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Even though pitch shifting pedals could be grouped within other filtering related guitar pedals, they generate such distinctive sounds and atmospheres that I have included octavers and harmonizers in a separate category.

What they basically do is to generate additional notes (at different pitches) to the original, creating magical harmonies. These harmonies can be very simple (just add or subtract an octave or any other given interval), or quite complex, by generating one (or several) additional notes within a given harmony that you can set.

These effects are a bit trickier to use, as you need to play the notes firmly (and in tune), because otherwise you will get some dirty and bad sounding harmonies.

In any case, they can provide your solos or single-note riffs with a dramatic presence and thickness that you won’t be able to live without after trying them…

These are the the pitch shifting pedals that I will talk about in this post:

  • Octaver. It generates an octave of the note you are playing, either up, down, or both at the same time.
  • Whammy. This pedal creates a shifted note at some given intervals, and allows you to act over the pitch shifting by rocking a foot pedal.
  • Harmonizer. This pedal creates shifted notes (either one, two and even more) within a preset harmony (major, minor7, etc.).

Octaver pedals

An octave divider pedal splits the input signal and adds (or subtracts) an octave tone to the original. They were originally really simple devices, including just a couple transistors, a transformer and a few other passive components.

Try one of those adding up an octave and you will get a similar effect to the one obtained naturally by using a 12-string guitar. Like the sixties? You will get some psychedelic stuff with these guys…

In some stompboxes, an octave can be added and subtracted at the same time, and all them up to the original note. That is so cool for playing single note riffs…

But be careful here, they can sound awful if you play chords with them.

Electro Harmonix POG
Electro Harmonix POG

A little history…

Octave pedals were also very popular in the sixties and seventies. Jimmy Page used an MXR Blue Box for recording the solo in “Fool in the rain” with Led Zeppelin.

Due to the simplicity of the electronic circuit, these pedals are quite common among pedal manufacturers.

Features and controls

Octaves are, in general, simple devices. Sometimes you will find the octave effect blended with other effects (like fuzz) in some stompboxes, but these are the controls you will see in an average pedal:

  • Octave 1. With this knob, you will bring into presence one of the octaves (i.e. the upper octave).
  • Octave 2. On the other hand, turn this knob clockwise and you will increase the volume of the down octave.
  • Tone. In some pedals you will be able to change the tone of the octaves, either with a single knobs or with two different, one for each octave.

Do I need an octave pedal?

This is one of the few pedals that a bassist should include in his pedalboard (if he had one), along with an envelope filter.

However, you may think octavers aren’t for you. Give them a try, and build an opinion yourself.

Whammy pedal

In reality, whammy pedals are not like a category of pedals as such, but a very peculiar kind of effect made by Digitech.

This pedal works similarly to an octaver, but now you can change the pitch of the note in different intervals, not just limited to octaves. In addition, you can modify the pitch while playing by rocking the pedal with your foot.

Take any recording of Rage Against the Machine and you will hear Tom Morello creating very crazy tricks with one of these.

Digitech Whammy V
Digitech Whammy V

A little history…

The WH-1 Whammy pedal, the original Whammy, was first engineered and manufactured in 1989 by IVL Technologies, and was discontinued in 1993. Now you can find different models by Digitech.

I must admit that this pedal is not one of my favorites, but you will see many top guitarists using this effect since its inception more than 25 years ago.

Features and controls

The main characteristic of the whammy pedal is the pedal itself, as you can modify the pitch of the note you are playing with your foot.

Apart from that, these are the controls of whammy pedals:

  • Harmony. In this mode, it acts as a simple pitch shifter. Add an octave, a third, etc. to your original note, and the pitch shifted note will be always there while playing.
  • Whammy. With this control you can select (up or down) the maximum pitch shifting that you will get by rocking the pedal up and down. This functionality is the one whammy pedals are well known for.
  • Shift. Newer models have an additional section with which you can modify (momentarily or permanently) the pitch of the note. Instead of having a shifted replica of your dry signal, you will now have just one: the “wet” shifted one. Although it appears to not adding any additional juice, this will allow you to play some cool and imposible chord progressions.

Do I need a whammy pedal?

I can’t say that you will need a whammy pedal if you like to play a music style in particular. This pedals are a very personal choice and are not necessary at all 99% of the times.

However, you may think that, for the other 1% of the rest of the times, the whammy is definitely what you need…

Harmonizer pedals

Harmonizers also work with the pitch of the input signal. In this case, they automatically process the tone of the note you are playing and add one (or more) shifted note according to a preset harmony.

You can work with mayor scales, minor, pentatonic, and so on. This can result in a relatively complex signal processing in order to get a natural and nice sounding quality, so better go for a quality pedal here.

These pedals go even further, as some models will allow you to set different shifted notes at different delays, so you it automatically generates arpeggios in a given harmony too.

Eventide Harmonix pitch factor
Eventide Harmonix pitch factor

A little history…

I don’t have very much to say about the history of Harmonizers, apart from the fact that I love how Brian May used them…

Please help me out in the comments section…

Features and controls

Harmonizers are very powerful devices due to the complexity of the digital processing circuits they incorporate. Most of them are rack mounted devices, so it’s very difficult to provide like general controls that an average stompbox device may contain.

In any case, expect to have, at list, some means to select the mode of operation (be sure that an harmonizer pedals will include a few pitch shifting capabilities), and a few more to control a parameter or two (generally the pitch level) of every shifted note the harmonizer generates.

An for sure, an LCD screen to deal with all the controls…

Do I need a harmonizer pedal?

Well, not really, do you?

If you want to emulate Brian May and his mythical harmonies (check the “God save the Queen” at the end of “A night at the opera” album by Queen), try one of them.

They are very versatile and complex devices, so if you are a kind of techy and love just playing and get lost within knobs, parameters and menus, you will be happy with one of those.

 

Here is the complete list of posts of this “pedals explained” series:

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Filtering pedals modify the frequency spectrum of the signal. You may know that any sound you generate is a combination of billions of sine waves, each at a given frequency, with a particular phase and with different amplitudes.

It is very straightforward to visualize the effect of filtering pedals if you think that they simply change the amplitude of some sine waves (at single frequencies) within a given frequency span.

But these pedals are much more than simple tone equalization devices, as they can apply filtering in the time domain, which provides cool dynamics to the tone and creates synthesizer-like effects.

Apart from the basic filtering of the input signal via a graphic EQ, these pedals can produce awesome effects that you would instantly recognize as one of the most representative tones of the history of rock guitar.

In this category, you will see amazing end epic effects, like the Wah-wah that Jimmy Hendrix (once again) made so popular in the sixties. But you’ll also see other awesome effects that use envelope filters.

  • Wah-wah pedals. I’m sure you know this effect. It takes its name for the kind of sound it generates. It is so great because you control it with your foot while playing.
  • Filter pedals. Known as envelope filters, these stompboxes are really cool. Auto-wah could be included in this category.
  • Auto-wah pedals. The effect it creates is very similar (even identical) to the one the conventional way pedal generates. However, you don’t control it with your foot, but it’s created automatically.
  • Equalizer pedals. These are really easy to understand. They allow you to equalize different frequency bands, very much like the tone controls of your amp, but with more versatility.

Wah-wah pedals

This effect takes its name from the kind of sound that it generates. It ¡s another example of the great classic pedals of the sixties rock scene; it also took disco music and funk in the seventies into the next level.

Wah-wah pedals work in very simple way: by rocking the pedal with your foot you sweep the center frequency of an envelope filter, or band-pass filter, through the frequency spectrum.

When that peak is swept through the portion of the spectrum in which the current note or chord is being played, it emphasizes those frequencies and produces a characteristic wah-wah-like sound.

Cry Baby Wah
Cry Baby Wah

A little history…

Wah-wah sound has its origin back in the mid twenties, when trumpet and trombone players in the jazz scene produced such a sound when muting the instrument with their hand.

Regarding guitar world, it seems that the wah-wah pedal was invented by accident. It was mid sixties when VOX engineers were tweaking old tube amps, and they accidentally came up with an weird sound that everybody just loved.

