Guitar Pedals Topics:
» Stomp box types explained.
» How can I take advantage of a multi-effect pedal?
» What should I include in my guitar rack?
» The benefits of modeling explained
» What to Look For... Guitar Pedals
Put your foot into your sound with a Guitar Pedal from Sweetwater! This Sweetwater Buying Guide includes information that can help you choose a Guitar Pedal for your needs. Since there's so much to consider when purchasing a Guitar Pedal, don't hesitate to call 1-800-222-4700 for more information.
Stomp box types explained.
Okay, we know this is a "well, duh!" topic, but it's good to review the basics if you just happen to be new to the world of guitar effects.
Pretty much self explanatory, distortion pedals make your guitar sound, well, distorted. Generally, this has come to mean everything from smooth tube overdrive to all manner of nasty, dirty, "my amp is exploding" tones and "scooped mids" pedals for death metal madness. The earliest example of distortion used in popular music was the three-note riff that was heard all over the airwaves when the Rolling Stones recorded "Satisfaction" (which, incidentally, was voted the number one rock song of all time by MTV). Jimi Hendrix loved running several pedals in sequence, like a fuzz, a wah and a "Uni-Vibe" (which we'll discuss in a bit). In fact, over 30 years after his tragic death, Jimi was still voted the world's greatest guitar player! Can you imagine having that kind of impact after a brief four-year career?
Originally described by critics as a "war toy," the wah-wah seems to go in and out of fashion. Eric Clapton used it to great effect on Cream's classic "White Room" and "Tales of Brave Ulysses" while Jimi Hendrix used it on many of his most memorable songs, which include the classic "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)." Vox has reissued its classic wah pedal, while newer models are available from Tech 21 (the "Killer Wail") and Dunlop.
Early rock music used tape-based delays to produce everything from fast "slapback" echoes to the wild, multiple delays produced by units such as Roland's Space Echo. Later, in the 1970s, analog delays were introduced that could produce delays as long as two seconds or more, though the delays quickly lost a lot of high frequency information. The 1980s saw the introduction of the modern digital delay which could produce a wide range of full-frequency time-based effects, like chorus and flange, as well as traditional echo..echo...echo...
This is the first of our time-based effects. When a slightly detuned and delayed "clone" of a guitar signal is played back with the original, it produces a subtle (or sometimes not-so-subtle) doubling effect, which produces a thicker, lusher tone. The original effect was produced by the Boss CE-1 Chorus Ensemble, though later effects would add multiple detunings and delays to produce a rich, glossy animation. Andy Summers of The Police was quick to use the chorus effect, and it has only gotten more popular over the years.
The earliest "flanger" effects were produced by playing back the same sound on multiple tape decks, while the engineer used a finger on the tape reel's edge (or flange) to speed up or slow down the duplicate signal. This produced a wild jet-like sweep of the material's harmonic structure. Eventually, the effect was duplicated using advanced digital delays set to extremely short delay times and inverting the signal's phase.
Which brings us to...
Another time based effect that's somewhere between the extremes of the flanger and the glossiness of the chorus pedal. The groovy swirling effect is all over the first two Van Halen albums. Early Phasers were supposed to recreate the complex sound of a B-3 Leslie cabinet, which had a rotating horn and a spinning drum under a 15-inch woofer. Though the sound wasn't really close, it was better than hauling around a 250-pound Leslie cabinet. It's now become a stage and studio staple.
Jimi Hendrix loved the original Uni-Vibe, which was sort of a rudimentary chorus effect with some detuning effect similar to vibrato. The original pedals (when you can find one) fetch astronomical prices, but the watery textures have now been duplicated via digital modeling and in some "botique" stomp boxes. The late Stevie Ray vaughn and Eric Johnson have both been known to use this signature sound on their albums.
This is a classic studio effect that found its way into various stomp boxes in an effort to increase sustain. The earliest units were fairly noisy, but modern compressors have added noise gates that cut off the signal once it reaches a particular level.
