Guitar effects are used to modulate the sound of a guitar on stage and in the studio. Guitar effects can be used when editing a recording in a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) and when playing directly. There are different devices that take care of the modulation.
- Guitar effects on the floor. For guitar effects, there are the pedals, also known as floor effect devices or affectionately known as pedal mines. These are small boxes that, in contrast to other effect devices, are designed for tough use on stage, more precisely: for foot operation, at least when it comes to switching the effect on and off. Beforehand, the settings are made manually using the other controls on the device. Some pedals, such as wah-wah, then convert the angle of the pedal surface changed by the foot movements into effect parameters.
- Racked guitar effects. Alternatively, guitar effects are also created with devices that are screwed into a so-called rack. For racks, the format with a horizontal width of 19 inches has prevailed. These racks can be transported complete with the equipment built into them (in some bands this can be veritable walls), for which robust boxes and cases are available. When it comes to guitar effects, the rack format multi-effects category is the most popular. Plug in the guitar, switch on the rack effect device and you have the most adventurous combinations of different effects at your disposal.
For many, the price of guitar effects is a concern. In 2020, the average guitar paddle price is at $102 while racked guitar effects may cost higher from $200 to $300 or more depending on the brand and featured effects. It’s easier to find cheap guitar pedals compared to racked guitar effects.
The Most Important Guitar Sound Effects
Guitar sound effects are a crucial part of any guitar player’s performance. They can make the difference between sounding like a professional or an amateur. There are many different types of sound effects that you can use on your guitar, with each one giving a different tone and feel to your music. It is important to experiment with these to find out which ones work best for you.
Here are guitar effects that every guitarist should know. One or the other will surely sound familiar to you or you may have even had the chance to come across such effects.
Distortion has always been the most popular effect among guitarists. Depending on the strength and type of distortion, you can make a signal a little richer and warmer or, in extreme cases, let it bite you really aggressively.
A clean sound without distortion is referred to as “clean”, the moderately distorted area is the “crunch”, while heavily distorted sounds are called “high gain”. The different sounds are used for ballads and gentle, slow songs, from blues, rock, and hard rock to heavy metal.
Distortion is essentially equated with clipping. In other words, with the sharp “cutting off” of the sound waves above a certain threshold value of their extension, as the oscilloscope in the adjacent image shows. On some effect devices, the loudness increased by the distortion via “Drive” or “Gain” can be reduced again somewhat with the controller for the output volume (usually labeled “Master” or “Output”). In the case of amplifiers, a distinction is made between the distortion caused by the preamp and the distortion caused by the power amp.
In addition to »distortion«, the terms overdrive and fuzz are also used again and again. Distortion is the generic term that appears in the context of the following specific type of effect.
- Overdrive produces “warm” overtones at low effect levels and becomes progressively harsher with increasing volume. Distortion produces more or less the same distortion at different input levels, but the tonal changes are generally more pronounced and self-contained than overdrive.
- Fuzz amplifies the signal so intensely that clipping makes it almost a pure square wave, and complex overtones are added. The guitar effects continue with delay or echo, reverb (hall), and wah-wah. The first two effect types mentioned belong to the room effects since they bring a certain impression of spaciousness and width to your sound. Wah-wah, on the other hand, relies on modulated filtering of the signal and can sound very funky.
Delay / Echo
With a delay, you create echo effects. Very different sounds can be generated – from the sound impression of a small room to seemingly endless sequences in which the echoes develop their own dynamic.
The determining parameter is the delay between the individual echoes. As a rule, everything from a few milliseconds to one or two seconds is musically relevant – with even longer pauses between the repetitions, the impression of an echo effect is naturally no longer apparent.
Feedback is another important parameter. With such a tone control, you determine how long it takes for the echoes to fade away completely. With high feedback values, the opposite effect can even occur, depending on the original signal – the echoes build up more and more, becoming louder and louder until a haunting, mostly unpleasant wheezing sound is produced. However, this can be used in musical dramaturgy as the culmination point of a song section in a very sensational way.
Pedals usually have the so-called tap tempo function to determine the tempo. You can set the speed by tapping a button twice on the device – the longer the time between the two kicks, the longer the delay time between the echoes.
Reverb (guitar effects)
Reverbs are spatial sound effects. From a subtle, very briefly reverberating sound, as is often used for drums, to ethereal sound worlds with endless reverb tails, everything can be created. Reverb is very well suited to making a too “dry”, isolated-sounding guitar appear a little livelier or, in extreme cases, downright epic.
Practically always found on stompboxes is a control labeled “Decay”. Similar to the feedback control of a delay, you use it to determine how long the reverb effect should fade away. Consequently, the impression of the size of the room expands the further you turn up this control.
Some reverbs still have a switch to switch between different pre-delay times; the pre-delay describes the delay that occurs before the very first reflection of the sound from the virtual walls. This can also partially create significantly different spatial impressions.
Wah-Wah (guitar effects)
The onomatopoeic wah-wah effect sounds as if the guitar were singing a cheeky »Wuauauau« with one voice. One of the most famous examples of the use of a special wah-wah pedal is certainly Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child”. However, this type of effect has been used since the 1920s, when jazz trumpeters and trombonists began to modulate the sound of their instruments with a so-called plunger damper.
The effect is created by filtering the sound, more precisely by a resonant bandpass filter. The movement in this sound comes from the shift in resonance frequency; With a classic wah-wah effect device, the different frequency ranges are determined by the position of the foot pedal. As a rule, there are no other parameters for effect devices of this type.
Conclusion: Why is it important for guitarists to understand guitar effects?
In order to be a well-rounded guitarist, you need to understand how different effects work. You will be able to appreciate the subtleties in your tone and enjoy experimenting with the vast array of sounds that are at your disposal. Mentioned in this post are just a few of the guitar effects that every guitarist should know. Some effects that are worth exploring are the chorus, phraser, and flanger. Explore all guitar effects as much as you can to become the best guitarist in time.