They wanted to replace the expensive Jennings 3-position MRB circuit switch with a transistorized solid state MRB circuit. After adjusting the circuit, they connected its output to a speaker, and the sound surprised everybody around.

They used it with a saxophone, and after that they used a volume pedal to control the wah with a guitar. The rest is history…

VOS wah pedal was released in 1967. Once again, Jimmy Hendrix was the first to amaze the whole world with what this pedal could do with the sound of the guitar. From then on, Wah is considered to be essential in rock music.

The other mythical wah pedal is the CryBaby, which got its name due to the similarity of the tone that it generates with a baby crying. It came out in 1968, and I would say that it’s the most widely used wah-pedal .

In the seventies, funk, soul and disco music guitar players started massively using wah, which took this sound into the next level.

Controls and features

Wah pedals are very simple devices. You won’t usually see any knobs in them, although there are some models that allow you to change the bandwidth of the envelope filter. This way, if you select a narrow bandwidth you will get a sharper wah. On the contrary, if you increase the bandwidth the effect will be less noticeable.

Now, all wah pedals look the same, just like an actual pedal. By firmly stomping on it, you will activate the pedal so you can start rocking.

Do I need a Wah pedal?

It is a classic, and every guitarist should have one, so yes, you need a wah pedal.

Envelope filters pedals

Filters (envelope filters) are very similar to wahs and auto-wahs, although more versatile because they include more controls that allow you to amazingly shape the tone of your guitar.

Most of them include a low frequency oscillator (LFO) that is mixed with some of the controls that the filter has. In some cases, you can even modify the shape of the signal generated by this LFO (sine, square, triangle, etc.).

This is a wide category because there are very different filtering pedals, with very different functionalities and tonal possibilities. Some of them (really complex devices) provide, just with filtering, synthesizer-like sounds that will take your guitar out from conventionality.

SolidGoldFX FUNKZILLA
SolidGoldFX FUNKZILLA

A little history…

The history of envelope filtering is very related to the history of synthesizers.

Just check some recordings of the early progressive rock in the seventies and you will hear a lot of psychedelic synthesizer applying crazy filtering. Once again I will refer to Pink Floyd and “The dark side of the moon” and their mastery (though being just novices experimenting) with the use of synthesizers in the studio.

The first envelope filter was the Mu-Tron III, first made in 1972 and quickly becoming an essential effect for many funk musicians. Other examples of envelope filter pedals include the MXR Envelope Filter and the Boss AW-2 Auto Wah.

Envelope filter pedals are not really mainstream pedals. Although most mainstream brands have an envelope filter in their catalogue, there are not many models in the market (at least not as many as overdrives…)

This pedal also shaped the sound of funk.

Controls and features

In the case of (envelope) filter pedals, the controls vary widely among different stompboxes.

In any case, these are the most commons controls that you can find in the majority of filters:

  • Rate. With the rate you will control the time in which the frequency sweep occurs. Think about a wah pedal that you control with your foot: the faster you rock the pedal, the faster the wah sound is generated. You can obtain the same effect by increasing the rate of an auto-wah.
  • Depth. The depth knob changes the bandwidth of the envelope filter. At its minimum, you will get a subtle effect, whereas turned all the way up you will reduce the bandwidth, obtaining a sharper wah tone.
  • Sensitivity. Sometimes you can obtain a dynamic change in how the pedal reacts to your playing. If you play louder, the wah effect will be more pronounced. You will obtain more natural effect by tuning this control.
  • LFO. With this knob you can change the speed (frequency) of the LFO, from a slight vibe-like effect up to a high frequency helicopter-like high speed tremolo.
  • Envelope. Sometimes you can select between different shapes for the signal generated by the LFO (sine wave, triangular, square, etc.).
  • Mode. Some really cool pedals allow you to select between different modes of operation. Instead of having just a steady LFO with a constant output, they include a few presets with crazy oscillator patterns.

Do I need a filter pedal?

Not really. But trust me, they will boost your creativity, because they allow you to sound so amazing that you will get inspired by the effect itself.

I must admit that, when I’m writing these lines, I am waiting for a present that I’ve made to myself. A friend of mine is about to come from NYC, where he got for me a SolidGoldFx FUNKZILLA. What does this name suggests?

Do you like funk? Then you need a filter pedal.

Auto-wah pedals

Auto-wah is very similar to the classic wah, because it is also based in an envelope filter circuit.

However, you now don’t control the frequency characteristics of the filter with the foot; instead, this is done by the pedal automatically, depending on the dynamics or you playing and the settings of the pedal.

This is a really cool funky effect that gives you a sound kind of different than a classic wah. If you are into soul and funk music, you definitely must have one of those.

Mad Professor Snow White AutoWah
Mad Professor Snow White AutoWah

A little history…

Auto-wah can be considered as a particular case of envelope filtering, so the history of envelope filters apply here.

Controls and features

Auto-wah pedals can be considered as a group within the envelope filters category. However, there are some models in the market with just auto-wha functionality.

in general, they will share these controls:

  • Rate. With the rate you will control the time in which the frequency sweep occurs. Think about a wah pedal that you control with your foot: the faster you rock the pedal, the faster the wah sound is generated. You can obtain the same effect by increasing the rate of an auto-wah.
  • Depth. The depth knob changes the bandwidth of the envelope filter. At its minimum, you will get a subtle effect, whereas turned all the way up you will reduce the bandwidth, obtaining a sharper wah tone.
  • Sensitivity. Sometimes you can obtain a dynamic change in how the pedal reacts to your playing. If you play louder, the wah effect will be more pronounced. You will obtain more natural effect by tuning this control.

Do I need an auto-Wah pedal?

Unless you are into funky stuff, you won’t be thinking in including an auto-wah in your pedalboard… But if you do like how synthesizers can color different sounds by adding filtering and LFOs you will love what these pedals can do with a guitar.

Equalization (EQ) pedals

This effect is pretty straightforward. It consists on a graphic EQ that includes a number of band pass filters at different frequencies. Depending on how many bands the EQ has, you really can change the tone of your playing. EQ pedals usually have slider-based controls to tune each band, that present a graphic image of the shape of your EQ settings.

A little history…

MXR 10 band Equalizer
MXR 10 band Equalizer

Graphic equalizer pedals were widely used in the seventies. They’ve always been used to adequate the sound of the guitar when playing live at a particular venue.

The most popular EQ pedals were those offering 6 frequency bands. Everybody was offering EQ pedals, so you will find Electro Harmonix, Ibanez, DOD and other brands competing since these pedals first appeared.

Controls and features

Graphic equalizers are usually very simple devices to control. They usually have these controls:

  • Volume. You can boost (or attenuate) the output of your guitar with a volume control, after having equalized the sound.
  • Frequency band. You will be able to boost or attenuate different band frequencies independently, with the respective knob or fader. Faders are very convenient because they give you a graphic view of how the frequency equalization is shaped. In fact, they sometimes include an led so you can see the frequency shape on stage.

Do I need an EQ pedal?

You may think that this pedal is not for you, because you have enough EQ control with the knobs of your amplifier. Well, that is true if you are playing at home…

If you play live with a band, you will need some means of quickly equalize the sound coming out of your amp. The sonic characteristics of the venue may impose to boost some signal while attenuating others. You could even need to notch a given frequency to avoid an unwanted feedback to occur.

In addition to that, an EQ can make your guitar sound like it was produced in a recording. They will provide you with a lot of flexibility.

As I said before, if you play in a band in relatively big venues or you just want to be able to change drastically the tone of your guitar, put an EQ pedal on your pedalboard!

Here is the complete list of posts of this “pedals explained” series:

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Everybody knows how delay and reverb effects are like. In fact, they try to reproduce the sonic effect that occurs naturally to any sound that propagates within a closed environment.

Wether you play in a bathroom, in a concert hall or in a cathedral, you will experience how these type of environments affect the decay of the signal, as the (many) echoes bouncing back from every direction (from walls, ceiling, floor) add up to the tail of the signal, expanding its decay.

