How Do Guitar Pedals Work + 16 Different Pedal Types Explained

How Guitar Pedals Work

Introduction 

As a guitarist, you probably are looking to extend your guitar’s capabilities by having a vast collection of effects pedals. Jimi Hendrix, often considered as a ‘guitar god,’ was renowned for this hence why his subtle style to this date is still engrained into the American rock culture.

 

The two effects Hendrix used are the Vox Wah-Wah and Arbiter Fuzz Face, which made his songs a technical masterpiece. If you want to add to your unique sound, taking the time to select the right pedal can really make a difference.

 

Guitar effects usually come in the form of foot pedal with buttons control knobs as well as switches, which are often positioned on the floor to allow you easy access. These guitar pedals are then prearranged on a custom-made pedalboard.

 

Consequently, you simply need to kick or step on the pedals using one foot to either disable or enable it through the entire show or song.

 

Guitar pedals create unique sound effects by manipulating your guitar tones’ sound. Likewise, it assists you in improving the overall sound by helping you adjust your volume, tune your guitar, or get rid of unnecessary noises.

 

Thus, it enables you to achieve a more polished, overall sound. Pedals work perfectly well with bass, acoustic (with pickup), electric guitars, and others even with keyboards.

 

How do you use guitar pedals while playing? 

After arranging and connecting your guitar pedals in a manner that produces the sound that you find suitable, you need to start exploring how to use it while playing. Guitar pedals can be used in two main ways, therefore let’s dive into each of these methods.

 

Effects on demand

This is the most common way you can use your guitar pedal. This system entails you turning the pedals on and off while playing, depending on the sound you want to hear.

 

For instance, many guitarists when playing solo turn on the wah pedal and turn it off once they are done. In this particular example, you are making use of the wah pedal to create the ‘on-demand’ effect. Whenever it is active, it colors your guitar tone and then goes back to the ‘normal’ guitar tone after it is switched off.

 

Guitar pedals like the phaser, wah, tuner, booster, or whammy are usually used to create on-demand effects. Therefore, you should think of this as a combination of your ‘normal’ tone and ‘effects’ tone.

 

Tom Morello is a good example of a guitarist who makes use of on-demand effects, and he combines pedals effects in his solo to produce a peculiar and wacky sound. He does this while using a ‘normal’ tone, which he does not use pedals completely.

 

In his solo song, the Rage Against the Machine, Tom switches on both the Delay and whammy pedal and later turns them off once he finishes his solo. This is an ideal example of how you can on-demand effects and how they make the subsequent sounds enjoyable.

 

Always-On Pedals

Guitarists usually overlook this method of using guitar pedals. Guitar pedals are often seen as effects that you can switch on and off while the song is playing. Nevertheless, there also is a different way of always having the pedal turned on.

 

Consequently, your guitar’s ‘normal’ tone is continually enhanced by the pedal, and this is an excellent way of creating a distinctive tone that cannot be produced by a regular guitar amp.

 

For instance, if you are playing surf-rock and like the sound produced by the spring reverb, you can incorporate it to your rig and have it on throughput your song or show. Doing this makes the reverb a normal tone produced by your guitar.

 

Despite having the option to switch it off anytime, you should always leave it on to add personality to your tone.

 

Another excellent example of this is most guitarists always having their compressor pedals on, and it helps equalize your tone’s signal, thereby giving it a more consistent volume level.

 

Additionally, this compressor can be used in enhancing your tone, so having it on all the time makes it a regular part of your exceptional tone. An excellent example of a guitarist who did this is Eddie Van Halen with this ‘brown sound’ and he at all times had his on-guitar pedals on to create this unique sound.

 

How Do You Plug In A Guitar Pedal? 

After you buy your guitar pedal, the first thing to do is connect it correctly to the amp and guitar, which is extremely easy, but you need to have a couple of things. When you’re not using a guitar pedal, you plug your guitar directly into your amp’s input jack.

 

However, adding a guitar pedal changes the way you are required to plug in your guitar.

 

To do this, you require two guitar cables for every guitar pedal your purchase. One of the wires you will plug into the pedal’s output and the other to the input of the pedal.

 

Most of the guitar pedals label the output and input jacks, but the standard feature is for output to be positioned on the pedal’s left side, whereas the input is placed on the right side. In case you only have one pedal, all you need are two cables for the whole rig.

 

Now, plug your guitar into your pedal’s input jack and the other cable into the pedal’s output, which you subsequently connect to your guitar amp input. The majority of amps have guitar inputs positioned at the front, whereas others are on back or top.

