A Beginners’ Guide to Guitar Pedals

beginners guide to guitar pedals

The world of electric guitars opens up new horizons of expression in music. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise that it’s one of the most popular instruments out there. After all, there are so many different things that you can do with an electric guitar, making it a very potent musical tool for almost all of the genres that we can think of today.

The fact that it’s an electric instrument that sends a signal to an amplifier opens up new ways for further altering and improving its tone. With the development of guitar effects, guitarists worldwide were given a new tool that would help them to more easily convey their artistic message.

So it’s not unusual to know that many guitar players have dedicated their time and effort in building elaborate pedalboards. Some of them even feature very complex loops and even external controllers to create different combinations of sounds.

huge guitar pedal board

If you’re new to guitar pedals, some things might get a bit confusing. Well, you’re definitely not alone in this, and even the most experienced guitar players have been there. After all, with so many different pedals and effects, it does get difficult to keep up with how things work.

With all this said, we figured we could help clear things up for beginners and do a detailed guide on guitar pedals. We sorted them out by categories, explaining what these effects do, and how adjusting their parameters affects your tone. At the end of this guide, you’ll have a better understanding of guitar pedals and enough knowledge to start building your pedalboard.


Tuners

Peterson Stomp Classic Strobe Tuner

Tuner pedals are not effects, but we still need to include them in this guide. Essentially, they are like regular guitar tuners, only in the form of guitar pedals that you can put in your signal chain.

What’s important to note here is that they have a display or an array of LED lights along with a display so that you can easily see when the open string hits the desired note.

They’re nothing fancy, but they serve their purpose for live settings. You just hit the footswitch, mute the tone, and tune your guitar. That’s it!

However, tuner pedals usually have buffered bypass, which can serve its purpose in the signal chain. Essentially, they can balance the signal and sort things out, but that’s a whole other discussion that we’ll touch upon some other time.

Read a review of one of our favorite tuning pedals here


Filters

DigiTech X-Series Synth Wah Envelope Filter review

Up next, we have filter pedals that serve the purpose of filtering out certain frequencies in your tone. This means they can also pronounce certain frequency ranges of the audible spectrum by filtering out everything else. One of the examples of filter pedals is the wah-wah.

Wahs can change the peak frequency, pronounce it, while everything else stays the same or gets filtered out. By moving its rocking part, wah pedal sweeps over the spectrum. We also have automatic wah pedals that change these frequencies according to the input signal, or the dynamics of your playing.

Other types of filter pedals are “static” and keep the tone according to your parameters. As a result, they can emulate some quirky synth tones. An example would be Line 6 FM4. However, these are usually more advanced “toys” that you don’t exactly need as a beginner.

Check out our review of the DigiTech Synth Wah Envelope Filter Pedal here


Equalizers

eq700

Just like your guitar amp has a 3-band equalizer with bass, middle, and treble controls, there are standalone pedals that can further shape your tone.

The simplest form of an EQ is a tone control on your guitar, and the most complex examples would be things like 30-band EQs or parametric EQs.

EQ pedals for guitar usually have anywhere between 5 and 10 frequency ranges that you can control using sliders. By turning the pedal on, you change the tone according to the set parameters, and then go back to the original tone when it’s turned off.

This is pretty useful if you need to change the tone for a certain section of a song, like pronouncing mids for a solo. MXR’s M108S is a good example of a 10-band EQ pedal.


Boosters

Fulltone Fulldrive2 MOSFET Overdrive Boost review

We could say that these are the simplest types of pedals out there. All they do is boosting the guitar signal without creating distortion in their circuit. If you need a slight volume boost without changing your tone, they come in handy.

However, they are also very useful with tube amplifiers or other tube pedals and devices in your signal chain. Tube amps tend to “break” their tone and cause that “natural” or “organic” distortion when reaching their limits.

A simple booster can help you achieve that vintage-sounding distortion with a tube amp or another tube-driven pedal.

