Guitar effects

A Guide To Guitar Effects

The electric guitar has been one of the most popular instruments in the world for more than seventy years. One of the reasons why it has remained so popular is that it is possible to use guitar pedals to alter the sound of the guitar. Almost all modern guitarists use effects in their playing, and some, like The Edge of U2 and Matt Bellamy of Muse, have practically based their entire playing style around guitar effects.

Effects come in many different varieties, and are available in many different units. There are guitar pedals, which are connected between the guitar and the amp, but effects are also available in many modern guitar amps and in recording software. In this article we will take a look at some of the most popular effects, and some of the top pedals in every category.

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The most commonly used guitar effect is distortion, which is what gives guitars the sound you hear in most rock and metal music. However, when we talk about distortion, we tend to split it into three categories: Overdrive, distortion and fuzz.


Overdrive is the softest type of distortion. Originally, overdrive was the result of running a tube amp too loudly, which compressed and clipped the sound, making it sound dirty. With overdrive pedals, it is very possible that soft playing will provide no overdrive, but louder playing will. Overdrive is very popular in rock music, but can also be found elsewhere.

In this video you can hear what overdrive sounds like:

Here is a list of some of the best overdrive pedals on the market right now. If you don't have access to a music shop where you can test pedals, search for them on Youtube. There is a very active community making demo videos for just about every pedal ever made.


The term "distortion" is generally used about distortion which is harsher than overdrive, but not quite as wild as fuzz. It is dirtier than overdrive, and provides and even more rock or metal sound. There are many different types of distortion, so try out as many as you can to find the type which works for you.

Here is a list of some of the best distortion pedals on the market right now.


Fuzz is the wildest and dirtiest of all the distortions. The signal is so compressed that it starts to sound, well, fuzzy! Fuzz became popular when The Rolling Stones released "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" in 1965, and Jimi Hendrix was a big fan of the effect. Fuzz went on to become so popular that it practically became the foundation of an entire genre of music: noise rock. Bands such as Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine based their entire sound around fuzz.

Here is a list of some of the best fuzz pedals on the market right now.


Reverb is the sound which appears to stick around when the original source of the sound has become silent. Imagine standing in an empty warehouse and clapping - The reverb is the sound which keeps ringing after the clap. It is often used to make the guitar sound bigger, and to make music sound more atmospheric and epic.

Here is a list of some of the best reverb pedals on the market right now.


Delay is an effect which repeats what you have played, just like an echo. The effect is closely related to reverb, which is technically a very fast echo. A delay can be very short, which is very common in country soloing (Known as "slap-back delay"), or it can be longer, which makes for a more epic sound. The Edge, who plays guitar in U2, is particularly known for his use of delay.

Here is a list of some of the best delay pedals on the market right now.


On the Wah-pedal, you use your foot to move the pedal up and down, which in turn makes the guitar sound like it is making vowel-sounds. It genuinely sounds like the guitar is saying "wahwahwahwah". Jimi Hendrix was known for using the effect on songs like "Burning Of The Midnight Lamp", and Kirt Hammett of Metallica is famous for using his wah-pedal liberally in his soloes.

Here is a list of some of the best wah-pedals on the market right now.


The term "modulation" covers quite a few different guitar effects, which are generated by either manipulating the signal from the guitar to create a new sound, or by splitting the signal in two and changing one while leaving the other untouched.


Chorus is an effect in which the guitar signal is split in two, and one of the two signals is changed a bit in pitch and timbre. Sometimes, a little bit of vibrato is even added. When the two signals are mixed again, it sounds as if two guitars are playing together. To hear a good example of this effect, listen to the intro of Nirvana's "Come As You Are".

In this video you can hear what chorus sounds like:

Here is a list of some of the best chorus pedals on the market right now.


The flanger is a somewhat curious effect which gives your guitar a "whooshing" sound, almost like a plane taking off. The effect was originally produced by having two tape decks playing the same recording, and slowing down one of the tapes by pressing on the flanges of the tape. It is quite a unique effect, and it can be heard on The Police's "Walking On The Moon".

In this sound you can hear what flanging sounds like:

Here is a list of some of the best flanger pedals on the market right now.


A phaser (also known as a phase shifter) creates a unique sound which is quite hard to describe. It's almost shimmery. It is somewhat reminiscent of a flanger, although it tends to be a bit faster and more noticable. A good example of a phaser can be heard on the intro to "Just The Way You Are" by Billy Joel, albeit played on an electric piano.

Here is a list of some of the best phaser pedals on the market right now.

Tremolo and Vibrato

Tremolo and vibrato are two effects which are often mistaken for each other, although they are quite different. Tremolo creates a fast fluctuation of the guitar's volume, which makes it sound as if the volume is being increased and decreased rapidly. Vibrato creates a fast fluctuation of the guitar's pitch, almost as if you were quickly bending the guitar string while playing it (A technique which is also known as vibrato). Opera singers also use a lot of vibrato when singing.

Here is a list of some of the best tremolo and vibrato pedals on the market right now.

Octave Pedals And Pitch Shifters

Octave pedals and pitch shifters are related effects, which both alter the notes played on the guitar. Octave pedals often add an octave on top of or below the signal (and in some cases both!), which gives an almost symphonic sound. A pitch shifter changes the pitch of the note being played, either up or down. A good example of an octave pedal can be heard on "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes, and to hear a pitch shifter you can listen to the solo of "Killing In The Name" by Rage Against The Machine. Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine is particularly famous for his use of pitch shifting.

In this video you can hear what a pitch shifter sounds like:

Here is a list of some of the best octave and pitch shifter pedals on the market right now.


If you don't quite know which effects would suit your playing style, and you want to try out a few different ones without using too much money, then you could try buying a multi effect unit. Multi effects are available in a variety of price ranges, but here are a few of the less expensive ones, if you just want to play around with effects:

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