Introduction to Guitar Effect Pedals: A Guide to Understanding Sound Processing


Overwhelmed by Guitar Effect Pedals?

Let’s break it down! Please use this as a jumping off point on your individual sonic journey. (I’m still learning and I’ll keep updating this page as I learn more.) I’ve categorized effects into five main types of sound processing: Tone, Dynamics/Distortion, Phase Shift, Modulation, and Reverb. (I know there is a lot of debate on how effects should be categorized, and, this is how I’ve decided to categorize them here.) I’ve linked some classic pedals for each specific effect so you can order them from The Guitar Store, an awesome shop in Seattle, WA; or on Amazon, where I’m an affiliate. (Music teachers gotta eat in order to teach!)

If you like the way I organize pedals, you should check out my guitar lessons page. I teach at Seattle University, and privately on Capitol Hill in Seattle, and via Skype/FaceTime. If private or group lessons are not for you but you still want to learn the fundamentals of music, check out my guitar method series The Guitar Lesson Companion, and FREE 5 Year Online Guitar Course.


TONE!

Graphic Equalizer: Sliding controls, called faders, increase or reduce specific ranges of frequencies. Helpful to fix a guitar’s “dead” or “boomy” sound when certain notes are played.
Check Out: MXR M109S Six Band Graphic EQ Equalizer

Sweep Filter: Creates a moveable peak in the frequency spectrum, emphasizing certain frequencies by rocking the pedal back and forth. Creates a more vocal-like quality single notes and chords, and adds a kind of pitch-like variation in percussive (scratch) rhythmic playing.
Check Out: Dunlop CBM95 Crybaby Mini Wah

Envelope Filter:  This is a sweeping peaking filter that responds to the attack of the guitar signal, which can be adjusted to to respond to light or heavy picking, as desired. Creates a more vocal-like quality single notes and chords, and adds a kind of pitch-like variation in percussive (scratch) rhythmic playing.
Check This Out at The Guitar Store: Keeley Neutrino Optocoupler Based Envelope Filter/Auto Wah Pedal

Help me help you:  Please cover some of my costs, especially if you have learned something! Suggestion: $5.00

DYNAMICS!

Volume: A potentiometer, sometimes called a pot, is wired like the volume knob on a guitar and the volume is increased or decreased by rocking the pedal back and forth. Manually cuts or raises the signal, create “piano” chords and “violin” solos, by playing a chord or note with the volume all the way down, then increasing the volume after the strings have been attacked.
Check Out: Ernie Ball VP Jr 6180 Passive Volume

Tremolo: Raises and lowers the volume a specific amount (depth or intensity) and at a specific rate, or pulse. Creates different atmospheres, from wistful, dreamy, and spacey, to aggressive or punchy.
Check Out: Fulltone Supa-Trem ST-1 Tremolo

Boost: Increases the voltage from the guitar. Makes it easier to create a distorted sound (see DISTORTION below), and is also used to brighten up a dull sounding amp.
Check Out: Keeley Katana Boost

Compressor and Limiter: Squashes the guitar signal so it fits into a desired dynamic range, without making the signal distort. Creates a punchy and sustained sound, and also can boost the signal on a dull sounding amp.
Check Out: Keeley Compressor Plus Pedal

Noise Gate: Shuts off the signal below a certain signal level threshold. Helpful for reducing unwanted hiss generated by other effects in an effect chain.
Check Out: MXR M135 Smart Gate

Help me help you:  Please cover some of my costs, especially if you have learned something! Suggestion: $5.00

DISTORTION!

Overdrive: Boosts the guitar signal, which overloads the amp and clips the signal, creating distortion. Used to create a mellow or warm distortion tone.
Check Out: Ibanez TSMINI Tube Screamer Mini

Distortion: Boosts the guitar signal, which overloads the amp and clips the signal, creating distortion. Used to create a heavy and/or bright distortion tone.
Check Out: MXR M104 Distortion+ Pedal

Fuzz: Boosts the guitar signal, which overloads the amp and clips the signal to form a square wave distortion. Used to create a “fuzzy” or harsh distortion tone.
Check Out: Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi Fuzz

Help me help you:  Please cover some of my costs, especially if you have learned something! Suggestion: $5.00

PHASE SHIFT! (DELAY!)

