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Effects Pedals

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About Effects Pedals

Look on any performing stage. You are likely to see musicians using effects pedals to modify their sound, no matter what instrument is being played. The number of pedals available and the ways in which you can tweak your sound have greatly expanded. Long-established manufacturers, like MXR, Dunlop, Electro-Harmonix and Roland/BOSS, and smaller boutique builders, like Keeley, Earthquaker Devices and Catalinbread, are constantly creating new ways to bend your sound. A new category are the modeling multi-fx pedal. These include the tones of amps and cabs in addition to effects. This makes an ideal "silent stage" performance rig.

Effects Pedal History

Even before amplification, musicians sought ways to modify the sounds of their instruments. It's little wonder that when amplifiers came along, effects weren't far behind. The very first effect developed for electric guitars was a 1939 version of the "talk-box." The first fuzz box, the Maestro Fuzz Tone, was made to duplicate the sound of a bad mixer channel on a country-western recording. Both the phase shifter and some early delay effects were attempts to emulate a rotary speaker. The first wah pedal was intended to recreate the sound of a trumpet mute. With many musicians also being inveterate tinkerers, the effects kept coming. By the mid-1960s, all of what have become considered basic effects were available.

Types of Effects Pedals

Effects can generally be grouped into four different categories: gain-, time-, modulation-, and filter-based. A fifth category — multi-effect pedals — is a fairly recent development, due to advances in DSP (digital signal processing) technology.

Gain-based pedals

This category, in order of increasing gain and available distortion, includes compressor, boost, overdrive, distortion and fuzz pedals.

Compressors, like the MXR Dyna-Comp and BOSS Compressor/Sustainer, are intended to even out playing dynamics and can be used to either push or tame your levels. Clean boosts, which are exactly what the name implies, include the MXR Micro Amp and MC-401 Boost, BBE Boosta Grande, Rockett Archer and Friedman Buxom Boost.

Overdrives are intended to push an amp that already slightly broken up into a more saturated distortion. They include classics like the Ibanez Tube Screamer, Fulltone OCD, Wampler Euphoria and many others. Distortion pedals up the ante even further, providing a fatter, more clipped sound.

Fuzz boxes provide that completely over the top, totally square-wave clipped sound of an amp on the edge of total breakdown. These include classics like the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff ∏, Fuzz Face from Dunlop and Way Huge Swollen Pickle. There are also fuzzes that provide an octave up or down like the MXR SubMachine, Catalinbread Perseus and Fulltone Octafuzz.

Time-based pedals

Shifting your instrument in time, whether it's to match the natural reflections of an acoustic space or create a complex layer of repeats, is easy with reverbs and delays.

For classic room, chamber, hall and plate delays, choose pedals like the MXR Reverb, Electro-Harmonix Oceans 11 or TC Electronics Hall of Fame.

For multiple repeat delays there are a wide range of both analog and digital delays. If you prefer the analog world, the MXR Carbon Copy, EH Deluxe Memory Man and Way Huge Aqua Puss provide that unique sound. On the digital front, the range starts with simple digital delays like the BOSS DD-3 and Mooer Repeater,

More sophisticated pedals, like the Line 6 DL-4 or TC Electronics Flashback, offer a number of delay types. Some can even provide multiple delays at the same time.

Modulation-based pedals

Hear that pulsing, swooshing, jet-plane sound? That's modulation pedals at work. Tremolo and vibrato, phase shifters, flangers and rotary speaker emulations all use use shifting time bases, volume or swept filters to work their magic.

Tremolo is a variation in volume, and vibrato a variation in pitch, though the terms are often used interchangeably. There are lots of options for tremolo pedals, from the Danelectro Tuna Melt to the tap-tempo-equipped Walrus Audio Monument.

Phase Shifters add a sweeping multi-stage filter for that classic "swoosh," and include the MXR Phase 90, Electro-Harmonix Bad Stone and the many variants on the classic Uni-Vibe sound.

Flangers, which use a very short time delay sweep, have a distinctively different type of sweep that keeps a harmonic relationship to your music. Classics include the EH Electric Mistress and MXR Flanger. New takes on the effect include the TC Electronic Vortex and Thunderstorm, and the Keeley BubbleTron, which combines a flanger and phaser in one pedal.

Filter-based pedals

From EQs to wah pedals and envelope filters, pedals that utilize frequency filtes can shape your sound in many ways.

EQ uses a series of filters to raise and lower different frequency ranges. While it's not common to think of it as an effect, it can certainly be used as one, making your instrument sound like it's coming over a telephone line, or through a cardboard tube. From graphic EQs like the classic MXR 6-Band to parametric EQs like the Empress ParaEq pedal, there are many to choose from.

The first wah pedal quickly moved beyond being a novelty to something every guitarist had to have. Classics like the Dunlop Cry Baby or Vox pedals have been joined by new models from those companies and others like Fulltone, Morley, Boss and Voodoo Lab that allow adjustment of the filter depth, width or center frequency for an individually fine-tuned result.

Envelope filters, often called auto-wahs, trigger a filter to sweep up or down when the input hits a specific threshold. This can give each picked note or strummed chord its own sweep while saving a lot of wear and tear on your foot. Electro-Harmonix, MXR, BOSS, Fender and boutique pedal companies like EarthQuaker, Aquilar and Keeley provide a wide range of pedals in this category.


Advances in digital technology have given us many things. Not the least of these are the DSP-based multi-effects pedals that put a huge library of new and classic effects right at your feet. Korg, BOSS, Line 6, Headrush, Kemper and others have a range of choices that can take you from a basic selection of popular effects to a unit that packed hundreds of digitally modeled effects, amps, cabinets and studio wizardry into a performance-ready package that's ideal for any gig from a coffee house to a stadium.