them create lush, ambient soundscapes. You don't need multiple delays to create great sounds, though--even a single delay pedal can help shape unique sounds.

If you're looking at purchasing a delay pedal, you also may want to consider whether you want an analog or digital delay. Analog delays are the original delay pedals, and they have a characteristic warm sound that most digital delays do not.

However, analog delays often don't let you extend your delay times as far as digital delays will let you. You also can occasionally find pedals that are essentially a hybrid of analog and digital technologies--the Eventide Rose modulated delay is an example of this . If you're considering purchasing a delay pedal but aren't sure which type is best for you, be sure to listen to sound demos and try out different pedals if possible. Certain pedals may sound better or worse depending on the specific electric guitar you use most often.

Our Suggestions For Delay

Budget-friendly: We think the astonishingly affordable Donner Yellow Fall analog delay is a great option if you're on a budget (or if you just appreciate a delay with simple controls). Donner is fairly new to the pedal scene, but so far, most of its pedals seem to blow similarly-priced competitors out of the water. You can hear the Yellow Fall being played here.

More: Read our detailed review of Nux Atlantic Delay & Reverb Review

Boutique pick: We like the vintage-inspired tone of Fairfield Circuitry's Meet Maude analog delay. This is a pedal that sounds a lot like older (and now very expensive) tape delays. You can hear this pedal being played here.

Major-manufacturer pick: If you've ever looked up your favorite artists, chances are good that one (or more) has used a Line 6 DL4 Delay Modeler. This easily-recognizable green stompbox can be run in stereo for richer sound, and it emulates plenty of useful delay effects. There's even a ping-pong delay function. You can check out the DL4 here.

#2. Reverb

If you've ever sung a capella in a room with good acoustics, you know just how much reverb can enhance a sound. Many reverb pedals are designed to emulate the natural reverberation of certain types of rooms, although some take it a step further. For instance, guitar effects pedal manufacturer Walrus Audio makes the beautiful-sounding Slo reverb pedal, which comes with a few different algorithms. Even playing with this pedal alone, you can achieve incredible soundscapes. You can see and hear that one being played here.

Reverb effects often are the type of effects you don't notice until they're removed. More subtle reverbs can add some depth and dimension to your playing, but they aren't as immediately recognizable as something like heavy distortion. However, reverb is used in just about every genre, and it makes almost any genre sound more polished.

If you're shopping for a reverb pedal, you may have seen stereo reverbs and mono reverbs. Mono reverb pedals tend to be less expensive. But if you have access to two amps, playing with a stereo reverb pedal is not to be missed---it's like playing your guitar with surround sound. Of course, because there are so many types of reverb effects available, it's always a good idea to listen to several demos before settling on one.

Our Suggestions For Reverb

Budget-friendly: If you're on a budget, TC Electronic's Hall of Fame reverb is one of the most affordable and versatile budget-minded reverbs you can find. You can choose from a range of reverberation types and adjust the effect level and your tone, making this guitar effects pedals a powerful sound-shaping machine. You can check it out here.

Boutique pick: We think the Walrus Audio Slo reverb, which we mentioned above, is one of the best boutique reverbs you can find. While it's an extremely versatile textured reverb, it's also very easy to figure out the controls, and it offers many ways to shape your tone. If you love tonal versatility but are easily overwhelmed by the heavy digital stompboxes, this one might be a good option. Check it out here.

Major-manufacturer pick: For this section, we have two selections--the award-winning Electro Harmonix Cathedral is a great stereo reverb that includes just about every classic delay type, including spring, reverse reverb, room, hall, and more. It also has a function that allows you to "freeze" the note or chord you just played, letting it hang in the air indefinitely. Despite all its features, this pedal is just over $200, making it relatively affordable. You can hear it in action here.

Our other pick from a major manufacturer is the Eventide Space. The Space's tagline is "Reverb and Beyond," and that couldn't be more accurate. While you can play with classic presets for room, hall, and spring reverb, the Space is a pedal that has an incredible array of digital algorithms that let you develop your own sound. This pedal's range is hard to describe succinctly, so it may be easier to just watch this pedal in action here.

#3. Chorus

When you think about all the exciting pedals you can buy, a chorus pedal might not have crossed your mind. Chorus pedals often shape your sound in a subtle way (although you can use them to create more drastic effects, too). However, depending on the style you play, you may or may not find that chorus pedals are among the guitar effects you need. Old-style blues doesn't often necessitate the use of a chorus. However, if you play modern pop ballads, just about every modern pop song uses a chorus effect to some extent.

