Different Types of Guitar Pedals
Do you want to purchase a guitar pedal, but aren’t sure which type is right for you? With so many different types on the market, it can be challenging to determine which type you should purchase.
When I started looking, I was shocked at how many different types of guitar pedal products there were. I didn’t know where to begin.
To help you have an easier time, I’ve created a list of different types of guitar pedals and what they do. Hopefully, this list will better help you figure out which types of guitar pedals you should purchase.
#1 Filtering Pedals
EQ (Equalizer Pedal)
Equalization technology has been around for as long as the 1920’s. This pedal is good for advanced musicians because it’s all about tweaking the sound the get the perfect effect for you.
This pedal will allow you to adjust the bass and treble manually. Some musicians say this is the most underrated pedal and view it as just as necessary, if not more necessary, than a compressor pedal.
Boss creates great EQ pedals, so be sure to check out their products if you’re interested in making a purchase.
Wah pedals first came into the spotlight in the late 1960’s, and they’ve proved to be a crucial part of rock music ever since. These pedals are appreciated for their ability to mimic the human voice.
Wah pedals are versatile, meaning they sound great in a lot of different genres including rock, pop rock, and jazz music. Traditional wah pedals will require you to set the intensity with the pedal.
My favourite wah pedal is an Xotic Effects XW-1, so make sure you take a look at this company’s products before purchasing.
Auto-wah pedals, also known as envelope filters, were first popular in the disco era. Although these pedals lost popularity after disco music became a thing of the past, they’ve re-entered the electric guitar world and are more common than original wah pedals.
These pedals create a “wah” sound and respond to the attack on your instrument, so you can make the effect more intense by playing harder or softer.
If you’re playing smoothly at a soft level, you won’t really hear the effect. Slap a note, however, and you’ll hear a noticeable effect come through.
The MXR M-10 Auto Q Wah is one of my preferred pedals, so be sure to take a glance at some MXR products. For more information, take a look at this auto wah shootout.
These pedals were also popular around the 1970’s but are still used by almost every professional guitarist today. Compressor pedals have a more subtle effect than other pedals, which makes it great for any genre of music.
Traditionally, these pedals have also been referred to as “sustainer pedals”, so if you have an older model by this name, remember that it’s completing the same function.
This is a volume control device that will get rid of signal peaks and create a balanced sound, making quiet signals louder and loud signals more quiet. Boss makes great compressor pedals, with my favourite being the Boss CS-3.
The concept of noise gating has been around for as long as compressors. This pedal acts as a gate that will allow you to control how much volume you hear. This pedal is designed to limit the amount of background noise you’ll hear in your signal.
This pedal will ensure your sound falls beneath a preset volume. My preferred Noise Gate pedal is the Boss NS-2 Noise Suppressor, which you can listen to here.
These pedals first played a big role in rock music in the 1960’s. Distortion pedals sometimes refer to a group of pedals, rather than one specific type of pedal. However, if you are looking at a model named as a “distortion pedal”, then it will have a specific effect.
Distortion pedals create a crunched sound that will still allow you to hear the tone of your guitar pretty clearly. In my opinion, distortion pedals are one of the essential guitar pedals for rock music.
The Boss DS-1 is a great model, but you should also check out other products by this company.
These pedals gained popularity after Jimi Hendrix started using them for his solos, and they’ve been a major part of the rock world ever since. Fuzz pedals are a type of distortion pedal that remove the clarity of tone you can still hear in regular distortion pedals.
Fuzz pedals create chaotic and unclear sounds and work great in music in the style of The Black Keys. Fuzz pedals have also been referred to as “dirt boxes,” which will probably give you a good idea of their effect.
My favourite brand for fuzz pedals is Electro-Harmonix, and I’d highly recommend their Big Muff Pi model.
These pedals were also popular in the ‘60s and are often associated with classic rock music. Overdrive pedals will maintain the natural tones of your instrument slightly more than other distortion pedals.
You’ll still get a thick sound, but not to the extent that you’ll hear with a fuzz pedal. The Ibanez TubeScreamer pedals are a great choice, so be sure to check them out before making a purchase.
If you’d still like to read more about the differences between these three pedals, follow this link.
Boost pedals are appreciated everywhere for their ability to increase the volume of your sound without causing any unwanted buzzing or humming. These pedals were most popular during the 1960s, but still are used by modern artists such as John Mayer.
If you’re thinking about using a compressor pedal but you’re worried about softening the extreme frequencies of your signal too much, a boost pedal will solve your problems.
With both a compressor and a boost pedal, you’ll be able to balance your sound and then raise the volume back of to a regular level.
#2 Modulation Pedals
This effect was initially created by playing the same song on two tape recorders, and then slowing one of those tape recorders down. This pedal will create a rich sound that swells up and down.
These pedals are great for wave-like sounds in your music. This effect sounds similar to when a boat or a plane passes by you.
My favourite flanger pedal is the Electro-Harmonix Stereo Electric Mistress, so make sure you check out their models!
These pedals became accessible to guitarists in the 1970s, but were used to create psychedelic effects in the 1960s. Phaser pedals will, like flanger pedals, affect the sound by bringing the intensity and volume up and down in a sweeping motion.
This produces a drone as your sound fades out. Typically, phaser pedals will have a more intense sweeping effect than flanger pedals.
My favourite producer of these pedals is MXR, as their Phase-90 model has never let me down.