Depending of the nature (and number) of echoes adding up to the dry signal, you will have what is call reverberation or delay:

  • Delay. You can see the delay as a repetition of the sound delayed in time, either a single repetition or a higher number of them, spaced in time, decreasing in volume over time.
  • Reverb. Reverb is similar to the delay, but with a lot of repetitions, shortly delayed in time. The more delayed the echo is, the lower its volume. All the echoes are blended together, giving a continuous tail to the sound.

Delay pedals

As said before, delay is a natural effect. Now, how this effect is obtained by means of a guitar pedal depends on the technology.

Vintage tape delays were the first artificial means to generate this effect, but when it comes to stompboxes, delay pedals can be classified (roughly) in two groups: analog and digital delays.

  • Analog delay. You experience echo in the natural world when you  clap in proximity of a hard, flat, somewhat distant wall, and hear the sound come bouncing back to you at a delay determined by your distance from the surface. This effect generates echoes using analog circuitry, adding a little change in the tone of the repeats. Analog delay pedals are limited to relatively short delay times and number of repetitions.
  • Digital delay. The evolution of digital circuits allowed generating more complex type of delays, by adding more functionality and increasing the delay time and maximum number of repetitions. Some pedals even include a built-in looping function that allows you to record short (or sometimes pretty long) riffs and repeat them infinitely, playing over the top.

A little history…

Empress Tape Delay
Empress Tape Delay

The early implementation of any means of delay (artificially generated) was again by using electromechanical devices. By recording the signal in two tape reels, you could adjust one of them to be delayed in time with the other, obtaining a delay effect. This is how old tape delays worked. They allowed a new way of playing in the fifties, setting the bases of rockabilly and early rock&roll.

Some guitar players find the tape delay as the pure vintage tone. That is the reason why most manufacturers include in their catalogue modern versions of tape delay pedals. They are obviously not like real tape delays, but they model (either analog or digitally) its sound electronically. Empress Tape Delay is a great example of a great modern tape delay.

As always, the evolution of solid-state electronics allowed reducing the size and complexity of delays. Thanks to the Bucket Brigade Device (BBD) chip, delay pedals became very popular in the seventies. They also added more versatility to guitarists thanks to the controls they implemented and the longer available delay times.

They increasing capabilities and lower prices of digital solid-state technology brought small and affordable delay pedals in the early eighties. The first commercially available digital delay pedal stompboxed was the Boss DD2 Digital Delay in 1984.

Digital memories allowed to increase the delay time up to a couple seconds. Modern digital pedals feature infinite number of repetitions. Some even include a looper function, allowing you to record a phrase, and then play along while the recorded phrase is looped over time.

Every pedal manufacturer (even most of boutique brands) include at least one delay pedal in their catalog.

You can dig deeper in the history of delay by checking out  these articles, one by the great high-end pedal manufacturer Effectrode and the other by Wikipedia.

Controls and features

The number of controls of delay pedals is different depending on the type of delay that it targets.

An analog delay pedal will be simpler than a digital delay modeling workstation. Here the possibilities are endless.

You can be sure that you will find, at least, three knobs in any delay pedals: Level, Time and Feedback. However, there are a lot of different delay pedals in the market, and you will find a few of them implementing the following controls:

  • Level. As always, this knob changes the presence of the effect. You will be able to go from a completely dry sound to a fully blended, only-delayed signal.
  • Mode. Some pedals target different types of delay: ping-pong (in stereo stompboxes), analog delay, digital delay, echo, loop, tape, reverse, etc.
  • Time. With this knob you can change the delay time. A lot of pedals also have a Tap switch, with which you can change, by stomping on it, the time of the delay, adjusting it to the rhythm of what you’re playing.
  • Feedback. Feedback accounts for the number of repetitions. With this knob at its minimum, you’ll only hear a single repetition. Turn it all the way up and you’ll have infinite repetitions (in a digital delay). The delay sound is usually faded out with the repetitions.
  • Tone. Some pedals allows you to change the tone of the delay, especially analog delays. Some analog delays also include a little modulation in the repetitions.

Do I need a delay pedal?

Just like I sed with Overdrive pedals in the Part 2 of this series, I will say Yes, no doubt here.

You do need a delay pedal. Or two (one that you will have always on and the other just for playing with other sounds). It is very common to have a delay pedal for short delays and another one for longer delays.

Reverb pedals

Reverberation can be defined as the persistence of a sound after it has been produced. Reverb is commonly experienced in an empty, unfurnished room, or really in any chamber with walls,  where multiple short echoes with long delays build up to an atmospheric recurring delay in the sound created in that room.

It can be imperceptible in an open space or a crowded and fully carpeted chamber,  and you can really notice its effect in a cathedral or a big cave.

Even though reverberation can be considered as a unique effect that occurs when some number of different echoes (at different delay times) add up to the end of the sound you play, reverb pedals try to emulate different types of reverbs.

Here are the most common types included in many reverb pedals:

  • Room. Room reverb try to emulate the kind of reverberation you may have naturally in a chamber. That is, in a relative small closed space, where you don’t expect to have long reverb times.
  • Hall. In this case, this reverb accounts for bigger spaces. Imagine yourself playing the guitar in a cathedral, or in a big cave. Similarly to the Room reverb, Hall emulates a reverberation that occurs naturally.
  • Plate. Plate reverb was an electromechanical way to reproduce natural reverberation in the late fifties. By using an electromechanical transducer, they create vibration in a large plate of sheet metal. A pickup captures the vibrations as they bounce across the plate, and the result is output as an audio signal.
  • Spring. Spring reverb is kind of similar to the plate reverb, because they also use an electromechanical transducer to create vibration in a spring (or more than one). A pickup captures again the vibrations of the spring. A lot of vintage tube amplifiers had built-in spring reverbs in them.
  • Shimmer. It is a kind of reverb that introduces additional notes (usually an octave up) that gives you a choral sensation. It is a sort of ghost-like effect that will give you a strange (but sweet) sustained tone.

A little history…

Electro Harmonix Cathedral reverb
Electro Harmonix Cathedral reverb

The first artificially generated reverberation was made thanks to spring reverberators. Spring reverbs are bulky electromechanical devices that utilize a transducer and a pickup to create and capture vibrations within a few metal springs, creating a very peculiar effect.

After spring reverberators, plate reverberators were used in the sixties to generate reverb in recording studios. They a similar to spring reverbs, but in this case they capture the vibrations along a metal plate, producing a different sound.

In the guitar world, spring reverb became mainstream due to the fact that most vintage tube amps started to incorporate built-in reverbs. Some of the most mythical devices being made by Fender in the sixties (i.e. Fender Princeton Reverb, Fender Deluxe Reverb, etc.).

Apart from modern reissues of vintage tube amps (of any brand), modern amplifiers include built-in spring reverbs. On the other hand, the history of reverb pedals (as stompboxes) is shorter, due to the fact that most of them use digital technology, and everybody was very happy just using proper spring reverbs…

It was in 1985 when the first reverb pedal appeared. The DOD FX45 Stereo Reverb (perhaps along with the Arion SRV-1 Stereo Reverb) the was based on analog technology and preceded the first digital reverb pedal ever made: The Boss RV2 Digital Reverb.

Nowadays every manufacturer incorporates some reverb pedals in their portfolio. They are great units, some trying to emulate spring-based vintage sounds, some others allowing you playing with endless types of reverb sounds.

Controls and features

All reverb stompboxes are digital. Therefore, the functionalities of these pedals are countless. However, most of them try to emulate real environmental sensations.

There are pedals for a single kind of reverb. This way, you can find spring reverb pedals with a single control on them, just like some amps have built-in.

However, some other pedals have infinite possibilities do to the amount of controls they include. Take as an example the Strymon BigSky, without any doubt, the best reverb pedal ever made.

