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Guitar pedals

a handy guide (.)

By • Jun 27th, 2019 • Category: new

There’s nothing nicer than a good clean guitar sound, but sometimes nice doesn’t cut it.

And, though the purists may object, there are so many different sounds available, via effects pedals take the original sound and process the waveform before, immediately and seemingly magically, sending a new version to your speakers.

The smallest of can make a massive difference to a guitar’s sound. (Pictured, the the Dr. Robert Guitar Overdrive Pedal by AclamGuitars.com).

Here we look at some of the most popular effects.

Phasers

Technically a phase shifter, this classic device takes the original waveform of a guitar’s output, and shifts one wave out of phase with the other. The resulting oscillation sees the two waves move in and out of phase with each other, resulting in a ‘whooshing’ sound.

Popular with Queen’s Brian May and Eddie Van Halen, the Small Faces single ‘Itchycoo Park’ may be one of the earliest examples of phase on a popular recording.

Chorus

A chorus pedal, as its name suggests, gives the effect of multiple versions of the same note. The new version of the waveform will sound pretty much like the original, but subtly different due to what sounds a little like the same notes duplicated and with a very slight delay between the two versions.

As well as lending itself to combination sounds with other effect pedals, a chorus can also ‘fatten up’ a more sparse guitar sound – especially with semi-acoustics whose pickups may not deliver a very solid sound.

Echo / delay

A simple natural effect echo mimics the sound you’d get if you shouted (or played a powerchord) into a canyon, and had it bounce back at you after a second’s delay. Actual delay pedals can create various effects, affecting the decay of the sound i.e. how slowly it eventually fades away, and adding in modulated delays and oscillations which will give a decidedly unnatural overall sound.

The potential is great as the delay can be varied, allowing the intrepid guitarist to play along with themselves and set up a sort of beat. The unit may also come with a tap pedal which allows the user to control the frequency of the echo and synchronise with the tune’s time signature, or not as required. As famous users such as John Martyn and The Edge will attest.

Looping

Utilised by artists as diverse as Adam Stafford, Hyperpotamus and Ed Sheeran, looper pedals first came to public attention when KT Tunstall appeared on UK TV. It’s possible to build up a percussive backdrop by recording a musical phrase and repeating it. You can then record more loops and layer them, one on top of the other.

Most recording and playback functions are foot controlled, and once you’ve created suitable backing tracks, you can can then play over the repeated passages in real time, creating exciting one-man-band sounds never possible before. Many of the more advanced models include built-in rhythms, custom effects, inputs for vocal mics and other instruments, plus MIDI and USB capabilities so that you can use the looper as part of your digital song-creation and recording processes.

While a good looper provides phenomenal musical potential, especially for solo performances, and most are simple to use, looping can be challenging for the novice to master. Experienced musicians will have an easier time creating with them, either in realtime performance or songwriting.

Wah-wah

The Wah pedal is unusual in that the guitarist affects the sound ‘live’ via the position of their foot on the pedal, much as they might with their tremolo arm – technically affecting the EQ modulation of the signal.

The sound is altered by the foot pushing forwards and down, resulting in the sound gaining more treble. Rocking backwards reins in the higher pitched sounds, and if left in the middle position, you do not get a natural guitar sound; no, in fact the wah delivers a midrange-heavy tone which provides yet another addition to the owner’s battery of effects.

There is also the auto-wah, which removes the need for the device’s rocking pedal. Although the attack time is adjustable, it may be most suitable to let the auto-wah take over and simulate a constant up-and-down effect.

Distortion

Probably the most popular pedal type, distortion covers a multitude of guitar sins (and bum notes in some cases!).

To a layperson the different types of distortion available could come as a surprise, but to a sound scientist, the variety of waveforms possible are manifold, as the pedals shape and break the sound coming from our instruments. So smooth and melodic sounds can be produced, allowing for a warm tone to our strings, and sustain is similarly part of the more easy-on-the-ear benefits of distortion.

Of course, and this is the category that most comes readily to mind, distortion can mean industrial levels of squall and screeching with a sustained tone that is a close relative of feedback and associated with the worst excesses of rock’n’roll.

Perhaps the greatest of guitarists, Jimi Hendrix encompasses both these styles of playing and even the typical name for his pedal sound – ‘fuzz’ – could suggest the warm tones on ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ before his guitar descends into a pyre of feedback and flames.

And with all these pedals comes the opportunity to combine them making for an infinite variety of sounds. Though without custom guitar pedalboards keeping them all organised could be an impossible task.

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