We all know the versatility you get by playing the guitar. With so many different types and customizable pieces, such as the strings, the amps, and the pickups, there are so many sounds you can create; the possibilities are virtually limitless.
However, this is without even mentioning the fact you can invest in a guitar effects pedals. These pedals have been around nearly as long as electric guitars have been, and if you’re looking to take your guitar tone to the next level, this is a piece of equipment you should seriously be considering.
Whether you’re new to effects pedals or you’re looking for what’s best for you, today we’re going to explore six pedals every guitarist needs to have in their inventory, giving you the ultimate control over your sound, and contributing to your success as a musician.
So, here are the best guitar pedals every player needs:
1. Boost Pedal
The simplest effect pedal is the clean boost. All it essentially does is boost the signal of your guitar. Guitar players loved this because it allows us to hit the front end of our amp with more signal. This increased volume level will drive the input section of your amp harder and provide some more gain.
The earliest boost pedals used a germanium transistor and was often in the form of a treble booster. The most famous treble booster is the Dallas Rangemaster which is rumored to have been used by Eric Clapton on the Bluesbreakers record, often referred to as the Beano record or Beano tone. (This is because Clapton is reading a Beano comic on the record cover). At the time Eric was using a Marshall JTM45 2×12 combo (commonly referred to as the Bluesbreaker because of this recording) and a Les Paul and man does it sound good.
2. Overdrive Pedal
The term overdrive refers to when a tube amp is driven past its range to supply a clean tone. This is something we as guitar players have come to love and seek out. A common question is “what is the difference between overdrive, distortion, and fuzz as the terms have become interchangeable?” The short answer is not a lot; just one is more extreme as we go down the line.
Overdrive can be subtle and produce warm slightly overdriven tones, think SRV. Distortion is easy to see as simply more overdrive, these tones are more saturated and compressed. The spectrum of overdriven tones is huge, from BB King’s slightly overdriven tube amp tones to Eddie Van Halen’s cranked Marshall, to Metallica’s thick distortion, to Smashing Pumpkins’ fuzz tones. It is all actually the same idea is a general sense, these tones may be gotten with amps, pedals, or a combination of both but it is all the same idea, overdrive. What was considered a heavy distorted tone in the 70’s is tame to the metal sounds of today.
3. Distortion Pedal
A distortion box produces what we call hard clipping, as opposed to an overdrive pedal that produces soft clipping. What does that mean? If we were to look at a note on an oscilloscope we would see a wave (hence the term sound wave) with a nice rounded top and bottom. When we overdrive or distort a note the top and bottom of the sound wave flattens out, or clips. The more clipping of the wave the more distorted the note. A fuzz pedal produces so much clipping it is seen as a square wave, completely flat on the top and bottom of the wave. There are many excellent distortion boxes on the market but some classic industry standards are the Rat distortion box, the Boss Super Overdrive (a bit more of a distortion box really), MXR Distortion +, Boss Distortion, and the Boss Heavy Metal Pedal.
4. Fuzz Pedal
The fuzz pedal is one of the earliest stomp boxes on the market. A very simple circuit the fuzz box altered the guitar’s signal by transforming it into a square wave. The first widely available fuzz was the Maestro Fuzz Tone by Gibson. The Fuzz Tone pedal was released in 1962 and didn’t really catch on until Keith Richards used one on the opening riff of “Satisfaction” and the floodgates opened. Another definitive fuzz pedal of the late 1960’s was the Sola Sound Tone Bender made famous by Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.
You can hear one all over Led Zeppelin’s debut record and all over Jeff Beck’s trademark “Heart Full of Soul” intro riff from the Yardbirds. He also used it extensively on the Jeff Beck Group sessions. Of course the most famous fuzz pedal is the Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face. This pedal was favoured by Jimi Hendrix and set the benchmark for fuzz tones that we are still chasing to this day.
5. Octavia Pedal
The Octavia was created by Roger Mayer for Jimi Hendrix in 1967. Its musical debut can be heard on “Purple Haze” on the Are You Experienced record. One of the many ground breaking sounds on this recording. The pedal produces a doubling effect an octave above the fundamental note. The octave is similar to a ring modulator in that it is kind of dirty and strange sounding.
The best way to get this sound out of an Octavia is by using the neck pickup on the guitar and by experimenting with the tone knob to get a more pronounced octave effect. Some other famous Hendrix tunes using the Octavia are “Who Knows” and “Machine Gun” from Band of Gypsies. If you want to put together a Jimi Hendrix pedal board, the Octavia is a must. There are many great reissues of this pedal on the market, but if you get a chance, like fuzzes, try a few of them next to each other. Even a few of the same pedal, as they often sound very different. One may have more of an octave effect, or be warmer sounding etc. This is due to the use of the transistors that can often have slightly different values that can make big tonal changes.
6. Reverb Pedal
Reverb is one of the earliest effects for guitar players, originally built into the amp itself like the Fender Deluxe Reverb and Super Reverb. Traditional spring reverbs actually send the guitar signal into the springs causing them to vibrate and simulating reverb. With the advent of digital technology reverb units pedals made their way onto the market but mostly as rack units, but as technology improved and shrank many of those units can fit into a pedal now.
7. Analog Delay Pedal
The first analog delay units used magnetic tape to record the original signal and play it back shortly after. The most famous tape units are the Echoplex and the Roland Space Echo. As cool sounding as these units are they require a fair amount of maintenance and they are rather large and aren’t practical for the gigging musician. But boy do they sound good!
Another early analog delay was the Binson Echorec, this unit recorded your guitar signal onto a magnetic disk much like a hard drive does. This unit was favored by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd. Analog delay pedals made their debut in the 70’s with the use of what was called bucket brigade chips. These chips move the signal down a line like the way an old bucket brigade would pass buckets of water down a line to put out a fire. The most famous of these pedals is the Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man.
8. Digital Delay Pedal
In the late 70’s digital technology boomed and made its way into the guitar community. It first entered in the form as rack units which were expensive and relatively large. As costs came down and the technology shrank, digital delay pedals were introduced into the market by Boss in 1984 with the Boss DD-2. Since then as technology advanced, delay pedals now offer many features in a very small box such as tape echo, analog, reverse delay, modulated delay, and loopers.
The main difference between analog and digital delays is delay time and note clarity. Digital delays can produce multi second delay times whereas the Deluxe Memory Man offered a delay time of 550ms. Digital delay units also introduced the tap tempo function which is extremely useful when using delay as a rhythmic tool. There are many excellent companies producing excellent delay units, certainly a ground breaker was the Line 6 DL4 which is still popular today.
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