Different Types of Guitar Pedals: what effects do I need?

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  October 13, 2020
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There are numerous factors that affect the final sound that a guitar will produce.

The final sound depends on the type of guitar, different hardware that is inside of the guitar, the amplifier, the room you are playing in, and so on.

If you change any of these factors and play the same song again, it will sound different.

Pedalboard setup

Among all of these factors, one of the most important is a guitar pedal. So, what is a guitar pedal and what is it used for?

Guitar pedals are small metal boxes, which are usually placed on the floor in front of the player.

No matter what type of pedal you use, it can be switched on and off by pressing the big button with your feet.

That’s why they are called pedals. Those pedals affect a guitar’s tone in many ways.

For example, they can clean the tone and make it louder, or they can add various effects, such as overdrive and distortion.

Also read: these are the best guitar pedals to get right now

Types of Effects you get from guitar pedals

Before diving deeper into guitar pedals, let’s see what types of effects can they provide.

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First, we have a ‘drive’ effect, or ‘overdrive.’ It’s achieved by pushing your guitar’s signal before reaching the amplifier, leading to a different, distorted sound.

There are various types of distortion, which you can hear in blues and rock, as well as in most heavy metal songs, too.

That ‘angry,’ noisy, and powerful sound that you hear in most of Metallica’s songs is usually achieved by overdrive and distortion.

Read more: the best distortion pedals and the sound they produce

Besides that, the pedals can also produce a reverb effect, which gives a slight warmth and depth to a clean tone.

Basically, it simulates the sound of your guitar being played in a much larger space, like a church or even a concert hall.

Delay (or looping) is another interesting and useful effect that a guitar pedal can have. It displays the sounds/melody that you can play at predetermined intervals.

For example, you play the rhythm section for four beats, and then the rhythm will keep playing and you can play a solo over the rhythm.

Another very important effect is tremolo. It gently cuts the signal in and out, creating a very specific sound that can sound great if done well.

As you can see, there are so many different effects, and it can be hard to recommend only one pedal to suit one’s needs.

Let’s take a look at a few different types of guitar pedals to see which one might be best for you.

How to Set Up Guitar Effects Pedals & make a pedalboard

What guitar pedals do I need?

Love music? Those who are new in the guitar-playing world tend to think that plugging in their electric guitar into an amplifier is enough to start jamming.

Then again, if you are thinking about seriously getting your game on, then you would know that there are techniques you can do to improve your skills.

A lot of young and aspiring guitarists are asking, “What guitar pedals do I need?” and if you are one of them, then we’ve got you covered.

At first, it might seem hard to find the right one for you, but once you learn about the different types of guitar pedals, then you’re good to go!

Usually, pedals are divided by the types of effects that they are able to provide. However, that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.

For instance, you would want to get a different type of sound depending on whether you’re playing a solo or a chorus. Here are your choices:

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Also read: how do I power all of these pedals?

Boost Pedals

These bad boys do just what their name says they do, which is to give you a massive boost.

You get no special effects and no changes in sound frequency, but only an explosive increase in volume.

Boost pedals are particularly useful during parts of a song where the singer starts getting louder, most commonly in choruses.

Depending on the type of music you’re playing, you might want to use a distortion pedal to perform this same function.

Then again, it’s entirely up to you and your style.

Distortion Pedals

Since they are the most widely used type of pedal, the first ones that should be mentioned are distortion pedals.

A distortion pedal takes your signal from the guitar and distorts it while, at the same time, it adds volume, sustain, crunch, and other necessary effects.

In the end, it sounds completely opposite of what the guitar should naturally sound like.

However, a distortion pedal can sometimes be confused with an overdrive or fuzz pedal.

Although all of them sound similar, a trained ear can easily spot the difference.

We won’t go too deep into the details now, but you should also know that a distortion pedal will not respond the same way for every guitar.

If you are a fan of rock music, then you must know what distortion is. However, it’s become even more popular in metal songs because of the harsh sound that it produces.

Thanks to its unique capability to completely crop the wavelengths of the guitar sound, the distortion pedal will provide you with a very harsh tone that is vital if you want to play more energetic rock and punk songs.

In fact, having a distortion pedal is essential for most guitar players, even if you’re only planning on playing ballads and slow songs.

Reverb Pedals

If you already have an amplifier, it will probably already have some kind of reverb installed. In that case, you don’t need a reverb pedal.

