Guitar Effects Beginner's Guide

Guitar Effects Beginner's Guide

Guitar effects can add a whole new level to your playing. In fact, genres like ambient, shoegaze, and post-rock are built around glistening reverbs, volume swells, and jittery delays. Some effects are iconic. The guitar in Come As You Are by Nirvana just wouldn't be the same without that watery shimmer courtesy of Cobain's EHX Small Clone chorus pedal. Some artists are famous for using certain types of effects. Jimi Hendrix's expert use of fuzz is legendary, while Kirk Hammett's (ab)use of the wah pedal never fails to incite arguments among metalheads. With some experimentation, you can find a combination of effects that will bring any sound you dream of to life.

Modulation effects, reverb, overdrive, distortion, compression,  loopers - the list is endless. Effects run the gamut from conventional, like the Ibanez Tube Screamer, to crazy, like the infamous Korg Miku. You can even combine effects and explore uncharted regions of the sonic landscape. So how do you even start using guitar effects pedals? What effects should you start with? How many effects do you really need? We'll get you on the fast track answering these questions and more below.

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Learn About Different Guitar Effects

These days, there's certainly no shortage of guitar effects pedals. There are dozens of different effects to choose from and even more manufacturers that create them.

You'll commonly find cheap Chinese brands like Joyo and Caline as well as tried and true standards like Electro-Harmonix and Boss. There are even boutique artists like Earthquaker Devices and Walrus Audio, whose pedals are as unique as they are beautiful. With so many effects and manufacturers, it can be quite difficult to choose a pedal, nevermind the right pedal. But don't put the cart before the horse! Start by learning the basics. Once you know how an effect sounds, you'll be able to recognize it in your favorite music. Only then will you understand how you can use it on your own compositions.

Let's start from the beginning and work our way up to becoming effects pedal experts. Learn all about the different effects - their unique sounds, uses, configurations, and more - in our All About Effects guide.

Pedal Power

No matter what type or brand of guitar effects you're using, they all have one thing in common: they need power! You quickly find that keeping track of a dozen 9-volt batteries is a pain in the rear. Having to unscrew a pedal to change a battery every few weeks quickly becomes rather annoying. Thankfully, pedal power supplies exist!

It's worth mentioning that not all power supplies are built equally. Crappy power supplies will hum and hiss, muddying up your tone and driving you mad. That's the last thing you want when you're trying to record or play with a band. Power supplies need special consideration, so we've created a Pedal Power Supply Guide to help you find the perfect power supply for your pedalboard.

Putting Together Your Own Pedal Board

Once you understand the different types of effects, you'll want to start buying a few for yourself. But how do you put them all together? Creating a pedalboard is something of an art. Not only are you trying to find pedals that work well for the style of music you're playing, but you're also trying to find pedals that work well with each other. You even have to consider the other gear in your signal chain!

Every pedal model and brand sounds different. You might find that a little Joyo distortion pedal you bought for $25 new plays nicer with your other gear than that fancy-pants $299 Empress Heavy. But you don't have to spend big bucks to get an enormous sound. Guitar effects are all about experimentation.

Check out our guide to putting together your own guitar effects pedalboard. To start, you'll learn how to construct a basic pedal board that works well for every genre. We'll learn the 'correct' order for effects, how to connect pedals together, how to connect them to your pedalboard, and mounting a power supply. We'll also look at alternative pedal orders and using the FX loop to our advantage for pristine, mud-free tone that you'll enjoy listening to. Finally, we'll see how to add a volume pedal and learn a little about buffers!