Guide To Effects Pedals

Everything you need to know about effects pedals.

Ultimate Guitar
Effect pedals alter the way your guitar's signal is sent to the amp and how it will sound afterwards. Here is a guide on effects pedals and what they do.


We've all heard it, and it's usually one of the first pedals on our boards. Basically an overdrive pedal takes the signal coming from your guitar and throws it around and adds gain to your signal. Overdrive is mild and uses a 'soft clipping', unlike a distortion pedal, which uses something called 'hard clipping'. Clipping refers to the way your signal becomes compressed when gain is added. The higher the clipping, the higher the harmonics will be and the lower the dynamic range will be.
My favourite overdrive: Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer


Similar to overdrive, but has a higher clipping. Distortion isn't as smooth sounding as overdrive and is more aggressive when it comes to manipulating your signal. Distortion pedals come with a disadvantage, they cause a loss of mids and presence.
My favourite distortion: Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion


If you've heard a Jimi Hendrix song you've heard the sound of fuzz. Fuzz is basically overdrive but more vintage sounding. Fuzz pedals use a low clipping threshold therefore making your signal sound 'fuzzy'.
My favourite fuzz: Electro-Harmonix Big Muff / Dunlop Fuzz Face


There isn't much to say about an octave pedal, basically it takes your sound and drops it an octave below the note you played, octave pedals can get some really cool sounds too!
My favourite octaver: Dunlop MXR SF01 Slash Octave Fuzz

Pitch Shifter

The octave pedal's brother, they do the same sort of thing: change the pitch of your signal. These were made famous by David Gilmour.


A key is selected, then when you play the pedal creates harmony parts that play along at chosen intervals.

Talk Box

Made famous by Peter Frampton, Richie Sambora and Joe Perry. This effect takes your guitar's signal and traps it inside the pedal. The pedal is airtight so your sound can't escape, there is a tube running from the pedal and is usually taped to the side of your microphone, you then put the tube in your mouth and by moving your mouth around in different patterns your sound is manipulated and sent out of your mouth and into the mic.
My favourite talkbox: Dunlop Heil Talkbox


An auto-wah pedal isn't controlled by your foot like other wah pedals, it's controlled by the way you pick the strings. They can also be set to play at specific times.
My favourite auto-wah: Boss AW-3 Dynamic Wah


The wah is the most famous filter effect. Wah pedals are usually rocking pedals, when you rock your foot back and forth the wah pedal switches between 2 frequencies and makes those awesome sounds. Wah pedals can also be left at a single spot, creating some weird sounds, listen to "Money For Nothing" by Dire Straits, in the song Mark Knopfler keeps a wah in the middle position to get those cool sounds. Companies such as Z.Vex make wah pedals that aren't controlled like a normal wah, instead it uses motion sensors so you have to raise your foot up and down in the air, which makes you look very weird on stage!
My favourite wah: Dunlop Cry Baby Classic


They give your sound that shimmering kind of effect, they can also be used to create cool space noises and stuff.
My favourite chorus: Boss CE-5 Chorus


Phasers take your sound and bring the signal in and out, if you listen to an old Van Halen song you will hear a phaser, the most popular phaser is the MXR Phase 90, made famous by Eddie Van Halen.
My favourite phaser: MXR Phase 90


Flangers make some cool space-type sounds with your guitar and also make those jet engine noises. A flanger is a metal guitarist's best friend.
My favourite flanger: MXR M-117R Flanger

Rotating Speaker

Almost the same as a phaser, just on a faster setting.


These pedals take your signal and split them into hundreds of tiny parts and plays them one after the other, they push your signal in and out and make it sound like your cable is breaking!
My favourite tremolo: TC Electronic Shaker Vibrato

Volume Pedals

Pretty self explanatory, they change your volume from your guitar, they look like wah pedals usually.


What you see on your amp, but in pedal form, used to boost certain ranges or to take away certain sounds from your amp that you don't want.


They squash your lows and highs together and boost the mids, good if you're using an amp that has a boost in the bass as an example, but you're using a very thin sounding guitar.