Check out our review of the MRX MC401 Boost Pedal here


Compressors

boss-cs-3-compression-sustainer-pedal-review

Compressors often get overlooked, which is quite a shame as they are pretty useful. The proper name for them would be dynamic range compressors as they turn up the volume of quiet parts and keep the louder parts quieter.

Of course, you’re able to set parameters and intensity of this compression. They can also boost the signal when needed, but the main purpose is to keep everything in check and prevent anything from popping up in the mix.

This is why they’re very useful for bassists and rhythm guitarists.

Read our review of the BOSS CS-3, one of our favorite compressors


Expanders, aka noise gates

Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor Pedal review

An expander is the opposite of a compressor – quiet parts get quieter, and louder parts get louder or just stay at the same volume.

This effect is perfect for dealing with high gain distortions that tend to add that hissing sound when you’re not playing. While it can’t filter out the hissing during your playing, it does keep things quiet in between the notes.

They usually have just one control that sets the threshold at which the effect is activated. They’re simple to use but still require some experience to implement properly without soaking up your tone.

Check out our review of the Boss NS-2


Pitch-altering pedals

digitech-whammy-pedal-re-issue-with-midi-control

This is where the fun stuff begins. Pitch shifters can alter the pitch of your whole output or add one or more intervals to what you’re playing.

For instance, the famous example here is the Digitech Whammy that can alter the pitch of your tone as you rock the moving part of the pedal back and forth.

Kind of like a wah pedal, but it changes the pitch. You can hear this one in Rage Against the Machine’s famous song “Killing in the Name.”

Octaver pedals are also pretty common on pedalboards, and they usually have settings to add two additional tones to what you’re playing, one and two octaves below.

They can find uses in lead sections or anything that doesn’t involve playing more than one note at a time. Boss has some great Octaver pedals, like the OC-3.

We also have harmonizers that add the desired interval above or below notes that you’re playing. These can either work chromatically by adding a fixed interval (i.e. major third) or diatonically where they work “smart” and accommodate the intervals according to the scale that you’re playing.

To use these “smart” versions of harmonizers, you need some basic music theory knowledge. Examples of harmonizer pedals include Boss VE-2, Boss VE-8, TC Helicon Harmony, and many others.

Read our review of the Digitech Whammy 5


Distortion

Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion review

Now we get to the most important part of every pedalboard – distortion pedals. In the world of guitar, the distortion effect is divided into three categories, which are overdrive, classic distortion, and fuzz.

They create this effect by intentional boosting and clipping of the signal. Different types of clipping create different types of distortion.

There’s something for everyone’s taste these days, and the most attention is usually dedicated to finding proper distortion pedals for certain styles of music and playing.

Some of the famous examples include Ibanez Tube Screamer with all of its variants, Boss DS-1, Electro-Harmonix Big Muff, MXR M75, the legendary Klon Centaur, Pro Co Rat, and many others.

Read our review of the Pro Co Turbo Rat distortion pedal


Modulation

mxr-m134-stereo-chorus-273109

Modulation effects include everything that adds the copy of your signal, alters it a little, and blends it in with the unprocessed signal.

The most famous modulation effect is the chorus that adds a very short delay and alters the pitch up and down according to the set amplitude and speed.

We also have flanging and phasing, which are in some technical ways similar, but in practice produce completely different effects.

Most of the modulation pedals have a “mix” or “blend” control that determines the ratio between unprocessed and processed signals.

There are also depth and speed controls, along with a few other things. Strymon has a great chorus pedal called Ola. MXR has the M134 stereo chorus that’s pretty great too.

Check out our review of the MXR M134 Stereo Chorus Pedal


Atmospheric effects: delays and reverbs

electro harmonix holy grail reverb

To keep your tone more interesting, you should think of different “atmospheric” effects. After all, you can’t keep it “dry” all the time. For this purpose, we have delay and reverb pedals. Both of these add repeated copies of your tone to create an illusion of a bigger or smaller room.

Delays add simple repeats according to set parameters. You can control the time distance between these repeats, the number of repeats, and the mix between the original and repeated signal.