Best known in its earliest incarnation in the Mu-Tron III Envelope Follower, which was actually part auto-wah and part triggered filter. Almost every manufacturer has some sort of version of this classic effect. In fact, you can't walk through Sweetwater's guitar demo room without tripping over a dozen or so . . . just kidding.
The king of effects boxes is the multi-effect pedal, which can include everything above and a bunch of stuff that hasn't even been categorized yet. These are available in all flavors from basic to complex. And by complex, we mean chaining so many effects that it doesn't even sound like a guitar any more. These monsters can replace a whole truckload of stomp boxes that tend to end up in your gig bag all tangled together (when they're not busy chowing down on 9-volt batteries).
Most of these effects (and a wild selection of guitar tones) will be heard in a forthcoming "Tech Notes Online" column called "POD People" from our very own guitar genius (hey, he made us say that) Jim Miller.
How can I take advantage of a multi-effect pedal?
It's more a question of not getting carried away. Your modern multi-effects can typically produce as many as five or six effects simultaneously (or even more). So it's easy to start piling a plate reverb on top of a chorus effect plus some EQ, a little compression and maybe a speaker simulator and . . . well, in many cases, the sky's the limit.
As an example, Digitech's GNX4 will not only produce a superb tonal palette, but it also includes things we never dreamed of even a few years ago, like 8-track digital recording (at 24-bit resolution, no less), USB connectivity to your computer, a built-in drum machine and even a mic preamp with phantom power. And all at the unbelievable Sweetwater price of just $599.97 ($799.95 list)! And no, that's not a misprint.
For a lot less cash, you can still tap into an incredible boatload of sophisticated processing with units like the Boss ME-50 ($295.97) or even the budget-priced, yet amazingly powerful Alesis GuitarFX Pedal ($69.97). Almost all the gear made today is capable of delivering a wide range of effects with very low signal-to-noise ratios. In fact, most guitars cannot claim to be as quiet as the majority of today's multi-effects.
Even the curent crop of amp modelers, like the PODxt ($299.99) and Vox ToneLab ($449) include a wide range of effects that can be used individually or in a chain, either pre or post amplifier.
What should I include in my guitar rack or pedalboard?
Hmm, that's a really loaded question. "I object, your honor!" Sustained. Oh, sustained - ha, ha, get it? Guitar. Sustain. NO? Nevermind. This topic is another that really boils down to personal choice. Before the advent of modeling technology, your pro or semi-pro guitarist might have a dozen or more rackmount units or a pedalboard full of stomp boxes. This could include everything from sophisticated reverbs to your high-end compressors and EQ units and everything else we mentioned in the effects section.
During the late 1980s and into the 1990s, many companies designed dozens of sophisticated processors. The classic "L.A. Session" sound was a collection of sweet reverbs, shimmering chorus effects and a smooth blend of compression and EQ that could be tweaked to taste. Those rackmount processors could end up costing way more than the guitar player's best guitar and preferred mode of transportation put together, but there's no denying that many a hit record was produced with a rack full of killer effects.
Okay, all you blues players are barfing right now. Yeah, you just need your axe and a cool amp and maybe a wah pedal and you're set, but as we moved out of the disco era, complex guitar tones ruled, particularly after the digital synth became popular. To compete with the synth's shimmering harmonic structure, guitarists had to add a generous helping of studio-quality effects. Even the lowly stomp-box effects had evolved to the point where they could produce a full frequency response.
While digital modeling has certainly had an impact on the rackmount guitar effects market, there are still a lot of players that swear by certain studio quality processors like the Lexicon MPX1 (which also sounds pretty sweet on keyboards, as well - just in case you were wondering). So deciding whether you need or want an outboard rack full of studio quality effects will be dictated by your budget (these processors are not cheap) and your personal taste, not to mention the kind of music you play. Speed metal freaks (and we mean that in the nicest way possible) will likely shun rackmount gear, as will guitar players who play in Led Zeppelin cover bands (and we mean that in the nicest way possible, as well).
The benefits of modeling explained.
