Understanding guitar effects 101!

By chirag
In Gear talk
Apr 26th, 2010

Since  the early 40’s, experimental guitarists and recording engineers have been implementing unique and  creative ways to modify their sounds for studio and live applications.

What are StompBoxes?

One major breakthrough in this field was the invention of stompboxes. Engineers devised clever devices to play around with the clean sound of the electric guitar to produce a sometimes lightly and sometimes heavily modified sound. A great idea was to localize that device and take it to the floor, conveniently allowing the guitar player to give the guitar player control of the effect.

Soon, guitarists started some experiments of their own, adding many different types of effects one after another to reach a deeply modified guitar tone that was never before heard of.

In this article, we’ll discuss some important types of guitar effect stompboxes and what they do to the sound of the electric guitar.

Distortion Pedals

A distortion pedal is used to make the clean sound “heavy”. It’s effects can range from subtle to brutal depending on the type and make of the manufacturer. These are usually mounted with three controls LEVEL, GAIN, and TONE.

Gain/Distortion controls the extent of distortion, Level Controls the volume/Presence and  Tone controls the Equalization.

Usually, all Multi Effects processors Consist of different types of Distortion effects, Op

Delay pedals

Delay pedals are devices that make your guitar sound like it is in an echo chamber, and every note you hit bounces back again. You can get a lot of interesting sounds using delay pedals.

An example of heavy delay pedal usage is Buckethead’s “Big Sur moon”

Popular Delay pedals include the Boss DD3 and DD7.

Reverb Pedals

A reverb pedal makes your guitar sound linger, making the notes long and smooth, and  last a little longer even after it’s not being played anymore. When used tastefully, Reverb can make your lead guitar sound stand out beautifully.

Wah-Wah pedals

A wah wah pedal is a bit difficult to explain with text. It has an actual pedal that looks like a car accelerator , and while playing, when you alter the position of the pedal. One of the most famous uses of the Wah Wah pedal was in Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child”

There is also an “auto” version of this pedal, called the Auto Wah, which controls the ‘pedal’ function automatically.

The Dunlop Crybaby is a famous example of a wah wah pedal.

Chorus Pedals

A chorus pedal makes your guitar sound like there is more than one guitar playing the exact same thing. It’s effect is reminiscent of church choirs, when a lot of singers sing the same note. The intro to “Come as you are” by Nirvana uses a chorus pedal.

The Boss CH-1 is a great example of a chorus pedal.

These are some of the most commonly used, most famous guitar effects pedals, and other, more advanced stompboxes are capable of effects like Noise Reduction to phasers to flangers(for that airplane sound) to phrase loopers (used to record a segment of playing and looping it back), and the list is only limited by our imagination.

Although it provides a vast variety of sounds you can get out of your rig, many of the most established guitar players (especially in the genre of heavy metal) choose to not use effect pedals altogether, simply using the effects already found on their amplifiers. They find a tone with their amp settings, and stick to it.