It’s the classic echo effect. In some cases, pedals also have separate EQ controls for shaping the tone of the repeated signal. There’s anything from the simple stuff like the MXR carbon copy, up to very complex pieces like the Empress Echosystem.

Reverbs also repeat the signal, but in a more “shimmering” manner, giving the impression of one prolonged atmospheric continued repeat. It’s as if you’re playing in a large hall or a cathedral.

They also include blend or mix controls, just like delays. Strymon’s Big Sky is a great example of a very spacious-sounding reverb.

Read our review of the TC Electronic M3000


Volume pedals

morley-volume-pedal

While they could be the most boring part of one pedalboard, volume pedals should be an essential part of every signal chain, especially if you’re playing in a bigger band or an orchestra.

They’re pretty simple – you use them to control your output volume. They have a rocking part that you use to turn the volume up or down. There’s usually the “minimum volume” switch that sets the volume when the pedal is at its minimum position.

There’s a common misconception with beginners thinking that the volume pedal can do the same thing as the booster pedal. The thing with volume pedals is that you’re reducing the volume to the desired level. You use it when you’re supposed to keep quiet in the mix.

There are high impedance and low impedance volume pedals, but we’re not going to get too much into technical details about this. Low impedance pedals are more common and they go at the very end or near the end of the signal chain. Ernie Ball has its MVP volume pedal that’s very reliable.


Expression pedals, tap pedals, and sequencers

8StepProg-large

Some of the effects we mentioned usually support connectivity with external control sources. For this, we have expression pedals, which are just multi-purpose potentiometers in the form of a pedal.

Automatic wah-wah, certain modulation pedals, or even delays can work with an expression pedal, but only if they have a separate input jack for it.

On their own, expression pedals do nothing, although many volume pedals also have the expression pedal functionality.

Tap switches work the same way, it’s just that they have one control switch that sets the tempo of the effect. For instance, you connect it to a delay, and when your delay pedal is turned on, tap the switch pedal twice and the tempo of your repeated tones will be set according to the tempo that you tapped.

Sequencer pedals are a bit more complicated, and they’re definitely not something that a beginner would use. It’s a complex controller that has a sequence of adjustable steps.

It controls any effect with the expression pedal connectivity feature, but it does nothing on its own. An example here would be the well-known Electro-Harmonix 8-Step Program Analog Expression Sequencer.


What’s the correct order of pedals in the signal chain?

First off, there’s no such thing as the “correct” order of pedals. There are, however, some standards in arranging your pedalboard that may help you get the clearest tone without any unwanted noises or hisses.

This is the usual order, but you’re free to experiment. The whole thing is open for discussion.

From guitar to the amp, it goes like this: tuner – filter – EQ – compressor – boost – pitch altering – distortion – modulation – volume pedals – delay – reverb. Volume pedal can also come after the delay and reverb.

We Review the Best Distortion Pedals For Metal

Orange Bax Bangeetar Pre-EQ Review

BaxBangeetarB-large

There are so many different ways for you to get quality distortion these days. Some love their tube amps and the “organic” smooth overdriven tone that they get when they push the volume way up high on the clean channel.

Some others may prefer those scorched distortion tones of classic pedals like Boss DS-1, and some might be into digital modeling amps and all the replications of both classic and modern tones.

Be that as it may, the technology of guitar pedals has advanced and we have some of the most colorful and harmonically rich distortions at our disposal.

The one that we would like to take a closer look at is made by the legendary Orange Amplification, who are known for their amps with very specific dark and “fuzzy” tones.

The pedal in question is called Bax Bangeetar Guitar Pre-EQ and is one pretty interesting and exciting piece.

Bax Bangeetar

It’s actually more than just a regular distortion pedal. But not to spoil anything in these first paragraphs, here is the review below.

Features

What’s easily noticeable at a first look is that Bax Bangeetar pedal is pretty well-built. Whatever your ambitions are, it seems like this one can be taken on a tour without any fears of it getting smashed easily.

But going over to the standard properties of a guitar pedal, the Bangeetar has a lot of exciting features. The first one we would like to point out is the speaker cabinet simulated output.

