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A Beginner's Guide to Effects Pedals

What is an effects pedal?

Effects pedals are electronic devices that allow musicians to modify the sounds of their instruments. Mostly used in conjunction with electric guitars, the overall purpose of effects pedals is to alter the sound of an instrument in the context of the music that is being played.

There are a wide variety of effects pedals available, with the Boss-style three-inch and four-inch 'stomp boxes' among the most common. Larger units featuring several foot buttons can also be bought to give musicians ready access to multiple sound effects, while rackmount preamplifiers or processors can be used in conjunction with associated foot controllers. In addition, some modern amps have their own built-in effects systems.

Buying an effects pedal

Before getting started on effects pedals, it is generally recommended that musicians really get to know their instruments beforehand. Once this has been done, effects pedals can be used to assist players with experimenting with new sounds and help them to keep engaged with the instrument. Most musicians will go through a large number of effects during their playing careers as they continue to evolve their sound.

Effects pedals were once looked on as being expensive items, but low-priced models are now available from companies such as Behringer. The Behringer CS100 Compressor/Sustainer for example, costs £17 and gives players the ability to create endless sustain, as well as providing an easy way to improve overall tone.

Good value multiple effects units are also available these days, such as the Boss ME-20 Guitar Effects Processor for £139. The multi-effects board boasts a wide range of the most common electric guitar effects, including tremolo, flanger, distortion, overdrive, delay, chorus and phaser.

Common types of effects

Distortion is perhaps the most used and recognisable effect and literally distorts the sound of the guitar, from small amounts of overdrive through to loud and thrashy. Wah is another popular effect and is usually operated by a foot treadle, allowing the user to modify the sound constantly to make the music more expressive. At one end, the sound is very trebly, while at the other trebles are muted. In the middle, it produces a very nasaly, mid-range tone.

Delay effects can give the guitar sound an echoey feel, while reverb effects give players the ability to thicken up or soften the sound, in a way enabling them to recreate the sound of playing in a concert hall or a church or a small room. Chorus effects double the sound of the guitar, creating a much thicker tone, while the challenging to master looper - ideal for solo musicians - enables players to lock the record on a continuously playing loop.

Phaser effects cyclically eliminate certain frequencies from the sound, enabling the creation of spacey, open sounds, right through to jet engine level sounds for aggressive and loud music. Flanger effects also work cyclically, but have a bigger effect on the sound and can be used to control depth and intensity. Compressor effects are mainly used as studio effects, but they can increase sustain by raising quiet signal levels as the sound fades out.

Posted on 14 Apr 2009 15:58 to category : Tips and advice

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