Chorus pedals are some of my favourite effect pedals and they first became really popular in the mid 1970s when the Roland Jazz Chorus amp was produced. Chorus pedals are popular because of the resonant sounds they create.
The sound quality mimics a chorus, engulfing the listener with echos that vary slightly in time.
My preferred chorus pedal is the MXR M234 Analog Chorus, so make sure you consider this device before purchasing.
The word “tremolo” means different things to different musicians. In terms of effect pedals, tremolo effects give a musician the opportunity to oscillate the volume of a pitch.
These pedals first stole the show in the 1940s with the DeArmond Tremolo Control Tremolo pedals are intense and will give you a broken sound, almost like the music is tripping on itself.
My favourite model is the Boss TR-2, which you can watch the video:
The concept of vibrato has also existed for a very long time and means different things to different musicians. In terms of guitar effect pedals, these devices will slightly oscillate the pitch.
These pedals first made their appearance by Gibson in the 1940s, and while they’re less popular today, they still prove to be a great investment time and time again. Unlike tremolo pedals which focused on the volume, vibrato pedals are a great way to give your sound a shaky feel.
My favourite model for vibrato pedals is the Boss VB-2, which you can watch the video:
#3 Time Based Effects
These pedals first began developing in the 1930s when recording engineers sought to increase the listener’s perception of space in music. Currently, reverb pedals are some of the most popular of all the pedals that exist and are used by a majority of professional guitarists.
These pedals are designed to create a setting, such as room, hall, or cathedral settings.If you want to create resonant echo effects in your music, this might be the right type of pedal for you. You’ll be able to create different acoustic atmosphere when you use this pedal.
These pedals first developed alongside magnetic tape recording in the 1920s. Delay pedals are great for creating echoes and will allow you to control the timing of when your audio plays back to you.
Delay and reverb pedals have many things in common, but delay pedals focus more on the timing rather than setting. My preferred delay pedal is the TC Electronic Flashback Triple Delay, which you can watch the video:
If you’d like to read more about how delay pedals work, follow this link.
#4 Pitch Shifting Pedals
These pedals were popular in the 1960s and used by notable guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix. Octaver pedals will take your audio and play it back to you either one octave above or below the note you’re actually playing.
This pedal will give you more depth than playing with only one note at a time. I’d recommend this pedal for lead guitarists rather than rhythm guitarists because it’s so great at enhancing melody.
My favorite model is the Electro-Harmonix Pitch Fork, which you can watch the video:
This type of pedal was first created by DigiTech in the late 1980’s and have been popular ever since. This pedal will produce pitch shifted sounds that you can control using the foot pedal.
These pedals work well in rock genres and create an out-of-the-box effect. You’ll be able to control which way you bend your pitch on these pedals. I prefer sticking to the original brand (DigiTech) for whammy pedals.
Harmonizer pedals were popular in the 1970s, and they’re still extremely useful for today’s guitarists that want to create more texture in their sound. These pedals work by taking your signal note and adding one or more notes according to your harmonization settings.
For example, if you play a C note, you can set the pedal to produce a third above (an E). Electro-Harmonix makes a great harmonizer, so be sure to check out their Slammi Polyphonic Pitch-Shifter.
For more information on how to take advantage of these effects, check out this demo video:
Synth pedals first came into the spotlight in the 1960s, and they’ve continued to remain popular as electronic music has come to the forefront. These pedals are useful for musicians who want to momentarily turn their guitar into another instrument.
For example, synthesizers will allow you to turn create the sound of a keyboard with your guitar. These pedals are also useful for musicians who fuse western music with music from other cultures, as you can usually create sitar effects.
My preferred synth pedal is the Electro-Harmonix B9 Organ Machine, which you can watch the video:
Talk boxes not only sound obscure, but also look obscure when they’re being used. These sound effects have been around since the late 1930s, and the first talk box that resembles what we use today came about in the late 1960’s.
This pedal will allow you to apply speech sounds to the tone of the instrument you’re using. Guitarists interested in electronic music often use these devices, because they create a robotic effect.
MXR has a great talk box, so be sure to check out their product if you’re thinking of making a purchase.
Expression pedals are used to control many different aspects of sound, but especially the volume. These pedals are how you will be able to control a variety of different variables, such as your digital amplifiers, stomp boxes, your racks, and other technology you’re using.
Rather than these pedals creating effects like the other pedals in this article, these pedals allow you to control the devices they’re connected to. My favourite expression pedals is the Moog EP-3, which you can watch the video:
These pedals were around in the 1930s but have continued to grow and develop ever since. This is one of the pedal designs that’s great for a performing musician who wants to adjust his or her volume during musical passages where both hands are preoccupied.
You’ll be able to alter your volume using your foot instead of your hands. This is also a great product if you like fade-outs. If you want to learn how to use this pedal, check out this demo video that incorporates my favorite volume pedal brand: Ernie Ball
Digital devices dedicated to live looping were created in the 1990s. These pedals are ideal for writing, building harmonies, or improvising. If any of these interest you, you should probably consider buying a looper pedal.
A looper pedal will take audio and repeat it over and over again. This is great if you want to practice improvising over a repeated chord progression. My preferred model is the Boss RC-3 Looper pedal.
If you want to learn how to use loopers, take a look at this video:
Hopefully, this list of guitar effects was useful. There are many types of pedals, so if you want to know how to chain them in a pedalboard, follow this link. Remember to decide on your ideal sound first, choose the right pedal from this list, and enjoy. Leave me a comment if you have any more questions!