In any case, you may expect to play with these controls in most reverb pedals:

  • Level. As in most guitar pedals, the level knob in your reverb pedal (also called Mix, Blend, etc.) changes the volume of the reverb. If you turn this knob at its minimum, you’ll only have the dry signal (without any reverb). Turn it all the way up, and you’ll only hear the reverberated sound. This knob will allow you to dramatically change the presence of your guitar, whether if it feels at the very front (dry) or behind any other instrument (fully wet).
  • Mode. Some pedals implement different kind of reverbs. With this knob, you’ll be able to change the type of the reverb.
  • Time. With this knob you will control the decay of the reverberation, i.e. how long does the sound takes to vanish. With less time, the reverb will emulate smaller spaces, whereas larger times stand for larger environments.
  • PreDelay. This knob controls the time until the reverb sound happens.
  • EQ. Some pedals implement different means to equalize the tone of the reverberation.

Do I need a reverb pedal?

My answer is yes. In fact, looking for a reverb pedal for me was the reason to start this website.

Everybody will tell you that there is nothing like natural reverberation. Just play in a good sounding room, and that will be the best reverb for your tone.

In addition, if you are playing live with your band, the sound engineer will tell you to play dry so he will ad reverb to the whole mix (if necessary). The same applies to the studio. When recording, just play dry, the reverb will be added afterwards.

Well, that is ok, but a reverb pedal may give you the possibility to change the presence of your guitar when playing live, and it can also change how your amp sounds like at different volumes.

You may also think: “my amp already has a built-in reverb”. Yes, you’re right! But you will have to stick to a single (and very peculiar) kind of reverb: spring reverb.

If you want versatility, and you like to create different kind of sound ambients by using reverb, you better get a good digital reverb pedal.

You will enjoy it just playing alone. you will sound different. You will sound great.

Here is the complete list of posts of this “pedals explained” series:

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Modulation-based guitar pedals modulate one (or more) characteristic of the input signal, such as amplitude, frequency or phase. From just slight phase shifting to orbital flanging, these pedals can definitely change the character of the sound of your guitar.

How the modulation is produced very much depends on the effect. However, all of them change one of the characteristics of the signal. This change is generated (modulated) by a predefined pattern.

To do so, all these kind of pedals work similarly: the input signal is divided in two copies. One of them (dry) stays the same, whereas the other (wet) is modulated. Then both are blended together, creating an amazing effect.

As you know, any sound is composed by a few (or billions) of single sine waves. Each of these single sine waves are defined by three parameters: amplitude, frequency and phase.

  1. The amplitude (measured in volts) of the signal determines the volume of the sound. The higher the amplitude, the louder the sound.
  2. The frequency (measured in Hertz) sets the pitch of the sound. Remember that we usually tune any instrument by using an A at 440Hz as a reference.
  3. The phase of the signal (measured in radians, or degrees) express its time delay when crossing the zero volts amplitude.

Perhaps some of the effects that I include in this part don’t fit very well within this category, but it is sure that all of them ad some kind of modulation to the input signal. These are the most representative modulation guitar pedals:

  • Chorus. Chorus pedals try to make a single instrument like of more than one is playing, just like a voice chorus does.
  • Phaser. Phaser pedals shift the phase of the signal.
  • Flanger. Flanger pedals also shift the phase of the signal, but the effect is a little different than the one phaser do.
  • Tremolo. Tremolo pedals modulate the amplitude of the signal.
  • Vibrato. Vibrato pedals try to emulate the vibrato you can apply to the neck of your guitar naturally, with your left hand.

Chorus pedals

The chorus effect tries to make one instrument to sound like if more than one is playing.

To do so, it takes the input signal, doubles it, and put the doubled signal slightly out of time and tune with the original. This way, when both the original sound and the doubled one are played at the same time, it seems like two instruments are playing together, but not in perfect tuning.

To do so, they apply a short (selectable delay) that gives a more natural taste to two instruments playing together. That also apply a varying pitch shifting at a given rate, to emulate a “bad” but natural slight out-of-tune.

Boss CE2 Chorus
Boss CE2 Chorus

A little history…

Due to the short delay times these effect apply, these effects weren’t available until the seventies. The reason was, as with other effects, the availability of low price chips.

The first commercially available chorus pedal was the Boss CE1 Chorus Ensemble. As soon as it appeared in 1976, it was instantly assumed by the big fishes of the music scene. In fact, this pedal was one of the main factors why The Police sounded like it did. Andy Summers was a big fan of this pedal.

After the CE1, Electro Harmonix brough into the scene two other models that you can still find reissued: the Memory Man Stereo Chorus/Delay and the smaller Small Clone.

Then MXR, DOD, Ibanez and the rest of big manufacturers incorporated a chorus pedal in their catalogs. Today, a lot a boutique pedal makers offer chorus pedals in both analog and digital implementations.

Controls and features

The features of chorus pedals have increased with the time, mainly due to the possibilities that digital signal processing brings to these circuits. Nevertheless, you can expect to be able to control this parameters in any chorus pedal:

  • Level. This knob simply changes the presence of the effect over the dry sound. Turn it counter-colckwise and you will have the dry sound; turn it clockwise all the way up and you’ll feel the presence of
  • Tone. The tone control equalizes the high (or mid) frequencies of the wet signal (i.e. the part of the signal affected by the chorus).
  • Rate. This knob changes the speed (frequency) of the modulation effect.
  • Depth. This control changes the depth of the modulation.

Do I need a chorus pedal?

As I have explained in the Part 2 of this series, you NEED a few (a lot) of different gain pedals. However, modulation pedals are more like a personal choice.

Do you need a chorus pedals? Buy one if you like the effect that it produces, or just because you love the eighties… Check out any song by The Police and you will hear Andy Summers mastering the chorus effect with his guitar.

Chorus pedals sound great with clean sounds, either chords or arpeggios. On the other hand, they can make your distortions sound great too!

You may like the color this pedal can give to your sound when playing arpeggios in pop music. It’s great for some kind of hard jazzy sounds or fusion music too. Mike Stern is a great example of what you can do with this effect when playing impossible solos.

Phaser pedals

Phasers, or phase shifters, where originally designed to emulate the effect of a rotary speaker, like a classic Leslie cabinet.

Similarly to chorus pedals, they split the input signal in two and modulate one of them in a less intuitive manner than a chorus pedal does. A phaser takes the doubled signal and shifts its phase between 0 and 360 degrees. This phase shift affects differently to each frequency present in the original signal.

When the shifted signal is mixed back with the original signal, some frequencies phase cancel while others add together to create notches and peaks in the frequency response.

Modulating the filter’s phase shift with a low-frequency oscillator (LFO) sweeps those notches and peaks up and down the frequency range over time to create a spacey whoosh and swirl effect.

A little history…

MXR vintage Phase 90
MXR vintage Phase 90

Phaser pedals were created to emulate the effect of the rotary speaker of a Leslie Cabinet.

The first phaser pedal was the Univox Uni-Vibe. Even though it included Chorus and Vibrato controls on it, it was more a phaser pedal, based on optoelectronic circuits. Its circuit included discrete transistors, and some light bulbs and light cells, and an LFO. This is the reason why it was so big.

Big but sweet… Any of the modern clones don’t have its warmness and hypnotic sound. Just try to sound like David Gilmour in “The dark side of the moon”. No way without an original Uni-Vibe.

After the Uni-Vibe, other epic phaser pedals came into scene. The MXR Phase 45 and Phase 90, and the Electro Harmonix Small Stone are still available today at great prices.

These were simple devices (just a single knob to control the phase shifting). Nowadays, every major manufacturer includes one (or more) phasers in their catalogs. Some of them being fully digital, allowing endless features and controls.

Controls and features

There are some powerful phaser pedals with a lot of knobs and switches that are very flexible a versatile. They can provide a wide span of different sounds and effects.

On the other hand, take one of the greatest phasers of all time: MXR phase 90. How many knobs and switches does it have? Just one! And it sounds great…

Most of phaser pedals are very simple, and these are the typical controls you will find in an average phaser:

  • Depth. This control changes the maximum phase shift of the signal. Shifting the phase to higher values (usually turning the knob clockwise) gives a more noticeable effect.
  • Rate. Change the speed at which the phase varies from zero to the maximum value set by the Depth control with this knob.

Do I need a phaser pedal?

In my opinion, yes.

Not just because you can obtain orbital sounds with it… Small phase shifts at low effect levels make slight changes in the guitar tone that are great too.

