Guitar Effects Pedals: An Introduction and Purchasing Guide

By R. S. Rasnick

Guitar effects pedals have been on the scene since the 1960's when guitar-based music became predominant. An engineer named Roger Mayer is credited with inventing the first guitar effects device, a "fuzz" box, that evolved into the modern distortion and overdrive pedal, and the wah pedal. Mayer's clients included such noted rock n' rollers as Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, and Jimi Hendrix. Supposedly, Mayer created the first effects pedal for his friend in the early 1960's. Now, countless effects pedals are used by guitar players every day.

Effects pedals are used to give the guitarist more tonal colors or, that is, an expansion of timbre on his instrument's palette. It's possible to use an amplifier's settings to create these different tonal colors, too, but the amplifier is limited to what effects it can give, plus its settings would have to be changed only between songs, whereas guitar players frequently want to change tonality and color in the midst of playing a single song, and often many times over.

So, just like the electric guitar and the amplifier offered guitarists a wider variety of tonal choices, effects pedals, too, give them even more options in shaping their tone. Electric guitarists are not the only ones to use effects pedals, however. Acoustic guitarists and classical players often draw upon them as well, but they tend to eschew the sounds of overdrive and distortion pedals enjoyed by electric guitarists.

After the initial popularity of guitar effects pedals, manufacturers produced rack-mounted gear that was either aimed at guitarists or widely used by them. Companies such as Yamaha and Eventide made products that were often found in the racks of famous guitarists, particularly in the 1980's. However, with increased quality in effects pedal technology, most guitar players moved away from rack-mounted gear back to floor-mounted effects pedals, embracing their simple usability.

When they have their effects selected, most guitar players will mount their pedals on a pedalboard to facilitate transportation and storage of their effects. This system makes it much easier to activate the pedals as well, since they are contained in a relatively small space. Since wah and volume pedals operate a bit differently (they are rocked back and forth rather than simply switched on), they are mounted to make this usage easier.

Most pedals, though, have a simple on-off feature. For instance, the ubiquitous distortion tone of hard rock and metal guitar players can be instantly switched off and the guitar's "clean channel" allowed to be played, to give a different feel to different sections of a song. Another simple stomp, and the distorted tone comes roaring back.

Guitar players go through a great deal of effort to tweak the settings on their guitar, their amps, and their configuration of effects pedals to get their "just right" or signature sound. Popular effects devices include distortion, overdrive, chorus, flanger, echo, delay, vibrato, tremolo, flanging, and pitch-shifting, just to name a few. These effects can have drastic changes on a guitarist's sound.

If you are guitarist who is wondering how you can shape your sound in new and exciting ways, then check out the above guitar effects. They might inspire you in ways you never considered possible. - 31840

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