Guitar pedals are one of the greatest tools for guitarists for a couple of reasons. One reason is that the stompbox market right now is booming in a big way which means there are many sounds and effects you can use.
There are hundreds or even thousands of different models to choose from, and each one is used for an entirely different purpose, for instance, a compressor, an EQ pedal, a wah-wah pedal, or a flanger. Beginners who are new to them, however, might not understand what a guitar pedal even is.
A guitar pedal also called a stompbox, is a piece of equipment that guitarists connect to their guitar and amplifier for a number of purposes, including for volume, sustain, effects, dynamics processing, or even masking errors and mistakes.
Simply put, guitar pedals are an amazing addition to your rig, whether it’s with a traditional amplifier/cabinet combination or to your digital audio workstation. More importantly, analog pedals, unbeknownst to most users of DAWs (such as FL Studio, Logic Pro X, and Garageband), sound much, much, better than the plug-ins that we’ve all grown accustomed to. Of course, pedals cost a bit more, but their quality is incomparable.
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The Purpose of a Guitar Pedal And Its Uses
There are many types of effects, including wah-wah, flangers, phasers, volume pedals, whammy pedals, octave shifters, distortion and overdrive pedals, reverb pedals, delay pedals, sustain pedals, and more. If there’s an effect or a sound you want, there is a good chance you can get your hands on it from some manufacturer out there.
Effects pedals are more for creativity than anything else. For example, one of the most common applications of a guitar pedal is in the case of distortion and overdrive (which I’ve talked about before). This is a pedal that pushes your signal so hard that it causes distortion.
A distortion/overdrive pedal is used in nearly all genres, including rock, metal, country, pop, and more, because they give your guitar a nice gritty, aggressive sound, but it ultimately depends on how much of the effect you’re using.
A lot of other great effects can be used, including the whammy pedal, popularized by the Rage Against The Machine guitarist, Tom Morello. The whammy pedal (which you can get on Amazon) essentially shifts the pitch of the note by a particular interval, depending on how the user has set it up. One of the most famous applications of this effect is in the song, “Killing in the Name Of,” where Tom Morello tremolo picks a guitar riff while shifting between the octaves.
Another incredibly common effect is the delay pedal. Delay repeats the note according to increments of time. For example, it could be set to 1/8 notes, 1/16th notes, 1/32 notes, or by using milliseconds.
The delay can be set up in such a way where the note repeats forever, it only repeats once, or the sound of the repeating note could be faint or incredibly loud. Either way, the delay pedal is an incredibly useful effect.
Guitarists love pedals, however, where they really shine is when they help you with compositional and practicing purposes. For example, some pedals allow you to re-record sounds and play them back, effectively acting as a second guitarist or even a third guitarist.
There is no limit when it comes to the different kinds of effects units you can buy for guitar and other instruments, such as the bass guitar, or even the drums in many cases.
As a guitarist, one of the best ways to spend money is with a Looper pedal like the Boss Loop Station. The Boss RC-30 Loop Station (which goes for a great price on Amazon), in my opinion, is easily the number one most important pedal a guitarist should own.
The reason for this is that a looper pedal allows you to record riffs, licks, chord progressions, and other miscellaneous sounds for the sake of improvisation and practicing. You can record a chord progression, even one that’s 2-minutes long, and solo over it.
They’re also great for testing or implementing music theory concepts such as harmonization and modes, in fact, I’ve already explored why a looper pedal is one of the best guitar pedals to buy for this reason.
To put it simply, a looper pedal allows you to add another guitarist instantaneously, and it doesn’t talk back and they’ll play whatever you want as many times as you need them to.
Guitar pedals – not to be mistaken for a load box that performs a different purpose (my guide) – when used in conjunction for practicing purposes and for general effects, are incredibly useful when it comes to facilitating your creativity. There are a lot of fantastic sounds that can be, really, quite inspiring. For example, you could take a boring guitar riff but then add a chorus or a flanger to it, and suddenly it’s not so boring anymore.
Guitarists such as the aforementioned Tom Morello, the Edge, and more, use effects on a regular basis and it’s part of their style and sound.
Other guitarists use them far less, for example, Eric Johnson doesn’t use them nearly as much as the above two. Another player who uses wah-wah a lot is Kirk Hammett from Metallica. He uses it a lot live and also on the Black Album.
With that said, however, most guitarists use some sort of effect or processor in their rig, whether it’s an overdrive pedal or a delay pedal. Some of them just tend to use them a bit more than others.
Regarding effects units, there are literally thousands of ways to manipulate a sound and many guitar pedals are designed for this purpose specifically. If you want an effect, there’s a good chance it already exists in some format or another.
4) Masking Mistakes
I think another point worth mentioning is the way in which a guitar pedal, especially an effect such as a wah-wah pedal, can mask your mistakes and errors.
After seeing a lot of shows, for example, I’ve noticed that it’s very common for guitarists to play some of their solos live with a wah-wah pedal, and I honestly believe they’re using it simply because they can’t play it as clean as they do on their record.
Wah-wah is one of the most commonly used effects when it comes to this particular purpose, but not all players use it in this way, and just because a player uses wah-wah or another effects unit, it doesn’t mean they’re doing it to hide some insufficiency. It’s just another purpose that people use them for on occasion.
Important Things to Note About Guitar Pedals
1) Analog Pedals Are Much Better Than Their Plug-in Counterparts
We’re not at the stage quite yet where plug-ins are equal to their analog counterparts, and truthfully, we might be another 10 years away from that point yet, more importantly, some argue that software plug-ins will never sound as good as analog. It’s one of those ages-old debates that people like to participate in.
This part really can’t be understated. Analog pedals simply sound far, far, better than most plug-ins, even things as simple as delay or a flanger.
The one exception to this rule might be reverb, which is actually pretty good in most DAWs (digital audio workstations). I also think this is one of the reasons why software developers make so many reverb plug-ins.
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This article should’ve explained to you just how useful a stompbox is. There is one for everyone, whether it be for your practicing routine or for creative purposes. Really, a guitar pedal is a piece of equipment that you connect to your amplifier/cabinet combination, or your DAW, that allows you to manipulate your sound.