What Do Effect Pedals Do? The Definitive Answer

What Do Effect Pedals Do? The Definitive Answer

Updated - February 18, 2021

Whether you’re a pro or you’re just starting out, finding the perfect effects is like playing musical pick-up sticks. With all these different divisions of effects out there. Making sense of everything and deciding which one’s best can be confusing. The right effects can make or break a performance, and to make the right decision. It’s important to know what all those different effects mean. That’s where this article comes in. We try to help you navigate this guitar pedal nightmare.

What do effects pedals do?

They are electronic instruments that allow a person to create sounds from different instruments and sounds, with effects. There are many types of effects pedals. But they all do one thing and that is to alter the sound of an instrument.

What are the most common effect pedals?

Do you know the difference between tremolo and vibrato? This article categorises and explains the most common guitar effects pedals – so you can find the tone you need to create your perfect guitar sound. There are four main categories of effect used to create guitar tones. With that in mind, let’s have a look at the different types of guitar effects pedals.

Acoustic Simulator

An acoustic modeling effect that will give your electric guitar a truly unique acoustic tone. A wide variety of different acoustic guitars can be selected for a variety of different tones.

Boost Pedal

Boost pedals are essentially a volume boost in a box. They can be used to add more volume to your guitar signal for leads, or to increase the gain potential of a tube amp for heavy rhythm sections. Most boost pedals are very similar in terms of style, and their main purpose.

Most boost pedals can have some type of tone control. Which can be used in conjunction with the gain knob to dial in more warmth and character into your tone. They are very much alike in function and design. So it is best not to overthink the question of picking one out.

Chorus Pedal

Chorus is one of the most requested effects by guitarists, and for good reason. You can create whole new sounds from just one or two notes. A great way to start adding the chorus effect to your own songwriting is by using it to add depth to chords and other instruments. This gives the listener a better sense of the entire song as opposed to hearing numerous different instruments in isolation.

Modern guitarists need to understand how the Depth and Rate controls of chorus pedals work. If you are a guitar player who uses chorus pedals, it is imperative that you understand these controls. Chorus pedals usually have at least two controls: Depth and Rate. The Depth controls the lowest and highest pitches that the doubled tone varies between. The Rate controls the speed that the doubled tone moves up and down in pitch.

Compressor Pedal

Compression is a guitar effect that dynamically controls the volume of the amplified signal. It is a large-sounding pedal that can be used to add sustain to your guitar, or it can function as an overdrive. This effect also has the side effect of making your tone more consistent in volume. So it doesn’t sound like you’re playing through a speaker.

Compressors are great for smoothing out your guitar‘s signal to prevent distortion, and would be an ideal tool for any musician who wants to get the most out of their signal.

Compressors usually have an attack and threshold setting that allow you to control the speed at which it starts effecting the tone. And a volume setting that sets the volume level that the compressor begins clamping down on peaks.

Delay Pedal

Delay is a technique that creates the sound of an echo. The delay pedal creates a copy of your guitar tone that repeats like a fading echo. This effect is typically used on electric guitars to create a psychedelic sound. Most pedals have three knobs, time and level. Set the time knob at the interval you want then set the level knob to the volume you want to be put out. Then use the effect level knob to adjust the volume of the delayed sound. Therefore controlling how loud it sounds in the mix.

Analog Delay Pedal

An analog delay pedal is a guitar effect that utilizes physical components to produce an echo-like effect. While there are only two types of parameters that you can adjust. The sound itself is often warm and slightly imperfect with slight imperfections that give the tone depth. An analog delay is extremely useful as it allows your guitar to be heard clearly in large venues.

Digital Delay Pedal

A digital delay pedal is a type of delay that uses digital signal processing in a computer chip to create the delay tone. This processing provides a cleaner or crisper delay tone. One of the best advantages of a digital delay is that you can emulate different types of delay in one pedal. For example, you can take the sound of an analog tape and use it as a tape simulator in your digital delay.

