If you’re a guitarist that likes to play all-day-long you would probably need a product such as this one to help your hands feel better from time to time. However, you will surely need some pedals to work with, and in this guide, we’ll talk about the top five that no pedalboard would be complete without.
Unless you play a style that only uses clear tones, you will most likely need a pedal to provide some drive. Such a pedal is useful in creating tones that an amplifier wouldn’t be able to create otherwise. Even if you think that your amp does a good job of providing some distortion, you might still want a drive pedal.
There are two kinds of drive pedals out there, but the distortion one is the most popular of them, so we will start with that. This is the most widely used pedal and possibly one of the most useful ones.
The explanation to this pedal is simple – it is a device that distorts the sound, taking the signal produced by the guitar, adding volume, some sustain and crunch and creates something beautiful out of it. This is usually the main effect used on the chorus of popular songs, especially rock.
One thing to know about the distortion pedal is that it sounds different depending on the guitar you use. The second type of drive pedal is an overdrive one, and the differences between this and a distortion pedal are small and technical.
Some would consider overdrive pedals completely different from their brothers, the distortion models, but for the inexperienced ear, they do the same thing. However, an overdrive pedal will retain a lot of the original sound of the guitar but will force the amp to give out a heavier and thicker sound. Overdrive models are more useful for older amps like those working on tubes.
Most amps have this effect already built into them, but having one such pedal that you can tweak a bit more precisely offers a great experience. Most such pedals will give you more variety than your amp could possibly offer, and what’s more important, they will allow you to create a great sound even if you’re not using your amp, but some other piece of hardware to deliver the sound.
Amps create the effect by sending the guitar signal through a spring, which is a natural way of producing the reverb. But pedals use complex technology to offer you different types of reverb, anywhere from a soft plate reverb to a heavy chamber reverb.
No matter what you choose, the good reverb will offer the perfect ambiance to your guitar’s tone and will create a dynamic that might not happen otherwise. A good reverb pedal will simulate the sound that you can hear in a cave, or in a church (there surely are some reverb types called just like this).
The idea is that the sound that reverberates off the walls sounds better. This effect will make the music sound fuller. Reverb is such an important effect that in the early days of music, when recording, artists would do recreate it by performing in a huge room, a basement, or even a bathroom.
Not to be confused with reverb, the delay means that the signal is taken from the guitar, the effect pedal delays it and plays it exactly as it would have been from the start. Delay pedals offer you the possibility to delay the sound and then play it back one time or multiple times, depending on your preference, and on the feedback time that each pedal can offer.
As is the case with many pedals, there are analog delay models and there are also digital ones. The more modern digital pedals are capable of offering a longer feedback time and thus longer delays. They also tend to sound cleaner, but some guitars prefer the analog models over them, thanks to the unpredictability of the sound and the nuances that can sometimes appear.
If the delay effect is a quick one, almost instantaneous, the result is called “slapback”, as it is an instant reverberation of the thing that was just played. You could also get cascading atmospheric sounds with a delay pedal.
Most lead guitarists prefer using a delay pedal to extend the sustain of their solos. A simple solo will sound a bit anticlimactic without some good effects to back it up, and this is where delay shines.
There is also the cascading delay effect that some people like to use. In this one, you get the first delay and then a second one, and maybe multiple ones following that. This gives a unique feel to any song.
A nice chorus pedal will add much-needed thickness to a clean tone. The way it works is by taking an existing signal, splitting it into multiple signals and then applies effects on them, adding a slight vibration and delay. It will make your guitar sound like a small group of instruments.
Most chorus pedals manage to create unique sounds through modulating the pitch and timbre, and also delaying the split signals. You will hear an ensemble of different guitar voices when using the delay just right.
You will find that most such pedals use a basic system of knobs to control the effect. They have controls for the depth, rate, but they will also offer you the possibility to modify how dramatic you want the effect to be with the help of tone controls.
There are multiple ways to use it. You can choose to add just a bit of effect to get a slight doubling sound, or you can choose to push it all the way up to get an unearthly sound. Most rock ballads around the 1980s used this effect, mostly on their solos or choruses.
The wah-wah pedal can simply be defined as a pedal that acts as a tone filter, and it allows the player to control that filtering process with his or her foot. Guitars usually have a tone knob that lets you alter the sound of the instrument from a heavy bass one to a treble-focused tonality.
But using that knob is difficult as it requires you to use the hand that you otherwise use for strumming, and that means the knob can only be used rarely. With the wah-wah pedal, however, you can make those changes anytime. What makes the wah pedal popular is the fact that it resembles the human voice and the sound our voices make when simply pronouncing “wah-wah”.
The pedal works in a simple way and it is this simplicity that makes it so good for any purpose. However, it is one of those pedals that requires your foot to be almost all the time on it, if you want to get the best out of it. If you want to only let the low frequencies get through, you have to depress the heel end.
When you rock it all the way forward, with your toes, it transforms into a filter that lets treble to go through, but very little bass. Switching between these two positions gives a nice effect, creating a sweet glide when moving between the two positions.
Bonus – a tuner pedal
Although the previously five recommended pedals are a must in every setup, if you are a beginner, you might also want to have a tuner pedal. As a guitar player, you don’t necessarily need a pedal to give you the tonality, but beginners will surely need a tuner of some sort, and if you’re the type of person that likes to keep things neat on his or her pedalboard, the tuner pedal is perfect.
Experienced musicians will have a good musical ear and they will find the natural pitch with no issues, but you might find it difficult to tune your guitar by ear. And it’s almost impossible to do that in a live setting. Strings will need to be tuned after every song on a hot summer day, as the heat will affect them.
Using a clip-on tuner may seem unprofessional during a live performance, but with a pedal tuner, your efforts to keep the guitar in check will pass by unnoticed. There are few things worse than hearing a bunch of musicians tuning their instruments mid-show. Furthermore, a pedal tuner is often more accurate than a clip-on model, especially because it ignores any background noise.