Affordable Effects Pedal Buying Guide

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Affordable Effects Pedal Buying Guide
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Affordable Effects Pedal Buying Guide

Effects pedals are crucial additions to any musician's toolkit. With creative combination of different pedals, musicians can drastically alter the sound of their instruments and create altogether new sounds. Most genres of popular music require the use of some sort of effects pedals, from heavy distortion in rock and metal to reverb in blues and funk. Fortunately, there are plenty of options for musicians who want affordable effects pedals, as this buying guide will demonstrate.

About Effects Pedals

Effects pedals, sometimes also called stompboxes, modify a sound signal and alter it in a way to achieve an altogether new sound. This may be a slight modulation meant to colour the signal with certain effects (echo, reverb, etc.) or a drastic alteration of the instrument's sound (distortion, wah-wah, etc.). Usually, several effects pedals are joined together to progressively alter the sound signal.
Effects pedals were developed in the middle of the 20th century by guitar pioneers such as Les Paul and Harry DeArmond who were experimenting with various recording techniques to alter the sound of the recently invented solid-body electric guitar. The first such effects unit was the Trem-Trol, made by DeArmond in 1948, which produced a tremolo effect. By the 1950s, tremolo, reverb, and vibrato were standard effects in most commercial electric guitar amplifiers. Further development in effects technology was spurred by the demands of the burgeoning rock music movement in the 1960s, particularly through the work of guitarists like Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend, etc.
Today, effects pedals have improved drastically over their earlier counterparts. Pedals may be either analogue or digital and can achieve virtually any sound imaginable.

Buying Affordable Effects Pedals

The purpose of an effects pedal is to alter a sound signal. Certain sound effects become associated with certain genres. Early Rolling Stones' songs were defined by heavy use of Fuzz effect, while thick reverb is a common element of most surf guitar music. Heavy metal and hard rock are completely dependent on effective use of distortion pedals, while the blues-based rock of Jimi Hendrix relied on wah-wah effects to achieve its distinctive sound. Through various permutations and combinations of various effects pedals, musicians can create their own 'signature' style and sound.

Effects Pedals Designs

Broadly speaking, all effects pedals can be classified into three categories: stompboxes, foot treadles, and multi-effects units, as given below.

 

Stompbox

A stompbox unit typically consists of a single effect and has to be pressed down with the foot (hence the name, 'stomp') to activate the effect. Stompboxes can be joined together to progressively alter an audio signal and create altogether new sounds.

Foot Treadle
 

A foot treadle effect pedal is like a car accelerator pedal, i.e. it can move both ways. Foot treadle pedals are rarely used nowadays but were a staple in the 1970s. Pressing the foot treadle up or down changes the audio signal accordingly. This design was commonly used in wah-wah pedals.

Multi-Effects Pedals
 

These pedals combine several effects into on large box. Each box might have several separate pedals or stompboxes to activate different effects. Such effects units are usually digital.

Analogue vs. Digital Effects Pedals

Effects pedals can be classified as either digital or analogue, depending on how they modify an audio signal:

 

Analogue

An analogue pedal works with the raw, continuous signal coming directly from an instrument. Since there is no need for signal conversion, analogue pedals are faster and sound more natural. As a downside, an analogue pedal can create only a single, specific effect. They also tend to be expensive.

Digital
 

A digital pedal uses an analogue-to-digital converter (ADC) to convert a raw analogue signal into a digital signal. This digital signal is then fed into a microprocessor which alters it to achieve a desired effect. The altered signal is finally converted once again into analogue format and transmitted to a loudspeaker. Because of multiple conversions involved, digital pedals suffer from latency and sound quality issues. However, a digital effect pedal can create virtually any sound imaginable, making it more versatile for beginners.

Effects Pedals Categories

Depending on the method employed, effect pedals can be split into different categories. These can be seen below:

 

Gain

Gain pedals work by increasing or decreasing the volume of a raw audio signal. These pedals are used to create a rougher, heavier sound and are commonly used in rock and metal music. Example: distortion, overdrive, fuzz.

Wah
 

Wah pedals emphasise certain frequencies in an audio signal, creating a swooshing, sweeping sound. Example: wah-wah, auto wah.

Delay
 

Delay pedals split the audio signal into two copies. The two signals are then played back together, albeit with a slight delay between them. This can create a variety of effects such as echo, reverb, among others.

Modulation
 

Modulation pedals modify an audio signal by emphasising certain frequencies and amplitudes. This results in a variety of effects such as flanger, chorus, phaser, etc.