Analog Delay: The guitar signal is duplicated and then shifted by a specific amount of time to create a repeating cascade of sound(s). The analog delays are typically warmer, but offer less precision to adjust the number of repeats and the length of each delay. Creates a reverb-like effect and can also add new dimensions, depth, and spaciness to the guitar.
Check Out: MXR M169 Carbon Copy Analog Delay

Digital Delay: The guitar signal is duplicated and shifted by a specific amount of time to create a repeating cascade of sound(s). Digital delays precisely control the number of repeats and the length of each delay, but are typically not as warm as an analog delay. Creates a reverb-like effect and can also add new dimensions, depth, and spaciness to the guitar.
Check Out: Boss DD-3 Digital Delay

Looper: The guitar signal is recorded and played back, often creating layers of sounds with different musical parts played and recorded one after another. Used as a practice tool, an in performances.
Check Out: Boss RC-1 Loop Station

Help me help you:  Please cover some of my costs, especially if you have learned something! Suggestion: $5.00

MODULATION!

Octave or Harmonizer: The guitar signal is duplicated and raised or lowered in pitch. Fills out a guitar sound, thickens distortion tones, used to create bass lines on a guitar.
Check Out: Earthquaker Devices Pitch Bay Polyphonic Harmonizer

Ring Modulator: The guitar signal is multiplied and those signals are raised and/or lowered in pitch. Creates a robotic or mechanical sound.
Check Out: Moog Minifooger MF02 Ring Mod

Help me help you:  Please cover some of my costs, especially if you have learned something! Suggestion: $5.00

PHASE SHIFT AND MODULATION!

Tape Delay or Tape Echo: Originally an analog mechanical effect created by pressing on a tape machine as it records and plays back a guitar signal. Creates “wow” and “flutter,” which are variations in pitch. Creates an “organic” sounding delay effect which alters the mood.
Check Out: Keeley Magnetic Echo/Delay

Uni-Vibe: Invented in the 1960s to emulate a Leslie Speaker (which rotates, creating a whirling sound with slight modulation due to the Doppler Effect). Although this effect fell short in duplicating the Leslie Speaker, it has become it’s own unique and popular sound. Creates a spacey, whirling, thickened sound.
Check Out: Earthquaker Devices The Depths V2 Optical Vibe

Rotary: Another attempt at emulating a Leslie Speaker (which rotates, creating a whirling sound with slight modulation due to the Doppler Effect). Creates a spacey, whirling, thickened sound, which is a little brighter than a Uni-Vibe.
Check at The Guitar Store: Keeley Dyno My Roto Chorus/Flanger

Phaser: The guitar signal is duplicated, a filter is added to one signal, and the signals are recombined. Creates a whooshing sound that adds depth and thickens the sound.
Check Out: MXR M290 Phase 95 Mini Phaser

Flanger: The guitar signal is duplicated, a variable phase shift is added to one signal, and the signals are recombined. Creates a more extreme whooshing sound (like a jet plane) and thickens the sound.
Check Out: MXR M152 Micro Flanger

Chorus: The guitar signal is duplicated and one signal is delayed in a random and rapid way. Creates a shimmering effect that can thicken a sound.
Check Out: Electro-Harmonix Small Clone Chorus

Vibrato: The guitar signal is duplicated and one signal’s pitch is altered at a specific rate or pulse. Creates a variety of effects from dreamy to harsh.
Check Out: MXR M68 Uni-Vibe Chorus/Vibrato

Help me help you:  Please cover some of my costs, especially if you have learned something! Suggestion: $5.00

MECHANICAL AND DIGITAL REVERB!

