Pedals: An Explanation For Beginner Guitarists

author: JC Rea date: 11/27/2003 category: music theory
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Wah Wah pedal One of the most popular guitar effects, it works by varying the frequency of the signal's tone through a foot pedal. A good wah-wah technique involves moving the foot pedal in time with the music , creating some amazing rhythmic effects. It's a sound thats been used by countless guitarists in all styles. Think Hendrix's Voodoo Chile or Isaac Hayes's Theme from Shaft. An Auto-Wah does the same thing but instead of using a pedal to control the frequencies, it sweeps through them automatically. You can either set it to move over a preset time period or apply a filter to react to how loud or soft you play. Delay A delay takes a sound and repeats it back without altering its tone or pitch, like an echo. You can alter the time between each repetition, measured in thousandths of a second, or milliseconds. Available in Analogue or Digital. The most obvious example is The Edge of U2 , whose classic guitar parts couldnt have been written without a delay pedal. Flanger A close relation to the phaser, but with an even more exagerrated effect. A flanger provides very distinctive modualted psychedelic wooshes and other undulating sounds. It works by boosting and reducing various frequencies applying delay and oscillators and feeding some of the delayed effect back to the original. You can get a range of sounds out of it, including similar effects to chorus, short delay, tremolo and vibrato , right up to the extreme almost synth-like effects. But the most famous sound associated with a flanger is the rushing Jet Aeroplane sound as used by many guitarists, including Eddie Van Halen. Check out Van Halen's song Eruption. Phaser The Phaser effect is so named because it attempts to create the sound of two sounds out of sync, or "out of phase". It does this by using an oscillator across the frequency range and mixing the resulting sound back with the original signal . The result is a thick sound often used in funk and rock playing. There are controls to adjust the the phase effect, while some varieties feature a resonance control for a wider range of effects. You can also use a phaser to achieve tonal modulations , a bit like a wah-wah pedal, and some models enable you to adjust the undulation and speed rate by stepping on the pedal itself. Chorus This effect thickens up the signal to make it sound like more than one instrument. It can also add sparkle and warmth and give a standard guitar 12-string quality . Digital and analogue chorus pedals are now available and these work by delaying the sound by thousandths of a second, sometimes with a slightly altered pitch, and then combining it back with the original signal. Noise Gate This is more of a controller than an effect. A gate lets sound through only after it reaches a specicfic threshold and it cuts off or closes the gate on anything below that level. This is useful for controlloing noise such as the hum from your pickups or the swoop from a flanger. When you stop playing the gate closes and you dont have any embarrassing stray noises emanating from your amp. Gates can be used in conjunction with other pedals to create special effects, such as making your reverb cut off abruptly. Compressor This is the one of the subtlest effects you can apply to a guitar and it's often hard for the beginner to determine exactly how the sound has changed. It reduces the difference between loud and soft sounds, making an overall sound more constant in volume. By increasing the output, this will make the lighter notes seem louder while ensuring that the loudest notes don't go over a specific level which is great for percussive styles like country and funk. You can also use it to enhance sustain, by adjusting the amount of time it takes for the note to die out. Cheers, JC Rea
More JC Rea columns:
+ Octaves For Beginners Music Theory 12/10/2005
+ Gary Moore's Sound Junkyard 12/03/2003
+ Two Types Of "Pull-Off" Music Theory 11/19/2003
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