Tape Delay Pedal

Tape delay is a type of analog delay that uses a tape loop to create a delayed effect. A tape delay can create a warm and smooth tone. Great for creating ambient sounds or delays in your mix amongst other things. It’s utilized in modern guitar oriented music styles both in rhythm and lead guitar parts – and is used by many famous guitarists.

Distortion Pedal

Distortion of any kind is a great way to add a touch of realism to an instrument. It’s also a great tool for adding punch and dynamics to lead licks, melodies, and basslines. The first thing you need to do to create distorted guitar tones is to get your hands on an instrument. A guitar should be plugged into the amp with the tone controls turned up until the desired sound is reached.

It is crucial that you get the right amount of distortion into your amplifier in order to give it that heavy rock ‘n’ roll sound. To achieve this effect, you can run a clean signal through the amp first, then add the first few drops of distortion.

Placing distortion pedals in front of the pre-amplifier helps improve guitar tone before it reaches the amplifier. This means that by using distortion pedals as a pre-amp, you can shape your guitar‘s tone throughout its length before it reaches an amplifier circuit.

EQ (Equalizer) Pedal

An equalizer (eq pedal) is like a frequency adjustment tool that boosts or cuts frequencies in real time. Some EQs are designed for each individual range (bass, mid-range, treble) and others are multipurpose. Graphic EQ pedals have faders for each frequency band you can move up or down to boost or cut the frequency. Some EQ pedals can be used to tackle problem frequencies such as honk or to add some bass or high end sparkle to a mix. Equally interesting tones can be achieved with EQ. The ‘radio effect’ mentioned by the original contains little more than boosting the high mids to create an interestingly shaped sound.

Fuzz Pedal

The Fuzz effect was originally created by a player putting a pinhole or cut in the speaker of an amplifier. Fuzz pedals use a transistor-based circuit to create the sound. Compared to distortion, fuzz is more raw, abrasive and doesn’t compress the tone. These pedals typically perform best at the front of your effects chain into a clean amplifier.

Flanger Pedal

Flanger is a distortion effect that simulates the sound of an aircraft taking off and landing. Guitar tones are fed back in on themselves with a very short delay, creating sharp boosts and cuts. By feeding the output of the guitar tone back in on itself with a varying delay time, the result creates a bright, harmonically complex sound. This, combined with the creation of a comb filter by varying the delay time, will cause it to move at various pitches up and down the frequency range.

Gate Pedal

Gate is one of a number of effects that help eliminate unwanted noise occurring in the signal path. It is used when the desired signal gets too loud, so the gate prevents noise from entering the amplifier. When placed in the tone of an amplifier’s effects loop, a noise gate can be used to efficiently eliminate hiss caused by high gain distortion. This is useful for situations when there is ambient noise in the room.

Harmoniser Pedal

The harmoniser effect is used in the metal and hard rock genres to sound like a second guitarist is playing in harmony with the original guitar signal. The harmoniser effect can be used to play solos or other melodic phrases. The Harmoniser is a pitch shifting effect that creates a harmony effect by splitting the guitar and pushing the pitch up or down at a certain interval (usually a 3rd, 5th or octave). The harmoniser can be used to play chords, solos, or fill in a gap between a lead guitarist’s solo melody and rhythm guitar.

Looper Pedal

Looper – A device that records a phrase of your playing and loops it back repeatedly. Used by artists like DJ Shadow, Method Man, and Red Hot Chili Peppers, looper pedal effects are perfect for creating rhythmic loops that fit with your song-style looping. Looper pedals can be used to layer overdubs in a layered effect or to create dense layers of sounds.

Looper pedals add depth and complexity to your playing. Using nothing more than a guitar and a loop pedal. Looper pedals are also excellent tools for beatboxers, although they are more commonly used by guitarists and vocalists.