Chorus is technically a modulation effect--it splits your signal and delays one half of the split a bit. If you've ever played a 12-string acoustic guitar, you probably have pretty good idea of what a chorus pedal sounds like. Most chorus pedals aren't too expensive, and they can be a good way to thicken your sound a bit. Playing with a chorus pedal on its own might not do a whole lot, but when paired with other effects, a good chorus pedal can make a substantial difference. If possible, it's a good idea to try out different chorus pedals with the existing effects you have--this can give you a sense of which ones can best help you level up your sound.

Our Suggestions For Chorus

Budget-friendly: We like the Electro-Harmonix Neo-Clone chorus. It's a smaller version of the company's famous Small Clone, and at under $100, it's a great first chorus pedal. As a bonus, the Neo-Clone can even achieve vibrato-like effects for a unique and vintage-inspired tone. You can see the Neo-Clone put through its paces here.

Boutique pick: Walrus Audio makes outstanding boutique pedals for relatively affordable prices, and we think the Julia is an excellent analog chorus pedal. The Julia, like the Neo-Clone, can also move into vibrato territory if you so choose, making it a very versatile choice. You can hear it for yourself here.

Major-manufacturer pick: Boss guitar pedals have quite a following, and their simple designs are deceptive--their classic engineering can help you achieve an incredible sound. The Boss CH-1 Chorus is a pedal with incredible versatility, and an optional stereo output can help you expand your sound even more. Playing a guitar rig in stereo can be an incredible experience, and having more of your effects in stereo lets you experience playing guitar like never before. Check out this popular Boss chorus pedal in this video demo.

#4. Fuzz

Fuzz pedals essentially both distort and compress your sound, making a distinctive "fuzzy" sound. Fuzz can be used in almost any genre--you can find it in art rock tracks, indie rock music, and more. Many people confuse fuzz and distortion, but distortion has a heavier, gritty sound that is often used in metal and hard rock.

Fuzz is commonly used in indie rock and similar genres, and it adds just enough grit. Running fuzz through reverb or reverse reverb also results in the kind of "wall of sound" that is commonly found in shoegaze music.

Like many other guitar effects, fuzz pedals vary dramatically. If you are looking for a fuzz guitar effects pedal, it's a good idea to listen to a few sound demos--fuzz guitar effects can sound dramatically different given the other effects you have, so it's often wise to hear a few players use the pedal, preferably also in a chain with a few other effects as well.

Some pedal manufacturers also make effects that combine fuzz and other effects (usually delay) for a single stompbox that creates plenty of tonal options.

Our Suggestions For Fuzz

Budget-friendly: We've already mentioned Donner pedals, and we think that Donner's Stylish Fuzz is a great inexpensive fuzz option, especially if you're just starting out. It's also a nano-sized pedal, so it's easy to fit on a pedalboard. Given its low price, it also has incredibly good tone. You can hear this guitar effects pedal for yourself in this video demo.

Boutique pick: Devi Ever is a great boutique pedal manufacturer, and the company is especially well known for their fuzz pedals. We especially like the Disaster Fuzz. This versatile fuzz pedal is a great choice for shoegaze and rock, and it still remains fairly affordable. You can hear it in action in this video demo.

Major-manufacturer pick: The Electro-Harmonix Big Muff is a legend when it comes to fuzz effects, and the many iterations of the Big Muff remain popular with musicians across many genres. The Big Muff Pi with included tone wicker switch opens up new tone-shaping opportunities--you can turn on three high-pass filters or bypass tone control entirely.

The relatively simple controls make it easy to cultivate a sound that's all your own, even if you're relatively new to effects pedals, You can hear the pedal demonstrated in this demo video.

More: Read our in depth reviews of Death by Audio Fuzz War - a distinctive Fuzz Pedal, Wampler Velvet Fuzz Effects pedal, Fulltone 70 BC 108C Fuzz Pedal, and Donner stylish Fuzz - an affordable pedal. 

#5. Distortion

Of you're wondering about the difference between a distortion pedal and a fuzz guitar pedal, you aren't alone. Distortion is a harsher sound than fuzz. While fuzz effects pedals have vintage, warm tone, distortion has an aggressive bite that many metal players love. Depending on the genre you play, you may not need a distortion pedal for guitar on your board, but if you play metal or a similar genre, distortion effects pedals are a must-have.

Our Suggestions For Distortion

Budget-friendly: You probably already know about the guitar manufacturer Fender, but did you know that this well-known electric guitar manufacturer also makes effects pedals? Fender's Pugilist distortion is an economical choice, and it's also a great-looking pedal that's sure to make a statement on your board. You can check it out in this demo.

