What Do Guitar Effect Pedals Do?

Guitar pedals have fondly been nicknamed stompboxes, because well, they're a little electronic box that you stomp on. Straight forward… right? 

Well the nickname may be the simplest part of these little pedals. Once you start diving into the world of guitar effects you might start to get a little overwhelmed with all the different pedals and multi-effects available. There is A LOT happening, and to a novice or beginner it starts to sound like a foreign language. 

So, if you’re also feeling overwhelmed, or just wanting to learn a little more, take a deep breath. We’ve got you covered. Here is our guide to understanding what guitar effect pedals do. 

What are guitar pedals used for? 

A guitar effect pedal is an electronic device used to alter the sound of a musical instrument, letting you get the most out of your guitar's tone. 

Pedals can simply improve your overall sound quality, or create whole new layers and sounds from your instrument. 

For any guitar player wanting to really explore their range, pedals are going to help you out a lot, as they can add emotion, amplify noise, alter frequencies and do so much more to transform the sound of your instrument. 

Do you need a stompbox or a multi-effects unit? 

When it comes to whether you should get a good old fashioned stompbox or a multi-effects unit, it all comes down to personal choice and music taste. 

They’re both good and used for different reasons! 

If you just like to keep it simple, and don’t need a whole ton of different sound options, then a simple pedalboard setup with a handful of pedals, a good compressor, a great electric guitar, and a tube amp with some spring reverb is going to give you plenty to play around with. 

If you perhaps want to get a bit more experimental, and you want a more versatile rig with more options, a high quality multi-effects unit is probably more up your alley. It will most likely be bigger and more expensive outright, but you can get access to a whole lot more effects without having to overcomplicate things. 

Common types of pedals & their sound 

There are plenty of different pedals out there, so to help you gain a better understanding of them, we have outlined some of the common types of pedals and the effects they create. 

Overdrive & Distortion Pedals 

The distortion pedal is one of the most used and well known of the guitar pedals. It adds volume and more saturation which alters the tone and sound of your guitar. It’s often used in a song's chorus to create a contrasting sound to that of a natural guitar. Distortion pedals have become a staple in heavy metal music, due to the harsh sounds you can create with it. 

An overdrive pedal, often confused with the distortion pedal, is used to mimic the sound of you turning your amp up as loud as it can go, without the potentially detrimental effects of actually doing this. The overdrive pedal doesn’t change your existing sound that much, just makes it sound a bit heavier.

Reverb Pedals 

Many amplifiers come with a built in reverb effect, but for some that doesn’t quite achieve the desired tone they’re aiming for. 

The reverb pedal creates that big expansive sound that reverberates off the walls. You can use it to create a dreamy effect, or make it sound like you’re in a cave. It adds life and fullness to your sound with the echo-like effect. 

It is a staple in many different genres of music, for the clean sound it can help elevate. Many different types of reverb exist, such as spring, plate, modulated and shimmer.  

Delay Pedals 

The delay pedal does exactly what it says in the name. It replicates the sound you make from your guitar, like a chord, and repeats it after you stop strumming. You can play the note back once, or multiple times. 

Adjust your settings and you can play around with the different effects this pedal gives you access to.

Fuzz Pedals 

Fuzz pedals are named for the fuzzy sound that they create. The Fuzz pedal makes it sound like you are pushing your amplifier to the extreme, altering the sound to a plain square wave with amazing sustain.

They distort the sound in a way that is different and unique from a regular distortion pedal, creating that noisy and fizzy sound. 

Wah Pedals

This one is pretty straightforward. It’s all in the name: wah. The wah pedal makes a ‘Wah’ sound. Iconic examples of this pedal include Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Foxy Lady’ and Pink Floyd’s ‘Echoes’. 

The emotion and sound created by this amp has caused manufacturers such as Dunlop to create the Cry Baby Wah Pedal, which are now among the most famous of these guitar pedals.

Chorus Pedal

A chorus pedal sounds like the same signal running through two amps with a slight delay between them, and a subtle pitch difference. The effect can make it sound like you are playing with a variety of other musicians. 

It’s a staple from 80’s music, with The Police giving it a kickstart in 1979 with ‘Walking On The Moon’. 

Synth Pedal

Ready to get weird and out of this world? The Synth is the pedal for you then. It makes your guitar sound like a massive synthesizer, helping you achieve those otherworldly tones in your music. 

Think ‘Ashes to Ashes’ by David Bowie. 

Tuner Pedal 

This isn’t an effect pedal, but it’s still essential nonetheless. The tuner pedal allows you to tune your guitar in a more reliable and accurate way than a clip on tuner. 

Use it to tune your guitar, and it can even keep the noise quiet for you while you do it. 

Volume Pedal 

A volume pedal is a great option for a guitarist who wants to use volume swells or fade-ins. It’s incredibly simple to use and doesn’t change the tone of your music. 

This isn’t even a full list of the pedals available, but it should definitely give you a head start now! 

You can check out the rest of the guitar pedals available at the Shake It Up Music online store, or you can come visit us in store at Nambour, Sunshine Coast. 

The team is always happy to help and chat to you about music, and if your head is reeling from all this information, we can help mellow it out a little.