 

Additionally, it is advisable that the cables you buy for both the output and input cables for the guitar pedals are long, for example, at least 3m/10ft. Having longer cables allows you to place your guitar pedal away from the amp if you prefer it that way.

 

For instance, while performing on stage, your amp can be positioned at the back of the stage, whereas the pedal is at the front. Therefore, it is always recommended to own a spare long cable if you want to have extra room to move.

 

How Do You Connect Pedals?  

If you are looking to connect over one guitar pedal, you will require additional cables. Thus, if you want to use two guitar pedals, you will need a total of three wires. One of the cables will be to connect the pedals, one to join the guitar, and the other to connect to the amp.

 

You should buy ‘patch cables’ if you want to connect guitar pedals, which are designed specifically for connecting guitar pedals. Thanks to patch cables, your pedalboard will always look tidy and nice.

 

Therefore, the more guitar pedals you buy, the more you need additional patch cables to ensure your pedalboard is tidy.

 

From the figure above, you can see you will require three patch cables to connect your rig to two pedals. These are one short patch cable in the center to connect together two guitar pedals and two long cables.

 

If you ever need to add another pedal, you will have to buy another patch cable that comes in a pack of four to six cables for each extra pedal.

 

Guitar Effects Pedals That You Must Have 

There are numerous types of guitar pedals on the market nowadays. Therefore, making which pedal you should buy can be an overwhelming decision, especially if this is the first guitar pedal you are buying.

 

Fortunately, we have got you covered and will take you through some of the guitar pedals you must have for your pedalboard.

 

Overdrive Pedal

how guitar pedals work

This guitar pedal was as a result of the natural breakup that happened after a tube amp got an excessively hot signal from the guitar. Consequently, the tubes started to produce a warm, subtle breakup with the overdrive, generally being a more passive, natural type of distortion.

 

This guitar pedal is usually like because of its versatility; hence, why people often confuse it with the distortion guitar pedal due to its gritty and crunchy sounds, which add energy to the tones of your guitar.

 

Despite this, it still offers more sustain as well as keeps more of the sound needed for both the guitar and amplifier. Moreover, it frequently is used for blues and classic rocks but can also be useful for country music, funk, and pop. 

 

Distortion Pedal

how guitar pedals work

This guitar pedal is the most used among professionals and upcoming guitarists alike. Therefore, if you have a slight interest in electric guitars, then you probably have heard of this particular pedal in numerous songs.

 

The sound produced by this guitar pedal is aggressive and hard, something which is synonymous with heavy metal music as well as alternative rock. However, this pedal has one drawback, and that is, it tends to hide the actual tone produced by the guitar.

 

The main benefit of owning this guitar pedal is that it delivers an instant “rock” sound to the music you are making by adding crunch and sustain to the tones of the guitar.

 

Fuzz Pedal 

how guitar pedals work

This guitar pedal also falls in the “dirt category” of guitar effects pedals similar to the aforementioned pedals. It usually produces a heavy signature heavy metal rock sound, which has the most extreme effects as well as produces subtle buzzing sounds.

Additionally, the fuzz pedal is similar to the heavy bass but scruffier, thereby making it quite challenging to distinguish original tones of the guitar.

If you are planning to burst the amplifier like how Jimi Hendrix did back in the 1960s, you should look no further than the fuzz guitar pedal.

 

Reverb Pedal

how guitar pedals work

With the reverb guitar pedal, the sound created has an echo effect but is still more natural-sounding in comparison to that produced by the Delay. Whereas amplifiers usually incorporate knobs that control sound echo effects, the reverb guitar pedal delivers a sound that is more professional, particularly for clean guitar tones.

Furthermore, the reverb pedal can be used together with other effects and pedals, unlike the “dirt pedals” to balance the other tones. Consequently, it helps create an atmosphere for your audience, irrespective of whether you are playing a full rhythm or a note.

Finally, it bests works along with dirt pedals, especially the overdrive guitar pedal.

 

Delay Pedal

how guitar pedals work

This particular guitar pedal delays the sound signals of your guitar before playing it back eventually. Likewise, it provides you with control over the time intervals, sound volume, as well as the number of playbacks or repeated sounds.

You should opt for this guitar pedal if you aim to create experimental sounds as well as smoothing out your solo guitar performances. Additionally, it works well with other pedals, including the Phaser, Distortion, and Fuzz.

 

Wah Pedal

how guitar pedals work

Because of the unique “wah” sound it produces whenever you step onto the pedal, it is straightforward to differentiate this specific guitar pedal.

To produce the “wah’ noise that usually is higher pitched, you will have to step onto this guitar pedal manually, and the “wu” sound is produced after you release the pedal.