Overdrive Pedal

Overdrive is a guitar effect designed to emulate the sound of an overdriven tube amplifier. The overdrive effect is entirely dependent on the quality and type of guitar amplifier being used. Although overdrives may be subtle, they can provide a more pleasing distortion effect and add some extra grit to your guitar, without altering the sound.

At this point, the current is too much for the amp, which drives the signal to distort. As it adds warm overtones to the signal, it also boosts distortion without introducing any unwanted background noise.

To achieve the original overdrive effect, a valve or vacuum tube amplifier would be “overdriven”. This is achieved by increasing the gain to the limits of the tube amplifier. Tube amps are not only capable of producing a wide range of overdrive tones, they also produce more sustain than transistor amps.

Octave Pedal

Octave and pitch shift pedals are cool effects. Octave/Pitch Shift pedals take your guitar tone and shift it a step up or down an octave. They’re useful for simulating bass guitar lines or the higher pitched strings of a twelve-string guitar. Some pitch pedal brands simply double your tone, while others also offer octave and harmonic options.

Phaser Pedal

Flow-Switching, or Phaser is a guitar effect that creates a swirling, swooshing filtered guitar tone.

The best way to describe the phaser effect is to explain the process of how it’s created. A phaser creates pitch shifts in guitar tones by combining a tone sent through a filter with the original tone. The filtered signal is combined with the original as it travels around the loop and interacts with itself again and again. When you combine this with your original guitar tone, it gives you a sonic signature the world will recognize as the phasersque.

The phaser effect is a very cool sound, but you don’t want to use it for every song. Be selective about the number of phaser effects and the types of effects you use when producing your song.

Reverb Pedal

Reverb is a process that adds ambiance to recordings. It creates a sense of space and depth by emulating the way an echo occurs in a room. Reverb effects can be added easily to audio while recording or mixing, but some reverbs cannot be created in real time using hardware and software.

It is a great time-saving tool to add atmosphere and depth to your music. Reverb is essentially the perceived sound of something that’s been reflected off of a surface or is taking place in a room made of multiple surfaces.

However, some reverb systems feed back the sound into objects like springs or metal plates to generate echoes that are not possible using conventional room reverbs.

Rotary Pedal

Rotary feels like a typical modelling effect. However, it’s a rotary cabinet amp simulator. A simple stomp switch allows you to change the speed of the effect and use the pedal‘s tone control to play with the pitch modulation effect.

A rotary effect takes the sound of a rotary cabinet. Or mechanical rotary speaker and recreates it in a simulated form. Rotaries are often used with guitars and synths, as they can add depth or spatial effects to a sound. By using the resonance of the body in combination with an electronic circuit.

A modelling effect that recreates the sound of a rotary cabinet amp has potential and actually sounds quite good on guitar. Not only does this pedal usually include a mixing knob for adding an extra low-end. It also offers two speeds, fast and slow.

Slicer Pedal

A metallic, percussive effect that sounds like your guitar tone is chopping in and out. This effect sounds like a guitar being chopped or “sliced” and can be used to add sustain to your lead tone.

This effect cuts the volume of the signal itself in time. In addition to creating a more authentic guitar-like tone, slicer also offers a wide variety of options to help you create your unique sound.

Switcher Pedal

A Switcher is an invaluable tool for any guitarist. You can change amplifiers, effects and even guitar tones on the fly without losing your place in your playing or song arrangements. A Switcher will help make your music dynamic and more powerful by seamlessly switching between effects, amps and guitars.

Synthesizer Pedal

A complex effect that transforms a guitar into a synthesis of many sounds, from synth tones to electric piano, and even a distorted guitar. It’s easy to use and sound incredible with the right gear.

The guitar will either play its normal sound or the tone from a special 13 pin GK pickup, creating a new instrument. A guitar synth is a massive range of sounds that can be achieved depending on how it’s driven and used.

Tremolo Pedal

Tremolo is a modulation effect, meaning it changes the volume of a signal (e.g., guitar tone) over time. It can be used to create a smooth and lush texture over a strum, or trigger a stutter (echo) effect on your bass solo.

