Some guitarists prefer the pure tone of an electric guitar plugged directly into an amplifier. Others yearn for a larger palette of sounds with which to express themselves. For the latter, effect pedals can open up a treasure trove of tone that allows them to completely reinvent their sound. Create a shimmering, bell-like clean tone or take your sound front-and-center by slashing your way through the mix. Whether you prefer a delicate, crystalline swirl or an aggressive sonic pummeling – American Musical Supply has the pedals, Pedal Boards, and Guitar Effect Accessories that will deliver!
In the 1940s, Gibson first offered Vibrato circuits in their combo amps with Tremolo and Reverb becoming available in the 1950s. DeArmond introduced the very first stand-alone effects unit, the Trem-Trol, in 1948. In 1962, the common availability of tube-replacing transistors allowed production of the first affordable and compact guitar effect pedal, the Maestro Fuzz Tone. From there, guitarists were off to the races on a sonic exploration to alter the sound of their instrument.
AMS always has our finger on the pulse of the guitar effects industry. We carry major brands like Boss, Dunlop, and Digitech, companies that are synonymous with guitar pedals and classic guitar setups. We’re also home to hundreds of individual effects pedals available from amazing boutique manufacturers, covering dozens of different effects types.
Sifting through the myriad of choices available can be a daunting task — so we’ve created this handy Pedal Primer to offer you some guidance.
When you think of guitar effects, the first thing that often comes to mind are Guitar Distortion Pedals. This family of effects includes the Distortion, Overdrive, and Fuzz sounds that incorporate biting, gritty, and commanding tones into a guitar player’s arsenal.
Overdrive’s initial popularity began when guitarists realized that, by overdriving the vacuum tubes in their amplifier, they could obtain a more aggressive sound. The same effect is achieved in a stompbox by clipping the waveform’s peaks to flatten them by varying degrees. Overdrive, Distortion, and Fuzz each employ this method, with Overdrive doing it the least (for the least distorted sound) and Fuzz flattening it the most (for more extreme distortion.)
Dynamic pedals control your instrument’s volume in a variety of useful ways. The most common in this family are the Guitar Compressor Sustain Pedals, which reduce the dynamic range of your signal by clamping down on the loud peaks and boosting the low valleys. This benefits guitarists by producing a refined, smooth tone with added sustain.
Guitar Noise Gate Pedals control hiss and hum by gating, or closing off, your signal when it drops below an adjustable threshold. Gates are often used in conjunction with Compressors, as the latter will tend to raise the noise floor of a guitar’s signal.
A Boost or Clean Boost pedal is useful for boosting your volume to allow solos or important riffs to cut through the mix. Note that this process differs from Overdrive/Distortion because it doesn’t clip the waveform.
A Guitar Volume Pedal allows smooth transition from zero to full volume without having to reach for the knobs on your guitar. These are typically placed at the end of the effects chain and before the amplifier so as not to interfere with the operation of gain-based effects pedals.
One of the most popular guitar effects since its inception in the 60’s, a Guitar Wah Pedal sweeps a boosted frequency through the audio spectrum via a foot-controlled rocker pedal. Think “White Room” by Cream or Slash’s solo at the end of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and you’ve got it.
These types of pedals alter the signal in various ways. A Guitar Chorus Pedal adds a duplicate signal, slightly delayed and modulating from sharp to flat to give a fuller sound akin to that of two guitar players playing in unison.
A Guitar Flanger Pedal operates similarly but with a shorter delay time, creating a whooshing “comb filter” effect.
A Guitar Phaser Pedal or Phase Shifter splits the signal in two and variably reverses the phase of one, creating a sweeping effect.
Guitar Tremolo Vibrato Pedals are all about their trademark pulsating effects, a sort of ‘wobble’ that can be set to the performer’s liking. Tremolo alters the volume of the signal, while Vibrato alters its pitch. Both generally offer Intensity and Speed controls.
A Pitch Shifter allows you transpose the notes you’re playing. This is most commonly used to produce notes an octave above or below the original pitch being played, with the option of mixing in the original pitch.
Also in this category are Harmonizers, which add an additional pitch that you can set at a specific interval from the original signal, such as a minor third.
If you wanting to add the atmospheric, washed-out, and repetitive sounds that accompany distinct acoustic environments, Guitar Reverb and Delay Effects are just the thing.
A Reverb pedal adds spatial ambience to your guitar sound for a more “live” feel. Decay times can usually be adjusted to mimic the effect of different-sized rooms, such as your shower, a gymnasium, a cathedral - even the Grand Canyon.
A Delay pedal also offers ambience, although this is achieved using actual repeat echoes. Delay time can be adjusted to create a “slap-back” Rockabilly-type of echo or long delays with multiple repeats.
Guitar Multi Effects pedals are capable of generating several of the above-listed effects at once. Stored presets allow you to choose different groupings of effects and save their settings for easy retrieval. Some guitarists find this the ideal solution for adjustment-free live performances.
With all of the incredible advances taking place in the world of guitar effects, there has never been a better time to incorporate a host of new vibrant sounds to your setup! There are a number of Guitar Synthesizers that can turn your guitar into a host of other instruments, emulating everything from vintage analog synths to modern digital recreations of strings, winds, brass, and keys. Loopers are incredible composition and production tools that allow you to record your playing and stack multiple layers on top of one another. Many models also allow you to import loops and sound files from your digital collection and digital audio workstation (DAW) software as well as export your saved loop creations back into your computer!
There are, of course, many more effects types available for many manufacturers — and AMS has them stocked and ready to ship. From the smooth to the bombastic, the subtle to the epic, we’ve got you covered.
About the Author - Michael Barberich
What started as a simple string and pedal sales catalog has grown exponentially over the past thirty years. The early days were a time where catalogs didn't have much of a presence in the industry, but what began as a college dorm room operation grew rapidly. In 1986 we moved to a full product offering and 64-page catalog, which over the years has grown to 162 pages. Join the AMS family and get your free catalog now!
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