A very important part of a musicians sound are the effects (FX) they have available to them to embellish their sound. Certain effects are crucial to achieve the sounds associated with various genres of music. Heavy metal guitarists would lose all of their power without distortion and the wah wah pedal would be indispensable to a funk guitarist. Listen to the samples below to hear the most used effects by guitarists all over the world.
A chorus effect pedal uses its technology to take the guitar signal and add a slightly delayed and different pitched version of itself on top. This creates a smooth shimmery sound, similar to when two different guitarists are playing the same riff together.
Phasing is another sweeping effect but is different to flange. This effect filters a signal by putting peaks and troughs throughout the frequency spectrum. This is modulated over time affecting the position of the peaks and troughs. For this reason you get a sweeping effect.
A flanger pedal uses two identical signals with one delayed by a small and gradually changing time period. The result is a sweeping filter effect that can be adjusted to your requirement.
Tremolo is created when a signal ducks in and out at a determined rate. It is a similar effect to using the tremolo arm on a guitar but rather than dropping the pitch, the volume is affected. The factors that can be changed are the speed and the volume of the drops in the signal.
Natural reverb is created when playing music in different buildings, rooms or areas. For example large spaces create a deep echoey effect as the original sound is reflected many times across the room. The sound decays as things in the room absorb it. This effect is now created digitally. There are different versions such as Room, Chamber, Spring and Plate. Spring and plate reverbs mimic the effect of a sound been reverberated through metal springs or plates. The example in the audio clip is a hall reverb.
There are many different kinds of delay but it is typically an echo of whatever is being played. The speed of the delay can be adjusted and there are even tap delays available so that you can set it to the same tempo of your drummer or backing track. Other factors that can usually be adjusted are the feedback (how long the delay lasts) and Dry/Wet (how much delay is in the mix). Some different types of delay include Digital Delay, Stereo Delay, and Ping Pong Delay. A ping pong delay is when the signal bounces across the stereo field.
Overdrive was originally created by pushing tube amplifiers to high volumes, causing the signal to clip. This is now created by turning up the gain of the amplifier/pedal. The sound can also be mimicked digitally.
Whammy is a pitch shift effect that is created using a pedal similar to a Wah Wah. The audio signal played through the pedal has it’s pitched altered digitally when you rock the pedal. This can be set to an octave or two higher or lower than the original signal. You can also set harmonies to play on top of what you play into the pedal.
Distortion is essentially the same thing as Overdrive but the term is now commonly used when pushing gain/overdrive even further to a heavier, thicker distortion.
Wah wah is created by altering the tone and frequencies of an audio signal. This can be done manually with a foot pedal that you rock up and down, or at a set rate using an auto-wah effect. This gives a talking effect, hence the name wah-wah.
Stomp boxes are individual foot pedals so to create distortion, delay and chorus you would need 3 different pedals. These pedals are linked to together via patch cables and the guitarist simply ’stomps’ on the effect pedal that they need for the required sound. A great aspect of stomp boxes is having the ability to upgrade individual pedals which makes this system very customisable.
Pedals / Pedal Boards
These pedal types are foot pedals that rock up and down similarly to a cars accelerator pedal. This gives the guitarist the ability to control sounds in real time. Some of the sounds the expression pedal is used for include volume and pitch shifting.
If you have a collection of pedals its a good idea to put together your own pedal board. With this approach your pedals are stuck onto the board via velcro and are powered by a power supply. You can also use a pedal switcher to combine the pedals in various combinations. Pedal boards are great for live use not only for their effectiveness when accessing your sounds but they are much more convenient when transporting and setting up your equipment.
One easy way to have a vast array of sounds straight out of the box is a multi FX unit. These units have virtually all the sounds you could ever want. They often have expression pedals too which you can see on the picture below. One disadvantage of multi FX is the inability to customise your setup. However the sounds onboard are editable and you can save your own settings into banks and patches. Multi FX pedals can start at very reasonable prices for beginner units right up to expensive professional models.
An effects processor is a very powerful effects unit. These professional levels of equipment can either be rack mountable or floor pedals like the Line 6 Helix shown here. These FX processors are able to model virtually any sound a guitarist could ever want. Not only can they replicate the sound of many well known amplifiers and effects they can also mimic the sound of an amplifier recorded with different speaker cabinets and microphones. There are also professional inputs and outputs allowing direct connection to PA’s, recording and mixing desks. The convenience, versatility and sound quality of these units are making them more and more popular with professional guitarists.