Tremolo causes the pitch of your instrument to fluctuate rapidly. It adds a wobbly, droning effect to your otherwise clean tone. Earlier tremolo pedals used an oscillator. But eventually it was found that the signal could be manipulated via a high-pass filter and amplitude envelope generator. Resulting in modulation that was more controllable and far more musical.

Tuner Pedal

Tuners are not effects. They are an essential tool for any guitarist. A guitarist probably already has a tuner in his or her music kit. Tuners help to tune your instrument on stage so that you always have the correct pitch.

Vibrato Pedal

Vibrato is an effect that thickens your tone. It can be used to thicken a sound or create an ‘out-of-this-world’ surf rock vibe. They basically vary the pitch of your sound by rapidly switching between two frequencies. Vibrato is a very useful effect and it’s something you should consider adding to your rig. Especially if you either want to add some extra thickness or a spacey tone to your sound.

Vocoder Pedal

A vocoder is a synthesizer effect that lets you put your guitar through the voice of a singer. It shapes the sound of your guitar using the natural formants of the human voice, allowing you to make your guitar sound as if it’s “talking”. Vocoders are useful for indie rock and electronic music artists because they recreate the vocal texture of real vocals in a guitar tone.

Volume Pedal

Volume is a simple effect. It can make your guitar sound bigger or smaller. They also can shift the frequency balance of your sound as well as increase or decrease the overall volume. A volume expression pedal can be used to control the volume of your guitar while providing other functions such as sustaining notes or creating fade-in/fade-out effects.

Essentially, a volume pedal is the simplest way to control the volume of your guitar signal. There are many uses for a volume pedal but most common usages include volumes down for clean tone and guitars up for gritty guitar tones. Using a volume pedal is a way to overcome the limitations of in-amp volume controls while still letting you control how much your music is loud.

Wah Pedal

Wah is the guitar effect that creates the sound of a “Wah Wah“. Pedal-based Wah wahs feature the same basic effect as the original wah wah pedal, using a filter to sweep across the frequency band to create a sound similar to a human voice saying “Wah“. Wah pedals usually have knobs for controlling their tone: toe down makes the signal brighter; heel down makes the signal darker.

Wah effects are also used as a modulation device, such as to create “wahwah” solos. This alteration can be controlled either automatically by electronics within the pedal or manually by the use of an expression pedal.

Multi Effects Pedal

Multi-effects units take a lot of the pain out of setting up and learning new gear. They might be much cheaper than pedals, but you’re really only paying for the power of those effects. Not their tangible characteristics – size and power consumption. Lots of great multi-effects units can match high-end guitar pedals in terms of tone quality, plus they can connect to your computer so you can set up shortcuts to your favourite patches.

They provide a whole new level of flexibility. Allowing you to instantly shift between two or more effects within the single unit.

True Bypass vs Buffered Bypass

It’s not about either true bypass or buffered bypass being inherently better. It’s about separation of signal and coloration between signal path and electronics. True bypass completely cuts the circuitry of the pedal out of the signal path when it’s not in use, keeping your signal path free from any additional coloration caused by the pedal‘s circuitry.

However, true-bypass pedals still have a considerable amount of wiring. Several of these kind of pedals could lead to several feet of extra cable being used. Which can have it’s own effects on signal quality.

The 4 Cable Method

The 4 Cable Method is a powerful tool for guitarists who want their tone pedals to mix with your main guitar amp. It’s a basic principle that pros rely on, but also a great starting point for novices. If you want your sound to mix with your amp, use the basic 4 cable method. It does require an amplifier that has an effects loop (fx loop) feature. If you don’t have many pedals then keep this idea in mind for the future when you want to build a large pedalboard and make it sound amazing.

Know What Sound You’re Trying To Create

It is important to know what effect pedals you have available. Because they are all used to enhance the sounds that are already out there. Knowing what kind of sound you are trying to achieve will help you get the right effect pedal, and give your sound some depth and definition. Building a pedal board is a very personal thing. It depends on your style and target sound.

