After a brief flirtation with digital rack mounted multi-effects units in the late 80s and early 90s, it appears analog-based guitar foot pedals are here to stay. The market for these devices now includes pricey vintage pieces from the analog effects heyday of the 1960s and 1970s, reissues of these vintage effects, alongside new designs, and limited edition "craft brew" pedals from small companies run by tone-obsessed enthusiasts.
Pre-Amps and Fuzz Boxes
When "10" on the guitar volume just isn't pushing the amplifier hard enough, guitarists wishing to go beyond such limits have long turned to pre-amps and fuzz boxes. Pre-amp type pedals often contain a tube or transistors that act as a signal strengthener that pushes the amplifier into distortion sooner than the guitar on its own. Fuzz boxes also distort a guitar's sound, altering the wave form to a square shape, reminiscent of a saxophone's saw-tooth shape. One of the earliest applications of the fuzz box can be heard in the Rolling Stones' song "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction."
Phase Shifters and Flangeres
As light and sound moves closer and farther from an observer, shifts in frequency occur. Consider the sound of a siren as a police car approaches and passes you. Physicists call this the Doppler effect; guitarists can mimic this with a phase shifter, as heard in Jimi Hendrix's song "Little Wing." Legend has it that the flanger was invented one day in the recording studio when a technician leaned on a reel of a reel to reel recorder during a final mixing. The signature riff in The Eagles' "Life in the Fast Lane" features this effect.
Wah-Wahs and Tone Boosters
The wah-wah pedal is nothing more than a foot-controlled tone fader. Telecaster players found they could curl their little fingers around their guitars' tone knob while picking, thus producing an effect similar to a trumpeter's wah-wah. Eric Clapton's solo on Cream's 1968 hit "White Room" showcases this effect. Clapton also made use of a treble booster, a sort of pre-amp that cuts lower frequencies while boosting higher frequencies, in his work with John Mayall.
Echo and Delay
Scotty Moore used a massive tape-based echoplex effect to get the slap-back echo of Elvis Presley's "Mystery Train." This effect also found favor in the surf rock sound of the early 60s. With the development of analog delays in the 1970s, guitarists no longer needed to lug around those unwieldy tape delays, but the market for vintage echoplexes has grown in recent years. Analog delay was a key ingredient in the early U2 sound, most notably the Edge's slide guitar solo in "New Year's Day."
- Backbeat Books; Guitar Effects Pedals; Hunter, Dave; 2004
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