Importance of Guitar Effects Pedals to Guitarists
Each guitarist (or bassist) will eventually discover the allure of effects pedals, and how they can enhance their sound (or cause mayhem). Upon seeing the price points, the next question is whether pedals are necessary and whether pedals should be added to the musical arsenal.
Are guitar effects pedals necessary or worth the investment? Using effects pedals can help you achieve the exact tone and sound you desire for your guitar and amplifier. It should be noted that they are, however, not necessary. An electric guitar and an amplifier can be a very successful combination. The decision as to whether pedals are worth their price depends on your financial circumstances.
This article discusses whether or not guitar effects pedals are necessary and whether it is worthwhile to purchase one, two, three, or four pedals.
Do Guitar Pedals Play a Significant Role in Your Playing?
In response to the main question at hand, yes, guitar pedals are not necessary in order to play guitar.
An electric guitar can be used to produce sound by simply plugging it into an amplifier. You can use this guitar sound in practice rooms, jam sessions, recording sessions, and live performances.
Several controls on the guitar and amplifier can affect the sound of a guitar when it is connected to a guitar amplifier. Turning knobs on a guitar or amplifier can usually control volume, overdrive/distortion, tone, and equalization.
In some amplifiers, there are even built-in effects and/or patches that can be used to produce a variety of sounds. Reverb is a common effect found in amplifiers today.
The truth is, there are a variety of reasons why you would want to have pedals in your guitar rig.
One of the most obvious reasons is to have additional effects that may or may not be accessible from the guitar and amp alone. Different types of effects pedals can significantly alter the sound of a guitar. In the following section, we will discuss these types in more detail.
Therefore, the most practical reason for having an effects pedal (or a chain of multiple pedals) is to switch between various effects settings on the fly. You can continue playing without having to take your hands off your guitar (or your mouth off of the microphone).
However, pedals are certainly not necessary but can make your sound much more interesting, and dynamic, and give your guitar a wide variety of distinctive sounds.
This is a Quick List of Guitar Effects Achieved by Pedals
The guitar pedal market offers a wide selection of effects. Let us take a quick look at the different types of guitar pedals in order to gain a better understanding of whether pedals are necessary.
- Tuner Pedals
- Expression Pedals
- Volume Pedals
- Buffer Pedals
- Compressor Pedals
- Equalizer Pedals
- Wah Pedals
- Preamp Pedals
- Boost Pedals
- Overdrive Pedals
- Distortion Pedals
- Fuzz Pedals
- Delay Pedals
- Reverb Pedals
- Leslie/Rotary Pedals
- Chorus Pedals
- Vibrato Pedals
- Tremolo Pedals
- Phaser Pedals
- Flanger Pedals
- Pitch-Shifting Pedals
- Octave & Harmonizer Pedals
- Envelope Filter Pedals
- Ring Modulation Pedals
- Synth Pedals
- Looper Pedals
- Switcher/Controller Pedals
- Multi-Effects Pedals
As you can see above, some pedals are intended for effects, while others (such as the tuner pedal) are used for utility. Keeping that in mind, let’s continue.
Effects That Can be Achieved Without the Use of Effects Pedals
Okay, so this section may become a bit hairy as we explore ways to achieve the same effects (and functionality) without pedals.
It is only possible to recreate certain effects without pedals.
It is important to note that recording practices will not be discussed in this section. It is possible to achieve any effect using an audio plug-in inside a Digital Audio Workstation or through a non-pedal effects unit.
Instead, I will focus on the effects that a guitar and amplifier are capable of generating on their own.
- Guitar: Fender Stratocaster (’92 Mexican-Made)
- Amplifier: Orange Crush 35RT Combo (35 Watt Solid-State)
Which of the effects that are available in pedals can I achieve with this guitar and this amplifier?
- Volume Control
- Octaves & Harmonization
There are many amplifiers that do not offer as many features as the Orange Crush 35RT, so the ability to tune with just a guitar and amplifier (other than by ear) is not always possible.
Reverb and Tuner are represented by the “RT” in Crush 35RT.
Accordingly, in the setup described above, I am able to effectively tune my guitar without the use of a tuner pedal.
Consider investing in a clip-on tuner if you wish to tune your guitar without a pedal and do not have an amplifier with a tuning function.
The other option is to use an app like GuitarTuna to tune your guitar without the use of a pedal if you are in a quiet environment.
Many DAWs provide tuning software as a last resort in recording situations.
We should not be surprised by this. There are volume controls on both the guitar and amplifier.
Many pedals provide multiple EQ bands, while others offer one, two, or three (often referred to as bass, mids, and treble).
On the 35RT amplifier, these controls are also located for bass, midrange, and treble. It is possible that other amplifiers have a more complex EQ.
Also, I have the option of adjusting the two-tone knobs as well as the pickups to alter the EQ of the Strat.
On the Crush 35RT, the gain and volume controls are used to adjust the preamps and power amplifiers.
The amp’s volume control can be adjusted in such a way that overdrive can be achieved.
It is possible to achieve a guitar distortion pedal effect by engaging the “dirty” circuit of the amplifier and adjusting the gain knob of the amplifier at the same time.
When the Reverb knob for the amplifier is turned up, the built-in spring reverb can be added to the signal.
It is important to note that there are other types of reverb available as pedals. In spite of this, the reverb in the Orange amp is quite pleasing.
The term vibrato is simply a term used to describe a rapid pitch oscillation (up and down) achieved on the guitar by holding a note and rapidly bending the string up (or down) and back. It is also possible to achieve this vibrato effect using a whammy bar (also known as a “tremolo bar”).
The vibrato pedal is typically capable of oscillating the pitch at a faster rate and with greater pitch difference than a guitarist.
In essence, tremolo is a rapid oscillation of volume. You can achieve this, to some extent, by rapidly turning the volume knob on your guitar or amplifier.
The tremolo pedal will be able to oscillate more rapidly at a deeper attenuation while also being more consistent.
Octaves & Harmonization
On the guitar, octaves and harmonization are certainly possible (within reason). Guitars typically have six strings, allowing them to harmonize six different notes together, including octaves.
There are Octave and Harmonization pedals that can assist in creating a harmony that would not otherwise be possible, such as harmonizing notes above or below the natural range of the guitar.
An amplifier with two channels, such as the Orange Crush 35RT, can be switched between a clean and dirty channel.
A footswitch can be used to engage the switch or a toggle on the amplifier itself may be used to switch it.
A Recap of How to Achieve Pedal Effects Without Pedals
In conclusion, some pedal effects, but not all, can be created without the use of pedals.
The use of pedals will generally provide extra functionality as well as, in many cases, more controlled, consistent, and extreme outcomes than those that can be achieved without them.
As mentioned previously, pedals have the added advantage of being controlled by our feet, leaving our hands free to continue playing while engaging (and sometimes adjusting) our effects pedals.
Identify Your Own Unique Sound and Focus On It!
How would you like to sound? There are some guitar pedals that are expensive, but there are others that are more affordable.
There is no doubt that cost and value are not mutually exclusive. These are two different factors that are completely independent of one another. In the opinion of one guitarist, a $1000 guitar pedal is not worth the price, while in the opinion of another guitarist, a $5000 guitar pedal is worth the price.
Work within your budget (there are many pedals that can be purchased within everyone’s budget) and then expand from there. There is no need to spend thousands of dollars on guitar pedals in order to take advantage of their benefits.