But for those loving the effect of Leslie-like rotary speakers, or trippy sounds from the late sixties and seventies, this pedal can provide them with great times.

What if I ask you what is the best album of all times? I’m sure that “The dark side of the moon” by Pink Floyd is in your top 10 list (if not in your number one). David Gilmour taught everyone how to use a phaser (using an Univox Uni-vibe). Take “Breathe” as an example.

It sounds great, doesn’t it? Go and get a phaser!!

Flanger pedals

They are based on the same principle of modulation than phasers, with a similar sweep and motion to its sound.

However, they usually apply more dramatic frequency-altering effects going on within that motion, by imposing more control over the inverse points of the out-of-phase relationship, what results in a more oppressive effect.

They are more complex devices, requiring more involved circuitry and therefore more control knobs than phasers.

Electro Harmonix Deluxe Electric Mistress
Electro Harmonix Deluxe Electric Mistress

A little history…

Long time before the first flanger pedal appeared as a stompbox, the effect was generated manually in the studios.  How? By running identical recordings synchronized on two separate reel-to-reel recording machines, and placing a finger against the flange of one to slow it slightly; then releasing again to let the reel speed up again and chase the unadulterated machine.

As “simple” as that.

Once again, the proliferation of transistors made it possible to reproduce the flanging effect with an electronic circuit inside a guitar pedal.

However, flanger circuits are pretty complex so that they emulate manual flanging in a reliable way, and it wasn’t until the end of the seventies where the most preferred devices hit the market, allowing guitarists to widespread those trippy sounds.

Flanger pedals like A/DA Flanger, Electro Harmonix Electric Mistress and MXR Flanger set the standards for flanger pedals, and started forcing guitarist to spend a few hundred dollars (in the seventies) to get one of those stompboxes.

Controls and features

As I said before when discussing about phasers, there are flangers with a lot of knobs and switches, which can take you to another planet.

But the flanger effect is so great that they can sound orbital with just a few controls. Take as an example the Electric Mistress by Electro Harmonix… In an average flanger pedals, you will find three knobs:

  • Level. Flanger pedals usually have a level knob, so you can change how the dry and wet parts of the signal are mixed together.
  • Depth. The depth control changes the maximum time that the wet part of the signal is delayed.
  • Rate. The rate knob varies the speed (or frequency) of the time shift from zero to the maximum delay set by the depth control.

Do I need a flanger pedal?

I think that the flanger effect is something that either you love or hate it.

You can have a great time playing with your flanger pedal, but if you are in a band, be sure that your guitar will be ahead everything else if you use this effect.

But it could be great though… Add distortion to your flanger, and you will love the metallic sound you will get. Check out “Are you gonna go my way” by Lenny Kravitz. That is how you should use a flanger…

Tremolo pedals

By modulating the amplitude of the signal (i.e. volume level) you can obtain a helicopter-like pulsing effect at different speeds.

A little history…

DeArmond Tremolo
DeArmond Tremolo

In the guitar world, Tremolo first appeared as an amp-based device. It basically consisted on an tube-based circuit that cut (at different speeds and amplitudes) the signal entering the power tubes in the output stage.

The very first Tremolo pedal as a stompbox was the DeArmond Tremolo Control. I recommend reading this great article with the brief history of tremolo for more information about how this effect evolved over time.

Nowadays you can find great tremolo pedals. You will see some (like the Demeter TRM-1 Tremulator) with the few controls you could find in a vintage tube amplifier like the Fender Tremolux. On the other hand, other units are way out more complex, but also very versatile (check out the Empress Effects Tremolo 2).

Controls and features

Vintage tube amps implementing tremolo had very basic functionality. You were only able to change both the depth and frequency of the amplitude modulation.

There are modern tremolo pedals that have many possibilities to experiment with. However, most of them implement (perhaps with different names) the following controls:

  • Wave. Some tremolo pedals have a knob (or a switch) to change the shape with which the amplitude is modulated. It can be squared, saw teeth, sine wave, etcetera.
  • Depth. The depth changes the dynamic range of the amplitude variation. With the depth control all the way down, you won’t notice the effect. Turn it all the way up, and the amplitude difference will be maximum, just like an on-off effect.
  • Rate. This knob changes the frequency of the amplitude modulation

Do I need a tremolo pedal?

If your amplifier has a built-in vibrato, you don’t need a tremolo pedal.

But, would you like to have more controls over the vibrato, like modifying the attack, changing the modulation shape, etc. you’d like to check out one of the most modern stompboxes.

On the other hand, if your amp doesn’t have tremolo and you like old school, vintage effects, you should add a tremolo pedal to your pedalboard. They are very cool…

Vibrato pedals

Vibrato is another great example of a pedal that emulates a natural effect.

Think of an orchestra playing classical music. You will see any single player applying vibrato to the instrument.

By slightly modifying the note above or below its original pitch you obtain a warbling effect, similar to the one you obtain when bending a note of your guitar.

Univox Uni-Vibe
Univox Uni-Vibe

A little history…

Vibrato was also first adopted in tube amps, but it was also one of the first guitar pedals available for guitarists to play with.

As I’ve said before, the Univox Uni-Vibe was more a phaser than either a chorus or vibrato. However, it is also a kind of a vibrato unit. Guess where does its name come from?

Today, most of the vibrato pedals you will find are based on the old Uni-Vibe. Some of them claim to be clones (or slightly modified versions of it) like the JHS Warble-Tron and MXR M68 Univibe. Other pedals are re-designs of the Uni-Vibe, like this beauty: the Effectrode Tube-Vibe, a tube-based Vibrato unit, probably the best vibrato pedal in the market.

Controls and features

Just like modern flangers, state-of-the-art vibrato pedals may contain a few knobs that allow you to play with different kind of vibratos.

In any case, you can find, at least, the same controls that you had in a vintage Univox Uni-Vibe:

  • Level. Like in all pedals, the Level knob changes the presence (i.e.) volume of the effect.
  • Rate. The rate control changes the frequency at witch the vibrato is produced. You can generate vibratos at higher frequencies than your left hand (at least mine) can produce…
  • Depth. The Depth knob sets the maximum pitch of the vibrato.

Do I need a vibrato pedal?

Not really. You can do vibrato with your left hand, or with your whammy bar. But, as I always say, you love guitar pedals… Do you like Pink Floyd? What about “The dark side of the moon”? Listen the guitar at “Breathe”. Liked it?

Mmmm, perhaps you start thinking on buying one now…

 

Here is the complete list of posts of this “pedals explained” series:

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Gain is defined as an increase (or reduction) in signal strength. Sometimes, gain-based guitar pedals do it with high fidelity regarding the input signal, meaning that guitar tone remains unaltered but boosted.

But most of the times (yeah) they add some juice to the tone, creating amazing textures for your light crunchy rhythms, thick power chords or the dirtiest leads.

You can think of the electrical signal coming out of the guitar as a pure sine wave. That is not really true, as the real signal does include tons of sine waves at different frequencies that adds up, which gives it its characteristic sound. However, it is a good and simple way you can visualize what occurs.

Now imagine you add some gain to this signal (you amplify it). You will have an exact copy of the input signal, but increased in amplitude (i.e. strength). You have a boost pedal here.

What happens if you add more gain? It will be a certain point (called threshold) where the signal will start clipping. The amplitude of the output sine wave can’t be higher, so it gets saturated. And what’s that? Yes, distortion. You have now an overdrive pedal.

How about adding even more gain? Well, the signal clips more, and the resulting output sine wave starts looking very different from a pure sine wave. The amplitude gets more saturated and you have more distortion. Here you have your distortion pedal.

Add more gain!! The output signal can get to a point where it gets so saturated that it can be seen as a square wave. Now you have something like a fuzz pedal

JRC-4558D Opamp
JRC-4558D Opamp

Why can the sound of pedal be so different from other from the same family? Why an Ibanez Tube Screamer TS-808 sounds differently from a Klon Centaur? Well, apart from the fact that the electronic circuits are different, the way that the clipped part of the waveform looks like is different in both cases.

