Guitar Effects Pedals Explained

by Michael Black
Guitar effects pedals change the tone of your guitar.

Guitar effects pedals change the tone of your guitar.

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Guitar effects pedals mold the sound that your guitar produces. In most cases, they are placed between the guitar and amplifier in your signal chain, but some amplifiers have an effects loop input and output that can be used as an alternative to placing the pedals before the guitar input of your amplifier.

Distortion Pedals

Distortion pedals are among the most common types of guitar effects pedals. They literally distort your guitar's signal. Many types of distortion pedals exist, from creamy-sounding overdrive pedals that are well suited for blues and classic rock to extreme distortion pedals that create the kind of sonic chaos that is the hallmark of heavy metal.


Equalizers give you greater control over the equalization of your sound signal. Most amps only give you low, mid and high controls, but equalizers generally give you eight or more frequency control options. These pedals open up several new tonal possibilities, and they are quite useful in conjunction with other pedals.

Wah Pedals

Traditional wah pedals allow you to sweep through a range of frequencies using a pivoting foot pedal. This gives the guitarist a significant amount of control over the sound produced by the pedal. Auto-wah pedals also exist that automatically sweep through a specific range of frequencies. The intro to Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child" is an iconic example of a wah pedal in use.

Chorus Pedals

Chorus pedals double the signal your guitar produces to thicken up your guitar sound. The doubled signal is actually very slightly out of tune and time with the original signal, thus creating an authentic sounding chorus effect, as though two real guitars were playing the same part.

Delay Pedals

Delay pedals create a clone of your guitar's signal that is repeated at a set time interval after you play a note. The length of time between repeats and the overall amount of repeats can be set on most delay pedals. Delay pedals are often used to beef up fast solos, although they have many other potential uses.

Flangers and Phasers

Flangers and phasers are both time-based effects. Flangers duplicate and modify your guitar's signal, creating a sound that is reminiscent of a jet engine. Phasers create a swirling-type effect that can be heard prominently on Van Halen's early records. Phasers are basically less extreme versions of flangers.

Other Pedals

Many types of odd guitar effects pedals have been created over the years. Vibrato pedals replicate the sound of finger vibrato, while reverb pedals add a distinct form of echo to your guitar signal. The Leslie rotating speaker effect attempts to re-create the sound of a rotating speaker. Multi-effects pedals also exist that give you access to several types of guitar effects.


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