Equalisation
 

Think of equalisation pedals as gates or sluices that can be opened or closed to allow certain sound frequencies to go through. Equalisation pedals are vital to any sound setup and are used to emphasise bass, treble or mid-range in an instrument. Example: graphic equalisation.

Types of Effects Pedals

Effects pedals can be used to create virtually any sound imaginable. Different pedals alter the audio signal in different ways. Some are 'gain' based effects that increase or decrease the volume of the signal, while others are ambience based that imbue the signal with certain ambient and tonal qualities. Depending on the effect, pedals can be classified as follows:

Effect Category
 

Effect Type
 

Description


 

Gain
 

Distortion
 

A distortion pedal thickens and boosts an audio signal to make it sound heavier or louder. It is one of the most commonly used effects in modern popular music, especially in rock and heavy metal genres. Distortion can increase sustain of a guitar, which makes it popular for both rhythm and lead instruments.


 

Overdrive
 

Similar to distortion, overdrive produces a chunkier but smoother sound. Overdrive is normally used in genres like blues where sustain is desired without the roughness of distortion.


 

Compressor
 

A compressor pedal affects the dynamic range of an audio signal – i.e. the high volume sounds become lower, while lower volume sounds become higher. Effectively used, compressor pedals can be invaluable for lead guitar as they amplify the volume of lower frequencies and even out the edge of higher ones.


 

Fuzz
 

Fuzz imitates the sound of distortion pedals without the rough edges and loudness. Fuzz pedals were widely used in the late 1960s and 70s, particularly by bands like Rolling Stones and The Who.

Wah
 

Wah-Wah
 

The simple wah-wah pedal is a staple of rock music. It works by emphasising certain frequencies in the audio signal while muting others. Pressing down on a wah-wah foot treadle increases treble, while pressing back increases bass. These pedals were extensively used by artists like Jimi Hendrix.


 

Auto-Wah
 

The auto-wah pedal eliminates the foot treadle used in wah-wah pedals. Instead, it relies on the volume of the raw audio signal to create the wah effect. By carefully increasing or decreasing the volume of the guitar, it is possible to create a finely controlled wah-wah effect.

Delay
 

Echo
 

An echo pedal creates a long delay between two copies of an audio signal. The effect is similar to the sound created when someone speaks in a large empty room. Echo effects are commonly combined with other effects to create unique, tonally rich sounds.


 

Reverb
 

Reverb pedals create more natural sounding delays than echo pedals. They can be used to create the impression of playing in large arenas or halls.

Modulation
 

Chorus
 

A chorus effects pedal makes a copy of a raw audio signal and plays it back with the original. The effect can be very nuanced or pronounced, depending on the setting. Chorus effect is widely used in lead guitar in genres like rock, blues, etc.


 

Flanger
 

Flanger effect is similar in principal to chorus, albeit with a slight difference. A copy of the raw audio signal is played back with the original but with a very slight delay. This creates a thick, chunky sound.


 

Tremolo
 

One of the first effects ever invented, tremolo increases and decreases the volume of the audio signal rapidly. The speed of this change can be controlled to create a variety of sci-fi sounds. Tremolo effects were popular in 1960s and late 50s.


 

Vibrato
 

Instead of increasing/decreasing volume, vibrato alters the pitch of a raw audio signal. This creates a subtle out-of-tune sound with increased sustain.


 

Phaser
 

A phaser pedal creates loud sweeping sounds that were a staple of rock music in 1970s and 80s. Phaser is more pronounced than chorus, but subtler than flanger. It works by shifting the audio signal backward in time to create a long delay, which is then played back with the raw original.

Equalisation
 

Graphic Equalisation
 

A graphic equalisation pedal splits the audio signal into several frequency channels or bands ranging from 20Hz to 20kHz. By increasing/decreasing the band range, it is possible to emphasise certain frequencies, such as bass, treble, or mid-range. Graphic equalisation pedals are usually the last units to be used in any effect chain.

How to Buy Affordable Effects Pedals on eBay

A variety of affordably priced effects pedals can be found on eBay. To find effects pedals, go to eBay's homepage and search for effects pedals in the Guitars category. The resultant searches can be filtered according to instrument type (electric guitar, bass guitar or acoustic guitar), by brand (Boss, Behringer, etc.) or by effect type (distortion pedal, wah-wah pedal, chorus pedal, etc.).

Conclusion

Affordable effects pedals can dramatically improve the versatility of an instrument and help musicians create altogether new sounds. Effects pedals are also crucial for playing music in a particular genre and for expanding the capabilities of an instrument. By combining different pedals together, musicians can push the boundaries of what is possible. Since effects pedals tend to be expensive, it is advisable to purchase affordable effects pedals off websites like eBay.

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