Effects pedals can create effects like echo & delay . These are great for when the sound of something is too quiet for the listener to hear it. Or when you want to create a very dramatic effect. Compressors are able to level off your input signal. Your signal sound more refined and less sporadic due to picking techniques.

Not All Pedals Are Created Equally

There are many different types of effects pedals, and they are not all created equal. If you are trying to create a unique sound with your guitar, why not try a wah pedal and let your imagination go wild. There are also effects pedals available that simulate sounds from many different instruments.

Effects pedals change the sound of the instrument being plugged into them. They are used to give each instrument it’s own tone. Many types of pedals can change the sound of an instrument. Some can even change the sound of pickups which is pretty neat. Each of these pedals are not created equal. Some give you a wonderful vintage sound, others, not so much. Of course, there are some pros and cons to each type, but that’s where some of the confusion comes from. The key is to figure out the ones that suit your particular playing style best.

Effects Pedals Fit Between Your Guitar And Your Amplifier

Many effects have plugs that plug directly into your guitar. This builds a bridge between your instrument and your source of audio. These types of pedals are popular among musicians. Mainly because they’re quick to set up, easy to use, and can get the job done quickly.

One of the first things you should consider when getting an effects pedal is the type of effect(s) you’ll need. These days, there are so many types of effects, they can become overwhelming. Fortunately, you can always decide which pedals you want based on the function they perform. For example, if you want a bass-ranged effect pedal, then you might want a Hall or voodoo sidechainable effect pedal. Likewise, a clean-sounding effects pedal is stronger if you want a Voodoo Labs Clean Driver or condenser mic if you’re in a studio environment and want a high-quality recording.

Some guitar effect pedals can take you into another world of sound like adding distortion and other unpleasant tones to the ends of a guitar string or vibrating picked string. Other effects pedals are designed to enhance the sound of your guitar or guitar amp by adding more volume, harmonic content, and changes the intensity of each string’s tone.

What Can Effects Pedals Do For You?

Effects pedals do a number of things for you. They affect the sound of your guitar by controlling the volume, intensity, stereo spread, and the difference between the left and right channels. Depending on what type of effect you augment, the second guitar can sound different, giving many different results. When combined, the effects of multiple pedals create a variety of sounds. Effects help artists of all types with sound in their own unique ways. A guitar effect is an electronic device that allows you to alter the sound as if you were playing the instrument yourself. There are many types of effects. But depending on what you need, there are also different price points and features, so research what suits you.

A lot of pedals change the volume, the sensitivity, the stereo spread, and more. The level determines how much signal is sent on the first guitar output, and the tone controls the sharper or warmer the sound is, as well as altering the kind of sustain and reverb the signal or guitar channels receive. If you want all the brightness and brutality of your guitar in your signal chain, there will be no sound if it isn’t bright and brutal.

With different tone and volume controls, you can have a fuller, more presented sound. Allowing you to add more impact and nuance to your playing. Tones and volume are useful because you’ll always know what kind of sound you’re getting from your guitar when you plug it in. You might like a brighter, more aggressive tone with all mids and highs. Other players might prefer an impressive warm tone with very little bass or grit.

Effects Pedal Benefits

Effects pedals can provide a lot of benefits to guitarists, especially those that play in song structures requiring multiple vocals. At the same time, they can neutralize or improve the sound of vocals, enhance rhythms. And raise the volume of vocals with their own distinctive characteristics. It can be possible to get some decent sounds with a single effect pedal, but if you want to create a more intense sound, you need more pedals. There are also types of pedals that help around with the sound of instruments besides just a guitar and amp, but depending on the need, you may need more or less than one type.

Check Out Our Recommendations

We have a variety of effects pedal recommendations on our site, covering all the major types of guitar effects pedals . Take a look at what our team has to say on the type of pedal that interests you.