What Are Guitar Pedals For and How to Use Them

guitar pedals

Shopping around for your first guitar pedals? This article covers everything a beginner needs to know about guitar pedals and how to use them.

There are tons of guitar pedals on the market, and there are so many aspects of sound that you can manipulate. 

Some pedals create a single sound modification, while others provide a range of manipulations. Things get even crazier when you start hooking up several pedals together. 

So what are guitar pedals for anyways? And what sort of effects can you create? 

It’s time to put your foot down and dive into the world of guitar pedals.

What are guitar pedals for?

Guitar pedals are devices that modify the sound of an electric guitar. 

The strings’ vibrations turn into electric signals in your guitar via the pickups. From there, the signal travels through the cable, which passes through your pedals and eventually to your amp. 

Guitarists use pedals to create, enhance, distort, or modify the sounds emanating from their guitars.

Two categories of guitar pedals.

There are thousands of guitar pedals on the market—each designed to alter the sound of your instrument in different ways. 

Pedals come in two formats: single pedals (also known as individual stomp boxes) and multi-FX pedals (multi-effects unit). Individual pedals offer a single type of effect, whereas multi-FX pedals come with multiple sound distortion options. 

There are pros and cons to both. 

Single pedals: Designed for a singular purpose

guitar pedals

Pros: Individual stompboxes are simple and tend to offer one effect. However, the effect quality is higher because they are designed for a single purpose. 

Cons: On the other hand, buying many single pedals can be expensive. The more pedals you get, the more equipment you need. In addition to the pedals themselves, you’ll need patch cables to connect everything, possibly a pedal board to keep everything organized, and you may need to acquire a dedicated power supply. 

Multi-FX pedals: A jack of all trades but a master of none. 

guitar pedals

Pros: The multi-FX offers a cost-effective solution if you want to play with multiple effects while keeping your setup clean. They’re simpler to connect up, and you only need around two cables. 

Cons: However, because they offer more options, they can be trickier to fiddle with and less intuitive. You tend to have to scroll through complicated menus to program sounds, and they’re sometimes criticized for sounding a bit sterile compared to single pedals. 

Types of guitar pedal effects.

As far as sound effects go, there are seven main types of guitar pedal effects: dynamic effects, pitch effects, drive effects, modulation effects, delay, echo effects, reverb effects, and Wah wah pedals. 

Dynamic effects

Four types of pedals are in this category: compressor pedals, EQ pedals, boost, and volume pedals. 

A compressor pedal squeezes the guitar output signal, making the volume more consistent–it makes quiet sounds louder and loud sounds softer.

Booster pedals increase the strength of your guitar output without distorting it. Similarly, volume pedals work just like the volume control on your guitar. Only you use them with your feet. You can gradually increase or cut the sound of your instrument as you press down on the pedal. 

On the other hand, EQ pedals allow you to cut or boost the bass middle and treble frequencies. 

Pitch effects

Pitch shifters thicken your sound by adding base notes. They’re broken down into two subcategories, octavers, and harmonizers.

Octavers allow you to add harmony notes an octave or two below the notes you’re playing. 

Harmonizers are similar to octavers, except they allow you to choose the intervals between the notes (like thirds, fifths, etc.) Some harmonizers enable you to control the harmony or pitch of the note with a pedal–allowing you to create dive bomb or pitch bend effects.

Wah wah pedals

Wah wah pedals are a little tricky to describe with words. They make your guitar go wah-wah-wah-wah-wah. 

Still not clear? 

Wah wah pedals create an expressive, almost vocal-like quality. A good example is Jimi Hendrix’s opening of Voodoo child.

The sound sweeps through a frequency filter as you move the pedal from front to back. The heel position emphasizes the base and cuts the treble, and vice-versa at the toe position.

Drive pedals

Drive pedals come in three variations: overdrive, distortion, and fuzz. They make your notes sound more powerful and grungy. Musicians from almost every music genre use drive pedals. 

Of the three, overdrive pedals are the most conservative but dynamic. They can add a subtle crunch to your notes or create warm, smooth lead tones. 

Distortion pedals offer guitarists a more aggressive or in-your-face sound than overdrive pedals–they’re harsher and grittier. 

And fuzz pedals use square wave clipping which heavily saturates the tone and compresses the distortion, creating huge amounts of sustain.  

Modulation effects

Modulation pedals add various sound effects to your instrument. For instance, chorus pedals thicken your tone and sound like two guitarists playing the same notes but slightly out of tune with each other. 

Another excellent type of modulation pedal is the phase and flange pedal, which creates a sweeping or spacy sound. 

Delays and echo effects

Echo or delay pedals create additional sounds that ‘slapback’ so you can hear individual echoes. 

Modern delay pedals come in analog and digital designs, and you can adjust the intervals between each echo. 

  • Digital delays use digital circuitry, allowing them to produce clean sounds and long delay times. 
  • Analog components create a warmer tone, and the echo repeats’ sound tends to degrade. 

Reverb effects 

People often confuse reverb and delay/echo pedals. While they are similar, delay and echo pedals offer a clear and defined repetition of sound, whereas reverb pedals create more of a washy or ambient sound. Reverb pedals change the tone and vibe of your sound.

How to set up your guitar pedals.

Before you think about setting up guitar pedals, make sure you know how to hold a guitar with our blog post, How to Hold a Guitar.

Linking several guitar pedals is referred to as a ‘signal chain.’ There is no one way to set up guitar pedals, as different guitarists may have other preferences. 

However, there is a general layout that most people follow. Ideally, when setting up your signal chain, you’ll use the following: Wah wah, dynamic, drive, modulation, delay, and reverb pedals. This setup allows you to manipulate the sounds cleanly. 

How to use your guitar pedals.

Once you have everything you need, including a guitar, pedals, cables, and an amp, it’s time to set it up.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to creating your pedal setup. 

  1. Plug your guitar into the input of the first pedal.
  2. Plug the first pedal’s output into the second pedal’s input.
  3. Plug the second pedal’s output into the third pedal’s input.
  4. Plug the output of the third pedal into your amplifier.
  5. Turn on all of the pedals and the amplifier.
  6. Adjust the volume and tone controls on your guitar and amplifier as desired.
  7. Experiment with the different effects each pedal produces.

Once you find the ideal setting you want to play with, it’s time to jam out! 

How much do guitar pedals typically cost?

Guitar pedals can cost anywhere from $50 to over $3000.

The main determining factor in guitar pedal prices is the components’ quality. The better the quality, the more expensive the pedal will be. Other factors include the type of pedal, the brand, and the features offered.

Foot on the guitar pedal.

Guitar pedals add an entirely new dynamic to playing the guitar. They can significantly expand the sounds you make and the music you play–regardless of your genre. Musicians can spend years playing around with the different sound-altering effects of these devices.  

Guitar pedals are cool accessories for your instrument. However, it doesn’t matter what pedals you have if you can’t play a chord or use a pick. Another vital guitar accessory is a teacher in your pocket. Simply Guitar is an app that helps you follow an efficient path to guitar mastery. Try it today.