When starting with the electric guitar, it’s not uncommon to look at experienced player’s pedal board and think “Wow, so many pedals, with different names – wonder what should I get”. And while everyone knows that the core of your sound comes from the sensibility of your touch, your guitar and your amplifier, it is also true that certain pedals can transform and shape your tone to make it more unique and personal. Before shelling out all your beloved savings on unnecessary pedals, take a look at this guide to understand the 10 basic pedals, the so-called “must-haves”.
As obvious as it sounds, a tuner (or tuning pedal) is fundamental for your rig. It can also act as a mute switch for changing guitars between songs. These days there are many smartphone apps for tuning your guitar – as well as clip-on tuners – but when you need precision and a clear visual indication of the pitch of your strings, nothing beats a good old tuning pedal. The Boss TU-3 is a classic tuning pedal with lots of useful settings – alternatively, you can check out the CPT-20 by Harley Benton which features true bypass connections and a super large LCD display. Need a smaller footprint? Try the Mooer Baby Tuner!
Your guitar is equipped with a volume knob – but that doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from a volume pedal. Very useful for various applications, the volume pedal can act – as you imagine – as a pure volume for your guitar signal (placed right before the amp) and also as a master volume if placed after your amp. By using a stereo volume pedal you can further expand the tonal possibilities of your setup. Ernie Ball makes a variety of volume pedals with different specifications (in order to match your guitar, amplifier or musical needs). Mooer offers a very compact and stylish pedal, the Expline – while Boss still sells to this day the FV-500-H, a pedal that passed the test of time and still performs amazingly well.
An effect made popular by guitarists like Hendrix, Jerry Cantrell, Slash and many more, the Wah-Wah effect is a pedal-controlled Q filter. The ultra-recognisable vocal-like effect is obtained by having a Q parameter going back and forth, thus “opening” your guitar voice or narrowing it down removing treble frequencies. Words cannot really describe it, and since its inception the Wah was featured on countless records. The Dunlop Crybaby is by far the most popular wah pedal, built with trusty analog circuitry. Despite Dunlop’s fame, many other manufacturers built beautiful pedals that have left their mark in music history due to their slightly different sound, such as the VOX 84x series, the Fulltone, and the super modern optical Morley Wah.
Back in the good ol’ days, guitarists had to crank their amplifiers to eleven in order to obtain a nice and creamy distortion. Today, this is no longer the case. Thanks to overdrive pedals, you can basically drive every clean amp into overdrive – at any volume – and choose the amount of gain and shape the tone precisely as desired. The overdriven or crunch sounds are commonly used for rock, to slightly get that “breakup” clean tone or to play blues licks and solos. During the last two decades, guitarists found out that overdrive pedals are also perfect for boosting the crunch channel of their amps into total distortion – a technique often used during guitar solos, to give the sound that extra weight and girth – or, as with the famous Tubescreamer, to tighten up the bass response of the amplifier gain channel. The Boss SD-1 is a very popular choice for overdrive pedals, capable of great sounds. The legendary TS9 by Ibanez is also worth a mention – even considering that it’s available in Mini and Deluxe formats. And while we’re at it, why not give the Harley Benton Ultimate Drive a try? This little screamer can boost your amp into full overdrive at a very competitive price.
Many people will say that Overdrive and Distortion pedals are basically the same thing: wrong! While the overdrive tends to add gain and texture to your clean tone, emulating a cranked amplifier, the distortion intentionally clips and distorts the waveform of the guitar signal. The effect of distortion pedal is much more audible and the resulting sound is harsher and louder, and sometimes completely different from the starting sound. Distortion pedals are perfect for rock and metal players, and represents a safe boat for guitarists that may feel the need to have a backup to their tube amplifier: a distortion pedal into the clean channel of a rented amplifier can save your gig! The ProCo Rat 2 is an instant classic, while the Electro Harmonix Metal Muff/Top Boost gives you some serious distortion with a top boost in single box. And for your über-metal needs, the Harley Benton Extreme Metal is here to help.
Compressor / EQ Pedals
If you’re a very dynamic player who likes to play soft and loud, a compressor is a must have: by raising the soft parts and lowering / adjusting the loud parts, you will get an even sound that works for most applications and won’t make ears bleed: the simplest way to describe it is as an “automated” volume control. The EQ, on the other hand, is crucial if you have a problematic guitar, an amplifier with limited tone-shaping control or, simply, need a creative way to alter the way your guitar sounds. EQ can be placed in front of the amp for shaping the sound going inside the amp or in the send/return (after the amplifier section) as a volume boost/eq boost.
Chorus, Delay and Reverb
After shaping your sound, is important to add some depth to it, and here’s where the ‘ambiance’ pedals find their way into your rig. The chorus effect should be used properly, without overdoing it, but can give great results: the depth and the ‘3 guitarists playing your part’ effect can work amazingly well for your music. Delay and Reverb can be used lightly, in order to enhance your sound and fill up your guitar solos with a little space (by setting up a nice spring or hall reverb settings and a dotted delay) or heavily, to achieve creative sounds where the sky is the only limit.
The Electro Harmonix Small Clone is a very popular choice for getting a good chorus sound. In the Boss line, the CH-1 is certainly worth a try, while the Harley Benton Classic Chorus delivers good tones for an affordable price.
Boss DD-3 and DD-7 are legendary digital delay pedals, heard on countless records. The MXR Carbon Copy Analog Delay, as the name implies, relies on analog circuitry: different flavours for different strokes. For a compact all-in-one pedal, the Mooer EchoVerb includes delay and reverb in a single offer.
Boss RV-6 is capable of great reverb sounds with a classic approach, while the Digitech Polara takes the approach one step further by including Lexicon-inspired reverbs. The Holy Grail Plus by Electro Harmonix is our third recommended popular choice.
What was listed above was just the tip of the iceberg, and many many other pedals are waiting for you: why not check out our huge guitar pedal selection, by clicking here? You will find Multi-effects (a clever way to have all your effects in a single and practical format), looper pedals (in case you want to record a short phrase and start playing over it and layer some guitar parts), fuzz pedals (made famous by the good ol’ Jimi Hendrix and many others), Phaser, Flanger etc.
Can you name a short list of pedals that you would take with you on a deserted island? Leave a comment below and let us know!