5 Essential Effects Pedals For Rock Guitar
When I first began playing guitar, I thought there were two sounds: clean and distorted. Those were the two choices on my amp, so I assumed that’s how it was. As time went on, I would hear strange and wonderful sounds from guitars on the radio. And this was in the late 90’s and early 2000’s when rock guitarists had all but replaced technique with effects pedals, so it was everywhere!
My first pedal was a gift from my parents, the almighty Dunlop Crybaby wah pedal. I couldn’t get enough of it, and that’s when I realized there was so much more in the world of guitar sounds. Today, I prefer using minimal effects, but there are a handful of essential stomp boxes every rock guitarist needs in their arsenal. They are:
- Wah Pedal
I put the tuner last because it’s the least exciting, but it is the most important. If you are out of tune, nothing else matters. Why have a tuner pedal instead of a clip-on tuner like a Snark? The answer is that stomp box tuners are generally more rugged and durable and can withstand gigs and touring life far better than a Snark. They are also harder to lose because they are typically securely fashioned to the pedalboard. A Snark is most useful for practicing at home.
Perhaps the most fun of all pedals is the wah, although my personal opinion is that the Digitech Whammy pedal rivals it in terms of personal entertainment. The wah exists on virtually every rock guitarist’s pedalboard and is a staple of classic rock music.
Distortion is frequently built into amplifiers, and some guitar players will buy an amp just for its distortion. I personally believe that one should purchase an amp for its clean tone first. If it has a great clean tone and less desirable distortion, you can simply get a distortion pedal of your choice to color the amazing clean sound to your liking. However, if you buy an amp because of it’s distortion, you may overlook the clean sound and be limited later with what you can do with it. This is why I found my favorite distortion pedal and then just looked for an amplifier with an amazing clean tone.
This is similar to distortion but it is less compressed, leading to a more open and frequently fuller tone. Because it is less compressed, it is easier to get dynamics (louds and softs) with just using your fingers. Overdrive also tends to cut through a band mix better than distortion, ensuring that your audience hears you. However, it is more difficult to get raging harmonics and sustain with overdrive, so I generally use overdrive for my rhythm playing and a distortion pedal for my leads.
This is also known as an echo pedal. You can set it to repeat notes you play, creating a more lush environment. Delay can help fill empty space, can be used as a rhythmic effect, or it can be used to thicken up your solos.
*Honorable Mention: The Digitech Whammy
The Whammy is an essential pedal for me (so much so that when my Whammy of 13 years went out, I immediately went out and bought a new one), but I did not include it in this list because it is not essential for most players. It is a pitch shifter that creates a very unique sound and tone and is used in a similar fashion to the wah in that you rock a pedal back and forth to engage the effect. If you’ve never tried one, you must! Even if you decide it’s not for you, give it a whirl.
There you have it, my friends! Those are the essentials, and I couldn’t imagine not having any of them. In fact, the only additional pedals I have on my pedalboard are a fuzz (which is a kind of distortion), a second delay pedal, and a shimmer pedal, which is essentially a reverb that sounds like angels, and that’s just cool (though not essential)!
About the Author: Eric “Where’s The Whammy?” Bourassa owns a guitar school in Aledo, Texas where guitar lessons get students good enough to the point where they can actually enjoy playing with effects pedals. Rock, pop, and shred guitar are Eric’s specialties, even though he has a degree in classical guitar!