The pedal has its own cab simulator circuit ñ appropriately named “CabSim” ñ that allows you to plug it directly into a mixer. This way, it turns it into somewhat of a preamp pedal.

According to the company, the cabinet they replicated here is their 40th Anniversary PPC412, the one that is loaded with four 12-inch Celestion G12H 30-watt speakers.

Aside from the standard on and off footswitch, the Bax Bangeetar has an additional switch that adds more boost when the distortion is engaged. This is not a classic “more gain” boost but just adds 6 more dB to it.

Kind of like those classic clean boosters, only it’s integrated into the pedal. This can come in handy for some tube amps if you want to use more of their natural tube drive.

Going over to controls, Bangeetar has an interesting feature in this regard as well. Aside from the obvious volume and gain controls, there is a 3-band EQ with sweepable mids.

In fact, there are three separate knobs just for mids. One regulates the level, one is for frequency tweaking, and the third one adjusts the frequency range. This way, you can select a specific section of the mid spectrum and either boost it or cut it.

As for the power, it runs on standard 9-volt batteries or classic AC adapters.

Design

It doesn’t take more than one glance to realize that this pedal is made by Orange Amplification. All of the knobs are labeled with classic symbols you see on Orange amps.

These might be a bit confusing, maybe even annoying, to those who don’t know much about them. But still, you’ll also find regular labels for each parameter.

The metal handle below the controls is kind of unusual but it looks nice and doesn’t interfere with its operation. The whole thing is rounded up with black finish and pots with a recognizable shade of orange.

Of course, there are some other versions, featuring white finish, white knobs, and black labels.

The colors of the LED indicators could have been different though, as blue and green might not be the best option for darker venues. But not to be nitpicky, it’s overall a great looking pedal.

Performance

To put it simply ñ this pedal is all Orange. Just like classic Orange amps, it’s heavy on the mid to high-end spectrum of the tone. It also brings the very well-known “fuzziness” into the tone, while still managing to keep it tight in the low end.

We would say that this pedal’s greatest strength lies in its equalizer. All the guitar players who use distortion all the time know that mid-range control is of essential importance for a great tone.

And this pedal allows very detailed control over this part of the tonal spectrum. Whatever you want to do with mids, cut them or boost them, the Bax Bangeetar will give you control over that.

The pedal’s unique tone is achieved without back-to-back diode clipping which you usually find in standard distortion devices. This way, the tone resembles those classic Orange amps.

Now, there would be some discussions about whether true bypass or buffered bypass is better.

Whatever your thoughts are, Orange Amplification argues that buffered is the way to go, and such is the case with Bangeetar. This way, they keep all the clarity and the high ends in the tone.

Not to bore you with all the technical details, but Orange has done some magic with this pedal and the internal voltage is doubled. So you have 18-volts with a 9-volt power source.

This way, as they claim, you get a better dynamic response. And we could say that this is true. Despite not being a tube-driven pedal, it brings some solid dynamic response to it.

The cab simulator works pretty well too. We’re not sure if it fully replicates the exact cab that they said, but it does give that natural cabinet feel if you plug it into a mixer or an audio interface.

Along with its dynamic response, it’s pretty useful for studio recordings in case you don’t want to bother with miking up your amp.

At the end of the day, it’s one very versatile little pedal. It delivers anything from the smooth bluesy crunch, up to some pretty heavy djent stuff.

Conclusion

Released in 2015, Bax Bangeetar comes as the company’s first pedal since the 1960s. We can say that it’s definitely a great comeback. The only downside here would be the price.

But although a bit overpriced, it doesn’t mean that it’s a bad pedal. In fact, it’s one of the best distortion pedals that you can get these days.


Video Demo

Source Audio SA170 Programmable EQ Pedal Review

 

 

EQ pedals are among those tools that aren’t extremely popular with most guitar players. This is probably because an EQ pedal is designed to be noticed only if it is used wrong. When you have it dialed in right, your audience shouldn’t even know that it is there. With that said, an EQ is easily one of the more essential tools you have as a guitar player. There are several types of EQ pedals out there. You have your graphic EQs and parametric.