As we mentioned, a reverb pedal will give some sort of an ‘echo’ to your guitar, so it will sound like you are playing in a church or in a cave.

There are many great reverb pedals, such as the Electro Harmonix Holy Grail Nano, or the BOSS RV-6 Reverb.

Wah pedals

The Wah pedal, more commonly known as the “Wah Wah” or simply “Screamer”, provides you with amusing guitar effects.

Don’t take this lightly, as they are often used when playing real songs in reality shows.

Technically speaking, the only thing it does is boosting lower frequencies throughout the higher ones, which then produce exciting sounds.

Of course, there are different modes for this function, and if you ever get a Wah pedal, we recommend trying them all out.

There is no exact genre of music that the Wah pedal is most commonly used in, and it’s certainly not essential for beginners.

However, you will find out that it can often be found in a completely random pattern, being used for playing different songs all the way from classic rock up to black metal.

Wah pedals are named exactly after the sound they make while playing. If you slowly say ‘wah, wah,’ you will understand what kind of sound those pedals provide.

It’s something like a baby crying in slow-motion. For example, listen to Foxy Lady by Jimi Hendrix.

This pedal is also widely used in genres such as funk and in various rock solos. One of the most popular wah pedals is the Dunlop GCB95 Crybaby.

Overdrive Pedals

We already talked about distortion pedals and how they sound similar to overdrive pedals.

Those pedals retain a lot of the original sound, but they push the amplifier a bit harder to give a heavier signal.

The difference in sound between overdrive and distortion pedals can’t be clearly described by words.

However, if you use an overdrive pedal for some time and then switch to a distortion pedal, you will clearly see the difference.

Many people believe that overdrive pedals are the same thing as distortion pedals.

However, you now know that distortion pedals trim the wavelengths, and the overdrive ones do something completely different.

The main difference between these two is that the overdrive pedals don’t make any changes to the signal. Instead, they tend to push it harder into the amplifier, which results in a harder, more mature sound.

This makes them perfect for power metal ballads and hardcore rock songs that use no distortion at all.

Two of the most popular overdrive pedals are the Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer and the BOSS OD-1X.

Here I’ve reviewed my favorite, the Ibanez Tube Screamer TS808

Fuzz Pedals

Last but not least, it’s important to mention fuzz pedals. They are great for guitarists and keyboard players.

Basically, these pedals add a specific distortion which sounds very different from regular distortion sounds.

They completely change the sound of the instrument to a fuzzy and noisy sound, but the sound varies greatly from pedal to pedal.

Popular fuzz pedals include the Dunlop FFM3 Jimi Hendrix Fuzz Face Mini and the Electro Harmonix Big Muff Pi.

Fuzz pedals tend to be used by bass players and keyboard players more than they are utilized by guitarists.

They are incredibly similar to distortion pedals, as their primary function is clipping the sound wavelengths and making them harsher and weirder.

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Nevertheless, the sound you receive when using a fuzz pedal is very different from the music a distortion pedal will produce.

We cannot really explain this difference, and if you’re interested, please try out both pedals at a store or listen to some YouTube videos to compare them.

Another critical thing to note is the incredible amount of variety between different fuzz models. This is mainly thanks to the variety of materials that their transistors are made out of.

When shopping for one, try them all out, even multiple pieces of the same model, as they can also produce music that is different from one another.

Conclusion

If, for a long time, you have been asking yourself what kind of guitar pedals you need, now you don’t have to worry anymore.

This article has taught you the various effects that the different types of pedals can produce, and whether you might need them depending on the kind of music you want to play.

We recommend always getting a boost and a distortion pedal at first, as they will allow you to practice different music styles.

However, you will eventually need to get all of the pedals as you get better and start playing real shows.

If you are new to the world of guitar pedals, it might all seem a bit confusing to you. However, we hope that this article has made it a bit clearer.

Basically, you should know that a guitar pedal is a bridge between your guitar and an amplifier.

It changes the guitar output before it reaches the amp so that it puts out a different signal.

Also, you can’t have a single pedal for everything. That’s why many great guitarists have pedalboards/circuits on which they put and connect all the necessary pedals for the concert.

You should check out my post about the order in which to put your pedals out as well with loads of information on how it shapes your tone differently.

However, if you always play the same or similar genres, chances are that you won’t need more than two pedals.

With all this in mind, think about what you really need and start improving your musical equipment!

Also read: these are the most affordable multi-effects pedals to get you all the sounds at once

          Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of his passion, and together with his team, He's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.