You may have symmetrical clipping (i.e. the signal gets saturated identically at both high and low peaks) or asymmetrical clipping. You can also change the shape of the saturated region in many different forms.

Germanium clipping diode
Germanium clipping diode

The elements in charge of making the signal to clip in gain-based electronics circuits are Opamps (that include a few transistors) and diodes. Even with the same Opamp from different manufacturers you will notice a difference in the sound. Change the type of clipping diodes, and you will definitely notice how the sound changes… Check out this youtube video of a Klon Centaur clone with a few different clipping diodes. Which one did you like the most?

There are different types of gain-based pedals, depending on both the amount of gain and tone (due to signal shaping) they give to the guitar’s signal:

  • Compressor pedals boost (or reduce) both the attack and decay of the signal, compressing it.
  • Boost pedals boost the signal, normally without distorting it.
  • Overdrive pedals add more gain and add some distortion, just like a cranked tube amp does naturally.
  • Distortion pedals add even more “natural” distortion, just like if you fully crank a stacked high-wattage tube amp.
  • Fuzz pedals add extreme distortion and amp-broken-like sound.

Compressor pedals

As their name indicates, compressor pedals compress the input signal, by smoothing the attack of the note and sustaining its decay, reducing the dynamic range of the input signal. This way, the sound of the guitar becomes a little thicker. In addition, there is less variation from note-to-note (and from note-to-chord) volume, which makes the sound more even and tight.

Sometimes you won’t even notice the presence of a compressor pedal because you can’t hear any “artificial” boosting in the attack or in the decay of the sound, but you’d tell it’s there anyway. Stomp on the pedal, switch it off and you will miss its presence.

MXR vintage Dyna Comp
MXR vintage Dyna Comp

A little history…

Desktop compressor units have been present in all racks of any recording studio. With the appearance of solid state electronics, transistors substituted vacuum tubes, and smaller versions of compressors as stompboxes emerged.

First compressor stompboxes were very simple devices, designed around a basic Opamp IC with a few transistors, resistors and capacitors in there. However, compression circuits were a little more complex than other gain-based pedals, such as boosters and fuzzes.

Among the old pedals that started delighting guitarists with their compression effect in the sixties, you must credit the Ross Compressor, MXR Dyna Comp and Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer. Today you can find modern (and vintage) reissues of old school pedals, or copies of them made by boutique brands.

Controls and features

You can find hundreds of compressor pedals. Most of them are very simple devices and include just one or two controls. However, you can also see more complex devices including a few more knobs that allow you to tweak the sound even further.

These are the typical features you may expect controlling with the knobs of a compressor pedal:

  • Attack. Adjusts the strength of the picking attack. Increasing its value (usually turning the knob clockwise) will result in a sharper attack, creating a more clearly defined sound.
  • Sustain. Adjusts the strength of the decay of the sound. Turn the knob clockwise and you will increase the sustain of your guitar.

Do I need a compressor pedal?

If you like the kind of compression that tube amplifiers apply to the sound, you may like tu use a compressor pedal to get a similar effect at lower volumes.

Compression comes very handy when playing in a band, so don’t hesitate to try one and bring it to your next rehearsal. You will notice the difference.

If you are into funk and/or soul music, you NEED a compressor pedal. There is no way you can get those funky guitars without one of those…

Boost pedals

Boost pedals simply increase the strength of the input signal. They are normally transparent, meaning that they boost the signal strength without distorting it.

They are great as a kind of High Fidelity preamps, providing the signal with a level ready to rock when driving a tube amp. Sometimes they are used to simply increase the volume without coloring the sound of the guitar.

However, some booster models can add a little distortion when turned all the way up. They can even fatten the sound adding more presence to your solo…

A little history…

In the mid sixties, when fuzz pedals were rocking on every stage, some guitarists started asking for some means of boosting the signal in order to drive the tube amplifiers harder at higher volumes, with no change in the sound (like fuzz did).

Electro Harmonix LPB1
Electro Harmonix LPB1

It was Electro Harmonix and its LPB1 booster, with its simple circuit based on a single transistor, the first one available on the market. It was a huge success, which contributed other brands to start producing similar stompboxes.

In the seventies, other pedals appeared too, such as the MXR Micro Amp and Dan Armstrong’s Red Ranger, contributing to the popularity of boosters among guitarists.

From there on, other brands started producing boosters. Today, there are are lots of boost pedals on the market. Some of them are very transparent, other tend to color the sound,  making it a little thicker or brighter, and other add a little distortion. Plenty of options for your particular taste…

Controls and features

Some models have controls for changing the tone of the sound (bass, treble, etc.), but you can expect boost pedals to be very simple stompboxes:

  • Boost. Boost, level, volume… you name it. The main knob of any boost pedal controls the level of the boost in the signal strength. Turn it clockwise, and the volume of your guitar will rise.

Do I need a boost pedal?

Well… I would say that a boost pedal fits in any pedalboard. If you are a jazz player, you may need some extra volume in your clean tone for soloing. On the other hand, you are looking for a warmer and crunchy tone in your overdrive or distortions. Add a boost pedal to your tube amp or overdrive pedal, and you’ll definitely find the difference.

In addition to that, it can result in a versatile and handy choice within large pedalboards, as the effect of boosting the signal also copes with signal (i.e. level and tone) loss due to long signal chains, similar to a buffer does.

Due to their simplicity, boost pedals are usually cheaper than other stompboxes (within the $100 price range) and fit any music style, so get one of those!

… By the way, the answer is yes, you DO need a boost pedal!

Overdrive pedals

Overdrive pedals are, by no means, the most popular of guitar pedals. They provide a higher gain than boosters, usually emulating the effect of a semi-cranked (or even fully-cranked) vintage tube amp.

There is a huge variety of different models that give infinite flavors to the guitar tone, as they don’t simply increase the gain of the signal, but introduce sweet different harmonic distortion into it.

They are great to use with clean amplifiers to add a little crunchy bright tone, but you can get most of them by driving a cranked tube amplifier even harder. Just like tube amps like…

A little history…

Overdrive pedals were born to emulate the sound of a cranked tube amplifier. For this reason, they appear later than other gain-based pedals.

Ibanez TS808 vintage Tube Screamer
Ibanez TS808 vintage Tube Screamer

The godfather of overdrive pedals is, without any doubt, the Ibanez Tube Screamer TS-808. Most of overdrives you can find now in the market are either copies of the pedal or modified circuits based on the original model.

Other vintage overdrives have (and still are) very popular too, as the MXR distortion + or the Klon Centaur. This one uses a very different circuit and is considered the holy grial of overdrive pedals. It was discontinued long time ago and you will need $2.000+ in eBay to get one.

The mystery of this pedal is that the circuitry was covered with a black epoxy to prevent it to be copied. However, you can find a few models that claim being exact clones of the Klone made by both mainstream and boutique manufacturers.

You might think that vintage overdrives have not enough drive or add a little (but holy sweet) distortion. Actual overdrives can be very dirty and can be seen also as distortion pedals. You can even find models with more than one channel, including different levels of drive, which makes them very convenient when playing live.

Controls and features

As overdrive pedals are the most popular (by no means) guitar pedal, the are tons of brands and millions of different models. Some of them may be populated with lots of features and different channels, but any of them includes the following controls:

  • Volume. This knob sets the volume of the effect, as simple as that.
  • Drive. Here comes the juice of its sound. This knob controls the amount of gain applied to the signal, so that it starts clipping and gets a little distorted. Turn it all the way up and you will rock with the sound of an overdriven tube amplifier.
  • Tone. This knob changes the tone of the sound, usually equalizing mid frequencies. You can go from low-mid heavier sounds to a high-mid warmer bluesy character with this control.

Do I need an overdrive pedal?

YES. Lots of them. no doubt here.

Distortion pedals

Add more gain into the equation and you will get more distortion. The range of distortion obtained with these pedals goes from the one you can get from a fully-cranked tube amp  to very extreme metal-like thick sounds.

Just like overdrives, distortion pedals are very popular among guitarists, and there is no reason at all for not having a couple of distortion pedals in your pedalboard.