Spring: The guitar signal is sent through a spring and then amplified. In digital units, the tone control can affect the brightness. Creates a bright reverb and produces the idea of distance from the instrument to the listener’s ears.
Check Out: Keeley Hooke Spring Reverb

Plate: The guitar signal is sent through a plate and then amplified. In digital units, the tone control can affect the brightness. Creates a slightly bright reverb and produces the idea of distance from the instrument to the listener’s ears.
Check Out: MXR M300 Reverb

Room/Hall/Etc.: The guitar signal is reflected off the walls in various spaces. In digital units, the tone control can affect the brightness. Creates many different reverb sounds and produces the idea of distance from the instrument to the listener’s ears.
Check Out: MXR M300 Reverb

Help me help you:  Please cover some of my costs, especially if you have learned something! Suggestion: $5.00

MULTI EFFECTS BOXES!

If you want a variety of effects and you are on a budget, consider a multi effects box.
Check Out: Boss ME-80 Guitar Multiple Effects with Looper


SOMETHING TOTALLY DIFFERENT

The Artiphon Instrument 1 is a midi instrument that can be played kind of like a guitar. If you are looking for new sounds, this may be the next level for you to explore. Here’s how I’m using it:


 

I’m a little different than other guitar teachers because I teach the fundamentals of music using a clear structure that I tailor to each student’s goals and learning style.

Students develop a strong skill set to use in all kinds of musical situations, and many of my students perform all over the country, in various styles, earning their living from music.

I wrote The Guitar Lesson Companion method book series to help make teaching and learning the fundamentals of music easier and more effective, and today thousands of guitarists use these books!

How to Study Guitar with Susan Palmer:
1) If you are a student at Seattle University, register for my guitar classes. 2) Take private guitar lessons at my studio on Capitol Hill, or via Skype/FaceTime3) Follow Susan Palmer’s Guitar Studio on Facebook and learn when I offer monthly “Pay What You Can” Guitar Classes. 4) Use my FREE 5 Year Online Guitar Course (see below) if who want to work through these crucial skills using “The Guitar Lesson Companion” method books on your own.

Contact Susan Palmer about lessons or the books: LeadCatPress@gmail.com


Take Guitar Lessons with Susan Palmer

Joe Kirk: Guitar lessons with Susan helped to break down and organize my musical goals, creating an environment where I could advance to more complex playing styles while learning the musical building blocks that I largely ignored as a younger guitarist.

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THE FREE ONLINE GUITAR COURSE

I based this FREE 5 Year Online Guitar Course off of my  two guitar method books and the syllabus I have used at Seattle University, where I have been an Adjunct Professor since 2006. Why? I want to make music education more accessible; all you need is the book, a guitar, and the internet to use this course! There are no short cuts but you will find a clear, effective, and modern approach to learning the fundamentals of music. TRY THE FIRST LESSON RIGHT NOWand click to see each weekly guide, with links to lesson videos, for each year of the course. (Note: No one follows this guide exactly, but most students like to see where they are at on the learning path.)

Weekly Lesson Plan with Videos and Assignments for First Year Guitar Students

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Weekly Lesson Plan with Videos and Assignments for Fourth Year Guitar Students

Weekly Lesson Plan with Videos and Assignments for Fifth Year Guitar Students

Lesson Plan Overview: Don’t Be Scared!

THE COURSE BOOKS YOU’LL NEED

“The Guitar Lesson Companion” is a two volume guitar method series that was designed to be used by students who are working with a good guitar teacher. Each book is 160 pages, spiral bound, and full of practical fundamental concepts and skills that will allow you to reach your full potential on guitar. Learn more about Volume One and Volume Two.

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SHOULD YOU TAKE WEEKLY OR SINGLE GUITAR LESSONS?

Guitar teachers who see you for weekly lessons will:

  • Answer your questions as they come up so you don’t feel stuck
  • Correct mistakes or issues you may not notice on your own, before they become bad habits
  • Pace your assignments appropriately, allowing you to make consistent progress
  • Hold you accountable to your assignments because you know you will be tested each week
  • Apply the concepts and skills you are learning to the music you enjoy that is at your level

Taking periodic guitar lessons allows you to:

  • Work at your own pace and within the limits of your busy schedule
  • Let your curiosity drive your learning, so you will have more questions at each lesson which may make you feel like you are getting a better value for each lesson
  • Feel more confident and prepared for each lesson that you do take, and even if you feel unprepared, you are ready for the guidance and structure to help you get back on track

Contact Susan Palmer about lessons or the books: LeadCatPress@gmail.com


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