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What Guitar Pedals Do You Need?

5 Essential Guitar Pedals Every Player Should Have

by Kevin Rossi
What Guitar Pedals Do You Need?

Looking to dip your toes into the world of guitar pedals? Wondering which pedals are most essential? Curious what a pedalboard is or what people mean when they talk about pedal sequence?  Well, look no further! We are here to answer all these questions and more so you can take your first step into the world of effects pedals. 

We’ll start with an overview of what pedals are, and how they function, and then go into a list of five essential pedals to get you started!

(If you’d like to skip straight to our list of five essential pedals, scroll down to the page)

Guitar Pedals & Effects – What Are They?

Simply put, guitar pedals – or more accurately, effects pedals – empower a guitar player to change the sound or volume of their guitar instantly, without the need to adjust an amp or change anything on the guitar itself. While they are often referred to as guitar pedals, I make the distinction here between guitar and effects because these pedals work for lots of other instruments too, not just guitars!

Guitar Pedals

It may seem obvious to some, but for those of you who don’t know, an effects pedal by itself doesn’t make any noise. Instead, they function by adjusting the signal being sent from a guitar to an amplifier, causing it to change. This is accomplished by daisy-chaining your guitar to one or more pedals and then to an amp. You do this using shorter versions of your standard guitar cable (like these). As you can imagine, things can start to get pretty hairy if you’ve got more than one pedal. 

Pedalboards

That’s where pedalboards come in. A pedalboard is essentially exactly what it sounds like – a board of some sort covered in pedals. You can buy metal boards made specifically for this, or make one yourself out of wood. Basically the pedalboard serves the purpose of keeping your pedals organized and all in one place. 

Reference Image

An important thing to understand when you are dealing with several pedals all at once, is that they all still need to be powered. Some pedals have an option to run on batteries, but for the most part a DC plug is the only way to power each unit. We won’t get into the specifics of it here because we are mainly going to focus on getting started with pedals, but they do make special power boxes that can be attached to your pedalboard, just like a pedal, so you can power your pedals from that instead of needing an outlet for each one. They also make DC chord dividers specifically for pedals, so you can use one wall outlet to power several pedals at once. As with anything to do with electricity, you need to understand the basics of what each piece of equipment is rated for in order to use it safely, but again, we won’t get into those details just now. 

Pedal Sequence

Pedal sequence refers to the order in which the pedals are connected in between your guitar and your amp. The reason this matters is because as the signal travels from the guitar to the amp, it is altered each time it passes through a pedal, which means whichever pedal it passes through first has an effect on all the rest of the sounds. So the pedal you plug your guitar into affects all the rest of the pedals while the last pedal your signal passes through only alters the signal before it hits the amp. 

Read More: Know the Guitar String Notes

While there is an element of preference to this process, the standard order looks something like this:

  • Dynamic pedals: Compression and volume, etc. 
  • Pitch Effects: Octave pedals or pitch shifters. 
  • Filter Effects:  Such as Wah pedals.
  • Gain Effects: Things like overdrive and distortion pedals (some of the most common and popular pedals out there).
  • Modulation Effects: Flangers, phasers, chorus effects, etc. 
  • Time Effects: Reverb, delay, looper pedals, etc.

Ok, so now that we have all that out of the way, let’s take a look at five essential guitar pedals!

Tuner Pedal

Ok, so our first pedal on the list isn’t even one that was mentioned in the sequence above, but it’s a super useful pedal to have on your board. 

Tuner pedals are pretty self explanatory, they help you tune your guitar! These go at the very front end of your sequence, before any other effects or compressors. This is because when activated, a tuner pedal cuts your signal chain off at itself, so no sound comes through your amp. You can adjust the tuning of your guitar using a small display on the pedal without anyone in the audience having to hear it. Admittedly if you already have a clip on tuner and you aren’t planning on using pedals in a performance setting, this one is less essential on its own, but once you do start performing it’s a must have. 

Distortion Pedal

Probably the most popular type of pedal, the distortion pedal will take the clean sound of your guitar and give it the sustain and crunch associated with rock music. There are 3 common pedals that fall into this category – distortion, overdrive, and fuzz. 

Now, some amps will come with their own distortion or overdrive settings, which might make you wonder if this type of pedal is really that essential. Well, the benefits of having a pedal in this category are twofold. First of all, a pedal gives you the ability to switch the effect on and off with a tap of your foot, instead of having to walk over to your amp and adjusting a knob. Secondly, if you have multiple pedals, the distortion or overdrive pedal allows you to place your pedal near the beginning of the chain, so it has an effect on the pedals that follow it. 

Reverb Pedal 

Another effect that some amps have a knob for, reverb is a super important element in music. Reverb creates an echo (different from the echo of a delay pedal, but more on that in a minute…), that essentially makes it sound like you are in a big, open space like a church or concert hall. 

Again, there are benefits to having a reverb pedal even if your amp has a reverb setting, as many amp reverb settings aren’t very good. Reverb pedals go near the end of your chain. 

Delay Pedal

A delay pedal, as mentioned above, also creates an echo effect. However, unlike the reverb pedal, a delay pedal’s echo is more artificial, less natural than what reverb provides.

While the echo from a reverb pedal creates the illusion of space, the echo on a delay pedal is truly an echo. When a sound passes through a delay pedal, you get several repetitions of that sound that fade off into silence, giving your playing an ethereal quality. 

Compression Pedal

The last of our essential pedals is designed to help reign in your sound and keep it streamlined. I guess it’s kind of like the pedalboard of pedals in that way. 

Imagine for a second that your signal chain is made up of a bunch of sheep, all roaming freely around a big field. Now imagine those sheep being herded through a narrow gate in between two fields. A compression pedal is basically that gate! The purpose of compression in music is to take your high end sounds and low end sounds and reign them back in a bit. This provides a much smoother sound, and less variation between notes played lightly, and notes you hit a little too hard. 

So there you have it. Now that you’ve got a better understanding of pedals – what they are, and how they work – we hope you can feel confident moving forward on your journey into the wide world of effects pedals!

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