A little history…

ProCo Rat
ProCo Rat

Like overdrive pedals, distortion stompboxes were created to emulate higher levels of distortion generated naturally by high wattage tube amplifiers.

The ProCo Rat can be considered the first distortion pedal, which took the level of distortion of vintage overdrives (like the Tube Screamer TS-808 and MXR Distortion +) way up dirtier.

With the evolution of heavier sounds starting from the late seventies, some distortion pedals go beyond standard distortion sounds. Modifying the contour and reducing mids while increasing the bright of the tone, you will get into metal.

From classic rock to death metal, the variety of distortions you can generate with distortion pedals is infinite.

Controls and features

Distortion pedals contain very similar features and controls than overdrives, so you may expect to see similar controls here…

  • Volume. This knob sets the volume of the effect, as simple as that.
  • Distortion. Similarly to the drive knob of overdrive pedals, this knob controls the amount of gain applied to the signal, so that it clips and gets distorted. Turn it all the way up and you will rock with the sound of a (fully) cranked tube amplifier.
  • Tone. This knob changes the tone of the sound, usually equalizing mid frequencies. You can go from low-mid heavier sounds to a high-mid warmer bluesy character with this control.

Do I need a distortion pedal?

You may think that you don’t need a distortion pedal, because you are very happy with the distortion you get from your dirty channel of your tube amp.

Well, that might be ok, but you do love guitar pedals, don’t you? You can get many different distortion sounds with different pedals. You can even obtain the typical distortion of your favorite amplifier, so plenty of versatility here, get a few…

If you like distortion and you like rock or heavier sounds, add a few distortion pedals to your collection!

Fuzz pedals

A fuzzed tone can be way different from other classic distorted sounds. It gives a very thick compressed saturated sound with and endless sustain. Fuzz really changes the shape of the input signal, producing a sound that is similar to a broken amp.

Dunlop JDF2 Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face
Dunlop JDF2 Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face

Turn up the volume of a tube amplifier, and you will hear a sweet overdrive when it starts to break up. Turn it all the way up and you will have a distortion…

… Now remove one of the paired output tubes, bias the preamp tubes with the wrong values and make a hole in the cone of the loudspeaker with a screwdriver. Crank your amp all the way up. That is fuzz.

You have to notice though that you may find some fuzz pedals that are, in reality, distortion pedals. Fuzz is more than distortion, it goes a step further in the level of “dirtiness”…

A little history…

Fuzz pedals are “the godfather” of guitar pedals. It was the early sixties, and solid state electronics were taking over traditional vacuum tube-based circuits. Put one or two transistors with a few resistors and capacitors into a stompbox, and you got a fuzz.

Early fuzz models include Maestro Fuzz Tone, Sola Sound Tone Blender and Dallas-Arbiter Fuzz Face. Even though the last one came later, it can be considered as the one, pure myth. Why? Because of him: Jimmy Hendrix. Saint Jimmy Hendrix.

gty_jimi_hendrix_up_close_portrait_bw_thg_121120_wmain

This model has been widely cloned (in both circuitry and shape) and it is sold by many different brands. You can distinguish it not just by its tone, but also because of its smily face, fuzzy face.

They initially used in their circuits Germanium transistors, which made them poorly reliable. There was a huge dispersion between transistors, which made different exact pedals to sound different. It even happens today with fuzz faces.

Modern fuzzes use Silicon transistors, whose sound is considered to be harsher, to experiment with newer sound.

But the majority of manufacturers still dig on the old school Germanium transistors, not only to recreate vintage style fuzz tones, but to experiment with new kind of fuzzy sounds.

Controls and features

As previous gain-based pedals, you may expect to be able to control how the effect blends with the original sound (or any other means to vary the volume of the effect) and the amount of fuzz. These are the most common knobs included in the majority of fuzz pedals:

  • Volume. This knob sets the level (volume) of the effect, as simple as that. In some cases, you may find a blend knob, to control how the fuzzed sound mix with the original.
  • Fuzz. This knob controls the amount of gain applied to the signal. In this case, the signal doesn’t just clip, it get a squared-like shape instead. Turn it all the way up and you you will hear a broken (but sweet) amplifier.
  • Tone. This knob changes the tone of the sound, usually equalizing mid frequencies.

Do I need a fuzz pedal?

No, you don’t need a fuzz pedal.

But… you play guitar, and you like Jimmy Hendrix, don’t you? If you want to emulate his sound or just love dirty thick fuzzy sounds, try one and play the guitar intro of “Satisfaction” by Rolling Stones. Did you enjoy it? Buy it!

Here is the complete list of posts of this “pedals explained” series:

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There are literally thousands and thousands of different guitar pedals. They contribute to color the sound of the guitar, depending on the type of circuits they contain. You can listen any kind of music record, and you will recognize the taste of guitar pedals.

From just a slight (and even imperceptible) signal compression up to a crazy fuzz, there is a great variety of guitar pedals. A common way to sort them is according to what they do with the signal that enters to them, as listed here:

  1. GAIN: boost, compression, overdrive, distortion and fuzz.
  2. MODULATION: chorus, phasing, flanging, tremolo and vibrato.
  3. ECHOING: analog delay, digital delay and reverb.
  4. FILTERING: Equalization and wah-wah.
  5. PITCH SHIFTING: octaver, whammy and harmonizer.
  6. OTHER: Synth: talk-box, expression and volume.

In the following sections I will describe a little more these groups of effects, although I will write more in depth, dedicated posts for each of them, in this “pedals explained” series.

Gain guitar pedals

Gain is defined as an increase (or reduction) in signal strength. Sometimes they do it with high fidelity regarding the input signal, meaning that guitar tone remains unaltered but boosted. But most of the times (yeah) they add some juice to the tone, creating amazing textures for your light crunchy rhythms, thick power chords or the dirtiest leads.

There are different types of gain-based pedals, depending on both the amount of gain and tone (due to signal shaping) they give to the guitar’s signal.

You can head to the Part 2 of this series for a more in depth description of gain-based guitar pedals.

  • Compressor pedals. As their name indicates, these pedals compress the input signal, by smoothing the attack of the note and sustaining its decay. This way, the sound of the guitar becomes a little thicker. In addition, there is less variation from note-to-note (and from note-to-chord) volume, which makes the sound more even and tight.
  • Boost pedals. They are normally transparent, meaning that they boost the signal strength without distorting it. They are great as a kind of HiFi preamps, providing the signal with a level ready to rock when driving a tube amp. Sometimes they are used to simply increase the volume without coloring the sound of the guitar.

    Ibanez TS808 vintage tube screamer
    Ibanez TS808 vintage tube screamer
  • Overdrive pedals. They provide a higher gain than boosters, usually emulating the effect of a semi-cranked (or even fully-cranked) vintage tube amp. Overdrive pedals are, by no means, the most popular of guitar pedals. There is a huge variety of different models that give infinite flavors to the guitar tone, as they don’t simply increase the gain of the signal, but introduce sweet different harmonic distortion into it. They are great to use with clean amplifiers, but you can get most of them by driving a cranked tube amplifier.
  • Distortion pedals. Add more gain into the equation and you will get more distortion. The range of distortion obtained with these pedals goes from the one you can get from a fully-cranked tube amp (or even less) to very extreme metal-like thick sounds.
  • Fuzz pedals. A fuzzed tone can be way different from other classic distorted sounds. It gives a very thick compressed saturated sound with and endless sustain. Fuzz really changes the shape of the input signal, producing a sound that is similar to a broken amp.

Modulation guitar pedals

Modulation-based guitar pedals modulate one (or more) characteristic of the input signal, such as amplitude, frequency or phase. From just slight phase shifting to orbital flanging, these pedals can definitely change the character of the sound of your guitar.

You can head to the Part 3 of this series for a more in depth description of modulation-based guitar pedals.