All things considered, the former is much more popular than the latter and for a good reason. A graphic EQ allows you to visualize a curve of your tone. Besides that, it’s much easier to work with for most users. Now, when a graphic EQ has more functionality than just the slides it comes with, that is a cause for celebration. Why? Because a normal EQ is a powerful weapon, but one that is even more advanced is a real game changer. In short, that is what Source Audio SA170 EQ is.

Feature Pick

Source Audio Sa170 Programmable Eq

Buy On Amazon

Design

What sets Source Audio SA170 EQ apart from other graphic EQs is the fact that it is digital in nature. Because of that, Source Audio didn’t have to use extremely wide pedal chassis. On the contrary, they have chosen a fairly standard shell to house their electronics. This means that you can squeeze this pedal onto your pedal board without worrying whether or not it will fit or if it is going to be in conflict with your other pedals.

In terms of build quality, this thing is great. When you pick it up, it feels good and well made. It has that weight to it which inspires confidence. Not the literal weight, but that ‘weight’ a quality piece of gear has. The chassis features a dark blue top paired with brushed aluminum sides. From a purely aesthetic point of view this thing is extremely easy on the eyes. Looking at the top of the pedal, we see a graphic EQ but one without sliders. Instead you have a digital display that shows your standard EQ bands and a main control wheel beneath which is used to set the frequencies.

Features

When it comes to the core stats for SA170 EQ, you are looking at 7 frequency bands with +-18 dB of adjustment. In terms of clean boost, there is 12dB to work with. That main wheel is not the only piece of controls available. You have your frequency band select buttons as well as Save and Select buttons. This should probably give you a hint of what SA170 EQ has in store. Since this is a digital package, it would only be logical for it to have some of the most common features found in digital pedals. One such feature has got to be the ability to store various presets. In case of Source Audio SA170 EQ you can store up to 4 different presets.

This is a good thing although we will touch upon why a bit later. To select different presets all you have to do is press and hold the foot switch. When you do so, the pedal will start shifting between presets. What’s cool is that you can actually adjust the speed with which the pedal switches between presets, so that you can be positive that you will nail the right one in a pinch. But wait, there’s more. You can also optimize SA170 EQ to work with bass guitars. All you need to do is access the Bass mode and the frequency bands shift into a set that starts with 62Hz and ends with 4kHz.

Performance

At this point Source Audio SA 170 EQ looks pretty cool with all of its nifty features, but what does it sound like? Is it truly a good EQ or is it just a cool gadget? Fortunately for us, it really is a proper EQ. For starters it is quite transparent. In other words if you were to leave all of the parameters at 0 and turn on the pedal, your signal chain wouldn’t have a different ‘color’ to it. This is partially due to Source Audio’s great bypass solution but also the fact that the circuitry inside really is transparent. With that said, all of the frequency bands are fairly accurate and don’t sound off in any way. One cool thing about that automatic preset switching thing we’ve mentioned earlier is that you can use it as a modulation effect of sorts. Just dial in a few presets that you like and let the pedal cycle through them as you play. Although this isn’t all that important, it definitely is a cool little feature.

Conclusion

The verdict on this pedal was super easy to make. It is by far one of the best EQs you can get. It packs so many cool features but also allows you to tidy up the core of your sound. The fact that it is digital should definitely not worry you. If John Mayer is using it than you should be just fine as well. After all, he is all about that vintage organic tone and Source Audio SA170 EQ has proven to work quite well with that type of setup.

MXR M109 6-Band EQ Review – Taming The Panther

MXR M109S
 

Modern guitar effect signal chains are full of all kinds of pedals. The ones we hear are usually the ones that get the most attention. If you look at your favorite guitar player’s pedalboard, you will probably look for their distortion or maybe their reverb in order to figure out how to replicate their exact tone. However, there are pedals that greatly impact the tone, but which rarely get into the spotlight. When these are used to their fullest potential, you won’t notice anything.