Boutique pick: Walrus Audio is a brand that consistently produces great boutique effects pedal choices, and the company's Iron Horse distortion pedal is a great distortion pedal for those who want something that goes against the grain. This pedal has easy-to-adjust controls, and it may well make a great addition to your board. You can check it out in this video demo.

Major-manufacturer pick: We've already mentioned that Boss is an effects pedals company that is extremely popular and beloved by many. Their Metal Zone pedal is a great starter pedal for metal players, and it's also found a home on the pedalboards of many metal players around the world. Listen to this sound demo and decide whether it's the right distortion pedal for you.

More: Read our detailed reviews of Biyang Metal End King Distortion Pedal, TC Electronic Dark Matter Distortion Pedal and MXR Super Badass Analog Distortion Effects Pedal. 

#6. Overdrive

Overdrive is another effect that can sound very similar to distortion and fuzz. However, this effect emulates the sound of an overdriven tube amp. This is a distinctive sound that is good for some genres. Even if you don't routinely use these types of effects in your music, a little overdrive can add a new dimension to a verse or chorus.

Of course, you can always use a tube amp and kick it into overdrive in order to achieve this type of sound. But often, you need a certain volume level in order to achieve this sound. Playing at home or in an apartment may not allow you to reach that level. Alternatively, you may not even have a tube amp to begin with.

An overdrive effects pedal lets you achieve the warm, somewhat distorted sound of an overdriven tube amp even if you practice with headphones or are running into a digital interface.

Our Suggestions For Overdrive

Budget-friendly: TC Electronic is a company known for affordable effects that still sound great. They manufacture both electric guitar effects and vocal effects for performers. In particular, the company's Cinders overdrive is one of the effects that can give you great overdriven tone for less.

This is also a relatively small pedal, meaning that you'll still have plenty of space left on your board for another effects pedal (or several). You can hear it for yourself in this video demo.

Boutique pick: Old Blood Noise Endeavors is a great boutique pedal manufacturer. They gave several interesting and unusual builds, and their Fault overdrive is a fantastic choice for those looking for electric guitar effects that stray a bit outside the mold.

If you're looking for an unusual effect, OBNE is a great place to look first. This phaser is just one of their many effects. You can hear the Fault being demonstrated here.

Major-manufacturer pick: Ibanez is a known guitar manufacturer, but they also do make a few effects pedal options. In particular, their popular Tube Screamer pedal is one of the most renowned overdrive pedals, especially for guitar players who specialize in metal.

The small green Tube Screamer has been imitated by many smaller manufacturers, but the original is well worth your investment. You can hear it demonstrated in this demo.

#7. Phaser

Phasers are somewhat unique effects--they run your signal through a few filters to modulate it. The sound is a bit hard to describe--if you haven't heard one, it might be worth checking out a few of the sound demos we've included below.

These effects have a surprising array of uses--a slight bit of a phaser effect can lend an interesting, almost vibrato-like tone to your playing. Heavier use of this popular effect can help you create distinctive and memorable soundscapes.

Phasers may not be for everyone, but this is an effect that can be good to have on your board. After all, the right array of effects pedal options will inspire you to keep playing and to take your playing in new directions. If you have space on your board, pairing a phaser with a fuzz or delay (or really any other pedal).

Our Suggestions For Phasers

Budget-friendly: Some guitarists look askance at Behringer pedals. They're very affordable, although some Behringer effects are tonally better than others. We think that the Behringer VP1 Vintage Phaser is a great value for the price--it sounds similar to many higher-priced phasers, and its vintage look is sure to add some interest to your pedalboard. Check it out in this demo video.

Boutique pick: We're definitely fans of Walrus Audio, but their Lillian analog phaser is a great option for your board. Despite its boutique status, this is a fairly affordable pedal, and its analog circuitry gives it a warmer sound than many digital phasers. Check out a video demo here.

Major-manufacturer pick: We really like the Fender Lost Highway phaser. Aside from the cool name, this is a pedal that can add some real sonic interest to your board. Fender may not be the most popular effects manufacturer, but their effects are beginning to make an impact in the world of pedals. If you're in the market for a good phaser, this is definitely one to consider. You can check it out in a demo here.

Final Thoughts

We hope you're enjoying your foray into the world of guitar pedals. You may find yourself falling into the same trap that many new guitarists (or at least guitarists new to effects) do--you may feel like you absolutely need almost every pedal you come across. Remember to take your time acquiring new pedals for your board--it's a good idea to add pedals one at a time so you can see how they play with existing ones on your board.

Hopefully our list was useful to you--let us know what you think in the comments, and please share if you found it helpful!

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