Modeling offers the best of all worlds. You can buy a basic "practice" amp today that will deliver almost any tone or effect you might need or want, and it will pull double-duty as a great studio amp. These budget-friendly models (starting at about $149) provide everything from clean rhythm tones to a full-out overdrive along with all the "must have" effects like reverb, chorus, phase, flange and delay. There is no longer any need to compromise your sound, just because you're just getting started playing guitar.
Even more impressive are the "does everything" amps that are sonic chameleons. They can deliver the sound of a tiny tweed or shake the walls with a "Hendrix on 11" tone at the push of a button or the tap of a footswitch. Modeling also allows most amps to include a fairly extensive library of effects. Back in the 1960s and early '70s, guitarists needed multiple outboard stompboxes to produce distortion, chorusing, flanging or a wah-wah sound. All of those boxes added up to one thing: Noise! But today, thanks to modeling, all effects - even multi-effects like chorus and delay plus reverb - are designed to be amazingly quiet.
What's more, modeling frees you from the constraints of having to "make do" with a particular amp's tonal range. Using sophisticated DSP, a 2x12 modeling amp can still sound like a vintage 1x10 tweed or a modern 4x12 stack. When you add up all the benefits of a modeling amp, they do make a lot of sense unless you just happen to be a purist who is convinced that only a 1959 Fender Bassman reissue will sound like a 1959 Bassman. For those players, modeling is simply no substitute. And since a player's individual tone is critical, we concede that each guitarist will decide for themselves whether modeling is simply a fad or the future of all guitar amplification.
Guitar effects come in a wide variety, however, most effects are simply variations on four basic themes: Distortion, Dynamics, Reverb/Delay, and Pitch Modulation.
Single and Multi-effects Processors
Guitar effects now come in a variety of configurations, initially, they were single effects built into pedals, called stomp boxes, which grew into multi-effects processors built into both floor pedals, rackmount, and tabletop units. Many of these units also include drum machines and headphone jacks for practice purposes.
The category of distortion has three subdivisions initially based on the sound of an overdriven tube amplifier. These include distortion, overdrive, and fuzz.
In studio effects processing, this category includes compressors and noise gates, but for guitars, we will extend it to include gain and presence boosters, volume pedals, and tremolo and vibrato effects, which include rotating speaker effects as well. Compressors and gates are available as separate effects but are almost always built into multi-effects processors.
As the title says, this category covers special effects, including reverbs, delays, and echo effects. While these effects are built into guitar amps and come as separate rackmount units, they are also available in stomp boxes and are common in multi-effects processor. In the early days, delays used analog tape loops to produce echo effects. Now, these effects are produced digitally and with modeling techniques. An offshoot of tape-echo effects are boxes that can sample multiple layers loops and play them back in real time.
Pitch modulation Effects
This category is comprised of units that affect pitch such as flangers, phase shifters, chorus, wah pedals, pitch shifters, and has grown to include envelope and resonance filters, ring modulators, talk modulators, and has even grown into full blown synthesizers controlled by MIDI guitars.
Modeling in and of itself is not a effect but a modern way of reproducing vintage guitar effects, acoustic instruments, amplifiers, cabinets, and and even the sounds of our guitar heroes including ones they used on specific songs. Modeling primarily finds its greatest use in the studio, particularly the home project studio where a number of amp and cabinet sounds become possible in the absence of a live room, studio mics, and a wide selection of expensive vintage and modern amps and cabinets.
Stomp Box vs. Rackmount, Single or Multi-Effects
Since there are so many high quality multi-effects units available, and ranging in price up to several thousand dollars, the question arises as to whether inexpensive single-effect stomp boxes, which can be a bit noisy, are even necessary anymore. The truth is that if you look in the racks of top guitarists who can afford whatever they like, you will find combinations of stomp boxes and high-end processors. There are certain stomp pedals in varying combinations that impart a characteristic tone. This is where personal taste comes into play. You could buy the same setup as your favorite guitarist, but that might prevent you from finding your sound. There are also multi-effects processors that combine modeling and both vintage and modern effects in one convenient floor pedal that can give you the precise sounds of your guitar heroes as well as numerous options to craft your unique sound.