Guitar Pedals

Delay and looper

Image by Marcel Grieder

Guitar pedals are fun. They give a huge amount of extra possibilities for the electric guitar player. In this article we’ll discuss what guitar pedals are and we’ll go through the most common types of guitar pedals. We’ll also discuss analog and digital guitar pedals, and the difference between single effects and multi effects.

What are guitar pedals?

Guitar pedals are small electronic devices that are positioned on the floor in front of the guitar player. They are linked between the guitar and the amplifier. The signal goes from the guitar, through the cable, into the guitar pedal. From the guitar pedal it goes through another cable into the amplifier.

Guitar pedals usually have a footswitch. If the pedal is off, the signal flows through the pedal to the amplifier without any audible changes to the signal. If the effect is switched on, the effect comes in. The guitar pedal then changes the signal in a way that is desired by the guitar player. For instance, if you turn a reverb pedal on, your guitar will sound like you’re standing in a big cave. Or if you turn your tremolo pedal on, it will sound like your guitar amp is attached to a windmill…

Most guitar effects usually have 2 to 4 parameters that can be changed, depending on the type of pedal. Most pedals run on a 9V center tip negative power supply or a 9V batteries. However, there are a lot of exceptions. Be careful and read the manual before you attach a power supply to a pedal.

Types of guitar pedals

There are many types of guitar pedals. We will discuss the most common ones.

  • Overdrive pedals simulate the breakup of a tube amplifier. They can also be used to boost (amplify) the signal so that an already overdriven amp sounds even fuller. There are many different kinds of overdrive pedals. The search for the perfect overdrive seems neverending for many guitar players.
  • Distortion pedals are used to simulate high gain amplifiers. They are used by guitar players who want to easily switch between a clean guitar sound and a big lead sound.
  • Fuzz pedals change the sound in a very dramatic way. It makes the guitar amp sound like it is on 12. Fuzz tones usually have a lot of sustain and sound more raw than distortion pedals.
  • Delay or echo pedals repeat the signal of your guitar. This gives a spacious effect to your guitar sound. Delay pedals have many applications, like thickening up the sound for solo’s and creating rhythmic patterns. There are countless delay types: tape delay, digital delay, analog delay, modulated delay, reverse delay, pingpong delay.
  • Reverb pedals make you sound like you’re standing in a big room. There are many different types of reverb pedals: spring reverb, plate reverb, hall reverb, room reverb.
  • Modulation pedals give a warble like effect to your guitar sound. Examples of modulation pedals are: Chorus, Flanger, Tremolo, Vibrato and Vibe.
  • Compression pedals even out the volume of your guitar sound and add sustain.
  • Pitch shifter pedals change the pitch of the guitar sound. Sometimes they add a second or third harmonic to the guitar sound. Pitch shifter pedals can be used for an octave up or octave down sound.

Digital or analog guitar pedals

There is a distinction between analog guitar pedals and digital guitar pedals. In digital pedals the signal is converted from an analog signal to a digital signal. After the signal is modified it is converted back into an analog signal. In analog pedals the signal remains analog all the way through the effect.

Often it is said that analog guitar pedals sound warmer than digital effects. But both types of effects have their pro’s and con’s. Analog pedals are in my experience usually noisier than digital pedals. The current draw of digital pedals is a lot higher than analog pedals. Batteries in digital pedals usually don’t last long.

The quality of digital pedals is measured in sampling rate. The higher the sampling rate, the higher the quality of the signal. The sampling rate of audio CD’s is for instance 44,1 kHz. At this sampling rate, the digital converted signal cannot be distinguished from an analog signal by the human ear.

Overdrive, distortion and fuzz pedals are usually analog. These are relatively simple circuits and their characteristics are difficult to simulate in digital pedals. Effects like reverb, delay and modulation are more and more available in excellent digital pedal format.

Multi effect pedals vs single effect pedals

Multi effect are larger floor units that contain multiple effect types in one unit. Multi effects are usally digital, although there are some exceptions. Multi effect pedals have a couple of advantages over single stompboxes: They are relatively cheap compared to the same amount of effects in single stompboxes. They usually have presets. There is no need for a pedalboard/power solution. The advantage of single guitar pedals is that you have more freedom to choose exactly the combination you want.

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