The Sonic Traveler’s Guide to Guitar Pedals - Odd Nugget


There are many factors to consider when choosing between an acoustic or an electric guitar, but in terms of versatility, the electric guitar is basically your best bet.

It’s all in the pedals, and there are thousands of guitar effects pedals to choose from...

matrix so many guns

Each one of these pedals is a key to a different sonic landscape you can visit with your electric guitar.

From the time Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour first plugged in the wah pedal backwards to summon otherworldly sounds back in the ‘60s, to how Animals as Leaders’ Tosin Abasi pushes the boundaries of jazz and progressive rock today, none of it would be possible without these tiny magical pedal boxes.

If it’s your first time experimenting with guitar effects pedals, there are around 30 different types of effects that can be categorized into simpler groups.

Dynamic Pedals

waveform silver surfer

These are the pedals that directly affect the signal dynamics, which means that they sound best when placed closest to your guitar in the guitar-pedal-amp signal chain.

Equalizer pedals are arguably the most important pedals for beginners to master. They allow you to customize the levels of your frequencies for balance and clarity.

Meanwhile, compressor pedals do the same, except with premeditated settings focused on adding depth and sustain. Boost, chorus, and volume pedals are also in this group, which is a good place for beginners to start their pedal journey.

Pitch Pedals

pitch black visual metaphor

This category is comprised of octave, pitch shifters, and harmonizer pedals. All of these pedals duplicate your guitar signal but in a different pitch, range, and volume depending on the settings. Because of that, they sound best when placed after dynamic pedals in the signal chain.

Everyone from space-faring bassist Thundercat to Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello use pitch pedals to create their unique riffs and tones.

Gain Pedals

stomp the gain pedal

Also called drive or overdrive pedals, gain pedals are more famously wielded by the likes of Keith Richards, Jack White, and Yngwie Malmsteem.

Apart from overdrive pedals, this group is comprised of distortion and fuzz pedals, the former of which is where the grittier sounds of metal come from while the latter is more associated with funk and classic rock.

Arguably the most fun pedals any beginner can learn with, gain pedals belong to the middle of the signal chain.

Modulation Pedals

pedal to the metal gone wrong

Tremolo, vibrato, phaser, and flanger pedals belong to this group for how these effects modulate volume and frequency.

While tremolo or vibrato pedals result in rhythmic and steady modulations utilized by the likes of The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach or Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, phasers and flangers result in the sweeping, sustained notes we hear from virtuoso Joe Satriani and the Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan.

Although these are considered to be advanced pedals, this doesn’t mean that beginners can’t experiment with modulation pedals to great effect. Just keep them near the end of your signal chain.

Delay and Reverb Pedals

wall e shreds

These are the pedals used to create time-delay effects. Popularized by the likes of David Gilmour, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ John Frusciante, Thom Yorke, Slash, and Tom Morello, delay pedals, which repeat and sustain guitar notes depending on settings, have a vast number of applications across different genres.

These are not to be confused with reverb pedals, which can basically make you sound like you’re playing in a room with perfect acoustics (like a natural cave, concert hall, or a 13th century gothic church).

These pedals belong to the end of the signal chain where they can soak up all the effects before sending the signal to the amp.

While these are arguably the pedals which amateurs need to be familiar with first, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t also experiment with wah, loop, synth, and other more complex pedal types.

Effects pedals are about finding unique tones, forging different sonic paths, and just having fun with signal modulation and modification.

Creatively speaking, there’s really no wrong way to use guitar effects pedals with your amp and electric guitar.

Read about guitarists who don't use a pick next.


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