If you are into soul, metal, rock, and funk, this specific guitar effect is without a doubt the best effects. Thus, it is no surprise that it was extremely popular among rock legends, including Metallica, and Jimi Hendrix.

The Wah pedal definitely deserves a spot on your pedalboard; however, you should first do enough practice before using it if you want to realize your preferred sound.

The Wah guitar pedal acts as the treble bass filter, and this subsequently makes your sound to be more “vocal.” Therefore, some individuals argue it is designed explicitly for memorable rock solos, but can also be used in adding considerable improvement to both rhythms and drama.

Finally, you can use this guitar pedal along with the Phaser and Distortion pedals.

 

Compressor Pedal

how guitar pedals work

This pedal affects your guitar’s dynamics by either making loud signals quieter or quiet signals louder by compressing the dynamic range of the signals. It is especially useful for keeping the passages quieter hence ensuring it does not get lost on the music while still preventing the drowning of everything else by the louder passages.

 

These guitar pedals add softening the effect by amplifying its tails as well as by minimizing the front edges of notes, consequently improving sustain by bumping the signal up while the note starts fading out.

Moreover, many compressors enable you to control of both the lower and upper limits threshold plus the knee through which the signal speed is lowered or raised. Its ability to intensify the natural compression generated by tube amps while being driven from medium to high levels makes it very appealing to guitarists.  

 

Chorus Pedal 

how guitar pedals work

If you are looking to give your music matching effects, then the chorus guitar pedal is the ideal pick. In simple terms, it makes a single pluck of the string or strum of the chord sound as if several other guitarists playing in the background are replicating it, albeit their timing being off slightly.

 

Consequently, this produces a swirling, shimmering effect that is identical to that of the 12-string guitar or the music, which made The Police, The Cure, and Prince famous back in the 1980s.

 

Using this particular guitar pedal is essential as it creates a richer and thicker 12-string guitar sound, which is ideal for rhythms. Lastly, it works great when used together with dirt pedals.

 

Phaser Pedal 

how guitar pedals work

The sound produced by this guitar pedal is similar to that of the chorus pedal apart from the fact it also creates unique sweeping sounds that have variable roughs and peaks within the guitar tone.

 

Likewise, the rate or speed of its sounds can be changed using the knob found on the surface of the pedal. The effects of the phaser guitar pedal are best noticed when you play a single chord or note repeatedly.

 

This guitar pedal is crucial as it allows you to produce the spaceship-y sound, which was made popular by Eddie Van Halen in the 1970s to this date. Moreover, it works great with the Delay and Distortion guitar pedals.

 

Flanger Pedal 

how guitar pedals work

This guitar pedal produces a sound that resembles that of an automated Wah pedal, but its sound does not reach very far. Furthermore, it is similar to the phaser pedal in that it usually makes the pitch go down and up as well as producing swooshing sounds.

 

However, it distinguishes itself from the Phaser pedal by generating sound, which is more apparent and thicker and works on a time delay rather than a phase delay.

 

If you are looking to make your music unique, just like how Van Halen did, the Flanger pedal is a perfect choice. Also, it works great even for funk, grunge, and modern meta plus works well when used alongside Dirt pedals.

 

Octave Pedal

how guitar pedals work

The word octave means the interval between two notes in an identical musical pitch class. Therefore, with the octave guitar pedal, you usually get musical notes which are either one octave lower or higher to whatever it is you are playing.

 

If you are looking to produce strange guitar tones, this is the ideal guitar pedal as it typically produces sounds that are not only thicker but also fuller.

 

You should go for the octave pedal if you want to create a bass tone hence allowing you to play virtually play two-person band music. Lastly, this guitar pedals works excellent with the Reverb, Overdrive as well as Delays pedals.

 

Tremolo Pedal

 how guitar pedals work

This guitar pedal imitates the “tremolo bar” despite its performance being somewhat better. Subsequently, you get a wobble sound, which is the result of volume fluctuations, and its controls enable you to change the amount and frequency of the volume change.

 

Furthermore, this guitar pedal is slightly similar to the aforementioned “synth pedals,” which is the Flanger, Phaser, and Chorus. Nevertheless, the sound it produces is unique after you become familiar with it.

 

Tremolo guitar pedals are vital as they help you come up with a distinct sound that may define either your musical style or the next song. These guitar pedals work perfectly well with dirt pedals to create a fantastic sound.

 

Tuner Pedal

how guitar pedals work

Whereas the tuner guitar pedal does not create any guitar side effect, it helps enhance the overall sound quality and your effects. It does this by assisting you to do what is possibly the most challenging aspect dreaded by guitarists, that is, tuning guitar strings.

