Hey guys n gals,

I was just wondering if people could potentially point out the key differences between analogue and digital effects pedals?

I'm just starting to get interested in effects as other than a Joe Bonamassa wah, I have had a very stripped out sound for a few years, and i'm going to do some research myself, but I value what people have to say so figured asking here would be a good help!

Cheers in advance,
Last edited by TTP Penguin at Oct 10, 2012,
This is more of a general idea of the difference between analog and digital rather than specifically about guitar effects, but I'll try to relate the two when I can.

Analog is a way of transferring and storing data by means of converting it from one physical phenomena to another. Let's start with a soup can telephone. You speak into one end and you voice is transferred to the other because the vibration of your voice is transmitted by the can vibrating at the same frequency along with your voice and the string transfers this same vibration to the other can where it vibrates in the air according to the frequencies and amplitudes of your original voice.

Ok, now for the electric guitar. When you pluck the string it vibrates, your pickup has magnets wrapped with wire which "pickup" the vibration of the string and replicate it as a change in voltage, which is carried along the cable. The change in voltage is roughly equivalent to the vibration of the string, so if you were to plot both the change in voltage over time and the change in the strings position over time the two graphs would look very similiar, different only because no system is 100% effective.

Digital, on the other hand is breaking a signal down into a string of 1's and 0's so that a computer can manipulate and read them. We all know that computers speak binary and so in order for them to be used for audio recording or signal processing then the signal must first be converted into a binary string. How it does this is by taking a sample of the signal and averageing the level of the signal and matching that to the closest approximation it can generate. Because of this you get a very blocky stair-step type signal, but since we're talking about taking a sample every fraction of a second(recording at 44.1 KHz renders a sample every 0.0002 seconds!) It still sounds like a continuous signal to our ears.

The easiest way to think of a digital signal vs. an analog signal is that the analog is for all intents and purposes a full replication of the original signal whereas a digital signal is an approximation of the original signal. Like this diagram shows.

Now this leads a lot of people to believe that analog is superior in quality to digital(which is an understandable argument), but I personally think that it's more of a subjective thing. Most people I talk to that cling to they're record collections do so because they say that digital audio is just to polished, and that they like the little nuances of analog records, which could be interpreted by someone else as noise.

I assume you're asking this because you are trying to decide to go strictly digital or analog. My advice is to try either of them out and decide for yourself if you can hear a difference in quality between them. If you want more specific info then check out the Guitar Gear & Accessories sub Here.
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Thanks for the reply, you've hit the nail on the head with why I asked the question!

I think it's just going to be a case of how you put it, try out both and see if I can actually pick out the difference myself.

This is just one of those things that makes me realise how little I actually know about certain aspects of the instrument I play!

Thanks again