  • Chorus pedals. The chorus effect tries to make one instrument to sound like if more than one is playing. To do so, it takes the input signal, doubles it, and put the doubled signal slightly out of time and tune with the original. This way, when both the original sound and the doubled one are played at the same time, it seems like two instruments are playing together, but not in perfect tuning.
  • Phaser pedals. Phasers, or phase shifters, where originally designed to emulate the effect of a rotary speaker, like a classic Leslie cabinet. Similarly to chorus pedals, they split the input signal in two and modulate one of them in a less intuitive manner than a chorus pedal does. A phaser takes the doubled signal and shifts its phase between 0 and 360 degrees. This phase shift affects differently to each
    MXR vintage phase 90
    MXR vintage phase 90

    frequency present in the original signal. When the shifted signal is mixed back with the original signal, some frequencies phase cancel while others add together to create notches and peaks in the frequency response. Modulating the filter’s phase shift with a Low-Frequency Oscillator (LFO) sweeps those notches and peaks up and down the frequency range over time to create a spacey whoosh and swirl effect.

  • Flanger pedals. They are based on the same principle of modulation than phasers, with a similar sweep and motion to its sound. However, they usually apply more dramatic frequency-altering effects going on within that motion, by imposing more control over the inverse points of the out-of-phase relationship, what results in a more oppressive effect. They are more complex devices, requiring more involved circuitry and therefore more control knobs than phasers.
  • Tremolo pedals. By modulating the amplitude of the signal (i.e. volume level) you can obtain a helicopter-like pulsing effect at different speeds.
  • Vibrato pedals. By slightly modifying the note above or below its original pitch you obtain a warbling effect, similar to the one you obtain when bending a note of your guitar.

Delay and Reverb guitar pedals

Everybody knows how these effects are like. In fact, they try to reproduce the sonic effect that occurs naturally to any sound that propagates within a closed environment.

Wether you play in a bathroom, in a concert hall or in a cathedral, you will experience how these type of environments affect the decay of the signal, as the (many) echoes bouncing back from every direction (from walls, ceiling, floor) add up to the tail of the signal, expanding its decay.

You can head to the Part 4 of this series for a more detailed description of time response-based guitar pedals.

  • Analog delay.  You experience echo in the natural world when you  clap in proximity of a hard, flat, somewhat distant wall, and hear the sound come bouncing back to you at a delay determined by your distance from the surface. This effect generates echoes using analog circuitry, adding a little change in the tone of the repeats. Analog delay pedals are limited to relatively short delay times and number of repetitions.

    Electro Harmonix Cathedral reverb
    Electro Harmonix Cathedral reverb
  • Digital delay. The evolution of digital circuits allowed generating more complex type of delays, by adding more functionality and increasing the delay time and maximum number of repetitions. Some pedals even include a built-in looping function that allows you to record short (or sometimes pretty long) riffs and repeat them infinitely, playing over the top.
  • Reverb. Reverberation can be defined as the persistence of a sound after it has been produced. Reverb is commonly experienced in an empty, unfurnished room, or really in any chamber with walls,  where multiple short echoes with long delays build up to an atmospheric recurring delay in the sound created in that room. It can be imperceptible in an open space or a crowded and fully carpeted chamber,  and you can really notice its effect in a cathedral or a big cave.

EQ and Wah guitar pedals

These pedals modify the frequency spectrum of the signal. Apart from the basic filtering of the input signal via a graphic EQ, these pedals can produce awesome effects that you would instantly recognize as one of the most representative tones of the history of rock guitar.

You can head to the Part 5 of this series for a detailed description of filtering-based guitar pedals.

  • Wah-wah. This effect takes its name from the kind of sound that it generates. Another kind of classic pedal in the sixties rock scene, it also took disco music and funk in the seventies into the next level. This pedal works in very simple way: by rocking the pedal with your foot it controls an envelope filter, or band-pass filter, that creates a peak in the frequency spectrum. You increase or reduce the pass band of the filter simply opening or closing the pedal with your foot. When that peak is swept through the portion of the spectrum in which the current note or chord is being played, it emphasizes those frequencies and produces a characteristic wah-wah-like sound.

    Cry Baby classic wah
    Cry Baby classic wah
  • Auto-wah. Auto-wah is very similar to the classic wah. It is also based in an envelope filter circuit. However, you now don’t control the frequency characteristics of the filter with the foot; instead, this is done by the pedal automatically, depending on the dynamics or you playing and the settings of the pedal. This is a really cool funky effect that gives you a sound kind of different than a classic wah. If you are into soul and funk music, you definitely must have one of those.
  • Envelope filtering. Auto-Wahs may be considered as a particular case of envelope filtering. The envelope filter pedals include different pass filter capabilities, as well as other knobs to generate sounds out of this world. Some pedals may even include low-frequency oscillators (LFO) that blends with the filtered sound, which rises the versatility of this kind of devices to produce analog-like synthesized interstellar sounds.
  • Equalization (EQ). This effect is pretty straightforward. It consists on a graphic EQ that includes a number of band pass filters at different frequencies. Depending on how many bands the EQ has, you really can change the tone of your playing. EQ pedals usually have slider-based controls to tune each band, that present a graphic image of the shape of your EQ settings.

Pitch shifting pedals

Even though pitch shifting pedals could be grouped with other filtering related effects pedals, they generate such distinctive sounds and atmospheres that I have include octavers and harmonizers in a separate category. What they basically do is generate additional notes (at different pitches) to the original, creating magical harmonies.

You can head to the Part 6 of this series for a more in depth description of pitch shifting-based guitar pedals.

  • Octaver. An octave divider pedal splits the input signal and adds (or subtracts) an octave tone to the original. In some stompboxes, an octave can be added and subtracted at the same time, and all them up to the original note. When adding an upper octave you will get a trippy, psychedelic dual-part sound on single-note riffs, similar to the tome you can obtain with a 12 strings guitar. However, this effect may sound horrible when playing chords…

    Digitech Whammy V
    Digitech Whammy V
  • Whammy. Take any recording of Rage Against the Machine and you will hear Tom Morello creating very crazy tricks with it. This pedal works similarly to an octaver, but now you can change the pitch of the note in different intervals, not just limited to octaves. In addition, you can modify the pitch while playing by rocking the pedal with your foot.
  • Harmonizer. Harmonizers also work with the pitch of the input signal. In this case, they automatically process the tone of the note you are playing and add one (or more) shifted note according to a preset harmony. You can work with mayor scales, minor, pentatonic, and so on. This can result in a relatively complex signal processing in order to get a natural and nice sounding quality, so better go for a quality pedal here. If you like Brian May, you have to try out one of those …

Other guitar pedals

Apart from the effects pedal typologies described before, there are many other kind of pedals that cannot fit into any of them. They can create create sounds that have nothing to see with the sound of a guitar.

You can head to the Part 7 of this series for a more detailed description of other great guitar pedals.

  • Synth. Synthesizer-like pedals create amazing sounds just like keyboard-like synthesizers. Instead of feeding the digital processors to synthesize sounds with a piano keyboard, you feed them with the strings of your guitar. And how do they work? They capture the pitch and volume of the notes (or chords) you are playing and generate a raw digital signal. Now you can do whatever you want with this signal: play a Hammond organ, a sitar… you name it.

    Electro Harmonix micro synth
    Electro Harmonix micro synth
  • Talk Box. This pedal is used to create kind of voicy effects. These pedals take the sound of the guitar and direct it to your mouth via a plastic tube with an adjacent microphone. Then you modify the sound by changing the shape of your mouth, “vocalizing” the sound of your guitar; this way you make your guitar to appear to “speak”.
  • Expression. Some stompboxes my have an additional input for an expression pedal, allowing you to control any of the pedal parameters (like effect level, speed, etc.) by rocking the expression pedal with your foot. It can be very handy as you may change some effects parameters while you play.
  • Volume. A volume pedal may be seen as an amplitude modulating device. It allows you to control the volume of the guitar with your foot while playing. Usually placed at the beginning of the signal chain, it can change the way the rest of the subsequent pedals (and the amp itself) are driven. They are designed to be transparent so the tone of the guitar remains unaltered; however, the way they react to your foot may be different among different pedals, as you may prefer either a linear or a logarithmic response when stomping on it.

 Guitar pedals explained (Part 2): Gain guitar pedals

 

Here is the complete list of posts of this “pedals explained” series: