If you were looking to form a band, you’d probably scope out as many musical instruments for sale as you could before you made a purchase. But anyone can play guitar, as Radiohead sang in 1993. What really separates a basement jam session from a living, breathing musical force is the use of good guitar multi effects pedals.
When you’re at a live show, you’ll often see guitarists (and bassists) constantly stomping on boxes at their feet in order to modify the sound of their instrument. Professional musicians tend to use upwards of five guitar effect pedals when they play, which can be a bit overwhelming to a first-timer like yourself. But fear not! Here’s a rundown of the basic pedals every guitar player should be familiar with:
What They Do: Delay effectively takes a guitar noise and plays it back after a short period of time (usually just a second or two). This can be a useful tool for smaller bands looking for a larger sound because the delay allows the instruments to expand digitally, often resulting in a unique and grandiose tone.
Where You’ll Hear Them: U2 has long since been linked with heavy guitar effect pedals use, especially when it comes to reverb and delay. The opening riff to “Pride (In the Name of Love)” is a great example of guitarist The Edge’s chiming instrumental work as played through a delay pedal (with perhaps a few other effects added for emphasis).
What They Do: Distortion takes a clean guitar tone and runs it through a noisy filter, muddying up the sound in the process. First popularized in the 1960s by bluesy garage bands like The Kinks and The Yardbirds, distortion — the “fuzz” that gives guitars their crunch — has long been one of rock’s key sounds. It’s one of the key component that separates it from less aggressive, more conventional genres like jazz and pop.
Where You’ll Hear Them: Everywhere. Seriously. Unless you’re going to see an extremely melodic slowcore band or you’ve thrown on some soft dream pop to help lull you to sleep, distortion is found in an overwhelming majority of rock music. The next time Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” comes on the radio, crank up the volume when the chorus hits and you’ll know exactly when the distortion makes its loud entrance.
What They Do: Just like the two effects above, wah-wah pedals manipulate the clean tone of a guitar (or bass) to form an entirely different sound. The one that results from the wah-wah filter is designed to mimic the human voice, specifically a person saying the words “wah wah.” As such, you’ll often find these kinds of guitar effect pedals used for both dramatic and comedic effect in rock songs.
Where You’ll Hear Them: Wah-wah pedals should be the easiest to identify of all the different effects on this list because their name really says it all. You can listen for wet, raunchy “wah wah” noises plenty of psychedelic tunes, especially those from the flower-child era. To boil it all down to one song, though, look no further than Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).”
There you have it, the basics. Now get off the web and start practicing your blues scales. More.