You set times and settings on your pedal, when you step on it then your signal is repeated for the chosen amount of time.
My favourite delay: Boss DD-3 Digital Delay


They give your guitar that echo type sound, Reverb pedals can make it sound like you're in a large church, stadium, hall, whatever you want it to sound like.
My favourite reverb: Blackstar HT-Reverb

52 comments sorted by best / new / date

    "Ultimate guide" my ass. This does nothing but confuse newcomers with fancy words like "soft clippin" and completely incomprehensable statements like "These pedals take your signal and split them into hundreds of tiny parts and plays them one after the othe". And its just plain wrong in some parts.
    Don't mean to be "that guy", but this needed some serious correction/clarification. It seems to me the industry's done gone and mussed your head up with all kinds of buzzwords. I hope this explains them a little better: Rotary Sepaker: "Almost the same as a phaser, just on a faster setting." Not really. What you have pictured is a univibe clone which is a asymmetrical phasing effect, as opposed to the phase 90 which is symmetrical. The sweep has a "ripple" on the top with is supposed to emulate the twin baffles on a Leslie cabinet. This doesn't really end up sounding like a Leslie, but it's a cool effect on it's own. Bridge of Sighs by Robin Trower is a great example if this. Compressors: "They squash your lows and highs together and boost the mids, good if you're using an amp that has a boost in the bass as an example, but you're using a very thin sounding guitar." A compressor actually boosts your signal while placing a limit on the output. This reduces volume spikes and makes your signal come out more evenly. It's really useful for recording. Sultans of Swing by the Dire Staights is a good example of this sound. Pitch Shifter: "The octave pedal's brother, they do the same sort of thing: change the pitch of your signal." An octaver is a simplified version of a pitch shifter (Boss OC2, EHX Micro POG) limited to adding an octave up or down. A pitch shifter (Digitech Whammy, Boss Harmonizer) can run the range between the octaves, giving you harmonies and chorus sounds. Pitch shifters tend to either be set, like a harmonizer, or set to a rocker pedal sweep between the octaves. The intro to "Hey Hey, My My" by Neil Young or the first solo from "Paradise city" are good examples of the octave effect. The solo from "Owner of a Lonely Heart" by Yes has a great example of a set pitch shifter, and the solo from "Killing in the Name" has a great example of sweeping pitch shifting.
    owner of a lonely heart is a harmonizer, not a pitch shifter.
    In the paragraph's above that, I explain that pitch shifting can either be set (like a harmonizer) or set to a rocker pedal like a whammy. So, I used the solo as an example of "set" pitch shifting. Sorry if this was confusing.
    Your article is bad and you should feel bad. Honestly, this article is really lame and lacking in any sort of detailed information an "ultimate guide to effects" would actually contain. It's like a 12 year old wrote it.
    There are much better pedals in better or similar price ranges than these ones
    and anybody that says a flanger is a metal guitarists best friend really just loves their line 6 spider so out the window goes any credibility right there
    I agree with you, K!!LsWiTcH. I've NEVER heard of any Metal guitarist who loves a flanger.
    I play metal and only use my flanger for clean tones. I switch to my phaser when I kick my distortion on.
    I've played in metal bands the last 6 years, and even though I don't use it too often, I love flanger! It can be a really cool flavour to 16th notes on the low E or A. For the love of all that's holy: DON'T USE FLANGER ON THE E, B OR G STRING! But used wisely it can really be your best friend
    Bulls**t Eddie Van Halen is a metal legend and he uses Phaser a LOT
    Crap, didnt notice you said FLANGER not PHASER Sorry
    yea and eddie can shred and stuff but i still dont get why people lump him in with metal.
    I know some of the songs Van Halen play sound somewhat mainstream-ish, but did you hear "A Different Kind of Truth"? There are some sick hard music parts. Of course if you consider black, death, prog and other stuff to be the only metal, Van Halen probably won't make it to your metal list
    i actually dont consider just that to be metal im not an elitist i just think that van halens hard rock. its rock music its not metal.i dont think mainstream stuff isnt metal just cause its not a tool
    Good thought, but if hard rock and metal share common features, so does hard with classical, down to the blues we go and all of a sudden, metal is classical which it is very heavily influenced. A good point Tobias Sammet made about this separating of styles was: "You can call it any way you wish, it won't change a single note on the album anyway"
