By Darren Carless

Back in the good ole days the choice of effects available to guitarists was very limited to say the least. Fast forward to present day and the modern guitarist is bombarded with just about every effect imaginable (and some that are not). So what do they all do? This edition of the blog provides a brief understanding of what each effect is along with some examples of pedals that deliver that effect and a signpost to a song where you can here it in all its glory. So here we go…

Overdrive (Ibanez Tubescreamer / Fulltone OCD)

The defining sound of rock guitar. Overdrive pedals produce soft tube-like distortion by distorting the sound wave without flattening it. In essence they recreate what happens when a valve amplifier is ‘overdriven’ producing warm and gritty or crunchy tones.

LISTEN TO: Anything dubbed to be classic rock.

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Distortion (Boss DS1 / MXR Distortion +)

Distortion is the angrier sibling of overdrive. It’s harder and more jagged, and unlike overdrive will tend to totally flatten the peaks of the signal.

LISTEN TO: Just about anything by Nirvana.

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Fuzz (Dunlop Fuzzface / EHX Big Muff)

Taking Overdrive and Distortion to the nth degree, Fuzz totally reshapes the signal creating everything from ‘pure filth’ (that’s a technical term in these circumstances) to a warm woolly sound.

LISTEN TO: ‘Purple Haze’ by Jimi Hendrix

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Boost (MXR Micro Amp / Xotic EP Booster)

Generally speaking a booster is designed to give your signal a bit of extra juice without altering its character (which is why they’ll often be tagged as ‘transparent’). They do this by increasing the amplitude of the signal.

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Compression (MXR Dyna Comp / Keeley Compressor)

Compressors are intuitive little devices that respond to the strength of the signal that is fed into them and then compensate by either shifting the signal strength up or down i.e. they make loud sounds quiet and quiet sounds louder by compressing the dynamic range. More often than not it’s used to increase sustain when soloing or to increase the punch of rhythm parts.

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Wah – Wah (Dunlop Cry Baby / Fulltone Clyde Wah)

Almost human in its sound, a Wah-Wah pedal creates vowel-like, ululating sounds by altering the frequency spectrum of the guitar i.e. how loud the guitar is at each specific frequency.

LISTEN TO: ‘Voodoo Chile’ by Jimi Hendrix

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Delay / Echo (Strymon Timeline / TC Flashback)

You play a note; the pedal records it and then plays it back after the original note either once or multiple times dependant on the settings you’ve dialled in.

LISTEN TO: Almost anything by U2, but we wouldn’t do that to you, so here’s Tool!

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Chorus (Boss CE5 / EHX Small Clone)

Chorus adds a subtle (or not so subtle) shimmer to your tone and is often described as ‘watery’ sounding. It does this by splitting the signal in two and adding delay and pitch modulation to one half before combining with the other half of the signal.

LISTEN TO: ‘Come As You Are’ by Nirvana

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Phaser (MXR Phase 90 / Boss PH2)

Whether you want to describe it as swooshing, swirling or sweeping, a phaser brings a distinct feeling of movement to your sound. Like Chorus it splits the signal in two, altering the phase of one half by oscillating it around the entire frequency range.

LISTEN TO: ‘Eruption’ by Van Halen

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Flanger (EHX Electric Mistress / MXR Flanger)

Creating everything from jet engine-esque whooshes to slower ‘wobblier’ phaser-esque sounds. Unlike a Phaser, a Flanger allows for more control over the peaks and troughs created by the oscillating frequency.

LISTEN TO: ‘Walking On The Moon’ by The Police

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Vibrato (TC Electronic Shaker / Diamond Vibrato)

Vibrato is a modulation in the pitch of the signal and is very similar to chorus but without the delay element. At extreme settings it can produce very dramatic ululating sounds.

LISTEN TO: Pretty much every Tame Impala song

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Tremolo (Boss TR2 / Empress Tremolo)

Tremolo produces a rapid variation in the volume of the signal i.e. it simply turns the volume of the signal up and down at determined speeds. Extreme settings can create a stuttering effect.

LISTEN TO: ‘What’s The Frequency Kenneth?’ by R.E.M.

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Reverb (Eventide Space / EHX Holy Grail)

Used to create a sense of space and more often than not named after the type of space they emulate e.g. room, hall, spring etc. Reverb is a simulation of the reverberations and reflections of sound as it bounces off surfaces and decays.

LISTEN TO: Pink Floyd “Sorrow” (at least the intro guitar)

So there you go. This guide isn’t meant to be the Holy Grail of knowledge about effects. Nor is it meant to be an exhaustible list of what’s available…hell it doesn’t even cover Pitch Shifting, Looping or Ring Modulation! It’s simply a basic guide to get you started. As usual the best bit of advice is to get out there, get your hands on some and see what they can do for you and your sound.

3 replies
  1. guitar ever
    guitar ever says:

    Great post! The videos are so match to the post!! May i ask if i can link this particularly great post to my blog? It’s really awesome indeed. Keep up the good writing!!

    Reply
  2. Mike
    Mike says:

    Re: U2
    You won’t “do that to us” and yet subject us to the pretentious REM?

    I’ll take U2 over them every day of the week, twice on Sundays.

    Reply

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