In the previous article we focused on best beginner guitars for under $200. But for newbies, as well as more experienced players, the world of guitar pedals can be a minefield. There are thousands of foot-switches and stomp-boxes on the market that can distort, modify or modulate your guitar tone in some way and working out what you want in your guitar rig can be an overwhelming experience.
With this list, I've broken it down to the basics; five pedals that I think every guitarist should have in their rig that will work to enhance your guitar tone. If you're wanting to expand your guitar rig with some effects, but don't know where to start, you could do a lot worse than to look through these.
Rather than recommend specific pedals here, I've instead given a run down of what the effect does more generally, and how it can help your tone. While I've listed some of my favorite pedals for each effect that I highly recommend trying out, your best bet when it comes to finding the pedal for you is to experiment.
Take a look at what your guitar influences are using, what your friends are using. Find a good local guitar shop, and spend a few hours trying the different pedals on offer. A good instrument retailer should understand the importance of finding the right tone, and will be more than happy to let you wile away an afternoon demoing their stomp box selection.
So without further ado, here are my top five pedal choices.
Distortion has been long established as one of the most important sounds in rock music. Birthed when bluesmen and rock and rollers began deliberately increasing the gain on their amplifiers beyond the intended levels in the 1950s, the effect would become commonplace in rock by the 1960s, when Jim Marshall began modifying the electric circuits on his namesake amplifiers to create the "brighter, louder" distortion sound that we all know today.
So common is distortion in rock music that pretty much every guitar amplifier manufactured these days will have the effect built in to it. Indeed, if you already have a distortion unit integrated into your amp, you might wonder why you'd need a standalone pedal for it in the first place.
The reasons for adding an additional distortion unit to your rig are twofold. Firstly, unless you've got the capital to spent big bucks on a high end tube amp, the chances are that your gain tones are going to be somewhat lacking. A pedal is going to give you better quality distortion sounds than your amp can manage and is probably going to be more versatile as well.
Even if you're happy with the dirty tones that you're getting out of your amplifier, having an additional pedal in your arsenal is going to give you more options sonically, which is great for creating a fuller guitar sound when on stage. Arm yourself with a transparent overdrive pedal (a pedal which doesn't shift the natural balance and equalization on your amplifier) and you've got a great booster if you want to push your amplifier's natural tones over the edge.
The Ibanez Tube Screamer is rightly regarded as classic, although its characteristic boost in the midrange doesn't make it very transparent. If you're looking to use something that will work with your amp's EQ settings, then check out a Paul Cochrane Timmy Overdrive.
To many guitarists, the mention of delay pedals seems to evoke either images of Dave Gilmour guitar soloing or the characteristic, effect drenched riffs of U2's The Edge. While those uses of the effect are awesome, you might question what delay can for you if you're not in a classic prog quartet or an Irish stadium rock band.
The thing with delay is that it is also useful for subtly adding texture to your guitar playing. While the most famous instances of the effect's usage have typically been overt (the aforementioned U2's "Where The Streets Have No Name", Eddie Van Halen's "Cathedral"), pull the delay time knob right down and you'll find that your guitar playing suddenly has a fuller, more three-dimensional quality.
This of course, is awesome for playing live, where your goal is to try and immerse the audience in your music as much as possible. Chances are that most of the people in the crowd won't even notice that you're using the effect. What they will notice though, is the richness of your tone, and how huge your band's music seems to sound as a consequence. Of course, if you want to drop a blistering, endlessly delaying Gilmour style guitar solo into your set, it's great for that as well.
Boss's Digital Delay DD-3 is a great pedal that won't break the bank. If you're looking for something a bit more high end, MXR's analogue Carbon Copy is a modern classic.
Aside from distortion, this one is probably the most famous guitar effect in history. Initially created by accident during an attempted redesign of the Vox Super Beatle amplifier in 1966, the pedal went on to become the effect de riguer for lead guitarists in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Testament to its enduring status in rock music, you've only got to look at the roll call of guitar luminaries who are noted wah users; Jimmy Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Slash, Tom Morello, Kirk Hammett... the list goes on and on.
There's a reason that the use of wah pedals are so ubiquitous amongst legendary guitar players. When used correctly the effect of the wah is to add an almost vocal-like quality to guitar sounds. This expressiveness is particularly effective for elevating your lead playing. Well utilized wah during a solo or lead guitar section can transform that section from and exercise in guitar wankery to standout moment of your set that is emotive and resonant for your audience. It worked Hendrix, Slash and Hammett, and it's probably good enough for you.
These days, there are more wah pedals out there than you can shake a stick at. While there are many great variations and signature models out there, you could do a lot worse than going with a classic Dunlop Cry Baby.
Chorus is one of those effects that people seem to either love or loathe. I think that part of the reason it gets a bad rep is because it makes things sound really naff if overused. Mention chorus to a number of guitarists and it will conjure images of saccharine, over produced eighties pop-rock; the sort of thing that seems completely at odds to good ole down-and-dirty rock and roll. Yet, I'd recommend the pedal to any guitarist, so long as they know how to use it.
The key to getting the most out of your chorus pedal is not overdoing it. Use it too much, and you're in for an all-out-cheese fest. If applied with restraint, though, chorus can have much the same effect as delay; adding a three-dimensionality to your sound that enriches your guitar tone.
In particular, I find that the subtle application of chorus is great way to give some depth to your clean sounds when playing live. When properly implemented, it is an excellent tool for preventing quieter sections from sounding hollow or flat. Don't believe me? Take a listen to the intro from Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and hear the effect that properly applied chorus can have.
The Electro-Harmonix Neo Clone is an easy to use pedal that delivers a great sound.
OK, this one isn't actually an effects pedal. In fact it doesn't really do anything other than help you to tune your guitar. Because it's function is largely practical, I think that the humble tuning pedal often gets overlooked. But, I'm including it here because it is one of the most important tools for a guitarist to have in their live rig. If you don't have one, it's going to have a serious impact on your live performance.
The reason to have this pedal in your rig is simple; when you play live, your guitar needs to be in tune. Regardless of how good you are, if your guitar is out of tune, what you're playing will sound like sh-t. However, listening to a guitarist spend several minutes between songs turning up his or her instrument is no fun for anyone in the audience. Several times, I've found myself watching local bands quickly derailing the momentum of what was an otherwise promising set by taking an age to try and tune their instruments by ear on stage.
In a worst case scenario, I once watched a guitarist attempting to tune his guitar on stage using the microphone from a pocket tuner. Between amp feedback and audience noise this was an exercise in futility and an incredibly boring experience for the crowd in attendance. By the end of his several minute tuning debacle, a sizable portion of the audience had lost interest in the music and decamped to the bar. Infuriatingly, when the band finally started their next number, the guitar was still out of tune.
Chromatic tuning pedals make tuning quick, easy and discreet when you're playing a show. They mute your instrument so that the crowd isn't subjected to the sound of endlessly twanging string as you tune (this also means that they double as a makeshift kill switch, which is great for achieving maximum impact during guitar-less breakdowns or stops) and allow for a far greater degree of accuracy than tuning by ear. It might not be as exciting as a wah or a delay pedal, but you need one of these in your rig.
There are plenty of tuning pedals out there, but you can always go with the Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner which is an incredibly reliable piece of kit.
So, those are our picks. But, as always, I should stress that this list is just an opinion (although having said that, I do think that it should be made mandatory for every guitarist who performs live to own a chromatic tuner pedal).
Share your experience with other readers in the comments, and let us know what your top picks are when it comes to guitar pedals.
By Alec PlowmanUltimate-Guitar.com (C) 2014