The amazing world of guitar effects with Lee (tm) - Your First Guitar Pedal

Welcome to the first in a series of short articles in which I hope to help navigate you through the often confusing, yet excitingly creative world of Guitar Effects Pedals.

Today’s topic is:

Your First Guitar Pedal (and why it might not be what you expect)

So, you’ve got yourself a sweet axe (your electric guitar not your deodorant), you have a guitar amp so you can turn it to 11. Something is missing, however. You need something else, something that sounds like that dude doing those videos on YouTube that has that great “clean tone.”  Congratulations, you have leveled up and can now enter the Amazing World of Guitar Effects Pedals (tm).

The first thing to consider is what type of music you enjoy, what bands you listen to, who do you want to sound like. This is going to inform most of your creative decisions and therefore what pedals to start looking at (I mean listen to). If you play in your worship band, or are aiming to, you will be looking at a very different selection of effects than someone in a metal band.

The other important point to consider is what amp you have. There are broadly three categories of guitar amplifier: small low wattage practice amps, medium to high wattage amps and amps with built-in effects.

Small practice amps usually have two channels, a clean sound, and an overdrive/distortion sound (we’ll leave the difference between the two for another article) but will only have a little switch to change between clean and drive, which means you have to stop playing and lean over to change your sound. Not cool when you’re serenading.

A medium sized amp will almost always have a clean channel and a drive channel; however, most will have the option to be able to change between those sounds with a footswitch. Now this frees up your hands for more shredding, but with most of these amps you have to purchase these foot switches separately.

Amps with built-in effects are cool because they add all the crazy cool effects like delay and chorus as well having clean sounds and drive sounds. Again, most of these amps have the provision for a footswitch but you have to buy it separately.

Seeing as almost all genres of music (yes, even jazz) use some level of drive, most guitarists look to overdrive or distortion as a second sound from their clean tone. As you can see, what amp you have is important as almost every amp you can buy already has drive built in. Apart from the small practice amps, all you need to do to get drive and therefore a second sound, is buy the amp’s dedicated footswitch. Most are a lot cheaper than a separate overdrive pedal. Awesome!

If, however you only have a small practice amp, then you will probably have to buy an actual effects pedal. For all guitarists knowing the basic types of effects pedals that are available is important.

There are two main types of effects pedal: individual effects pedals where each pedal usually only has one type of sound, and multi-fx pedals that have hundreds of different sounds built in.

Now is the time to look back at what music/bands/guitarists/songs you like. As we know you’re probably looking for a drive sound first, let’s start by listening to your amp’s drive tone. What do you think? If it’s exactly the type of drive you like then you should look for a drive pedal that sounds as close to that sound as possible. If you have an amp that can take a footswitch and you love your amp’s drive sound, just get the footswitch instead.

If you are the type of guitarist that enjoys the creativity offered by lots of different sounds, then a multi-fx pedal would be the best value for money decision. Most multi-fx pedals start at a price point of only slightly more than a single pedal, and with hundreds of different drives and effects onboard they allow you to “test-drive” different effects to see what you like without having to buy those effects pedals separately. They really are an awesome first guitar pedal choice.

In closing, your first guitar pedal should be the one that inspires you to create, to make the sound in your head and is the most fun. Even if it is the humble amplifier channel footswitch.

Now go make some music!

Lee from TOMS Durban

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