This is our rough guide to guitar effects, everything from distortion types to modulation and time based effects. Effects are devices that electronically alter the sounds that come out of your guitar. They are placed on the signal path between your amp and your guitar, and you can have as many as you want in whatever order you want. When used tasefully, effects can make wonders out of your guitar sound.
Effects can generally be broken down into four categories:
- Gain based: These effects act on the volume or signal level and can alter your sound in various ways. Some examples include distortion and volume pedals.
- Tone based: These affect the actual tone color (treble, middle, bass) of your sound. Some examples include wah-wah and the EQ pedal.
- Modulation: These effects generally make sounds come out of your guitar that you never thought possible. Some make your guitar sound like it's in the middle of a tornado, or underwater. Some examples include chorus, phaser, flanger, tremolo and vibrato.
- Time based: These effects alter your guitar signal in various ways to add ambience to your guitar sound. Some examples include delay and reverb.
Guitar effects come in four basic formats:
Single function effect pedals, or stompboxes: These are the most common type of guitar effects. They are called stompboxes because you literally step on the unit to turn the effect on or off. Virtually all stompboxes run on a single 9-volt battery or an AC power supply. Stompboxes sound best when placed between the guitar and the amp on your signal path. They generally do one thing well and they do look cool.
Multi-effects units: Multi-effects combine and variety of different effects into a single unit. Any multi-effect pedal will offer all the basic effects (distortion, reverb, delay, phaser) but some are more advanced and offer amp modeling. The big advantage to multi-effect units is convenience and affordability, but they generally don't sound as good as stompboxes. Thik jack of all trades. Plus they sound VERY digital
Rack mounted effect processors: When something is rack mounted, that means it sits in a cabinet-like rack that usually sits on top of your amp. The actual effects are housed in the rack, and you control them using footswitches located near your stompboxes. Rack mounted effects are usually higher quality and sound better than stompboxes, but are a lot more expensive. Also they are not very fashionable. Still, worth considering if you have an eighties penchant and possibly your own mullet
Effects built into an amp or preamp: These effects are built directly into the guitar amplifier. Some amps offer a wide variety of effects, such as distortion and reverb. Some companies such as Fender and Marshall have been including built-in effects in their amps for close to 50 years. Built-in effects generally sound very good, but are usually very limited in terms of tweaking options. You don't have to use them at all if you don't want to though.
This is a basic rundown of the controls and features of most guitar effects.
- Input: Where the signal enters the effect unit or signal chain.
- Output: Where the signal leaves the effect unit.
- Control: The knobs that allow you to tweak your effects.
- Bypass: Removes the effect from the signal chain.
Modulation effects are the mainstay of the modern guitar sound. They use time and frequency modulation technology to create some truly unique sounds.
Chorus: The primary function of chorus is to make a single instrument sound like many instruments. It works similar to a delay unit, by digitally recording the guitar signal, except it mixes the delayed signal with the original to create a very thick and full tone. Chorus has been one of the trademark effects for the rock genre for years. It has been used by virtually every classic rock guitarist at one point or another.
Flanger: Flanging got its name from a trick used in recording studios where the same track was played on 2 reel to reel tape machines, and recording engineers gently touched the flange of one tape reel to produce a small delay between the machines. Then, by touching the flange of the other reel, they would bring the machines back into synchronisation again, removing the delay. This created a notch in the sound frequencies, which produced a whooshing and breathing sound. It was the perfect effect for the psychadelic era.
Phaser: Phasers use an internal low frequency oscillator to automatically move notches in the frequency response up and down the frequency spectrum. The resulting effect is very similar to that of a flanger, but phasers usually sounder thicker and creamier. It has been a popular effect in funk and progressive rock.
Time Based Effects
This category is also refered to as ambient effects because of their abilitiy to add ambience to your tone. These effects esentially add the acoustic elements back to your electric guitar by adding resonance and life to your tone. The most common time based effects are delay and reverb, which both simulate reflected and repeated sound.
Delay (also known as echo): Delay is an echo effect that replays what you have played one or more times after a period of time. It's something like the echoes you might hear shouting against a canyon wall. The original delays were tape machines running a loop of tape that recorded your playing. The sound was replayed through one or more replay heads positioned further around the loop, then ultimately erased, ready for the next recording. Most delay units nowadays are are done digitally, but the premise remains the same.
Reverb: Short for reverberation, reverb has been the most popular guitar effect for decades. It was one of the first effects ever to be included on a guitar amp. Reverb is designed to simulate natural acoustic space. It's job is to basically make your tone sound as though you were playing in a large concert hall, and add life to your tone. Reverbs usually offer a wide variety of parameters to simulate different environments.
Tone Based Effects
This category includes anything that alters the treble and bass content of your tone.
EQ: Equalization allows you to modify your guitar's tone by boosting and cutting certain frequencies. For example, you could boost the bass or cut out the midrange. Most guitars have onboard tone control, but the floor pedals are much more in-depth and allow more tweaking. If you are serious about your guitar tone, an EQ pedal is a must have.
Wah-Wah: A wah is an EQ filter with a variable frequency. As you rock the pedal up and down with your foot, the filter emphasizes certain frequencies and cuts others, to create a sweeping effect that makes your guitar sound like it's saying "Wah." You can also leave the pedal at a certain position to add some flavor to your tone. There are some pedals that sweep through the frequencies automatically, so you don't have to rock your foot back and forth.
Optimising Your Signal Path
The order that you place your effects on the signal path has a large impact on your sound. Although you can't really order your rack or multi-effect units, stompboxes are individual components and you can order them however you want. If you know what you're doing, this opens up another realm of flexibility options for you to weak and alter your tone.
It is best to link your effect units using patch cables (very short guitar cables made for linking effects). They are relativeley inexpensive, and are worth the investment because they sound a lot better than just standard guitar cables.
This is basic guide on how to setup your effects on your signal path. Don't limit yourself to just these parameters, but if you are new to effects in general, or just don't know what you're doing, then you might want to follow these tips.
Gain and tone based: Most guitarists tend to put these early in the effects path because they make up a majority of their tone. They are designed to work on your guitar' ouput, so place them between your instrument and the amp's input.
Modulation and time based: These effects will sound fine placed into your amp's input, but if your amp has an effects loop, I stronly recommend you place them there instead. The effects loop inserts the effects after the preamp, but before the power amp, so most of your tone is left intact.
If your tone starts to become distorted due to the number of effects you have added, place a noisegate at the end of your effect chain to eliminate some of the distortion.
Organizing Your Effects
It is best to mount your stompboxes on a pedalboard, and use patch cables to eliminate clutter and keep everything organized. Some pedalboards can be pretty complicated and expensive, but you can build your own with some wood and velcro iand you don't need anything too fancy. Just make sure you have enough room to activate and deactivate your pedals without accidentaly hitting adjecent units. If you are serious about organisation, you might want to invest in a commercail pedalboard, which usually have an included powersupply and other advanced features. A typical pedalboard is shown below.
Heybrook Music's rough guide to guitar FX
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31 March 2007
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