Say Wah? A Guide to Effects Pedals

Glenn Sutton teaches guitar, electric bass, keyboard, theory and improvisation for over 30 years, he specializes in rock, blues, jazz, Latin, Brazilian, classical, country, and folk.

A Great Way to Customize Your Guitar’s Sound

One of the best ways to expand and personalize your guitar’s sound is to use effects pedals. These nifty devices electronically alter the sounds your guitar makes and are used by the vast majority of professional guitarists, particularly those for whom the electric is the instrument of choice.

You may not have considered getting effects pedals; perhaps you are not all that conversant about them. But chances are, at some point, you have heard a guitar sound and wanted to emulate it in your own playing. The musician you are listening to is probably using one or more effects pedals to get that sound.

How do they work?

Effects pedals, also called “stompboxes,” are electronic devices that alter sounds made by your guitar. These boxes can subtly color the sound, or alter it, into a roar, a scream, or a multitude of other tones.

Types of pedals

Phasers — These fall under the category of modulation pedals, which affect the parameters making up the audio signal to create new sounds. Phasers create a rippling sound

Wah or Wah-Wah Pedals — The name of these pedals accurately reflect the sound your guitar makes through them. The Wah-Wah Pedal creates vowel-like sounds by altering the frequency spectrum produced by your guitar. It is operated by a foot treadle that opens and closes a potentiometer.

Delay or Echo Pedals — These pedals delay the signal or add echo effects. Delay/Echo pedals duplicate the signal from the guitar to the amplifier to create an echo effect. These pedals have been used in countless live and studio performances.

Flangers — These pedals fall under the same modulation pedal category as phasers. These pedals allow for a “jet airliner” or “spaceship” sound such as in the live version of “Astronomy Domine” from the UMMAGUMMA album.

Distortion Pedals — Distortion pedals create a “warm,” “fuzzy,” or gritty” sound by re-shaping the audio signal’s wave form. Overdrive effects pedals and fuzz boxes fall into this category as well. Fuzz boxes are also extremely popular with bass players.

Talk Boxes — Talk boxes allow you to vocalize your guitar’s sound in a way made popular by Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way” and Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel like We Do.” Equalizers act much in the way that stereo component equalizers do, although they usually offer much more control.

Boost Pedals — Among the earliest pedals available to guitarists, boost pedals are considered dynamics pedals, that is, they affect a guitar’s volume.

Many guitarists use this type of pedal to change from playing rhythm to playing a lead solo without having to change any volume settings on the guitar.

A note on placement

If you run more than one of these in sequence, how you place them will affect the overall sound your guitar will make. Try a few configurations to see what works for you. If you have questions about this, consult your music teacher or guitar store.

Try them out!

By using one or more of these effects pedals, you are opening up new sonic horizons. They are worth checking out.

 

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