Pedal choices are a very personal thing. What might be perfect for a jazz player could completely miss the mark for a metal shredder.
Time-based pedals like reverb and delay take your signal and make copies of it that repeat at a set tempo. This gives your guitar tone a lush, ethereal quality.
Boost pedals are designed to kick your guitar signal up by a significant amount. They can work in a variety of different ways, depending on where you place them in your pedal chain. Adding one before your drive pedals can help you achieve the perfect tone by providing an additional level of gain while still leaving the output of the overdrive pedals relatively clean. Alternatively, you can use them as an overall tone sweetener and even provide an extra volume boost for soloing. Iron Age Guitar Blog can be a good source of information to leverage your guitar career.
In the hands of a good pedal designer, a boost can be used to emulate various styles of tube amplifier distortion. For example, there are pedals that use a discrete FET preamp to achieve a classic vibey sound. Other pedals are more specific, such as the BK Butler Tube Driver popularized by Eric Johnson which uses an actual tube to create a tube-distortion effect.
When placed before your overdrive pedals, a boost can increase the degree of overdrive achieved by those pedals, whereas when placed after them it will simply increase the overall volume of the pedal chain. However, there are no set rules when it comes to the order of your pedals, so experimentation and listening is key!
Many of the world’s most acclaimed guitarists use a simple formula – guitar, amp, and boost. For instance, legendary rock guitarist Brian May credits blues-rock legend Rory Gallagher as the inspiration behind his iconic guitar tone, which consists of just his Vox AC30 and a trusty boost pedal.
The overdrive pedal is an effect that can give your guitar a crunchy, overdriven tone. Overdrive can also add some extra sustain to your note, which makes it great for achieving that My Bloody Valentine “wall of sound”. It’s important to know how overdrive works so you can get the best possible tone from the pedal.
Overdrive works by clipping the waveform of your guitar signal. When your signal is too loud for the circuit to process, it will “clip” the top and bottom of the waveform resulting in a distorted sound. Overdrive pedals typically have a control that allows you to adjust the amount of overdrive applied, from light to heavy. The more overdrive you apply the more distortion and sustain you will achieve.
Another crucial aspect of overdrive is the type of circuit that it uses. Different types of overdrive pedals will have their own distinct sounds. For example, a Keeley Loomer Fuzz & Reverb is purpose-built for making shoegaze and has a knob that lets you choose whether you want the fuzz to come before or after the reverb. Kevin Shields has used this pedal on his pedalboard to create a variety of dreamy, atmospheric tones.
There are many other overdrive pedals on the market, from basic stompboxes to high-end boutique models. Generally, you’ll find that the higher-end pedals will have more controls and options to tweak your tone. Some even include a mode switch to change the character of the pedal.
Stacking overdrive pedals is also a common practice. Using the right combinations of effects can really transform your sound. Lastly, it’s essential to have an EQ pedal in your pedalboard. This will allow you to dial in your perfect tone and to make sure that all of your other pedals sound their best.
Distortion is one of the most iconic effects on any guitarist’s pedalboard. This effect is designed to transform a clean guitar signal into an aggressive tone that is perfect for lead licks and solos. While there are many different types of distortion pedals on the market, they all share a few key features.
One of the most important aspects of a distortion pedal is its base control, which determines how much distortion is applied to the signal. The higher the setting on this control, the more the signal will be distorted. Another important feature of a distortion pedal is its EQ section, which allows players to adjust the amount of highs and lows in the signal. This can be especially useful for players who want to preserve their low frequencies while obliterating the highs to get that signature distortion sound.
The reason that distortion is so popular with guitar players is because it can add a whole lot of character to any song. It can also help to cut through a mix and stand out, which is something that all guitarists are looking for.
Unlike Overdrive, which can be used as a preamp to push an amp into overdrive mode, distortion pedals can be used as standalone effects. This means that they can be used on any amplifier or even on acoustic guitars. This makes them ideal for use in live settings where an amp may not be available.
To understand why a distortion pedal produces the kind of noise that guitarists love so much, it’s helpful to take a look at how a clean guitar note’s waveform looks before being tortured by an amp or distortion pedal. As you can see in the image below, a clean guitar note has a smooth, symmetrical shape with a series of peaks and valleys. These peaks and valleys are called harmonic overtones and, when they’re chopped off by an overdriven amp or distortion pedal, the result is the classic guitar sound that we all know and love.
As with overdrive, the key to using a distortion pedal is knowing when and how to apply it. It’s important to remember that you don’t want to overdo it, as this can cause the sound to become muddy and unusable. However, when it’s used sparingly and for the right reasons, distortion can be a powerful tool that can bring any sound to life.
Unlike overdrives and distortion pedals, which serve functional purposes, modulation effects allow guitarists to add some creativity to their tone. Modulation effects alter the pitch of a guitar or amplitude of a sound, affecting its overall character. This can give a song an airy, ethereal quality or can be used to create a hypnotic, dreamy feel. It’s no wonder that modulation pedals are some of the most sought after, and have been a key part of many legendary guitar tones.
The first modulation effect most people will think of is a tremolo. Although a tremolo doesn’t change the pitch of a note, it is still considered a modulation effect because it alters the volume of a signal. This can cause the tone to rise and fall, giving it a swirly sound that is often heard in old rock songs.
Another great modulation pedal is a chorus. When using a chorus on clean electric or acoustic guitar, it can unlock an ethereal vibe that can enhance simple picked progressions. Try experimenting with different rate and depth settings to find the right combination for your music.
One pedal that is essential to achieving Kevin Parker’s Tame Impala tone is a flanger. This is a unique modulation effect that creates a “swooshing” sound by delaying one of the two signals in a cloned guitar pedal. The effect can be subtle or intense depending on the settings and can work well with both clean and distorted tones.
You can also experiment with a phaser, which is similar to flanger but differs in that it alters the delay length of the cloned signal. This can cause the cloned signal to come in and out of phase with the original signal, creating a swooshing, back-and-forth sound.
Finally, there is a ring modulator, which is another unique effect that can create an interesting, synth-like sound. This is a very subtle effect that can be useful for adding some extra dimension to a riff or solo, but it’s important to use it sparingly so that the effect doesn’t overwhelm the rest of your playing.