    agreed but that still doesnt make flanger a metal guitarists best friend lol or even phaser at that. it maybe makes phaser a neat little tool for evh.
    With all those pedals, you're also going to need a Noise Gate. I use the ISP Technologies Decimator. Very simple to use and not too lossy.
    Dude, you need to do more research before you start misleading others like this. Too much incorrect information. I would give you a thumbs up for starting an interesting article though, but it shows that you obviously don't know what your talking about
    As a novice (late starter) having read the article and comments I am now just confused.
    Go to the websites of the pedals featured in this article, and listen to the sound samples. It will give you a much better picture of what they are about. Or better yet, just act as if you didn't read this article at all.
    I expected not so obvious and much more interesting stuff about some secrets of using the guitar effects was there. An I was totally wrong.
    Oh, and for pitch shifting, harmionizing & whammy I'd also recommend taking a hard look at the Digitech Whammy DT. I absolutely love mine and can't think of anything I'd replace it with.
    How is that compared to the standard digitech whammy? tried one out at a store not long ago and it didn't take long until it wouldn't stick at the null position (i.e. it didn't go to standard but like 1/4 of a semitone wrong). is there another spring in the footcontroller?
    The Whammy DT is the same as the Whammy, except it also has a Pitch Shift section to the right of the pedal (the Harmonizer/Whammy section is moved to the left side). The pitch shift is a dial setting, it's not hooked into the pedal. You can pitch up or down an octave in half-step increments. I've been very pleased with the quality of the shifting, very true even with strummed chords and no lag. I've never had any problems at all with the pedal sticking, so I'm not sure what to tell you there.
    such a boss and mxr fan boy. nothing wrong with that, but still, this ain't helping shit
    Danjo's Guitar
    Not bad. Far from comprehensive, but I guess its an okay list.
    How is its durability? When I had the 4th model, I had to keep re-calibrting (this is the 1/4 semitone out of tune problem base851 mentioned) it every 15 min. or so.
    Yeah, this article is pretty terrible. Don't know why UG decided to feature it on Facebook.
    "Ultimate guide" because the website is called Ultimate guitar, right?!! Not ultime at all, too simple.
    Oh and a talkbox does not "trap" your signal inside. It uses whats called a "horn driver" (at least the banshee does), to send a high volume signal through the hose. You mouth then acts sort of like a cabinet/speaker combo which a microphone picks up and sends to another amp (again I'm speaking of how the banshee works.
    ok, im not a very big pedal expert since i just bought my very first electric guitar last christmas, so if any suggestions or thoughts on what i should get if anything, thatd be great.
    I'll give you credit for trying something. But do a bit more research first before writing an article Also, compressors can help you get that "twangy" sound (its what I use mine for anyway)
    for chorus the EH small clone is the best for the buck true analog chorus, just listen to the verses in Smells like teen spirit, or the guitar solo in almost any song on Nevermind that swirling sound is the chorus pedal. the boss tremolo is awesome too very user friendly. for Pitch Shifters, nothing beats the Digitech Whammy the EH POG is awesome for harmonies, just listen to some White stripes for examples of those two pedals.
    as for the difference between phasing and flanging listen to the intro to Just the Way you are - Billy Joel (the keyboard has a phaser effect and the intro of killing in the name, (wake up is another good track) - Rage Against The Machine (the opening power chords have some heave flanging), basically phasers tend to have a more rotated sound to them where a flanger will have a more "jet swoosh" sound. if you want a good phaser go with either the EVH phaser (it's got the circuitry of the old "script logo" and the new "block logo" for more sound variation) for a Flanger I have an Ibanez DFL Flanger (the one used by Tom Morello) it's got this icy metallic tone to it that gives it a very dark tone., they aren't made anymore but you might get lucky on ebay, however I hear the Ibanez Fl9 has similar circuitry minus a few features, the sweep rate is amazing, it can get sooo wide, I dial in almost any flanger setting on it. unless you want an analog flanger they are the best, because those boss ones are more for just making noise with the slicer effects.) Cowboys from hell by Pantera also has a really noticeable flanger sound on the intro, same with The Number of the Beast by Iron Maiden and 46 & 2 by Tool.
    This is a poorly-researched and ever worse-written piece of garbage. Do you even know what some of these pedals do, dude? Because it sure doesn't sound like it.