list of essential guitar pedalsWhen you first start learning how to play guitar, a simple vanilla setup is about as much as you can process at the moment.

Most people don’t even get an amp right away, they just practice basic techniques on their guitar.

As you slowly build skill, you start to gradually add more elements to your gear. Maybe you get a small practice amp first, and then a tuner. For most beginners, an amp alone offers enough material to play with for a while.

Once you are somewhat proficient with your guitar, and you know the full scope of your amp, it’s time to expand on your sound and start implementing effects. Guitar effects most commonly come in form of pedals, and there are many of them. For someone who lacks experience, finding a place to start can be confusing.

The key to approaching guitar effects pedals is to go slow. Learn what the most basic ones do and go from there. Keeping things simple is always the way to go.

In order to help you transition into using guitar effects pedals, we’ve created a short list of essential guitar pedals which are a great starting point for building your own pedalboard.

Let’s see what’s on the list

Distortion/Overdrive

Distortion/Overdrive pedal
Generally speaking, there are effects pedals which affect your sound significantly, and those which only add subtle changes. On this scale of influence, there isn’t a type of effects pedal that can impact your tone more than Distortion/Overdrive pedals. They are what gives your sound its character and nature, especially if you play hard rock and heavier genres of music.

At this point, you are probably wondering what’s the difference between Distortion and Overdrive. Many people think that these two are just different words that describe the same thing. Even though some pedals really make it hard to tell if they’re Distortion or Overdrive, there is a significant difference between the two. Overdrive describes an effect originally achieved when gain boost was applied to tube amps, pushing them to “overdrive” the signal.

Overdrive pedals aim to replicate that effect on their own. Distortion on the other hand completely alters the signal, muddying it up to a point where it is so rich in gain that you get a thick and saturated distortion.

Wah Wah Pedals

best-wah-pedalsFirst Wah pedal as we know it was created and manufactured by Thomas Organ Company, only to be adopted by Dunlop in the early ’80s when T.O.C. seized production. Dunlop’s version was called the Cry Baby Wah.

This type of pedal works by filtering low and high frequencies, allowing the guitarist to shape the with his foot. The amount of pressure would equal the amount of filtering, which delivers a pretty unique effect. The end result sounds like whining, which perfectly explains why Dunlop chose to name their Wah pedal the way they did. Wah pedals in general are used mostly during solos, and have completely changed the dynamics of solos over the past several decades.

Chorus Pedals

Chorus PedalsChorus pedal is one of the most versatile effects a guitar player can use. Its main function is to add a chorus-like effect to your sound. The way these pedals work is by taking the input signal and creating several delayed copies that also differ slightly in terms of pitch.

The result you get is an illusion of there being more than one guitar being heard. This effect is very useful when you’re playing your clean sections as it adds depth and fullness.

Some guitar players like to use Chorus pedals with their Overdrive or Distortion, although this is where you need to be careful as it can completely disfigure your signal.

Phaser Pedal

Phaser PedalPhaser effect pedals work in a similar way to the Wah pedals we described above. They filter high and low ends of the signal’s frequency, creating an oscillating effect. The main difference between a Phaser and Wah pedal is the fact that you can only control the frequency of the oscillation.

Many popular guitar players used, and continue to use a Phaser pedal effect to give their sound an extra dimension. When set on low frequency, you get that sweeping effect which is subtle enough while still enriching your sound.

Temporal Effect Pedals

Temporal Effect PedalsLastly, let’s talk about temporal effect pedals such as the Delay and Reverb. Delay and Reverb pedals essentially try to recreate the effect you get when the sound bounces of different surfaces and comes back to the point of origin. In other words, they are trying to recreate a natural echo. The way they do it, and the end result is what differentiates these two effects.

Delay pedals will repeat the sound which decreases in volume with each repetition. How many repetitions there will be depends on the model of the pedal, and the settings you choose. You’ve heard this effect a million times many different songs.

Reverb creates a similar effect, but it shortens the time between each repetition, creating a continuous tail of the sound blended together, which decreases in volume over time. Used properly, Reverb can enrich the sound and give it a more organic dimension. It’s also one of the most used effects in general, simply because it’s incredibly versatile.

All things considered

The effects we listed above are definitely responsible for the way music sounds today. They are tools that every guitar player should have available. If you’re just starting to build your pedalboard, we suggest that you first get yourself a decent Distortion or Overdrive, and start slowly from there.

Each of these effects will give you more creative freedom, but they will also cause more harm than good if you rush to use them without understanding what is they do exactly.

Once you get all the essential guitar pedals, and feel comfortable using them, there’s a whole world of other effects that await. Once you get to that point, you will understand why effects pedals are instrumental to any guitar player.

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