When you start playing guitar, especially electric guitar, not only do you have to practice your instrument to understand its inner workings but also know how to shape and create your desired tone.

While your amp is responsible for the tone to a certain extent, it is the pedal section where all the magic happens.

Types of Electric Guitar Effects Pedals

Pedals, or stompboxes, are small boxes with circuitry inside them. You press them, generally with your foot, to activate them. They can be of many kinds.

While there are many different kinds of pedals, let us take a look at some of them and what they do.

1. Tuners

A tuner pedal is ideally the first pedal in the chain. It takes the cleanest possible signal from your guitar and gives you an accurate tuning of the strings.

While many clip-on tuners can be attached to the guitar’s headstock, pedals give a more accurate reading and are specially built for situations such as live performance when there is a lot of external noise.

Tuner Pedal for Electric Guitars

There are many tuner pedals available at different price points. Many professional musicians prefer the T.C. Electronic Polytune and the Polytune Mini. The Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner is also very popular. These also work on bass guitars.

A tuner is often overlooked, but it should be one of your first purchases because every musician needs a tuner no matter what genre of music.

2. Pitch and Dynamics

The tuner should be followed by pedals that control pitch and dynamics. Some of the pedals in this category are:

  • Compressor: A compressor sets the level for your guitar. You put a level, and any frequency that crosses the threshold is compressed. This results in relatively fewer peaks and troughs in your playing.
  • Pitch Shifter: A pitch shifter raises or lowers the pitch of the notes played. These are often used to add an extra layer of sound and make the guitar sound larger.
  • Wah-Wah: This pedal alters the tone and frequency of the guitar signal. The result is a human-like voice. The wah-wah can be heard most prominently in Bulls On Parade by Rage Against The Machine and Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Child.
Pitch and Dynamic Pedal for Electric Guitars

3. Gain

Gain-based pedals add an extra crunch or warmth to the guitar sound. Some common types of gain pedals are overdrive, distortion, and fuzz.

While an overdrive is a versatile pedal used in many genres to add more body to the tone, distortion is commonly used for metal and fuzz for grunge music.

Gain Pedals for Electric Guitars

Overdrive pedals add grit to the signal, making it sound like a tube amp at its maximum volume.

Distortion pedals provide challenging levels of clipping. Since the gain levels are so high, it makes the sound ‘distorted.’

Fuzz pedals clip the signal hard at the transistor stage. This makes it sound like a square wave with harmonic saturation.

4. Modulation

Modulation pedals refer to those that take the guitar signal, identify specific characteristics of it and then continuously change them. Some of the most common types of modulation used are:

  • Chorus: A chorus pedal doubles the signal from your guitar. The duplication is slightly out of sync and tune from the first. This results in a thicker sound. The chorus is most prominently heard in the opening riff of Come As You Are by Nirvana.
  • Flanger: A flanger mixes two nearly identical signals together. One of them is at a slightly slower speed. The song Head Over Heels by Tears For Fears features a flanger.
  • Phaser: A phase shifter pedal, or phaser, creates a swirling sound. They emulate the sound of vintage rotating organs. Kashmir by Led Zeppelin uses a phaser pedal in a revolutionary way.
Modulation Pedal for Electric Guitar

5. Time

Delays and reverbs are considered time-based pedals.

A delay pedal records and plays back the signal from your guitar. This creates a wall of sound, and these pedals are great for genres of music that require textures and layers. While some musicians add a slight delay to their tone to make it sound cleaner, genres such as Shoegaze use delays with heavy feedback and delay times.

Time Pedal for Electric Guitar

When you walk into a large room with a high ceiling, you will often notice that the sound of your voice bounces back. This is a reverb. Reverb pedals create a simple or complex echo, depending on the user’s requirement. They are added to solos to create texture and make the tone stand out.

6. Volume

You can place volume pedals at the beginning (after tuner) or the end of your signal chain. These include expression pedals (usually controlling effects such as wah-wah) that can manipulate the volume as and when needed.

Placing the volume pedal at different parts of the chain produces different effects.

Volume Pedal for Electric Guitar

While these are the broader category of pedals used by musicians, there are additional ones available as well. These include, but are not limited to, synth pedals (pedals that make your guitar sound like a synth) or even vocoders (pedals that emulate the human voice).

7. Analog and Digital

All guitar pedals are either analog or digital in their make.

Analog pedals do not alter the signal and process it continuously. A digital pedal is made of various individual points. The signal is processed from analog to digital, and the effect is then added onto them.

While analog or digital preference is a matter of personal taste, analog delay pedals have a warmer sound, whereas digital pedals are easier to control. Both have their set of pros and cons.

Analog and Digital Pedal for Electric Guitar

Summary

Beginners often feel overwhelmed by the sheer variety of pedals available to them. While it is easy to get carried away, the most important thing to consider is what style or genre of music you want to play.

While a tuner is a must and ideally should be one of your first purchases, you can start by prioritizing which pedals are essential and which ones aren’t.

The great thing about stompboxes is that you can always start with a few and keep adding to your chain eventually. Remember to familiarise yourself with your pedals before playing them at a gig. Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun playing around with them!