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Guitar Effects 101

Guitar Effects 101

Guitar Effects for Beginners - Part 1

There are basically 5 categories of guitar effects:

  • Envelope Filters
  • Overdrive
  • Distortion
  • Chorus & Flanger
  • Reverbs & Delays

    I believe the order listed above is the best overall pedal sequence. Keep in mind that you must experiment with your guitar effects order. This is a great starting point when testing your guitar effects chain or guitar effect loop.

    1. Envelope Filters

      Envelope filters are devices like wah-wah pedals, auto-wah effect units, and octave followers. The intent is to affect the signal directly out of the instrument. These effects seem to function best on a clean, non-distorted signal.

      • Wah-wah pedal - has a foot controller to vary the signal. The foot pedal can be called an expression pedal because the player manually controls the "expression" of the pedal. There are combination wah/volume pedals. The volume pedal also fits in the guitar effects chain right here. Dunlop Crybaby is a very popular model.
      • Compression Sustainer - is a pedal that compresses the signal. One can think of it as "squashing" the sound, so that it becomes more "even" in loudness, and assures the signal won't "clip" or distort in a bad way. Compression can kill great guitar tone, and yet used properly, compression can be a very useful tool. I used a Boss CS-1 for years!
      • Autowah (Envelope Filter) - The autowah is a tricky little pedal, but I love my Boss AW-2! I have it set with very "light" settings and use it during those times where I need a super-expressive lead part. You hear the autowah used in disco-type rhythm guitar parts.
      • Octave - This little guy adds an extra signal an octave away from the played tone. Some octave followers are better than others, and I have rarely used them. I find that they are difficult to control, and that they do not add something "better" than the original tone coming from my instrument. I have used the octave follower on my Bass Amp to mimic a bass guitar before with some success. I only did that because I was too lazy to pull out my bass. (mybad)

    2. Overdrive

      Basically the Overdrive is to "hotten-up" the signal before the preamp stage of a tube amp. The Overdrive pedal can be clean or distorted.

      • Signal Boost - The Overdrive pedal can be used as a plain signal boost, usually before a tube amp. It makes the signal amplitude higher to "over-drive" the input grid of the preamp tube. I use the Ibanez TS-7 with TS-808 and TS-9 mods. It's a hottie!
      • Overdrive with distortion - When you add a bit of distortion to the boosted signal, the distortion is boosted and is presented to the preamp, where it gets a bit more toasty. Really nice for Blues and Rock applications!
      • Clean Boost - When you want your clean, crisp lead to pop out, you can stomp on the clean boost and let your guitar's pure tone come through. The Ibanez TS-808 and Ibanez TS-9 pedals are known for their amazing clean boost!

    3. Distortion

      In the simplest sense, distortion simply adds noise to the signal. The noise can be symmetrical or asymmetrical, which will determine the actual style of noise that is generated.

      • Fuzz - is the old-school rock and roll distortion, Many guitarists used a Fuzz Face.
      • Distortion - There are many pedals in the class of what I'll call a "simple distortion" pedal. The Boss DS-1 is the first that comes to mind. My favorite old-time vintage pedal is the MXR distortion + of the late 70s and early 80s. Nice raw distortion. That coupled with a good humbucker-equipped guitar and you're ready to rock!
      • Grunge - A pedal that found its way into my pile-o-pedals! I really appreciate the rich screaming tones that come from my DOD Grunge pedal!
      • Metal - The Boss MT-2 is very, very popular, and is highly modifiable! That Boss MT-2 Metal Zone pedal along with a modified Boss DS-1 Distortion pedal could possibly be ALL THE DISTORTION you will ever need!

    4. Chorus & Flanger

      Chorus and flanger pedals fall into basically the same category. They both apply a combination of a slightly delayed signal with the original signal to achieve a slight warbling to the output.

      • Chorus pedals - come in various flavors. The chorus basically creates a controlled multiple-voice effect that resembles a "chorus" of your one guitar.
      • Two Outputs - There are many chorus pedals equipped with a second output which makes them suitable as a signal splitter for taking your guitar from mono to "stereo." The two outputs are usually (1) the effected output, and (2) a clean output, to provide more control over the final signal balance....
      • Flanger - creates a more dramatic "sweeping" of the signal. The flanger affects the incoming signal, and then sends the effected signal to the output. There usually is NOT a "chorus-type" sound that results, however, flangers can be set to be somewhat similar to a chorus.

    5. Reverb Pedals

      Reverb units are very common, and add the sound that comes from would-be surroundings, say, like a small room, or a large hall, or even a bathroom!

      • Reverbs are a nice addition to guitar, keyboards, vocals, strings, and etc.
      • Using Reverb - Caution must be exercised when applying reverb, because "too-much" can really make the overall sound very muddy, very quickly. I don't use much reverb when playing guitar.

    6. Delays and Echos

      Delay and Echo are essentially the same thing. The input signal is copied and repeated at the output.

      • Delay Units - come in rack mount units and in pedals. The rack mount units usually offer more variations, and are referred to as multi-effects. The Roland SDE-1000 is my delay of choice when using my rack gear in my guitar effect loop. I bought it in the early 1980s, and it has been a wonderful tool to add that little extra to my lead guitar tracks and vocal tracks. There are 2 basic pedal types, one features a long delay time, the other features a short delay time.
      • Slap-Back - or short echo is used primarily for creating a small-room effect, and works especially well in country and rock-a-billy styles.
      • Long Delay - creates an almost ethereal or spacey type of sound. When the timing is synced and the delayed signal is mixed properly with the original input signal, long delays can be extremely effective in creating a "special" ambiance to the sound. Great for lead guitar and to enhance vocal passages.
      • Delay pedals - sometimes have a second output, like the chorus. One signal is the clean, unaffected signal - sometimes called "dry signal." The other is either the "mixed signal" or the "effected signal" only. This can be useful for recording situations where there is need for a "clean track" and an "effected track" of the same guitar part.
      • Danelectro PB&J - My favorite delay right now is the Danelectro mini pedal called the Danelectro PB&J! It has one "mixed signal" output only. That little thing is crisp!


    We will discuss guitar effects order in greater detail as we continue this Guitar Effects 101 series with Guitar Effects 102. There are two basic configurations when considering effects order: Guitar Effect Loop and Guitar Effects Chain.

    Check out Guitar Effects for beginners - Part 2, and UltraWave Guitar Mukti Effects


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