What Are the Major Effects Types?

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What Are the Major Effects Types?

Guitar effects foot-pedals, also known as stomp boxes, have come a long way since their basic versions first appeared commercially in the early 1960s. Since then, advances in micro-electronics have resulted in a huge range of sonic possibilities all available and ready for action at the press of a foot-switch. The most commonly used effects pedals are concerned with enabling guitarists to achieve and control distortion, tone, time, dynamics, and pitch.

Distortion Effects

Controlled distortion is an effect favoured in various guitar styles, most notably rock guitar, in which it is an indispensable component of the sound. Distortion, overdrive, and fuzz are three terms that are used interchangeably by many guitarists, but manufacturers often distinguish between them according to the type of distortion produced, albeit with a considerable amount of overlap.

Overdrive

This term is generally reserved for the mildest form of distortion. Overdrive pedals produce a fuller and deeper sound often described colloquially, as well as in advertising terms, as meaty and gritty. Overdrive pedal effects are more pronounced at higher input volume levels than at lower levels.

Distortion

The distortion produced by distortion pedals is generally more intense than the level associated with overdrive pedal. Distortion pedals tend to deliver consistent distortion at all volume levels.

Fuzz Boxes

Fuzz boxes generally produce the highest levels of distortion. Radical reshaping of the input signal's waveform causes many overtones, both harmonic and inharmonic, to be added and a highly distorted effect is the result.

Tone-Control Effects

As every guitarist knows, tone is an a extremely important aspect of guitar sound. Unsurprisingly, tone-controller effects ranging from simple treble and bass controls to highly sophisticated graphic equalisers are available for achieving the desired guitar tone.

Graphic Equalisers

Graphic equalisers are tone controllers that enable very fine adjustments to any selected range of the audio spectrum. Graphic equalisers are a common component of effects racks but less commonly offered as a foot-pedal due to the impracticality of making fine adjustments in real time. Some offer selectable preset options such as bass, middle, or treble range boost or reduce.
Wah-Wah Pedals

By continuously varying the tone of the audio input to an amplifier, the very distinctive effect known as 'wah' or 'wah-wah' is produced. Wah-wah effects pedals enable guitarists to achieve large sweeping changes to the tone at will. This creates variable wah effects not only continuously and for sustained periods, but also, with some skilful footwork, rhythmically.

Time-Delay

Reverb, echo, and looping are terms for delay effects that are often used interchangeably but there are distinct differences in the effects produced and in how they're used.

Echo

Echo is the well-known effect produced by a single repetition of a note or a very short musical phrase. The delay time is adjustable.

Reverb

Reverb is a closely-related echo effect and both effects are often available in the same unit. Reverb units produce a fading series of echoes, each separated by a time interval so brief that the echoes merge and produce a warm resonant effect similar to the sound of music played in a cathedral or large hall. The decay rate of the repeating echoes can be adjusted to mimic the natural acoustic qualities of buildings and venues of various sizes.

Looping

With looping effects pedals, complete musical phrases can be replayed indefinitely. Guitarists will often create and then use a repeating phrase to provide a harmonic background over which they can play or improvise lead solos.

Phasing

Phaser effects pedals combine the original input signal with a phase-shifted duplicate. By constantly varying the phase difference between both signals, the distinctive and familiar phasing effect is produced.

Pitch Effects

Various pitch control effects are available as effects pedals, although some tend to have limited use for guitarists, especially in live situations, due to their being somewhat specialised.

Flanging

Flanging is a slightly detuned effect caused by reproducing the input signal, but with varyingly small pitch differences. The modified signal interacts with the original signal to produce a distinctive, but usually subtle, background effect.

Harmonisers and Transposers

Harmonisers produce pitch-shifted duplicates of the original signal. When combined, the result is a melodic line harmonised at fixed pitch intervals. As true harmony relies on combining notes separated by constantly changing intervals, harmonisers are more of a special effect than a genuine musical aid. Alternatively, by eliminating the original signal completely, the unit can operate as a transposer and reproduce the guitar notes at a different pitch level in real time.

Dynamics

Dynamics effects pedals enable control over various aspects of volume control in real time.

Boosters

Booster units simply boost the strength of the input signal. They are often used by guitarists when emerging from playing background chords to full-blown guitar solos.

Compressors

Compressors normalise the sound by reducing the loudest parts and boosting the quietest parts of the input signal. The resulting sound is more constant and dynamically predictable, but may also be less atmospheric too.

Summary of Effects

The following table summarises the various effects pedals commonly used by electric and, to a lesser extent, acoustic guitarists.

Distortion Effects

Overdrive

Overdrive pedals produce relatively mild distortion resulting in a warmer and fuller sound, which is more pronounced at higher input volumes.

Distortion

Distortion pedals produce moderate to intense distortion of the sound at all input levels.

Fuzz Box

Fuzz boxes produce the highest levels of distortion. Tone and level adjustments capability are normally included.

Tone Control

Graphic Equaliser

Graphic equalisers enable very fine tone adjustments with selective boosting or limiting of any part of the audio spectrum.

Wah-Wah

Wah-wah pedals produce a very distinctive sweeping tonal shift that can be controlled in real time

Time-Delay

Echo

Echo units enable repetition of notes or short phrases.

Reverb

Reverb units produce multiple echoes of diminishing intensity, designed to simulate the acoustics of large halls and arenas.

Looping

Loopers enable extended musical phrases to be captured and repeated indefinitely.

Phasing

Phasers produce their distinctive phasing effects by combining the original signal with a continuously varied, phase-shifted duplicate.

Pitch Effects

Flanging

Flanging is similar in principle to phasing but achieved by slightly, and continuously, varying the pitch of the duplicated signal before combining it with the original.

Harmonisers and Transposers

Harmonisers can be used to ‘harmonise’ a melodic line by any chosen pitch interval, or they can replace the original signal and transpose the notes to any new pitch level.

Dynamics Control

Booster Units

Booster units boost the input level to produce greater output volume or to compensate for loss of volume due to using other effects.

Compressors

Compressors normalise the sound by reducing loud sections and boosting quiet sections of the input signal.

Combining Various Effects

Effects pedals are, typically, designed to produce a single effect or a range of closely-related effects. Distortion pedals, for example, may include a wide range of distortion intensities from mild overdrive to highly distorted fuzz effects. Similarly, echo effects pedals often have a reverb setting too. Fundamentally different effects, such as echo and distortion, aren't usually combined in a single effects pedal. However, it is usually a simple matter to chain effects pedals together in order to achieve a far wider range of effects. Each pedal in the chain can be switched on or off. When switched off, the incoming signal is automatically rerouted to bypass that particular effect; when switched on, the pedal's effect will be mixed in with other active effects within the chain. This arrangement provides enormous flexibility.

How to Find Effects Pedals on eBay

A large range of guitar effects pedals can be found on eBay. Most are conveniently listed under the Guitars category. More specific searches can be made by drilling down and exploring the various subcategories within the Musical Instruments main category, such as Guitars or Accessories/Equipment. eBay's UK site is the best option for those in the UK as most of the items available are located within the country. This avoids the need to deal with sellers abroad and pay high postage and packing costs. It also cuts waiting time considerably.

Conclusion

As the large choice available on eBay confirms, guitar effects pedals are highly popular, especially among electric guitarists. Technological advances by manufacturers regularly bring new effects and functionality to guitarists, and guitarists, in turn, are eager and quick to explore and utilise them where appropriate in their guitar playing - a situation that looks set to continue indefinitely.

 
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