Electric Guitar : Gearing Up For Great Sound Part 3 : Effects

In the last two articles we covered the most important “keys to the kingdom” of great sounding electric guitar (besides your actual playing skills, of course). Having the right guitar and amp will get you 99% of the way there. Effects are like hot sauce on your tone…to add a kick and a little flavor to your sound.

What effects you choose will largely depend on what type or style of music you will be playing. Or if you have a specific sound in mind, what effects will give you that sound. Certain styles of music…traditional blues or jazz for example, will tend to use less effects than others. However, it really is up to the individual player to decide how many or little effects to use.

When it comes to effects, there are a million different individual pedals you can choose from, and A LOT of them sound great. It would be impossible for me to list ALL of the great sounding pedals out there. So I’ll just give you some tips coming out of my experience with them.

First off, let me say that there are many companies that make great effects. Boss, MXR, Electro-Harmonix, Ibanez, Fulltone, and TC Electronic are a few of the more popular brands. I’ve visited websites & forums where people basically bash some of these companies saying their pedals suck. That’s just a load of BULLSHIT. Don’t get caught up in the hype of fancy and boutique effect pedals. While it is true that boutique stuff will probably sound fantastic, they are usually also fantastically overpriced. If you are just starting out on your journey to find “your sound,” before you buy a $300 distortion pedal, check out what the pro’s are using. You may be surprised to find that your favorite player might be using a $50 Boss overdrive to get that great tone! Search online or Youtube for “guitar rig” and after a while you’ll see some pedals that keep showing up in player’s setups. That’s a pretty good indication that it is a quality pedal.

When it comes to effect pedals, I would give you the same advice that I gave regarding guitars and amps. Go with what is PROVEN. All of the pedals I recommended below are regularly used by pros. If you’re looking for great tone, you should use what the pros use.

The first effect most guitarists buy out of the gate is an overdrive/distortion pedal. These types of pedals are usually divided into four categories (in order of least distortion to most): boost, overdrive, distortion, and fuzz. How much distortion you want will determine which of these you will go for.

Some pedals I’ve used or tried out that I can recommend are:

Xotic RC (boost)
Xotic EP (boost)
Ibanez TS-808 Tubescreamer (overdrive)
Ibanez TS-9 Tubescreamer (overdrive)
Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive (overdrive)
Boss DS-1 Distortion (distortion)
Boss FZ-2 Hyper Fuzz (fuzz)
Fulltone OCD (overdrive)
Fulltone Fulldrive 2 (overdrive)
Suhr Riot (ovedrive)
ProCo Rat (distortion)
Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi (distortion)
Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face (fuzz)
MXR Custom Badass Modified OD (overdrive)

There are many, many great OD/distorton pedals out there. These are just the ones I’ve tried. Keep in mind that all of these pedals have their own distinct sound to them, so it would be smart (& not to mention fun!) to try as many as you possibly could before deciding which one to invest your hard earned cash on. Also, if all you’re gonna play is rock or metal, I would recommend getting most of your overdrive/distortion from a good tube amp. After that, all you may need is a boost to kick it up a notch for solos or lead lines.

If you’re short on cash, but want a distortion or overdrive, I would recommend one of the Boss pedals. Last I remember the DS-1 was going for around $40. But don’t let the price fool you…it’s a good sounding distortion…better than a lot of pedals twice the price.

Beyond a good OD/distortion, there aren’t many pedals I would say are “necessary.” It all depends on what YOU want. The most important point I want you to remember is that no matter what effect pedal you have, it all starts with a good guitar and amp. I constantly get complimented on my live tone, and most of the time I’m playing clean, just guitar and amp with no effects! As great as any pedal is, it would sound like crap if you played it through a crappy amp. However, an average pedal may sound great played through a great amp.

Another thing I wanted to touch on before I close is multi-effect pedals. Good examples of these would be the Line 6 POD series and the Boss GT series. Personally, I’d rather use individual pedals just because they sound better, but multi-effect pedals do have advantages. The biggest being, that most of them have amp simulation. This comes in really handy when you do gigs that you just have to plug in to whatever amp is on-stage. For example, if you play at a concert where they have a lot bands in the line-up, sometimes the promoters will provide a backline (drums & amps) for all the bands to use. With amp simulation, you can virtually turn whatever amp is on stage into any amp you want! It won’t be perfect but it will definitely get you in the ballpark. This effect also comes in handy when you have to plug straight into a P.A. system. For years, I played on a cruise ship where bringing an amp was just impractical. A multi-effect pedal solved the issue for me.

The other advantage they have over individual pedals is the most obvious one…they have every effect you can think of (and some you’ve probably never heard of!) all in one convenient box. I have to say that individual pedals do sound better, but if you’re not familiar with the way a lot of effects sound, a multi-effect pedal is a great way to explore and get acquainted with them.

Well that’s gonna do it for effects. Once again (and it bears repeating), get a good guitar, and a good amp first. THAT is where you will get the great tone you’re looking for. After that, everything is just icing on the cake.

Until next time,



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