Dimebag Darrell was always in search of that perfect tone. He experimented a lot, and not only with his effects pedals. Swapping pickups was a normal thing for the legendary guitarist of Pantera. With that said, there were some constants in his gear. One of them being MXR’s M109 6-Band EQ pedal. This fairly simple and practical EQ has been around for a while, proving its worth over and over again. Today we are going to take a closer look and see how it can help you find your perfect tone.

Feature Pick

Mxr M109S 6-Band Graphic Eq Analog Guitar Effect Pedal + Cables

Buy On Amazon

MXR 109 6-Band EQ Review

The purpose of an EQ pedal is simple on the surface. It is there to shape up your guitar’s signal in a way transcends the selection of pickups and other components you have. You can boost a certain set of frequencies while cutting down another, which gives you the ultimate control over what comes out the other end of the chain. The most common type of EQ comes in its standard three-band form. You will see a knob for highs, mids, and lows, and that is often quite enough.

However, sometimes there is a need for something a bit more robust. Graphic EQs have been around forever, and their intuitive principle of operation has kept them relevant up until today. As their name states, these have six frequency bands you can manipulate, compared to the standard three. That added versatility is a must have for anyone who needs ultimate control over their tone. Coincidentally, that is what MXR M109 does best.

Features

If you are familiar with MXR pedals, you probably know that they make no fuss about the design of their products. Even though MXR is a part of Dunlop corporation, not much has changed in this regard. MXR M109 has remained the same ever since it first appeared. The enclosure features a standard format in terms of dimensions and is made of a pretty decent quality metal. From a practical point of view, MXR M109 can take any kind of beating and abuse that is common with frequent stage use.

The design of the pedal is pretty much as simple as it gets. The entire thing is painted black with only a few details portrayed in white. The top face is where you will find your graphic EQ along with a footswitch at the base. Just like any other graphic EQ, this one features sliders. There is six of them and they cover a pretty wide range of frequencies. The quality of the sliders themselves is more than decent. Having proper feedback is important when dealing with this type of gear, and MXR M109 offers just that. You can apply the settings you want accurately and quickly, even in low-light environments. This is possible thanks to red LEDs which are installed in each of the six sliders.

Another aspect of an EQ pedal that greatly determines its quality is the amount of boost and cut it offers. In other words, its ability to increase or decrease the level of the signal. For MXR M109, we are looking at 18dB in each direction. You can boost the signal by adding 18dB or attenuate it by shaving off the same amount. That’s a pretty decent range for a pedal in this price range.

MXR M109S

Performance

EQ pedals are usually defined by their transparency. Before you get to all the tone shaping goodness, you have to be certain that your signal remains unchanged when all the sliders are set to a neutral position. This way you know that there are no hidden changes to your tone, which are then compounded when you start messing with different frequencies. MXR M109 is not completely transparent, but whatever signal altering it does is pretty hard to notice. On the other hand, compared to other pedals in its category, it is by far one of the most transparent.

Once you transcend the standard three-band EQ, things can get complicated fast. It is so easy to get lost while adjusting the tone to a point where you are not sure if you need more or fewer frequencies to play with. MXR M109’s selection of frequency bands is pretty straight forward. They went with one of the more default layouts, which is exactly why this pedal dominates its direct competition. Silent, flexible and practical, it is by far one of the most capable EQs we have available that isn’t too complex.

Many question the value and purpose of a six-band EQ. For them, there isn’t too much of a difference between three and six bands, at least not enough to justify going for the latter. While that might be true in some cases, this MXR has definitely proven its worth many times by now.

Watch this video review of the MXR M109 6 Band EQ by Youtuber Bigboss92.

Conclusion

EQ have become an integral part of any serious pedalboard. With so many different guitar layouts out there, these pedals are more of a necessity than anything else. Finding one that offers a good balance of price and performance is not that easy. MXR is among the few brands which offer something that fits this description and is actually worth investing in.

No matter what genre of music you are into, an EQ is a powerful tool. Dimebag Darrell managed to push this type of pedal to the limit, showing us just what you can actually do even with a six band unit such as this MXR M109. Many have since followed his footsteps, and so should you.