 

For instance, when using the TC Electronic Polytune, simply plucking the open strings enables the tuner guitar pedal display on its screen, the strings that are out of tune. Subsequently, you can accurately and quickly tune these strings till the screen of the guitar pedal turns green.

 

The tuner pedal is essential since you can tune without emitting any sound from your guitar. This can be especially useful because tuning is quite challenging while you are still performing, but this pedal helps you achieve it accurately and effortlessly.

 

Noise Gate Pedal

how guitar pedals work

This guitar pedal is essential regardless of whether you own a True Bypass Pedal, which you can use to clean the long-chain sound signals. Additionally, it is especially useful as it can detect those humming and buzzing sounds without playing your guitar.

 

To achieve this, it cuts off all the sounds being produced by your guitar pedals and into the amp while your guitar is mute.

 

Thanks to the noise gate pedal, you no longer have to deal with the confusing sounds of bees emanating from your amp whenever you are performing. Noise gate pedals work well with the numerous guitar pedals on your pedalboard.

 

Acoustic Pedal

how guitar pedals work

As a guitarist, you occasionally feel like playing acoustically but may not be in a position to do so with your present equipment. Fortunately, the acoustic pedal helps you address this issue such that the sound produced by your electric guitar changes to sound similar to that of an acoustic guitar.

However, it still is noticeable that the sound is stimulated and slightly different in comparison to the actual music.

You should buy this acoustic pedal if you want your guitar to produce the sound of an acoustic guitar.

Likewise, even if you own an acoustic guitar, switching from acoustic to electric swiftly might be both distracting and challenging, particularly when you are doing live shows on stage.

 

Volume Pedal 

how guitar pedals work

Whereas the volume guitar pedal does not produce any sound effects, it does give you control over your guitar’s volume, mainly when you are using your hands to play. To operate it, you basically need to decrease or add pressure on its pedals, making use of your foot.

 

Volume pedals are often used when you want to use either fade-ins or fade-outs and changing the volume for emphasis or swells in the song’s middle. Lastly, it performs excellently with all sound effect pedals.

 

Factors To Consider When Searching For Guitar Pedals To Buy 

Deciding which guitar pedal to buy is no easy decision, especially with the numerous varieties you have in the market. Because of this, making an informed decision becomes quite challenging and can cause you headaches.

 

Therefore, before you even get to know how guitar pedals work, you must first understand the factors you need to consider before you make a purchase.

 

Quantity

Some guitar pedals create almost similar sounds. Therefore, instead of buying pedals with almost identical sounds, you can do away with one and buy one. For instance, overdrive pedals usually come with a knob which you use to adjust your guitar’s amount of distortion.

 

Because of this, you should not necessarily buy another distortion pedal. Moreover, going for fewer guitar pedals consequently means you have a smaller pedalboard as well as a lighter load, which is excellent if you are learning how guitar pedals work.

 

Type Of Music

Before you buy and try to understand how guitar pedals work, you need to first understand the numerous types of pedals available on the market before deciding which you should buy. Therefore, you will be better placed to make an informed decision regarding which pedal to buy depending on the kind of music you make and play often.

 

Band

If you belong to a group with another guitarist, you need to consider the pedal he has, as well as how you two are planning to work together. As you probably have a good understanding of how guitar pedals work, you will be able to work together to come up with ideal sound effects for every song you make.

 

Size And Portability

Many guitar pedals are available in rectangular, lengthwise shapes, and because of this, they usually tend to be relatively bulky. The hassle of moving around with numerous guitar pedals is also something you need to consider before investing.

 

Fortunately, there are serval pedal which is available in sizes that are more compact and smaller, so if you want a collection of pedals exceeding 10, this is are the ones you should buy.

 

Distinct Sound Per Player

It is essential to know that your skills as a guitarist will not magically improve after you buy a guitar sound effects pedal. Therefore, you should aim first to understand how to play the guitar as well as how guitar pedals work before you buy a pedal.

 

This is because different pedals serve for different purposes and you may or may not need one.

 

Pedalboard

The size of your pedalboard usually depends on the number of guitar pedals you have. Thus, you should opt for one which is big enough if you are aiming to use more than five to ten guitar pedals.

Additionally, the pedalboard needs to work for you irrespective of how you arrange it to ensure it does not cause you any inconveniences when doing live shows.

 

Conclusion

Having gone through this article, you now have an excellent understanding of how guitar pedals work. Likewise, you have an idea of the most popular guitar pedals you should look for to produce sound effects that you want, subsequently enabling you to come up with classic sounds.

You also are taken through what you should look for in a guitar pedal before deciding to buy one. With all this in mind, you will be able to make an informed decision as to which guitar pedal best suits you before making a purchase.